I got a call from Tracie, a friend of a friend. She said, "I'm having a party. And you have gone to so many parties... Help me come up with a theme. But it has to involve a disco ball.""The obvious is a disco theme," I suggested.
"I don't know. My friends won't want to dress up like that. And, I don't want to play disco music."
She told me that she was turning 27. I said, "You were born in the disco era. It's perfect."
"Don't you have any other ideas?" she pleaded.
The pressure was on. I said, "Okay, here's one. At 27, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, and Jimi Hendrix all died. So did Robert Johnson. And Kurt Cobain killed himself at 27." Tracey freaked out. "This is perfect! A dead-rock-star party! I'll do it! But how do I decorate?"
"Oh, the possibilities are endless," I said. "You can get posters. I can lend you albums. You can go online, find out how they died, print out bios, or you can get morbid and show how they died. Otis Redding -- plane crash. Sam Cooke -- shot by prostitute. Things like that." I could tell by her silence that she wasn't sure who either of those people were. I said, "How did that singer of Sublime die? An overdose? You can have your guests dress up as their favorite dead rock star."
She called back to borrow some party props from me. I lent her 20 CDs from various dead rock stars -- Buddy Holly, John Lennon, Jim Croce, Eddie Cochran... I attached notes to each, such as, "When you burn songs from Warren Zevon, use 'Werewolves of London,' 'Lawyers, Drugs, and Money,' and 'I'll Sleep When I'm Dead,' since it fits the theme." She called again to tell me that she was charging her guests $5 or $10 to get in but added, "Don't worry, I'm not charging you since you let me borrow all this stuff." Gee, thanks!
I wondered which rock star I should be? I can't do Elvis, I thought, everyone is going to do that. I dressed up as him in the 11th grade. (I had empty pill containers filled with Sweet Tarts that I kept "popping" all night.) Then I remembered that I had the John Lennon New York City T-shirt. I knew it was in bad taste, but I painted a few bloody bullet holes on the back. My date asked, "What are women going to dress as? Fat women will probably show up as Janis Joplin or Mama Cass, but what about everyone else?"
Since she has long black hair and is tall, I suggested she go as Joey Ramone. A friend had a Ramones leather jacket that we borrowed, and we went to the swap meet to buy sunglasses.
I called Tracie and said, "You might have one problem. Someone could be dressed up, and you won't know who they are. This will be embarrassing for both of you. So, have a sign-in sheet. Next to their name, they could put the rock star they came as. You could walk over periodically and glance at it."
I found out the day before the party that we might have jinxed the real-life rock world. The lead singer of the group Boston had killed himself. Strange.
We showed up to the Ocean Beach party and Julie, the first woman we met, was dressed as Nancy Sinatra in tall white boots. I said, "I saw her performing at the Belly Up Tavern a few years ago. I don't think she's died since then." Julie said, "Yeah, I know. But I didn't know who else to go as. And I had the boots."
I looked around. I couldn't believe there wasn't a single Elvis. Or Janis Joplin. A bald friend of mine had called me asking who he should be. "Britney Spears," I joked. He showed up in a T-shirt with jokes about Britney Spears's career dying written on it. He said, "I bet I'm the most comfortable in my costume.... It's just so strange about her shaving her head and getting a tattoo. Remember when the craziest thing she did was drive with a baby on her lap?"
Three guys walked in with blond wigs. Someone asked, "Who the hell are you guys supposed to be?" One of the guys responded, "We're not sure." The Spears guy leaned over and said, "They just went as skanks. And skank never dies."
There were nametags at the door, which made things easier when you ran into people. Of course, when I saw the black guy with the crazy hair, headband, and psychedelic shirt, I could tell from across the room he was Hendrix. The second Jimi there.
I didn't want to write Lennon on my tag. I wrote, "I am the Walrus." My date didn't want to write just a name. She wrote "F*** Off! I'm Johnny." In the course of the night, however, people kept asking her, "Which one of the Ramones are you?"
One guy who commented on my nametag was a comedian in a troupe called O.B. Comedy. I told him he looked like the filmmaker Kevin Smith. We talked about the history of comedy and had a disagreement about whether or not Robin Williams stole material. I just don't believe he did, even though other comedians swear it to be true.
One guy was dressed as Jim Morrison. I joked that he better not unzip his pants. He looked at me as if I was insane. I had to explain the story about Morrison being arrested for doing that onstage.
A guy who had a belt around his neck had to explain his costume. I said, "I would've thought if someone had a belt, it would be around their arm, with a needle. Who are you?" He said that he was supposed to be the singer from INXS. A few others asked what the deal was with that, and the guy explained that the singer hung himself.
There was a lot of food and alcohol in the living room, and the place was appropriately decorated. (I noticed the disco ball was spinning outside.) I heard several songs by singers who were alive. When Tom Petty came on, I asked Tracie what the deal was. "I decided to play all kinds of music."
I asked one woman if she was Wendy O. Williams. She asked who that was. I said, "A punker from the Plasmatics who wore black tape over her nipples and blew things up. She ended up killing herself."
I'd never seen someone so thrilled by such news. She said, "Now I know who I am!" She filled out a nametag and said, "I just threw this stuff on. I didn't know what to do, but this looked like a rocker. Thanks for telling me who I am."
Crash your party? Call 619-235-3000 x421 and leave an invitation for Josh Board.