Posts tagged ‘Summer of Love’

September 29, 2008


Yeah, Yeah, Yeah. I know, I know: You are young, beautiful, and you live in Babylon Hills, California, 90210. You are trying to get a handle on this Grand Guignol play aka “life.” You are frustrated, misunderstood, beat up by the pain of being alive, and at the same time you are seeking out the proper mode of expression, the milieu that trims your foliage. You are seeking your muse, but at this point will settle for a job. Even that pursuit, however, is frustrating and futile. It seems that the kooky global economy means that the chirren’ of upper-middle-class honky imperialism are lucky to get a gig at the local Brazier Burger (although one can immediately begin careering in the dynamic, engrossing, gravy-train fields of distressed property repossession, telemarketing, West L.A. parking enforcement, stuffing envelopes at the regional IRS depot, ad blahseum).

You are boxed into a corner. Blocking the only exit out of this dead-end lifestyle and cash flow cul-de-sac is a riot squad of non-inhaling, bleeding-heart liberal do-gooder politicians who are in cahoots with constipated “fiscal conservative” billionaire robber barons. Together, they are asphyxiating the job market, kowtowing to the whims of Alan Greenspan and the Federal Reserve, leaving the young adults of the U.S. of A choking on the exhaust fumes from opportunities headed down yonder way. Between NAFTA, GATT, and the Third World Population Bombs in the neighborhoods, not to mention the greed of ravenous senior citizens cherry-picking Social Security entitlements (with the yunguns providing the credit base!) until it’s barren as the salt flats and I’m gonna grab my gee-tar and tell my troubles to the world! Ooh, you poor suffering, sniveling, shiftless, ingrate, trust-fund fuck…

I think I hear my bullshit detector ringing louder than a smoke alarm at an AA meeting. The truth is thus: the denizens of White Flight, California comprise of complainers, bellyachers, cable teevee fuckoffs, and pampered bourgeoisie bongheads, indifferent and/or oblivious to the fact that there is fuckall to give their dreary lives meaning. If there is something that can breathe some fire and moxie into the simpering spirit of this slice of failed humanity (and I maintain there is—read on if you dare), this society chooses to ignore it.

Perhaps because of the ubiquitous presence of teevee (both “interactive” and merely passive), kids today are bored, jaded, and unlike, say, our youth-gone-mad predecessors of the 1960’s, not terribly motivated. They demand that their entertainment is served to them—they don’t seek it out, and certainly do not create it. I know, I know: “Tell me what can a poor boy do, ‘cept to play in a rock ‘n’ roll band.” Oh god, not that shit, again—smash a fire extinguisher against my skull before I have to listen to another Silver Lake indie rock band regurgitate Paleolithic minor-mode rock riffs whilst some “riotgrrrl” vocalist atonally spews out whatever passes for vitriol these days (probably some half-baked rant against the vaguely monolithic White Male Power Structure, while we know that on L.A.’s Day of Reckoning—April 29, 1992—she had hauled ass out of the city on the I-10 East in her pre-owned Honda Accord, to be nestled safely in the confines of Mom and Dad’s cushy condo at Big Bear. While her City of Angels burned like Dante’s Inferno, she was channel surfing, a remote control device in one hand and a Diet Coke in the other, scrolling through the televised coverage on cable, hoping the darkies did not torch her band’s rehearsal studio in Echo Park)…

Bullshit rock bands aside, these kids don’t get a whole lot accomplished—at least nothing tangible or relevant to the human condition. (This is just my opinion, of course; I do not consider the creation nor the consumption of, say, the Paisley Dorktones’ new interactive 10” Dolby CD-ROM (encoded in Bi-monophonic SurroundSound!) particularly interesting, exciting, fulfilling, or invigorating. I would rather watch a nitromethane-guzzling dragster explode and disintegrate at 300 miles-per-hour; now that’s entertainment!).

(The whole notion of a “slacker” society, I’m sorry—I just don’t get it. Not only to choose to blame our insufferable indolence on a lack of cash flow, resources, and opportunities, but to wear the insignificance of life in the 90’s like a badge of honor… What? Tell it to the Serbs (now there is a resourceful bunch!) and the Croats, rivethead. We are privileged peoples, livin’ large in the Land of the Eternal Sun.)

Yep, the kids of the 60’s were some busy buckaroos. That’s right: hippies were more ambitious than you! What with campus demonstrations, love-ins, extended holidays in Southeast Asia, multi-media slide shows projected on the likes of Nico and Edie Sedgewick, riots on Sunset Strip, and a whole lot of consciousness expansion—who had time to complain about the futility of existence?

If all that was not enough, there was another cultural renaissance occurring simultaneous to the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Tests and the Summer of Love. For, back in the day, the kids were also shakin’ some action at the local drag strip. This was where the young gearheads displayed their gumption, bravado, and intellect. They showcased these attributes in machinery they crafted themselves (generally speaking)—contraptions that resembled a spaceship as much as anything else. These were formally known as “rails” or “dragsters.”

“Drag strips,” “rails,” “dragsters.” What the hell is drag racing, you may wonder? It is a socio-technological phenomenon that is louder, faster, and more primal than either grindcore or the Big Bang itself, that’s what.

Drag racing was born at the dry lakebeds and the abandoned military airstrips of post World War II Southern California, and these locations remain a staple of hot rodding. The mood and vibrations at these exhibitions of unbridled horsepower are very primal, chaotic, and apocalyptic. Despite the clouds of smoke and fire that might obscure the action, a message cuts through the haze and fumes–a message the gearheads and hepcats and kittens intuitively understand: speed is a metaphor for freedom.

The premise of drag racing is simple: two cars race in a straight line for a distance of 1/4 mile (1320 feet). The first car to the finish line is the winner. And although the premise is linear, by as early as the 1960’s the approach to these contests became increasingly surreal, bizarre, and abstract. Drag racing became an art movement.

Aesthetics aside, miles-per-hour is the real objective here. And in order to satiate their voracious thirst for speed, speed, and more speed, out-of-control mechanical savants sculpt strange looking combustion-driven time bombs—y’know, “dragsters”. To complement the car’s unorthodox yet minimalist appearance, the motors and the fuel are equally exotic–your basic Chrysler engine is now supercharged or injected, and the fuel (the engine’s blood) is either maximum octane airplane fuel, methanol, or the highly volatile nitromethane (a fuel classified as a Class A Explosive by the Department of Defense).

So how does this relate to the problems of the Age we live in? In an era of fiber-optic saturation, of sensory overload, of electronic bombardment, if you are not going to build and race a dragster, then what is a valid mode of self-expression? Going to USC Film School for six years so you can end up directing infomercials or rock videos (which are basically the same thing, now that I think about it) after deluding yourself into thinking you would create your generations’ On The Waterfront, or 8 1/2, or Five Easy Pieces, but hey man, if your career catches a break you can still direct a “Feature Film” (ooohhh!), like the sequel to Reality Bites—the working title is Reality Swallows—and in this film Winona Barrymore plays an affluent Melrose chickee reduced to a South Central crack whore after her hip lifestyle collapses due to her incompetence at the West Hollywood post-modernist coffee klatch/tattoo parlor/performance art gallery (where she worked as a curator’s assistant until she was fired after summoning the rent-a-cops—played by Corey Feldman and Eric Estrada in hil-ar-i-ous cameo appearances—to oust Cher’s conceptual artist/nouveau beatnik boyfriend from the premises when he shat on a lava lamp statue of Socrates—turns out this was just Act 1 of a “performance piece” that Mr. Cher had entitled “Judge Ito” (tragically, our young heroine mistook the “artist” for a common homeless guy defecating in the foyer); but to complicate the plot of Reality Swallows Congressman Sonny Bono—that’s right, the previous Mr. Cher (as himself)—finagles a deft political power play with fellow Republicans Jesse Helms (Charlton Heston), Phil Gramm (Clint Eastwood) and Bob Packwood (Don Knotts) that destroys National Endowment of the Arts head honcho Jane Alexander (as herself) (this after this GOP Gang of Four uncovers evidence that Ms. Alexander green-lit the controversial “Ito” piece, forcing her to resign in disgrace); which then capsizes her lifestyle into a downward spiral that finds Alexander estranged from High Society and ultimately a street person, walking the streets of Compton, where she reunites with her estranged daughter—you guessed it, Winona—and the two of them pool their only marketable talents in Post-Reagan America, re-uniting as tag team of mother and daughter strawberries), or, a more realistic career opportunity (after depleting your parents nest-egg because you insisted they pay for your education)—yes, even more degradingly, you wind up schlepping as “production assistant” on a dubious gangsta’ rap video, pampering that insipid no-talent “director” fuckwad in the “DreamWorks” baseball cap while on location at Florence and Normandy as AK47 recording artist MC Cinque lip-synchs his “catchy” militant anthem “Colonel Sanders is the Joseph Stalin of My ‘Hood”? Do you really want to base your life on a career and a subculture as dehumanizing as all of that?

Another option, perhaps, is to start a post-punk rock’n’roll combo, but man is that tired.

And boring.

On the California cultural horizon, not only are there entirely too many indie rock bands and student filmmakers, there is an intolerable glut of twelve-stepper tattoo emporiums, performance art fanzines, and waitresses auditioning for a bit part on “Baywatch”…

So what is a poor SoCal riot boy or grrrl to do? You want sensory overload? You want to rage against the machine, mall-breath? You want to blow shit up?

Well check this out: Drag racers blow more shit up on any given weekend than Timothy McVeigh’s Michigan Militia, the SLA, and the Hezbollah combined. And they do it righteously. If you want to get radical then smash your television, get a job laying bricks (assuming you’re not getting fat off your parents’ morally dubious mutual funds) and sink all of your cash and free time into running a race car at the local drag strip. The hep thing about this endeavor, race fans, is that it’s completely Karl Marx approved—Anyone can do it! It’s totally DIY! You can borrow your granny’s grocery-getter and run ‘er down the ol’1320–they have a class for you at the local drag strip (it’s called “Stock Eliminator”). Or you can build your very own dragster from the ground up (or, if you aren’t much of a backyard tinkerer, commission one from a professional chassis builder). An even doper scenario is to purchase an old front-engine dragster (most of these “rails” were built in the ’60s), shoehorn betwixt the frame rails an early Chrysler hemi engine (recently liberated from an ‘58 Imperial rotting at the local Pick-Your-Part), and GO! man, GO! Whatever your decision, be it the more labor intensive and paycheck-siphoning dragster route, or the decidedly more financially-benign street-legal “stocker” or “doorslammer” reality, the drag strip has a place for you. But before you make your decision, remember the rule of “cubic dollars” which is stated as thus: “Speed costs money—How fast do you want to go?” If you want to go 200 mph in the 1/4 mile driving a dragster, it is gonna cost some dead presidents—but nobody at the drag strip is gonna tell you you can’t run a race car. Only you can tell yourself that. To put this another way, in drag racing all limitations are self-imposed. Drag racing is of, by, and for the people (kinda like punk rock used to be, remember?).

Sure, you could get killed in a race car… but to hear you Gen X’ers tell it, you got nuthin’ to live for anyway because life is banal and pointless, right? So dumpster that hopelessly out of tune guitar, quit your feeble “low-fi” indie-rock band, (or drop out of art school, ripcord on your nowhere “modeling,” “acting,” or “documentary filmmaker” career), shitcan your trendoid threads, and get some grease under your skin. Live the American dream, goddammit. For about the same amount of money and gumption necessary to “self-produce” and press a 45 Rpm 7” record, you can create beaucoup smoke, noize, fire, and thunder by running a race car at your local drag strip. This is a much more noble and glorious mode of expression than being in a band. (Indeed, one would be hard-pressed to find a more boring and pointless outlet for the psychosis and angst of life than banging out more tired barre chords on a shitty guitar. Punk rock, actually music altogether, died with Sid Vicious. Show some respect for the dead, will ya? Quit.)

So if you are mad at the world, or just plain bored—quit yer yappin’. You and your buddies can pool your resources and run a dragster. Just get it together, or shut up and fuck off. The local drag strip is the only logical cafe society for today’s real dissidents; it is our Tiananmen Square. It is a place where the stakes and envelopes are pushed (things explode and people do get hurt), and that always makes for interesting art. And until that Silver Lake “riotgrrrl” climbs into a maximum-horsepower dragster, I will consider her pose as a tortured artist completely innocuous, irrelevant, and rather pathetic.

(Originally published in Bikini Magazine, 1995)