It was July 21, 1978, and my friends and I arrived at the Tucson Community Center Arena around 9 a.m. It was a sunny day (imagine that) and shaping up to be another hot one (ditto). In addition to some monsoonal humidity and the buzzing of amorous cicadas, there was also some excitement in the air. We were all in high spirits; talking, laughing and joking and speculating on what it would be like to be among the first in line for the biggest concert to hit Tucson…well, ever. As we rounded the corner of the Arena towards its entrance, we were struck by the absurdity of it all: there were hundreds of people already there, apparently oblivious to the ungodliness of the hour (hey, we were seventeen; 9 a.m. was ungodly). We got in line and began discussing a collective strategy to reestablish our rightful place ahead of all the overly – obsessive freaks once the doors opened.
The Rolling Stones were in town, one of the final stops on their Some Girls tour. Back in the 1970’s, Tucson was somehow able to attract some of the biggest groups of the day; no one was bigger than the ‘Stones (we still attract some of the biggest groups of those days, the bandmembers now in their late sixties and still trying to suck the teat of fame, usually by playing in the smaller casino venues). Ticket day should have clued us in on what was to come: they sold out very quickly, and it took some very creative action and downright rudeness on my part to ensure we were even able to get to the ticket windows in time (sorry, dude, but you were fat, old and slow, and I was in the prime of life; you foolishly chose civility and reason while I was still within reach, and your screams of shock and profanity as the window shut in front of you and I ran, tickets in hand, only enhanced my notoriety amongst my peers).
Disappointment over not being first in line notwithstanding, the day’s wait began nicely enough (the doors wouldn’t be opened until 7 p.m.). People sat around playing cards, smoking and furtively sucking beer or whiskey and just generally getting along. These were the days before regard for personal safety, bottled water and plain common sense, however, and by noon it had gotten very warm. The beer was now hot, the whiskey just plain nasty, the people becoming equally so, and water was what we all needed and wanted. By 2 p.m., the crowd numbered in the thousands and everyone stood to better hold their place in line. There was no shade to be found anywhere, no relief in sight; we were in it for the long haul.
By 4 p.m. the line had become a pulsating, massive mob of sweat-soaked humanity. The people in the back, apparently horrified by so many people having arrived before them by the ungodly hour of 5 p.m., began to push forward. Those of us near the front, unwilling to lose our hard-earned positions, began to push back. The result became these massive waves of people, pushed forward by sheer inertia, then repulsed backward after crashing into an unyielding sea wall of mankind. For a few minutes, it seemed kind of fun, but even at the tender age of seventeen, I was keenly aware of my own mortality. My feet would leave the ground for seconds at a time as I was swept in one direction, then again as the wave sucked back the other way. I felt like a Geisha girl in a tight kimono, managing only micro-steps or tippy-toes at a time when only a giant step for balance would do. I knew that if someone were to fall, they would likely be trampled to death, as no one near them would be able to create enough space for them to stand up. I found very quickly that by keeping my arms above my head at all times, I was able to push-off the faces, shoulders and breasts of others to control my balance.
By 6 p.m., the crisis had reached a very dangerous level. It was unbelievably hot, there was no respite in the form of a breeze and my nostrils were choked with the stench of pubescent sweat and bad perfume. I had long since lost my friends, who had been alternately sucked into the ebb and flow of the pushing mob. A very petite young girl, about my age, sobbed and screamed in panic as our bodies pressed tightly together (I have seen this same reaction several times since, though strangely, crowds were not an issue); she disappeared with the next crowd thrust. An ugly, angry-looking guy, exhibiting all the brilliance of a night-light, yelled something in my face.
“What?” I yelled back in spontaneously clever reply.
“Quit feeling up my girlfriend, you (unsavory fellow, you)!”
I first looked up at my arms (still extended above my head for balance), then back at him, then down at what was either a partially shaved, soaking wet, marginally clothed Orangutan or his girlfriend (or both). I then managed my second consecutive brilliant comeback in a row:
“Go (occupy) yourself.” He seemed to want a piece of me, for whatever reason, but I was by this time in no mood to be trifled with and also noticed that his arms were pinned to his sides. I took a swing at him and very likely punched his simian girlfriend on the side of the head (as Orangutans are freakishly strong, she clearly posed the greater threat). Before I could cheap shot him (her) again, they were off with the next wave. The rest of the time in “line” was spent this way: like in a Fellini film(I was likely suffering from heat stroke and delirious), new actors would pop into the scene for a few seconds, play their seemingly random roles with emotive frenzy, then shoot off in an explosion of humanity.
Hope was renewed with the opening of the doors, but only for that brief moment, as eight thousand people pushed with renewed fervor to get through eight three-foot openings. I could have cared less about the Rolling Stones at that point; in fact, had Mick Jagger himself been within striking distance, I would have pummeled those lips until they covered his entire ugly face (I’d likely have had to hit him only two or three times). After what seemed an eternity, I shot through the doors like a popped zit. My underwear and pants were on backwards, my shoes on the wrong feet, my nipples strangely pierced. I was twenty pounds lighter, bruised, battered, yet marvelously alive and all the more grateful for it.
I never found my friends again that night until we met back at the car after the show. Each of us had similar horror stories to tell; a couple of them even claimed to have made it to the front of the stage (liars). No matter; I had seen enough of crowds that night, felt as though I’d burned a Koran in an Afghani market square at high noon, and had lost interest in the whole experience. I watched listlessly from the upper deck.
In December of 1979 eleven people were killed at a Who concert in Cincinnati; they had a similar festival seating plan (first come, first served), and the victims were trampled or died of asphyxiation in the frenzy to get the best seats. It wasn’t hard to see how it could happen; I was surprised, frankly, that no one died in Tucson the day the Rolling Stones came to town. It would be unbelievable to imagine that Orangutan Girl might have been hurt the worst (I did hit her pretty good).
You may be wondering how the concert was. I thought it sucked.