SMOKE: House Parties

Originally published: 13 May 2004

Very few people seem to have house parties these days. My life as a student consisted mainly of house parties, but as I've got older they have become get-togethers with relatives, and never the heaving mass of sweaty young flesh, paralytic drunks and good hard rock they once were.

These days it seems as if everyone goes clubbing, or out to dinner, and the occasional invite to someone's house for a party always involves 80s and 90s rock and pop classics being played through a stereo at neighbour-friendly volumes, with groups of people sitting and chatting to each other in a soiree of responsible drinking.

And someone will always be driving someone else home, and therefore won't be getting drunk.

That's sad, man.

The stark reality for me is that the 80s and 90s were my time, and although I don't believe you have to take up knitting, stamps, bowls or macramé the day you turn 30, it's impossible to remain on the cutting edge of violent debauchery, where one would naturally want to be.

I'm in touch with popular culture, but not living it. There's a big difference.

When I was a student there were house parties every week. Half of them would be at places where you didn't even know the host, much less anyone other than your own group of friends.

You'd just pitch up and pitch in. If you were unlucky enough to lose your friends you could well wake up the next morning in a house you had no recollection of, with a roomful of similarly hungover, dazed and confused folks sleeping around you.

There was always some intense older dude with sideburns and a chilled Cape accent rolling an enormous doob in the kitchen, and it was always, like, prime rack, dude. Anyone passing through the kitchen could stop for a toke, and if you had a lungful or two you weren't right again for a week at least.

Always handrolled, never with mix, and he always had a personal Rizla pack autographed by Bob Marley back in the summer of '79. The sort of oke who would pay R10,000 for a packet of seeds and spend six years cultivating them hydroponically in the spare room. The kind of bloke who seriously lives the drug. You know the one.

The lounge always contained at least one sofa pushed away from the fringes of the light, upon which an inevitable couple would be snogging, and floor and tables would be convered with numerous empty beer bottles - with just a swish of beer in the bottom to extinguish the cigarettes dropped into them.

I once took a fat swig of a bottle containing at least 40 cigarette butts (mistakenly believing it to be my beer), and had swallowed before I realised something was wrong. I must have swallowed five butts and the murky, grey beer in the bottom washed 'em down.

A Nicotine Surprise. Mmm. That hit the spot. Headrush, baby.

Outside were always groups of people laughing and talking, and at every house party you would find at least one chick with glitter in her hair twirling around by herself in a comfortable narcotic haze with a half-smile upon her face. Lost in the beauty of her own inner thoughts.

I usually had my guitar with me (we always rehearsed shows at night, then went to the party afterwards, and since I played my guitar in most shows I always had it slung around my back), and more often than not I would be forced - by sheer weight of peer pressure - to play it.

If I was drunk enough I would, and funnily enough I was better drunk than I was sober. Someone would drag up a chair and I'd get cracking, playing from a selection of about 40 of my own songs.

I could never play cover songs (other than for the few I taught myself the guitar with, like Hey Hey, My My [Into the Black] by Neil Young, and a Bob Marley track or two), so it was always a leap of faith to play my own stuff for people I didn't know and who'd never heard it.

The song that always got the most attention - for rather obvious reasons - was entitled 40 Human Heads In A Yellow Plastic Bag, which contained references to slaves, wolverines drinking whiskey, acid baths, a butcher with a carving knife and, of course, 40 human heads in a yellow plastic bag.

I wrote it one night at the Grahamstown Festival at around 4am in an alcohol-poisoned state, and fortunately had the foresight to write it down, chords included.

When I woke up the next day I found the written song and had no idea what it was, and it was only once I started playing the chords in sequence that it started coming back to me.

It didn't make much sense, but folks seemed to enjoy it and the imagery was as interesting as you're likely to get.

And that's the sort of thing you could get away with at a house party - playing guitar, laughing with interesting people, getting catatonic, smoking rare 'erb in da kitchen, dancing, kissing strange girls, weaving in and out of interesting situations.

Part of the attraction was the complete lack of responsibility for anything and the knowledge that no matter where the night took you, you'd be OK.

I suppose the reality check comes when you are forced to fend for yourself, and at some stage the whole party just comes crashing down.

It's a helluva hangover.

All Smoked Out,
Luke Tagg
Spending time online does bad things to a person, but I'm OK.

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Copyright © Luke Tagg. All rights reserved. A few lefts as well.

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