Photo credit: Kayla Surico.
Being a relatively minor issue that the particularly-petty greater online punk/hardcore community were collectively up in arms about, I figured that people would have led their torches and pitchforks away from Californian pop-punk/rock band Joyce Manor by the end of the week. Unfortunately, however, it does not appear to be an issue that’s going to go away anytime soon – and that says far more about Joyce Manor’s attackers than the band itself.
To provide context to those new to the issue, the band recently played a show at the 1904 Music Hall in Jacksonville, Florida. During the band’s first song, “Heart Tattoo,” a fan got onto stage and dove back into the crowd. It’s been noted from footage from a different camera angle that he was stage-diving onto a group of young teenage fans. At this point, the band’s vocalist/guitarist Barry Johnson cut the song short and pulled the guy back onto stage. The following description of what followed comes from TheMusic.com.au’s news department:
“Hey man, how tall are you?” Johnson asked the stage-diver. “How much do you weigh, if you don’t mind me asking?” Upon being told he weighs about 190 pounds (86 kilograms), Johnson turns to a girl in the audience: “How much do you weigh? Sorry, that’s really rude. You’re much smaller than him, right? It’s completely unacceptable for him to impose himself on top of you. Completely unacceptable, right? Under no circumstances is that acceptable? OK.” In fairness, he ended rather politely, turning to the stage diver and saying, “Please don’t do that again,” before shaking his hand and letting him off the stage.
You can clearly see the guy in question apologise to Johnson, as well as to the people that he dove on top of. That should have, in all honesty, been that. If no-one had filmed it, no-one would have cared. Then, of course, the internet did what the internet does best – get routinely offended and outraged at obscenely disproportionate levels regarding things that do not affect them. The band’s masculinity was brought into question in tweet after tweet, as well as accusations of the band being sexist (yeah, some kind of reverse sexism? Or something? I honestly couldn’t tell you). In one post on the band’s Facebook wall, I read a comment that read, from start to finish: “You guys should kill yourselves.” All of this from a simple act of looking out for the band’s fans? That ended with a ‘please’ and a handshake? How very internet.
Stage-diving has been a part of the heavier spectrum of music for decades, and it remains a prominent aspect within it. But that’s just the thing – its context is weighted towards music far more aggressive and abrasive than that of Joyce Manor’s. When Scott Vogel, the lead singer of hardcore punk band Terror, calls upon his audience to “climb on somebody’s head,” you best believe he and his band have the balls-to-the-wall heaviness to match doing something like that. The same goes for bands like Cannibal Corpse and DevilDriver, who I’ve seen call upon their audiences to go suitably mental through mediums such as circle pits and walls of death.
Before we take anything else into consideration, can we note the fact that the guy was attempting to stage dive to the song “Heart Tattoo,” which is ostensibly a four-chord pop song with a slightly quicker beat? Nothing against the song, of course, but it’s hardly the kind of song to inspire such an aggressive response. It reminds me of seeing melodic punk band Title Fight in March of 2013 and seeing people crowd-surfing and stage-diving to their song “Head in the Ceiling Fan.” For those not familiar, it’s a slow and drawn-out track that takes influence from bands like Low and Dinosaur Jr. I couldn’t believe my eyes.
What I’m trying to say here is that there is a time and a place for this kind of behaviour. There are also the right bands and the right songs for this kind of behaviour. Joyce Manor, even at their heaviest, really aren’t one of them – and, at the very least, it’s been made exceptionally clear that they no longer want to be one. The band’s detractors pulling up footage of people stage-diving at their shows from years ago have gone considerably out of their way to miss the point. What happened in Jacksonville was purely contextual – one might even argue, after reading Johnson’s tweets in the wake of the backlash, that it was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
“So far on this tour I’ve seen a girl with a black eye, a girl with a concussion, and a girl with a dislocated knee,” he tweeted, before following it up with a powerfully resonant statement: “Great way to make young women feel safe at a show when the rest of the fucking world is hostile towards them already.”
This provides further context to the events of the Jacksonville show, and even adds in a feminist subtext to Johnson’s actions. Despite Joyce Manor’s corner of the rock music spectrum often being male-dominated – both on and off stage – women and girls are still a noted and important part of the demographic. Under no circumstances should they be told where to stand or how to respond to aggressive behaviour at a show. The fact that I still go to so many hardcore and punk shows where women and girls are treated as cloakrooms is deeply upsetting.
At this juncture, you may be wondering what my role in the whole affair is. The truth is that I’ve been in the exact same position as the Joyce Manor stage-diver.
In 2013, I was at a show headlined by The Smith Street Band, a fantastic band from Melbourne who you should definitely be familiar with if you’re not already. I went to stage-dive during the song “I Want Friends,” and was stopped by the band’s lead guitarist, Lee. I leapt off stage, the band finished the song and then Lee spoke into the mic to call out my actions.
“Don’t do that, dude,” he said to me. “I know that you’re a good guy and you always come to our shows, but please don’t do anything dangerous.” I had not thought about it this way at all, and was originally quite hurt and embarrased by this. I spent the rest of the night in an incredibly unhappy state, and cried myself to sleep that night. You might think that’s an expression – it’s not. To rub it in even further, I was linked to a tweet from someone else that was at the show that read “Fuck David James Young” – I won’t link it, but that person knows who they are.
‘What had I done wrong?’ I thought. ‘What did I do to upset this band I love so much?’
After awhile, I recontextualised the situation. Much like the Joyce Manor stage-diver, I am quite a big guy – I’m roughly six-foot and around 300 pounds. I also thought I was diving back onto my friends in attendance, yet I later realised that there were also some much smaller people near where they were and they could well have been hurt in the situation, as well. When I later spoke to Lee himself several months later and apologised profusely for my actions, he was incredibly understanding and the hatchet was buried. I still go to as many Smith Street shows as I can, and I count the four members of the band as friends. I could have wrecked all of that, however, with my reckless and fleeting actions.
Photo credit: showburner Photography.
That’s why I want people to think before they jump – figuratively. In no way am I saying that shows shouldn’t get crazy and that everyone should simply stand around and politely golf-clap at the end of each song. If that’s honestly what you get out of this blog post, and what you got out of Joyce Manor’s actions, then I simply cannot help you. This isn’t a matter of what’s going to get the band more credibility or scene points from people they would have never wanted as fans to begin with. This is a matter of readjusting one’s view to see the bigger picture.
What I’m saying is that the situation should be completely and properly assessed. Respect your surroundings and take note of the time and place. Moreover, have some respect for what the artist asks of you. When Neutral Milk Hotel began their reunion tour last year, they requested a strict ban on photography and filming of the shows. A couple of years back, Rufus Wainwright asked his audiences to refrain from applauding until the first part of the show had sequentially passed. Their audiences thankfully chose to keep their recording devices in their pockets and their hands apart, respectively.
Why can’t the same be observed for a band like Joyce Manor? Because it’s not ‘punk’ to follow a request? A comparison to a Neutral Milk Hotel audience may well be apples and oranges, but it’s still the idea of not bruising your fruit. Any audience member that clearly wants to defy the completely-reasonable requests of the acts they go to see are, to be blunt, petulant children that cannot handle being told no; as Johnson put it during a similar incident following the Jacksonville show.
Above everything else, the core lesson to take away from this is to simply make sure you’re taking care of the people that are there for the exact same reason as you – to watch and enjoy the music. If that’s not why you’re there, take a look for that big green sign with the most important four-letter word you may ever read: EXIT.
I will leave you with some words from Barry himself, recently posted on the band’s Facebook page. His sentiment is hard to disagree with.
I wasn’t able to watch people being hurt so I asked people not to act in the way that was hurting people. If that means you don’t support the band, I respect that. If you don’t want to attend the shows, we respect that. If you’ve bought a ticket to the show and want your money back because you want that to be your experience, we will refund you. I don’t have an issue with anyone’s lifestyle. I apologize to [sic] losing my cool in Houston. I saw someone whose full intention was to harm people and was upset. I look forward to playing music in a safe environment for everyone from here on out.
I put it to you that if you’re not a Joyce Manor fan now, you never were.
NB: I have pre-emptively disabled comments because a) Fuck comments; and b) I can’t handle another witch-hunt after my Justin Bieber editorial. If you would like to contact me regarding this piece, please drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org – I’ll see you there. – DJY