The following essay is excerpted from the forthcoming paperback edition of Finding Joseph I: An Oral History of H.R. From Bad Brains by Howie Abrams and James Lathos. The book, scheduled for release on July 23rd through Simon & Schuster, includes a new chapter, as well as a foreword written by Lamb of God vocalist D. Randall Blythe, a portion of which appears below.
In 1989, I was an eighteen-year-old punk rock-obsessed kid living in the Tidewater area of Virginia. My long-suffering girlfriend would often accompany me to shows in Virginia Beach and Norfolk. Much to her dismay, once the music started, I would inevitably take off my spike-covered punk rock jacket and wallet, hand them to her, and say "Will you hold this for a second, honey? I gotta go dance, just for one song — I promise I'll be right back, okay?" Then I would promptly disappear into the slam pit for the rest of the night, leaving her holding my stuff. What a jerk.
In the days leading up to one particular show we were both very excited about, my girlfriend made me promise several times that when we went out that night, I wouldn't pull my usual vanishing act. She was sick of my testosterone-on-overdrive antics. She was a music fan, too, and she wanted to watch the bands without having to hold all my crap in a steaming hot club while I ran around smashing into a bunch of other sweaty dudes.
"I'm not a coat rack, Randy," she said. Fair enough.
On August 15, 1989, we drove to a club in Virginia Beach called The Jetty. The show was packed, and the opening acts, Leeway and Corrosion of Conformity both put on stellar high-energy sets, but I stood dutifully beside my lady towards the back of the club, good to my word. Then the headliner took the stage, the amps started to hum, and without warning, the band burst into my favorite song. That song was "Re-ignition," and the band was Bad Brains. Before she had a chance to even utter the word "No!," my jacket was in her arms and I was gone. (I'm sorry, lady.)
It was, and remains to this day, the best show I have ever seen in my life.
The musicians played with a conviction you felt on a visceral level—their music shook the audience into an ecstatic state. And the front man, H.R., had a stage presence that was literally life-altering to witness. The man moved and sang like a human lightning rod, as if he were communicating with the heavens, channeling some sort of vast cosmic power through his voice and body.
You had to be there in person to understand it, to feel it in the air on a molecular level—to see H.R. fronting Bad Brains while he was still at the peak of his powers was like watching a man reaching up and tearing the sky in two with his bare hands. It was unbelievable. I've seen a few thousand shows since that night, but I've never seen any other front man come even remotely close to that level of intensity. Not one.
Below, see Lamb of God's Randy Blythe talk covering Bad Brains' "I Against I" for Burn the Priest's 20th anniversary album Legion: XX.