All About E -- and other vowels...
From June 2000
Allow me to present a Pop View Conundrum. I have consumed precisely two drugs in my entire life: alcohol and caffeine. No cigs, dope, 'ludes, ice, China girl, blow, horse and what-have-you.
This means one of two things. Either I am completely unsuited to write about drug culture. Or I am perfectly suited to write about drug culture. You decide.
Drugs and music have gone together for some time. Charlie Parker, Jimi Hendrix, Jerry Garcia -- it's a pretty easy connection. But entire genres of music have also been connected with drugs. And today's culprit is the Ecstasy-Rave connection. Ecstasy, also known as "E", is the street name for MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine), which you can read about here or here. Raves are large-scale, all-night dances, sometimes staged illegally in warehouses or at an open-air environment, usually promoted discretely through the underground. The music of choice is techno. The drug of choice is E. You can find the Techno Music and Raves FAQ Version 3.0 here.
So, the stage is set for hysteria. On May 17, The Diane Rehm Show, an NPR program, devoted an hour to Ecstasy (You can hear the program here). The cover story of Time magazine's June 5 issue was all about "What Ecstasy Does to Your Body." I'm 37, I have two teen-aged girls at home -- I suppose I ought be to be thinking it's just like the Sixties all over again, with those damn hippies with their pot and their psychedelic music. But I resist the hype. Why? I'm not stupid. I've never taken Ecstasy and I've never been to a rave. These two phenomena are connected, I know. Maybe it's because the warnings sound like an old Dragnet episode on LSD.
For example, one of Diane Rehm's guests was Beth Kane Davidson, director of the Addiction Treatment Center at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland. Davidson warned about the danger of rave parties. Rehm (demonstrating her status as one of the un-hippest people in America) said, "Rave parties? What do you mean?" Davidson went on to explain, "Wherever you see kids dancing to techno music, with lights
flashing, you know people are doing ecstasy." Which may be more or less true, but it's also a pretty sweeping statement. Davidson continued, "I wouldn't let any kid go to a rave." Okey-doke.
So, with this radio program, the Time cover story, the Ecstasy piece on CBS' The Early Show on May 23, we might conclude that a full-blown epidemic has hit the U.S. Which may be true, although I smell the delicate hand of a finely-tuned PR campaign. What do I care? I love the music, whether you call it Electronic, progressive dance, techno or just the bastard step-children of James Brown and Kraftwerk.
When it comes to the rave scene (which I have made clear I'm not part of), it just annoys me, quite frankly. The Candy Ravers, with their Porn Star T-shirts, pierced tongues, pacifiers, glow sticks, and tiny back packs, just seem like a living demonstration of terminally-arrested adolescence. Pot-smokers at rock concerts give me a similar vibe. But I understand that drugs are part of the scene. Ecstasy is interesting because it creates feelings of openness and acceptance (The Time article struggles with this contradiction of the possible benefits of a potentially harmful drug). Just as the psychedelic music of earlier eras owed their genesis to drugs, so is today's techno music connected to the ingestion of drugs.
But I sit on the sidelines and I listen to the music and I wonder. How many musicians shot heroin because they thought it would make them play like Charlie Parker? (Hint: a lot.) How many young musicians have bought the "it's better to burn out" ethic of rock? Will the time come when artists can turn to something other than drugs for inspiration? If we want Peace, Love Unity and Respect, how about if we practice those principles while sober and off the dance floor? And if we want to keep kids away from drugs, why don't we try acting sensibly instead of hysterically? And how about offering an alternative? Consuming music and drugs -- isn't music enough on its own? As Ice-T says in "I'm Your Pusher": "You wanna get high? Let the record play."
FOOTNOTE: There are several movies coming out this summer documenting (in fact and fiction) the culture of raves and drugs. Salon has a piece on the documentary Better Living Through Circuitry and another on the movie Groove.