From the October, 1976 issue of High Times comes Rex Weiner’s article on swinging soirées and fabulous fêtes.
Wild parties are like the Loch Ness monster. Few will admit witnessing one, and most disagree as to its exact nature, but the majority opinion holds that something is definitely out there.
Why try to define it? One reason is that hedonism has become a science, and science always demands precise terminology. If it is useful to examine the precise nature of atoms, then it seems just as worthwhile, if not more so, to determine the various elements of pleasure.
Another reason is that the latter portion of the Seventies has not inspired or been inspired by the sort of wildness that seemed so rampant during the Sixties. Parties today tend to feature roomfuls of people flat on their butts passing joints and staring blankly at walls or a gaggle of stuffed shirts standing, sipping wine, nibbling cheese bits while a Neil Young record mellows in the background. You can bet on the conversation revolving around reminiscences of the Sixties and how dull are the Seventies. That is dull indeed.
So to define the wild party may tell us something about something. It may tell us only that somebody’s idea of a wild party is a lot less wild than somebody else’s, or that what we’ve been doing here all night went out with sock hops. But science is unconcerned with fashion; what’s wanted is a definitive theory of wild parties, an empirically proven principle that you can put in your back pocket and carry around without any unsightly bulge until you pull it out and empty all six chambers into the other guests. A theory that will make any party an affair and a night to remember.
Everyone has their own idea of a wild party. Take the Social Register nabobs, for example, whose lives often depend on their skills of party-giving and party-attending.
Socially prominent hostesses have their own special ingredients for throwing parties. Says Mrs. Kelvin Cox Vanderlip of Palos Verdes, “It’s a bore just to have my close friends at a party. I always add guests who are achievers at their fields to make the party stimulating. I recently asked the head of the Rumanian film industry at the same time I asked the head of Planned Parenthood. They were so fascinated with each other that I had a hard time getting them to go home.”
Mrs. Philip Spaulding of Brentwood, New Jersey, declares, “I never invite two bald-headed men to the same party.”
Barbara Howar, the Washington. D.C., socialite, author and perennial talk-show guest, says that her favorite party was a gathering of writers about six years ago. “I sat between John Cheever and William Styron. Most of the people there were writers I’d heard about all my life: I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.”
Andy Warhol frequents classy parties, too, usually carrying his Minox camera and his pet dachshund, Archie. When queried about his views on parties, the conversation went like this:
Q. What do you consider a good party?
A. Well, the first thing is no drugs.
Q. No drugs?
A. No drugs. And a lot of people over 60.
Q. Over 60?
A. Attractive people over 60. Rich people. I like them to be attractive and rich.
Q. How about music? What kind of music should be played at parties?
A. I hate music.
Q. Well, conversation then. Do you like good conversation at parties?
A. No. No conversation. Just people sitting around, like in a hotel lobby. In fact, hotel lobbies are my favorite places.
Q. Have you ever been to a party that could be described as wild?
It becomes apparent that it is far easier to chalk off what a wild party isn’t than to describe what a wild party is. Over the course of this inquiry, many people claimed ignorance and even expressed disdain for the subject, often with a hipper-than-thou tone that bespoke a slight fear. What if they should reveal an embarrassingly feeble idea of a wild party?
Luckily, not everybody is so guarded, and those willing to give vent to their fantasies and their real-life experiences usually started at the same place.
Sex is the first thing that comes to everyone’s mind when they think of wild parties.
“A wild party.” says my old friend Johnny Bob, “is where the girls throw their panties against the wall and they stick.”
“A wild party,” says my old friend Tom, “is where everybody leaves their clothes at the door.”
That seems wild enough. But as anyone who has participated in an orgy knows, simply copulating en masse can be as boring as gym class calisthenics. Joey Skaggs, who during the heydays of hippie, led busloads of hairy, stoned freaks from St. Marks Place on sightseeing tours of suburbia, has this advice on orgies: “Remember where you put your clothes so you can make a quick exit.”
“A wild party?” ponders Patti Smith. “Not since I was, uh, seven. I dunno. I feel kind of strange at parties, like I just go off into a corner and watch everybody. I feel like the guy in La Dolce Vita—detached, sort of. You know, if you don’t have specific morals, then nothing’s really wild: I’m more into ecstatic moments, like whirling dervishes.”
“Like once I went into this beautiful church somewheres in Mexico. It had like Moslem blue tiles on the walls and everything, and in the middle was this big statue of Christ on the cross. Very lifelike, very sweaty, with the blood, and so… so sexy. And all these women were prostrating themselves in front of it. That was pretty wild. I was swept away.
“But I guess the typical American thing is to party, to do things, wife swapping and stuff, and then in the morning feel guilty. That’s the difference between East and West. In the East, they get into dancing and fucking in the name of God with no guilt later. Here there’s guilt. That’s what my song ‘Gloria’ is about.”
“Stars. You must have stars.”
That is the opinion of a professional partier who has chosen to fashion his life into one long party. He is a familiar face on the international party circuit and, wishing to retain his open-invitation status, prefers anonymity. I shall call him Punch Bowl.
“Stars can really make a party,” says Punch. “The wildest party I ever went to occurred at the end of the national tour of a particular rock superstar, whose name I cannot reveal. It was in his L.A. hotel suite. It was just incredible. I walked in and after getting past the bodyguards, I saw that every single person in the room was famous.”
“I went into the living room and sat down on the couch. On the table in front of me was, I swear, a giant silver dish piled high with cocaine. Right next to it was another dish the same size filled with heroin. People were just taking big pinches of the stuff and packing it into their heads.”
“Somebody passed me a joint so powerful I took one tiny puff and felt like I’d been punched in the face. I looked around the room, and people were doing the most amazing things. They were being… well, very free with their bodies. In one corner was [a world-famous writer] having his thing done by a young boy and a naked blonde girl simultaneously. In the other corner was our host, the superstar of all superstars, with a beautiful young girl kneeling busily at his crotch. And right in the middle of the floor was [a world-famous black athlete], his enormous naked body completely covering the girl he was screwing. All you could see was a pair of little white arms and her skinny little legs sticking straight up in the air.”
“And all over the room it was like that, with these very well-known people that you see in the papers and magazines and on television all the time, acting in complete abandon, as though the world was about to end. At one point [a Hollywood sex-symbol actress] came over, and we just started making out like a couple of kids. Didn’t say a word. She simply shoved her hands in my pants and away we went!”
“Anyone with a camera that night could have made a fortune. That is, if he could have gotten past the bodyguards.”
Punch Bowl’s account sounds pretty wild, but then not everyone has entree to celebrities, or even wants to. It takes much more than inviting a famous person to ensure that it is a wild party.
Parties often escalate into wildness when the host or hostess makes a grand gesture that the guests will never forget. Usually this involves a stupendous expenditure of money or time, or both, resulting in a dazzling, delightful, entertaining display of the party-giver’s most hedonistic fantasy. Guests are flown to a private island where famous rock bands put on a concert. Silver fountains spurt champagne. Birthday cakes explode with sequined hookers dancing the boogaloo.
Perhaps the most extravagant party since Nero torched Rome on his birthday was producer Mike Todd’s anniversary celebration, back in the 1950s. He was celebrating the enormous success of his film Around the World in Eighty Days, and Todd told the newspapers he was going to give “a private little party.” On the night of October 17, 1957, that was exactly what the marquee of Madison Square Garden read: “A Little Private Party.” Inside the huge old Garden were 18,000 people.
What Todd had done was sell the television rights to CBS. It was perhaps the only party in history to feature Walter Cronkite as anchorman, a full staff of roving reporters and a national television audience for an hour and a half.
“Both the props and general atmosphere of a circus,” was how the New York Times described the event. There was a Shriners’ band, 260 dancers, floats, horses, clowns, Siamese cats, Texas trick riders, knights in armor, thousands of balloons and hundreds of celebrities in black tie and formal gowns. Garry Moore was the M.C., and Senator Hubert Humphrey toasted Todd as a fellow Minnesotan. There was also “the world’s biggest birthday cake,” sliced by Todd’s brand-new wife, Elizabeth Taylor. Loads of free gifts were distributed to the crowd, donated by manufacturers who wanted their products plugged. The Garden guards bootlegged champagne to the upper balconies at five bucks a bottle. Outside the doors, a melee broke out when mobs tried to crash in.
When asked how much the “little private party” had cost, Todd replied, “I wouldn’t know, I’m an artist. I don’t think in terms of money.”
Perhaps the only modern entities carrying on in the Todd tradition are the record companies, which regularly stage bashes to promote rock groups. An enormous party was held for Alice Cooper in 1972 at the Chesington Zoo in London. Invitations were sent out in the form of Barnum & Bailey posters. The festivities were sparked by a mingling of celebrities, freaks, animals and strippers. A similar extravaganza marked the end of the Who’s 1974 tour. New York’s cavernous Manhattan Center was jam-packed with people, pushcarts full of weird foods, snake charmers, a roller derby, and porn film star Marc (“Ten-and-a-half”) Stevens streaking about clad only in silver paint.
In 1973, the Stax record company organized a conference for rock critics that many participants remember as a wild party. Stax blew about $40,000 flying rock writers to Memphis, putting them up in hotels, feeding and boozing them. Less time was spent actually conferring than on drugs and sex. While most had fun, the album reviewers indignantly refused to consider the affair a bribe.
But the most wildly extravagant party occurred on July 16,1975. It was attended by only four persons. At noon on that day, two Americans and two Russians got together about 140 miles over the Atlantic, just west of Portugal. As they shifted over toward Amsterdam, the two cosmonauts from the Soyez space capsule partied with the two astronauts in the Apollo craft. They shared some lunch. They exchanged small talk in each other’s languages. They handed each other flags and little gifts. Like Mike Todd’s party, this too was televised. It was not much for wine, women, and song. But at 140 miles, it was the highest party ever.
Those who have read Albert Goldman’s Ladies and Gentlemen, Lenny Bruce!! are probably familiar with a character named chic Eder. A doper hero who has done 18 years of partying at the hospitable federal accommodations in Fort Leavenworth and points west, chic is very much the action-philosopher of the wild party:
“First ya gotta get rid of the squares. That’s the first thing, okay? Now ya gotta have a lot of what I call loositude. That’s the second thing. Next, I think ya gotta have a little danger. Push the limits, see? Now I been to parties where they played Russian roulette. A guy pulls out a gun, leaves one bullet in it and passes it around. A lot of people chicken out, though. One guy I remember, he was the host. He said, ‘Hey put that thing away. I don’t want you messing my house with blood and guts!’”
Danny Fields, of 16 Magazine, states that a wild party is where “people try to kill themselves.” Undoubtedly, death does add a memorable touch to any gathering. The most notorious party of that sort happened in the very early days of Hollywood madness.
As Kenneth Anger relates the story (in his book, Hollywood Babylon), silent film star Fatty Arbuckle was famous for hard partying. For instance, when the rotund plumber-turned-actor first signed with Paramount Studios, a party was given in Boston at a place called Brownie Kennedy’s Roadhouse. Says Anger, “The lavish entertainment laid on in Fatty’s honor included twelve ‘party girls’ who were paid $1,050 for their contribution to the evening’s fun. A bluenose busybody peeking through an open transom just as Fatty and the girls were stripping on the table, decided ‘decency’ had been outraged and called the cops. Attending the festivities were movie magnates Adolph Zukor, Jesse Lasky and Joseph Schenck. They ended up paying $100,000 in hush money to the Boston district attorney and Mayor James Curley.”
The scandalous party that ended Fatty Arbuckle’s career and the life of a 25-year-old model named Virginia Rappe began on September 3, 1921. On that day, Fatty checked into the opulent St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco, taking three adjoining suites on the twelfth floor. Anger’s account takes it from there:
Fatty rang up his bootleg connection, Tom-Tom the bellboy, found some jazz on the radio, and the party was on. On Labor Day afternoon, Monday, the party was still going strong. It was Fatty’s “open house” with people coming and going, the crowd swollen to about fifty and the host a happy drunk. Virginia and the other girls were downing gin-laced Orange Blossoms: some shed their tops to do the shimmy: guests were trading pajama bottoms and the empty bottles were piling up. At about a quarter after three, Arbuckle, flopping around in pajamas and a bathrobe, grabbed Virginia and steered the tipsy model to the bedroom of suite 1221. He gave the revelers his famous leering wink, saying, “This is the chance I’ve waited for for a long time,” and locked the door.
Moments later, according to court testimony, the party was interrupted by shrill screams and terrible moans from behind the door of 1221. Fatty suddenly emerged in crazy disarray, with Virginia’s hat stuck on his head. Behind him, the young girl lay on the bed in a tangle of ripped underclothes and bloody sheets. She died five days later, and the state ruled that her death was due to “external pressure” applied by Arbuckle during sexual intercourse. He was charged with murder and though he was acquitted after three spectacular trials, the rumor persists to this day that Fatty Arbuckle killed Virginia Rappe with a Coke bottle used as a dildo.
But those were the days when ads for Hollywood films promised “Beautiful jazz babies, champagne baths, midnight revels, petting parties in the purple dawn, neckers, white kisses, red kisses, pleasure-mad daughters, sensation-craving mothers… The Truth! Bold. Naked and Sensational!”
It seems that one necessary ingredient of any wild party is a bounteous supply of intoxicants. For if wild means anything at all, it must certainly point to the shedding of ordinary inhibitions. That, of course, is precisely the effect of liquor, pot, hallucinogens and like substances.
“Grass,” opines Danny Fields, “kills parties.” However sedative it may be, grass today is smoked in copious quantities at most parties, wild or not. At Rastafarian shindigs, which entertain a high degree of wildness, joints the size of bazookas are huffed in time to throbbing reggae rhythms.
Hallucinogens, though, can create the most bizarre of all party atmospheres. This fact was frankly developed into a way of life in the mid-Sixties by the group known as the Merry Pranksters, led by Ken Kesey. The Pranksters invented a new sort of party, the Acid Test, fueled by high-decibel music, gaudy lights and LSD. Perhaps the maddest, craziest Acid Test the Pranksters ever pulled off was in early August 1965. It was recorded by Tom Wolfe in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test:
The next thing the citizens of La Honda knew, there was a huge sign at the Kesey place—15 feet long, three feet high, in red, white and blue: THE MERRY PRANKSTERS WELCOME THE HELL’S ANGELS … the citizens were getting ready for the day by nailing shut their doors. The cops were getting ready for the day by revving up ten patrol cars with flashing lights and ammunition. The Pranksters were getting ready by getting bombed.
The Angels, for their part, didn’t know what to expect. Nobody had ever invited them anywhere before, at least not as a gang. They weren’t on many people’s invitation lists. The Pranksters had what looked like a million doses of the Angels’ favorite drug—beer—and LSD for all who wanted to try.
The Angels got pretty drunk and many of them tried LSD for the first time. Soon, as Wolfe describes it, the party was going full blast:
The Pranksters had everything in their electronic arsenal going, rock ’n’ roll blasting through the treetops, light projections streaming through the gorge, Station KLSD blazing and screaming over the cops’ heads, people in day-glo regalia blazing and lurching in the gloom, the Angels going Haw—Haw—Haw. The Hell’s Angels party went on for two days and the cops never moved in.
And then there was Woodstock. With half a million guests, it ranks as the biggest party of all time, not counting the Normandy Invasion and the Crusades. The wondrous effects of grass, acid and mescaline are often credited with keeping the crowd from noticing that they were sitting in mud with the rain pouring down, generally unable to hear the music they came for.
Concerning LSD and the Hollywood party crowd, Punch Bowl again relates an extraordinary episode: “If I reveal her name,” he cautions, “it would inevitably get back to me in some unpleasant manner. Just say it was a very famous and beautiful actress with an enormous modern mansion way up in the Hollywood Hills. Several years ago she sent out about a hundred invitations. Very elegant. ‘Please come to my acid garden party,’ et cetera.”
“Now, her house is surrounded by acres and acres of splendidly landscaped gardens with little hills and dales. Flowers and tropical ferns and shrubs all over, with pretty ponds and rushing brooks. It was a bright, warm, sunny day. Multicolored silk tents had been erected, with Persian rugs and pillows scattered everywhere. Baskets of luscious fruit of every imaginable variety sat on long tables. And of course there was a delicious fruit and herb drink laced with a dilute mixture of LSD, so that a simple drink or two would give a mild buzz. Many drinks sent you off into orbit.”
“The whole day, musicians played. Famous rock stars just picked up instruments and gave little concerts. People sang. People strolled about in weird costumes or just plain stark naked running across the lawns. And, oh, there was so much sex!”
“Masses of people formed a huge fucking pile in an underground garage. Others paired off and pleased themselves underneath the silk tents. I remember one vivid scene where a famous Vogue cover model sat in a pink bathtub on the lawn making love noisily for about an hour with a young actor stud. A small crowd stood around and applauded each orgasm. And the whole affair, because of everyone being so high on acid, seemed like a fantastic dream.”
The undisputed king of party intoxicants, though, is liquor. Whether it be cheap wine, beer, whiskey or high falutin’ champagne, booze seems to contain the power to transform any gathering of two or more people into a party. And every booze-up, no matter how crazy, aspires to a lyrical, romantic kind of condition that F. Scott Fitzgerald described in The Great Gatsby:
There was dancing now on the canvas in the garden; old men pushing young girls backward in eternal graceless circles, superior couples holding each other tortuously, fashionably, and keeping in the comers—and a great number of single girls dancing individualistically or relieving the orchestra of the burden of the banjo or traps. By midnight the hilarity had increased. A celebrated tenor had sung in Italian, and a notorious contralto had sung in Jazz, and between the numbers people were doing ‘stunts’ all over the garden, while happy, vacuous bursts of laughter rose toward the summer sky… I was enjoying myself now. I had taken two fingerbowls of champagne and the scene had changed before my eyes into something significant, elemental, and profound.
Throughout all these accounts runs a familiar thread; each was an occasion for surprise. Whether it be unusual sexual license, the sight of rare faces, lavish display, the possibility of danger or the effects of sensory dislocation, these elements all stimulate a radical departure from normal life. It may be a pleasant diversion or a horrible tragedy, you may remember the event forever or die during it. But a wild party is never what one expects it to be, and that is the secret of its success.
“You cannot plan a wild party,” was one frequent comment encountered during this inquiry. That may be true. But we can always try.
How To Throw a Wild Party
- Pick any night other than Saturday. (People always have other things to do.) Friday and Sunday are best.
- Provide lots of differentiated space: a room for loud music and dancing, a quiet room for conversation, private areas for lovemaking, etc. Give people space to explore.
- Lay in an ample stock of booze, dope, acid or whatever combination of intoxicants you plan to offer. Nothing kills a party faster than having the stuff run out early.
- Invite several vastly different crowds of people who do not know each other: stockbrokers and bikers, artists and construction workers. Exciting combinations often develop.
- Unless throwing an exclusively gay party, make sure there is a close to 50-50 mix of men and women. Unless it is a swingers party, see to it that there are a good number of unattached people circulating with couples.
- Provide toys and activities for the guests: continuous slide shows, a porn-film, balloons and noise-makers, an arsenal of water pistols… of real pistols.
- Do something unexpected: fill your pool with green Jello, arrange for friends dressed as cops to “bust” the party, start a fight, set the house on fire.