[APAK logo] Issue #71, December 13th, 1996

After Vanguard,
or The Little Rave That Couldn't
by carl juarez

I sometimes think people get the wrong impression. While I've been in Seattle twelve years now and over time have come to occupy an odd fringe position on the cultural scene (entirely undocumented, of course, but for scraps of news coverage and my personal recordings), I really haven't achieved a first or even second degree of separation with anybody famous or glamorous here. Instead I've been working with creators, musicians and other artists of various media, with a predilection for the edge -- industrial performance art, improvised rock (sometimes both at the same time), abstract sonics, and recently dance music, starting with acid house and evolving over time to techno and ambient techno, as found occasionally on CD but most often on vinyl and in public, in the semilegal evanescent gatherings known as raves or after-hours parties.

Travels in this "scene" involve some risk (in addition to the usual wandering down mile-long pitch-black forest trails at 2 a.m. with one flashlight, four people and no map, or walking through strange parts of town at the witching hour, or being invaded and shut down by police), which I think doesn't always come across when I talk about this stuff. No matter how much organization you may bring to these occasions, you have to be ready for things not to work out. Last Saturday, for example.

I had left Vanguard at 12:45 to catch a bus downtown where I had been invited to an "after-party" by one of those involved. I'd be on his guest list, which was a good thing; I don't often have money to burn and it's one-meal-a-day time right now. So after stalking through the Regrade in the rain, avoiding a loud knot of people clustered around a three-length limo down the street, I walk up to the pile of beefy guys at the door. It's 1:15 a.m. -- not bad time for getting from one end of Lake Union to the other.

Not that it's all-important, but the vibe is wrong right off. These guys are just typical club-type bouncers -- well, one does have a large cork through his earlobe -- and there's a sign saying NO RE-ENTRY / NO DRUGS / NO ALCOHOL / NO ATTITUDE behind them. In fact this resembles the mise en scene of a promoter I've seen here before, a straight guy who may be something of a hunk in the Travoltonian manner but has such an attitude problem Himself that I've resolved never to give him any money, especially money I don't have.

Moreover, it turns out I'm not on the list. The biggest and beefiest bouncer has the clipboard and we're looking through the papers. Micah's list shows up in two places. It looks to me like the management limited everyone to three guests for the official list, and then Micah came back and supplemented that list with another one, but my name didn't survive either triage. Now I could try to talk my way in, but I'm not good at 0-to-60 scams and the chance to start was probably a second ago.

So it's 1:15, and I'm not getting in.

Now you might think this would cast a pall on the evening, especially as the rain is currently falling steadily on the just and myself without an umbrella and there's no bus that will get me anywhere near home for an hour and it's fucking cold. But earlier that evening I'd witnessed a wonderful lecture by Wim Wenders, director of Wings of Desire and The American Friend, at the university, and I'd had a great time at the Vanguard -- so as long as I got home in one piece without drowning or freezing to death I was net-ahead.

Not freezing to death meant shelter, though, and there was precious little. Seattle is not what you'd call a real all-night town, and I had to be somewhere I could catch the owl bus at 2:15. I walked past the Rebar, which was still thumping, and that reminded me I had a bit of a headache, so I thought I'd stop by this little gay bar secreted inside Hana Teriyaki. Rather, while the bar occupies the rear passage (so to speak) in the daytime, it expands to fill the whole building at night. I considered it a dive, a serious alky's bar like Sonia's up the street but a lot less smoky, a good warm place to get a cheap gin and tonic and see if that took the edge off my head.

People weren't clustered around the bar as usual, but gathered instead near a sizable pile of electronics in front of a DJ. That was because it was Karaoke Night, as evident from the subtitled video on the largish TV and the off-color warbling that accompanied the synthesized arrangement of something by Simon and Garfunkel, that song that sounds as though it'll turn into "Homeward Bound" at any second. I got my drink and settled in.

The presentation of the lyrics was rather sophisticated, assuring the singer that the right words would be visible before they were to be sung, complete with pickup cues for when to start. The real surprise though was the music video itself, clearly shot on the cheap in a public park and featuring (in my opinion anachronistically) a leather-jacketed off-white boy and a girl in a floral print dress frolicking against a background of ordinary parkgoers and spending lots of time gazing into each others' eyes. The best part was the choruses, where the camera got in on the action, cavorting maniacally around the couple as the boy alternately plucked at a miniature toy plastic guitar (shot in extreme belt-buckle close-up) and blew into a five-foot-wide harmonica with blowholes the size of my fist, while the girl hugged a tree in ecstasy and phonetically-correct "lie-la-lie"s scrolled across the bottom of the screen. Even better, the sunlight was washing out the brighter parts of the scene so the images were breaking up in shards of yellowish-white light, as though this actual landscape was being keyed in and all the action was really taking place in a video studio somewhere.

That this video, complete with prerecorded backing vocals, was playing in a gay bar, accompanied with indifferent success by a guy in flawless female drag, just pushed the situation one notch further into surreality. What was next? Perhaps Baudrillard and Lacan would pop out of the toilet and have at each other with loaves of french bread while singing "(You Won't Take My) Love for Tender" in Tagalog. Or maybe Eartha Kitt would drop by with a photographer.

But no. The song concluded, still not "Homeward Bound" but close, and the DJ took the mike, praising the singer in a manner resembling a first-grade teacher, or the host of a poetry reading, where effort is what's important rather than quality. (It takes some guts to sing in public, let's not deny that.) The next singer was more serious in his approach, you could tell by his use of vibrato, while the video was another boy-girl in the woods kind of thing, minus the odd-sized musical instruments. Meanwhile, I was trying to figure out if I was really supposed to sip my drink through a straw by watching the other patrons, when I noticed nobody else was drinking much. In fact, when the bartender declared last call there were no new orders, so I guess I was wrong in considering the place a haven for hardcore drinkers, at least that night.

Again the problem of shelter, and this time I made my way to the Hurricane, a 24-hour cafe, with the game plan of finding the cheapest thing on the menu. I checked the clock as I sat down at the counter -- 1:55. Maybe I could even get away with not ordering anything, just waiting for the waitress. To my left a goatee'd young man was talking to himself while waiting for his omelette; to my right was a bibulous sort of older fellow in a blue checked suit. He tried to engage me in conversation but I prevented this by looking up and wondering aloud if the ducting above us was the very same ducting that fell on the patrons a few years ago.

Too soon the waitress came. I didn't think I could get away with just ordering gravy so I asked for hashbrowns.

"And is there any chance," I asked, nodding at the clock, "that I'll be out of here by 2:10?"

"Oh, sure," she said. She took the order up to the cooks, and on the return trip put a plate of hashbrowns in front of me: fifteen seconds, if that.

"Jesu Christe," I just about expectorated. "That's deeply impressive."

"I even made it myself," she said proudly.

I left the Hurricane with minutes to go, and caught the bus outside a theater showing the new Star Trek movie. It'll hit the two-dollar cinema eventually.

So my life may be an adventure sometimes, but it's hardly hot- and cold-running surfpunks.

Every theater is still a sanctuary.

[APAK logo] Issue #71, December 13th, 1996

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