What If You Never Come Down?
by James Parker
Originally published in Arthur No. 11 (July 2004)
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