THE HEADBANGERS' HEADBANGER
"You can see it in their eyes," says Jerry Mele. Searing, seething eyes boiling over with carefully contained aggression. Bright Mack truck headlights mounted on an otherwise placid face. Jerry Mele learned how to gauge the danger lurking behind such ominous orbs during a two-year hitch in Vietnam, where the astute G.I. quickly achieved leadership rank for his ability to home in on brewing trouble. Living in New York City for most of his 43 years, "where you gotta check your pockets every few feet to see how much you just got ripped off," Mele became an expert at spotting ired eyes and cooling off would-be aggressors with some well-chosen words and, sometimes, swift moves. Then, ten years ago while driving a limo for some visiting rock stars, Mele finally got to put his knack for disaster detection to profitable use. Spotting a crazed-looking fan moving in quick on his employers for the night, Mele managed to get to the rabid rocker and somehow instantly cool his aggression without knocking his lights out. "It was just a matter of using your mouth instead of your fists, y'know?" says Mele (rhymes with "melee"). He speaks in an accent so thick it would make Andrew Dice Clay sound like a Stanford professor. "Talking the guy down before things could erupt into a nasty situation. It went from something that looked like an oncoming tornado to something just blowing in the wind." The band, whose name the maddeningly modest Mele refuses to drop, immediately noticed the leaping limo driver's talent for tornado twisting and asked him, on the spot, if he'd like to come on tour as their chief of security. "I was instantly put in charge," marvels Mele. "I was thrown right into the fire. There was no `we're gonna work you into this.' It was like, `Pow! This is your job, man. Take care of it.'" Now, after ten years as the head of security for every name from Duran Duran to his current assignment on the Slayer/Anthrax/Megadeth "Clash of the Titans" tour that will stop at Veterans' Memorial Coliseum on Thursday, May 23, Mele has become known throughout the industry as rock's Great Mediator. It's a title he wears proudly, if a bit awkwardly.
"I don't know why I'm being fingered out," shrugs the shaggy-maned security czar, sipping coffee in the spacious backyard of his plush Scottsdale home. Although he's lived in the house with his second wife, Angela, for the past two years, his booming business has kept him on the road for all but three weeks of that time. "A lot of people seemed to have noticed the shows I've done, and they're seeing that you can do a concert where everyone can have a good time without getting hurt. Bands and promoters are telling other people, `Try this guy.' But I'm not really doing anything new," insists Mele.
"I just try to get everybody working as one unit--the band, the fans, the security guys, the police, ushers, first-aid people. I'm the guy who tries to get everybody to realize we're all here to have a good time. Not to see how many kids we can bust." IT WAS SLAYER, headbanging headliners on the current Clash of the Titans tour, who persuaded the normally press-shy Mele to go public with his secrets of successful security. "I don't like to drop names of people I've worked with," grimaces Mele. (It is believed, however, that they include a top Irish band that starts with a U and a famous British pop chameleon whose name rhymes with Zowie). "And I don't feel comfortable doing interviews. But this time, the band said to me, `Do it, man. Talk about what you do. It's gonna make a change for the kids, and it's gonna make a change for security.'" While Mele professes to dislike blowing his own horn, in truth, self-promotion is one of the main ingredients to his success. Long before any concert begins, in the early morning hours when the most fanatical stage rushers are lining up outside the arena doors, Mele is there, pressing the flesh, letting the kids know who he is and what his security team's all about.
"Basically, we try to set a tone right from the beginning," Mele says. "We let the fans know we'll be working with them to make sure everybody enjoys the concert without getting hurt." The personal contact, Mele says, disposes of the "us" versus "them" thinking that often results in conflict between the security personnel and the fans. "What we've achieved around the country is we've got a lot of these fans on our side now, simply because they know we're on their side, too. And how they show it is they point out the wiseguys. They point out the guys who are starting trouble." Once Mele gets hold of a harmful hooligan, his approach is again slightly different from that of the average arena bouncer. "For one thing, I don't use five guys to haul him out," Mele says, noting that it's futile to play a numbers game with a crowd of thousands. "I tap him on the shoulder and say, `C'mon, let's take a walk.' When he says, `Why?' I say, `I'll explain it to you outside. I can't hear over the music.' That gets him out of the crowd, so if he wants to be a tough guy in front of everyone, you've just knocked 99 percent of his power out of him. Now the only one he's got to get tough in front of is me." Usually a polite but firm talking-to will turn a front-row bully into a teddy bear. "I just talk to people like I wanna be talked to," Mele says. "I show 'em as much respect as I possibly can--at first." The security honcho will happily serve coffee to drunks and walk off a buzz with drug-doers before turning them over to the facility's rent-a-cops. "But sometimes talking and kindness doesn't work. Sometimes you have to involve certain people to get a guy to understand what you really mean." Then Mele calls in his staff or the concert hall's police "to restrain them. Not to whale on 'em, just get them out the door." Here, too, Mele has to watch out for wiseguys. "Just like there's always that 3 to 5 percent of the audience that's gonna give you trouble," he says, "5 percent of the security guys you hire are gonna wanna hurt somebody. But they're weeded out fast." Most of today's barricade bouncers, in fact, are serious professionals, Mele says. "It's not the same old `goon squad' it used to be. Some of the guys I hire now are college graduates, retired policemen, even school teachers. Teachers like doing this as a sideline, so when their students go, `You don't know what's happening,' they can say, `Oh yeah? I watched you last night headbanging, asshole!' "You're dealing with more professional people now. It's not like the old days, when you'd go, `Let's grab the ten biggest guys outside and put a tee shirt on 'em.'" MELE DREAMS OF A DAY when his security services are billed below the band's name, just like light shows were touted on psychedelic concert fliers in the late Sixties, when Mele was going to concerts himself. Certainly a "Security by Mele" mention would signal to fans that they're dealing with the concert world's coolest cop. But the security biz is not a field where one can rest on his laurels. "I've never had a kid give me one of these," says Mele proudly, hoisting the famous one-finger salute in the air. "But you never know what's gonna happen at the next concert. It's like you're starting over every night. "I have meetings every day, with the building manager, the police department, the fire department, first aid, ushers. Even if we're doing multiple gigs. I've done eight shows in a row at the same venue. Every day at the same time, there's a meeting. Guys'll go, `Jerry, we just talked about this yesterday!' And I'll say, `Yeah, but I wanna make sure you remember it.' Every day's a new ball game."
"I'm the guy who tries to get everybody to realize we're all here to have a good time."
"I show 'em as much respect as I possibly can--at first." "Five percent of the security guys you hire are gonna wanna hurt somebody.
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