Photo by Philip Cosores
Music, Movies & Moods is a regular free-form column in which Matt Melis explores the cracks between where art and daily life meet. Today, he discusses the underlying issue with Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme kicking a journalist.
Concerts aren’t complicated. Most of us have gone to enough to know that there’s a fairly simple code of conduct that guarantees you’ll attend and come home in one piece: don’t be a dick in the pit, keep the weed discrete, and under no circumstances should you throw anything at the band or attempt to climb onto the stage. Abide by those basic tenets, and you can even be the guy who wears the shirt of the band playing the show. Nobody’ll care.
There are very few exceptions to that last rule. Unless Sir Paul McCartney anoints you, Billy Joe Armstrong enlists you to help out on “When I Come Around”, or Morrissey signals for a hug, we know to keep our asses in the audience where they belong. We also know that that force field between stage and audience only operates in one direction, and we admittedly love it when our favorite artists burst through it. Whether it be sprinting down a ramp that protrudes out into the crowd, hopping barriers and taking a victory lap during an extended jam, or Wayne Coyne rolling his human hamster ball across a sea of outstretched hands, memories are often made when performers break down barriers and join their fans.
And then you have moments like during Saturday night’s Queens of the Stone Age set at KROQ’s Almost Acoustic Christmas in Los Angeles. During the band’s fourth song, “The Evil Has Landed”, frontman Josh Homme clearly kicked the camera of a pit photographer while heading back towards his bandmates. The photographer, Chelsea Lauren, later posted footage of the incident on her Facebook page and explained that Homme’s kick had caused the camera to strike her in the face, severely enough that she had to receive treatment later that night at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Merry Christmas, indeed.
After Consequence of Sound ran the story, a colleague of mine who has photographed the band on several occasions suggested that QOTSA have very specific instructions for how they can be shot in concert. That might explain Homme’s audition for The Next Next Karate Kid, but in no way does that make his actions condonable. Whether Lauren was “out of bounds” on her own, the event staff flubbed the instructions given to her, or Homme had one too many beers (Lauren’s explanation), there’s no justification for ever striking a fan, journalist, or event employee unless in self-defense. Having someone snap your “bad side” clearly doesn’t count.
Lauren later told Variety that she would be filing a police report today, and if so, Homme will likely be held accountable and receive some sort of slap on the wrist. However, this does come at a time when the power dynamic between artist and fan (let’s say audience, in this case) has come under re-examination and increased scrutiny. When we purchase tickets and attend a concert, we are quite literally giving an artist a platform. They have the microphone, pick the songs, and decide how to use the concert space, which includes entering the audience if they choose. There’s no debating who controls that situation. Some would argue that part of that same power bestowed upon artists has allowed them to betray the trust of fans offstage, leading to many of the sexual misconduct allegations sweeping the music industry today. In this case, it’s clear that Homme felt his performance or frustrations were more important than a lowly photographer’s well-being. And, yes, that’s a problem.
It can be easy to over-react to singular events. For instance, San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey got severely injured during a collision play at the plate a few years ago – one of only a few injuries in thousands of similar plays across the decades – and now, thanks to a new, practically inscrutable rule, one of the most exciting plays in baseball, one that rarely ever led to injury, has been all but banished from the game. We can say the same for artists going out into crowds and causing harm. Rarely does it occur. We end up reporting on it a couple times a year tops. Does Homme’s dick move mean venues should move stages back, erect more daunting barriers, or not allow artists to interact with fans out in the crowd? Probably not. Clearly, fans want the intimacy of those moments, and some artists choose to oblige.
But that doesn’t change the fact that Homme — pissed, pissed off, and “lost in performance” as he might have been — saw no problem with assaulting a photographer, who odds are is also a Queens fan. Again, hurl something onstage, and don’t be surprised if your ass gets tossed out. Climb onstage, and you’d better hope you can slip a flying tackle or two, but as a fan, journalist, or event employee, the platform given to that band does not give them the right to do to you what Homme did to Lauren: enter her space and cause her physical harm. That aforementioned force field might work one way, but respect must work both.
This isn’t a call for sweeping changes. Lauren should press charges. Homme should apologize to her (update: he has), his fans, and the venue and take his punishment. And I leave it up to his fans to decide whether or not they want to plunk down their money to see a frontman who assaulted one of their own. But at a time when artists and bands are facing floods of allegations regarding how they’ve abused the power their art has given them in some of the most disgusting ways imaginable, maybe it’s time for those with power, like Homme, to reflect on how they interact with their fans, which includes how they speak to them and share space with them, both during and after shows.
Simply put: nobody, except maybe the dick in the pit, deserves to spend the night in the ER for attending a rock show.