The thick, cloying smell of incense wafts down from the balcony of the Paradise Lounge as Thoth, a “tribal gypsy ensemble” with a Goliath-like bassist in a skirt, plays to a barrage of catcalls. The group is most recognizable for the Conan-the-Barbarian image of the duo at its core — a pumped-up violinist and a bongo player who frequently play at BART stations garbed only in fishnets and loincloths.
Despite the lack of a corporate sponsor this year, approximately 1,800 people turned out for the eighth annual “Digital Be-In,” held at the Paradise and Transmission Theatre last Thursday night. A more festive alternative to the MacWorld convention held all week at the Moscone Center, the “Digital Be-In” has become known for its, er, lively entertainment and cutting-edge products.
“You see stuff here that you won't see at the convention,” says a 42-year-old buyer from Indianapolis. “There's a fringe element represented that the larger corporations have lost touch with.”
The main stage and most of the tables are missing from the Paradise to accommodate the dozens of booths that line the walls, everything from the music video game Total Distortion to a display of Chi Pants and its interactive “pants Website” to “Be-In” beneficiaries The Electronic Frontier Foundation, public advocates for citizens on the Net, and Dagga, a hemp-positive group which believes that “cannabis is the single greatest botanical gift to humankind.”
Meanwhile, members of the neopagan multi-instrumental band Haunted by Waters wrap their arms around a spacey “song about the Earth” on the Transmission stage, making full use of a hand-held American Indian drum. Catching the vibe, several middle-aged conventioneers sit down on the floor with cocktails firmly wedged between their feet, forming a semicircular performance space for the the “tantric” belly dancers. “Wow,” slurs a bearded man in John Lennon glasses, “this really takes me back.”
Upstairs, in the pool room of the Paradise, a group of chatting spectators suck on coenzymated sublingual B-vitamins while watching flickering footage of nude bodies dancing at the original “Be-In” held in Berkeley in 1967.
“There's a direct correlation,” says Michael Gosney, the 41-year-old producer of the “Digital Be-In” and the multimedia publisher of Verbum Inc., “between the ideas that came out of the Bay Area in the '60s — personal power, decentralization, and consciousness expansion — and the development of the personal computer and the Internet. There's a cultural thread.”
“As you can see,” comments 25-year-old participant Mark Giannini as he turns a disdainful eye on the milling crowd, “the computer industry is still controlled by former flower children, but, Earth conservation aside, we're definitely not going to follow in that direction, free love and all that shit. Though I wouldn't mind seeing Timothy Leary.”
Despite announcements that the ailing Leary will only be available via PictureTel, rumors of his physical presence circulate throughout the night, culminating in actual sightings and false orders given to security.
“I don't think he'll be with us much longer,” Gosney says in reference to Leary's prostate cancer. “I'm really sorry we missed him. This will probably be his last 'Be-In,' but he was just too fatigued to stay at the Electronic Cafe for the live interview. We plan to post a video interview on the Web in the next few days.”
Other sightings for the night include Allen Ginsberg (unconfirmed), Wavy Gravy (confirmed), Mondo 2000 co-founder R.U. Sirius, futurist Barbara Marx Hubbard, and former Gov. Jerry Brown, who took part in the “Visionary Soapbox” for the experimental live Netcast of the evening's events.
“I wanted to buy Jerry a beer,” complains a disillusioned bartender. “I've always really respected him, but he was so snotty. He didn't thank me or tip me, or anything.”
“Oh well, he probably thought it was an open bar,” suggests a co-worker at a different station. A balding conventioneer barks an order for more Miller and tosses a wad of money across the bar. “But I have to agree that this crowd is pretty fucking rude. I've only had one person say 'thank you' all night.”
“This was the first year that we didn't have smart drinks,” explains Gosney. “We've never emphasized alcohol before. It's not very 'Be-In'-like to be rude to barstaff.”
Greg, a young sound engineer for Disney, calls the “Be-In” an “outlet, a place for computer geeks to socialize, in person, with others of their kind, to talk to people that understand their obsessions and compulsions. Silicon has become the drug of the '90s — people give their computers all their time, all their money.”
While tribal rhythms resuscitated '60s nostalgia at the Transmission, DNA Lounge took its own trip down memory lane last Wednesday.
A full house, including neopunks Tre Cool and Billie Joe from Green Day, turns out to welcome supergroup Neurotic Boy Outsiders. Comprised of an aging Steve Jones from the Sex Pistols, flu-ridden John Taylor from Duran Duran, near-naked Duff McKagan from the Fastbacks, and badly tattooed Matt Sorum of the Cult and Guns N' Roses fame, many punk veterans expect cheap laughs at the most. But within a song or two, the entire house is bopping to the sweat-drenched execution of old faves by the Damned, the Clash, the Stooges, and, you guessed it, the Pistols. High points include Steve Jones pointing out that if you “buy a T-shirt for your girlfriend she will suck your willie”; McKagan's dead-on impersonation of Johnny Rotten during “Pretty Vacant”; and a surprise showing by Rancid's Lars Frederiksen, who dedicates Eddie Cochran's “Something Else” to Max Huber from the Swingin' Utters for “being the only one in the crowd with a mohawk.” Humor and aged-punk reminiscence aside, the Neurotic Boy Outsiders are what a superband should be: a group of talented vets putting on a tight, entertaining gig worth the price of admission. After all, living in the past can't be all bad; everybody's doing it.
By Silke Tudor