In 1987 I attended a “Talking Heads” concert in the Memorial Arena at Lowell, Ma with my best friend and my girlfriend, Joyce. It was her first concert ever and we were in the “nosebleed” seats. I can’t remember who the back-up band was now, some forgettable nobodies but when the Talking Heads came on the place went wild. We loved them in those days, we were college graduate hipsters, with Don Johnson formless jackets, stubble and wearing sunglasses at night. The Talking Heads did great and then, after a very short set, they went back stage. At first we thought it was a typical short break but it got longer and longer and longer and we started to think the concert was over. It put a sour taste in our mouths because the tickets were expensive and if David Byrnne was walkng off now then he was just a prima donna.
And then there was a thought that spread through the crowd by telepathy, something I have never experienced before or since. That word was “Fire”. I could feel it sweep the crowd and it swept over me and with it, I was filled with animal panic. There was no smoke. There was no flame but just the same I felt it and I saw it on the face of everyone around me. Everyone was thinking “Fire!” and getting ready to panic. I stopped thinking with my rational brain and started thinking with my animal brain, the one that is connected directly to the “fight or flight” response. The auditorium was jammed to the rafters with people. I turned and looked behind me and saw the fire door with the exit sign lit above it in the darkness. My mind started doing calculations without my rational mind doing any thought at all. I can remember just how cool and logical it was in my head. It was saying to me, “If you step on Joyce’s head you can kick that guy behind her in the mouth and leap over the next row of seats and push those people out of the way and get to the fire door in less than three seconds.”
And I was getting ready to push off from the seat to execute my survival plan when the announcer came on. “Your attention, please, your attention please. There has been a technical difficulty backstage and the show will be delayed a few minutes. Please hang on, everything is under control.” And it repeated this mantra over and over. The crowd was still uneasy but then David Byrnne came out by himself to the mic and said, “We truly apologize for the delay. It seems there was a generator fire backstage and we lost power. We have enough power for the sound equipment but not for the light show, so we will give everyone a partial refund when you leave tonight. We’re really sorry and we’ll be right back with a rockin’ show for you all. Please hang on!” And he walked off.
I sat back into my uncomfortable chair and turned to Joyce. “You know,” she said looking at me strangely, “I almost thought there was a fire backstage.” She had felt it too. The basic animal fear of fire had transmitted itself to her as well. I didn’t mention that I was ready to trample her in my plan to escape. I didn’t think it would help my case for getting laid later that night if I did. So I turned to my friend Steve who said, “Did you feel the panic sweep the crowd?”, and again I was amazed. He had felt it too. I told him, “I was getting ready to kick your teeth in to get to that fire door,” and I laughed. “So was I,” he said, but he didn’t laugh.
In the end I realized what I had done. I was ready to sacrifice my girlfriend, whom I loved, and kill anyone in my way in my attempt to reach that fire door before anyone else or before it was too jammed to be an avenue of escape. I did it without thought, without plan. It simply came to me in that second, and if the announcer hadn’t come on when he did, I might have executed that plan. I knew in that moment that the entire crowd was on the verge of panic. You could feel it sweep the crowd, the panicked fear of fire in an enclosed space. Had even a lick of flame been visible, or the smell of smoke, I believe there would have been a widespread panic, chaos and death. As it was the show continued without a hitch. We missed the trippy lights as we got increasingly stoned and who cared about the few dollars they gave us back at the door when we filed out – but I never forgot how I was ready to kill my girlfriend in my own attempt to save my own miserable life.