Moshing Exciting but dangerous
By MARTHA IRVINE
The Associated Press (Feb'96)
BERKELEY, Calif. - Some call them a testament to testosterone.
They are mosh pits - masses of mostly teenage and twenty-something guys who flail their
arms and slam into each another at concerts and clubs.
And never mind injuries, says Ken Harvey, who drips with sweat as he walks off the chaotic
dance floor at Berkeley Square club. Despite a broken nose, wrist and ankles, he speaks of
moshing almost with reverence.
"It's a thrill - a rush," the 27-year-old from Richmond says, yelling over blaring music. "It's
like one big, happy family out there."
But some medical professionals, crowd control experts, and even some concert-goers aren't
convinced. As its popularity increases and spreads across the country, moshing is getting
rougher, they say. And that means injuries are on the rise.
"Now all the stupid jocks show up from the suburbs, and it's like a football game," Eric
Larsen, a 28-year-old mosher from Alameda, says as he stands outside another San Francisco
In its infancy in the early to mid-1980s, moshing was known mostly as slam dancing in New
York and West Coast punk music clubs. Mosh pits have since evolved to include diving from the
stage into the pit and body surfing, or laying flat over the crowd while riding the wave of bodies.
And it's no longer just punk.
"Now they're moshing to anything -- even Tony Bennett," says Dr. David Relman, a Palo
Alto physician who volunteers at concerts.
But while the music can be mellow, the moshing often isn't.
"I've been hurt, but it's cool. That's what it's about," says eighteen- year-old Mike Fricks of
Benicia. "It's about getting in there and bangin' some heads."
Dr. Relman says that attitude is common at concerts, especially among teenagers.
"(Injuries) are like little badges of honor. We sew people up, and they're pretty happy about
that. It's a sign that they've had the experience," says Relman, one of about five hundred
medical professionals who volunteer for Rock Medicine.
The program is a joint effort of the Haight-Ashbury Free Medical Clinic and promoter Bill
Graham Presents, both based in San Francisco.
Some bands ask fans not to mosh. Others encourage it.
National acts such as Green Day and Nine Inch Nails both insist that concert venues
provide "festival seating," an open area where fans can mosh.
Jim Baltutis, a spokesman for Green Day, says the band's staff works with local security
staff to make mosh pits safer. The band contends it's often security people who cause injuries
when they interfere in mosh pits.
Responsibility for injuries is, however, a matter of opinion.
Security guards at Berkeley Square pull troublemakers out of mosh pits, club owner Omar
Nashir says. But he adds that often there's little a club can do to prevent injury.
"You see this," Nashir says, pointing to a disclaimer on the back of a ticket to one of his
shows. "That's what makes me not liable." Many concert promoters and club owners refuse to
discuss the subject of mosh pit injuries.
That's not surprising to Paul Wertheimer, a consultant with Chicago-based Crowd
"This is a huge problem for the industry, but they're failing to do anything about it,"
Wertheimer says. "I've heard one promoter tell other promoters, 'Don't acknowledge it, and
perhaps you won't be held liable.'"
Wertheimer, a former public information officer for Cincinnati, got involved in crowd
management after compiling a report about the Who concert where eleven people were crushed
to death at Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium in 1979.
Now in business for himself, Wertheimer has released an annual Rock Concert Safety
Survey since 1992 and has testified as an expert in the growing number of lawsuits over
His 1995 study, which highlighted moshing, noted two moshing deaths in 1994 _ one in New
York, the other in London. Other injuries included paralysis.
Wertheimer has found no reports of moshing deaths in 1995 but says serious injuries
continue. "And what I find is only the tip of the iceberg," he says.
Some medical professionals agree that mosh pits are ripe for spinal and head injuries,
among others. Sheila Wolff, a physical therapist in Cincinnati, recently treated a man in his
twenties who was paralyzed at a concert.
"The potential for injury is just so great," says Wolff, a clinical specialist in spinal cord injury
at the Drake Center, a rehabilitation and long-term care facility. "It's just a risk that's not worth
Still, Dr. Relman contends that people in their twenties generally are more aware of so-
called moshing "etiquette," a self-imposed vow to watch out for the other guy.
It's the younger concert-goers he worries about.
"Having ten - and eleven-year-olds going to Green Day concerts who've only seen moshing
on MTV - that concerns me," Relman says.
As moshing spreads to smaller towns, the chance for injury may increase, he says.
Late last year, fourteen -year-old Harold Murrain Jr., of Vancouver, Washington, says he
was injured while moshing at an all-ages show at a Portland, Oregon club. He says he split the
back of his head open after he was dropped while body surfing. The injury required seven
"But it's still fun," says Murrain, who first moshed at age twelve. "You just have to be kind of
careful." He was at the club with a friend and the friend's mom. But he says his parents are
reluctant to let him go to another show. "I haven't asked lately," he admits.
Dr. Relman says trying to keep teens away isn't the answer.
"Yes, the point is sometimes to bonk each other in the head," he says. "But I'd rather see
that than having kids drinking and driving down the highway and terrorizing shopping centers."
Older moshers, like Harvey, say trying to control mosh pits misses the point. Mosh pits, he
says, are like life.
"It's a dog-eat-dog world," Harvey says. "You gotta just go for it."