Why you should care
Rudeness begets rudeness.
No one wants to write a story like this. For about half a dozen reasons. Most significantly, not wanting to be labeled a glory whore. But I know there are real people out there, with real problems with both power dynamics and sexual assault, trying to get through their days getting over something shitty that happened to them.
I also know that very few of them are Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu world champions who feel pretty OK with their present place in space. Like me. But this is not about that. This is about Twitter telling me that this past October singer Maggie Rogers was, during an acoustic encore performance of a show she played in Austin, Texas, told to “take your top off” by a few guys in the audience. Guys who believed, after enjoying an entire set of hers — or not — that the most trenchant way of showing their appreciation was to reduce it all to tits.
My heart went out to Rogers, as it does to anyone trying to do something serious on the business end of a microphone, only to be met with the worst kind of critique ever: a stupid one. But it happens when you play acoustic music. Because it can. The audience can suddenly hear themselves. And they sometimes get stupid.
Someone had reached up beyond the thighs’ midpoint and grabbed my penis and testicles as hard as they humanly could. I had heard tell of such things …
Surely you’d be protected from that if you were pushing over 120 decibels of bass, drums, guitar and screaming vocals. Just like we were in the strangely prescient BlackOut tent at a festival in Bristol, England, back in the ’00s. And by “we,” I mean my band OXBOW, which has played hundreds of shows all over the world.
In this case, we were excited to be sharing a bill with Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant. This was about the swelter and the heat and me, the vocalist, having to strip down to my skivvies because it was hotter than hell in Bristol that summer. And pressed against the front row of a festival-sized crowd, we ran through a raging set of heavy-as-fuck post-punk.
The audience? Largely appreciative. Three quarters of the way through an hour-long set, everyone was sweating. I watched the first few rows also start to take off jackets. Hoodies. Whatever.
I also felt hands. As I stood, legs spread over stage monitors, I felt the hands move up my thighs. Up. Then down. Stopping mid-thigh. Pausing. Before heading back toward my knees.
The song was halfway over. And I looked down.
There were two women, not expecting me to look, now looking at me looking at them. They blushed. I smiled. Sidled up next to them was a guy. His hands were there too. I couldn’t figure out if he was a boyfriend, a husband, a coworker of said women or just a guy.
I looked at him. I smiled. He looked away.
The song shifted into higher gear as it raced to its end and the rubbing of the thighs, clearly now not sanctioned by me but not not sanctioned by me, got more … vigorous. I dug into the emotional center of the song and then: pain.
Someone had reached up beyond the thighs’ midpoint and grabbed my penis and testicles as hard as they humanly could. I had heard tell of such things and seen singers like Black Flag’s Henry Rollins sort of invite such behavior. But our shows, while chaotic and joy/dread-filled affairs, have never vibed any sort of invitation to harm. Us, at least.
I didn’t step back. I grabbed the hand that was grabbing me and looked down. Unsurprisingly, it was not the women. It was the guy. Who, either in a paroxysm of jealousy and/or homosexual panic, had decided to hurt me. I don’t know what he was expecting, and I searched his face for just that. It was a mixture of embarrassment, regret and confusion.
Which did nothing to stop the fist that was heading straight into the center of that face.
I was less angry — no more or less than I ever am in the presence of enemies of art — than I was feeling sort of … public service-y. There are ways to behave when watching an artist create art and ways not to behave. This was very definitely a way not to behave, and in the brief moments before the song ended, this needed to be made clear.
The first punch struck. Once and then twice more in rapid succession. He disappeared from my sight line. To the ground. The women with him. Appalled. Not at him being hit. At his breach of protocol. And just like that, they were gone.
The remainder of the set played out without further incident, excepting the photographers in the photo pit who had now fled in the face of an uncomfortable amount of realness.
I never saw or heard from them again.
Until months after the tour ended when I was sitting at my desk at work scouring the internet, and I found his blog. I had searched on the name of the festival and my band name and it had come up. The first sentence I read said, “I don’t know what came over me last night …”
He apologized, by proxy, and very publicly tried to make sense of why he had done what he had done. He got no closer by the end than he was at the beginning, and so maybe that’s the point, Ms. Rogers: They know not what they do.
So … aim well, and strike fast.