COLUMN FORTY-TWO, FEBRUARY 1, 1999
(Copyright © 1999 Al Aronowitz)
RAVERS INVADE PITTSBURGH
[Date: Tue, 6 Oct 1998 01:05:05 -0400 (EDT)
From: Len Flatley
Subject: RECENT HISTORY: Ravers Invade Pittsburgh
Note: The following is from the October edition of Memoirs of A Quark, available at http://www.tekknowledge.com/flatley/
New content this go-round includes an article on sexuality/gender and a certain transsexual junglist, a short story by yours truly, info. and real audio files pertaining to my current record release and the following article.
Questions, comments, criticism, etc. encouraged, appreciated and thoroughly enjoyed.
HOW I ENDED UP IN PITTSBURGH.
Soon the young writer found himself assigned to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, an Evolutionary Agent infiltrating the countercultural. He dressed like any typical High School student, and refused to conduct himself otherwise, despite his advancing years (or maybe because of) so he was pretty much relegated to combing the depths of popular culture, which suited him just fine.
The author finds himself plodding along in spite of the fact that his head is padded with pitchers of beer . . . "padded" because alcohol tends to seal oneself from his surroundings, which is generally detrimental to communication. The author chooses to ignore that, and work through it all, b because he is racing against obscurity here, and finds himself trailing. The good news is that D.C. United just beat down the Miami Fusion, guaranteeing themselves a position in the finals. (Just so you know.)
The young writer took to spending time in Oakland, which is a neighborhood in Pittsburgh, containing the campuses of the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University. He soon made the acquaintance of a certain John Dwight. John was and is a decent chap, a sensible fellow who is never anything but courteous to everybody and may be a Prophet or Messiah, but that is a topic that I will cover later on. John, and the writer, and a cast of thousands, which made up the better part of the Pittsburgh Rave scene (this was 1995 and 1996) lived in this house on Meyran Avenue, nestled between a couple crack houses, some old ladies and an alley where looters would ransack the dumpsters and unlocked garages in the middle of the night.
John was always especially kind and helpful when dealing with myself, the young writer, for reasons I could never fathom. . . but in the end we became quite good friends, and I am glad to say that we are still close. The first time we got stoned together it was John, myself and John's partner Ryan. We were at a party at John's house, and had locked ourselves in his bedroom to get some privacy. We were smoking out of this old bong and Ryan kept referring to the crowd downstairs as Zippies (there was an article in Wired last month about the Zippies) which I thought was real cool, cos it meant that these guys read, which is more than I can say for the punks that I was hanging out with at the time. I think that I ended up moving into the house a week later.
I believe that it was June of 1995 that John and Ryan proved themselves the Zen Champions of Pittsburgh Rave Promoters, with an event called Tunnel Vision. The story goes that when the film based on Stephen King's The Stand was filmed in Pittsburgh---scenes had been shot in the Liberty Tunnel. John figured that if he shot a film then he should be able to use some city tunnel as well. So, as sweet as pie he wrote a letter to some big city official asking if he could use a city tunnel, if he promised to shoot a film. They heard "film," the mind filled in the blanks and the next thing you know the city had turned over one of their city streets to a bunch of stoned twenty-year-olds for a party!
THE KIDS GET A TUNNEL.
June 24 was a dirty Pittsburgh Saturday night, the kind where there seems to be coal dust or rust particles floating around in the air. . . you cant exactly see any of that, but you feel it on the skin and in the lungs. And there we were, three of us, stranded about mid-way up Mt. Washington, in a bottomed-out Chevette with those idiotic dancing Dead bears plastered all over the windshield. I was elected to muster up some reinforcements, so I headed up the hill, following the bass, wearing a god-awful powdered blue long sleeve shirt made from some space age polyfiber. I had just eaten five of those candy bars that you get from the Japanese importer. . . they're pure sucrose and caffeine and probably should've stopped my heart. . . and I headed upwards and onwards.
I made it onto the mountain just after night fall. There must have been 1,500 baggy-pantsed dancers crammed into this street tunnel, with a wall of speakers on one end and a large tarp stretched over the other end, where if you peeked through the tarp you got a fantastic view of the river. I think that everybody there must have been tripping, but the acid didn't seem so strong and it just sort of kept me awake, which was fine because the spectacle was all around me and I could journey to the center of my mind some other time.
The happening quickly took on a rhythm of its own, gated to the DJ, which remained pretty much constant throughout the evening into the early morning. Dancers dispersed throughout the tunnel, trainspotters up front, some video game players had VR goggles and a play station behind the DJ booth, young miscreants in a k-hole outside the tunnel in the blocked-off street. The guy that filmed those Jane Fonda Workout videos was running around with a camera, flew in from points west to make this party legitimate (filming a movie, remember?).
PRECOCIOUS REAL TEENAGERS.
I started a conversation with this young lady who claimed that her name was Bunny. She was leaning against a wall towards the front of the action, with short blueberry blonde hair, wearing zippered moon boots and an Adidas parka. There was a pair of ski goggles around her neck and (adding to the already ridiculous amount of post-modern chic) she was playing with a light saber.
We started talking about culture and freedom:
JOE: Lester Bangs was talking about the same thing that we have here, except he was at a rocknroll show, when he said that the experience, the politics of it all, and I paraphrase, is that a "whole lot of kids to be fried out of their skins by the most scalding propulsion they can find, for a night they can pretend is the rest of their lives. . . so the next day they can go on with their lives and nothing can cancel the reality of the night when for once if only then in your life you were blasted outside of your life and the monotony which defines most life anywhere at any time."
Bunny: Well, I guess that the principles the same, but the vibe is altogether different at a rave than at a rock show. For one thing, the music's structured differently, cos you have to keep going for hours longer at a party than if you were gonna go see Kiss. The other thing is most of rock was a reaction to economic prosperity or hardship. Techno seems to completely ignore class and culture, because in a big room with loud speakers and a repetitive beat what do those things matter?
Joe: At the same time, though this rave business may try to ignore matters of class, it is largely defined by white middle class sensibilities, though not everybody involved is white or middle class, at all, at all.
Bunny: Definitely. And what is so wrong with that? Removed from the industrial age notions of elitism, Madison Avenue's "Bigger Is Better" and a certain comfortable xenophobia that every human seems to be guilty of, anywhere, anyways, the attitudes that evolved from Dr. Spock and Nintendo and MTV. . . your so-called "white middle class". . . are quite egalitarian and productive. . . people are beginning to realise that there really is no prosperity in this sort of insect-like "specialization". . . you have to find your own niche, your own way of doing things. Tim Leary called us "the new breed": detached, individualistic Zen opportunists.
Joe: I haven't thought of this one in relation to all so-called subcultures, but one could probably draw comparisons between this party, and the Paris uprisings of 1968 or Millbrook or the American countercultural communes. . . the importance of aesthetic theory, what Hakim Bey called "pirate economics," living off the surplus of social overproduction. . .
Bunny: Right. . . in this city, country, in cities all over the world a sort of counter-economy has developed amongst people that live to throw parties, live to perform at parties, live to deal the drugs, even live to simply attend parties. And you're right, a lot of that Bey does discuss, as in "Either the world will change or it won't. Meanwhile, keep on the move and live intensely." And if people weren't raised in this relative prosperity. . . leisure time and disposable income. . . raves would have never evolved into what they are today. I would say that 90% of the people around here are students or are living at home.
THE NAKED GUY.
Among other notable events for this evening was the naked guy. From my vantage point, talking to Bunny there, I am not necessarily glad to report that I got an eyeful. As we talked, I noticed this very large dude, must've played high school football with the founders of our country, taking off his shirt. I wouldn't have noticed this sort of thing normally, but he was a large man. And he had just taken off his pants. Next thing you know, he is a very large naked man. . . the naked guy, actually, and he's heading towards the speakers. . . evidently he felt that he should make love to the bass. If that wasn't weird enough, he then tried to attack the wall of television sets that were stacked up next to the dj booth.
Imagine a stone-aged ex-football player committing a sex crime against a family of Panasonics. Musician Local 187 (see later in this issue) in the form of not a very large dude by any means, came to the valiant rescue of the appliances and got in some sort of blocking stance, standing firm between the behemoth and the televisions. The Naked Guy, upon seeing this instinctual kamikaze, stopped dead in his tracks, flipped onto his back and started humping the pavement.
This continued unabated until The Naked Guy's brother wrapped him in a blanket and threw him in a mini-van. For all I know he is still naked, running around in a field somewhere, trying to have sex with the trees and the rocks.
That's just a little bit of what can happen to a first time psychedelic user if s/he overdoes it.
BIG MEDIA BUSINESS.
By this time, the people living in the area were growing quite furious, to say the least (and believe me, I am). It must have been a slow news night, but reporters from all the TV stations and newspapers arrived, going in for close-ups on anybody that might look like a milk carton kid or prospective gang member. They were also spending a lot of time interviewing people that looked like they might have something incriminating to say---anybody, except for the event's organizers.
The neighbors did make for some interesting TV news, however, as I was to see the next day. I got home around noon, slept for a few hours, and then somehow ended up on an AM talk radio show as some sort of spokesman. . . It was like, "I don't know how you've been able to devote two hours of your show to this topic, none of the callers had actually been there. The organizers had a permit. Whats the point?"
Apart from the "naive teenager" act that one puts on to keep from getting roasted by "adults," I really did know the point, Kenneth Starr: politics, the games that people play to get one up on another person, are all about force, whether physical, economic, or even semantic. Politics are about one's constituency and what they're angry about. If you can see that, and yell loud enough, and if enough people are on the same sad, you can ignore damn near anything: common sense, the law, human nature. And I got to see that up close for the next week, as I saw the heretofore "undiscovered" rave community become the darlings of the local media, with my house as the epicenter: people dropped by the house for interviews, people called on the phone and those little "Prime Time Live" black and white cameras got shots of teenagers doing crystal meth for the Arts and Entertainment section (although word has it that most of those pics were fabrication).
YEAH ... WHAT IS THE POINT?
We could probably bring this whole thing around by reviewing the cause and effect of this TunnelVision, a perfect example of the turns that culture, especially youth culture as a whole, seem to be taking.
There was a frenzy of media attention on the event, after the fact, and this was interesting as well. They were mostly "straights" attempting to sneak peaks at an event that they could not comprehend. And what did you expect? Traditional media is simply no good at communicating shifts in popular culture, bridging generation gaps or handling its matter delicately. Most papers around the country can't even get their Sunday Comics section right. Could you expect anything but knee-jerk dogma from the local yokels? The party was a grass-routes, accidental event that occurred outside of the world of traditional media. It went off for many of the same reasons that the world has seen Pirate Utopias and Communes and "Gone To Croatan."
What I propose is that economic, social and technological forces are conspiring to create a climate where being a detached, individualistic Zen opportunist is not a pre-meditated event, but actually instinctual, much in the same way that being a passive consumer, a blind follower of government and thinking that nature should be dominated are all instinctual for people raised in the industrial age. And as this new generation continues to evolve and find its own answers, these spontaneous happenings---Temporary Autonomous Zones, will continue to emerge and be recognized for the real role that they play in human life. This understanding will probably continue to defy the old guard, as long as this "old guard" should continue to exist.
October 5, 1998 ##
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