This past weekend I was privileged to be involved in a party organized by local visual artist iii, Martin Luther Queen, that might be thought of as a gathering of the queer underground party scene with representatives from Honey Sound System, Fuck Shit Let's Dance, Comfort and Joy, and the House of Herrera in attendence (invites also went out to folks from Fag Fridays and Lucky Pierre, but, unfortunately, not everybody gets MLK day off from work). Several up-and-coming luminaries of the drag scene were there as well, including Veda De Voe and Miss Black Rock City. Two sound systems, one from Honey Sound System upstairs, and the other from Fuck Shit, Let's Dance downstairs, provided the dance beats and the chill sounds from the opening of a potluck dinner at 7PM all the way until about 4AM, when both rooms were filled with sleeping bodies and the few remaing partiers were content to cuddle and chat in small circles around the house.
The total attendance for the party ran around 85 people, and it was the perfect size for the party pad that was offered to us, a classic bit of Northern California party architecture on 80 undeveloped acres with a spectacular view of the Pacific Palisades. The building was six-sided with a a kitchen in the center of a large public space on the first floor, a small loft area upstairs, and a maze-like series of bedrooms, common room, and bathrooms on the basement level, with a deck leading out to a swimming pool and hot tub. I think that under normal conditions, when this space is rented out for the fabulous sum of $5000 a week for vacationers, it must be capable of sleeping at least twenty people in decent comfort, so it wasn't that much of a challenge to bed down (so to speak) twice that many people who came equipped with their own sleeping gear.
When DJ Neco D and I arrived on Saturday (at exactly 4.20), I had my usual thought when attending these remote, private parties - "this isn't going to turn into a Manson family thing, is it?" I guess it's a product of my 70s upbringing, when I saw numerous TV shows that depicted events just like this one, but usually with somebody freaking out on acid or accidentally leaving a baby to drown in a bathtub as examples of what can happen when you abandon societal norms to become involved with the underground scene. And while I certainly did observe some freaky behavior, in general everyone was very well behaved and more than capable of managing whatever it was they were up to (I even had a lovely time around 7AM watching the march of the Ents coming down a rolling hill to do battle with the goblins).
That's the thing about events like these; to the audience watching Dragnet in 1972, they are terrifying because the people involved with them are intent on creating and engaging with a world where what's important is radically different from what they are used to. For one thing, rather than being consumers of products, as is the case in normal nightlife events, here we were the creators, with people contributing everything from sound systems to food to the space to performances and just plain old good company. Second, rather than being constrained in our actions by the force of law or societal norms, our constraints are based on mutual trust and respect; you aren't invited to an event like this unless people generally regard you as a decent person who can be counted to act in a generally responsible way. Sure, people might get messy, in a variety of ways, but anybody who proves themselves to behave in problematic ways doesn't get invited back again. And here's the final thing that I think is important about events like this; they are great examples of anarchism in action, of the temporary autonomous zone, where you are free to act in any way that you want as long as you don't bring negative consequences upon yourself or others. The idea that people can comport themselves in a responsible way without fear of some authority figure acting against them, without laws or threat of incarceration, is so foreign to Americans raised to believe in a stern, punishing God who is then mirrored back in societies institutions, that it's no wonder these same people want to see dire consequences meted out to anyone who dares to challenge those ideas by attempting to live a free life.
As usual with events like these I find the re-entry difficult, and not just because of my hangover. As Neco D and I were coming back in to the city yesterday we drove up Divisidero, past all those multi-million dollar homes that sit along that street in Pac Heights. I thought about how great it would be to have one of those places, how it would be great to be able to host a party as awesome as the one I had just left. But then I realized that what it takes to come into possession of one of those homes is completely antithetical to the values of the community that I would wan to invite, and how anything that takes place in the world of Pac Heights comes under intense scrutiny. Events like Martin Luther Queen can only take place in the lonely, isolated places, the places that exist both mentally and temporarily outside the realm of the every day. Coming back to work today I felt, as I often do, like Clark Kent, mild-mannered corporate functionary who, at nights and on weekends, puts on a different uniform to become a shadowy figure in the underground. I often lament the disconnect between what I do in order to earn money and have a livlihood, the various corporate hoops I must jump through (I'm feeling particularly oppressed at the moment by year-end performance reviews) on a regular basis, and the great difference in how I am regarded by those I work with and those I party with. But I don't know that I would be as into the underground scene as I am if I didn't feel so out of place in the mundane world; the underground is, after all, the place where we all go to re-invent ourselves, to exercise our entrepeurial tendencies, to re-arrange our mental frameworks so that when we do return to corporatized American life we have a sense that the choices it offers us are not the only, or even most important, ones.