Kirk Novak: I was only 12, damn it all to hell, I was feeling fine. Hearing Axl Rose, on the radio, singing Sweet Child O’ Mine.

Originally published in Pretension Headache.

I was in a riot in St. Louis. Let me rewind the tape. Summer 1991. I bought a lawn ticket to see Guns N’ Roses with Skid Row at the Riverport Amphitheatre. I lied to my parents and told them I was meeting people there from school. I went by myself. I had my mom drop me off.

Once inside, I bought an expensive Guns ‘N Roses tee shirt with the cover to Use Your Illusion I on the front, and the tour dates on the back, that I planned to wear to school on “illegal day.” For the record, I did. I found a spot on the lawn. I got pretty bored because I wasn’t drinking or doing drugs because I was still pretty square and also a child. I think that’s why poor white trash kids get wasted at arena sized rock and roll shows. They’re bored out of their minds during their shitty regular lives living in their shitty towns and then they’re also bored out of their minds during the show they’re spending a week’s pay on to attend. I didn’t have a job. I was too young. If I had had a job then I bet I would’ve gotten pretty high because I didn’t know what to do with myself, by myself, on the lawn at Riverport. I digress.

Skid Row rocked. I liked Skid Row. That new record, “Slave to the Grind,” was harder than their debut, man. I mistook that for authenticity. I waited around for Guns N’ Roses to come on. What the hell was I doing? Sitting there staring into space, I guess. No smartphone to play with, no craft beer to drink, no mind warping weed to smoke. Life was pretty brutish and lasted for years during the 90s. It got dark. Guns N’ Roses took the stage. Guns N’ Roses rocked, but then they started playing endless guitar solos, AKA cigarette breaks for Slash, and lengthy drum fills where Matt Sorum flexes his TMJ. It might have been at that very point where I turned to punk in the face of rock’s excesses, but then they started playing “Rocket Queen” and I fucking loved that song

The lawn was a-rocking. A pulsing, sweaty, celebration of degeneracy. Suddenly, Axl LEAPT into the crowd like a superhero. The band stopped playing. We watched it happen on the giant screens that flanked the stage because the lawn is so far away that you can’t see the musicians performing unless you watch them on the giant screens. There was a lot of commotion in front of the stage. Axl was helped back onstage and then slammed the microphone down and stormed off. The band sort of shrugged and followed him.

The crowd was stunned. For about 10 seconds.

All around me I started hearing shouts of, “TWENTY SIX FIFTY!” That was the price of a lawn ticket to see Guns N’ Roses with Skid Row at the Riverport Amphitheatre in St. Louis, MO in 1991. The shouts grew louder and angrier with the realization that the band was not coming back onstage. I watched the seating under the pavilion get torn up and fly through the air so rapidly that it gave the appearance of an unseen Japanese movie monster tearing through the amphitheatre. I saw security hunker down together under the stage for safety. I decided I should probably start making my way home.

I started walking to the thoroughfare and endured a few cigarette burns from careless white rioters protesting their injustice at the hands of Axl Rose. I found a pay phone. I stuck a finger in my ear to drown out the sounds of chaos. I put a quarter in the slot. I called my mom and told her to come pick me up because the concert was over. I started walking out the front gate. People were stealing anything that wasn’t nailed down, and they were stealing everything that was nailed down too.

Imagine a tattered banner hanging from a light pole that simply advertised this was summer concert season at Riverport. A shirtless man in jeans shorts wearing chunky white high-tops without socks is going to climb that pole and steal that banner. Another, fatter, man in a stained tank top is going to fight him for that banner for reasons that are not clear. The shirtless man will win. He intends to celebrate by having a cigarette, but his pack is empty. He will burn the banner in a rage.

That really happened. I saw it happen. I kept moving through the parking lot toward the road in front of Riverport. I got to the street exit and a cop was standing on a median directing traffic away from the riot. I stood next to her and jokingly asked if I could help. She wasn’t sure what to make of that, but then my mom pulled up to the intersection and I got into her car.

st-louis-sucksMy mom drove me home. She had no idea. I told her I had fun and it was a neat show. When we walked in the door I saw that the light on our answering machine was blinking. I pressed the button and listened to the message. It was my father. He had called to tell my mother that there was a riot at the Guns N’ Roses concert I was attending, and that we should be concerned for my safety. I deleted the message before my mom could listen to it, and then I went upstairs to bed.

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