The Mosh Pit
Issue #6 Saturday Night Edition
I had a podcast producer reach out to me last week who wanted to talk to me about 80’s hair metal and the culture of the Sunset Strip, so we met on Zoom and I answered her questions. It was a fun chat that reminded me of how old I am and how difficult it is to explain what life was like and what assumptions you made about the world as a woman before the #metoo era. I’m not sure she was even 30 years old, but she was super sweet and eager for information and resources.
I was also happy to talk with her because she is a fellow alumnus of my MLIS program at UCLA. Although not working in a library, she’d worked in digital archives, which was just starting to gain steam in the program when I graduated in 2003. During my time, people were still learning information architecture and debating format storage standards and cloud storage was still mostly conceptual and hadn’t scaled up.
Anyways, as we chatted for a minute about all of it, she commented that she didn’t meet many MLIS graduates out in the “real” world - and that among us, we all had a streak of subversiveness lurking below the ho-hum quiet Librarian stereotype. It’s a profession that draws a lot of misfits and awkward types, for sure, myself included.
And those of us who go on to be public librarians are a totally different breed from the coding/data security/archives types who often get MLIS degrees, but don’t usually like to mingle out with the general population in public service.
Public librarians are a part of a super-elite club. We are pretty hardcore and tough. Like, Green Berets or something. Battle tested.
Either way though, it’s like being part of a secret society when you have an MLIS. We speak the same language and have a similar “information should be free and easily accessible” mindset. We are out there on the front lines, taking all the fire, surviving the mosh pit, and we’ve got stories.
Or at least I do.
For as tough as it was at times, filled with disappointment and drama, the experience of being a librarian for 20 years was a remarkable spiritual and energetic experience for me. Just like being a metalhead has been.
But that was too much to cover for podcast research on hair metal.
One of the strange laws of librarianship is that you often have an answer for someone because you literally just researched that very question or topic for yourself. Or you just read the article. Or the book. Or you saw something, somewhere, and you recall it easily in just that moment the person asked the question, and now you know why.
It happened so many times over the years that I can say it with some authority and not feel like it’s really too woo-woo to admit: If I am going down a rabbit hole of curiosity about some random subject, I know I’m not researching just for me. Someone else is going to need that information.
I feel like it is part of my job on this earth to be well informed, because The Universe always knows which people to send to me. I’m just preloaded to stream the information.
I must still have that librarian energy because random people still ask me questions out in public. I’m usually in a daze of deep thought and I’m not big on being chatty - but I don’t want to be rude, either. Maybe it’s the long gray hair that signals “former Reference Librarian”. People comment on my hair all the time and I’m still not used to it. I don’t know.
Anyways, the point is - random people just talk to me and ask me questions.
Last week at Safeway in the meat aisle, an older guy with a goatee asked me how to cook a pot roast. Maybe he was hitting on me. I don’t know. I can’t tell these things anymore. I also can’t tell how old “older guys'' are because sometimes they are my age and I’m shocked. Anyways, I’ve been cooking pot roast for 30 years, so I told him what I knew about pot roast. It’s the librarian thing to do. But then again, any gray haired middle-aged woman in the meat aisle at Safeway is probably going to know how to cook a pot roast.
Out in the real world as a librarian over the years, numerous men have made inappropriate jokes about Librarians having sex in the stacks.
And look, when I say inappropriate - it doesn’t mean I’m offended. It’s kind of funny and I’ve got a dark sense of humor. And it’s possibly true - not in my direct experience, but you do hear stories over the years of sex in the library. It’s mostly the patrons, though, not so much the librarians.
We had a strange guy who rode the bus to the library for a while to give blow jobs in the parking lot for $20. And one time I walked in on a mentally challenged teenager from a group home masturbating herself in the children’s bathroom.
Nothing at UCLA quite prepared me for that.
But we did acknowledge the sexy librarian stuff at UCLA, and yeah, it gets old after a while.
Like, really? There’s nothing else you’re curious about?
They wanna know if librarians doink in the stacks. If we wear lacy bras and garter belts under the good-girl cardigans and long skirts. Gah.
And as a writer, part of me thinks that I could make a boatload of money writing dirty librarian erotica. Holy shit. Should I say that out loud? Note to self: new income stream.
And now that I think about it, it’s probably that feature, that stereotype of sexual subversiveness that drew me to the profession to begin with. That Madonna/Magdalene dichotomy. The enigma wrapped in a mystery. Smart girl/Dirty girl. The Metalhead Librarian.
What a difference a hair tie makes, no?
Being smart is sexy. I like knowing too much for my own good. It makes me feel safe and empowered that my brain is a big, dirty, open, curious, complex animal brain. I absorb random bits of useless knowledge. I feel like an alpha female when it comes to information. Hungry like the wolf.
I wasn’t rich, and I wasn’t ever the prettiest girl in the room, I just didn’t want to be dumb and closed-minded and annoying. I want to know more. Be self-sufficient. I want to know the nuances. I want to know the conspiracy theories. I want to find patterns to connect together. I like picking apart and questioning authority. Challenging my assumptions. Digging through sources. Reading what is forbidden or controversial.
I felt like it was my job as a librarian to know a little bit about a lot of stuff.
You know, like a Claven. (If you’re old enough to get the reference, congratulations, you get a scoop of Metamucil.)
When serving the public, you develop an intuition about people. You can see the crazy in their eyes. You can hear pain. You can see trauma in their aura. And you have to be aware of it. Sometimes your personal safety depends on it.
I know plenty of librarians - both men and women - who have been assaulted or stalked.
It’s part of an unspoken survival skill set that public librarians don’t often talk about: a balance of logic and intuition. We way, way overthink things, but we also act on instinct and gut. We bounce back and forth all day between the two when dealing with people. And it can be exhausting.
It was a combination of those things that drew me to the subversiveness of the Sunset Strip when I was eighteen years old. Heavy metal was both deeply smart and over-thought in some ways - contrived - and then base, dirty, animal, sexy in many others. I like much of it all along the spectrum.
The Sunset Strip was fun, joyful, celebratory. But it could also be demeaning, dark, and predatory.
It was what you made of it, but it was a tribe, the metal community. It accepted everyone, no matter where you came from or your education level or what you looked like. You didn’t have to be smart to understand, play, or enjoy metal - but it also attracted some real brainiacs, nerds, bookworms, sci-fi and superhero geeks, computer prodigies, visual artists, and virtuoso-level musicians.
You could be whoever you wanted to be in the metal community. We stood up for the underdogs. We were the underdogs. But you also had to be careful.
Same with Librarianship.
It’s been more than two years since I’ve seen a live music show.
It was in October of 2019, and we took our son to see TOOL at the hockey arena for his birthday. Both of my kids love music, but my son loves the heavier stuff - so we hauled him across town on a school night so he could see Danny Carey and his really big drum set from the 22nd row on the floor, center stage. It was his first concert and my last concert, and we all had a great time. Maynard lives in Arizona, so it was kind of like a hometown crowd.
Earlier that year though, I went to a concert all by myself. I do that once in a while.
Hub doesn’t really like it when I go out at night alone, but you know, I’m a big girl and if I want to go see Sacred Reich and Violence at a seedy converted theater in the worst part of Mesa on a Saturday night, then dammit, I’ma gonna. He’s protective and doesn’t want me to get hurt, and I appreciate him and his husbandly concern.
But, someone had to stay home with the kids, and he’s not into some of the heavy stuff like I am. I’ve been going to metal shows a long, long time.
I didn’t know any Violence songs at all, but I enjoyed what I heard and it was an intense show.
I loved Sacred Reich in high school and they had been on Metal Blade so I knew most of their songs and man - they held up so well. Plus they are a Phoenix band, so it was a local crowd of metal people, my people, usually overwhelmingly cool even with the mosh pit swirling a few feet away from me.
Of course, this was June in Arizona, so cool isn’t a good descriptor. It was literally a steamingly hot, crowded, smelly, loud, friendly, joyful and an overwhelmingly fleshy, primal, human experience that I hadn’t had in a long time.
I wore a loose and comfy tank top and I had sweat dripping down my back and off my elbows. From my scalp and into my eyes, complete with streaky eyeliner. I was soaked straight through my skinny crop jeans and my feet were squeaking in my Vans, as one does not wear flip-flops to a metal show. I’d forgotten I could sweat that much.
My friend, concert photographer extraordinaire, Mike Savoia, saved a tiny little spot up near the stage for me while he ran around taking pictures. I was grateful for the friendly face and the relatively safe vantage point adjacent to the mosh pit. I was still tender from breast surgery and radiation and didn’t want to get bonked around, and I didn’t. I was careful.
I went home that night energized and grateful and I felt reconnected with a part of myself that I’d missed for a while, that primal feeling being in a herd of people. I’d missed the fun intensity of an old fashioned metal show. Of being alone on a Saturday night out in the wild.
I made it home safely and showered the sweat and energy and humanity off me and collapsed into a restless sleep. I had to go to work the next day, and I still smelled like BO and smoke when I woke up so I took another shower in the morning.
I worked my shifts on the main floor of the library that day after the show, and mingled with the general population as I had been doing for almost two decades.
For a moment, I stood there looking all around me in the library. The seekers, the readers, the volunteers, the disabled, the students, the lost, the travelers, the homeless people, the smelly and mentally ill people - some of them regulars that I’d been seeing for years - and I knew in that moment that just as I’d missed the sweaty metal shows, I’d also miss the library when the time came for me to leave my job.
The best damn part of the library was being on the floor with the people. The ugly, raw, truth of our savage beings. The metaphorical mosh pit. When resources are scarce and times are tough, people flock to the library as a lifeline. Looking for answers, help, enlightenment, connection, and sometimes just for the luxury of air-conditioning in June in Phoenix. I was out there shoulder to shoulder with people who were often in dire circumstances. Busted out, broken down, sometimes hungry.
I ran a program for kids that gave out meals after school and sometimes it was the only dinner they’d get - a sun-butter sandwich and tiny apple and a piece of string cheese.
I’ve eaten government cheese. We used fast-food napkins for toilet paper when I was kid. I was born in a trailer park. I get it. I know where I come from.
What I see in them - in the public - is me. What I see in everyone is potential. Life is what you make of it, and man, I hope everyone makes it.
It’s a full-contact sport, if you will, and I felt at home doing the work. I could see, hear, and feel their humanity, their pain, their biases, their fears. There is a realness to the public library and the truth of humanity was right in my face every day.
However they viewed me, I don’t know. But I did my best to help. I answered a lot of questions, taught a lot of classes, and gave a lot of advice over the years.
I’d feed hungry kids at work and then go home after a 10-hour day and take a quick shower to wash off the energy and heaviness and make dinner for my own small children, grateful that I could. Grateful for the fridge full of food and the snug cottage and timeliness of my paychecks.
And I do miss it. I miss bantering with my regulars, being of service to people in need of help. I’m trying to translate all the best parts of my old career into a business now, working from home, helping other writers, sharing what I know and giving advice when I’m asked. It’s going pretty well so far. But there is more I could do. More I want to do.
I’ll figure it out.
But the main thing I need to do is keep writing.
In my everyday life now, I’m a middle-aged suburban mom of two teens. My whole life looks very normal to those who don’t know me well. I do have a Motley Crue Shout At The Devil poster hanging in my garage, though, and it makes me smile every time I pull in.
My kids’ friends’ parents know I was a librarian and they know I’m a writer and they know I’m a metalhead to some degree, but I try to keep most of the subversiveness tamped down so the weirdness doesn’t pop out and embarrass my kids. Even though that’s fun to do sometimes.
The parents might profess their love for Bon Jovi and that’s about it, which is fine. I love all kinds of music, and I don’t need to explain myself. They aren’t going to understand the finer points of Queensryche’s Operation:Mindcrime, for instance. Or recognize that there is a narrative arc in Guns n’ Roses’ Appetite For Destruction.
They don’t speak my language in that regard. We have other things in common. But nothing deep and meaty. Nothing like the connections I feel with other metalheads, or book lovers, or writers, or artists living their lives committed to their art.
I haven’t been to a concert in two years, and I’m no longer working at the library, so I’m left with the writing to find my tribe. A hybrid tribe. My subversive, authentic tribe of misfits and intuitives and free-thinkers, the ones searching for the secret knowledge, the hidden mysteries, the truth under the veneer of accepted narrative, searching for common sense and some kind of energetic, ancestral wisdom amongst us. Other travelers on the road, looking for a friendly face in a mosh pit of humanity.
We think we are these smart big-brained creatures that can science our way out of problems, but we’re beasts. Emotional, over-wrought, primates. Intuitive animals with savage primal hearts that beat with a rock n’ roll rhythm.
We need each other. Despite how much we are divided lately, we really do need each other. Sometimes it’s at a thrash show. Sometimes it’s at the public library. And sometimes it’s an email from a writer, or an old friend, or someone we just thought about.
We make things so much more complicated than they need to be. Sometimes we overthink when we just need to accept our raw humanity and our basic need for human contact. For revelry. For music and joy and the free expression of our deepest primal desires. For truth. For bad jokes and belly laughs and connection.
Primal is what is most true within us. Primal is sexy, unbiased curiosity, applied wisdom, an open loving heart, and living as a free, fearless soul. It takes a little courage to live this way. In a world of shame, conformity, and virtue signaling, it can feel subversive to be open, vulnerable, and fearless.
Primal is the mosh pit of life. It’s not entirely safe, but it’s not dangerous either. You have to trust humanity, and yourself. It is what you make of it.
And I hope we all make it.
All are welcome to join in.
Happy Thanksgiving week, friends. May you have some relaxing and loving days ahead, full of gratitude and connection and pie, surrounded by your special people.
Do good out there, and thanks for being here.