Sunday, November 17, 2013

Lou Reed Riots in Italy 1975

Following the recent death of Lou Reed, I could write a lot about his influence on me and the many hours of my life spent listening to him and the Velvet Underground. Intense student nights discovering chemicals whilst listening to 'Berlin' ('The Bed' still makes me shiver), hitch hiking to Amsterdam and getting a lift in a BMW playing 'Venus in Furs', all that indie pop taking its cue from 'Pale Blue Eyes' and 'What goes On' - indeed all those nights at How Does it Feel to be Loved? in Brixton, taking its name from the fade out of 'Beginning to see the light'. But I guess most of us could tell such stories.

Instead of going any further down my own memory lane I'm going to write a bit about a lesser known episode in Lou Reed's career: the riots at his gigs in Italy in February 1975. In Milan, Reed fled the stage after just two songs (Sweet Jane and Coney Island Baby). In Rome, there were clashes between police and young people trying to get in to the concert for free. Tear gas was fired, bars were looted, and many people were injured and/or arrested.

Rome 1975
These weren't anti-Lou Reed riots as such though, rather they were moments in a wider social movement. As Robert Lumley outlines in his book 'States of emergency: Cultures of revolt in Italy from 1968 to 1978':

'Between 1975 and 1979 young people in several major Italian cities entered the political scene as the protagonists of new forms of urban conflict. In Rome, Bologna, Turin, Naples, Milan and other cities, they organized themselves into collectives and ‘proletarian youth groups’, squatted in buildings and carried out autoriduzione (that is, fixed their own prices) of transport fares and cinema tickets, set up free radio stations. At the height of the movement in 1977, tens of thousands of young people were involved in mass protest and street battles with the police'.

As well organising their own counter-cultural music festivals, the movement contested the cost of commercial cultural events: 'Autoriduzione of tickets at pop concerts had already been carried out ‘spontaneously’ in Milan in the early seventies. In September 1977, at a Santana concert in Milan, the practice became formalized; youth groups assured the organizers that the event would not be disrupted in exchange for a fixed price reduction. Earlier, in October 1976, youth groups launched a campaign to force cinemas to reduce ticket prices. A leaflet of the youth groups of zona Venezia declared: "The defence of the living standards of the masses also means establishing the right to a life consisting not just of work and the home, but of culture, amusement and recreation"'.

The 'autoriduttori' movement was promoted by the Milan-based Stampa Alternativa (Alternative Press), who set up stalls outside concerts organised by promoter David Zard - including Lou Reed's 1975 gigs. There's some misleading information about these events online - one source claims that 50 people died in Rome, but in fact there were no fatalities. You may also find mention of 'fascists' being involved - again, this does not seem to be true. It was common practice at the time for the Communist Party in Italy to denounce militants of autonomia and the extra-parliamentary left as 'fascists', even as these same militants were fighting in the streets with the actual fascists.


Anonymous said...

I've just come across your astounding blog. So many things of interest here, starting with this post on the Lou Reed riots. I remember reading something about them at the time, but it was probably in Rolling Stone, and of course along the lines of "those crazy Italians". So good to get the facts here, and more importantly to read about the Robert Lumley book, which sounds fascinating.

Also, had forgotten about Datacide. I'll also be ordering a copy of #13.

Will continue to peruse your older posts. What I can see of them looks pretty wonderful.


Steve Lafreniere
Jamestown, NY

Unknown said...

I was at the Santana concert. Scared. Riot police. Tear gas in streets.

bangDdrum said...

I was at the Milan concert as a 15 yr old American student living in Milan at the time. It was my first concert ever and I remember it perfectly to this day. The opening act got pelted by water balloons by the idiots in the stands behind the stage. Then the drummer got hit in the head with something hard, like a stone or something. There was virtually no security, it seemed. The show stopped for two hours while both Communist and Fascist (or so we thought they were at the time. Someone at the show called them "Anarchists") speakers spouted rhetoric endlessly while minor scuffles broke out, but nothing I would regard as a "riot". Lou Reed finally came out and said in spotty Italian that if there was trouble again, the show was "fini!". He played two songs, including Sweet Jane which he opened with, but halted the show when someone behind the stage threw what looked like a cloth or towel. He turned and shouted at them in English and then left the stage. He wasn't really "forced off" as much as he just seemed to say "screw this!!". Another hour of communist speeches, often denouncing the fools in the back, because I think they wanted to see Lou Reed as much as we did, but he never came back. Everyone just left after a bit amid maybe some pushing and shoving but not in a scene that resulted in any injuries or terribly violent incidents. It is still to this day one of the most memorable concert experiences of my life.

robert caruso said...

I was at the Rome gig, aged 12 and taken there by an older cousin. The info here is not quite correct. In Rome there were fascists involved. They were hired as "security" for the concert at Rome's Pala-eur. Lou Reed himself talked about that in interviews, blaming promoter David Zard. The EUR is an area of Rome built by Mussolini for an international exposition that was cancelled due to the beginning of WWII. In the 1970s the whole EUR neighborhood was notorious for its gangs of neo-fascists. People who attended Rock concerts instead were usually long-haired, left-wing, "hippy" types who clashed with the "security"'s neo-fascists; that's why the police intervened. They shot a canister of teargas in a girl's face, disfiguring her for good. Moreover, there's a book about it, Lou Reed In Concerto (which I had once), written by anonymous writers but part of a series called "Controcultura (#9)" and possibly published by Stampa Alternativa. Before the gig there was a big campaign against the price of the ticket (£ 3500, Italian lire, which was slightly more than the price of an album back then), with graffiti about it on the walls of central Rome, although Reed's Rock'n'Roll Animal had been a big hit in Italy. I still have articles from several newspapers about the whole thing. Italy was almost on the brink of civil war then, young people were very politically active; that whole period is known as "years of lead"; by 1978 about 300 young people had died because of fights among left-wing groups, neo-fascist gangs and police (who often sided with the neo-fascists!!!). An interesting (but rare) book about it, with a chronology of events, is Armed Struggle In Italy 1976-1978 (Elephant Editions, London, 1990). This sort of stuff happened a lot in Italy, starting with the Led Zeppelin concert at Milan's Velodromo Vigorelli in 1971 (they played three songs and then the police arrived, there was teargas everywhere, the stage half-collapsed, Zeppelin lost a lot of their equipment, etc..) and for years no US or British Rock acts played in Italy, until Patti Smith played in Florence and Bologna in 1979 and then Iggy Pop in 1981. Incidentally, almost a repetition of the 1975 Pala-eur concert happened when Reed played Rome's Circus Maximus in 1983; some people brought down a metal barrier to get in for free, teargas was shot, Reed and the band had tears in their eyes (I was right at the front), but luckily the situation did not escalate...

Anonymous said...

Excellent! I was at the September 10th 1983 concert and there was tear gas coming across from the right of the stage. The carabinieri was popping it off due to a chanting mob crashing down the fence. The mob was upset that the tickets cost so much. I’ve forgotten the price in lire, but it was the equivalent of 7 or 8 bucks.