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To punch a celebrity or not to punch a celebrity, that is the question

Robb D. Cohen
Justin Bieber performs during the Power 96.1 Jingle Ball at Philips Arena on Thursday, December 17, 2015, in Atlanta.

This story originally aired on November 5, 2016.

So when we get emotional about something, we often have to weigh the risks and rewards of acting on those emotions. If someone upsets us, we need to decide if there is enough of a reward in confronting that person, while potentially facing the risks of upsetting that person as well.

I found myself in one of those situations at small-town bar in the middle of Washington, upset at a very, very famous young man, and wrote this essay.

I feel like I never, ever get out of town. So when I do take some time off, I just want to relax. And the best way I know how to truly relax is to go camping.

This last Labor Day weekend, I went to this little tucked-away bit of land in Salmon La Sac, a handful of miles away from Cle Elum, Washington. It was beautiful and perfect, even with a little rain.

As the weekend came to a close, my friends and I decided that on our way out of town, we would make one last stop for a cocktail before facing the reality of heading back to work.

To enter or exit Salmon La Sac, you have to drive through the town of Roslyn, which has a population of about 900 people. It is also home to the historic Brick Saloon, which has been continually operating since 1889.

It even still has the original 23-foot running-water spittoon along the length of the bar. The perfect spot for one last drink before heading out of town.

On this particular day, the Brick Saloon was busier than I assumed it might normally be. But by pure luck, right as we walked in, three seats at the bar opened up by the entrance and we saddled up. I took that as a wonderful sign that this would be the perfect ending to a relaxing weekend.

I sat between my two friends, filthy from camping, but I didn’t care. While they were thrilled to have cell phone service again, I sat there silent, in kind of a rested daze, at peace with my whiskey, as customers came and went from the saloon entrance behind me.

This part of the Brick Saloon was for ages 21 and up, and the youthful appearance of a patron entering the building must have caught the eye of the bartender.

“Can I see your ID?” she asked.

Since my back was turned to the entrance, I couldn’t see the person whose age she wanted to verify, but I could tell that this person wasn’t breaking stride. And then he responded.

“Google me.”

Google me! He said, “GOOGLE ME.” Who says, “Google me?”

But the bartender didn’t say a word — just sort of stood there with a blank look on her face. I turned in my barstool to see this guy from behind, still not breaking stride, walking towards the pool tables in the back. Grey sweatshirt, white jeans, white high tops, short blondish-brown hair, and tattoos on his neck.

I turned back towards the bartender, who still looked a bit in shock. And then she said it.

“I think that’s Justin Bieber.”

Justin Bieber. Now I have to tell you that I have always felt that there is an especially warm place that entitled, cocky young pop stars go when they die. And while I can’t say I know anything about his music, I think there might be a song where he says, “baby” a lot in it. Everything I’ve ever heard or read about him sounded awful.

Justin Bieber, the guy who tried to bring his baby monkey into Germany with him, only to leave it at the airport when he failed to produce the necessary paperwork. Justin Bieber, the guy who police say basically shut down a major strip in Miami so he could drag race with his friends. Justin Bieber, the guy who kicked the Argentinian flag off the stage at one of his concerts —in Argentina. Justin Bieber, the guy who urinated in a custodian’s mop bucket.

And many of you might remember his last visit to Seattle, because he got a lot of press for walking out on his large bar tab. And on, and on.

And as it turned out, this was most certainly Justin Bieber in the flesh and blood. Patrons indeed “Googled” him, trying to see if the tattoos on his neck matched the ones in pictures of him online. They did. It was him.

Now has he ever done anything to me personally? No. But for him to stroll into a bar, in the middle of nowhere, on my last moments of vacation, well I took that very personally.

Was no place safe from arrogant, troublemaking pop stars? Why this place, in this small town, on the one weekend I get away? Why him?

As he stood by the pool tables, holding a pool stick behind his neck horizontally with his arms draped over either end in a “Jesus on the cross” sort of posture, it became clear exactly what I needed to do. I was going to walk over to Justin Bieber, and punch him right in the face.

Now I am not a violent man. I’ve never been in a fight, and I have never punched anyone in the face. I can’t say that I’ve even been really tempted to. Not only that, but punching Justin Bieber in the face would have almost certainly landed me in jail, and I had to be on the air the next day, so it probably also would have cost me my job.

But I was overcome with an emotion that I have never felt before. It was as if I wasn’t just going to punch Justin Bieber in the face for disrupting my last few moments of tranquility, but I’d be doing it for everyone out there that has seen or heard on TV some of the awful things he has said or done and said to themselves, “Man, I’d really like to punch that guy in the face.”

There are lots of people that want to punch Justin Bieber in the face. Google it.

And here I was, with that opportunity. I got up and walked to the bathroom, deliberately walking right by him just to see how high the adrenaline would get when I was that close. It was there. I could do this.

After leaving the bathroom, I walked outside for some air, once again passing Bieber who was now enjoying a taco salad.

It was the moment of truth. My nerve was up, I just needed a sign to tell me to either go do this or don’t — and it came.

As I stood outside, it hit me that the social media element to Bieber being here would probably kick in soon. And right as I completed that thought, I saw a girl who couldn’t have been older than 14 bolting up the sidewalk and up to the door of the bar.

While too young to enter the bar, she had cell phone in hand, ready to take as many pictures as she could of the inside of the bar every time the door would open. Her eyes were wet, and she was practically trembling.

For better or for worse, Justin Bieber has brought joy to millions and millions of people. That song that I thought he sang where he said, “baby” a lot in it? I looked it up, and it has been viewed almost 1.5 BILLION times on YouTube. That’s a little less than five views per person from every single person in the United States.

So basically, me punching Justin Bieber in the face might make me the good guy to a few millions, but I would be the bad guy to a couple billion. And who, I ask, of you out there wants to be the bad guy to billions of people?

I walked past the shrieking teen, back inside the bar, and took in the view of stardom for another couple moments. Young Bieber had clearly reached the limit on the amount of attention he wanted to receive, as he was turning down posing for pictures (That’s one of his things now; no pictures with fans. Google it.), he popped his hood over his head, and passed me while heading to the door.

There is the stigma that is often attached to misbehaved teenage rock stars that they act this way because they never had real parenting, or a real childhood, that they never got to develop normal social skills because they grew up on a tour bus and never had anybody real to talk to. I’ve never found that as a justifiable excuse for terrible behavior, but for a moment, as he walked out, he struck me as human.

Before the door could shut behind him, the voice of a teenage female outside of the bar was heard yelling, “I love you, Justin.”

“I love you too,” he shouted back, before hopping into the back seat of a black SUV and disappearing into the Rosalyn sunset.

Justin Bieber fans refer to themselves as “Beliebers”. And I remain a staunch “non-Belieber”. But if your music can bring so much joy to one teenager that it convinces one grown man to not punch an almost grown man in the face, then maybe there is a reason to “Belieb” after all. I don’t know; Google it.

This story originally aired on Nov. 5, 2016

Kevin Kniestedt is a journalist, host and producer who began his career at KNKX in 2003. Over his 17 years with the station, he worked as a full time jazz host, a news host and produced the weekly show Sound Effect. Kevin has conducted or produced hundreds of interviews, has won local and national awards for newscasts and commentary.