1985 was my Year of Metal. My friend Jim and I went to as many concerts as we could; AC/DC, Aerosmith, Judas Priest, AC/DC, Iron Maiden, AC/DC…

Did I mention AC/DC?

We were 16, and thought there was no more perfect loudness than metal. We hit all the big venues that year, all the stadium shows. It was awesome.

Or so I thought.

In April 1986 we heard about a club in Boston called The Channel, and each Sunday they had all ages shows. We did not know that they were punk shows, and at that point in our sheltered lives probably would not have known what that meant anyway. The first show we went to was Black Flag. Frying pan to fire indeed.

I had never really understood the phrase ‘out of your element’ before we entered the club. We were dressed for metal, and were unprepared for what we saw. We went to Catholic school, after all. We hadn’t seen mowhawks, dyed hair, tattoos and multiple piercings up close.

We stayed toward the back, and Jim tried to hit on a girl wearing a Zogg’s Sex Wax shirt and army boots. She was not impressed. Here was this greasy metal kid in an Army jacket walking up with basically ‘Hey, baby!’ his best opening line. I wandered off to look at posters for upcoming shows, and one of them was Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. Meaning to make a mental note to tell my brother Mike, I pointed at the poster and said ‘Hey…cool…’ I heard someone say ‘Look out!’ just after the elbow’s impact to the side of my head. Before I could do more than swear a bouncer grabbed the kid by the back of his jacket and dragged him outside. While I can’t prove anything, I think that moment was my introduction to the debate over ‘real music vs. corporate rock’.

When the bands hit the stage, there was an intial pause where they had to warn the kids not to start a mosh pit, and everyone laughed.  The warning would hold for about two minutes, then a couple of kids down front would start pushing each other, then a few more kids, then a few more…and then the bouncers would start to move in and the band would have to give another warning. I don’t recall who the opener was, but their songs seemed timed to end right when the bouncers started in.

I made my way back to where Jim was standing alone, having given up on the girl. Rollins came on stage, and the band started with ‘Retired At 21’. After several more songs I was down near the front when they played ‘Nervous Breakdown’. A mosh pit broke out for the length of the song. I was pushed back and out, almost falling over a railing.

I had not heard anything with that energy and intensity. By the time they played ‘Nervous Breakdown’ I was hooked. Jim was not terribly impressed. Over the next few years he would dive deeper into the metal scene, but I was done with it.

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