James Parker on “Rise: The Story of Rave Outlaw Disco Donnie” (Arthur, 2004)

What If You Never Come Down?

by James Parker

Originally published in Arthur No. 11 (July 2004)


Reviewed:

Rise: The Story of Rave Outlaw Disco Donnie DVD

(Music Video Distributors)

Directed by Julie Drazen

I remember raving. I remember Ecstasy. I remember chewing on a piece of gum until it broke—until it turned into something else, something weak and viscid, its gummy properties of twang and bounce quite exhausted. Symbolic? I thought so. I remember the mad foam of chemical brotherhood. I remember insisting, deep in some woofing, thumping London club, that two people I had just met stand next to me with their heads touching mine so that I could enjoy the warmth of their nude ears (we all had very short hair). And I did it in San Francisco too, where the loonies are—a man at a ‘smart drinks’ bar, wearing an Anarchic Adjustment t-shirt, told me that in the course of his psychedelic researches he had become invisible for nearly three weeks. 

I know a little bit about it, is what I’m saying, but Julie Drazen’s Rise —a movie about New Orleans rave promoter Disco Donnie—still surprised me, because guess what the kids have done now? They’ve taken raving—the most godless, pharmaceutically programmed, pseudo-spectacular trip there is—and gone and made a religion out of it. And because their minds have been weakened by drugs and flashing lights, they have christened this religion with the anaemic acronym PLUR. PLUR, for Peace Love Unity Respect, which they pronounce as a single syllable to rhyme with “purr.” Oh dear. “Jesus preached PLUR!” declares a girl with awful Ecstatic earnestness, filmed against a colourless background. The bass frequencies of an offscreen rave shimmer around her, and her jaw is lunging about like something trapped. “And he probably smoked bud too!” Her boyfriend is even worse, a drug-electrified fanatic, unable to do anything more than twitch his head in agreement. Rave as spent cultural force? Just say that word PLUR and hear the energy leaking out of you, away from that promisingly plosive beginning—the pop! of newness—into entropy, wasted breath, the heat-death of the universe etc.

Not to bash the kids: they have an absolute right to their foolishness. And if they make it through, if they don’t entirely ransack their life’s ration of serotonin and good luck, who knows, they could end up as wearily wise as me. But there does seem to be some synchrony going on here between the powers of Ecstasy and the credulousness and positivity of the American national character. British ravers, though drugged like shamans, were by and large a pasty-faced, sardonic crew. They kept it—I won’t say real, but realistic. UK rave had its cranks and ideologues of course: one thinks for example of the magnificent shaven-headed Spiral Tribe, illegal party planners and white label artists, speculating on mystical vortices, intoxicated with the number 23, bouncing grimly in churned fields and in the corners of squats. But an essential British narrowness was always part of it. This was part the distinct pleasure of the whole trip: beneath the skin of the most blazingly loved-up raver, his open arms extended zombie-like towards you, you could always discern the sunken shrewd skull-face of the morning after, the colour of an empty milk bottle. The spidery ironist Jarvis Cocker made fun of us all: and you want to call your mother and say /”Mother, I can never come home again/’cos I seem to have left an important part of my brain/ somewhere, somewhere/ in a field, in Hampshire (“Sorted For E’s and Wizz”). In America there was Timothy Leary in his robes. There was twinkling Terence McKenna, that one-man rocket-ship leaving the Ego behind. It was in America that someone actually said to me, muffled deep in an embrace, “I don’t know who you are, but I fucking love you.”

But back to Rise.

Continue reading

DAVID BERMAN ON ECSTASY

From http://www.weeblackskelf.co.uk/cordsuit/articles/w_drugs.htm

THE SUMMER BEFORE THE NIGHT ECSTASY BECAME ILLEGAL IN THE STATE OF TEXAS

by David Berman

MY FRIEND KYLE always had a lot of money and could get me into the expensive kind of trouble without
the trouble sticking. He didn’t mind paying for me if it meant raising hell with loyal company. We were seventeen. You only needed one reason to be friends at that age. I figured we had at least three. So we broke the law every day in every way and laughed our asses off at the fucking stupid world.


    In late April we began to hear rumors about a new drug in the Metroplex. It was in the gay bars. Kids at the Arts Magnet were getting it. Certain people at certain parties had it and it was magical.

    They called it X. It was supposed to make you unaccountably happy and tolerant of everyone from headbangers to rich fucks. Even “douchebags.”

    Psychiatrists had been using it in therapy for years, we were told. It was legal and local product (it was still special to Texas at that time). It would make you love and accept anyone. Even yourself.

    This was a complicated promise for the teenager roiling with hate and confusion. I hardly believed it. But one night Kyle pulled out some foil holding four tablets, we each swallowed two, and went to a party where a lot of people were going to be doing it.

    Coming around the corner of that house, I’ll never forget the scene. Every high-school rule was being broken before me. The lions were chatting up the lambs. I saw sworn enemies talking like longtime companions; a prickly society bitch on her knees sifting white garden pebbles through her hands with
happy eyes; a brutal wrestler from my school with his arms wrapped around the trunk of a pecan tree, saying his first words to me ever, “Hi David,” sweetly, as I walked by.


    I rolled my jeans up to my knees and sat at the edge of the pool. Maybe for the first time I felt like no one was going to try to push me in. The stereo was playing “Blues for Allah” instead of the customary “Eliminator.” Nearby, two linebackers were confessing how much they depended on each other “on
and off the field.” I felt myself giving in to all the kindness, not caring if it was a lie or not. By the time a hot Fort Worth Jewess sprang into in my lap and began running her fingers through my hair, I was sold.


    At sunrise, I came in through the sliding glass. I woke my father and his new bride, apologized for staying out all night, and pulled a chair up beside the bed. I continued to sit there and smile down on them. I said, “I just want you to know how much I love you, Dad.” Incredibly, he did not kick my ass.
That morning was never mentioned again.

AS I SAID BEFORE, ecstasy was still legal and as such carried virtually no stigma. Kyle’s uncle kept
a jar of tablets on his desk at his car dealership. Law-abiding adults were taking them at North Dallas cocktail parties. They were even sold behind the bars like cigarettes and openly hawked on street corners downtown.


    That summer, I crushed two sports cars with my homely Buick, received six speeding tickets (three in one day), two tickets for public urination, impregnated a Collin County judge’s daughter, and had a bottle of MD 20/20 broken over my head. Approximately none of it registered with me. A very real fault of the drug.

    I’m going to skip the scenes of me chasing daisies and singing to stray dogs from still bulldozer cabs. I was exercising horses that summer for cash, and X hangovers were A-OK for barreling over the dull scrubland.

    Sometime in August, the lawmakers in Austin finally got around to outlawing ecstasy. What a gift for the dealers! The price of ecstasy immediately quadrupled and the production costs plummeted as the manufacturers began cutting the pills with all manner of horrible stuff.

    The night the law went through, I went to a concert at the Bronco Bowl and snagged two of the newly illegal pills for a dear price. I had never seen them in capsules and had no idea it was a sign they were crushing the old “legal” pills and mixing them with laxative, mannitol, low-grade speed, whatever.

    Once inside, I spent a half hour wiggling my way to the front of the floor. Unfortunately, when I got there I had a big problem. Not only were the drugs not kicking in, they were causing me to have to shit real bad. Michael Stipe was singing “Moon River” (hey!) a cappella and I knew I was going to blow if I didn’t part this shoulder-to-shoulder crowd and make it to the restroom. The audience was frozen in place and dead silent as I plowed through, “Excuse me, excuse me, emergency here, please, please” ( I think
I even yelled “gangway,” such was my ambition to get through), completely stepping on the vocalist’s Ethel Merman star turn and nearly getting shhhhhed to death.


    I passed the rest of the concert in a nasty stall gritting my teeth, sweating and coming to terms with what was clearly the symbolic end of a spaced-out summer.

    Fifteen years on, I can honestly say I’m glad it was outlawed. After three months of its use I had lost all discretion and was prepared to trust just about anyone. Worse yet, it was turning me into a joiner. That’s not who I am. Anyway, ecstasy was not to find its true customer base until years later, when the strangely passive kids who grew up in the child protectorate of the U.S. eighties and nineties came of age, craving depersonalization. Apparently it helps them dance. They’re a very attractive lot. Have you seen them dance?

David Berman lives in Nashville. His first book, Actual Air, came out last year via Open City Press.