The night of the Ramallah show, Charlie spotted several guys at Club Deep wearing FSU NATION jackets. It was tense. But Morrison was always outgoing – Vetri remembers the time he struck up a conversation with the singer of a cover band, then jumped onstage to belt out Social Distortion's "Ball and Chain" – and so he approached one of the FSU guys to make sure everything was cool. Charlie watched as they chatted and shook hands. The situation seemed defused. None of the bands had gone on yet, so the friends bought a round of drinks and checked out the merch tables. Then Charlie went outside for a smoke.
What happened next remains unclear. Franklin, currently out on bait and awaiting trial, will not speak to the press. Messages left for the prosecutor's office and Franklin's attorney were not returned. Other witnesses are afraid to talk.
The two friends who accompanied Morrison and Charlie on the night of the incident, would not agree to be interviewed, but they told Lorrie Morrison, Jim's mother, that it was Franklin who originally approached them about removing the T-shirt in question and threw the first punch. It's not surprising to anyone who knew Morrison that he would respond by fighting back. "He didn't have any fear, even in the service," says his mother. "He never thought anything would happen to him." Adds Charlie, "The friend in the T-shirt was half my size. Jim always stood up for the little guy."
Mormon's mother claims she spoke to a witness who said a tall man, approximately six feet two, wearing a black sweatshirt and a black hat, hit Morrison in the face and knocked a table onto him. The witness then claimed that several men, including Franklin, stomped and kicked Morrison while he was on the ground, and that the tall man hit Morrison repeatedly with a bar stool. At this point, a security guard then pulled the assailants from Morrison, who remained disoriented and unsteady as he was ushered from the club.
Charlie was still outside smoking when the fight broke out, and he didn't realize anything had happened until his friends were ejected. Someone who worked at the club was shouting for them to leave. The friend wearing the T-shirt had also been hurt. "I knew Jim could handle himself," Charlie says, "so I was helping that friend back to the truck." Morrison was still having trouble walking, but as he grasped the railing of the steps, he shouted, "We're fucking leaving!" As he turned back to his friends, he was struck.
"I heard this loud crack," Charlie says. "It sounded like taking a plywood board and busting it over your knee." Morrison collapsed to the ground. Charlie rushed over and huddled over his friend to protect him from being kicked. Someone said, "See what happens? We told you to leave." Charlie assumed Morrison was punch-drunk. "I was trying to get him up," he says. "Then he took this breath." Charlie pauses, taking a deep breath himself. "And then, he just stopped."
It took a half-hour for an ambulance to arrive. Some of the bands eventually played, though the cops wouldn't allow anyone to mosh.
Franklin is not the only member of FSU with legal troubles. Joe Hardcore is facing assault-and-robbery charges stemming from a fight outside a hardcore concert in Philadelphia at a Unitarian church in 2006. (He says video footage proves he was inside the venue when the fight occurred, and remains confident that hell be acquitted.) And two days after the Corona concert, James and I drive back out to Riverside County to visit Domino, one of the leaders of FSU's Los Angeles chapter, who has spent the past year in county jail, Along with three others, he's been charged with the murder of a nineteen-year-old male who was beaten to death in the parking lot of a Jack in the Box.
At the jail, James and I are led into a visiting room with a row of stools in front of a thick plexiglass wall. Domino is on the other side of the partition, a skinny white kid with a buzz cut and glasses in a prison-orange vest. Disarmingly softspoken and articulate, with an easy smile, he also pleads innocence (as do the others charged). Still, he's already been made the white "rep," or racial gang leader, in the jail. "Just prison politics," he says. "It's hard for me, because outside, my best friend is African-American, but here I have to run with the whites. You don't have a choice. But skinheads, ask anyone in here, they know better than to salute in my neighborhood."
On the long drive back to Silver Lake, James cranks up David Crosby's first solo album, tapping his fingers on the dash. He has no patience for hardcore these days, joking that if the FBI ever infiltrated FSU, they'd come out with no evidence of anything criminal, only a bunch of tattoos and six months of listening to shitty music.
James himself has been having trouble leaving the fighting behind. Since he's moved to L.A., he's been out to Hollywood clubs only three times, and two of the three outings ended in brawls. The most recent involved a friend visiting from New York. "I was across the bar and he'd just picked up a stool and was hitting people," James says. "I never really found out what happened. But my brother was involved in something. So you don't ask."
Six weeks later, though, I receive an e-mail from James. During the course of my visit, he seemed genuinely conflicted about being the last of the old guard – other FSU members from his era have retired or graduated to motorcycle gangs – and now, he says he's decided to leave FSU.
"I've been thinking a lot about violence and responsibility since the weekend you spent out here," he writes. "I've dung to FSU because I've felt a responsibility to all my 'brothers.' Wanting to lift them up with me... But I could be doing all of this from the outside. And now I will... I've spent the last weeks with Domino's mom and his aunt at Domino's court proceedings... It's been eye-opening. As hard as it is for me to watch all the hopes I had for Domino slip further away, it's just an unimaginable horror for them... All Erik Skandalous and I can do is try to take Domino's mom's mind off it for a few hours, try to make her laugh. And squeeze her hand when she cries. And the victim's mom on the other side of the courtroom, you wish you could do the same for her."
If Franklin is guilty, he didn't act alone. The police have asked witnesses with any information to come forward. Lorrie Morrison, meanwhile, has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the venue and hopes to see more arrests made.
On Morrison's MySpace page, titled "Moment of Chance," the quote next to his photo reads "Buried in Black." The lines are from a song by the metal band Kingdom of Sorrow. In the photo, Morrison is wearing a dark sweatshirt and a striped knit cap, but the lighting is so dim that it creates an unintentional chiaroscuro effect: Morrison's face – broad, with a red goatee and a crooked half-smile – hovering in the gloom, the rest of him obscured by shadow. The page's last log-in remains locked at "1/14/07." Old comments from his friends are also preserved.
OCT 24. 2006 1:54 PM
yo bitch WTF is going on? I am dying and you don't even care WTF!? GGGGRRRRR whats going on this weekend?
DECEMBER 29, 2006 11:27 AM
LMAO this is one of those pictures we are going to be looking at years from now like what the fuck were we doing and why!!!???
His MySpace jukebox also included "Bro Hymn Tribute." by the punk band Pennywise, written for a dead bandmate. One of Morrison's friends has portions of the song tattooed on his arms. The lyrics continue, in part, "If you're ever in a tough situation/ We'll he there with no hesitation/Brotherhood's our rule we cannot bend."
This story is from the August 23rd, 2007 issue of Rolling Stone.
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