Something ugly happened in the middle of Lancaster Street

This Just In...

January 19, 2000|By Dan Rodricks

LANCASTER STREET, between Broadway and Bond in Fells Point, is a narrow thing, not more than an oversized alley, really, with cars parked on both sides. It's one-way to traffic. When he strolls home to his rented room, Matthew Rocks likes to walk down the middle of Lancaster Street. At 2 o'clock in the morning, when the bars let out, he feels safer there. The street is better lighted than the sidewalks, and the sidewalks get crowded with rowdy bar customers.

Last month, something ugly happened in the middle of Lancaster Street.

Rocks, a singer-songwriter and acoustic guitarist, had two jobs on Saturday, Dec. 18. He played the Waterfront Hotel on Thames Street in the afternoon, and during the evening at Ze Mean Bean Cafe on Fleet. He plays the Waterfront three, sometimes four times a week. He's 25, three years out of Towson University, quiet, modest and wholly aware that he's been living his dream -- writing and singing rock songs in a style inspired by Neil Young and Michael Hedges, playing guitar, and getting paid for it. He makes enough money to live and to continue working on his music.

After picking up his pay at the Waterfront Hotel, Rocks headed home. It was Sunday morning now, about 2 o'clock. A familiar stir was in the air. The bars were letting out. Rocks crossed Broadway and walked in the middle of Lancaster Street. A compact sport utility vehicle with three young women inside roared up behind him, the wrong way on a one-way street. Rocks motioned to the car and yelled, "You're going the wrong way!" The women yelled back.

"They got rude with me," Rocks explains. "I was really just trying to warn them. Then they roared past me, and I kind of swiped at the car with my hand. Then they stopped and all three of them got out and started yelling at me. I said, `You're going the wrong way. You're drunk.'... And then I got clocked."

Someone, probably a young thug in a group of what one Lancaster Street resident calls "drunken frat boys," hit Rocks in the back of the head. Witnesses told Rocks that eight to 10 men, with no apparent connection to the young women in the compact SUV, punched and kicked the 150-pound Rocks repeatedly as he lay in Lancaster Street. He was apparently dragged across the street. A neighbor used a self-defense spray to break up the assault.

Rocks, who was probably unconscious for a time, can only remember what happened in gauzy bits and pieces. "It was like an out-of-body experience," he says, self-conscious of how weird that might sound. "It was like I saw myself float up to a rooftop and watch myself get beat up. For real."

He can't remember faces of assailants. When he tries, he sees the image of a big guy with a crew cut. He remembers pulling his sweater and corduroy jacket over his head and off -- finishing what perhaps his attackers started -- then running bare-chested away from Lancaster Street. He ran back to the Waterfront Hotel, where the owner, Dave Burman, called 911. Police took a report. An ambulance transported Rocks to Johns Hopkins Hospital.

"It was horrible," says Burman. "He was severely beaten. There were scratches all over his back from having been dragged through the street."

Rocks' right eye was bruised, bloody and swollen. His face was badly scratched. Ligaments in his left shoulder were torn. A fracture to his elbow left Rocks unable to straighten his left arm, the one attached to his left hand, the hand that works the frets when Rocks plays his guitar.

Does he try to play?

"Yes. ... It's depressing."

He doesn't say more than that. I leave the subject alone. His doctor tells Rocks that it will be "three or four months" before his left arm returns to normal, but he must worry that the injury will impair his guitar playing, which he describes as "aggressive" and "percussive."

He'll have time off -- at least three to four months, according to his doctor. That means no income from music. Rocks' medical bills have amounted to nearly $2,500, and he has no medical insurance. So some musicians are getting together tomorrow night to raise some money for him, and to cheer him up.

Mambo Combo, the Crawdaddies, Gumbo Junkyard, Jump Street, Niki Lee, Bobby B. and Friends are all lined up to play at Fletcher's, 701 S. Bond St., from 7 p.m. until 1 a.m. Admission is $10, and all proceeds go to Rocks.

"I'm so grateful," Rocks says. "Chris Huntington and Kraig Greff [of Crawdaddies] got this going. I just might have to get up and sing." He wants to sing in his sling, maybe with Bobby B. It'll be his first performance in public since the attack. He'd like to sing Radiohead's "Creep." He says he can really let loose with that one.

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