Dear guy who puked next to me at the heavy metal festival,
I’m not sure how much you remember about the first time you vomited last Sunday afternoon. I imagine, like many who achieve epicness—champion athletes, first responders, Medal of Honor winners—you were primarily running on double-bass drum fueled adrenaline, removed from your person and the mosh pit below, transported to that supernatural place. You were in the flow, in the zone and in the moment, but not, I assure you, in the restroom.
So allow me to take you back. To appropriately set expectations, I’m only referring here to the first time you puked. The second and third times are worthy of their own documentation (by now, you’ve had ample opportunity to relive both on YouTube) while the fourth was, alas, forgettable by everyone other than the youngster with a back tattoo of a cross made out of two burning penises who picked the wrong day to go sockless.
I should start with a confession. This was my first heavy metal festival. And as much as I wanted to look “metal” as I leaned against a cyclone fence and tried to make the demonic extension of my pinkie and index finger look authentic, I was in a state of borderline panic.
The day started badly for me when the police patrolling the dirt parking lot forced some fellow attendees to empty the contents of their beer and Jack Daniels bottles. To play it safe (perhaps overly so), I emptied the last few dozen Ativan tablets from my plastic prescription bottle into the rising creek of booze.
I quickly followed this judgment error by committing a series of outdoor heavy metal festival faux pas: White shirt, a Costco jug of Purell for which I had fashioned a handy carrying strap made of yarn, Jewish star on front-facing baseball cap, pronouncing the J in Jagermeister, asking some folks on the edge of the mosh pit if any of them had caught the Coldplay concert at the same venue last summer. And after hearing one band’s frontman admonish fans to “Dump a fucking mother-fucking beer” on the head of anyone who doesn’t have their hands in the air I turned to a guy next to me with spots of nearly-dry blood bordering his shoe-polish black mohawk and asked, “Hey, he’s being metaphorical, right?”
And so there I stood, a bit later in the afternoon, wearing a new, black shirt over beer and Purell drenched skin, making the best of it, looking for some passageway into the vibe of the event. And that’s when I first caught sight of you with your lightning striped cargo shorts, splotchy mustache and ever so slightly misshapen head. You tossed your sweat-soaked tank top to your girlfriend and dove into the mosh pit only to be lifted by hundreds of hands on the way to a violent ejection towards the wall of yellow windbreakered crew members guarding the stage. And boom, after a couple self-inflicted fist blows to your lightly contusioned chest, you were staggering back into the people mass for another ride on the human-powered roller coaster.
After six or seven rides, I could see the toll on your bruised and scratched body. And then it happened. You zigzagged your way from the foot of the stage back towards the crowd. You weebled and you wobbled. A gag reflex emanating from the tips of your index and pinkie toes convulsed through your body. Time stopped. The lead singer simulated a guitar solo on his now horizontal mic stand. The circle of bodies slamming into each other at the outer edge of the mosh pit, sensing something fucking fucked, spread like the waters of the Red Sea.
And then darkness fell over me, you, the stage, the pit and the knobby-tired motorcycles doing airborne flips over the chick in the leather bikini; all of us eclipsed by a blanket of puke, the contents of which—cotton candy, corn dogs, Coors Light, a remarkably intact segment of a free mini-poster included in Motorhead’s latest CD box set—left me nostalgic for the first 35 minutes of the festival.
On its own, the heaving release of more than 23% of your body weight would likely get you through a few rounds of America’s Got Talent but your inner band was just getting tuned up. After a brief series of stumbles, your heroic instincts took over. Like a Knight in Shining Metal, you circled the massive outline of your former insides steaming on the sun-baked asphalt, dropped to one knee, looked across the sea of vomit towards your pride-beaming lady, flipped the bird with both hands, and said, “Babe, take a picture of me and my puke.”
Involuntarily, my fists rose towards the sky and I knew there was only one thing to scream: “That is so fucking Metal.”
You then rose, shook your head like a bull ready to charge, swallowed several fistfuls of extra spicy Nacho Cheese Doritos, decreed that your girlfriend show you her tits, and dove right back into the mosh pit. Above the pounding din, I heard the echo of Al Michael’s voice: “Do you believe in miracles?”
I’m not sure how others reacted, but I assume they were, like me, moved. The last time I threw up was when I did a Cool Hand Luke impersonation at my big sister’s eleventh birthday party. I cried for about four hours and to be safe, my mom kept me home from school (and my afternoon psychiatry appointments) for nearly a week.
But, less than 90 seconds removed from an unimaginable heave, you were already back in the game. And I finally got it. If I was to survive the day (and who are we kidding, life in the outside world as well), I had to be metal, just like you. Maybe this letter is just a way to let you know, I did it. My hands stayed in the air for hours, I moshed, I pitted, and aside from a quick Ibuprofen-related trip to the first-aid tent, I banged my fucking head nonstop (even between bands).
As I write this homage with my new Pandora metal station ripping through my headphones, I’m reminded of some philosophy I received as dusk settled over the festival. Just before being forcibly removed by three security guards and a couple members of the local police force, a guy in underwear and a patched denim vest approached and gripped the sides of my shoulders.
“Think about it, Man,” he said as he looked past me towards the stage lined with stacks of Marshall amps. “Every time that dude with the guitar hits his strings the sound goes through my ears right into my fucking head.”
If I could have puked, I would have.
— Dave Pell