AS FAR as Clark was concerned, I was already a part of his "conspiracy." While hanging at the new club, I found myself quickly roped into doing things for him and the obvious reason why any of this is significant to you or anybody else, is because the media event created by Jules Marshall's "Here Come the Zippies" cover story, had mutated into a plethora of verbiage on all things Zippydom.
As I would eventually learn, the High Times version of events was only scheduled for publication in February 1995 of the next year. Hampton Sides excellent imitation of Tom Robbins' new journalism, appeared only at the end of 1994 in December. If the meme carried by the Daily Newspapers had seemingly dried out, and Wired Magazine's letters pages had begun to slip into snearing condescension about "the zippie techno poseurs" it was only because the roller coaster had stopped to take on some passengers "still in the stone age of personal computing" -- and all of us, including those who were merely in it, for the hell of it, were still very much part of the cyberdelic ride. For some, just being near the tickle of America's latest orgasm would produce media convulsions.
So we're back at that morning in early October. A phone call from Clark etc etc. And now it's later in the morning I'm just casually doing my small task, for a man, a friend, who I know very little about actually, when suddenly my complete and total attention is demanded. (Folks - nobody can be accused of holding a gun to my head, I simply acquiesced in following the leader but it's a diabolical plot nevertheless)-- one minute you're following the yellow brick road, the next minute you're being transported by flying monkeys to the palace of Brumhilda the Bad Witch with the Tin Man --- Basically I'm picked up in a car driven by someone's mom. As far as everybody is concerned this is hype heaven in hippyland. "We need more zippies" says Sionadh Craigen, packing us all in.
Fraser's adolescent girlfriend is basically in charge. We drive off and I struggle to remain composed, nonchalantly I tell her that seriously all I promised Mr Clark was a flyer or two, nothing more.... and it all seems to happen in slow motion. I guess you could also say I was abducted by a flying saucer never to return home to normality again. I'm a little queasy in the pit of my stomach. "We need more zippies." A strange inexpressible emotion, -- "you don't even know me that well, and already you're telling me who I'm supposed to be", but foolishly I ignore the warning signs, my own inner voice, and float downstream, go along with the carnival. What I probably should have been doing is making an appointment with the "teenager inside my twenty-something body", if only to reassure him that all this was not a commitment to a lifelong fraud, a simple hoax, a publicity stunt -- Hey I'm just a professional, an associate, an equal, my whole life is still ahead of me.
Quaint stuff like this would soon melt under the pressure to become an arbitrary, totally anonymous "Zippy".
As I write this, Time magazine has published a cover story called "Secrets of the Teen Brain". Apparently research is "revolutionising our view of the adolescent mind -- and explaining it in mystifying ways."[Time June 7] No doubt the mystery of life is unfolding, but research like this invariably comes too late to save me from teenage expectations of who and what a Zippy ought to be, even way back in 1994.
As those who are perhaps already familiar with this demon of an issue, getting treated like a new species of teenager was only half the problem of being associated with Clark's new "posse". The other problem was putting up with "adults" like Peter Booth Lee, a perpetual four-year-old, who had literally taken over the cultural persona of Wired's "Here Come the Zippies" cover -- knitted cap, techno glasses and all. Rather brave I thought, since Wired was accused by irate readers of "plastering zombie nerd-boy all over the cover" of something that should usually be "left on a coffee table." If Lee, a freelance photographer covering the tour for Clublife, had been serious, he would have probably gone all the way and "outed himself" as a Zippie, but to do this would mean living up to the expectations created by "Pincus the Cyborg" who had joined the tour in New York. According to Clark, Pincus been earning a living posing as a cyborg statue on Wall street before being pressed into the service of pronoia.
"Pronoia" by Sunset Magnet North, Album, "Cooler Perspective", 2001.
Despite fears that young and impressionable ravers across the country had simply transformed themselves into zippies and that technology was being used "simply to legitimize a cult which is little more than a kind of violent Wayne's World on Internet" The tour proceeded apace, with or without the fashion police. "Zippies?" commented one fashionista: "one, a fashion failure wearing virtual-reality goggles, graced the May cover of Wired magazine, the 18-month-old guide to technohip that's the biggest marketing success since Rolling Stone, and already not as good as it used to be." (Sheila Lennon, The Reader). Of course, zippies were really "technohippies from England who deftly mix the music and multimedia of the rave club scene, Druid religious roots, psychedelics and that old hippie freedom trip. Their tour is called Pronoia -- the sneaking feeling that others are conspiring to help you -- and their goal is evolution, a revolution in consciousness".
I'm no better off in a maroon bomber jacket, grey tracksuit and khaki trainers -- since I admit now to the entire world, that I wouldn't have been able to figure out the street fashion of San Francisco in '94 either, even if Nike had paid me $1000 000 and told me to like swoosh. I'm lost in the fashion stakes, much to Sionaidh's dismay. While we're driving in the car to yet another "photo opportunity" I ask her what's up. She updates me in her boho lilt: "the zippies have already had a press conference, and a eco-friendly fashion show, you know, like with hemp products..." and it all sounds terribly cultish, and exciting and I want to be a part of what one could call the carnival, but like whose backing the zippies?
You know I know the Zippies like as in Fraser Clark created them and the Zippies are US, but is that one ZIPPY with a "Y" or many Zippies with an IE? When you're having the wool pulled over your eyes its usually because somebody wants you to be a sheep, -- I was slaughtered simply because I was "white", South African, and nobody thought Y?
We end-up downtown in silicon alley. RU Sirius, my cyberpunk friend is there, being interviewed for a television spot I guess, and it's an interview conducted by some young brat who is covering the incipient counter-culture, probably with a student loan and his dad's video camera. I'm told to just sit on the floor or like "wait in the kids room". If I had a portable rocket from the future I would get out of there, but all I manage is to chirp-up that actually, in reality, I'm nearly 26 and a publisher of sorts, in fact I have published fanzines down under in South Africa etc, etc. The video guy just looks at me, like I'm worse than a redneck, white-trash, on the inside of his politically correct televisionland brain.
Fraser does the interview. I try to network a little: "Names Dave Dei," I say struggling to appear cool and using one of my newly aquired net-names (as it turns out, from the Domain of the Cuddly Deity). Big mistake. Because, since Shionadh doesn't know that Fraser already knows me from London I am marked as some kind of an attention-getter or worse, one of those complete nobodies who grab microphones while you're on still stage, grandstands a little or goes out of the way to steal your thunder.
Jules Marshall wrote recently in his "decade after the zippies" piece commissioned by Wired Magazine about something familiar to all of us: "I caught up with Fraser at a party just outside Santa Cruz." says Marshall, "Fraser was introduced to speak beforehand, when suddenly this weirdo called Pincus, dressed in body armour, fur and cow horns as i remember, grabs the mike and announces HE is Fraser Clark, and goes on to spout complete gibberish for ten minutes." According to Marshall "This guy had at some stage attached himself to the zippies, or one half of them as it had become by now, it seems."
If the man bothered to read the script between the lines, it is quite obvious from postings made by myself and others on the Well Bulletin Board, that I had by implication then "attached myself" to the other half. Yes there was a split and no, I wasn't even party to that split. What happened in reality, it that I had become a useful part, of what Clark would always term "the reinforcements we were waiting for" and as such was an easily expendable commodity in both media terms and in terms of THE ZIPPIES, after the news story seemingly dried up. What am I doing here? Obviously the problem is not too difficult to sort out looking at it from the year 2004.
As High Times says: "Clark decided to pull the plug on the Zippies' Canyon party and re-direct his energy towards opening a Megatripolis-style club in San Francisco... Then he caught wind of the European press, which was hyping the mega-rave as the Woodstock of the 90's... hype had overtaken reality; the show had to go on."
While Fraser was being touted by the press as some kind of cult-figure surrounded by a horde of acolytes, on the one hand, the reality was completely different. On the other -- there were no "true-believers" only variations of what can only be described as a rag-tag army of techno-hippies and cyber-anarchists -- the reinforcements he had been looking for since the sixties.
While people like Earth Girl and Michael John seem to pop-up in story after story about the Zippies, it is probably because they were already well-known and Americans to boot. Very little is ever said about the actual tribe that accompanied Clark from London, and this criticism is not a new one. In fact in a piece posted on the web shortly after the tour fell-apart, (the pronoia tour was supposed to continue on to Hawai and a 1/4 million rave with the KLF, followed by an Eclipse after-party in Peru) an anonymous author makes the startling point: "Take the very question of who these people are: How were they educated? What parts of Britain are they from? What do they do for a living? Who are their parents?"
And comments: "This was barely touched upon for those who were the nucleus of this movement, and not at all for the late-comers, who form, by [Marshalls estimates] about half of the 200 000 zippies."
I'm not trying to include myself, here, but Americans like to honk their own horn, and it is probably safe to say that the closer you were to the nucleus surrounding Clark, the least likely you were to actually get heard --- since the man was quite capable of telling everybody to shut-up while having a conversation about topical profundities like "we don't want to be all commercial or have stars". The thought police and people like John Bagby were only too happy to oblige in following orders.
We return from yet another fashionable appearance at the Marconi Convention Center, go up to the apartment and one of Clark's goons, from the bad side of London clubland, asks me "are you gay you know like a fag". His name is Ronnie, and he's shooting a movie about the tour, and "do you get it in the backside, you know, like in the arse?"
"Can't say I do....do you? I seem to reply, but instead I play dumb, not wishing to appear so ultimately stupid, but then what is Ronnie actually doing here, making history with a capital H, with a bunch of gay-bashers in San Francisco of all places? According to Ronnie, the Zippies are having trouble with a bunch of club queens (in particular one promoter) and they need a couple of extra zippies, you now like for the support.
The totally anonymous monkey creature inside of me still wants to shout some totally queer and outrageously camp expletive: Sure I'm a Zippy supporter, what club soccer do you watch? Zippies FNL, Zippies Guiness Cup or the Zippies United Local?
Except where I'm from this kind of cultural bickering is taken seriously. Politicians often feel the need to feel popular by rigging the polls, bussing in supporters who have no idea what they are supporting, and press ganging people with little else to do, except go along for the ride. I ask myself the question -- am I just one of the crowd -- the mob -- the passing parade whose presence has no effect on the outcome of events whatsoever?
I have no answers. The reality is that I've spent the last ten years thinking a particular event was possibly significant, when in fact the truth is, it was just a side-show and as insignificant and impossible to believe as King Kong on a rollerblades, dancing down the Nile, or as futile as owning one of those quaint do-hickeys for someone else's brand new Beetle (1960s pretty boy reissue) -- you know it does something probably useful, you know it is probably vital to the workings of the man and his car engine but what? If it falls out and the car still goes, you do nothing, tell nobody and go about your business blissfully unaware, and for all they know, internal combustion could be the result of a wormhole in space-time.
Continued in Part Three.
[copyleft 2006, some rights reserved, please request permission to republish from the author]