Geoffrey William Rickly. Talkhouse Contributing Writer and former singer of Thursday and Ink & Dagger. Current singer of UN and No Devotion, making occasional music of various shapes and sizes. You can follow him on Twitter here.
This past summer I took a terrifying journey. Though it was a road that I had walked many times before, I was nonetheless unprepared for the horrors that awaited me, the grueling tests of physical endurance and almost unbearable psychological punishment. What follows is a list of the atrocities witnessed during my first time, as an adult human being, descending through the Nine Concentric Circles of the Warped Tour. Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.
I joined the tour halfway in. My first date was in the Midwest. I don’t remember the city but I remember crossing what must have been called Acheron Street, ferried in a golf cart past what I’d describe as the waiting room for Satan’s Medical Practice.
Teens milled around, aimlessly floating from one car to the next, selling or buying tickets, pestering parents for money, blasting car stereos that played records of bands that were, in most cases, already playing live on stage a few hundred yards away. They flailed like they were being chased by hornets. And I loved watching them: they had real excitement, anticipation and even some innocence left.
As I watched, the driver was clearly trying to decide whether I was a musician or just a pervert with a guitar case. I flashed my credentials before this rock & roll Charon to try to reassure her, but the look on her face said she’d made up her mind: I must be both.
The First Circle: “The Punk Mall at That Parking Lot”
We crossed through the front gates and I saw the First Circle of the Warped Tour: the uninitiated. This area contains the food vendors and tents. The captives of this circle are the Abercrombie & Fitch-wearing inhabitants of a limbo that’s almost indistinguishable from their local mall. These kids got convinced to come to the event and now they wander between funnel cake stalls and hot dog stands, wondering what the big deal is.
The Second Circle: “Teen Lust”
“Whatever, she’s a whore anyway and she probably gave you something sticky on your dick.” Those words came out of the mouth of a barely-clothed 14 year old girl (I hate saying “girl” but “woman” seems clearly inappropriate in this case… Maybe just simply “female”?). I was positive she wasn’t addressing me, although she was looking right at me. Actually she was probably looking through me, as I’m over 30. She was covered in finger-paint and there were grope-y looking hand prints in questionable places. She had labeled the skin on the front of her body with “TITS” in yellow paint. Right then a little “dude” tripped over my guitar case and yelled over his shoulder “sext me later,” laughing and running away. I must be getting to that stage where I’d rather look after kids then act like them. And for that, I resent them.
The Third Circle: “Not Just Old, Also Fat”
Then on through the masses of shirtless bros with temporary Hello Kitty tattoos, clouds of mosh-dust, and bespectacled emo kids doing pull-ups at the U.S. Marine Corps tent. We passed behind the main stage and I saw one of my mortal enemies: the line for catering or, as it’s known to the damned, “The Great Worm.” It stretches hundreds of feet, you can be on it for over an hour and when you finally get to the front, an entire band will step in front of you because they earned a line-cut by performing some good deed. I’m not opposed to meritocracy, in principle, but you instantly feel like the protagonist in a Kafka story while contemplating the hidden bureaucratic systems required just to get a quick morsel of food.
This is the thing: The food is good… although I’m convinced it’s got some kind of mind control agent in it and this is why: every time I see a long line for anything, now, I get crazy hungry. It’s like a Pavlovian physical response on methamphetamine. So yes, I’m in there with all the other gluttons. Fuck it, pass me a Monster Energy Drink® to hold me over until I get to the front of the line. Besides, I’ll be so fucking amped up about eating at that point that I’ll probably grab some extra kale and another dessert when I’m done.
The Fourth Circle: “Greed”
In Dante’s Inferno, the Fourth Circle of Hell is reserved for sinners guilty of greed. I’ve been contemplating what, here at the Warped Tour, symbolizes greed in its purest form. Is it the tent city of band merchandising where you can buy 25 different t-shirts by any one of 500 different bands? Is it the “lifestyle brand” clothing companies with their cynical “I Hate Everyone” and “Misunderstood, Fuck You” outsider sloganeering? Is it the looming carnival attractions branded with major corporations’ names? Is it in the crazy, insatiable eyes of the kids as they rush back and forth between all these things that they can buy? I honestly don’t know if there’s anything wrong with any of it… and besides, I have to count the money from these silkscreen posters and drink this super-extra-cold can of water. Mmmm-mm. You ever have water from a can? At first it looks nasty, but then it’s like “this stays cold forever”… Monster Energy Drink®, this may be a little maneuver to get your branding on stage with the bands but, damn, it’s so good. Please start making canned water the rest of the year. (p.s.: That was a pretty good little pitch, right? Let’s get lunch sometime, Monster Energy Drink®. I think we could work well together.)
Moving on to the Lower Circles of Hell, I mean the Warped Tour… (These circles are guarded by falling angels — you know, Bad Religion, the Buzzcocks, Joan Jett… This is where they hang out, like those bad older kids hang out around the gates of high school, smoking cigarettes.)
The Fifth Circle: “Your Band Sucks…”
…said the Old Punk Guy to the Young Up-and-Coming Goth Singer. “Whatever, your band sucks more,” replied the Goth Singer to the Old Punk Guy. This article is getting long but Warped Tour is longer and hotter than anything else in the world and people get mad. The old guys get mad that the new bands are more popular and cocky (and usually pretty shitty) and the young bands get angry that the bands they grew up on, think they suck. There: anger.
The Sixth Circle: “Heresy”
Some people have no respect for Order. Every day there is a lottery to see who goes onstage at what time. It’s a cardinal rule of Warped Tour, started by the founder, Kevin Lyman, to do away with everyone fighting and complaining about who deserves the best spots. Of course, there are always people who don’t accept that and try to have their way. Hang around the production area and you hear a lot of complainers. That’s not the only order. People break simple rules like don’t sleep with your head facing forward on a bus or don’t shit/puke in the bus toilet or don’t talk shit to the people who manage tens of thousands of problems a day. You know what happens to heretics? They have to face a woman named Lisa. And, I’m not saying she has but I believe she would stab Glenn Danzig right through his mesh shirt if he said one word about the reunited Misfits opening in New Jersey before anyone has gotten in.
The Seventh Circle: “Violence”
I was in a bus crash on the Warped Tour last summer. A handful of us Acoustic Dudes and a bunch of fresh-faced production kids hit a gigantic horse on the highway in Montana. We all kind of woke up in medias res, with broken glass, a wrecked bus, horse blood and meat on us and our belongings… and a storm raging outside.
But that’s not the violence I want to talk about. The violence I’m talking about is violence against art. I have a picture. It’s a picture of me, a band called Blood on the Dance Floor, and the actor Matthew Lillard, who is the new voice of Scooby Doo. And I believe, in the truest sense, that this photograph is a Violent Crime Against Art, and maybe also against Nature. Here’s why, in three simple steps.
1) Blood on the Dance Floor makes me feel old and irrelevant. Why? Because I don’t know what the fuck it is. It’s electro-pop-scream-metal-violence in goth drag that celebrates “cumming” on the audience with giant foam canons and has one of the most positive, inspirational record inserts that I’ve ever read. It’s either horrible nonsense or next-level art. But it’s truly made me realize, I don’t know the difference. So the singer with red hair and scary make-up told me that Thursday’s song, “You know,” he says, “the car crash one” changed his life. Luckily I was wasted and said, “How can I change it back?” Rimshot, dad… Am I right?
2) While he was complimenting my old band (sniff, it pains me to say that), Matthew Lillard starts to quiz him, apparently in earnest, about how it was that Blood on the Dance Floor came to be so mind-numbingly awesome.
3) Just then, snap, someone took picture of us. And now I permanently reside in Hell.
The Eighth Circle: “Fraud”
OK, this one is all me. I’ll tell you why. I don’t remember anything or anyone. Ever. Ever, ever. All summer long people come up to me with warm smiles and hugs and I look like a friendly Alzheimer’s patient, greeting their long-lost… someone. I just don’t remember. I don’t ever. Sorry, friends. I have two people that I’ve worked with that have blond hair and glasses. This last summer one of them was on tour with us and I called him by the other one’s name all summer. I even brought up stories that were impossible for him to remember because he wasn’t there with me, like the time we jumped into that river in Florence. Sometimes nicknames help, like when we all called this one sound engineer “Punisher Pete” (behind his back, though… He is a fucking punisher). The only problem was our lighting guy thought that was his real name and called him Punisher Pete to his face all tour. But hey, if you met me on tour, and you’re reading this, I’m just kidding and seriously, I totally remember you.
The Ninth Circle: “I Fucking Love This Place”
I once saw my former bandmate, Tom, have a seizure from dehydration and exhaustion on tour. He slumped forward but was miraculously cushioned by a massive stockpile of fluffy white Wonder Bread (R.I.P.). He had to go to the hospital. It was one of those moments that makes you say, maybe enough Warped Tour for now, right? No, not me! I’m the traitor in this story! I convinced my band to play the tour in 2001, 2002, 2004, 2006, also the Japanese version and its sister tour Taste of Chaos. I even met my wife on the Warped Tour. Hell, I got married on the tour… And I still came back to play solo in 2012!!! Hahahahahahaha. This is that part in Heart of Darkness where you realize that the real darkness lies within the souls of the main characters. See, now you don’t even have to read that one.