I decided it would be a real fun idea to get fucked up on drugs and go see Tangerine Dream with Laserium. So I drank two bottles of cough syrup and subwayed up to Avery Fisher Hall for a night I’ll never forget. For one thing, emerging from the subways into this slick aesthete’s Elysium is like crawling out of a ditch into Jackie Onassis’s iris — a mind-expanding experience in itself. A woman there told me that the management had quite soured on rock clientele, and it was easy to see why: here’s this cornersteel of cultural corporations, and what staggers into it but the lumpy, zit-pocked lumpen of Madison Square Garden. And when worlds collide, someone has to take the slide.
What kind of person goes to a Tangerine Dream concert? Here’s a group with three or maybe even four synthesizers, no vocals, no rhythm section; they sound like silt seeping on the ocean floor — and this place is sold out. Freebies are rife, yet I don’t think that kid in front of me wiped out in his seat for nothing. So I ask some of the Tangs’ fans what they find in their music, and get a lot of cosmic, Todd-Rundgren mulch-mouth. I tell one guy I think they’re just a bunch of shit, a poor man’s Fripp and Eno, and he looks me over and says: ”Well, you gotta have imagination …”
Everyone is stoned. Some converse re the comparative merits of various items in the Tangs’ oeuvre — one guy declares the double album Zeit a masterpiece, another is an Alpha Centauri man. Three times as many males as females at least. A thirtyish guy sitting next to me in ratty beard and ratty sweater reminisces about 1968 forerunner Tonto’s Expanding Head Band, and tells me about the time the Tangs played the Reims cathedral in France. (”6000 people cram the ancient building with a 2000 capacity,” boast the program notes.) ”They didn’t have any bathrooms in the cathedral,” he laughs, ”so the kids pissed all over it. After it was over the high fathers, monsignors or whatever, said it was the devil and asked for an exorcism of the church.”
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Alison Steele comes out, a fashion-modelish silhouette in the dimmed green light, and says that the management does not allow smoking in the theatre. As soon as she says her name, people around me scream out, “Eat shit!” and, curiously, “You’re a prune!” The microphone she spoke through will stand there unused for the rest of the evening, a thin, black line cutting into the psychemodal otherness of Laserium from where I sit.
The music begins. Three technological monoliths emitting urps and hissings and pings and swooshing in the dark, little rows of lights flickering futuristically as the three men at the keyboards, who never say a word, send out sonar blips through the congealing air. Yeah, let’s swim all the way out, through the jello into the limestone. I close my eyes and settle back into the ooze of my seat, feeling the power of the cough syrup building inside me as the marijuana fumes sift through the cracks in the air, trying to conjure up some inner-eyelid secret movie. Oh lawd, I got the blues so bad I feel just like a cask of Amontillado. Yes, there it is, the swirls under the surface of my life are reconfiguring into: Daniel Patrick Moynihan, caricatured by Ronald Searle. He dissolves like a spectre on a window shade, and is replaced by neon tubing writhing slowly into lines and forms until I think it is going to spell out a word, but no, it doesn’t quite make it. Goddamn it, I guess I’ll have to try harder. On the other hand, maybe no news is good news.
I open my eyes again. Now the Laserium, which I had forgotten all about in my druggy meanderings, has begun to arise from the deep and do its shtick on the screen above the synthesizers. First, a bunch of varicolored clots slowly sludging around each other; they could be anything from badly seeded clouds to cotton-candy cobwebs to decomposing bodies. Then two pristine laser circles appear afront the muck, one red and one blue, expanding and contracting and puckering at each other. They get larger and larger until they are gyrating and rubberbanding all over the place with a curiously restful freneticism. The synthesizers whisper to them as they bounce. The music goes on for a long time, varying in tempo and volume — Tangerine Dream is Salmane, not even Valium, on record but when they’ve got you enclosed in their cool room they can be almost bombastic at times. The music seems to ebb off rather than end.
Intermission. Many audience members seem uncertain whether it actually is intermission or if they should just pick up their stethoscopes and walk.
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Back for more of the same, but more aggressive this time, if that’s a way to describe quicksand. The Laserium begins to flash more violently, exploding in dots and points and lines that needle your retinae as the synthesizers suck you off and down and the towering mirrors at the sides of the stage turn slowly, reflecting beams of white light that are palpably irritating but by and gone and by again in a flash. I close my eyes to check into home control, to see if any little twisted-wax visions might be coagulating. Nothing. Blank gray. I open them and offer myself up totally to the Laserium. Flash, flash, flash — the intensity grows until I am totally flattened; I feel like an eight-track cartridge that has just been jammed home. After that, I become slightly bored and restless, although the other bodies around me are rapt. I have seen God, and the advantage of having seen God is that you can always look away. God don’t care.
So, finally, picking up my coat and lugging my clanking cough-syrup bottles, I push my way through the slack and sprawling bodies — out, out, out into the aisle. As I am walking up it, I am struck by an odd figure doddering ahead of me, doubled over under raggedy cloth and drained hair. I don’t trust my Dextromethorphaned eyes, so I move closer until I can see her, unmistakably, almost crawling out the door … a shopping bog lady!
What’s she doing at a Tangerine Dream concert? Did someone at CBS give her a ticket, or did she find one castoff by a jaded rock critic in some 14th Street garbage can? Never mind — there will be a place for her in the wiring of this brave, new world. I myself had earlier considered giving one of my extra tickets to a wino so he could get a little sleep in a comfortable chair. Look. there’s got to be some place to send these whipped dogs so we don’t have to look at them, and where better than Avery Fisher Hall? Let them paw through the refuse of a better world, listening to the bleeps and blips and hisses and amusing their faded yes with the test patterns and static that our great communications combines have no better use for anyway. Just before I left, I turned around for one last taste of the Tangs and Laserium, and by gum, I had my first real hallucination since drinking the Romilar that afternoon: I saw a whole audience of shopping-bag ladies. ■