Rave On or: File Under My Misspent Youth

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Dancers at a rave. Experimental photograph by Rick Doble courtesy Wikipedia.
Dancers at a rave. Experimental photograph by Rick Doble courtesy Wikipedia.

When I was in high school, my older sister and I snuck out of the house and went to raves in Des Moines.

My mom knows now. We told her years later that Hannah and I would wait till she and Rebecca (our younger sister) were asleep then open a second floor bedroom window and jump to the ground below. I did that in platform heels, once. Youth is not only wasted on the young, it gifts and forgives and protects the young. I should’ve broken my ankle or my neck. Instead, I just went, “Did you see that?! Did I get a grass stain on my butt? No? Okay, let’s go!”

Raves, for those who were not in high school, college, or the club kid scene in Manhattan in the mid-90s, were just dance parties. It was the music that distinguished them from a bunny hop or a prom or a Sadie Hawkins dance. At raves, this newfangled “techno” music was blasted through giant speakers. Techno — and I’m ashamed to reduce it down so far but it’s late — is an electronic music melange of Chicago house, jazz, deep African rhythms, and the concept that in late-capitalist America, the Body and the Machine are pretty close to becoming the same thing. But it’s got a catchy beat! And you can dance to it! (Seriously: you can really, really dance to it. I learned to dance to it, in fact, and I feel like I can actually cut a rug to most genres of music and I owe this to Fatboy Slim.)

My hometown of Winterset, IA, had a population of 5,000. Des Moines was the closest city and close enough: a 45-minute drive got you downtown. Me, my sister, and our friends — who had snuck out of their houses — had the audacity to take my grandmother’s white station wagon to Des Moines about once a month to dance at a rave. I named my grandma’s station wagon Honky. Honky served us well. We got like eight people in that thing and never had a flat tire.

We didn’t do drugs. We didn’t even drink. I did a little drinking in high school, but that was always at high school parties on level-B roads. The raves, they were for dancing. We got lost in the music. We got lost in a community that wasn’t our own — and most of us didn’t fit too well in ours and we needed to know that there were other communities that existed. We could be different people at raves; perhaps it’s more accurate that we could truly be ourselves. Though we didn’t use the word at the time, we were fabulous. Oh, we were wearing glittery shirts and way too much eye makeup, so I don’t mean we were fabulous. But these infiltrators, these refugees, these desperate, giddy teenagers were fabulous. You bet your hotpants.

The NBC news affiliate came one night to do a story on this crazy youth movement (?) called “rave parties.” I waved to the camera and my friend Justin and I booty-shaked with renewed vigor from atop the bank of speakers, waving and sticking out our tongues in a rebel sort of way, many, many years before Miley Cyrus was born. That clip of us made the news. I saw the report myself at the five-o’clock broadcast. Guess who watched the ten-o’clock broadcast diligently, every night, in bed? Marianne Fons.

That night, Hannah and I went to say goodnight to Mom, just because “We love you, Mom! We just wanted to see how your day was!” We placed our bodies in front of the TV screen till we heard the report was over.

So far away those lives are, now. But the news archives. They live forever.