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Between hard rock and a hard place

Linkin Park's gig on Tuesday night was attended by many young children. Luckily, nothing happened. But what if one of them had been hurt?

On Tuesday night, I went to see Linkin Park.

I must confess right here that I am not a fan. But I went for several reasons:
Because my old schoolmate, Susan, had called to beg me to go with her.

Because I wanted to experience a rock band the way it should be - in the open air, out on the Padang, rather than in the sanitised and acoustically-challenged Singapore Indoor Stadium.

But most of all, I went because I was intrigued by the fact that this loud nu-metal band had so many young fans. I wanted to see how kids fit in at a rock concert, if they did at all.

Susan's eight-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter are huge Linkin Park fans. But she didn't take them because she thought they were still too young for a rock concert.

'If my son were here, he'd want to go right to the front of the stage and how am I going to control him there?' she added, as we two old fogeys hung near the back of the field, away from the sweaty jostlers and where air was readily available.

Another friend of mine, Anne, was more intrepid. She was there with her two girls, aged 11 and 13. Unlike us, they pushed their way upfront near the stage.
She called me the next day to report that mother and children had all survived. Barely.

But more of that later.

INDEED, while Linkin Park proved to be an awesome live band, generating enough energy on the Padang to light up a National Day Parade, I was more amazed at the number of young fans there.

The youngest kid looked about five. He was there with his older sister, who looked about eight, and his parents.

Elsewhere, dotted on the outer periphery of the crowd were kids, perched on their fathers' shoulders, scrunching up their faces and stretching out their hands with their thumb, forefinger and pinky out in a rock gesture.

Next to me were two girls, who looked like they were eight and 10, singing their lungs out, word for word, to practically every song.

These were rock chicks in the making, I observed proudly, especially when one of them walked up to the tall guy standing in front of her, tapped him on the shoulder and asked him to move so she could get a better view.

Never in my whole lifetime of concert-going have I seen such a diverse group of people in one place. There were families, groups of teenagers, young couples, out-and-out rockers and corporate types in their 40s and 50s.

Expats and locals, kids and grandparents, pogo-ed and headbanged as one.

I still don't know what it is about Linkin Park that can pull 15,000 people of such different backgrounds together, especially since the band's lyrics, ironically, are about alienation and isolation.

I'm not even talking about the estimated 1,000 people who were listening in for free outside the Padang grounds. They were hanging around at the Cenotaph near the Esplanade, as well as the City Hall steps just across the road.

BUT this unity in diversity also brought with it its own unique set of problems.
Before the concert started, the organisers announced that because there were kids in the crowd, there would be no moshing. And especially because there were kids, everyone should keep an eye out for each other and be on their best behaviour so nobody would get hurt.

This apparently did not sit well with some older fans. A woman standing next to Anne's 11-year-old daughter, Frances, yelled out: 'It's a rock concert, not a ballet performance! They should get out!'

She later leaned towards Frances and hissed: 'Things are going to get rough later here, so you'd better get out,' as she jumped up and down to the music, elbows deliberately out.

Luckily, no child got hurt that night. But if one had, I wonder what the public reaction would have been.

It's not easy to be objective when young kids are injured.

Would the organisers have been blamed? Should an age limit have been set? But if that had been the case, many young fans would not have been allowed to get in to watch their favourite band.

Would hellfire and condemnation have rained down on Ugly Singaporeans like the inconsiderate woman who yelled at Frances? Or the Ugly Angmohs who smuggled beer into the venue and got progressively more haphazard in their pogo-ing the more tanked they got?

Hindsight is always 20/20. It would have been too easy to find scapegoats.
Perhaps the organisers could have followed the example of Linkin Park's gig in Kuala Lumpur last year: There was a mosh pit but it was admissible only to those 18 and above, which ostensibly allowed those who wanted to slam dance to do so, without bruising petrified kids (or adults, like me).

But ultimately, as hard as it may be to swallow, the responsibility would have been the parents' and theirs alone.

It's a bit disingenuous to depend on the kindness of strangers at a standing-room-only rock concert, especially when emotions get high as the music gets louder.

Anne said she even saw a 10-year-old boy on crutches in her midst, accompanied by his young mother. Luckily, the people in front allowed him to move all the way to the front.

If kids want to get in the thick of the action, parents have to accept the risk that they may get hurt. Or they can choose to do what Susan did - leave the kids at home where they won't be in harm's way.

Either way, something would have been gained, and something would have been lost.

Susan's kids stayed at home, unbruised and safe, but with the knowledge that their parents will take them to see Linkin Park when they're a little older.
Anne's kids, while a bit shaken, had an enriching experience they will never forget and, I daresay, are a whole lot the wiser about what to expect at rock concerts in future - if Anne allows them to go again, that is.

No parenting guidebook will teach you when to let go of your children, allow them to take risks and live a little.

It is a decision you make which you have to live with, whatever the consequences. There's only so much blame you can pin on external circumstances.
As for me, I learnt never again to wear kitten heels to a concert where I have to stand on - nay, sink into - grass.

I made a decision and my shoes paid the price, but I can only blame myself - not the field.

But that's another story altogether. Or is it?

The Straits Times - June 24, 2004



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