Behind the Green Door

Kreme and Jett court madness, drunkenness and death runnin' after absinthe's La Fée Verte.

It's the witching hour at Sadisco, and the bisexual Brittany Murphy and I are watching a Victorian snuff-play done to throbbing industrial music that sounds like rusty steel grinding against broken glass. One by one, women dressed like Heather Graham's whore buddies in From Hell are chased onto center stage by Jack the Rippers in top hats and ties, or black coats and corsets for a touch of transvestism. The first victim is hung like a rag doll from a noose. The second is strangled bare-handed by her pursuers. The third is stabbed mercilessly, her intestines pulled from her and tossed onto her ersatz corpse.

Each slaying is sexually charged, an example of that sexual sadism referred to by some shrinks as "lust murder." Papering the walls behind these pantomimed vignettes is a series of staged photos by art photogs Justin Baker and Joi Carey (a.k.a. Agony Bliss) showing the mutilated, naked corpses of mostly women and some men. One group of snaps in particular by Carey shows the obscenely splayed bodies of three naked chicks in an alley, a bottle of absinthe nearby. On the wall next to the photos is a black curtain with green skeletons on either side of a large, pale-emerald heart, one chugging absinthe, the other wielding an ax. The creation of Sadisco artist Starlyn Munzer, the macabre banner spells out the party's theme at the bottom, where it reads "Crime Lab Absinthian" in chartreuse.

"This shit is weird, Kreme," my cohort mumbles about the sicko live show, taking a hit from the pint glass of milky, silky-sweet liquid in her right hand. "Makes for a cool absinthe party, though."

The romance of ritual: Cold water dripped slowly over sugar cubes into absinthe makes connoisseurs coo.
Peter Scanlon
The romance of ritual: Cold water dripped slowly over sugar cubes into absinthe makes connoisseurs coo.
The poets' potion: bottles of true Spanish absinthe.
Peter Scanlon
The poets' potion: bottles of true Spanish absinthe.

I have to agree with the Jettster, save for one important fact: What's being served at Sadisco's Crime Lab Absinthian, including what Jett is drinking, is not true absinthe. Rather, what these dapper, black-clad playas are guzzlin' at this recent blowout inside the bar Jugheads -- where Sadisco pops off once a month -- are Pernod and Absente, two fake absinthes. As any absinthe Poindexter-type will tell you, these French liquors lack the crucial ingredient of Grand Wormwood, or Artemisia absinthium, a funky, bitter herb, and no, I ain't talkin' 'bout the good ganja, mon. You don't smoke wormwood. It's known for its medicinal value and for containing a substance known as thujone, which at the right levels can cause convulsions and even death.

The FDA prohibits the use of Artemisia absinthium as a food additive (though you can still purchase a bag of wormwood at most herbal shops), and so Jugheads is left to dole out Pernod and Absente, instead of the more potent wormwood-juice. It's the legendof absinthe that Sadisco's industrial-goth kiddies are connecting to, though pinkie-in-the-air absinthe snobs would dis them for doing so.

For the connoisseurs, every niggling point is of supreme importance.

So when Jugheads' barkeep pours a shot of licoricey Absente in a glass, places a slotted spoon across its mouth, sets an Absente-dipped sugar cube atop it, lights it on fire, and extinguishes the flame with a stream of water that turns the green liquor whitish, snooty absintheurs see a perversion of the traditional ritual. But for the 21st-century bohemians and artists of Sadisco, whom Jett and I first profiled a few weeks back ("Low-Rent Libertines," March 3), La Fée Verte, or the Green Fairy, as absinthe was known in its heyday, is a catalyst for their perfervid imaginations. A nightmarish green door, beyond which is insanity, violence and the promise of hallucinogenic ecstasy.

Sadisco artist/shutterbug Carey explains, "I think the appeal is the way absinthe related to art. Old-school painters and writers would drink absinthe and create these amazing works of art. People respond to that, and want to do something along those lines." Carey's absinthe-drenched morgue shots can be viewed in all their gory glory at http://fetishbliss.net/pics/thumbnails.php?album=14.

One of Carey's models, who goes only by Chloe and maintains her own goth/industrial site at www.phxfetishfix.com, says she doesn't like the aniseed taste of either absinthe or faux absinthe. But she has a firm understanding of its fascination.

"It's the evil, the euphoria, the hysteria of it," comments Chloe, who appears in one of Carey's photos as a bloody bathtub suicide. "A lot of people blamed murders on it, and lumped wormwood in with opiates. But I think the absinthe took artists and others to another level. It appeals to people with a darker sensibility, and just about everyone here has a darker sensibility."

"That's similar to what this book I'm reading says," I tell her. "The Book of Absintheby Phil Baker. He compares it to people who smoke cigarettes despite and perhaps because of all the morbid warnings. It gives them a thrill to associate with it. Just as it gives people a thrill to associate with absinthe."

"Of course, ciggies are bad for you," chimes the Jettster, firing up a Marlboro Light. "But didn't you say that even in real absinthes, the thujone level is low?"

"True absinthe is still, like, 140 proof," I reply. "And there are other herbs and compounds in true absinthe that could lead to so-called secondary effects. But even if that's bullshit, there's the 70 percent alcohol, and the allure of its history."

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