Behind the Green Door

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

The J-unit and I have been jonesing to do an absinthe story for some time. Because even if the Sadiscoites weren't able to suck down the real deal for fear of the po-po giving Jugheads grief, there is a true absinthe scene in town. Seems like every time we hit a new club, some wormwood-wanna-be is telling us they like to party with the Green Fairy and inviting us over for a snort. Not that the fascination with absinthe is confined to the PHX. Absinthe references pop up from time to time in films like Eurotrip and the recent remake of Alfie. Why, just the other day, Alicia Witt was on Last Call With Carson Daly, bragging about doing absinthe in Prague with none other than Queen Latifah.

But until now, the only absinthe hoo-ha Jett and I had been to was one where we supplied the absinthe. I mean, it's not like everyone who drinks the shit hangs out with each other, or is even aware of each other. Why, I'd bet you every dollar of Johnnie Cochran's estate that most absinthe connoisseurs wouldn't kick it with the gritty, gutter-noise addicts of Sadisco. As far as the Valley by night goes, there are the connoisseurs, the art freaks, and the folks who just wanna get fucked up. I'm a little of all three, though I lean toward the art freaks. And Jett? Who cares, as long as the bee-ahtch does what I tell her.

Water makes absinthe turn opalescent, or louche.
Peter Scanlon
Water makes absinthe turn opalescent, or louche.
Sugar helps make the bitter liquor more drinkable.
Peter Scanlon
Sugar helps make the bitter liquor more drinkable.

You can draw a straight line from the absinthe frenzy of the Sadiscoites to their creative grandpappies in the world of wormwood. Absinthe was a favorite of Charles Baudelaire, and Edgar Allan Poe. British Decadent Ernest Dowson used to dip his crucifix in absinthe before drinking it. His buddy Oscar Wilde, the Andre 3000 of his day, tripped balls on it. Hard-core absinthe drinker Arthur Rimbaud threw head lice at priests, chased pals with swords, and slashed his fellow poet and lover Paul Verlaine's hands with a knife. Wormwood addict Verlaine returned the favor by shooting Rimbaud in the wrist. According to Barnaby Conrad III's seminal book Absinthe: History in a Bottle, absurdist writer Alfred Jarry rode around Paris on his bicycle, hands and face painted green, high on absinthe, a gat on each hip, ready to make his enemies into Swiss cheese.

Painters swore by La Fée Verte. Anyone who's seen Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge! knows the Green Fairy (played by dime-piece Kylie Minogue) was the inspiration for a hideous dwarf named Toulouse-Lautrec (played by John Leguizamo), who spent his time pimpin' out high-class ass such as Nicole Kidman's "Satine" to pretty boys like Ewan McGregor's "Christian." Actually, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec wasn't nearly as ugly as Leguizamo, but he was a great painter who drank more absinthe than there was water in the Seine. He mixed it with cognac in a concoction referred to as tremblement de terre ("earthquake," in English), and carried around his own absinthe supply in a hollowed-out cane. Supposedly, he introduced fellow painter Vincent van Gogh to the viridescent hooch. During one absinthe binge, van Gogh threatened his homeboy Paul Gauguin with a razor. Later the same evening, he sliced off part of his ear, and left it for his favorite ho as a present. Other than Toulouse-Lautrec, Gauguin and van Gogh, loads of other artists found inspiration in it, including Edgar Degas, Édouard Manet and Picasso.

Modern artists have also enjoyed the elixir: Johnny Depp is fond of the brand La Fee Absinthe, and shock-rocker Marilyn Manson paints watercolors with absinthe themes, though you wonder if his interest in the drink is mostly a conceit. I once interviewed Manson in Hollywood, and I remember him having one of his people fill up a glass of "absinthe" for the photographers with green Gatorade. "I'll kill you if you ever tell anyone about this," Manson said to me, half-jokingly. I guess he didn't want to waste the real thing. Manson's fiancée, Dita Von Teese, takes an "absinthe bath" in a huge martini glass as part of her burlesque act. Even Eminem reportedly likes to suck face with the Green Fairy, and, uh, no, that has nothing to do with the rumors that Slim Shady might like trouser trout.

I, too, admire the legend more than the reality of absinthe, though I do appreciate how it gets you effed up. Despite the nix on the sale of absinthe here in the United States, ordering it online from overseas is simpler than signing up for Internet porn. England and Spain never outlawed it, and a revival of absinthe began with the fall of communism in Eastern Europe and the resumption of absinthe-making in Czechoslovakia.

Switzerland banned it in 1910, after absinthe was speciously linked to two cases of familial homicide. The United States followed suit in 1912. In France, politicians were afraid that absinthe was weakening the Gauls as a fighting force against the Krauts. So when World War I began, they put the kibosh on the absinthe trade, and Pernod, once the most popular absinthe in the land, was neutered. Now even Switzerland has come around, and absinthe is again legal in most of Europe. America lags behind, but if you want it, you can get it. Technically, it's illegal to produce and sell, but not to own. And customs rarely stops it on import.

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