News headlines over the weekend broke my heart. After Tropical Storm Nalgae brought heavy rains that triggered landslides, at least 45 people in the Philippines died and many more remain missing. A pedestrian suspension bridge collapsed into a river in India’s state of Gujarat, killing at least 132 people. And more than 150 primarily young people celebrating Halloween in Seoul’s Itaewon neighborhood died when a crowd surged into a narrow alley.
How could that happen?
Then I remembered.
More than four decades ago, as a student at the University of Washington, I lined up early outside the Seattle Center Arena with a punk rock friend, Liisa Berre, to nab a front-row spot at a concert of the iconic English rock bank, the Kinks. I grew up listening to their music and rocking out to “Lola,” “Catch Me Now I’m Falling,” and “Wish I Could Fly Like Superman” on 45s (for younger folks, those were little vinyl records that played one song on each side). We each paid about nine dollars for our tickets — a fortune for broke college kids, but worth it.
Standing close to the front of the line the afternoon of Oct. 3, 1980, my mouth dropped open at seeing someone with purple hair. Imagine that! Although a shock at the time, it’s commonplace today.
When the doors opened, we pushed inside with the crowd and finagled our way onto the floor, as close to the stage as possible. Liisa stood directly beside an elevated catwalk that jutted from the stage into the crowd; I was a row or two behind her.
Chatter filled the cavernous arena as we waited what seemed like hours for the music to start. People packed in behind me on the floor as others claimed the stadium’s nearly 15,000 seats. As a rather sheltered petite young woman blossoming in college, I’d attended few concerts, so I was awed by everything I saw. Yet as people packed the arena, thoughts of the disastrous Who concert less than a year earlier flitted through my mind. Eleven people died Dec. 3, 1979, in Cincinnati, Ohio, when fans rushed the coliseum’s entry doors.
That couldn’t happen here, right?
I shuffled from one foot to the other, bouncing on my toes, peering between people in front of me to make sure I could see the stage.
The lights flickered. The warmup band, Angel City, strutted onto the stage.
And the crowd behind me surged forward.
My feet left the ground.
I grasped the shoulders of young men on either side of me — complete strangers — to hold my head and body above the crowd.
If I let go, stumbled, or fell, I’d be crushed.
Terror pierced my heart.
Eventually, the crowd settled back, and my feet returned to the floor. I mumbled apologies for groping the shoulders of the fellows beside me who didn’t seem to care.
I’d never heard of Angel City, but clearly people behind me had.
My heart finally returned to its normal rhythm, and I enjoyed the concert but remained conscious of what could have happened. I kept an eye on that nearby catwalk, a possible island of safety in a surge. I rocked to the music, especially when the Kinks performed. Ray Davies strode down the walkway as he sang, sweat dripping from his face. He shook his hair back and sweat droplets landed on my face. Oh, wow — Ray Davies sweat on me. How cool is that?
While I’ll never forget that concert because of my terror when that crowd surged forward, it made headlines in Seattle newspapers for another reason. As the Kinks belted out “All Day and All of the Night,” a man who had snuck into the arena plunged off an overhead catwalk and through an acoustical tile onto the crowd below.
I didn’t know what had happened behind me, only that the concert ended abruptly. After the lights flashed on, the crowd on the floor parted for paramedics who treated two or three innocent concert-goers injured by the ninny who had landed on them and then hobbled away. They broke his fall, but his weight broke one man’s collarbone and crushed vertebrae in a young woman’s back.
They caught the culprit and charged him with reckless endangerment, trespassing and theft of services.
Thank God he didn’t kill anyone.
Unlike at the second performance of the Rolling Stones in Seattle a year later.
Although I was a UW dormie, staying first in McMahon Hall and later Hansee Hall, I briefly dated a fellow from my English class who lived in a fraternity (aka “a frat rat”). We joined others in his fraternity for a Wednesday night performance of the Rolling Stones at the Seattle Kingdome. What I remember most is watching Mick Jagger and the others up-close on a large screen rather than as the specks they were on the stage below.
Although the concert was great, our evening proved uneventful. But the following evening, a 16-year-old Renton girl waiting to enter the Stones concert died after falling 40 feet from a pedestrian ramp outside the Kingdome.
The most peaceful concert I ever attended was when my mom and I saw John Denver at the Memorial Coliseum in Portland. Can you believe it’s been 25 years since he died in a plane crash in California? He was only 53.
At that early 1980s concert, the stage sat at the center of the coliseum with people seated in rows all around and others in chairs on the floor. The famous folk singer stepped onto the stage, and silence reigned. I found it incredible to hear myself breathing in a huge coliseum packed with more than 12,000 people.
A decade later, my sister won 10 tickets to a Billy Joel concert there, which was also fun but not quite as memorable.
Thinking back to the Kinks, it’s rather prescient to realize we’re seeing lyrics to the song “Lola,” who “walks like a woman and talks like a man” lived out today during a time when gender and sexuality are so much in the news.
“Girls will be boys and boys will be girls
It’s a mixed up, muddled up, shook up world
Except for Lola.”
I’ve been praying overtime this week for those suffering in the tragic landslides in the Philippines, the pedestrian bridge collapse in India, the overcrowded alley in South Korea as well as all the people living on streets or in homeless encampments locally and throughout the nation.
Julie McDonald, a personal historian from Toledo, may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.