Our headline this week is a quote from a song by The Specials called “Ghost Town.” It was about the violence in the clubs in England in the early 1980s that was killing off the Ska music scene. And it’s appropriate to use it here because of a recent incident that took place in Charleston, one that has a direct connection to the situation in the UK nearly forty years ago.
I am writing this piece as a blind item. The reasons for this are many. I have not been able to contact the police officer in charge of the investigation and don’t want to do anything to hinder the process. Also, I don’t want to further sensationalize this story. The raw truth is bad enough.
Almost two weeks ago, in the restroom at a local music venue/bar, a member of one of the bands on the bill that night was severely beaten by a member of another band. There was some imagined slight a week or two earlier that was followed by harrassment and a series of online threats. There are witnesses. The police were called and the victim spent the night in the ER.
This was a brutal and savage beating. It was ten days before the swelling went down enough for the doctors to determine if reconstructive surgery would be needed. Luckily, surgery will not be required, but the pain, bruises, fractured skull and facial bones and broken orbital bones will linger.
The accused attacker is a member of a well-known local band and a convicted felon. Immediately after the attack he took off, realizing that his previous record would land him in prison for this vicious beating. As I go live with this post, I have not been able to determine whether or not he has been apprehended. (Update: I have learned that the attacker turned himself in to his probation officer the next day. Details of this article will be edited to reflect this fact)
This is all bad enough, but the problem has been compounded. The victim’s wife was berated for calling the police, and has been hassled online for even mentioning the attack on social media. People have gone so far as to suggest that she keep quiet “for the sake of the local music scene.”
This is nauseating. I cannot stress how absolutely wrong-headed it is to think that sweeping a violent and brutal felonious assault under the carpet would, in any way, help the local music scene. Rather, it will do the opposite.
There is only one appropriate response to this incident: The attacker should be fired from his band immediately, or that band should not be booked until the case is resolved. Any club that books this band, knowing that one of their members is accused ofa violent act can be seen as essentially condoning the attack.
I hope that this poorly-thought-out attempt at a cover-up ends abruptly. The music scene can’t be perceived as supporting the attacker in this case. If anything, a benefit show should be organized to help with the medical bills that the victim incurred from this attack.
Charleston’s music scene has yet to recover from the shooting of Jimmy Beasley back in April, 2014. Jimmy is doing better than anyone expected after taking 16 bullets, including two to the head, but the mere fact that such a shooting took place, just a few feet away from the front door of one of Charleston’s most popular music venues put a chill on attendance of the shows at the Capitol Street bars.
That shooting was entirely out of the control of the bar owners. It was not a security issue or anything that could have been “fixed.” It was two dangerous men with guns trying to kill somebody over something trivial. Both men are in prison now, but the music scene has yet to recover from the sense of danger that going downtown now engenders. People realize that this was far from typical, but it still contributes to a sense of insecurity that is not good for business. More often that not, talented musicians in Charleston play to empty, or near-empty bars.
This more recent violent episode (which did not happen at a Capitol Street bar) could very well have a detrimental effect on attendance at the venue where it took place, and it’s going to hurt business in general in the short-term, but a cover-up would do far more damage. If there are no repurcussions for what happened, the perception will be that there is no justice and that you’re taking your life into your own hands if you go out to hear music in Charleston. I already know plenty of people who feel this way.
We can’t have that. Charleston’s music scene has been worn to the nubs. The influx of aggressive homeless panhandlers into town this summer, combined with over-zealous meter maids, onerous user fees and streets that seem to be in a constant state of construction have made it far too easy for people to look elsewhere for their entertainment. There are some very good, positive things in the works, but we have to find ways to encourage them without trying to whitewash our problems.
The Bakery, which I’ve written about before, is preparing to open up part of its space as a non-profit all-ages venue. Charleston desperately needs an all-ages venue. We have nothing to introduce teens to the joys of live music. I want to see this succeed where so many other attempts at an all-ages venue have failed, but no parent is going to allow their kids to go to a show in Charleston if the word on the street is that convicted felons can brutally beat people and get away with it. I’m sure the folks in charge of The Bakery know full well that security is going to be a major undertaking, but they’re also in the sad position of paying for the sins of others. In this case they need to make sure to never book any band that the attacker is in, and they need to see to it that this matter is resolved quickly and justly.
I’ve been a vigourous and enthusiastic supporter of the local music scene for nearly thirty years. I’ve played bands on the various incarnations of Radio Free Charleston, I’ve designed flyers, I’ve promoted shows here in PopCult. I still play local bands on RFC on The AIR and do whatever I can to spread the word about the remarkable talent we have here. I’m not happy with the current state of malaise in our music scene. We have incredible artists producing amazing music, and the audiences are dwindling. We can’t afford to make mistakes like trying to cover up an attack of this nature. It WILL backfire. If nothing is done, then bands will continue to play to empty houses.
The Charleston music scene is not a particularly violent one. We’ve had this incident and the Beasley shooting, but compared to other cities we’re extremely peaceful. We are nowhere near as violent as the club scene was in London in the early 80s. What hurts is the perception of the public. People need to feel safe when they go out to hear music. Otherwise they will stop going out. Charleston is learning this now. PopCult will revisit this story once an arrest and, hopefully, a conviction occur.
Update: Since this article was originally posted, some additional information has come to my attention, and I have incorporated that into the post. One person was upset that I mentioned the shooting from 2014 along with this latest incident. I stand by that. Whenever I try to get some people to go to a show in Charleston, I am met with people saying that they simply don’t feel safe after that shooting. I have been a tireless advocate for Charleston’s music scene for a long time. I hate to see it portrayed in a negative light. To me, the attempted cover up of this assault was worse, and worse for the scene, than the assault itself.