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The Reader’s archive is vast and varied, going back to 1971. Every day in Archive Dive, we’ll dig through and bring up some finds.
At the end of 1990, Jam Productions pulled off a coup, uniting two of New York’s finest pop acts of the era: Public Enemy and Sonic Youth. But, as former Reader music critic Bill Wyman wrote in January 1991, the concert did not end well. When the 5,000 attendees left the show, they saw a grim sight outside the Aragon’s doors:
As they hit the street, they found themselves walking into a horrible scene—police were shouting at and beating up on the crowd in the street. As far as most observers could tell, the police were arresting people for being upset that the police were arresting people.
According to Wyman’s thoroughly reported and detailed story, a few members of the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade started an informal demonstration against the U.S. involvement in the Persian Gulf across the street from the Aragon at the end of the show. The bedlam broke out after the RCYB members were accosted by a few police officers. The protestors, eyewitnesses, and members of Sonic Youth said the cops were in plainclothes, but a police spokesperson told Wyman otherwise.
In total, 18 concertgoers were arrested by the end of the melee. Wyman hit the pavement looking for any witness who could confirm details, provide insight, or enliven the story with color. One of my favorite quotes comes from Dave Wagner, then a 19-year-old Columbia College student and a member of the school’s Stop the U.S. War Machine Action Network:
“Over under the el I heard dogs barking. There was a crowd behind a paddy wagon. They were yelling, ‘Fuck the police’ [the chorus of a song by the rap group N.W.A.]. I could see people smashing up against the paddy wagon and could hear bottles being broken. I thought, ‘Oh, fuck, what is this turning into?’ I wasn’t into a clash with the police. I was into protecting my friends, but I believe that it takes two to tango and I don’t like to tango. That’s why I’m in the antiwar movement.”
Also clutch: The detail about Public Enemy enemy Flavor Flav flying into Midway but realizing his stage props arrived at O’Hare.