The Drugs Don't Work, The Boobs Don't Move "Miami" is derived from an old Indian word meaning "land where the boobies do not move." It was dubbed thus in ancient days, when the uncareful traveler was subject to being mauled by vicious packs of shirtless, effeminate men on rollerblades.
South Beach is exactly the pastel dream-state it's made out to be; a towering city of cubist wedding-cakes stacked by the ocean, blushed with neon turquoise and pink, klieg lights on the gaudy spires of the hotels tracing the clouds like quartets of synchronized swimmers. Every once in a while the wall of art-deco structures erodes into a construction area, brooded over by towering cranes, where the stucco has been stripped off a hotel in the process of renovation, revealing flimsy gray walls that stick out like rotted spots in a gleaming jaw. The crowd pushes between rows of cafe tables that almost run the entire course of Ocean Blvd. They're about a third young and gorgeous, a third aging and augmented?by surgeon or gym membership?to resemble youth and gorgeousness, and the remainder ungorgeous, unyoung and ill-advisedly unclothed. In fact, Miami hosts a sizable population of real monsters: impossibly asymmetrical faces, noses smooshed in one direction, enormous chins, mouths missing teeth but attached to supersculpted, bulging bodies or big plastic brandy-snifter tits.
The Winter Music Conference, a gathering of everybody who makes or sells dance music, is held here yearly. It's quite a funny contrast with the old New Music Seminar. For one thing, being dour and defensively intellectual was stylish then; the people here are a little dumber and much, much happier, the way it goes for let-it-all-hang-out disco versus self-conscious smart-guy rock. For another, actual conference attendance is a joke. Sure, the Radisson Deauville, where the seminars are held and the exhibition hall is, is sold out, but nobody who actually has anything of a professional career is up there. They're all around the pool at the Delano, where the staff seems to have been personally trained by Ian Schrager to treat paying guests like dirty freeloaders, and anybody wearing the official WMC laminate should be wearing a Hi! I'm Not a Baller t-shirt. It seems like everybody I know is here for the same two reasons: because the record company paid for it, and because they're in their early 30s and they don't do a whole lot of ecstasy anymore, and this rather stilted bacchanal is the perfect excuse for one's yearly roll.
That's my story. Except I can't find anything for the first two nights.
The first night I wander down to the beach, where an all-day techno-fest is going down?I'm drawn there by the distant house beat, oomph oomph oomph oomph, which I can hear from my balcony over the sounds of the waves. The party is near-concluding, and I find myself walking against a tide of burnt-looking teenage ravers, their glowsticks limp in their hands. I watch a convulsing raver lass being carried over the barricades and shoved into the back of an SUV, which edges slowly through the disoriented mass of folks. I move out of its way and the polo-shirted EMT at the wheel goes, "Thanks, dude." The next night, I go to the Uberzone show at Level, and then the Tony Humphries gig at Bar Room, and then back to Level for the Norman Cook set, all the while bumping into people I know from New York and L.A. They heard that my band broke up last week, and they're all treating me like my great-uncle died. Which is lovely, but if I met you, honorable reader, on the street and your band broke up, or your great-uncle died, I'd definitely give you a bunch of pills as a gesture of compassion. Up and down Washington and Lincoln, where the big clubs are, the air is an Ivesian mess of 300 separate strains of oomph oomph oomph oomph, excepting where the high-hat has been introduced, and the beat goes oomph tsik! oomph tsik! oomph tsik! oomph tsik!
So I go back to the hotel and sit on the balcony, and listen to the wafting waves of oomph oomph oomph oomph emanate from a dozen sources in the darkness. I figure out how to program the channel-titles on the hotel tv. There's a four-letter maximum, so I change them all from ESPN and VH1 and so forth to SEEP, CLAD, TREE, PENS, SHOE, FEAR, THEE, THAT, PEER, FEEL, BARE, every single channel. I have good luck with this kind of prank. Once I turned the abstract prints on the walls of an L.A. hotel upside down, and six months later I got the same room and they hadn't been corrected.
The third night I get lucky. A friend of Carlos hooks me up with a blue pill stamped with the face of Papa Smurf and assurances of superfine quality. I head out with a gaggle of like-minded people to the Cream vs. Spundae party at Shadow Lounge. BT is playing, and everyone else has decided to wait until he's done to take their pills. Not me. I wander out to the middle of the floor and gulp it down and wait.
Nothing happens. The crowd I'm hanging out with is getting a lot friendlier. Hell, the crowd in general is getting a lot friendlier. Everybody's loved up but me. I'm dancing a little unusually fast, but not insanely so. Carlos' friend who gave me the pill, on the other hand, is putting his arms around me every five minutes and asking me if I'm okay. Yeah, I'm okay, fucker. "Isn't this the best?" he asks, his voice cracking with joy. Yeah, sure, the best. Grrrrr.
Finally I figure it out. "You're not on antidepressants, are you?" Carlos asks. Yes, as a matter of fact, I'm on a Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor. "Oh, man," says Carlos. "An SSRI will counteract the MDMA." I feel like a cartoon character cast into the pits of hell: Nooooooooooo! Everybody else around me is giving or getting a backrub.
"So what do you do?" asks Carlos' friend, eyes fluttering in his head.
I'm a singer. Sort of a singer and rapper.
"Oh man, that's so rad. What kind of stuff do you sing about?"
Uh, sort of everything and nothing at the same time.
"Oh wow!" shrieks Carlos' friend. "That's amazing! That's my favorite thing to sing about!"
Oh, uh, great.
"Dude!" he rhapsodizes. "Dude, I'm doing this record, and I'm getting a whole bunch of people to guest on it, you would be so perfect, I mean, I've never heard what you do but I can tell! I can totally tell! It is so great to meet you, you're awesome! Carlos! I love this guy!" He pauses. He sniffles. His eyes get teary. "I promised myself I wasn't going to cry," he says, his voice all trembly.
After the gig we lope down Washington Ave., past all the clubs jammed at the doors with blaggarts clamoring for the guest lists, the oomph oomph oomph oomph and the oomph tsik! oomph tsik! oomph tsik! oomph tsik! oozing out the portals, all over the street. After an hour of effort, we find a cab and end up at an afterparty at a house on the Miami side of the bay. People are jumping off the dock into the water; a couple in matching Adidas shorts are discreetly finger-fucking in the hot tub, as the blue night lightens and begins to get pink-streaked. Somebody finally locates a couple of pills and we crack them into halves. This bald-headed English guy named Graeme who's been bugging us as to whether or not we've got any coke ends up in the circle of fuckups trying to divide the pills among themselves. "Wait a minute," my friend Brian says. "Didn't I just give you half? I think we're missing one?"
"Maybe you dropped it on the floor," says Graeme, trying not to look like he just swallowed it.
After the sun comes up we're back at the Delano. I'm feeling something, even though I'm not exactly getting off, and I keep standing up and doing the running man at hyperspeed, singing "Maniac" from Flashdance. After I sit down, I feel a measly trickle of the chemical running through my limbs. The rooms at the Delano are pure white, and the sun is golden, slipping through the blinds. Brian avails upon me to get the fuck out of his room, offering a selection of natural, herbal sleeping pills as an incentive.
"Where did you get all this stuff?" I ask him.
"They don't call me the homeopathic Elvis for nothing, homey," he replies.