Making the leap in the mosh pit

In the mosh pit… Leeds Festival 2013. Photograph: Leeds Festival on Facebook / Todd Owyoung
27 Aug 2013 @ 9.44 am
| Opinion

John Tomsett sees his son undergo a rite of passage amid the mud of the Leeds Festival


Parenting’s a tough gig.

There was nothing quite like being in the mosh-pit as the Clash began their set. The first live track I heard them play was Clash City Rockers. Those opening chords growled out across the Brighton Top Rank and the surge of energy was raw, elemental and purifying.

In those days as a 14 year-old I’d go down into Brighton on the bus paying a child’s fare and get into the Top Rank as an adult. That journey was literally and metaphorically a rite of passage; the first time in the mosh-pit and I was changed forever, a child no longer.

A couple of years ago the BBC repeated Westway To The World, the Don Letts documentary on The Clash, awash with live footage. As soon as the credits rolled the phone rang: my sister. “If I’d known where you were going back then I’d have got mum to stop you!”

I recalled my sister’s words this weekend when I texted my 16-year-old son who was at his inaugural Leeds Festival – his post-GCSEs reward. Our first “conversation” went thus:

Me: How’s it going?

Joe: Mint.

Our second exchange was a little longer:

Me: Any news?

Joe: Mental

Me: Who u seeing?

Joe: Earl Wolf and Lunar C at the moment (BTW, of the 251 artists who played at Bramham Park this weekend, I’d heard of just eight)

And lastly:

Me: How’s the music?

Joe: Insane right in the mosh pit

Me: Have fun!

It took a lot for me to key that last response.

I identified completely with Joe’s apparent love of the dangerous edge of moshing, but I was driven to encourage him in his first experience of the mosh pit by something Sir Ken Robinson wrote in his seminal book, The Element.

Robinson writes about the myriad of pressures upon us not to do what we want to do, to be restrained. He explores the age-old parental farewell to our children, “Take care”.

Even in this most sensible and understandable phrase we attempt to prevent our sons and daughters from exploring the fascinating, risk-rich world.

Since I read The Element I have always tried to implore Joe to “have fun” rather than “take care”, though the latter still pops out sometimes when he’s out on his bike!

And when I sat in the festival’s pick-up zone on Sunday night, awaiting six mud-covered youths, I was reminded of another writer, and his seminal text – JD Salinger and his Catcher In The Rye.

At the heart of Salinger’s novel is the main character Holden Caulfield’s desire to protect the innocence of children, who are innocent because they haven’t yet been exposed to the “game of life.”

Holden has a recurring dream:

Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean – except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all.

Near the end of the novel, Holden begins to see that children – notably Phoebe his younger sister – will inevitably become more like adults. In the playground he watches her as

the carousel started, and I watched her go round and round… All the kids tried to grab for the gold ring, and so was old Phoebe, and I was sort of afraid she’s fall off the goddam horse, but I didn’t say or do anything. The thing with kids is, if they want to grab for the gold ring, you have to let them do it, and not say anything. If they fall off, they fall off, but it is bad to say anything to them

Holden’s moment of illumination is probably the best advice around for those of us with teenage kids. It’s hard, but we only ever have our children on loan; you have to let them do it, and not say anything…

And as I waited for Joe and his mates I watched thousands of youngsters drag themselves and what was left of their kit across the big field, not of rye but mud, to be met by quietly relieved parents.

They had all, in one way or another, grabbed for the gold ring. Many had been dropped off five days before as children and returned as young adults, changed forever.