Banned in Boston-Led Zeppelin Banned For Life (Sort of) 1975

On a chilly January evening 1975, Led Zeppelin fans lined up for tickets going on sale the next morning. Thousands of freezing fans were let into the lobby to keep warm. The doors separating the Garden from the lobby were stout, but no match for the eternally wasted Zep posse. The crowd broke down the doors, poured into the Garden, and mayhem ensued. This misbehavior offended proper Bostonian’s Puritan sensibilities, and they were added to the illustrious list of those “Banned in Boston”

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The phrase Banned in Boston meant one of two things. For a Boston citizen on the lookout for the prurient and subversive, it meant something we needed to keep out of our city. For the movers and shakers in the music, theater, art, literature and film world?  It was a badge of honor. I mean, if you can’t offend a Bostonian, you aren’t really applying yourself to your full potential. In the 17th century, Purtians banned…well…everything. Turnips and the Bible were OK, but god forbid a sexually suggestive shape in a turnip. Things accelerated with the entrance of the Comstock Act courtesy of Anthony Comstock in 1873, that prevented obscene material from being transmitted through the Postal Service. What was defined as obscene? Well anything that Anthony deemed offensive. And he was mighty easy to offend. The Watch and Ward Society took up the cause and guarded the morality of the few and imposed it upon the many. Eugene O’Neill, Walt Whitman, Ernest Hemingway, H.L. Mencken, H.G. Wells, Upton Sinclair, William Faulkner, Sinclair Lewis and Bocaccio’s Decameron were all deemed too naughty for Bostonians to read.  Plays would be banned after a single show (the cast of a play was arrested on site once). Films would be banned mid-reel in front of paid theater audiences. The clean cut Everly Brothers’ Wake Up Little Susie was stricken from the airwaves.  Hell, Rock n Roll in its entirety was banned from Boston in 1958 after a supposed riot at Boston Arena at an Alan Freed rock show.  The list of things banned in Boston would fill up an admirable collection of music, literature and art. But we have strayed from our topic….

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Zeppelin was riding the crest of a tsunami of popularity that had no end in sight. They hadn’t toured America since spring 1973, and the intervening two years of absence seemed like a decade. Their mystical appeal had drawn in an exponential growth in their fan base, and they could easily have sold out a three night stand if it was offered pretty much anywhere in America. Although waiting overnight for tickets is not  something unfamiliar, it was a rare breed in the 70’s that would line up  for an overnight vigil. Rather than regurgitate some of the things known, I thought I’d try to gather the reminiscences of a colleague at a record store I worked at in the mid 80’s. Because….he was there.  Although he told me this tale a long while ago, and many of these things are paraphrased, here’s his account:

“Yeah well, me and my friends were a mix of juniors, seniors, Boston suburban high school kids.  We were pumped that Zeppelin was coming cuz most of us missed the Garden show in ’73. I knew if we got there early, we would definitely score tickets. We got some booze and rolled some bones and headed into town. We were surprised to see a HUGE line when we got there. Also not psyched cuz it was fucking coooooold, temps got close to zero. But whatever, we’re in line and seem guaranteed tickets. Soon, some kind hearted security guy saw kids outside in denim jackets turning blue and shivering violently and took pity on us. He opened the doors and let us into the lobby. To warm up. Lots and lots of us. The room was pretty huge and held hundreds. More piled in and it got crowded. Well, only one place to go to make more room,and that was through the fucking doors to the Garden!  So in the spirit of the times, we all pitched in and broke through some fairly meaty security doors. Once inside, it was like that scene in Wizard of Oz when the doors open and  it turns color -mixed with some scenes from Road Warrior. I mean, you haven’t seen chaos like this at the Garden. Thousands of kids ran amok! Tearing up wood seats, throwing them on the ice, running and diving on the seats and sliding the full length of the rink on impromptu sleds, crashing into the boards full speed, getting up cackling laughing and going to it the other way.  Hundreds of kids were on the holy Bruins ice surface partying. Most of the refreshment stands were broken into immediately. Kegs were tapped, and already drunk people drank out of anything they could find. We’d been boozing to keep warm in line already.  We had brought our own stuff, so we stayed away from that. But everyone was shitfaced, and getting drunker. Crushed paper cups were everywhere.  Food was passed out, but mostly was the ammunition for a massive thousand person food fight. Industrial sized plastic jugs of ketchup, mustard and mayo were tossed around like watermelon sized grenades. Walls were plastered like art with yellow and red splotches. Fire hose fights I remember. Water went everywhere, people went flying like in the 60’s. . Then small piles of chairs in impromptu bonfires contrasted with enthusiastic fire extinguisher fights erupting. Regular seats got lit on fire. Foam covered and water covered kids staggered around. Some guys said they had broken into the Celtics dressing room and basketballs got thrown around. Drunk screaming everywhere, more fires, and then a single thought formed in my head:

“this shit is not good. I’m gonna get fucking arrested if I hang around “

A rare moment of sobriety, and I got most of my friends to leave with me before we got the shit beaten out of us by Boston cops (it had happened before to us). Arrest was kinda a secondary but real concern. I got home right before the sun came up and thanked my lucky stars I had all my teeth still. “

The cops did show, and were beyond horrified. How can you successfully deal with an unintended but contained riot that has a 30-1 participant advantage against the cops? So quickly the box office opened and the tickets went on sale in the wee hours of the AM.  The Garden revelers successfully filtered their way out and home, leaving over $50,000 of damage, in 1975 dollars ( a quarter of a million dollars in today’s money). Most surprisingly, nobody got arrested. Mayor White came in the next day, and surveyed the damage of the flooded, rubble strewn and partially scorched Garden. He imposed a five year ban on Page and co. within the confines of Boston. The band had to cancel the ’75  show that had caused this ruckus. They passed on trying to book a show in 1977. Finally in 1980 for the prospective fall tour , they were booked to play Foxboro, a football stadium 35 km south of the city, in an effort to suss if they were serious about the Boston ban.This show doesn’t appear in the official Fall 1980 US tour list, but was reported on local radio stations (they may have been confusing a proposed summer 1981 tour in their excitement). But in a final irony, ’twas not to be. John Bonham inconsiderately died from drinking over a liter or so of booze. The ban might have been up, but the band had a drummer in Valhalla and the dream also went belly up.  So let’s raise a beer to the days when kids REALLY knew how to party.

“Can….You…Dig… It” -Cyrus

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