“I noticed that all but one of them did a version of ‘White Rabbit.’ Jeff Mark
by Jeff Mark & R.U. Sirius
While I am currently working on a book about MONDO 2000 that will be primarily about the ideas that drove the magazine, I have a lot of memoir-ish materials collected from my own writings and interviews with — or writings by — various participants in the project. Jeff Mark was the first person I met through ads in local newsweeklies in 1983 looking for project participants… albeit I wasn’t sure what the project was yet. Just that you should dig RA Wilson, Leary and Bill Burroughs to join in.
These notes — a fragment from the original planned book — from myself and Jeff Mark are about a trip to L.A. to cement our friendship with neopsychedelic movement fellow travelers there. At the time, our magazine was called High Frontiers.
R.U. The “Neopsychedelic renaissance” continued apace, with major features in High Times, as well as several long forgotten zines, radio interviews and so on — usually with High Frontiers touted as the reigning representation. It seemed that I was blabbing to someone in the media about it at least a couple of times a month. Soon word hit us that people on the L.A. garage psychedelic scene were being drenched in high quality LSD and diggin’ High Frontiers. Greg Shaw’s Bomp Magazine was at the center of that scene and he sent us his back issues (which we were already buying, anyway) and suggested we come for a visit. Jeff Mark and I arranged to go down there
Jeff Mark: Winter Solstice 1985, R.U. and I took a trip to Los Angeles. The “Neopsychedelic Revival” was by then a real phenomenon. Newsweek had even done a feature piece on the L.A. manifestation, focusing on Greg Shaw who was putting together some L.A. neopsychedelic ‘zine. R.U.’s intention was to make contact and build a bridge. We hung out for a while with Greg. I think we did a little sightseeing, and then that night we went to see some bands being promoted by him.
The space the bands would play in, around the corner from Hollywood & Vine… well, you couldn’t call it a club. It was just… a room. The entrance was at the top of an external staircase, from which I could see underneath the building, noting with some trepidation that the second floor was supported by a bunch of those steel jacks that builders use to keep a weak ceiling from collapsing. And this would be holding up a couple of hundred dancing humans.
There were maybe four or five different bands, each doing 30-45 minutes or so, and I noticed that all but one of them did a version of “White Rabbit.” I also noticed was that the bands each seemed to be made up of the same seven or eight people in varying combinations of four or five.
Anyway, the building didn’t collapse, and we retired after to some other location lost to history for a party. Everyone was high on MDMA, of course. As the evening progressed, I engaged in conversation with several very nice people, and by way of introducing each other, the usual “so what do you do?” kinds of questions arose. Now, I had a straight job at the time; civil service, thoroughly boring. But the people I spoke with described themselves as “make-up artists” or “costumers” or writers or artists of one flavor or another. I began to realize that vocationally, each of these people depended on all the others, networking (another not-yet-coined-term) to get to work on someone’s project about something; their livelihood depended on their social contacts.
Now, when you think about it, this was Hollywood; that’s how Hollywood works, that’s how creative communities, particularly those in collaborative crafts, operate. That’s how they produce. Obvious to many, but news to me. The pattern-recognition subsystems of my mind began to assemble what I would come to call my “Theory of Scenes”.
A few months later, we returned with (High Frontiers Art Director) Lord Nose to participate in an event that featured a couple of local bands, and somebody wheeling out Sky Saxon from the Seeds (“Pushing Too Hard”). And it struck me that the 200 or so people at that event, which included almost everyone we’d met in December, comprised the whole of the “neopsychedelic scene” in L.A. That was it. 250 people tops; and they were getting all this media attention. And I realized that’s how it probably was in ’65 as well. There was the Whiskey á Go-Go scene; one or two other places; a dozen or so bands with some duplication among their personnel, various friends and hangers on. In the Haight, the same thing. There was the Fillmore and the Matrix, the Diggers, the Oracle, and it was all the same… what, 300 people? It applies elsewhere also. There’s the NYC comedy scene (which in the 70s gave us SNL, and is now focused around The Daily Show), the Boston Harvard/National Lampoon scene, the L.A. Conception Corporation scene (whence came Spinal Tap). All of these basically, at least in the beginning, were not much more than groups of friends. Even in politics. One of my disappointments as I’ve gotten more sophisticated about politics is the realization that so much of what happens in a place like Washington D.C. takes place in what appears to be a social environment, which is why it reminds us so much of high school. And this was, largely, how MONDO functioned within the context of the Berkeley “scene.”
R.U.: Greg Shaw and this guy from a band called Dead Hippie volunteered to throw a High Frontiers party in L.A. so we went back down there a few months later. The Dead Hippie guy was intense. He had a sort of Charlie Manson stare and seemed to be searching for some sort of gut wrenching apocalyptic truth. Otherwise, he was nice. We hung out for a while as the party was being set up until it became clear that we had no responsibilities other than to man our booth, sell magazines and t-shirts and take home some money.
One peculiar memory: we split for a while for dinner and drinks and somehow struck up a conversation with this crew cut military looking young dude. When we told him what we were in town for; he tried to convince us to ditch the benefit show because it would be more interesting to drop acid and play paintball at some arena a few miles away. It was his favorite thing to do.
As with our San Francisco event “The Neopsychedelic Cotilllion,” the L.A. High Frontiers benefit was massive, with bands like Thelonious Monster (I was already a fan) and members of Black Flag who were doing this sort of metal psych as a side project. Sky Saxon jumped on stage with everybody. This being L.A., everybody looked perfect, particularly the girls in their tight short skirts.
It was a whole different vibe, not only from the San Francisco party but from our previous hangout in L.A., which had more of a gentle, fashion-y pop vibe — all retro Nehru shirts and flared striped pants. Now the scene was psych metal. They’d gone from Strawberry Alarm Clock to Blue Cheer in a matter of weeks.