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The Legend of Billy Moser and the Supreme Dicks

The Supreme Dicks were an infamous grunge era band originating at Hampshire College in the early 1980's. I was the band's first, self-appointed, 'business manager' which didn't mean a whole lot, save for one very epic event. If I recall correctly I was also the responsible individual starting a habit of calling the private campus security force and complaining about our own events, as a form of 'guerrilla' theater.

Below the jump is an excerpt from the Richard Rushfield book, 'Don't Follow Me, I'm Lost' concerning related events. The story, legend, is true, though the name, 'Billy Moser', is not. This excerpt starts right after Rushfield describes the security habit.

Once the band members stopped playing and began wandering the campus together, they began to get into ever more colorful chases with the campus law. Most famed of these was the Great Bell Theft of May, 1984. The school was still just a decade old and the students poured all their yearnings for tradition into the Division Free Bell. Donated by an early alum who had stripped it from his family yacht, the bell hung about twenty-five feet in the air between two concrete pillars in front of the library. After turning in his Div III project, each Hampshire student would take a final meeting with his advisory committee, which would either pass him and thus grant him his diploma or ask him to return for another semester of work.

As the student sat nervously in his final meeting, his friends would congregate outside the library with champagne, saluting him as he appeared at last to ring the Division Free Bell. The bell was treated with a mystical aura; anyone who rang it prematurely was said to have cursed his chance to graduate. One night in our first semester, Zach, Nathan, and I decided to ring it, "just to practice." Within moments half the library poured outside, security appeared, and we were bodily pulled from the bell rope seconds before a riot erupted.

Two years before I arrived at Hampshire, Steve Shavel decided to steal the bell. It was a week before the 1984 graduation, the height of bell-ringing season, when Steve noticed a stack of platforms sitting on the lawn outside the library, waiting to become the graduation stage. Late that night, a dozen or so members of Dick society crept out under the cover of darkness and began stacking the platforms on top of each other, until they were able to scale the entire height of the columns and climb up to the bell.

They later recalled the superhuman strength summoned in the final stages to pass the heavy platform hand-to-hand some twenty feet to the top. Several times they dropped platforms from the heights, setting off thunderous explosions when they hit the ground, but remarkably security never appeared. When they reached the bell, Arthur brought his tools and wrenched it from its housing.

The next morning, the greatest manhunt in Hampshire history began; in fact it was the first manhunt in the history of the heretofore anarchic campus. With the donor alum about to make his annual trip to visit his bequest, the dean of students rounded up the usual suspects, summoning, so legend goes, the campus's most conspicuous characters, and demanded that they find and rat out the bell thieves or be expelled themselves. Jon, Ox, Steve, Tim, Arthur, and the rest were one by one brought inot the dean's interrogation chambers (his conference room) and they recited their denials under withering glares. Meanwhile, hidden inside a bass drum, the bell was smuggled off-campus to a friend's apartment in Northhampton just as the house-to-house searches began.

Inevitably, with so many people involved in the theft, Steve's name was passed along to the authorities. When he realized the dean knew the entire story, right up to the bass drum, Steve switched from denial to a proud defense of the heist, claiming the bell was a symbol of the hierarchical oppression that Hampshire had been created to fight.

Sadly for Steve, the uprising he had hoped to provoke was drowned out by the outraged voices of students who had been denied their turn at a bell-ringing party. Ultimately, the bell's return was negotiated but the adventure was the first of many that the Dicks would pull off, achieveing the unheard-of feat of enraging the administration and the students simultaneously. Many more such milestones would follow.

In the fall of '85, once the musical elements of the Dicks society had begun to get under the school's skin, the group's theatrical wing, led by Joel Joel and Stan Moser, began to stir up feelings of outright revulsion. Hampshire had a closed-circuit TV station and a small studio in the library basement that broadcast to InTran, the school's internal cable channel, which fed into every mod and dorm lounge. (The school's founding documents included many futuristic elements that in the eighties still smacked of overindulgence in sci-fi utopianism. Leading among these the plan to hook every room in the school to a central computer network. All dorm rooms on campus were wired to this network, a full decade before a single student would own a personal computer.)

Joel and Stan broadcast a weekly show called the Top of the Two, which tested Hampshire's boundaries of taste with gruesome stunts and theater pieces. It was an unpleasant awakening for a school that prided itself on a blase shock-the-bourgeoisie attitude to suddenly learn that it was capable of being shocked and even offended. This all the more increased the growing hatred toward those who brought the limits of their tolerance to their attention.

While the TV show could be turned off, Joel and Stan began spreading their message off-screen. One afternoon, with his roly-poly Cheshire-cat grin, Joel Joel appeared at dinner in the dining hall's back room and announced a special of the Top of the Two/Supreme Dick political action. That week, he wheezed, the show would sponsor a telethon -- to be specific, a spermathon-- for South Africa, a benefit concert wherein students would be encouraged to bring their ejaculate to the show, which Joel would drink in support of the suffering people living under apartheid. And to demonstrate his point, he produced a clear plastic bag containing, to all appearances, semen, climbed atop a table, and drank it.

Had such an incident occurred three or four years before this time, it would have been laughed off. Three or four years later, Joel would have been shoved into a gunnysack, taken to the nearest bridge, and dropped into the river, his dorm room contents donated to Goodwill. But in 1985 the school had no provisions for this type of emergency. And so, several weeks later, Joel was able to stage a sequel, climbing on a chair in the back room of the dining hall and announcing Top of the Two's Shitathon for the Contras.

When one looks back at the trail that led up to these disasters, one can see individuals, groups, nations careening down roads that clearly led to nowhere but catastrophe. Taking stock, most of the people I knew in that era seemed, on any typical day, headed for disaster. But more often than not, the disaster never arrived. Friends whirling out of control somehow too another fork in the road at the last second, or managed to just keep plummeting downhill forever, never to fly off the the inevitable cliff, never to hit the rocky bottom.

While in retrospect, it seems clear that something terrible had to come from the trajectory the Dicks were on, by all accounts they had no reason to think that something terrible actually would happen. What now seems predetermined would have at the time seemed a ridiculous notion; they were young, away at college, stirring things up as youth will do. What bad could happen? But disaster did come, and in a much worse form than even the Dicks worst enemies would have predicted.

All through the 1985-86 school year tensions mounted between the Dicks, the administration, and a vocal anti-Dick segment of the students. The Dick jams grew louder. The complaints grew more frequent. The spectacles more disgusting. The Dick mods, 21 and Jon's in Enfield House, were placed on probation. Each member was called regularly to the offices of the deans of students and housing on various infractions and the threats grew stronger. Until, finally, the event occurred that abruptly and forever ended the game.

Stan Moser had a little brother named Billy, a senior at Amherst High, who frequently visited the Dick mods and had become something of a mascot to the group. On an April episode of Top of the Two, Billy stepped forward and announced that he wanted to make a speech. Cameras rolling, broadcasting live to the campus, Billy decried the school's Gestapo administration and its oppression of his Supreme Dick brothers. Proclaiming solidarity against Dick persecution, Billy announced that he would drink a glass of cyanide-laced Kool-Aid and end his life.

Thinking the speech was a joke, the others in the studio laughed and cheered Billy on as he lifted the glass to his lips. They continued applauding, and the cameras continued rolling, as he dropped to the floor and writhed around in what they thought were mock seizures. Within moments the applause died, as Billy's body stopped spinning and settled motionelss i nthe middle of the studio floor.

The aftermath was the biggest PR spectacle the school had ever known. The campus was flooded by TV crews from around the world who picked up the bizarre story. The Dicks, on orders from the administration and the local police, stayed off-camera and away from the reports, which were filled with tales of a mini Jim Jones drug cult and weeping images of the traumatized students who had watched the show live.

When the media fury died down and the TV vans left, the Dicks suddenly found themselves alone on a very isolated campus with a very angry administration and a thousand students looked upon them no longer as just annoying miscreants but as fratricidal inhuman freaks. A zero-tolerance regime fell into place. When the band tried to play under the solar panels, security was there before they could plug in. When they made noise in the mod at night, security instantly materialized. The Enfield House office documented every health-code, cleanliness, and "community standards" violation. When they showed their faces in the Airport Lounge, conversation stopped and they were greeted with angry glares.

And then came Spring Jam, Halloween and the spring concert were the High Holy Days of the Hampshire calendar. For a full day each April, a giant music festival was held and Hampshire band was given a slot to play on a stage behind the library. The entire campus assembled, along with thousands from neighboring schools and the surrounding area. It was held that this was an era when Hampshire produced giants of alternative music. That spring, the lineup included the greats: Beatrice, the Lonely Moans, Five Dumb Broads, Jersey Slim and the Prescott Playboys, the Loneliest Christmas Tree, and Jambone were all on the bill. As were the Supreme Dicks.

It still was not yet in Hampshire's DNA to quash anyone's ability to speak or perform in public. The need or desire had never come up before. And if eyebrows were raised by the Dick name in a prime-time late-afternoon slot on the bill, no one dared suggest that the school should not let them play. That, people would have said, would be fascism. And that still lay in the mists of Hampshire's future.

And so at five P.M., the Dicks climbed to the stage. It started out as a fairly typical show, discordant noise, strains of melody. Jon barely audible, gulping out the words to Dicks' one actual song, "I'm in Love with a Vegetable", a tribute to life-support cause celebre Karen Ann Quinlan. And then Stan came to the stage.

At first it wasn't clear, over the music, what he was hollering about. But as he repeated his refrain and the words "Billy died for you", the crowd erupted in horror and revulsion.

The semester quickly lurched to a close. Joel and Stan were removed from campus. Jon's mod was disbanded. And the Dick joke became no longer a public spectacle but a weird, undergroun, whispered-about dirty secret.


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