Ten years ago, it was my freshman year of college. My friends from high school and I were all in the same dorm, just a floor or two apart, and we all befriended other people from the dorm. We’d all been highly intelligent overachievers, nerds and weirdos in the little town where we’d grown up, and so when we ended up in Berkeley amongst all the new people, cuisines, music, culture, experiences, some of us went a little nuts. One of my friends was voted “most likely to succeed,” then spent the first year of college experimenting in every sort of hallucinogenic drug and electronically-produced music imaginable, which in the Bay Area encompasses a pretty wide territory.
My friend joined a scene that was pretty prevalent amongst Berkeley students at the time – the candy ravers. Meaning he took ecstacy and LSD and mushrooms, and he danced all night at underground parties in San Francisco, where DJs spun hzt hzt hzt music, the ever-present electronic beat, and where decor consisted of things that looked good under blacklight. Kids wore plastic jewelry, brightly-colored tight shirts, huge bellbottomed pants, and brought their own face masks or pacifiers. Sweaty people would pile in corners, worn out from the incessant beat that drove them to dance, sucking down water like it was going out of style, tripping or E-ing or both, massaging and kissing whoever happened to be nearby because it felt So Good, and wow, weren’t those lights pretty?
And how do I know about the rave scene in the mid-late 90s in San Francisco? Because my friend convinced the rest of us to attend these parties, to experience the beat and the colors and the dancing and the utter exhaustion of staying up all night and sleeping until 3 the next day, curtains drawn against the sun. I probably went to five or six raves over the course of my freshman year, parties that were attended by kids ranging from 16-30, arranged surreptitiously with homemade decorations painted in that day-glo blacklight paint. You’d have to know someone who knew someone, call a number, go to the record stores in the city that would have the next number to call for the best party that was going on each weekend. And you’d have to have transportation, or be willing to wait until 6 AM when the BART trains would start running again back to the East Bay. The parties were usually in SOMA, an industrial area of the city that has since grown more trendy, many of the warehouse spaces converted into lofts.
The parties were crowded. Some would have different rooms spinning different types of music – trance, ambient, dub, high-energy beat, with different moods and energies. Some would essentially be one enormous room packed with hundreds of raver kids, water bottles and pacifiers and “candy” (plastic necklaces and bracelets) in tow. It says something about my ability to sleep when I tell you that I managed to sleep at two different raves, despite the incredibly loud, throbbing music that infiltrated your very pores, and despite the crowds of sweaty happy drugged kids, and despite the sinister glow of blacklight art. Because it just wasn’t my scene, baby – my friends all loved the parties, but I was never able to get good enough sleep after staying up all night for a party. And I didn’t like the crowds, which were sometimes desperate in energy, desperate to feel something through the music and the kissing and the drugs, to make it mean something more than the bland suburban existance most of the kids had led.
Today I was reminded of one particular party in the city, at which I fell asleep on the pile of backpacks and coats for a few hours. I don’t often think of the parties I went to or the music that my friends loved so much, but today I thought about this party because it was exactly ten years ago. And I remember this because the morning after the party, I had to take a muni bus to the spot where I could catch the Golden Gate transit bus that would take me up to Sonoma County and back home, to be picked up by my dad and driven to my oldest friend’s 18th birthday (it was celebrated in conjunction with her mother’s 50th). This morning I called my oldest friend to wish her a happy 28th, and she mentioned she’d be surprising her mom this weekend with a visit, since it’s her mom’s 60th. Suddenly I remembered the early morning bus ride after the long night of nst nst nst beats, kids with pupils the size of dinner plates, desperately dancing through the drugs to feel there might be meaning in the world. After the long night of the rave, I was exhausted, but I still managed to haul myself up north so I could go to my friend’s celebration. It was important to me that I be there for her 18th birthday because I’d been there for every birthday since we were two or three years old. She is exactly one week older than I am, and we have known each other for approximately 26 years.
So happy birthday, Oldest Friend. I still don’t think I’ve ever told you about that night and that day, the buses and car rides I had to take after very little sleep at a rave in the city the night before your big party. In a year or so, you’ll be coming to a big party for me, and standing up alongside me, and you probably will never tell me how tired you are because your crazy job had you Og-knows-where and you had to fly all night and drive for hours to make it. Because that’s what friends do.