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A ‘90s Story...Dope And Death On Sunset

By Mike Greenblatt

The Grafton-On-Sunset Hotel is just east of The Viper Club, Johnny Depp’s Harlem/Jazz Age-inspired room where River Phoenix accidently overdosed in 1993 at the age of 23. It’s just west of the Chateau Marmont Hotel bungalow where John Belushi accidently overdosed from a lethal injection of cocaine and heroin in 1982 at the age of 33. Belushi, on that fateful night, partied just up the block at The Roxy with Robin Williams and Robert DeNiro hours before breathing his last breath. The Roxy’s also in walking distance of The Key Club. Welcome to Sunset Strip in West Hollywood where girls who look like they’re 12 dress up like hookers and boys who look like extras from a British punk movie circa 1979 proudly display their piercings, plumage and purple Mohawks.

I knew I was in for it when the concierge sat me down with the hotel psychic who told me I had great communicative powers and that someone would fall in love with me real soon. A hotel psychic? I wasn’t in my room minutes before I was invited to go see Dope and Pigface at The Key Club. I was in town to interview Slipknot at producer Rick Rubin’s haunted Harry Houdini mansion in the Hollywood Hills.

So I walk into this dark club wearing my Dying Fetus t-shirt (a death metal band who loved my headline of “Swimming In The Amniotic Sac Of Newfound Fame”) and Yankees cap. Inside the non-smoking club, I ascend to a V.I.P. balcony to watch Dope dramatically twirl their dreadlocks to the beat and pump out an accessible stream of hardly-metal rock-heavy funk. I meet the gaggle of girl publicists who are more than happy to keep refilling my jack’n’coke. Maybe it was all the alcohol but Dope started sounding much better than I could’ve ever imagined. As Editor of Metal Maniacs, I was used to a steady diet of Death-, Doom-, Black- and Power-Metal. Anything else wasn’t “Maniacs material.” And Dope never made the cut. But the visuals, the sound, the performance, the all-out action-packed rock’n’roll energy emanating from the stage that excited the soul and tickled the groin had me at chord #1. Afterwards, one of the publicists goes, “you gotta go on their bus and talk to Edsel Dope.”

I do?

The lead singer is spread out in the rear compartment with a nubile blonde whose skirt keeps riding further and further up her leg. I can see what color her panties are (pink). They’re both busily sucking on a big hookah filled with pot, its pungent odor permeating the premises, mixing with the smells of expensive perfume, cigarettes, gas exhaust and human sweat. The room fills up quick with label-folk, hangers-on, press, friends and strangers. I move over on the couch accepting a bong hit and press thighs with the blonde who smiles and doesn’t move. When Edsel Dope realizes Metal Maniacs is on the bus, he goes into a friendly stoned ramble about how kids should lighten up ‘cause this ain’t brain surgery, it’s rock’n’roll, it’s supposed to be fun and Metal Maniacs, with its limited concept of what is and isn’t metal, only hinders the mag from garnering new readers. I accept another toke and debate the point.

“I like The Police,” says the blonde.

I’m having trouble remembering what conversation we’re on.

Minutes later (or was it hours?), a publicist takes my arm and escorts me back into the club where she promptly deposits me in the middle of the dancefloor where we start diddley-boppin’ to Pigface. The music is body-friendly and I lose myself in an orgiastic ritual of total abandon. I see my hostess dancing over in a corner of the room and my skin is producing a humming sensation like a gentle vibration. The bass throb tells me to keep dancing. The publicist disappears but it doesn’t matter. It’s all in the moment and the moment is now, pounding and driving its point home. I dance on. I start bumping into people and people start bumping into me. I’m encompassed by an all-out vibration that seems to swell from my insides out to my wildly swinging limbs. I start to kick, and voluntarily convulse, twitching and writhing with kneejerk spasms to the crazy syncopation. Pigface is damn good! I rock on with my bad self and charge into my neighbors with even more gusto who charge right back…hard. I feel like I’m a charging rhino in the jungle.

Suddenly I have the distinct impression that my hostess is back up in the V.I.P. section having a good old time watching me make a fool of myself. Seconds after experiencing this momentary pang of doubt, a big palooka, stripped to the waist, crashes into me a little too hard and knocks me off my feet. I go crashing to the floor but rebound in a flash, bumping back into him before going into a rather defensive shadow-boxing stance, still moving, circling to the right, wary, cautious, still dancing, still grooving, ready to take on all comers. I seem to be on the periphery of the mosh pit, something I’ve assiduously avoided like the plague. But it’s cool. I’m just alert to any future invasions of my space.

Meanwhile, Pigface is barnstorming through odd angles of asymmetrical math-funk as complex in execution as it is indecipherable lyric-wise. Hell, nobody’s listening to the words anyway. We’re all just bashing away at each other. To that end, I get even more aggressive, shadow-box dancing and purposely roughhousing when another bigboy bashes into me from the concentric midpoint of the circle. Now, instead of taking the hit, I push him back into the pit with both hands…even harder than before. Nobody seems to mind. Nobody’s questioning the irony of this politically-active pacifist hippie from the ‘60s getting all violently gung-ho within the big dance. The music that’s fueling the action has morphed into a Sly & The Family Stone-type funk-nut tempered by a highly stylized strain of psychedelic electronica-dance-metal and it’s getting louder and louder. The strobe lights are strobing and the mesmerizing hypnotic beat is transfixing and all thoughts that I’m 3,000 miles from home, stoned, alone, at some ungodly hour bashing into total strangers have left me. So has reason itself. Push and be pushed. One with the mob. Delightful temporary insanity.

When the music’s over, they turn off the lights. The silence is deafening. After the obligatory applause, the lights are turned back on and everyone looks at each other dazed. The club is emptying out. I can’t find anybody. Where was my hotel? What’s the name of the hotel again? Which way on Sunset is it? Climbing my way back into reality proves way too hard and much too taxing. Compounding the disjointed weirdness of the moment is my state-of-mind (I’m still high) and the fact that I seem to be in some odd Twilight Zone netherworld in-between the two days. It’s not yet tomorrow but today is certainly over. Has been for hours. I need a drink. After calming my nerves with a double-shot of Jack, I start meandering down Sunset—or is it up?—not knowing if I’m walking in the right direction. It certainly would be nice if I could remember the name of the damn hotel. My discomfiture at my predicament gives way to anger at being left to fend for myself by my so-called publicist hostess. Suddenly, I remember I have the room card which acts as a key but I can’t read it because I don’t have my glasses. The walk, though, is rather pleasant. It’s winter but it’s warm. Being from the Northeast, this warmth in the morning prior to sunrise is comforting. So I slowly walk on, as if in an amusement park. There’s still a lot of funny-looking people on the street. I keep walking and walking, gradually fighting down an acidic panic that starts in the back of my throat.

“That’s enough of this shit,” I think as I hail a cab. I fall into the back seat and show the hack the card key. I was walking in the right direction! The hotel is still a good 10 minutes away by car. Once firmly ensconced in my room, I have to marvel at the kind of night it turned out to be. I watch the sun rise through the window and chuckle appreciatively to myself.

There’s a certain etiquette in the moshpit. The roughness is softened by the looks in the eyes of the participants as they push and shove. Maybe these boys noticed I was about three times their age. Did they think that was cool? Did they offer me more a “polite” hit than they would’ve had the object of their mock violence been more of a peer? I’ll never know. All I do know is that for one brief moment, for one crystallized gutpunch of a music moment, all was right with the world and what felt like true and absolute freedom was at my fingertips, in my feet, my gut. I had never heard of Pigface before. I have not heard them since. But I hail them for making me feel the way I felt that wonderful night in that weird town. And I guess that’s the best you could possibly ask any band to do.

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