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CREEPY OLD GUY GOES TO A RAVE

Okay, I know chances are good that my sideburns are older than a lotta people reading this blog. I’m old. How old AM I? I'm old enough to have…

a) …bought Beatles records while they were still together…

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b) …witnessed Yaz in action, back when the name made you think of Fenway Park, not PMS pills, in a time when guys thought menstrual cycles were Italian bikes…

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c) …carried an HR Pufnstuf lunchbox to school, with actual lunches inside rather than half-ounces of leafy, green puffin’ stuff…

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d) …seen the first moon landing, live, as it was actually being faked…

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e) …mailed in my vote for Quisp over Quake, for the Rabbit to get some Trix, and letters demanding the return of Star Trek (the FIRST time it was cancelled) and Lost In Space (if only in hopes of seeing the Robinsons finally throw Doctor Smith out the airlock once and for all)…

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f) …played Pong on a sit-down arcade console…

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g) …paid 65 cents for the first gallon of gas I ever bought, for the first car I ever drove (an AMC Gremlin...green)…

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h) …watched Battlestar Galactica back when the fleet was led by the guy from Bonanza, Starbuck was still a guy, and the Cylons still wore silver painted pants and were ruled by an ambulatory bubble gum dispenser (who sounded suspiciously like the aforementioned Doc Smith)…

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i) …seen Zeppelin with Bonham…

j) …Pink Floyd with Waters…

k) …Van Halen with Diamond Dave…

l) …Fairport Convention with Sandy Denny…

m) …Tull with John Glasscock (five times!)…

n) …Sabbath with Ozzy/before Dio…

o) …and Skynyrd with Ronnie & Wilkeson & Collins & Gaines AND the other Gaines!

So, yeah, I’m old. Worth bearing in mind as you read this account of my exploratory trips awhile back to three local rave parties.

For a tutorial in rave fashion, I first read the message board archives at socal-raves. The group philosophy stresses individualism and a come-as-you-are acceptance of all who enter. However, at the parties I attended, an unmistakable “dress to impress” code was evident, with certain constants seeming to be at least preferred, if not required.

Bellbottoms and black vinyl pants were common among both sexes, with the males leaning toward the extra baggy look while females wore their pants low on the hips, often riding below the visible straps of their thong underwear or bikini bottoms. Piercings and platform shoes were just as likely to be seen on boys as girls.

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Oversized T-shirts and brightly colored sweatshirts were everywhere, though many guys shed these and went bare-chested after the first few hours of dancing. A majority of the girls wore their hair short, often in barrettes or kiddie pigtails. Bras seemed to be an endangered, almost non-existent relic.

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Babydoll ruffled dresses and cut-off Ts were common, and the proliferation of people sucking on baby pacifiers or wearing these around their necks on candy-colored necklaces heightened the return-to-childhood (or never surrender childhood) infantilism prevalent in all aspects of rave culture.

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I saw dozens of girls carrying stuffed animals and licking giant lollipops (a guaranteed attention getter that caused at least one four-male collision I witnessed). TV cartoon illustrations emblazoned more underdeveloped chests than the usual corporate or band logos seen on the shirts of female mallrats in the light of day.

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Drugs have been a part of the rave scene from its inception, though it’s certainly possible to go to a rave and have a good time without being high. Among ravers administrating a buzz to the brain, MDMA (aka Ecstasy or “E”), tops the chemical chart and the most common fashion accessories – those baby pacifiers, as well as facemasks treated with menthol rubs like Icy Hot or Vicks Vapor Rub – often double as agents intended to assist the high (Ecstasy users say pacifiers keep their teeth from grinding together and menthol rubs sharpen the buzz).

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In its pure form, it is a white crystalline powder, but the form sold at raves is usually a pill with a picture stamped into its surface, going under names like Green Nipples, Green Clovers, Pink Turbo and White CK. Ecstasy tablets come primarily from Western Europe where they can be purchased for around a dollar each. By the time they reach America, they regularly sell for between $10 and $45 per dose.

The drug is sometimes cut with amphetamines (speed), baking powder, caffeine pills or even pesticides or poisons. At the parties I attended, I saw various pills selling for between $10 and $20. Ecstasy can be swallowed, snorted or injected but the effects last longest when swallowed. Users on Ecstasy describe the phases of their high as "rolling" or "dropping." The initial rush can be accompanied by exhilaration and a tingling feeling like “butterflies” in the stomach, with the high lasting anywhere from four to six hours.

E instills energy and skin sensitivity is heightened, which is why people at raves are constantly seen touching, giving each other backrubs and, yes, since sexual sensations are heightened while in this state, lots of uninhibited bumping and grinding goes on.

“E is the ultimate aphrodesiac,” purrs one young lady in Cindy Brady pigtails who overhears me asking someone what the pill’s attraction is. “It brakes down barriers and makes you drop your inhibitions, so you feel at one with everything and everyone. I made out with a girl for the first time on E,” she says, “and, until I came down, I thought I was in love with her! I found out later she was just trying to get me to buy more E from her but, wow, we had an awesome time before I found out she was a pro [dealer].”

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Others told me about their own favorite things to do while on Ecstasy:

“Dancing and jumping up and down makes you feel weightless.”

“Touching and being touched feels magical, even if it’s someone just blowing air into your face or your hair through a straw.” (This explains why I see so many people with straws in their mouths)

“It’s incredible to fall back and have someone catch you and slowly lift you back up…feels like slow motion.”

“Chewing hard candy, especially Wint-O-Green Lifesavers, because they make little flashing sparks in your mouth!”

“Being touched with a vibrator.” Actually, that particular conversation, with a young woman I’m positive was of legal age, went in directions best left unreported…

Ecstasy causes the body to easily overheat, so those dancing in close quarters can be in danger of heatstroke or dehydration if they don’t take in enough water. These are, in fact, about the only known causes of death while on Ecstasy.

Water bottles are probably the most commonly seen and most important accessories at any rave. Unfortunately, sometimes security guards don’t let patrons bring their own, because water is being sold by concessionaires inside for $3 to $6 per small bottle!

“Smart Drinks” are usually sold on site, made with amino acids and vitamin combinations - nutrients that supply the precursors and cofactors the body uses to manufacture neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers that carry impulses in the brain. These neurotransmitters are depleted by heavy physical activity, stimulant drugs and lack of sleep and “smart drinks” are thought to battle these detrimental effects.

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DMT, GHB and LSD can be found at many raves (I was offered several types of acid at two of the three raves I attended, and a surprising number of kids asked ME if I had acid to SELL...are old guys at raves typically there to sell drugs???).

Nitrous Oxide - “laughing gas” - has become popular, and I was offered this a few times too. Hard drugs have also moved into the scene, including crystal meth and even heroin, though I saw no overt use myself (I sure saw some suspected users, tho).

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“Flipping” is taking a combination of Ecstasy and another drug. Some popular flips - Candy Flipping (LSD & E):

Elephant Flipping (PCP & E):

Hippie Flipping (Shrooms & E):

And Kitty Flipping (Ketamine & E).

However, many people I spoke with, in person and online, stress that drugs are frowned on and discouraged by many ravers, and even banned at some events with high enforcement by security to deter on-site drug use. Judging from the usual media preoccupation with drugs in connection with rave culture, this seems wise if ravers want to avoid being legislated out of existence.

Especially in light of the Congressional bill known as H.R. 3782, approved by the Senate and House Of Representatives on February 14th, 2002. The bill amends the Controlled Substance Act by inserting section 416A (21 U.S.C. 856), titled “Promoters Of Drug Oriented Entertainment.”

It reads, in part, “Whoever knowingly promotes any rave, dance, music, or other entertainment event, that takes place under circumstances where the promoter knows or reasonably ought to know that a controlled substance will be used or distributed in violation of Federal law or the law of the place were the event is held, shall be fined under title 18, United States Code, or imprisoned for not more than 9 years, or both.”

When federal law says anyone who throws a rave “ought to know” on-site drug use is likely and can go to jail for up to nine years, you can believe that a lot less people are anxious to promote raves nowadays.

Still, it’s no secret that even drug-free ravers can be seen sporting a wicked, knowing grin every time they see a commercial for the "E: Entertainment Network.”

Nothing much else interesting happened at the raves I attended, so here are some things I found out in researching the throbbing, concussive music that rang my eardrums like Quasimodo on a meth bender at Notre Dame…

The mostly electronic techno music favored at raves first took hold in gay dance clubs and discos in Chicago and Detroit, inspired by and often built from samples of progressive music by European artists like Philip Glass and Depeche Mode. DJs mix different prerecorded dance songs together using a drum synthesizer, alternate pitches, varying speeds and an equalizer, spontaneously creating “house” music - hybrid songs that change with every new spin.

Techno is anchored by a reverberating beat and the use of rhythm as a hypnotic tool. The music has a high concentration of bass in the forefront, with everything pumped up to a fast repeating beat, around 115 BPM [beats per minute] on up to 300 BPM. Songs programmed at 120 BPM create a trance-like effect because that’s the rate of your average heartbeat, and that subliminally recreates the sound unborn babies hear inside the womb.

Acid House has a lot of squeaks and samples, all stacked to play simultaneously. A synthesizer like a Roland 303 is good for mixing different layers and pitches that way, and what comes out is called a ‘funky worm’ sound…very liquid.

Trance is slow and steady, very melodic repetitive to create a hypnotizing effect.

Breakbeat uses sped-up hip-hop and reggae samples and it’s great for getting the crowd moving, but it has no hypnotic qualities.

Jungle is about percussion…bongos and drums and layers of chanting in the background.

Darkside is mostly minor chords, like a horror movie soundtrack.

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Hardcore is basically a speed-metal tune treated with a beat-inducer like a TR-909 drum machine. When you advertise hardcore, it brings a lot of heavy metal and industrial fans into the rave fold and makes them feel at home.

Gabba is an extreme kind of hardcore, played fast with the bass so low [that] the walls rattle and your bones shake…it can run up to 400 or 500 BPM, which some people think is dangerous. I’ve heard stories about how gabba, along with flashing strobe lights, can actually give people seizures.

Of course, so can the drugs some people are taking, so don’t ask me how to tell what causes someone to end up twitching on the floor with foam coming out their mouth.

Maybe some jailbait chick just kicked him in the balls for rubbing her ass with a glowstick, or for blowing air up her nose with one of those damned straws.

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SCENEMAKERS: MIKE STAX of the Loons, publisher of Ugly Things Magazine

Ugly Things magazine (current circulation: 13,000) debuted in 1983, around two years after publisher Mike Stax moved to San Diego from London to perform with The Crawdaddys, and then The Tell-Tale Hearts. "We cover underground garage bands, many of them obscure and most from the '60s," says Stax.

"I started making contacts around the country and it grew to the point where I started trying to actually track down bands, to get first hand information and access to their archives and memories, instead of just rewriting what I found in books and magazines."

Stax's magazine has uncovered and interviewed many one-time hitmakers who are fondly recalled by cult devotees of The Bands That Time Forget - bassist Ray Benich of The Damnation of Adam Blessing, The Outsiders' Wally Tax, Phil May and "Twink" of The Pretty Things, producer Shel Talmy and Sky Saxon from The Seeds. "The way I usually track these guys down is by going through phone directories from all over the country, just finding people with the same last names and making phone calls to everyone in hopes of finding my guy directly or maybe a family member who can put me on the right path."

"Not all of these guys have pleasant memories to share. A lot of them went through some real painful stuff, some serious tragedies. For the second issue, I tracked down Sean Bonniwell [guitar player] from The Music Machine. They had a top ten hit in 1966 [actually, 'Talk Talk' charted in the top 40 only] but nobody had ever talked to him about those days...I tracked him down through a contact I had at Rhino Records, as they were considering [releasing] some reissues [of Music Machine recordings]."

Two decades past his band's glory days, Bonniwell ended up living in a garage with no running water, on a horse ranch in Porterville California, north of Bakersfield, while waging war in court against The Music Machine's original label, Original Sound, to recoup songwriting royalties.

Bonniwell's memories of the sixties aren't the least bit rosy. "We'd play almost anywhere, any time, but our resources were never coordinated at all," he told Stax. "That, and the fact that we rarely got paid. You couldn't take a check from a promoter back then, because it would bounce. So I'd have a big brown shopping bag and take the cash from the door."

The Music Machine dressed themselves all in black and each wore a black leather glove on one hand only, years before Michael Jackson's "gloved one" persona. "I went into one place in the South and wanted to use the restroom," Bonniwell says. "And this was still in the days when there was segregation. The owner said, 'The white restroom is here, the black restroom is there, and you ain't got one.' "

Stax says many long-lost rockers seem bewildered by his efforts to find them. "Most are completely baffled as to why. They're a bit skeptical or suspicious of what my motives might be. But once we start talking about their music and naming songs and specific details, they realize that I really do appreciate what they did." "

"Then they start remembering things as we talk, and they're getting recognition that perhaps they never got before, even while they were still recording. Many of these guys have been out of the music business for thirty years or more, and all the remnants of their careers are packed up in boxes in the attic and just sort of forgotten. They've gone on to so-called 'respectable lives' and their own children may have no idea about their dad's wild rock and roll life!"

He says one of the most satisfying hunts was tracking down The Monks, five American GIs who formed a band while stationed in Germany in 1966. "Since they couldn't grow their hair long like most rock and rollers, they shaved their heads like monks, dressed in black robes with a rope around their necks and actually got signed by Polydor Records."

"They had a minimilast stripped down sound, with tribal drumbeats, feedback, an electric banjo they used as kind of a percussion instrument, very ahead of their time. This was before anyone had ever heard of The Velvet Underground or Jimi Hendrix. They all had common names so I was having no luck finding them through phone books. Then, quite by accident, it turned out that a friend of a friend's uncle was Eddie Shaw from the Monks."

"Once I got ahold of Eddie by phone, I drove all the way out to Carson City Nevada to meet with him. We spent a weekend going through all his scrapbooks and photos, his original clothes, even his bass guitar. It was quite amazing, this long lost time capsule he dusted off for us."

Much persistence and detective work went into finding Sid Herring, from the Mississippi band The Gants. "Since the sixties, he'd been sort of wandering the country, worked in radio sometimes and just becoming kind of a lost soul. He was still writing songs but he never did find an audience for what he did and was just doing some anonymous jobs like aluminum siding or something."

"He ended up getting The Gants back together a couple of years ago. They've played New York City a few times and some huge Mississippi State ball game of some sort or other."

When Stax caught up with pop Svengali Kim Fowley, who in the seventies put together the all-girl band Runaways (remembered mainly for launching the career of then-teenaged Joan Jett), the loquacious producer provided several hours of insider insight.

"He made quite a lot of sexual references and offensive remarks about women being dirty bitches, as you would expect from Kim," according to Stax. "He claims to have seen PJ Proby [1965's 'Rockin' Pneumonia'] and the actress Diana Dors making it in the back of Diana's Lincoln Continental."

"He also told me about someone called Anna The Potato Girl, who had this gimmick with, um, boiled potatoes. She would do this thing at Proby's parties where she put potatoes up inside her...It was a matter of how many she could get in there, and then she'd leave, with the potatoes still inside her, and go to her job at a department store. According to Kim, one would occasionally drop out onto the floor while she was ringing up a sale."




Like this blog? Here are some related links:

OVERHEARD IN SAN DIEGO - Several years' worth of this comic strip, which debuted in the Reader in 1996: http://www.sandiegoreader.com/photos/galleries/overheard-san-diego/

FAMOUS FORMER NEIGHBORS - Over 100 comic strips online, with mini-bios of famous San Diegans: http://www.sandiegoreader.com/photos/galleries/famous-former-neighbors/

SAN DIEGO READER MUSIC MySpace page: http://www.myspace.com/sandiegoreadermusic

JAY ALLEN SANFORD MySpace page: http://www.myspace.com/jayallensanford

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