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GOING TO A LONDON RAVE

1992 Mick Cusimano

It was a mob scene, people stacked from wall to wall, up the stairs, hanging over banisters. Snakes of crawling humanity writhing to the sound of acid-house music. It was a scene from a surreal movie. Except this was no movie, this was a London Rave. Rooms filled with punk rockers

roaring Rastafarians, women in leather who looked like refugees from a 1968 rock opera. Strobe-lights, the din of revelry; something electric was in the air. Manhar said that I had turned him on to a part of London even he didn't know about. It was the most incredible party I have ever seen, the jackpot at the end of two weeks in London.London

Things did not start out that way. I met an old friend Margaret, a poet in London. We stalked ancient amber taverns and smoky back-room cafes in London Town. We talked of poetry and poll taxes and the intrigues of the Naked City. She was passing through London for a few weeks before moving to Brussels. The second day there I visited Knockabout Books underneath a bridge. Knockabout is England*s premiere underground cartoon publishing company. Their mainstay, Hunt Emerson, is perhaps one of the greatest living cartoonists in the Northern Hemisphere, or any hemisphere for that matter. Publisher Tony Bennett told me that they could not use any of my cartoons because of the slow economy. He gave me a copy of Hunt Emerson's cartoon rendition of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Coleridge. He told me how cartoons and graphic novels are well respected in Europe. Every year 250,000 people converge for a huge cartoon festival in France. I also met Carol Bennett who is an editor of an all-woman comic book

From the depths of cartoonland we dropped into The National Gallery in Trafalgar Square. There is a show of some of Rembrandt's major works. The Syndics (better known as the Dutch Masters cigar box cover) hangs on one wall. One of his most sensuous paintings, The Woman Bathing in the Stream, dazzles the eye. You can almost hear the woman in the picture splashing in the water. The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Deyman features a macabre cadaver being cut up to show to students. Biblical paintings show the artist's deep religious feeling. Also included were paintings formerly attributed to Rembrandt but lately assigned to his students. These were the most controversial, challenging time-worn conventional beliefs. Not everyone was happy with the debunking of supposed Rembrandts, especially the galleries that owned them. The museum was crowded with sophisticated, educated people milling about in quiet awe.

I walked into the subway. A little old gypsy lady approached me at Piccadilly Circus. "Can I tell your fortune?" she asked. I said no but she handed me a flower anyway. She said, "You are destined for great serenity and happiness and there is a lovely lady in your life." I gave her a shilling. Just then there was an announcement on the P.A. system. "Bomb scare, security alert! Bomb scare, security alert! Everyone evacuate the subway!" Everyone scurried out to avoid an I.R.A. bomb. So much for serenity. "Well at least I have a lovely lady in my life!" I thought as I returned to Margaret's flat where I was staying.Things got crazy and I ended up staying with Margaret's friends on the other side of town. I wonder if I can get my shilling back?

From spending the morning in the stately dignified musty art galleries I find myself that night in a ramshackle room suddenly invaded by a dozen people with beer, wine, and cigarettes. The place: a squat in the Kilburn section of London. A late night party in progress here in the real London Underground. Ripped couches and trash-day furniture line the living room. The people are young British, Irish, Spanish, and Welsh. They all have one thing in common. They are squatters. In England it is quasi- legal to break into an unoccupied building and live there claiming a stake. The owner must go through time-consuming procedures to get an eviction notice. The average squat situation, I am told, lasts about six months. The squatters I stayed with had bought in mattresses, T.V.s and the bare essentials to form a communal housing situation. Electricity and hot water get turned on but there is no heat except for space heaters. Here people live rent-free, with the knowledge that a 24-hour eviction notice can arrive at any time. This is life on the cutting edge for an estimated 50,000 Londoners

One squatter told me a story of their hero, Brian. He makes a living with his knowledge of plumbing by rigging up newly broken into buildings. Most of his money goes to his mistress, the jealous whiskey bottle. One time some squatters found him on a doorstep and enlisted him for a daring mission. They needed to break into a flat on the 14th floor of a building they wanted to move into but they could not get in through the stairs. Brian, put down his whiskey, shimmied up the side of the building like Spiderman and jimmied into the balcony window. This exploit earning him whiskey money and a place in London squatting folklore. A guy at the party drinking wine mentioned that he had been in a pub where Charlie Watts of then Rolling Stones came for a drink. He related that Charley bought a pitcher of beer and turned around it was gone. He pulled a sword out of his cane waved it around demanding to know who had nicked his beer. His friend quickly let him know that he had moved the pitcher to another table, saving someone an unnecessary decapitation. One of the squatters was on acid,. He kept staring at me and in a moment of divine cosmic revelation pointed my way and exclaimed, "Woody!" " Woody Allen." And that was my nickname I was stuck with the rest of the time I was in London, no way of getting out of it.

The next day found me at the British Museum, which had a display of writings by British authors. Included were Jonathan Swift, Dryden, Alexander Pope, and the Beatles. They had the hand-written drafts of "Yesterday", "I Wanna Hold Your Hand", and "Ticket to Ride", along with an early rooftop photo of the Fab Four in leather jackets. My old friend Manhar showed up on the scene. A poet who once had a rock band called Beyond Frank in Boston, took me to an open mike at the Marquis of Cornwallis Pub. The M.C., a colorful poet, introduced folk musicians to play a few songs. Half of them did old Sixties cover songs. One young musician in his 20s did the Fixin to Die Rag about the Vietnam War, by Country Joe and The Fish. Why I don't know, since he wasn't even born back then. I followed with my poem Archaeology mocking those who are stuck in the 60s. Copies of Squawk Magazine became valuable commodities to trade for tall pints of Guinness Stout.

Marina and I had dinner together on the last day of this two week holiday. She packed up and moved to Brussels and I headed to the Rave with Manhar.

Hundreds of people dancing to acid house music in one room. Upstairs there was a reggae room. Several Rastafarians seemed to be quite popular displaying examples of Jamaican horticulture. I was handing out Chicken Little cartoons and selling Squawk and Underground Surrealist Magazines. One fellow said that he would publish me in a British Magazine.

Across the hall from the reggae room, there was a room with a tree in it where mellower music was played. Couples were making out on the couches, on the floor, and would have been on the ceiling if they could. A woman from Portugal asked if she could send some drawings to Squawk Magazine, she was writhing on a mattress in a miniskirt and spilling wine on the floor. A tall Italian guy bought Underground Surrealist Magazine telling me how he reads cartoons and graphic novels all the time as do many people in Europe. He also related to me the beautiful effects of this drug, ecstasy, which he said changed his life. He says he has calmed down since discovering ecstasy and even his mother notices the difference. He offered me some and I turned it down. I didn't need drugs. I was having too much fun taking in the spectacle. He said he would show this copy to all his friends in Italy. It seemed incredible that the people at the party all seemed so curious, intelligent, and interested in everyone around them. One person, however, related to me that these parties had a darker side. Ecstasy can cause memory loss, dehydration, drying up of the spinal fluid, and even death. This, amazingly enough, was a small Rave. Usually there were several thousand people at these events. They are often held at farmhouses or warehouses, often outside of London.

People find out about the locations at the last minute by cellular phone and get together before the police can find out about them and raid it. There had been some raids in 1988 but the phenomenon is still around. Many of these Raves are financed by drug dealers, ecstasy being the drug of choice. Disc jockeys with light and slide shows team up and put on these extravagant events. Many of the party-goers do ecstasy before arriving, but there is often ganja and beer available also. Evidently several people have died of drug-related problems and when this happens the authorities crack down. This particular Rave was in a large old school house taken over by squatters. We don't have anything like that in Boston, so this phenomenon was an eye-opener to this author. I stayed there until 5:00 in the morning. Many people gave me cards about upcoming psychedelic parties and events. Of course this had to happen on my last day in London. It was off to the airport the next day. They had to get me on the plane kicking and screaming. I didn't want to go. Now I walk the streets of Boston and still hear the voice of London calling


Queen Day In London

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