October 29, 2004


Google's first hit for mosh is now the GNN page for Eminem's get-out-the-vote video entitled "Mosh". The same video is also now #1 among MTV's "Hot 5 Videos", though I'm not sure to what extent this reflects popularity among its intended audience as opposed to the effect of exhortations by Kos and others.

I'm not an Eminem fan, in general, but to my surprise, I liked 8 Mile. So I was wasn't sure what to expect from Mosh. What I got was a mixed bag of Indymedia-style political clichés -- "blood for oil", demon cops -- combined in a video-game animation with some less obvious lines

If you don't understand don't even bother to ask
A father who has grown up with a fatherless past

and a few really puzzling ones:

Put your faith and your trust as I guide us through the fog
Till the light at the end of the tunnel...

The center of it is the mosh/march equivalence:

we gonna march through the swamp, we gonna mosh through the marsh

and the transformation of both mosh and march into a line to wait to vote -- though not until the tunnel in a foggy marsh turns into a debate in a desert storm:

and as we proceed to mosh through this desert storm
in these closing statements if they should argue
let us beg to differ as we set aside our differences
and assemble our own army to disarm this weapon of mass destruction
that we call our president for the present
and mosh for the future of our next generation to speak and be heard
Mr. President Mr. Senator
do you guys hear us?

Like a dreamland version of Grand Vote Auto, with a plot by the team of William Gibson and J.R.R. Tolkien. But did anyone else think that the grimly purposeful crowd in black hoodies was a little creepy? Like, black shirts?

I was curious about the history and etymology of the word mosh. The OED isn't sure, suggesting that it's "[App. a variant of MASH v.]" But the first two citations are

1983 Village Voice (N.Y.) 18 Jan. 30/1 Slam dancers..agree that it is ‘violence within friendship’... Besides, ‘you're so into the music and dancing that you don't think about getting moshed.’
1985 ‘STORMTROOPERS OF DEATH’ Milano Mosh (song) in Speak English or Die (record sleeve), We mosh, until we die, We mosh, until you try. You think that you can try, But can you do the Milano Mosh.

The full lyrics to Milano Mosh are here. The band Stormtroopers of Death seem to have been about as nice as you'd imagine, though maybe they were more ironic than actually fascist. The "milano" part of Milano Mosh turns out to be a reference to Billy Milano, one of the band members, not an evocation of Benito and Clara hanging in the Piazzale Loreto, as I first thought it might be. In addition to being in on the birth of mosh, S.O.D.'s other linguistic claim to fame was their song Speak English or Die, which gave its name to the (first?) mosh album.

None of that was in Marshall Mather's mind when he wrote his lyrics to Mosh, I'm sure.

Let me be the voice in your strength and your choice
Let me simplify the rhyme just to amplify the noise

If Mosh helps energize voting among American youth, it'll be a triumph. But I'm still a little uneasy about all those black hoodies. It's almost halloween, so a little creepiness is seasonally appropriate. Still, simplified rhymes and amplified noise are good entertainment but problematic politics.


Posted by Mark Liberman at October 29, 2004 03:52 PM