A surreal descent into a very strange New Years’s party on the eve of 2012.
See the end of the document for a sad epilogue to this experience not recorded on this podcast.
Copyright Jonathan Zap, 2012
Got a last minute invite to a New Year’s Eve party somewhere in the outskirts of Boulder. I was told it was a wealthy Burning Man crowd. In the hour before I left for the party, I was hanging out with my best friend and his 4 and 7- year-old sons and was immersed in their innocent and magical world of fantasy play. They had a million questions about some of my sci-fi artifacts and had a million things to tell me about the intricate Lego Ninja temple they were building. The invite came in via I Phone and I had to make a quick decision if I wanted to spend an early New Year’s Eve with the kids or go to the wealthy Burning Man party.
I decided on the party. All the buses run free in Boulder/Denver New Year’s Eve, and moments from my door a bus filled with excited party-goers was hurtling me down Broadway. The friend who invited me was on the same bus and we got off at a dark and snow-covered street. Three long and very cold blocks. There was the merest scattering of tasteful secular humanist type electric Christmas lights on the expensive homes— strings of colored lights but a pleasing absence of glowing plastic nativity scenes or illuminated Santas. The neighborhood seemed empty, no party sounds from anywhere, the residents apparently wealthy enough to be off in the Caribbean or Christmassing elsewhere.
We entered the house—-some glad handing and introductions. Within the first second or so I had an immunological reaction to the vibe and felt like I had made a dreadful mistake leaving the kids and being here.
A bounty of expensively catered food was spread out before me and I was in a house that obviously cost many, many millions—-olympic-size indoor pool that occupied a whole wing of the house—highly creative interior design with multi-wall Tolkiensque murals and textured paint that looked like a cross between copper patina and crushed velvet, neo art nouveau metal and wood work, stone mossaic floors with sweeping Tolkiensque designs, colored marble, beautifully subdued and indirect lighting, walls inset with exquisitely complex aquariums and giant plasma screens. A band was playing in the giant atrium-like foyer of the house next to a marble staircase—a band that was incredibly good—the lead guitarist, who looked a bit like David Lynch, had really mastered his instrument. But the vibe of the party, to my sensititives at least, was dark, not quite Eyes Wide Shut dark (though a few wore EWS-style sequined glittering masks) but a sense of dark eros pervaded, and the heavy tragic magic perfume of labyrinthine neurotic complexes, prowling sexual agendas and narcissistic self-assertion was thickly in the air. I lifted my I Phone barely a half inch from my pocket so that I could move that little slider switch to vibrate, and one of the guests immediately told me that photography was strictly forbidden. “_________ will be putting on one of her naked burlesque shows later.” he added by way of explanation. “Doesn’t sound like anything I would want to take a picture of.” I replied, unsuccessfully attempting to surpress an impulse toward snarkiness.
At the moment, I knew no one there but the friend who invited me, but he’s an excellent conversationalist with a lot of original ideas, and he seemed to know many people there to whom I was introduced. I felt better when we left the intensively catered area and toured the house. It was a lot of fun to explore with so much visual detail to take in. Besides the catered food and open bar, every room had at least one table with an expensive blown glass bong filled with ice next to a bowl of giant kola buds. As we walked through this mansion I constantly had a visual congitive dissonance. I loved what the interior designer was trying to create—intimate, Tolkienesque, private, foresty kind of spaces within the person-dwarfing largeness of the house. But wherever I looked I saw that there was an unfortunate aesthetic mismatch between what the designer intended and what the inhabitants had added. Some of what they added was really cool, but there were also little chachkes and really, really bad modern art sculptures of the sort you might see at a gallery and wonder: Who would buy this hideous and unoriginal dadaism retread? —The house provided the unfortunate answer. For example the beautifully designed main staircase had a ledged balustrade of variegated brown marble. The owners had chosen to hideously obscure these beautiful marble ledges with bric-a-brac and who-would-buy-this-shit? objects d’art. For example, one ledge was dominated by a sculpture that consisted of an an unraveling roll of toilet paper, where the paper, made of enameled sheet metal apparently, held up the roll as well as a giant pair of scissors that was suspended as if caught in the act of slicing through the toilet paper. Worse, this sort of stuff, which inevitably had jagged edges and unnatural colors, was put up all over the house in places where the interior designer obviously wanted your eye to restfully pass over rounded surfaces beautifully painted and textured in subdued earth colors.
Visually, I felt the house belonged to the interior designer, not to the owners. I wanted it to go further into the magical Tolkien place he had taken it and visually resented the hosts for sabotaging that look with their additions. Again, I realize that my observations might seem snarky and ungrateful, especially since I was a peripherally invited guest (though announcements later explained the party had been designed that way). Also, I don’t want to single out this event as all that exceptional in its dark vibe. No doubt there were many other New Year’s parties going on in many other places I would have an immunological response to. I often find myself repulsed by social matrices. My descriptions, for some, will reflect unflatteringly back on me—but so be it—I’m obliged to write from my point of view.
There was a Burning Man inspired slightly burlesque quality to the outfits many people wore. I noticed that most of the women were dressed as femme fatale seductresses with super tight sequined or faux leopard skin low-cut dresses exposing enormous clevage, etc. Think Eyes Wide Shut meets Burning Man and you just about have it. A few middle-aged men, who did not appear acquainted with bag pipe technology or anything else authentically Celtic, wore extremely expensive looking Scottish kilts— as well as Eyes Wide Shut style sequined eye masks—a disonant combo that was supposed to look edgy or something but which to me just seemed visually obnoxious. This was mostly not the Boulder ultra-athlete crowd. There were more wealthy hedonist types whose body mass indices would have drawn the scorn of the Boulder athletic crowd. The burlesque show woman, a giant mass of burgeoning sequined middle-aged fleshiness with gigantic cleavage, announced that people were encouraged to be as naked as possible, but as I looked around at the mostly middle-aged crowd of lasciviously dressed people I couldn’t help feeling that most of them would have looked better with more clothing, not less.
I couldn’t smell anything from the mostly neglected bongs and unused bowls of giant kola buds, because the air was heavy with the olfactory cacophony of expensive perfumes and colognes, musks and nocturnal blends meant to be seductive and alluring, but which when thrown together in one giant air space merged into a single musky incencse that if marketed, would be sold in black glass flasks labeled “Obsession Bardo” or “Carnival of the Hungry Ghosts.”
One of my eccentricites is that, if invited to parties or collective events, I will often wear a little laminated “free dream interpretation” sign. This serves to keep small talk away from me (which is where I want it to be) and often brings toward me fascinating dreams and conversations that give glimpses into what’s going on with the collective unconscious. So the conversations I had with people there were mostly about dreaming and the spirit world and so forth. The sign did its job admirably.
Another friend of mine showed up, a naturopathic doctor and his very attractive girlfriend. She remembered me from a party at least six years earlier where I did an I Ching reading for a mutual friend. It turned out she had studied with a deceased Jungian scholar we both knew and with whose family I had some strange karma, and some paranormal experiences related to their deceased son. (I wrote about part of this in a Zap Oracle card: Survival of the Soul and it even plays a part in my fantasy epic Parallel Journeys). We talked about this family we both knew and some parallel paranormal experiences she had that were also related to the deceased son. Strangely, I had just discussed this family with the friend who brought me and it seemed that everyone who intiated conversation with me based on my dream sign had parallel issues related to the survival of the soul and blurred boundaries with the spirit world. For example a forty-one year old woman wanted to talk to me about her seven-year-old son and the intense conversations she would overhear him having with spirits, etc. The party seemed a decadent saturnalia with the spirit world bleeding through, and the sign brought those liminal aspects toward me.
The friend who brought me was having a health problem and needed to leave. The hosts had paid for a free shuttle service to wherever we wanted to go. A moment after my friend told me he was about to depart, there was an annoucenment that the burlesque show was about to begin, and I sensed that this was the propitious moment of departure.
The shuttle driver turned out to be an affable young man wearing a flannel jacket, a subdued version of North Western grunge look that was a pleasant contrast to the sequined burlesgue costuming. He brought us to a generically amphibious looking Audi minivan SUV hybrid sort of a conveyance. The engine was already running and inside the Audi, the whole front of the vehicle was an hilariously distracting info clutter of illuminated intstrument dials, gps systems and video screens displaying vast amounts of German minivan data. No doubt we could have scrolled through readouts of the weight, in miligrams, of the contents of the ashtray, the core temperature of the heated seats and God-only-knows what else. The info clutter was so over-the-top it was funny, obnoxious and distracting all at the same time.
The young shuttle driver, who had been hired by the hosts, turned out to be only 19-years-old. I asked him what he thought of the vibe of the party, and, to my immense relief, he told me he thought it was extremely creepy. He was worried about his girlfriend that he left there. He didn’t want to be overprotective of her, but he said that when people there looked at him and his girlfriend, “…it felt like there were little worms crawling over my skin.” I found this statement fascinating because it resonates so much with the mind parasite vibe I had picked up. I thought of a brief William Blake poem which begins my essay Mind Parasites, Energy Parasites and Vampires:
The Sick Rose
O rose, thou art sick!
The invisible worm
That flies in the night,
In the howling storm,
Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy:
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.
—William Blake from Songs of Innocence and Experience, Plate 37
The party had seemed densely populated with sick roses crawling with invisible worms. By contrast, the last party I had gone to, a couple of weeks earlier, was also in Boulder, a house music party where several talented indie music groups and performers played. Most of it was impossible to classify into sub-genres—gypsy-folk-punk? It was a veggie potluck with much better and more wholesome food than the catered affair. I had been invited in as photographer of the event (if you’re on facebook with me see the Meow House Music Party album) and was the oldest person there by decades. Everyone else was a millenial. There was plenty of sexual vibe of course, but the energy there was altogether more wholesome, creative, ecsatic and well—see the album, I think the photos will tell the story of that party. Here’s one:
During my rushed decision process about whether to go to the New Years Party I thought about my increasing ambivalence about many social matrices. I had only just finished writing Confessions of a Self-Aware Starship which is all about that ambivalence. I thought to myself as I leaned toward going: Should I go to such a party, at the turn of the cycle of the New Year, when so much has come up recently about detaching from the social matrix? I went toward a social matrix anyway, but the effect was paradoxial, my ambivalence was only intensified.
See Incendiary Person in the High Desert Carnival for more on my ambivalence about Burning Man eros.
The number of femme fatale dressed women who seemed identified with the black madonna was remarkable. For more on the significance of the rise of the black madonna see Born Under a Blood Red Moon—Metamorphosis of the Feminine in the Dreams of Young Women
Epilogue The friend who brought me to the party was David “Owl” Koppelman. On Feb. 18, a few weeks after the party he died of the same cause that had us leaving the party early. See:
In Memorium—David “Owl” Koppelman Here’s an excerpt:
Strangely, I had just written about Owl anonymously on New Year’s Day in An Eyes Wide Shut/ Burning Man Descent into New Year’s 2012. Owl was the friend who invited me to the party and we left early because we were both worried that he forgot to bring his inhaler with him. (Owl had many near death experience asthma attacks, so his death from an asthma attack on Feb. 18, 2012 was not unexpected. I lectured him about his health that very New Year’s Eve and suggested to him that he take his anxiety about not having the inhaler with him as a portent and use it to form New Year’s resolutions regarding his health and especially his bad eating habits.)
Another epilogue: When I saw the giant aquarium I thought it looked like the work of my friend Jesse who makes such aquariums for a living. Recently I learned that it was Jesse’s work, but that the wealthy couple who hired him refused to pay for the work because they said they were bankrupt. Jesse lost thousands of dollars trying to take them to court.
Thank you. Your story helped clarify an internal discussion I’ve been having on the nature of “success.”
To close our eyes and let spirit guide…I feel like the Life Force has unplugged me from MANY of the social matrix circles I was involved with…I’ve wondered why….
Thanks for another entertaining and enlightening repast. I totally Got it, and am very much of the same ilk. A lot of predators out there, no matter the mask they wear…
I really enjoyed reading your essay “An Eyes Wide Shut Meets Burning Man Descent.” So provocative and insightful. I’ve been thinking in this direction lately about social matrices — which is one reason why I rarely enter into them — and your thoughts stirred and germinated mine.
Thanks Rob, you probably noticed that I continue to appropriate your phrase, “tragic magic,” which is my favorite phrase of all time.
Great read. It brought me into the story and experience – answering a couple questions, while raising a couple more. 🙂 Thanks.
good piece jon, Its funny, I actually chose not to go out this new years, I stayed home with my cat and then went and fetched my ex girlfriend after she got trashed, I dont know why I didnt really feel complelled to go to some huge party, but then the next day I went to this crazy all day block party in the city that was a really fun time. most people I guess hadnt slept so everyone was pretty loopy but it was kind of funny seeing the burner crowd with their guard down. anyway I saw some parallels with your story as I spent all day agonizing over what party to go to, only to go to no party at all for the turn. In fact I think I was napping at midnight. I must be turning into an old man ; p
Nice article, thanks. I was in Boulder in 2000, and found the atmosphere interesting and exciting… so many sub-cultures in the USA, it’s like a permanent party. I need to go back there, it can be a little middle-class and boring here in Australia.
“Secular Humanism”… Increasingly, I feel those two words are mutuallly exclusive… religion has a bad name these days, but we should not throw out the icons, the wonder, the humility. Po-Mo art is soulless, obnoxious, deliberatedly ugly, as you observed. Give me a French cathedral any day, even though I dont think Christianity is the 100% , it has much wisdom to offer us.
We just discovered you yesterday, love your site. You should make it out to the Oregon Country Faire, great vibe.
I feel like offering my condolences for your residence in Boulder. LOL
I have never been there, but after wasting so much time consuming Wilber’s product, I feel like I’ve lived there in many ways. I have lost all desire to EVER go there.
For some years, I aspired to be one of those people at that party. But that was before I realized what a “dead”-end it would be. With them all in one place like they were, it makes their sad state explicitly obvious. I def have a predatory sub-persona, but it is out of the closet and has been in therapy for several years now. It is possible to rehabilitate some of them. Mine is very clear about the rules of engagement now and has been well-nourished on a diet of honesty and open negotiation which is much more satisfying than what those folks are seeking. Plus, I have aged and the fires have cooled significantly. I am so grateful.
I’m so sorry about the loss of your friend.
Death is such a weird experience. We have spent much energy trying to normalize it, but it has resisted us mightily. I suspect that we are about to “crack the code”, making normalization unnecessary. You seem to be playing a large role in this effort.