From Aural Innovations #17 (September 2001)
Sometimes you can sense things before they happen. Sometimes you're blind sided. Unable to sense anything at all. Sometimes you're somewhere in-between. Perfectly centered. Riding that calm tranquil wave. Drifting off into your own little world. And sometimes these little worlds collide.
What I was sensing was almost psychic. A gut feeling transported from some other world. It was low and almost audible. Like a tremor or the slow steady rumblings from a distant turbulent sea. An ethereal avalanche in slow motion. Closing in but mysteriously unseen. Just taking its
fine time to materialize and manifest itself.
It was coming from one place. One very unique place.
It was coming from OHM.
It could only be described as one thing... and one thing alone.
I popped another one. Waited for it to kick in--SLOW AND EASY. Then I peeled back my dreary peepers and just stared at the screen.
It was four AM. Not even the early worms are up at this hour. The birds are still asleep. Or so I thought. There was something new on the screen.
It was a message. It was from a dame. A dame named Karyn. Karyn LeSuer. Said she just read my piece about Dahlia. Liked it. Liked it a lot. Wanted to send me an advance copy of the new Dahlia CD. She was from a PR firm in Portland.
Great, another case. Sounded like it was right up my alley. How could I refuse? I couldn't. So I replied and gave her the grid coordinates to my CD player. I also put her in touch with Jerry Kranitz. I'd run it past his ears and see what he had to say. I had a feeling he would like what he heard. Meanwhile, I'd see what I could dig up on my end while I waited for his autopsy report.
Yeah, we would play this slow and easy. See what developed. See if it ended up as case of Dahlia Indemnity.
I slid the disc into the CD player. Sat back and listened. Watching the numbers change as the songs progressed. The jewel case sat empty in front of me like a naked version of "Blue Boy" after a magician had made his clothes vanish and turned him into an industrialized piece of plastic. It was hauntingly vacant. So I slapped a large yellow post-it on its puss to give it some character. I even wrote eleven numbers down its side to keep it company.
I was sipping coffee from a black and white M.C. Escher mug. The interior was as black as a bottomless pit. Black geese flew through a porcelain white sky around the top of the mug. They morphed into white fish in a black sea around the bottom. This seemed to reflect my view on life. Nothing is what it seems. And it's all subject to change.
I drew stars on the yellow post-it. Stars beside the eleven numbers. No names. Just stars. Some were lonely. Some formed constellations. I was playing blind man's bluff. Or Dahlia-by-the-numbers. It was like playing roulette. Russian roulette. Except this CD came loaded with more than just one bullet. All of them pointed right between the ears. Aimed straight at the brain box.
I switched to shuffle mode. Watched the LED spin like an amber roulette ball. Spinning and spinning in silence. Spinning until it suddenly came to rest in its tiny little groove and transformed into a number. I had all my chips on the even numbers. And I was letting them all ride.
Sometimes the odds were stacked against me. Sometimes not. No matter what the odds-- that canary in the speaker kept right on singing. Tugging at the heart's wheel. Begging for another spin.
After the CD finished playing--I consulted the stars. Drew up a mental horoscope. Then I read Jerry Kranitz's AUTOPSY REPORT. What was written in the stars was very clear to both of us--Action Man would be paying Dahlia another visit.
It was getting hot. Sweat was forming. Forming fast.
"I want you to scoot-up so close to that person in front of you that you make them smile," they told us with a slow, cruel, mischievous chuckle. It was all a joke to them. A good 89% of us on the floor were male. 8% were dames. The other 3% hadn't decided yet. Yeah, go figure that.
"Okay, now I want you all to change positions with your partners."
I turned and faced the opposite chamber wall. My partner scooted-up behind me. Close. Very close. But I didn't mind. Not at all. Her legs wrapped around my sides in a gentle vise grip. playfully squeezing as she equalized the pressure in her ears. Okay, I'll admit it. I didn't like the odds they'd dealt me. I just made sure that I was playing with a stacked deck. The air was starting to get cooler. Starting to get clammy.
I looked up at the ceiling. A mist was forming. It was swirling. It was swirling clockwise. As it swirled it dipped down toward the floor. Engulfing us in thick tresses of flowing fog. Someone spoke and it all came out wrong. Warped and distorted. Inhuman. Then she laughed. Laughed hysterically. She sounded like a cross between the Three Tenors on ether or a chorus of munchkins singing an aria. Maybe she was channeling an alien. Maybe it was Donald Duck. All I know was her voice echoed in my head for a small eternity. Her legs keeping time with the popping in my ears. Then it all just faded away. Like a quiet gas. The fog was lifting.
"What's that?" she exclaimed, her voice evaporating-- distilled down into nothing.
I refocused. The chamber was gone. They were all gone. They had retreated back into the past. I had returned to the future--OHM.
I was standing inside the club near its entrance. I was looking at a blonde. A short cute blonde that had just materialized from the mist. Wrist freshly stamped with Ohm's entry visa. She only had one thing to declare.
"What's that?" She was standing between the till and the telephone booth that rests along the wall separating the rooms. Her long blonde hair glowing, backlit from the street beyond. Her hair transformed into an aura of solar flares.
I glanced over at the bright light leaking from the raised platform around the corner.
"That's the oxygen bar." I says.
"The oxygen bar?" she says.
"Yeah, it might come in handy later gorgeous" I says.
She gave me a brief puzzled look. Shrugged. Then headed straight toward the oxygen bar. Attracted like a platinum moth to a butane flame. When in Ohm, do as the beautiful people do.
Jay Bozich spotted me. Rushed up and led me back to the stage. He was very animated. Running on high octane. All cylinders firing--all at once. King Fader had been one busy bee. He'd added extra lighting. Strung bare branches overhead to cast shadows on the screen like overhanging tree limbs. Strung a trail of small ornamental lanterns leading from the stage at the pillar all the way back to the mixing desk.
The stage floor was littered with a more than generous dose of red and white rose petals. The outer lip of the stage next to the audience was alive with flowers and a sea of flickering candles. It was a column of tall, wide white candles in thick glass containers. They looked like offertory candles left over from the Marquis de Sade's last soiree.
It didn't look like a stage set for a Cd-Release party. It looked like an alter set for a wild Bacchanalian festival. Or the sanctuary for an Earth goddess. Jay had out done himself.
"I'd love to see the photos you get tonight so I can see how the lighting worked out."
I smiled. "Sure. I'll show them to you next week." I had no worries about the lighting. It was the crowd I was concerned about. I'd have all the light I need. But would I be able to move around to get to all the potential shots.
I made a slow circuit through the club. It took awhile before I managed to find Greg Stoker in the crowd. He was near the sofa on the other side of the stage wall. He was looking at the bar. Or trying to. A human forest had taken root in front of him.
Greg gave me an ironic smile. "Like a drink?"
I frowned and sized up the queue. "No thanks. I think I'll wait a bit. Let's just play it by ear--go solo for now."
"Suit yourself, I'm alright Jack."
"Seen a China dress?"
"No. Not even a trace of a silk worm."
"Must be held up in the crowd outside."
"How is it?"
"Spilling down the street. Somebody sure did a good job getting the word out. I've never seen a crowd like this. Not this early in the night."
"The mystery lady?"
"You saw the press. It was covered in every major paper in town. Who could miss it?"
"They couldn't. That's the point. They're all in here or outside that door trying to get in."
"People believe what they read."
"They sure do. And that dame's got the media sitting up performing circus tricks for her like trained poodles."
Greg glanced over at the bar and back at me. "I think I'll go get a drink. If I can't finish it--I'll be sure to bring it over to you in a doggy bag. You might need a drink before you leap through her flaming hoops."
"Yeah right..." I shook my finger in his face and laughed.
"I'll be checking up on you later." I turned and dove into the sea of humanity. Treading slowly until I drifted up to the front entrance.
Tito, the manager, was sailing in the opposite direction-- right past me.
"Are you taking photos tonight?"
Tito dropped anchor. "I'd like a set from tonight's show. Do you think you could take care of that?"
"Sure. I think I can arrange that for you. No problem."
"Thanks." Tito lifted anchor and quickly sailed off to the rear of the club somewhere. He had plenty of experience navigating in these swift Dahlia seas.
I had drifted up to the telephone booth and stopped to catch my breath. My eyes caught the red-neon shine of a China dress. It stood out in the crowd like a glamorous plume of lava announcing the arrival of a phoenix. The dame turned and faced me. I was only a hand slap away. But I was in luck--we'd never met before!"
"You must be Karyn."
She glanced at my camera and my black and white Hawaiian shirt.
"And you must be Action Man," she said with an amused British accent. Her hair was as black as a raven. Long and straight down to her shoulders. The red China dress clung to her curves. It was covered in pleasing intricate patterns. The silk worms apparently had an extensive knowledge of illuminated manuscripts. There was no way anybody in the room could overlook her.
"I'm surprised. You're not what I was expecting."
She grinned. "I'm not?"
"With your surname, I was expecting maybe a French girl or an American one with a French surname perhaps. Certainly not one with a British accent."
She laughed and shrugged. "No one knows what to expect."
"I wasn't even sure what to expect for a china dress. I rang up a friend and asked him what he thought one was."
"What did he think one was?"
"Like what you've got on. He described it pretty well. Then I was clued in... it's like something Susie Wong would wear."
There was a brief intermission in our conversation. They say you can tell how close you are to a storm by how many seconds it takes for the slap to reach you. I mentally counted to ten. But the slap never came. It was all clear skies.
She just kept on smiling. Sizing me up. Wondering who I really was.
"Well, what do you think?" she said lifting her arms out away from her sides to show off the dress.
"I like it. It's classy."
"I really like the neck on these dresses. It's so high--"
"And enclosed." Words escaped me. My hands moved like I was sculpting a phantom neckline while I fished in my mind for that elusive word. A hip 60's jacket materialized briefly in my mind before it shape shifted into a priest. He'd absolved my memories. Everything was blank.
She watched the pantomime in total silence. Waiting. Wondering. I just couldn't pin down the right word for that style. It's a little crenel in the collar like the ones between the merlons at the top of those towers. You know the kind. The ones they used to lock princesses up in so's they'd have to wait for some knight to come along and slay some dragon so's they could live all happily ever after. Problem is, there just aren't enough dragons to go around. So nobody lives happily ever after any more. It's all just a fairy tale they feed you so's you'll feel better about life. They want you to keep dreaming. That's the bottom line. Life is but a dream.
I'd managed to stakeout a small sanctuary down front next to the pillar. But it didn't look like I'd be able to venture very far from it. I didn't have a whip and a chair to protect myself should I foolishly attempt to enter the hep kittens' lair. I felt as effective as a pack of noodles trapped in this foxhole. It wasn't going to be an easy show to photograph.
Tito was kneeling on the far right edge of the stage. No, he wasn't praying. He had his camera up to his eye. He was lining up a cross stage shot of Keith and Jennifer. This seemed like a good concept for a new show. Crouching Tito, hidden Dahlia.
I contented myself with watching Jennifer through the lens of my camera as I waiting for the right moment to present itself. Attempting to get into the flow of her movements. Getting a feel for how the lighting interacted with her. Focusing and refocusing on the spot that seemed like the one they were both converging on. Taking the shot and rewinding in rapid succession. Ready for another blink of her spatial-temporal soul.
Tito approached me from behind, to the right, with something in his hand. It wasn't his camera. I reached out into the darkness, my hand behind me, somewhere beyond my back. Waiting. Suspended in space. A small thin white card slipped through the darkness and was pressed firmly into the palm of my hand as he passed.
It was an Ohm Night Club business card. The club's cryptic logo sparkled in silver ink. A legend lurked beneath it. "Understated Decadence." I flipped the card over. There was a message scrawled in dark ink on the back. "Dahlia CD release footage, Ohm wants copies please contact Tito." I slipped the card into my jacket pocket.
Tito continued on his journey straight through the dancers--unharmed. Clothing intact. Nothing ripped, torn, or out of place. I'd just witnessed a miracle-- the hep kittens had let him pass. Unmolested. This looked like as good a time as any to make my move.
I worked my way over to where Tito had been earlier. Leaned on the stage floor and switched the lens on my camera. I was fishing through my jacket pockets when someone dropped a ton of bricks. The show spun off into uncharted territory.
Jennifer stopped dead in her tracks and exclaimed-- "YOU HAVEN'T HAD SEX IN 8 YEARS!" She looked gobsmacked. Eyes as wide as Her Majesty's after being informed that she'd be dining on paper plates for the evening with Sid Vicious.
Many heads turned in the enchanted sea. Mine included. She got giddy and very excited. "OH, I'VE GOTTA HEAR THIS!" She raced over to the front of the stage and leaned into the crowd. Somewhere in that huddle was someone with a very strong constitution.
I wondered if Jennifer was having a vision of the shape shifting priest. Perhaps it wasn't supernatural at all. Maybe it could be explained as simply as someone having gotten in the wrong queue outside. They thought they were heading toward the flashing neon sign promising SALVATION. Got spun around in the crowd. Then took a slight detour-- ending up here instead.
Yeah, it was salvation alright. Salvation with no strings attached. They couldn't have ended up in better hands. That's for sure.
I was sinking deeper and deeper into the amorous arms of doom. The harder I struggled--the deeper I was drawn into the matriarchal maelstrom. I had left my sanctuary near the stage and found myself drifting further out to sea.
They say the sea is like a mysterious and dangerous dame. I'd say it's more than just that. Several hundred dames at least. All gathered together in a highly compressed canister of leaking hydrogen--just waiting for the right spark to come along and set it off. Hydrogen, oxygen and a spark. The result is always the same--an explosion--and WATER!
The sweat was running down the side of my face as I struggled against the tide of hep kittens. If I wasn't careful, they'd turn into a riptide. I'd go under... sink to the bottom and be danced to death. Buried under their thick four inch boot heels.
I raised my camera over their heads. Using my hands as eyes. I attempted to take a full stage shot of Keith; Jennifer; the guest DJ's Izm and Venom3; and Derek Simms on trumpet. It was an act of desperation on my part. And knowing the odds, I took two shots. My bet was that the even shot would pay off in some unexpected turn of the wheel.
Then I witnessed the second miracle of the evening. The sea in front of me parted. So I dove in. Surfacing at the edge of the stage just in front of Keith. I only saw him briefly behind that foil wrapped keyboard stand. He bobbed up and down constantly like a crazed Keith-in-the-box that had OD'd on a crate of Mexican jumping beans.
Across the stage, in front of the gigantic fan next to the patio door, stood Greg Stoker. Bottle clutched to his chest. Eyes glazed. Body slowly swaying in time to the music. He was looking into some other world on the other side of Jennifer. So much for my spare pair of eyes. Jennifer had put them under her spell. Greg was out for the count. KO'd by a canary!
I brought out the multi-image filter. I had my eye on the flowers. They were all around me and I had a great idea. I would multiply them and warp Jennifer into a surreal wonderland. The images I was viewing through the lens were intoxicating and hypnotic. Bands of light played around her body like shadows and light playing tag through Venetian blinds. The multi-image filter multiplied them all and they spun faster and faster around her body in a blur of contrast. Strobing and rippling while I desperately tried to focus. I felt like I was pulling several G's. Spinning out of control as the Earth rushed up to kiss a wounded fighter.
There was a screaming sound. Probably Jennifer. I managed to squeeze off one last shot of her before I jettisoned the filter and pulled the ripcord. Then a rush of colour opened up and swallowed me whole.
Yeah, it wasn't a pretty sight. I was melting. Melting fast. Soaked down to the bone. I might as well have been out for a stroll in the Sahara. Dahlia went into their last number. Keith brought out his didgeridoo and sat to the right of Jennifer. She stood next to him singing while the screen blazed away in an explosion of colour and rapid images.
I swam over to the pillar but couldn't get a clear shot. Since I couldn't shoot around the crowd--I'd just have to shoot through it. A dame was swaying just over to my left. Real close. Her motions were not too erratic. Slightly erotic and very well timed. Her waist would make a lovely keyhole frame through the crowd. I lined up my lens alongside her waist and timed her movements. I took my time. I wasn't in a big hurry.
She glanced down. Sized up the situation and looked away--indifferent, if not smug. Granting me a stay of execution. A purple lamp was sitting at the back of the stage to the left of Jennifer. It was the brightest point in my field of vision. And it was pointed right at my lens. It had been fine where it was earlier in the evening giving Jennifer some interesting purple highlights. But not now. Not flaring at me like that.
I tried to line Jennifer up in front of it to hide it from view. No luck. She wasn't moving far enough to the left and I couldn't move to my right. I lowered my camera. Jennifer turned directly toward the purple lamp. She gave it a long stern stare. I raised my camera and refocused. Maybe she'd move in front of it.
I lowered my camera.
Jennifer turned, faced the purple lamp and charged at it. She gave it a swift kick with her thick black heeled boot. The lamp reluctantly spun half around. Pouting a purple haze at nothing in particular.
I just watched in disbelief.
Jennifer rushed back into position and continued to sing as if nothing had happened.
Well whaddya know--a telepathic canary! I smiled. "THANKS DOLL!"
I raised my camera and finished off the roll. I started rewinding the film when I noticed that the dame to my left was giving me a quizzical look.
She was watching me reeling the images I had captured back into its container. I was reeling the camera like I'd just hooked a marlin. Swaying forward and backward as my hand frantically turned the spindle. Faster and faster. A pantomime fisher of souls.
I flashed her a big smile. "Yeah, thanks...." Dropped the film into its dark plastic holder. Snapped the lid on tight and headed toward the bar to replenish my fluids.
After their set, Dahlia retreated to the back of the club to relax and sign autographs. Their signatures scrawled across the artwork of their "Emotion Cycles" CD or on the CD surface itself. A fire act called Dragon Tribe was down near the front of the stage. Arcs of flame could be seen occasionally rising overhead. Eclipsed by the crowd huddling around them on the floor.
I sat on a stool below the oxygen bar watching everyone in the club while I sipped a nice cool drink. I was collecting ice cubes. If I'd had a bucket of them I would have jumped in. If I'd been on the Titanic I'd have gone down on it-- just for the ice!
Behind me, the oxygen bar was doing brisk business. The oxygen maiden passed around menus and clear plastic masks. Several dames lined the upper tier topping-off their lungs. I couldn't see why. They looked just fine to me as they were. Perhaps Dahlia's performance had left them breathless. It's like what they say--one person's vice is another's virtue. This would require further investigation.
Miss O'2 was quite the heady dish herself. Sandy-blonde dreadlocks beneath a yellow bandanna framed her radiant face. She was a Pre-Raphaelite masterpiece in a postmodern setting. Her oxygen bar looking like a gigantic neon lit 50's juke box. Various different coloured vials of bubbling liquid tempted the oxygen huffers. Each containing its own unique aroma of delight.
I mounted the tier. Slid one of the laminated sheets from its receptacle and gave the menu the once over. Lemon Grass, Sublime, Nirvana, Revitalize, Synergy, Eclipse, Tangerine Dream, and Clarity. This is what was being offered. This is what was being inhaled by the beautiful people.
"What's the going rate?"
"Five dollars for ten minutes. And you can switch back and forth trying out any aroma you wish."
Miss O'2 smiled.
"Care to give it a try?"
"No, not right now. Just curious. Maybe sometime later on."
I thought for a moment. "Got a favourite?"
Miss O'2 named a couple. Paused while she thought for a moment.
"I like Eclipse." Then she giggled. It sounded sorta naughty.
I kept hearing her giggle in my mind. Bubbly and effervescent.
Okay angel--Eclipse it is. "Thanks for the tip."
"Sure. Whenever you're ready to try it-- just let me know."
"Yeah, I'll do that."
The house DJ fired up the music and all the bodies packed on the dance floor. Human forms and shadows leaped and spun. Dancing with each other and dancing with no one. They were all of one mind like one gigantic organism in the throws of ecstasy. Unified.
The envious still lined the street outside the club--waiting to get in. It had been the biggest turnout I'd ever seen at Ohm for any show. All this and on a Tuesday night no less. Totally decadent--TOTALLY AMAZING!