For the past two years I’ve been writing a novel that’s situated in the early eighties punk/squatters scene. Though I’m far from done but the book is getting into its final form. Now this amazing American woman called Beth Bedinotti started translating my book from Dutch into English.
Since a rough version of the chapter below was published on my blog about a year ago Beth and I decided to put the English version online too. The story about the first show Black Flag did at the Paradiso in Amsterdam on February 12 1983 first was mend as writing practice but the final version is now promoted to the first chapter of my novel. This is the first part of that chapter. Enjoy…
A big crowd of punks who were also going to the concert were standing around at the train station. I knew most people mainly by sight; others I knew only by name because they played in well known bands or because they had built up a reputation in the scene. I pushed my way through the clusters of punks standing around on the platform, which wasn’t such a smart idea; an innocent nudge on my part was met more than a few times by aggressive pushback. Most of the older punks hated us little shits because we weren’t around during the old days, when they made this youth centre called Kaassee their own and turned it into a punkclub.
Frog and Gino and I had agreed to meet on the train platform, but I couldn’t see them anywhere amidst all the black leather and spiked hair dyed black. I had no idea that so many local Rotterdam punks would be going to see Black Flag. Black Flag was a band I hadn’t seen on any jackets yet. When I entered the platform I expected to see just Gino and Frog not a herd of punks. But my friends were nowhere to be seen. Gino was always late, but Frog was staying with him at that time, so there was at least a small chance that they would still catch the train. I bumped into Suzan and her friend Bob. It was always nice to see her, I knew her from the drama club at the Rotterdam Centre of Actors. I had no idea that these two even knew who Black Flag was and indeed when I asked ‘em they didn’t know the band, but the fact that somewhere in the country a punkband everyone was talking about was going to play was reason enough for them to travel all the way to Amsterdam. If you wanted to see punk bands play you had to go to clubs in other cities anyway. Eksit the last good club in Rotterdam where punk bands could play, had closed its doors and a week later it burned down, so there was no hope on that front at all.
I bought ‘Damaged’, Black Flag’s first album, for the more than outrageous price of thirty five guilders at the Boudisque record store in Amsterdam, after I’d read a review in Ear, (Oor) the main Dutch music paper and wanna-be Rolling Stone. The LP was for sale by import only, hence the exorbitant price. I’d never bought such an expensive record before, but after hearing ‘Rise Above’, the opening track of the album at the store, I knew I had to have it. There was a classic sticker over the Unicorn logo on the cover with the words “As a parent, I found it an Anti-Parent Record”. I read in Oor that Black Flag had signed with Unicorn because they could get them a worldwide distribution deal, but Unicorn had backed out of the deal after the album had already been pressed. I’d very carefully peeled back half the sticker in order to see what was underneath, and years later it turned out the sticker would become proof that this copy of the record was one of the legendary first pressing and I seriously diminished the value of the ‘collector’s item’ damaging the sticker. But at that time that sort of thing didn’t bother me at all. There weren’t many punk records in circulation at that time which had more than one pressing anyway, and even if we had known then that those records would be worth money we would’ve found that ridiculous and totally disgusting. What kind of an asshole buys a record just to keep it as a collector’s item? Everyone knows that the things are meant to be played until you can see through ‘em.
A few minutes later the train pulled up to the platform but there was still no sign of Gino or Frog. It goes without saying that I had no intention of waiting for them and missing the train. At that time, there was hardly any possibility of scoring tickets in advance for these kind of shows, so it was crucial to get to the Paradiso before it opened. The hall was supposed to open at nine and the first band would go on at ten. If I missed this train and caught a later one, the tickets would probably already be sold out by the time I got there.
We had a whole train car to ourselves, because all the other passengers completely shunned us; just a normal train trip. Those who held their ground avoided making any eye contact with us. If it wasn’t immediately understood they should fuck-off to another compartment if they couldn’t stop eyeballing us, then a little bit of verbal harassment got the message across. There were some bottles of liquor and joints going around and some punks were cutting lines of speed and sniffing it off their house keys. The conductor wisely chose to leave us alone. Half of us hadn’t even bothered to buy a ticket knowing railway staff in general would rather avoid a confrontation with a large group of punks. Once in a while some overzealous train personnel tried to catch the people who were riding illegally, but it usually ended up causing such massive congestion on the track and a damaged train car that it didn’t compensate for a few fines.
At the Amsterdam station I actually ran into Gino and Frog. They’d taken the same train I had, but since they were late, they’d sat at the back. It wasn’t until the train had arrived in Amsterdam that they’d discovered all the rest of the punks had been sitting in the front of the train. They were outnumbered and had to suffer angry looks from furious passengers who were scared away from the front carriage by the other punks. As punks we were totally used to getting dirty looks, but everyone in a train car staring at you like you deserved to be gassed was still kind of extreme. Needless to say, they’d had a shitty time of it and were now sober as anything. Not me…I’d had a few swigs from Susan and Bob’s bottle of vodka and I’d brought along a six pack of beer for the ride for myself. Four of the six had been snatched away from me by some nasty old punks, but the remaining two beers, combined with the vodka and the blunts going around had certainly provided the desired effect.
Half an hour later we were waiting in line outside the Paradiso. It was busy, but it did look as though we were going to be able to get in before the place was sold out. That was one less worry, for nothing sucks more than spending an hour on the train, having to slog through shitty Amsterdam for another thirty minutes, only to find out that you weren’t going to get in. The atmosphere on line was pretty fucked up. Nobody felt like waiting because it was February and it was bloody cold outside. Everybody was trying to huddle together as closely as possible, so we were caught in the crush immediately. The advantage was that it seemed warmer between all these bodies, but I never feel comfortable when I’m trapped in a crowd like that, so, like all the others, I tried pushing against the people in front of me as hard as I could. As if the doors of the Paradiso itself would break down if we pushed hard enough. Eventually a few security guys emerged from a side exit and started forcing people backward in order to minimize the pressure on the doors. It was definitely not in the planning that a huge tangle of punks to catapult into the hall when the door opened. They succeeded with brute force in reaching the door and making some more space. The crowd in front, as one, continued to move a few steps backward, but then in response, people began pushing back, like the inevitable wave of the ocean. It was definitely not the first time I saw bouncers make incredibly stupid mistakes. A crowd of people is unstoppable and when the pushback pinned the bouncers against the doors they began to panic and started knocking, but it took almost ten minutes before they could re-enter. The guards were rattling and banging furiously at the door putting everyone even more on edge, but it took the Paradiso people inside about ten minutes before they realized it was the bouncers who were banging the doors, most anxious to be released from their trap. Finally the door opened and we had the first ‘pile on’ of the evening; a tangle of several dozen punks flew straight into the main hall of the Paradiso. Somewhere beneath the tangle lay the bouncers. It took a great effort before everyone was brought to their feet and the crowd moved along through. The area directly in front of the stage was already full, so we decided to stand on the balcony, not in the pit. From above we could at least see the show properly. It was obvious that tonight the pit would be like surfing in a storm. The whole place was overcrowded and the atmosphere was fucking aggressive. I saw three different spots on the floor where minor fights were starting up. The rest of the evening there was no security to be seen; obviously they’d had their fill of trying to control the unruly crowd.
We stood on the balcony between a large group of Rotterdam punks who consisted mainly of girls. Girls were, for the most part, not into the pit. It took almost twenty minutes before the first round of beers reached our group. It was busy at the bar. It promised to be a thirsty evening and warm to boot, because the coat check was closed. Feeling totally impatient, we waited for the show to start while the room filled up with even more people. Gino suddenly pointed to a couple of hippies who stumbled into the venue. The girl looked like a reincarnation of Janis Joplin but even fatter. She had a typical Janis hat and was dressed in jeans full of embroidered flowers. The male half of the couple was exactly the opposite, long and creepy thin, with a stringy beard a la Frank Zappa and circular Lennon sunglasses on his hawk nose. It was immediately obvious that these two were German hippies. German hippies were a breed apart. I don’t know what the whole sixties thing inspired in people over there but apparently time had stood fucking still in Germany since ten years ago. One day hippies like Syd Barret would be resurrected as cool by large groups alternative types, but at that time hippies were the enemy. We all knew hippies as teachers and social workers; deadly boring guys who were constantly blathering on about laugh and piss. The hippie movement had failed and was just old and sad, and anyone who still hadn’t figured that out was an idiot. These two German hippies obviously hadn’t caught on. They had most likely taken a bunch of weird drugs, because they were both laughing like a couple of retards.. They hadn’t noticed that a large group of skinheads now had their eye on them. A normal person usually feels bad vibes in the air, I myself was extremely sensitive to this sort of sixth sense and it had saved me many times, but these two had completely lost their way in their rosy hippie dream. We watched with anticipation, knowing that it wouldn’t be long before their dream was in tatters. It was quite hilarious when they both began dancing ecstatically to the reggae coming through the P.A. They always played reggae between punkbands, they hoped it would quiet us punks down or something.
While the two hippies kept dancing they were slowly being surrounded by the skinheads. It surprised us even more that the stupid whale and the clueless eel hadn’t even begun to notice that they were being trapped by a large group of hungry sharks. At some point I would love a taste of whatever the hell drugs they were on; they were probably elephant tranquilizers or some shit. I was often surprised by the relatively high level of organization demonstrated by packs of skinheads, but the discipline of this group was pretty exceptional. There had to be at least twenty of ‘em. Fixed on their prey, they moved slowly toward the hippies until they were separated by just a few meters. I saw no obvious single leader, no one in particular gave the sign but, as one force, they descended on the hippie couple who then completely disappeared in the tangle of skinheads. We did our best to follow the spectacle but it was impossible. We saw the hippie girl’s hat flying out of sight. Later we heard from Susan and Bob that they had seen both hippies thrown out onto the street naked. “They’ll have flashbacks of a bad trip from now on whenever they hear the word Amsterdam,” chuckled Gino. “And with hippies you hear that word every fucking day,” laughed Frog. Though I tried I couldn’t top that.