Mosh N’ Roll: How to Prevent Your Wheelchair from Turning Into a Tin Can at a Hardcore Gig

Photo: Gray Muncy

It was March of 2001. 9/11 hadn’t happened yet, so things made more sense to me, as much as things could for a 16-year-old kid.

The sun was a little brighter, the flowers grew a little more. Food tasted good (but was likely way, way worse for you - or at least, the way I had been going). 

I remember being in line with my sister, both of us our first time. She had gotten interested in punk rock around the same time as I had; my introduction came in the form of an email correspondence with someone i’ve since lost contact with. I’m not positive how my sister discovered it, other than to say she discovered hardcore through me.

I remember being in line, and hearing some jerk say something to the effect of, “you’re not really straight edge!” (I forget how I knew it was directed at me, but I think i started wearing X’s my first time out.) My sister immediately started to pop off, trying to find the person who said it and started shouting back. I held her arm and told her it wasn’t worth it. This would happen many times throughout my initial tenure (about 8 years or so) of going to shows.

We got inside, finally. We were in. I was in. What was gonna happen? It seemed like it might be hectic, would I be okay? 

Would I be dying tonight?

The first band went on. They were loud, fast, and had a style I hadn’t seen before, but that plenty of others, it seemed, were so acquainted with, that the crowd were almost bored. I later learned that this was how to be The Best Hipster In the Room. Except this wasn’t a room, it was outside the back of the bar.

I saw people doing this thing I had heard about before, called hardcore dancing. I decided by like the third song, I was gonna join in. I looked like an idiot, but it felt… good. Really good. Catharsis in a way I hadn’t known before. (As I write this, I realize I often forget how crazy it seems to most people that a guy in a wheelchair would do something like that.)

Two more bands came on, and the reception was rather lukewarm. They weren’t heavy enough, or not punk enough, or too this or that. I lived in the West Palm Beach area and, while I don’t know what “the scene” is like today, I know that back in 2001, kids were really interested in tough-guy hardcore, and posturing, and scene politics.

So then the last band came on. And they were heavy, and while it was my first show, it wasn’t my first time hearing hardcore, so it wasn’t really that new to me. But seeing it was new. It was interesting. It was amazing, exhilarating. They were tough, heavy, and had an intense energy that felt a little bit like they were talking to the people in their “club." 

Somewhere along the way, though, and early, I was in--“de facto,” but I had some modicum of respect. Because I was a kid in a wheelchair, who came to a show, and got into it deep. What was more exhilarating, though, was watching the people in the crowd look at me with a ton of suspicion. I felt like I was encroaching on a territory that didn’t belong to me. I would continue to feel this off and on for most of my time having gone to hardcore shows. But, at least in the beginning, it felt funny to me.

After a while, it got to be just annoying. Especially when, a few years into going to shows, I was only seeing the same kids at the same shows, exclusively. This particularly annoyed me when it came to the people who actually specifically liked to see me there. They never reached out to go to places outside of hardcore shows. (To be fair, I never did this, either. Anxiety’ll fuck you up like that.)

The band stopped playing after the last song. And the people there applauded. The house music was turned back on. The show was over. They weren’t losing their shit in an obnoxious way like I’d seen at Ozzfest or something. These were not your typical bros. 

I had gotten my first taste of the scene. And now it was over.

Did I know what to expect? Not really. I had to fake it, big time. But I don’t think I would’ve been able to predict the feeling I got after it was done. It was a mixture of feelings, honestly. Satisfaction for having done the thing, for one. I remember a moment where I was thankful that I hadn’t gotten crushed by some tall guy falling over from dancing; if you’re in a wheelchair and you get bowled over, this isn’t the same as getting bowled over while being on two legs: you can’t just get up and that’s the end of it. You have to make sure you can get up, somehow, often with help, especially for your first time.

Photo: Gray Muncy

If you have enough mobility, though, you learn how to do most of the leg work yourself. People are generally well-meaning, but with something like that, people don’t really know how to adjust and adapt to something like that: people will tend to do too much, overcompensating and making things actually a little worse, for the guy in the chair. This can be a domino effect of negative impacts, depending on the person, depending on the disability.

The next feeling in the smorgasbord, of course, was the exhilaration feel: being in a setting with so much high-intensity movement and noise, couple that with people who will see you there, and be happy to see you right then (even at that first show, I had been met by a couple of really cool guys who were welcoming and happy to see me), that’s a rush. It’s more than a rush. If “a rush” was the base level, this would be a rush for that.

There’s a lot I still don’t really have a good grasp on, partly because I have a hard time interpreting and understanding and all the rest of it (so, a bit of a cognitive lack from the disability--this is not an excuse of any kind to do anything less than the best that a person can do, in terms of being a decent person, nor is it a plea for mercy or sympathy: I am not a sympathy case). Sometimes it would feel like some people put undue pressure on the scene in general. As if it’s not supposed to be about doing what makes you happy, first and foremost, and sometimes I like it joke about calling it “this thing of ours” because of the mob mentality stage I felt it was going through when I was just getting into it, up until about 7 or 8 years after the fact, when I stopped going to shows as much.

Sometimes, people would try to intimidate or harass me, whether it’s because they feel uncomfortable about a guy in a wheelchair going to shows, or whether they were bored as shit and needed a (supposedly) easy target. The sun stopped shining so bright, the flowers grew a little more feebly, sometimes not at all. My tastebuds were completely blown. 

Photo: Gray Muncy

I haven’t completely ruled out going to shows again, and if I find a way to do so (the local venues near me that hold hardcore shows are all closed now, and accessibility and transportation are a struggle for me). But if I do, I’m looking forward to going to shows and not finding myself caught in the middle of watching some scene politics unfold.