Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Profound Parties

At a dance party a couple of years ago, I saw these words on the wall: “Who are you? You are what has always been.” This was not a drug-induced revelation, but an actual motto, hung up on the wall, its frame decorated with plastic flowers. As I drifted round the club, I found other maxims on the walls. In the main room, a table draped with a velvet cloth formed a makeshift altar. On it sat the Buddha and other Eastern deities, candles, a crystal or two, and a couple of owl feathers. The party also featured a “midnight ritual.” The music stopped, the revelers were told to form a circle, and a fire dancer gyrated in the middle. Then a tall, imposing man stepped out of the shadows. He told us that “conscious partying” (surely a tautological phrase) could bring about “world change.” In short, he believed that partying ought to be taken very seriously.

The man, I came to learn, was known as Dr. Syd. His Opel parties belong in a San Francisco tradition of what one might call parties with a point. In the sixties, for example, the Diggers staged processions in which they proclaimed the death of money and gave out free food at mass picnics. There were be-ins and love-ins, whose fuzzy idealism was continued in rave culture. Then there’s Burning Man, the ultimate party with a point—for some people claim it is about much more than frolicking and foolery. One newsletter quoted an anthropologist, Rob Kozinets, arguing that Burning Man is part of an ancient religious tradition of “transformational gatherings that catalyze political and social change.”

The West Coast is supposed to be the antithesis to the buttoned-up East Coast. But there’s something profoundly Puritan about the idea that even fun ought to be good for you. You’d think that such high seriousness would dampen Syd’s parties, but it doesn’t. They are amazing events—lovely people in fancy dress, beautifully decorated chill spaces with furry pillows and silken canopies. At every party, people go up to him to thank him. Yet somehow he never seems very happy. In a sea of happily dancing ravers, Dr. Syd towers above them, with a slightly mournful look in his blue eyes, as if brooding on the difficulty of bringing about world change.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I dig Syd's vision. I think many of the same points can be made regarding playing. "Playing" or "being playful" are important traits that should be cultivated. Think of when you were kid and how you played. It was approached with single-minded focus that few activities receive; there was sense of wonder and simple joy, of losing oneself to other time and space constraints and being totally caught up in the act of playing. There was no end result sought to be obtained by playing; playing was an end in itself. Playing, or being playful, (like mindful partying)is arguably the ultimate form of worship and gratitude for the gift of existence.

1:43 PM  
Blogger Helena said...

I adore Syd. Last week, in fact, I sent him a copy of my book, thanking him for being an extraordinary impresario. I share his belief that partying serves an important function. In its small way, it helps to improve society by reminding us what is important in life (people, music, dancing and the like) and putting our everyday concerns (jobs, money, getting ahead) in perspective. I just think dance parties should be left to work their magic on their own--there's no need to explicitly articulate their purpose.

2:17 PM  
Blogger Tommy Barrett said...

Helena, I think there is a happy medium. I agree that articulating an explicit purpose goes too far. However, were Syd to have a party completely devoid of his little sayings, it might seem just like every other party. Thus, planting little seeds and leaving things alone (i.e. not explaining his entire vision, et. al.) seems to me the right balance. That way, any "insight" or "understanding" grows from within the person, rather than preached to them.

8:05 AM  

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