By the time Paul Wertheimer got to Cincinnati's Riverfront Coliseum that cold night in 1979, they were still carrying bodies away.
He remembers the hats and coats being piled up near the doors where 11 people had died trying to enter the venue to see the Who. It was the worst disaster in the history of rock 'n' roll - caused by trying to put too many people through too few doors, by not enough security and, indirectly, by festival seating. The fans were rabid to get into the arena because the people who got in first got closer to the band.Wertheimer (who worked for the city of Cincinnati at the time) was stunned then, but 19 years later he's angry. The very same factors - the same festival seating and the lack of proper planning, security and, sometimes, just common sense - are still killing rock fans. Year in and year out. In the United States and South America and Europe. In clubs and stadiums. At shows by bands you've never heard of, and at shows by big stars like U2.
The news this year is grim: Nineteen people (13 teenagers) died at concerts. Wertheimer said groups such as the International Association of Assembly Managers and the North American Concert Promoters Association have no safety guidelines. Thus it's left to individual cities (such as Cincinnati, which banned festival seating after the Who show) to keep fans safe as best they can.
And what bothers Wertheimer most, perhaps, is that the industry's attitude toward fans before an incident is, "They can take care of themselves," while after an incident, it's "They're out of control." The truth is, he said, most fans, even young ones, will do what they're told - if they're told, and if the rules are enforced.
"Fans are manageable and usually reasonable," he said. "They want to know the parameters, the house rules. And they have to be enforced. But young fans, especially, are risk-takers. They think, `If they're letting me do this it must be OK."'
Most of the guidelines Wert-heimer proposes are reasonable and wouldn't hinder most people's enjoyment of a show: Limit the number of people in the mosh pit. Make sure there is sufficient first aid and security on hand.
Wertheimer is not just a voice crying in the wilderness. As he points out, changes are coming. For one thing, there are more lawsuits now from injuries suffered at concerts. But it's all taking far too long - especially, he says, because we learned the hard way what can happen at an unsafe show.
"The industry can control this, or it'll be out of control," he said. "I know we can do better. It should always be fun to go to a concert."