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Palermo 1982 recollections  
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Galeans
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Post 2014-08-11 21:22   [Quote] 
I found out that Wikipedia's page regarding Frank's song "Cocaine Decisions", believes that "members of the audience brought guns and caused a riot" during the show in Palermo. This is utter and complete hogwash, or even better, utter and complete bullshit. They cite Ben Watson as a source for this. I don't have his book, but if he wrote that, he's wrong.

I found some recollections of audience members who were in there during that ill-fated concert, in Italian. I'm not that good in translating, so apologizes if there are mistakes, but I do believe that the sense of fear and panic that gets through their tales can be perfectly understood.

From the blog Revolutionine (the blogger seems to be quite a Zappa fan):

Quote:
Andrea Pisciotta: They set the stage on the halfway line and the public in the northern curve. Too far away to see anything, even in the giant screens, giant for the time. I was sitting on the last large step down and bass was pumping so hard that my ass was shaking. Someone climbed over the fence and went to sit in front of the door. Immediately the police in riot gear (helmet and shield) arranged in front of the stage. Zappa kept saying "Easy, easy." After the first five, six people walked to the network, another group of ten or fifteen people followed.
In a moment the policemen jumped and the tear gas began to flow. One, two, three grenades landed in the middle of all the people in the stands. In a moment, the audience moved to reach to the exit. Even people in the field tried to go back, but there was the fence! The fastest of them literally threw themselves on the other side, but those who couldn’t got beaten a lot. A lot! When I heard the screams, I started to scream as wells. "Bastards!" screamed the curve, but it was a moment: tear gas grenades kept raining and between shoving and screams of panic I managed to get down the stairs. And there, there was the big surprise: the doors were closed and a dozen cops were waiting. When they opened the doors, the flow somehow swept them away, but they did not stop to drop beatings. I saw the girl in front of me keeping her hand on her head, she was bleeding. “The next one is for me” I thought. When I found myself in front of the cop, I heard him scream like a madman. He took a step to run in front of me, his nightstick up on the helmet. I took a step and a double step, just like I had learned by playing rugby and ran at his side just in time to hear the baton sinking air behind me. "Son of a bitch," I shouted at him, as I ran away. As I passed by the enormous buses of Zappa's crew, I kept myself off from the points where there were beatings and when I saw a space between the buses destroyed by the police, I immediately ran there.
I stopped only when I got in front of my house. Only then I realized that my eyes were flooded with tears. Tears of anger. I had waited months for this concert and Zappa had played for only about twenty minutes. I was eighteen and I had a nice collection of Frank Zappa and The Mothers records, in addition to the belief that nor grass nor jobs will never grow in Palermo.

Roberto Beccàli: Thanks, Andrea! You really sent me back in tears (not those caused by the fucking tear gas). Twenty minutes of fantastic music ruined by the stupidity of the Commissioner of Police in duty.

Nicola: Thank you, Andrea.Your description is flawless , but I'd like to add that in front of the stage there were works in progress with several open holes. During the rush, I saw a girl falling inside one of those. I still remember the controversy in the newspapers during the following days. You could tell the management responsible for security at the stadium that night had been inadequate.

Andrea Migliaccio: I was there as well, with some friends: I was 18 and we were placed in the north corner, very high. When we began to understand that something was wrong, we found ourselves in the middle of the tear gas without understanding what was going on. We ran toward the exits and once we were out, we were loaded by police with batons raised. In front of the stadium, in Viale Del Fante, there were works in progress, and in general stampede someone fell in the trenches of the excavation, while others gathered stones of the yard and throw them with anger at the cops. We and many others ran away desperately until we found ourselves inside the hospital CTO, on the ground floor under the beds of patients. The police looked for us there as well, but couldn’t find us. I still don’t know what happened during the concert. There was talk about someone who jumped over the fence, but the police’s reaction was completely exaggerated: they used strong-arm tactics with everyone instead of isolating the culprits. I was extremely angry that night: the police managed to ruin what could have been a beautiful page in the history of music in Palermo without any apparent reason. During that summer of 1982, a week earlier or later, I can’t remember (note: a week later), Talking Heads played in the same venue and everything went on smoothly. What a summer that was!

Bernardo Eremita: It was a big trap artfully orchestrated by the prefect of the time. After the band played Verdi's Aida our cheers were covered by the hiss of tear gas and by the screams of blood-thirsty police. Sicily COULD NOT tolerate those rowdy rockers who might have disturbed the quiet of the right-minded and obtuse middle class…


And now the best one, from Italian journalist Sebastiano Gulisano, who wrote a beautiful and very long post on his facebook page. I removed some of the parts because they would not be understood by non-Italian readers, but most of the meat is there.

Quote:
Sebastiano Gulisano: 14th July 1982. I was 24 and I had never been in Palermo before. To tell the truth I went there during a school trip when I was in fifth class. I can’t remember a single thing about that trip. 14th July 1982 I remember everything. And not because it’s more recent, but because I was never so fucking scared again in my life, and I’ve seen quite a lot.
We were a small group of friends, six or seven. We took the train from the village in which lived in order to go see our hero. None of us knew Palermo. I was the oldest, the younger of us was 15 and his mother “delivered” him to me, I was his “tutor”. We arrived late in the morning and we went immediately into the stadium; the concert was going to be there, at La Favorita. I never went there again. Inside the stadium, not in Palermo. I even lived in Palermo, and I may even come back, who knows…

It was extremely hot, the sun melted us like icicles. It would be an euphemism saying that we were sweating. While we were waiting for the ticket office to open, we went into a grove near the stadium in order to have some relief, completely relaxed, only wearing pants. Shit, we were so happy! Ticket offices opened approximately at 5 pm. There wasn’t a lot of people, even though ten thousand of us would end up there. We had our tickets in hand after a couple of minutes, then we lined at the entrance. We were already looking forward to sit on the lawn, just in front of the stage but no, lawn was closed, we had to go in the tribune. Fuck it! “If we get lost during the show, we will meet again in the grove”.

We sat on the left side of the stage, near the center of the stadium and the tribunes soon fill. [..] Someone got near the fence, worked a little bit until they opened a hole, then went back in the tribune. When, at least, Uncle Frank started his show, a window was opened on the fence, and a dozen of his fans (the same that got near the fence earlier), walked in front of the stage and sat on the lawn. On the opposite side, a “cloud” of policemen ran, lift them and after hitting them with the nightstick and shoving them a bit, brought them back on the tribune. Fans started to yell at them and someone threw a tin can who landed against a policeman. The policeman took off his jacket, passed through the hole in the fence, made his way through the crowd and punched the guy that, according to him, had pulled the can. We were a few meters away. A few seconds later, that huge dickhead found himself buried by the friends of the guy he had beaten. His colleagues had to rush in order to save him from being lynched. Then the retaliation started, worse than the Nazis.

A platoon of police take sides in midfield. First the roar of thunder, then the flash of the lightning melted together in a tear gas canister that was fired on our left, right in front of the people in the front row. A cloud of smoke surrounded us and a portion of the tribune. Stampede. My eyes burn. Keeping them opened is painful. The wave of mob hits us. It forces us to get up. My eyes burn. I close them. I can’t see a fucking thing. People push. I open my eyes. They hurt. Someone from the stage, while Zappa and his band keep playing, invites us to stay calm, don’t panic. People keep panicking. They push. They want to move away from the tear gas. Zappa tells us to calm down, “sit down, stay calm”. People stop pushing. The music continues. My eyes burn. We stop. Bang! Bang! Tear gas literally rains. Panic. Screaming. People shoving. Wave. Move. Open your eyes! Do not close them! They burn! Fuck! They are watery. Keep them opened. Watch where you put your feet. Do not get carried away. We are united. Bang! Tear gas rake the grandstands just like the army in the mountains at the time of the robbery. Like the Nazis during the Resistance. We pour towards the exit. Bang! Bang! They keep shooting. The air is unbreathable. The crowd indescribable. My eyes are horribly in pain. I can’t close them. I can’t stop. I’d be overwhelmed. Trampled. Calm down. Walk. Run. Follow the wave. Be the wave. Bang ... Bang! Those bastards won’t stop. Calm down. Walk. Run. Follow the wave. Be the wave. A sea of people pour toward the exit. Tens of thousands of people in a panic and despair towards a hole through which you pass one at a time, like at the entrance. They haven't opened the gates. Motherfuckers. Many bypass. Bang! Bang! They won’t stop shooting. Criminals. They won’t stop shooting. Follow the wave. Be the wave. I am the wave. We are near the exit. Keep your eyes open. Hold on. Do not close them. I can’t see a fucking thing. I am the wave. Look. Look. Bang! Bang! Calm down. You are there. Sirens. Many sirens. One last effort. I conquer the passage. I'm out!

On the left, an army of police in riot gear prevents the passage to the grove in which we wanted to go if we got lost during the show. I stop. I look for the others. Are we all here? Is someone missing? Toni and Saro are not there. The youngest of us, 15 and 17 years old. Goddamnit. The road is broken. There is a construction site. Lots of stones. People throwing rocks at the cops. Bang! Tear gas. Bang! Rubber bullet. At eye level. Bastardi! Figghibuttana! Bang! Tears. What the fuck do we do now? Let’s run away from here, then we’ll decide. What about Toni? Saro? One of us picks up a stone. “What the fuck are you doing?” I scream “Let’s get the hell out of here”. We move away while the police charge people. Run. Run away” The road turns to U. We follow it. The air is filled with tear gas. My eyes hurt real bad. Sirens. Shooting. Smoke. Crowd going mad. Screaming. People running. “Bastardi! Figghibuttana!”
None of us knows Palermo. We hear police cars with sirens. We hid behind some parked cars. Then we keep escaping. Sirens everywhere. Here the air is breathable. The eyes keep hurting real bad, but I can’t close them. I want to scream, but I can’t. I have to be calm, I am the oldest. Calm down. What the fuck do we do now? Rosalba’s (note: a friend of the author) boyfriend is excited. He wants to go back and throw stones at the police. “Fuck off, you Catanese dickhead!” (note: Catania is another town in Sicily). I think this, but I don’t say it. Where are the others? Did something happened to them? Fuck! Sirens. Screams. Shoot. We run. We move away. Where are we? Who knows! What about Saro? Toni? Goddamnit! We run. A steering wheel. We hide. Fear. I am scared shitless. Let's run away from here. Where?! I don’t know! Silence. Almost. Gunshots and sirens are far away. Far away ... Sirens. Flashing lights. Manhunt. Parked cars. We hide there. Like when I was a kid after misbehaving I ran to hide behind daddy's car. And when he found me I could race there around the car, but then he always ended up catching me. And then he would beat me. God, he would beat me.
The lights of a bakery bring me back to reality. I'm going inside. “Which way is the station?” “The station? Far away from here” “Yeah, ok, but where?” “Over there” “Thank you, goodnight”. So, after asking people to people and hiding at every howl of a siren, we arrived at the station very late at night. We got out the sleeping bags and we lied among the flowerbeds in front of the station. There’s a lot of people. Even bums. And drunks. Crash! Broken bottle. I'm scared. Where are Toni and Saro? Fuck! Let’s hope anything has happened to them. I'm dead tired. But I can’t close my eyes. Saro and Toni showed up around six in the morning, unharmed. They had passed the barrier of cops on the sidewalk and went to the grove, as agreed. There, they saw the police beating up people, managing to not end up there. And when the riots calmed down and beatings stopped, they headed towards the station. And we got together.
The wild night of the police in Palermo ended without a single official stationary and with a lot of beatings. And it’s just a matter of luck that there were no deaths (or worse, a massacre) during this: they wanted to get us killed. Motherfuckers. A week later Talking Heads played in the same venue. I didn’t feel like going. In fact, for quite a few years the concerts I only listened to concerts in albums. They are less dangerous.


His friend Toni, one of the two guys who disappeared in the riot added his recollections in the comments.

Quote:
Toni: I have memories of that night in bursts and I’m not as good at writing as Sebastiano so I’m will not even try to describe them. I can’t remember where I was exactly when things started to go for the worse and actually I had lost contact with the others and with my clothes: I had removed them because there was too much head. Confused, hounded and in pants, I continued to walk around the mess. I vividly remember the open yard, however, because I spotted a series of concrete pipes stacked one on the other, probably for the sewer pipes judging from their size. In short, as soon as I could I climbed up on the pile, I hid in the higher tube. And there, finally safe and several meters above what was going on, I "enjoyed" an unreal show, similar to what Lance must have enjoyed when he landed during a Vietcong attack in “Apocalypse Now”. I was exhausted, so I ended up falling asleep and I didn’t wake up until dawn. The best moment was finding everybody unharmed on a lawn in front of the station.


Barry Miles wrote in his book that three people were killed in the riots. The comments made by these people should also clarify once for all that no one died during the concert.

cheers

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Last edited by Galeans on 2014-08-12 09:20; edited 5 times in total
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HughGotIt
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Post 2014-08-11 22:19   [Quote] 
Wow! Excellent reporting from real eyewitnesses!
Nice to hear the truth after all these years.

Thanks for the insight, Galeans.

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franktomatozappa
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Post 2014-08-11 23:56   [Quote] 
This is an amazing report of what happened. Thank you very much for sharing here. Shocked
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pbuzby
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Post 2014-08-12 00:58   [Quote] 
FWIW, here is a Zappa interview quote about the riot, which may have been Ben Watson's source (if he wrote that audience members brought guns - I don't have access to his book either now).

http://www.afka.net/articles/1984-08_MRM.htm

Quote:
Modern Recording & Music: I understand that you had a harrowing experience in Palermo, Italy, the last date on the last rock tour you did. Was that something that turned you off to touring?

Frank Zappa: I would say so, yes. What happened in Palermo was... we were working in a soccer stadium, it was the last concert on the tour, and I had been looking forward to playing in Sicily because my father was born there. And that afternoon I had taken a drive over to his hometown, this horrible little village called Bartenicco. So I checked that out, you know, getting into the Sicilian vibe of it all. There's this Italian schmaltz connected with Sicily for all people of Italian extraction.

So anyway, I was in a pretty good mood after exploring these old haunts. I get to this gig, had a great sound check, I had written a song that afternoon and taught it to the guys in the band ... everything looked like it was going to be fine. We start the show and within 10 minutes of the beginning of the show there's this weird something going on, but you can't see the audience. It's totally black out there. They're a million miles away cause we're out in the middle of this soccer field. And I hear some disturbances. Suddenly, they got the army there and the police department and they're all fucking armed to the teeth. The next thing I know, the tear gas starts going off and guys are kneeling down with rifles, like mortars, shooting this tear gas into the stands. Bricks start flying. It turned into chaos. And we kept on playing through this. But it got so bad that we had to put wet rags on our faces to keep the tear gas out of our eyes. And we kept playing on and on.

Finally, the lights start going on and we see that the place is being emptied out. They're firing tear gas all over the place and they're clearing these people out of the stadium. We played for about an hour and a half during this thing. And we found out later that some kids had brought guns to this concert and the cops had guns and they were shooting at each other like cowboys and Indians. Meanwhile, we're trapped in the stadium downstairs, some gangs had broken into the tour bus, there's rocks flying all over the place and it's like a little war going on. And what the fuck for?! We go there to play some music and it turns into a situation where people are injured.
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DoctorNerve
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Post 2014-08-12 14:20   [Quote] 
Thank you for the really interesting recollections! Good to know what really was going on.

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Post 2014-08-12 17:01   [Quote] 
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Galeans
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Post 2014-08-12 18:06   [Quote] 
Thanks, Al! I'll try to translate these as well!

pbuzby wrote:
FWIW, here is a Zappa interview quote about the riot, which may have been Ben Watson's source (if he wrote that audience members brought guns - I don't have access to his book either now).


Well, it might be enterely possible that some members of the audience had guns. But it is quite clear that the audience didn't cause the riot: the police did, and it seems that they really wanted to!

cheers

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franktomatozappa
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Post 2014-08-12 23:31   [Quote] 
Thanks for translating Galeans. Can't wait! clap
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wildfisherman
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Post 2014-08-12 23:58   [Quote] 
Excellent translations of stuff we'd never have otherwise been able to read. And what a huge job too. It would have been bad enough simply having to copy all that without also having to translate it.

I love first hand accounts of Zappa shows, even if this one didn't turn out well.
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doublebassy
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Post 2014-08-13 22:25   [Quote] 
There's no mention of the audience bringing guns in Watson's book so someone should change the Wikipedia entry
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