Peter Bowes

The morning of December 4, 1979 was cold in Cincinnati. My dad had the thermostat rigged to lower the temperature at night to save energy. Some mornings I would sit over by the register to enjoy the blast of heat as the furnace brought the temperature back to normal. That was one of those mornings. I was in the sixth grade.

The night before, the local news had broken in with an announcement that some people had been killed at a Who concert downtown at Riverfront Coliseum. The news seemed bad to me, but I think I believed it wasn’t that unusual. I had an image in my mind of rock concerts as abjectly chaotic events where all kinds of horrible violent things happened on a regular basis.

For some reason my mother was concerned about a young man from our school named Peter Bowes. She just thought it seemed like the kind of thing he might attend.

I remember seeing Peter Bowes exactly once, when he went with us on a trip to Cowan Lake. He was a few years older than my older brother. His father was one of my dad’s work colleagues and part of my dad’s daily ride pool.

So, that following morning, while I warmed up by the heat register, my mom came into my room. She was crying. She said Peter Bowes had been killed at the concert.

I don’t think I knew what to say. “Oh, really?” were the words that came out–not in an apathetic sense, but in a “Holy shit” sense.

In all, eleven people had been killed, crushed as the crowd pushed toward the doors trying to get the best seats.

I remember when my mom went to visit the family. I think she brought some food.

“Festival seating” was justifiably excoriated in Cincinnati after that, and probably in much of the event business. Cincinnati banned it.

A few years later when The Who became a favorite of mine and my brother’s, there was a tension in that enjoyment, a somber undertone of what had happened when a crowd of people were too eager to hear it.

A few years later I attended my first rock show: we saw Yes at that same venue. It bore little resemblance to the mob scene I half-expected–in part because my impression was so distorted, in part because the band was rather less testosterone-fueled, and in part, probably, because the memory of what had happened at that place was relatively fresh.

More time has passed than I like to acknowledge. I’m older than the guys in The Who were then. Ned Criddle, one of the older kids who accompanied us to see Yes, has since passed away, and so has my brother (neither loss having anything to do with any concert). Riverfront Coliseum is now the U.S. Bank Arena.

I’ve never forgotten the date.

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18 thoughts on “Peter Bowes

  1. Very interesting. You and I are the same age and although I don't live in Cincinnati, I had the same kind of impression of the whole thing. I remember hearing about it, but since I had never been to a rock concert, and I was only 10 or 11, I really had no frame of reference for what happened. That ELEVEN people died at a rock concert. I didn't have a sense of crowds or anything like that. Rock concerts were big, loud (the Who being the loudest, too), full of drugs and hippies and people that were waaaaaay older than I was. I also became a big Who fan a few years later. That's very sad about the family friend.

  2. does your mom get those feelings often, scott? interesting that she sensed someone she knew had been at the show.I read about the tragedy some years later – it is still hard to believe people died over something that wasn't an emergency or life/death situation.thirty years. whoa.

  3. I saw Pearl Jam at the same venue a couple years ago. They became friends with the surviving members of the Who after Pearl Jam suffered a similar tragedy at the Roskilde Festival in 2000 (nine people were crushed). They sang the Who's "Baba O'Riley" that night in tribute to those who died. It was touching thing to witness.Thanks for the post, Scott. It's probably your best yet.

  4. I was an undergrad when I heard the news of the Who concert in Cincinnati. In a follow-up interview for Rolling Stone, Pete Townshend was contrite, but later became defensive and almost callous about the tragedy. It was a reaction to the attacks against the Who by British tabloids, but his remarks angered me; I stopped attending their concerts after that. I was turned off by the whole festival/coliseum rock scene anyway, and punk was making guys like the Who seem fat and old.

  5. Great post, Scott. There are some moments in childhood that always stand out; some happy and others not. Maybe they shape us in some way- becoming the 'defining memories' or 'sparkling moments' of various kinds of psychotherapy. I wonder if they are stored in a different place in the brain.

  6. Once at a Rush concert I said to Amy, "I'm getting to old for this." Of course, I was like 23 or 24. I never was totally into that scene. 🙂

  7. Actually, my mom just called to ask if I was all right. I wonder if I AAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRGH
    But seriously, that's a good question. I don't know if my mom has thoughts like that often or not.

  8. Thank you, sir.
    Damn. That Pearl Jam incident is fuzzy in my mind at best. Nine people. Holy crap. I don't know why I didn't remember that story better.

  9. Am too. Well, I don't know your age, but I was spinning 7" records on my last birthday. (I did skip kindergarten, but that's just because there wasn't any kindergarten to attend; we lived in rural Maine at the time.)

  10. I don't think I've read much that Pete said about it. I remember a picture in Time of a dejected-looking band leaving the venue. Although I couldn't tell if Pete looked more dejected or annoyed with the photographer.
    Re: liking the concert scene, see comment to Cranky… 🙂

  11. Thanks!
    Somewhere I heard that our brains contain a more-or-less complete log of our lives, but accessing the memories isn't necessarily easy. Is that true or balderdash?
    I'm wondering if brains store prized, more-often-accessed memories redundantly, sort of like a computer's memory cache…

  12. Its partly true, I think. All long-term memories are pretty much permanent. This would include things we crammed to death, or things that had a personal meaning/emotional significance. We may not be able to retrieve these memories on our own, but can sometimes do it aided with cues/hypnosis.Short term memory, though, is usually lost. All those phone numbers who remembered only for a minute? They are not hiding in your brain.I don't know much about computer memory, but our memories are stored as neural circuits, so to speak. Memories that are 'prized' go through the limbic neurons- those for emotions. Memories that we access often (how to drive) go through the hippocampus (procedural memory.) This makes them deep or strong, if you will. Parts of a memory are stored along a circuit, but a full memory itself isn't stored in multiple places.

  13. The term "hippocampus" always makes me giggle.
    That's neat stuff. I suppose it's comparable in that computers discard much of the data they process, only holding onto stuff that's saved to disk.
    Small pieces of data to be reused immediately are held in "caches" on the central processor, where they can be retrieved very quickly. Larger chunks of data sit in a slower cache in the general system memory, which is still much faster than re-retrieving the data from disk.
    All this data is discarded as space is needed–and whenever you turn off the power.
    (One exception is the browser cache: it stores some web content on the disk, which usually retrieves data faster than the Internet. And that's why people get caught with dirty pictures on their PCs long after they thought the data would be gone. 🙂

  14. This was a great post Scott. I’m so sorry this happened and that it left the thoughts associated with concerts for you that it did. I’m sure the memory comes up for you every year and always will.

    My days of concert going were quite the opposite. I grew up in Atlanta and started getting high and going to concerts at a very young age. As much as I hate to admit it now, that was just the way it was. We lived a bus ride away from downtown Atlanta and that was what we did for entertainment. We got on the bus and went to a concert that cost maybe a dollar or two to get in.

    We saw nearly everyone that was anyone back then because they all ended up playing in Atlanta at some point. I saw The Who, Led Zepplin, The Allman Brothers, Lynard Skynard, Humble Pie, Elton John, Alice Cooper, Foghat, Bob Dylan, Jo Jo Gunn, Little Feat, Pink Floyd, Yes, and David Bowie, just to name a few. They weren’t even playing in big venues such as the Omni or the Atlanta Stadium in the beginning. They were in small places with great sound systems like the Fox Theatre, The Roxy Theatre, Chastain Park, The Municipal Auditorium, and The Electric Ballroom.

    As time went on and the popularity of concert going grew, The Atlanta Stadium was opened for concerts and the first one there was Led Zepplin. The entire stadium was packed including the field. The Omni was later built and it would sell out fast.

    The thing is, never, not once at any time at any concert, did I EVER see anyone get hurt. They were peaceful events. You might every now and then hear that someone overdosed, but never was there any kind of violence. It was an entirely different era where drugs and rock and roll were concerned. It was a time of peace and serenity brought about by the objections to the war in Vietnam.

    I am truly saddened that your memory of rock and roll concerts as a child was blackened by this traumatic event because my memories are full of great music and great times that I wouldn’t trade for anything.

    • Thanks, lw—you’re lucky to have such a rich concertgoing background, especially at smaller venues! On one hand, getting high and going to concerts isn’t what we want our kids to do, but on the other, it doesn’t seem to have hurt you any. 🙂

      Although the Who tragedy did cast a shadow over my initial impression of rock concerts, I grew comfortable with them pretty quickly. I still don’t care much for arena shows, but mainly because huge crowds are annoying and arena sound quality tends to be horrible.

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