Smells like Zippy Spirit

Epic zippies story by Hamptom Sides, originally published with photographs by Jon Gipe, in Outside Magazine, Dec 1994.

THE hulking white truck veers quietly off the main road and slips through the backwoods oin the spitting rain. The metal side panels rattle, the big GMC engines chuffs away, and yet the truck is hard to detect in the night: Its headlights are off.

Just ahead on the road, Fraser Clark is smoking a hand-rolled cigarette and trying to distract a group of U.S. Forest Service law officers. They're clustered around their four-wheel-drives at the entrance to an ill-fated gathering of some 6,000 hippies, spiritual seekers, and seemingly misplaced cyberpunks who have pitched camp on a golden meadow deep inside northern Arizona's Kaibab National Forest. Standing at the checkpoint, Clark is engaging them in friendly debate over what the U.S. Constitution may or may not have to say about the people's right to erect mammoth concert speakers in a national forest.

Gotta have a permit, the officers demand. Bollocks, Clark amiably replies.

Clark is a 51-year-old Dionysus with a single-malt Scottish brogue, a stringy goatee, and a wispy mane of caramel hair. The look on his face says that something sneaky is afoot and that he's at the center of it. He has come to Arizona from London to test a pet theory he has about mankind and the millennium, and now he's got a gaggle of reporters following him, trying to get to the bottom of it. He wears a yellow cadigan over a Micky Mouse shirt and moves with a studied langour, as though he's providing clues to the zeitgeist with every facial tic and gesture.

Somewhere beyond the checkpoint, way back in the feathered shadows of the ponderosa pines, beyond the Krishna Tent and the Peace Pole, a soggy field of fescue lies dorment in the late-August night. An elk herd grazes. Crickets fiddle in the weeds. A pale moon seeps through gauzy rips in the storm clouds.

If they knew any better, the elk and the crickets indeed, every creature within a ten-mile radius would run for cover while there's still a chance. Packed inside the big truck, which just now is bouncing clandestinely through the forest to sneak around the ranger checkpoint, is a sound system capable of strafing the entire area with 40,000 watts of viscera-thumping racket. Twenty-four monstor cabinets. An airforce of tweeters. Mule-tough Honda generators. And to drone underneath it all, four dozen 15-inch bass speakers with enough seismic rumble to make every worm in the vacinity spit out its dirt and hunker down for the apocalypse.

Yes, Fraser Clark likes to have a good stereo when he goes camping. And so, one way or another, those speakers are getting through.

Sorry, pal. Strict orders. No amplified music.

Clark flashes a spritely smile, knowing that the diversionary tactic has worked, that the contraband has probably reached the field, and that his big outdoor bash can soon begin. He bids the rangers adieu and vanishes into the fog.

Thanks to the Forest Service, the festivities are getting off to a late start two days late, in fact ¬ but Clark seems unfazed. "If you want things to start on time," he says, "then go to Woodstock. With an event like this you don't ever know when its going to start ¬ you don't even know *if * its going to start. But see, people don't *want* a guarantee. They want a bit of adventure. They want the excitement of bringing this semilegal stuff out here beyond the System."

Before long, as cars start pouring into the encampment, their headlights swirling in the woods, Clark, the happy impresario, surveys what he has wrought. "These people," he says with a sly wink, "have all come to experiment with the future."

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FOR the past year Clark, a native of Glasgow, Scotland, has run a trendy London nightclub called Megatripolis. It's a rambling affair where people can dance to ambient music, quaff "smart drinks" (designer potions that suppesidly boost brain-power and creativity), network computers, and listen to New Age lectures in a continuous seminar known as the Parallel University.

Last June, hoping to spread his club's gospel, Clark came to America with an entourage of 14 young Megatripolis denizens to embark on a national ramble whose avowed goal was to ignite a new social craze, something Clark calls "the zippy movement." A zippy, as he tells it, is a "hippie with zip." an electronic seeker who can harness computers, modems, and other post-modern geegaws for the betterment of an ever-expanding tribe of enlightened beings. Zippies, who like to boast that their "brain hemispheres are in perfect balance," also like to surf the Internet and dance till dawn at impromptu outdoor parties called "raves," fueled by vitamins and illicit mood-enhancers such as Ecstacy and LSD. Underlying the whole scene is a hazy millennial premise ¬ that the planet needs help, fast ¬ and a diffuse environmental consciousness. "How do you get city people to care anything about the countryside if they never bloody get out there?" says Clark, groping to explain. "You put on a big rave, see, and they get the sunrise, they get nature. They see what it's all about."

Above all, Clark says, zippy-ism is about a feel-good spirit that he calls pronoia, "the sneaking suspicion that people are conspiring behind your back to help you."

Clark launched his so-called Pronoia Tour of America because he decided that the movement would never succeed unless it succeeded here. "If we can make the zippy message fashionable in America," he said, "America will broadcast it to the planet. And Americans, see are bored shitless."

Armed with loads of self-confidence ("I'm just a guy," he told one British reporter, adding, "Jesus was just a guy, too, of course."), Clark also wanted to perform a cultural marriage, to bring together two heretofore seperate tribes ¬ the technoheads of U.S. rave culture with the good old-fashioned hippies who still dot the landscape ¬ in an unstoppable supertribe. What it would do wasn't exactly clear, but such particulars were further down the road. The first step was to oversee the nuptials. "The hippies have the wisdom to live beautifully on the land," Clark liked to say. "The ravers have the energy and the connections. Put them together and it would send a message to the world's leaders: New scene in town! No more bullshit!"

And yet, despite some truly inspired phrase-making on Clark's part, what he was promoting wasn't so much a "new scene" as a melange of old American trends and themes nimbly glued together. Raves, after all, originated not in London, but in the "house music" craze that started in Chicago and Detriot nearly a decade ago. The personal computer, the basic tool of the zippy revolution, was invented in America, where the various incarnations of computer subculture ¬ hackers, cyberpunks ¬ have flourished in a way that's never been approached in Britain. Even the zippy trick of tossing it all together in a technospiritual soup wasn't new. Magazines such as Berkeley-based Mondo 2000 had been serving that up since 1989.

Still, Clark's confections were so lusciously quotable that they instantly struck a chord in the American media. The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, National Public Radio, and other major outlets covered the zippy "phenomenon", complete with slang and fashion primers. The longest article, a spring cover story in the computer-culture magazine Wired, called the Pronoia Tour "the most radical musical invasion of America since the Beatles and the Stones first kicked up the shit 30 years ago."

Wired also broke the news that, in late August, Clark and the zippies would culminate their tour by throwing the mother of all raves, one that, as Clark put it, would "touch the mythical clitoris of the culture." Details were sketchy. All anyone knew was that it would be somewhere along the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Rumours about what was called the Paradigm Jumping Off the Grand Canyon Omega Rave were soon broadcast on a thousand alternative music stations and computer bulletin boards.

The zippies spent the summer more or less as planned, staging $12-a-head raves from New York to California. In Wyoming, they hit the annual gathering of the Rainbow People, latter-day hippies who camp out every Fourth of July in a selected national forest. At a rave in Boulder, Colorado, they hooked up with the grand icon of mobile celebration himself, Ken Kesey. "Our turn is over," Clark claims Kesey said at the end of their evening together. "Now it's your turn." By which Clark took him to mean that the old Merry Prankster cheiftain was passing the mantle on to the zippies.

Maybe he was and maybe he wasn't, but when you're preparing to touch the mythical clitoris of the culture, who's going to quibble over details?

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EXCUSE me," inquires the young reporter from the London magazine i.D. as she coasts into the zippy camp, her big rent-a-wreck clattering to a stop. "Do you happen to know where I might find Fraser Clark?"

"You and everybody else," answers Michael John, an owl-faced confederate of Clark's who is famous for giving long, cryptic lectures at Megatripolis under the name of Professor Paradox. "Let's just say you're getting warm."

It's Saturday afternoon at the Omega rave site, the day after the great sneak-in. The zippies are making much of the fact that, according to some revisionists, today is the first day of the New Millennium, since the Christian calender is allegedly off by five years and four months. If that's so, then the year 2000 is getting off to a rotten start. Everyone in this sprawling tent city ¬ including God, it seems ¬ is in a surly mood. Rain has turned the footpaths into a red-clay paste. Storm clouds are sulking overhead; the thunder is scattering flocks of vultures. Two mangy hounds are scavenging in the wet field, their angry growls periodically erupting into full combat. "Whenever the spirit gets high," Professor Paradox notes, "the dogs are the first to react"

"Are you a .....*zippy*?" Asks the i.D reporter, as if encountering a new species of gibbon.

"I'm a zippy, sure, " says the professor. "But, hey, *anyone* can be a zippy. Its not a club, you know."

The zippies have set up their camp, such as it is, in a scheduled cove off the main meadow. There's a big tarp strung between some ponderosas, along with an odd clutter of iridescent streamers, disco mirror-balls, and psychedelic billboards. The sound system has been erected nearby, an ominous, black, multideck V jutting out of the grass like some medeival seign device.

The Omega rave starts tonight ¬that is, if the lawmen don't swoop in to kabosh it ¬ but no one here seems up for it. A few zippies are hunkered around a Coleman stove, slurping Ramen noodles and shivering under their blankets. Orka and Judy, a Colorado fashion duo who have in with Clark's posse, are drearily rummaging through their collection of platform shoes. There's also K.J the pakistani mix master and thrift shop aesthete, who's in a swivert because someone has driven off with his "trance music" records ¬ all 150 of them. Nearby sits Earth Girl, who is serving up mugs of her trademarked Psyper Psonic Psyber Tonic, a vitamin-packed smart drink sold at Megatripolis. "This drink proves that intelligence levels can be completely played with and amped up," she says, spooning lemony crystals from a big plastic jar. "Oh, and its *excellent* for stoners."

We reporters are very much in evidence ¬ in fact, we outnumber the zippies. Newsweek is here, as are *Life, Rolling Stone, Spin, Paris Match, the BBC*, and several German Magazines. A couple of know-it-all photojournalists work the periphery, manically narrating the scene like Dennis Hopper in Apocalypse Now. "We're witnessing history here," one of them says, dead earnest. "Years from now we can tell our kids, 'Yeah, I was there ¬ I was with the zippies."

Clark, meanwhile, is shut up in his tent with his girlfriend, Sionaidh, a porcelain-skinned Scot about half his age. They've been in there an hour, unveiling the zippy master plan to a filmaker who's shooting the official tour documentary. Clark sits in his lotus position, gesturing wildly, peering out of a mosquito-mesh window. It's hard to hear his spiel, but he's definitely on a roll. "So you see," he exclaims at one point, "instead of *excreting* the whole system onto the planet, we can *inhale* it into cyberspace.

Suddenly, a wicked argument starts, with Sionaidh yelling that he's a typical male, like all the others.!" The tent unzips and out hops Fraser, red as a beet, lobbing Gaelic obscenities. He turns and smiles awkwardly at the journalists. "Hello," he says, feigning courtliness. "Merry Christmas and a very happy New Millennium to you all." Then he marches alone into the woods.

"Ugh," a zippy sneers. "Could you guys get lost for a while?"

Zzzzzzzeerack! An angry lightning bolt saws across the treeline. The zippies frantically cover the speakers in plastic and then dive for their tents, just as the rain starts coming down in sheets.

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WHEN WIRED first trumpeted the planned Grand Canyon rave, a few pesky details were swept under the mouse-pad ¬ details that now haunt the zippies in the Omega meadow. The biggest one being that the National Park Service would never have allowed the ravers anywhere *near* the Grand Canyon. Still, the idea of a "rim rave" sounded so perfectly epochal that it took on a life of its own.

As the big date approached, however, the tiny troop of 15 zippies decided to shift locales and join forces with another large alternative gathering that, as it happened, was also scheduled for late August on national forest land in northern Arizona. The World Unity Festival and Conference, organised by a 28-year-old percussionist from Flagstaff, was billed as the more authentic alternative to the grossly overcommercialised Woodstock II. With an estimated 60,000 New Age healers, environmentalists, American Indians Deadheads, and back-to-nature hippies expected to show up, the festival would be, according to its advance hype, a benchmark happening on par with the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. The Dalai Lama and Nelson Mandela were "sort of confirmed" as guest speakers.

The zippies, Clark decided, would hold their Omega rave side by side with the World Unity bunch. The gathering wouldn't quite be on the "rim" of the Grand Canyon, but some 45 crow-miles away in the Kaibab National Forest. Not ideal, yet the zippies hoped it was close enough to retain the epic patina of the original plan.

But as the zippies trekked westward, details about the Omega rave remained so exasperatingly vague that a growing number of Amercian cybersurfers started to smell a rat. "This gathering has either no mind or no conscience," one cynic from Berkeley wrote on alt.culture.zippies, a newsgroup forum on the Internet. "Only the children of P. T. Barnum are going to trek to the Kaibab Desert to see this event. The people (ir)responsible for turning the rave scene in the U.S. into a farce should be sacked immediately and shipped back to where they came from."

Late in the summer, when the zippies ¬ as if cursed ¬ ran out of both money and psychic steam, things really began to fall apart for the Pronoia Tour. A mysterious schism after a big early-August rave in Santa Cruz, California, resulted in ten of the original 14 Pronoids breaking ranks and heading south for parts unknown. It was like something out of the Old Testament, the restless upstarts dissing their patriarch, the tribe cleaving in two.

Clark just days before the Omega rave, was left holding the bag with a skeleton crew of thre loyalists and a few recruits. Somehow they scraped together the bucks to rent the sound system, borrowed a truck, and humped in from California, only to have the Forest Service deny them access ¬ thus forcing the zippies to lose another couple of days smuggling in their stuff.

Now at the meadow, the zippies are admirably trying to put the best face on things, but so far it's been an umitigated disaster. Across the way, the World Unity Festival has likewise bonked. Only a tenth of the predicated 60,000 revelers have come. A week earlier, the festival's planning committe collapsed, leaving clueless wraiths wandering the streets of Flagstaff, trying to nail down directions and sort out rumours. Wisely, the Dalai Lama and Nelson Mandela chose to stay at home.

Before ending up here, some of the World Unity planners had led a thousand or so people to an alternative site on the Hopi Indian Reservation, a parched piece of northeastern Arizona badland called Big Mountain. Inexplicitly, they neglected to secure approval form the Hopi elders. The next day a team of Bureau of Indian Affairs officials swaggered in and set up roadblocks. Choppers wheeled in the sky. The whole tattered throng was ordered to leave.

At the last minute, aid for the zippies and the World Unity crowd came from yet another group, the Rainbow People, who are the grand masters of throwing spontaneous bacchanals in the wild. The Rainbows, who had been informlly recreuted to help plan the World Unity gathering from the very beginning, suddenly took control, salvaged the wreckage, and brought it all to the Kaibab. They dug latrines, organized kitchens, established order. Thanks to them, the gathering has a pulse again. But something is off. The Rainbow camp feels like it's a world away from the zippy enclave, and there's been little interaction. Truth be told, the Rainbows don't seem to like the zippies, despite Clark's connubial overtures. The rave just isn't their scene.

As for journalists, we're drawn to the peculiar energy of the zippies like helpless, thumping moths. Still, none of us can get a fix on the story. What we've got are schisms, bad weather, and chaos on a Cecil B DeMille scale. The Hopis don't like the hippies. The hippies don't like the zippies. The zippies are at odds with themselves. The dogs are at one another's throats. And where's that Fraser guy anyway.

++++



THE TEMPEST has raged for an hour, two hours, going on three, the driving rain flecked with white shards of hail. Finally, late in the afternoon, an orange Nerf ball of a sun pokes through, and a perfect rainbow appears. The Rainbows yowl with joy, pounding hosannas on their congas. "Maybe its a sign!" Professor Paradox offers, staring at the rainbow. "What of?" "I dunno, Hippie-zippy unity. The New Millennium, Something."

The rain has cleared the bile from the air and replaced it with an invisible pronoia cloud. The smart drinks are flowing again; brain hemispheres are getting balanced. Clark returns from his walk in the woods, wet but smiling. He gives Sionaidh a bear hug, and by all appearances everything is rosy in the girlfriend department. Soon he is posing for a Newsweek photographer, sitting sidesaddle on a borrowed mule with a borrowed laptop across his thighs, as if he's persuing his E-mail up there: Fraser Clark, the Electronic Horseman.

"Press conference!" a zippy minion announces. "Fraser will be addressing the members of the media in five minutes.!"

As the reporters head back to camp, Clark strokes his beard and gazes proudly over at the speakers. Ambient music has begun to warble and moan like a pod of humpback whales.

Clark starts off slow, mysteriously, as the reporters scribble. "I ask you, the media tribe, to consider that there is a higher moral ethic than simply reporting history - and that's helping to create history. I invite you to join in a conspiracy with us to send out positive viruses to the universe."

He's just getting going, and already we're feeling perplexed. One of the German reporters, a wiry hipster, asks under his breath, "Viruses? Vot do he mean, viruses?"

"Imagine," Clark resumes, ligting up a cigarette. "Imagine a planet covered in rainforests. A naked couple, slightly hairer than we are, walks through the woods. They stop. The man leans over and picks up a flower. Suddenly an electrical connection is made. Menus drop down in their eyes. They plug in, travel to New York, have a little virtual-reality meeting. That's the zippy dream, see. We can al be naked pyschedelic apes out in the forest and yet still all be connected up together."

Clark pauses to let the imagery sink in, as the whale moans give way to a swirling panorama of celestial mood-music.

The pronoia Tour is now officially over, Clark declares. Its time to take the next step in the zippy revolution. In the fall he and his comrades will open a series of rave clubs on the West Coast, starting with Megatripolis San Francisco. "We'll do smart drinks of course," he says. "We'll also have an aboriginal snack shop where we'll serve you know, bark and berries and Indian foods all mashed into a paste ¬ some kind of dip thing. Strong, but very nutritious."

The floor is open for questions. Nearby we hear the whine of tires spinning in the mud, which prompts me to ask Clark how the zippies can call themselves environmentalists. Becaus, looking at his mashed and rutted and pissed-on field, it seems obvious that assembling thousands of ravers in a secluded forest isn't the best way to tread lightly.

"No," he admits, his cigarette's amber light dancing in the dark. "Its not the best thing for this particular two square miles of America. With all the public shitting and hygiene problems, I'm obviously not recommending it as an ultimate lifestyle. Bringing large numbers of people together is just the first thing we have to do to win the battle against the System."

There's a loud visitor in our midst. We turn to behold a hirsute, middle-aged prophet in religious robes, looming like Bugs Bunny's nemesis, the Tasmanian Devil.

"Who're you?" Clark demands. "My name is Jesus Christ," the man says emphatically," Today I'm 2,000 years old. Its the New Millennium, in case you didn't know. What I wanted to say was, this rave thing of yours is OK man. Its holy. So I say, lets's do it! I want to die dancing! Remember, Jesus raves!"

Clark tries to shoo Christ away before he steals the show. "Happy birthday, Jesus" he says, "And thanks for the endorsement."
 
 

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THE PRESS conference breaks up, and Jesus disappears into the growing rave crowd. The gale-force music is full of carbolic bleeps and belches stitched together with a jackhammer beat, 140 pulses per minute. K.J., the Pakistani mix master, says 140 bpm is more or less the rate of the fetal heart. Which is fitting, because its designed to send you straight back to the womb, wrapped in an electronic sac. "What you are hearing," he yells, "is the voice of electricity."

Overhead, a screen flickers with fractal images: monarch butterflies floating in the cosmos, paramacia grooving across the Mojave Desert. A few trillion stars wink through the fog. In the fringes of the meadow, the Rainbows stumble from their tents, barefoot and baffled, to investigate the racket and light. Most of them ar Hacky Sack-playing Luddites who ordinarily wouldn't be caught dead around all this raging technology. Soon a hippie woman stalks over and yanks the generator plug.

"Babylon music!" she hisses in the sudden silence.

But the juice is quickly restored, and the offensive wages on. Orka and Judy take the spotlight, he in a Captain America getup, she in an aluminium-foil space suit with Madonna -like cone breasts spewing out red strobe-beams. A few big American rental cars roll into the field, disgorging crews of young ravers from Denver, San Francisco, and New York. Some, lit with Ecstacy, have a deer-in-the-headlights look on their faces s they dive into the soudscape.

After a while the Rainbows accept the fact that this aural blitzkrief will last until dawn, and so, tepidly at first, they join in. Soon the field swarms with trance-dancers, 500 strong, spinning in the reefer fog, stamping the wet grass into a hard plate of dirt.

At high noon on Sunday, a small party of celebrants gathers by the FOOD NOT BOMBS sign. Today Earth Girl, the smart-drink peddler, will be "married" to Max, an eligible young Rainbow brother. It's Clark's merging of the tribes in action, a ceremony he calls "a techno-pagan wedding".

A Rainbow shaman opens the service: "Hear ye, hear ye. This symbolic wedding will unite the Earth People from the South with the Techno-People from the northern Zippy Kingdom."

Just behind the wedding party a couple of scruffy Rainbow hounds are doing the wild thing, hunched awkwardly in the dirt with mortified scowls on their faces, but no one pays them any mind.

Clark takes a theatrical bow. "Today," he says, clearing his throat, "we offer up Earth Girl, a nubile, media-friendly, techno-literate, maiden." Applause. "And she comes fully reproductive, as guaranteed by the whole tribe." Drums. Laughter.

Now Clark grows solemn. "We hold this greath techno-organic wedding, that we may unite as the entire alternative nation. The two should never have been apart." The crowd shouts, "Ho!" Clark: "You may now kiss the bride." Earth Girl and Max embrace and then hold hands as they leap over a broom into their "future". With the marriage sealed and the GMC truck all loaded up, the zippies shove-off for California, like a bunch of high-tech Joads. But this time, instead of creeping along the back roads, they decide to take the main way out. Big mistake. There's a khaki phalanx waiting for them at the entrance ¬ forest service hosses, all licking their chops. "We warned you buddy," officer Mark Zumwalt tells the driver, one of the sound system techies. (Clark himself has managed to slip through unscathed in another vehicle.)

Grumbling that "you can't bring that stuff in without a permit, " Zumwalt writes up two seperate tickets, totalling $800. "You know," he says, grimacing at the trashed meadows, "this used to be a national forest."

Hampton Sides is a senior editor of Outside and author of Stomping Grounds: A Pilgrim's Progress Through Eight American Sub-cultures,
published by William Morrow.

This copy have been reproduced only for research purposes, copryight rests with the author, all rights reserved.

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