Screen Shot 2014-03-22 at 3.41.13 PMWhen Karina moved to Miami Beach from Eastern Europe in 2007, she used no nicotine, no alcohol, no drugs, nothing. Although she’d had a problem in her midteens with booze and MDMA, the 22-year-old was determined to begin her new life in America clean and sober.

Soon after she arrived, however, she fell in with a crowd of hard-partying Russians and began drinking again. Before long, she started snorting cocaine to wake herself up when she drank too much vodka. But it was only when she met a group of local gay men who hung out at clubs that her drug use really took off.

Now Karina (not her real name) was doing not only coke but also molly, GHB, and the animal tranquilizer ketamine. Strangely, when she tried crystal meth for the first time, she fell asleep on the toilet and missed work. She was often seen on the dance floor wearing a fanny pack — which she dubbed “the crack pack” — containing not just drugs but also sugar packets, Pedialyte strips, and a banana that helped her ease the inevitable crash. Her friends called her “Dyson,” after the vacuum cleaner, because of her ability to suck up large amounts of cocaine. Still, she remained functional — she held down a demanding day job as a computer programmer that often involved 12- to 14-hour shifts. And she never took drugs at work.

But then a couple of her comrades became addicted, and others lost their jobs. She found that the older she got, the longer it took to recover from drug binges. Today she restricts herself to alcohol and cocaine, but, she admits, even that’s difficult, especially given the environment. “It’s hard not to take drugs living in South Beach,” she says in heavily accented English. “Different types of drugs are everywhere, and people share them all the time. This is not a town where it’s easy to be straight-edged.”

So-called polydrug use — mixing various street drugs and/or prescription drugs either sequentially or simultaneously — will probably be in evidence this week as Winter Music Conference and then Ultra Music Festival hit Miami. Some of the estimated 300,000 people expected to attend the events might consume potentially dangerous drug cocktails while ignorant of the potential pitfalls. Just how dangerous was recently underscored by the death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, who was discovered last month on the bathroom floor of his Greenwich Village townhouse with a needle stuck in his arm. What was initially reported as a suspected fatal heroin overdose turned out be a polydrug death involving not only heroin but also cocaine, amphetamine, and prescription tranquilizers. A combo of heroin and alcohol is bad enough. That’s what killed Glee star Cory Monteith, who was found surrounded by empty champagne bottles and drug wrappers in a Vancouver hotel room last July. Combining heroin and cocaine — a “speedball” — is even worse. That’s what killed comedian John Belushi. But two stimulants piled on top of two depressants? Reason columnist Jacob Sullum speculates the stimulants might have masked the effects of the depressants, causing Hoffman to take more heroin than usual.

Celebrities and electronic-music fans aren’t the only ones consuming dangerous drug cocktails. Increasingly, ordinary consumers are turning to perilous polydrug use. In Florida, there were 117 heroin-related deaths in 2012 (the last year for which numbers are available), only one of which was heroin on its own, a single case in Sanford, according to the state medical examiner’s office.

And it’s not just heroin. In Miami, there wasn’t a single cocaine-related death that didn’t involve other substances. The most common ingredient found locally in fatal drug mixes is the prescription tranquilizer benzodiazepine (followed by alcohol, oxycodone, and cocaine), not surprising perhaps because in recent years Florida has stood at the epicenter of a massive wave of prescription drug abuse that only now is subsiding.

In 2009, James N. Hall, a drug epidemiologist at Nova Southeastern University, conducted an analysis of 1,185 Florida oxycodone deaths in which the drug was considered to be the main cause. Seventy-two percent also had one or more benzodiazepines in their systems at the time of death, and 42 percent had at least one other opioid in addition to oxycodone.

On the national level, drug deaths have doubled in the past decade to surpass automobile fatalities and gun homicides as the leading cause of accidental death in America. The reason is not that more people are using drugs but that people are using more dangerous combinations. “Substance abuse in America has become more dangerous, more addictive, and more deadly than any other period in our lifetimes,” says Hall, who recently warned of an “emerging heroin epidemic” in Florida.

The list of famous actors and musicians killed over the years by polydrug use is long. Jimi Hendrix died from barbiturates and alcohol. Janis Joplin expired from heroin and alcohol. Whitney Houston was killed by a toxic combo of alcohol, cocaine, Xanax, the antihistamine DBH, and a muscle relaxant. Chris Farley, River Phoenix, Alice in Chains’ Layne Staley, and Philip Seymour Hoffman all died from mixing cocaine with heroin or morphine.

Not just in America but also in the UK, the ’90s rave scene played a particularly important role in popularizing polydrug use. “Modern patterns of polysubstance abuse go back to the mid-1990s rave scene when ecstasy was usually MDMA,” Hall says. “Yet even back then, ecstasy did not always live up to its name. Users who expected more of a stimulant rush would begin their weekend with a snorted line of cocaine [or] try LSD… More experienced crashers would ultimately turn to heroin to bring them down after the weekend binge.”

Flash forward to today, and the rave scene has been reborn as EDM, and ecstasy has been rebranded molly. Many EDM fans believe they are safe because they take only one substance, molly, which is supposed to be pure MDMA. The reality is that most molly contains little or no MDMA and often consists of some hideous polydrug combination of various cathinones (bath salts), methamphetamine, and whatever the drug dealer happens to have lying around when he or she fills the capsules.

The role of alcohol in these mixes is particularly problematic. Many polydrug users don’t think vodka or tequila is a drug because it’s legal and ubiquitous. But sometimes it can act as a hidden catalyst that turns a hazardous combo into a fatal one. How many people have woken up after a night of binging on cocaine, opened their fridge to find an empty bottle inside, and wondered, How the hell did I drink a liter of vodka last night?

Similarly with prescription drugs, there’s a widely held belief that because a doctor prescribed the drug, it’s pure, and pure means safe. With a few obvious exceptions — such as fentanyl-laced heroin, the cause of more than 80 deaths in the Northeast within only the past few weeks — oftentimes pure drugs are just as dangerous, if not more dangerous, than adulterated ones.

Another problem is that polydrug users think because a drug’s high has worn off, the substance is no longer active in their bodies. That’s simply not true. The toxic half-life of opiates, for example, can last for days after the initial high, so when the user redoses with more opiates or another type of drug, he or she can turn already-dangerous levels of toxicity into a deadly poison.

As the old saying goes, choose your poison (or poisons) carefully — because chemistry is not a DJ mix set.

But there is good news: The wave of prescription drug abuse so prevalent in recent years has begun to decline. The bad news: Lately, a new wave of drugs, so-called research chemicals from Chinese factories, has flooded the market. Adding another x-factor to an already-volatile mix, some of these substances are so obscure that not even DEA chemists can identify them.

“Polysubstance abuse is not new, but it has exploded in the 21st Century, fueled by wide-scale prescription drug diversion and now the emergence of hundreds of synthetic chemicals from labs in China which are sold online and delivered by worldwide overnight delivery services,” Hall says. “In just the last two years, small cohorts of heavy club drug users have been identified in London as well as other European cities, the United States, and, of course, South Beach. Most have consumed numerous different drugs over the past three months and continue to mix three or four substances daily.”

Originally printed in Miami New Times


“The mystery powder in the clear capsule cost $10, a dead giveaway it wasn’t the substance the dope peddler was claiming it was. Nobody sells the real deal for that price. Examining it under the light, one could see yellowish rice-shaped crystals shifting around inside the half-filled capsule. It didn’t even look like the genuine article.”

Read More: http://www.playboy.com/playground/view/molly-party-drug-ecstasy



“The Last Days Of Jam Master Jay,” Playboy, December 2003

The Story That Broke Open the Jam Master Jay Murder Case:



The Miami Zombie by Frank Owen, Playboy, January-February 2013.

Posted: December 17, 2012 in Articles, Playboy Articles
Tags: , , , Memorial Day Weekend, Miami New Times, Playboy Magazine, Reason, Rudy Eugene, Slate, The Miami Zombie


The Miami Zombie

“Owen’s tolerance of uncertainty and keen nose for fear-mongering bullshit sadly set him apart from most journalists covering drug issues,” Jacob Sullum, Reason


“One of the last bona fide gonzo investigative journalists digs into the media hysteria surrounding bath salts,” Francisco Alvarado, Miami New Times


“But are bath salts really as dangerous as they sound? In a great piece on Playboy’s website, Frank Owen convincingly argues that, no, they aren’t,” Justin Peters, Slate 


“In a patently entertaining and well-researched piece, the author not only probes the heart of the bath salts scare but ventures into the murky legal waters around bath salts by trying them himself,” NSN News, Legal Drug Reviews


Beastie Boys Book Proposal by Frank Owen

Posted: June 26, 2012 in Articles
Tags: Adam Yauch, Beastie Boys, , , License to Ill,

Yosemite Search & Rescue by Frank Owen

Posted: June 26, 2012 in Maxim Mag Articles
Tags: , extreme sports, Featured Articles, , Maxim July/August issue, Maxim Magazine, media, mountain climbing, outdoors, travel, U.S National Parks, Yosemite, Yosemite Search and Rescue


Read the unedited version before it was screwed up by Maxim

Up in the Air: A Daring Helicopter Rescue in Yosemite


Feature by Frank Owen for Maxim


Yosemite National Park

         The rescue began with a cell phone call from an injured climber concerning a severed thumb. The digit in question belonged to — or at least used to, before it became detached from its owner — Michael  Schmoelzer, an Austrian climbing instructor with a weathered face that was now splattered with dirt and blood. Schmoelzer and his partner Richard Edelbacker were ascending El Capitan, a big wall so immense that the mighty Ponderosa pines that decorated the base looked like puny Japanese bonsai trees by comparison

           It was just before 3 pm on September 26, 2011, on the third day of their ascent, when Schmoelzer’s dream of entering the pantheon of the rock gods by climbing this most iconic of obstacles came crashing down the mountainside. Schmoelzer had just clipped an aider — a short ladder made of webbing — into a metal nut he’d wedged into a crack in the warm rock and then pulled his body onto the ladder and moved up a couple of feet to jam a second nut into another crevice. The aider appeared secure as he stepped in it but all of a sudden he felt himself falling backwards. The second nut ripped from the wall and he was now tumbling off the cliff face, but thankfully the safety rope quickly snapped tight and caught him before he could fall any further. Somehow, during the fall, the rope ladder had wrapped around his thumb, severing the finger, leaving behind an ugly mess of exposed bone and hanging tendons. 

         Schmoelzer yelled down to his partner eighty feet below him.

          “Did you see my thumb?”

         “Yes,” came the reply. 

         Oddly enough, the thumb hadn’t bounced off the cliff and into the forest.

         “It’s lying here on the ledge next  to my feet,” said Edelsbacker.  

         Down in the valley, park ranger Dave Pope was feeling beat after finishing up his work as the manager of the Yosemite Medical Clinic when he got a call about a climber in trouble on El Capitan.  Pope — a lean and lofty 29 year-old with a wholesome All-American air and a passion for the outdoors — studied business at the University of Colorado and was headed for a cubicle job in a bank, when his life abruptly changed course five years ago after he joined the Park Service. The pay wasn’t great — $50-$85,000 a year depending on responsibilities — but the sunsets were spectacular and the feeling coming back safely from a successful rescue mission was a high like no other.  In his spare time, Pope had on numerous occasions climbed El Cap, all thirty-six rope lengths of perpendicular granite. He knew practically every nook and cranny. He was intimately familiar with how hazardous the Big Stone could be, even for the most competent climbers.

         Fellow park ranger Jeff Webb was at home in his two-bedroom log cabin getting ready to start his evening shift and was expecting to spend the rest of the day handing out speeding tickets to tourists when his cell phone rang. The skinny, wisecracking 41 year-old adventure addict had spent much of the previous decade working his way around the globe — teaching English in Taiwan, doing odd jobs in Spain, living for a year in Ecuador, pausing along the way to climb Mount McKinley in Alaska and ski the celebrated Haute Route between Chamonix, France and Zermatt, Switzerland. In 2008, he came to Yosemite to become a park ranger, where he soon grew familiar with the hidden dangers behind the park’s pretty pictures. Webb loved his job but he worried about burnout. A head splat here. A broken femur there. Bodies literally split in half from a big fall. It was getting to the point, where every time he looked at the breathtaking scenery, he saw a dead person. Only the previous week another Austrian climber, Markus Praxmarer from Innsbruck, plunged to his death from the nearby Half Dome mountain.   

         Outside, nature was in repose; the weather was warm and the winds blew light. It was a perfect day for a rescue.


         Pope and Webb are members of YOSAR, the unofficial name for Yosemite Search and Rescue. It’s YOSAR’s job not only to save injured climbers on rock faces, but to track down missing hikers and rescue swimmers from drowning in the park’s raging rivers. They don’t always succeed.

         It had been a tough year for the team. Twenty-one visitors had died making it the worst year for fatalities since 1978 and earning Yosemite the unenviable title of “the most dangerous national park in America”.  A record four million tourists visited the park, which covers an area two-thirds the size of Rhode Island. On some weekends, more than 11,000 cars a day passed through its gates. But the main culprit, most of the crew agreed, wasn’t the crush of people, but the unusually harsh winter which caused record high waters throughout the spring and summer after the snow pack melted. 

       Perhaps the most tragic incident happened in July, when three day-trippers from the St. George Assyrian Christian Church in California’s Central Valley climbed over the safety barrier at the top of Vernal Falls to pose for photographs. Onlookers warned them about the danger. 21 year-old Ramina Badal lost her footing on the slippery rocks and fell 300 feet over the waterfall, quickly followed by Hormiz David, 22, and Ninos Yacoub, 27, who were both trying to save her. 

         The church members angrily criticized YOSAR and accused it of not doing enough to save their fellow congregants. Why didn’t it post a lifeguard at the top of the falls? Why didn’t it put a net at the bottom to catch anybody that fell? Why didn’t it order divers into the water? At the time, Vernal Falls was a Class 6 Rapids: the water was flowing at 800 cubic feet per second, equivalent to the impact of sixty double wide trailers going over a cliff every minute. 

         “No diver in their right mind would have gone into those waters”, says Dov Bock, a former hippie chick who grew up living in a cabin in the woods  wanting to be a botany illustrator before becoming YOSAR’s chief of operations. “It was a wall of white.”

         The deaths tore a hole in the close-knit Assyrian Christian community in Modesto. Even after YOSAR gently explained that some people were simply unsaveable, groups from the church continued to visit YOSAR HQ claiming that they’d received religious visions in which God had told them the young victims were still alive and living in a cave at the bottom of the waterfall.

         “What do you say to people in a situation like that?” says Jeff Webb. “You don’t want to disparage their faith, but I knew they were long dead.”

           Two and a half weeks after the devastating event, a rescue team retrieved the body of Hormiz David after finding him about 240 feet from the base of the waterfall trapped under a rock. The search continued for the two other victims but they have yet to be found.  

         Park personnel rejected the idea that more signs or bigger guard rails could have prevented the tragedy. “We don’t want to fence everything in,” says John Dill, now-retired YOSAR veteran but still a permanent feature around the office as resident search-and-rescue guru and who sports the gaunt leathery look of someone who has spent too much time outdoors.          

         “It’s supposed to be a wilderness,” he said. “We don’t want to turn Yosemite into a petting zoo.” 


         It was now 3.30 pm, and while the two Austrian climbers waited stoically on the side of EL Capitan for help to arrive, YOSAR HQ bustled with activity. The operations center is housed in a brown wooden building with a rusty corrugated roof that stands in the shadow of North America’s tallest waterfall, Yosemite Falls. 

       In the middle of June, a depressed 30 year-old named George Penca became separated from his party and went missing at the top of the waterfall. YOSAR launched a Herculean operation involving 140 people, which included helicopters, ground crews, and tracker dogs wearing GPS devices, but after four days, no trace of him was found, not even a foot print.

         Inside the building, the photos of the missing and the dead stared down from the walls, including a glum-looking Penca wearing a black D&G t-shirt just before he disappeared. They were part of YOSAR’s client base: victims of human frailty, bad weather, poor judgement, gross stupidity or simply lousy luck.

        YOSAR team members considered two options to rescue the injured Austrian: one was to use long ropes to lower rescue workers from the top of El Cap and then haul Schmoelzer back to the summit. But that could take hours and might not happen until the next day, which meant that they wouldn’t be able to deliver Schmoelzer to a hospital in time for a surgeon to successfully reattach his thumb. The second option was much quicker but pregnant with danger: fly a helicopter close to the cliff face and pluck Schmoelzer to safety.

         Every major YOSAR mission is ranked as low-risk, medium risk, or high risk (green, yellow, or red) depending on a number of different factors. Before the crew sprung into action, they went down the check list. 

         First, they considered whether they had enough personnel? The answer was affirmative. They had more than enough qualified team members — as well as a backup team of young volunteers called SAR-siters — to pull off both a helicopter rescue, and if that went awry, a traditional rope rescue from the summit.  

         Did they have the right people to execute the mission? Again, yes. A number of seasoned veterans with decades of rescue experience between them were on hand to help. 

          What about the location of the victim? They knew exactly where Schmoelzer was; he was trapped between the Great Roof overhang and Camp V, an address as familiar to serious climbers as 42nd Street and Broadway is to New Yorkers.

         In addition, the weather — always a major factor in deciding whether it’s a go or a no-go — were ideal.

         The last category “incident complexity” was the most problematic: It’s no mean feat to hover a helicopter 2,000 feet in the air next to a granite wall. Harder still, when the goal of the mission is to extract an injured party from a stone ledge not much bigger than a kitchen shelf. 

         Incident commander Eric Gabriel mulled the matter over for a moment, then gave the go-ahead. He ordered Dave Pope and Jeff Webb, both trained EMTs, to don their safety helmets and flame-retardant flight suits to prepare to go up in the chopper. 

         He then turned to Dave Pope’s wife, operations chief Dov Bock: “I want you to coordinate the back-up plan. Pack gear, grab ropes, load it up on the truck and when you’re ready, drive to the meadow and meet the helicopter.”

        The afternoon light was beginning to fade. Before long, shadows would start to creep up the mountainside. Soon “Pumpkin Hour” would arrive, the time regulations require the helicopter to return to base.


         The YOSAR team arrived to find the helicopter — an old school Bell 205 with upgraded rotors for high altitude flying — already skids down in the meadow. Also there to help were the so-called SAR-siters, young dirtbag climbers from Camp 4, the historic campsite that’s not as rowdy and rambunctious as it was back in the Golden Age of Yosemite rock climbing in the 1960s and 70s, but still wild enough that park rangers occasionally have to bust one of the camp residents for pot smoking or underage drinking.  

         Chopper pilot Richard Shatto, who when not helping YOSAR spent most of his time fighting forest fires for the local fire department, whisked Pope and Webb into the air to perform a quick scene assessment. Even after five years flying for YOSAR, the sheer size of El Capitan always made Shatto shudder a little. There’s invariably a large element of danger in any vertical wall rescue. In 2005, during a rescue on Yosemite’s Higher Cathedral Rock, a strong downward current of air sent a helicopter out of control and the rescue victim, who was lying on a stretcher suspended from the chopper at the time, was wrapped around a tree and killed. 

         Shatto thought about refusing the mission but then saw Michael Schmoelzer and Richard Edelbacker huddled together in a recessed nook. Edelbacker spotted the craft and extended his arms above his head in a Y-shape, the international distress symbol used for helicopter rescues which means: “Yes, come and get us.” 

         Shatto made sure there were no other climbers on the wall close to the Austrians. The last thing he wanted was to knock some unsuspecting mountaineer into the meadow because of a rush of air from the rotor blades. Then he shouted over his shoulder: “This is good. I can do this, can you do this?”

       “Dude, if you can keep us in this position, it shouldn’t be too bad,” Jeff Webb yelled back over the roar of the engine.

         The helicopter now spiraled back down to the valley floor, and while the team waited for the helicopter engine to cool down, incident commander Eric Gabriel went over the risks involved in the operation one last time. If the winds started to gust, he told them, they should have no compunction about calling off the rescue. Downdrafts can drop a helicopter a thousand feet in a matter of seconds. 

         The chopper was now ready to go, so Webb and Pope quickly grabbed climbing equipment and medical bags, and then attached themselves to a short haul line which was fastened under the belly of the helicopter. Shatto gently eased the chopper back into the air, this time with the two EMTs dangling from a rope 150 foot below him like a giant pendulum swinging from a clock.

         In the meadow, tourists stared slack-jawed in amazement at the spectacle that was unfolding before them. If Dov Bock was worried about her husband, she made sure not to show it, even though his life was literally hanging from a thread. Meanwhile, John Dill peered at the climbers through a high-powered telescope and braced himself for what was about to happen next. 

         In the 1980s, Dill, a trailblazer in new search and rescue methods, invented a novel way of rescuing climbers on vertical cliff faces called the “bean bag toss,” a technique whereby a baseball-sized bag of sand connected to a nylon rope was thrown to victims from a helicopter. It was intended as a way to deliver food and clothing to stranded climbers to buy some time in an emergency. Climbers would secure the line to the cliff face which allowed the helicopter crew to send over supplies. Before his invention, if a helicopter pilot wanted to deliver equipment to a stranded climber, the pilot would have to sway the aircraft back and forth like a mother rocking a cradle, a dangerous maneuver designed to create enough momentum to swing the load over to the ledge. While Dill’s invention was a big improvement, it was hardly a perfect science. A lot could still go wrong. And he never meant it to be used to ferry such large loads, let alone human ones. Pope and Webb, along with all their equipment, weighed about 500 pounds.

            The pilot approached El Capitan as slowly as he could to avoid swinging the two short-haulers into the side of the cliff. As the giant granite wall loomed ahead, Pope started to call out the distance between the tip of the rotor blades and the cliff face to the helicopter crew through a two way radio imbedded in his helmet: “60 feet rotor clearance, 40 feet rotor clearance, 20 feet rotor clearance.” Any closer would be suicidal.

       The crew chief Eric Small was sitting in the helicopter door with his feet on the skids, ready to rip off the tab from a plastic container and throw the bean bag to the climbers, but when he did, the 75 foot cord to which the bag was fastened was too short to reach them and the bag ended up hanging in space. Shatto dropped the chopper lower and Small tried again but the cord still proved too short. Shatto repositioned the chopper once more and they tried a third time, then a fourth, a fifth and a sixth but without success. By this point, the helicopter crew was starting to panic. Below the chopper, Pope and Webb thought the mission had failed and were ready to head back down to the staging area. However, after ransacking the aircraft, the third crew member Jeff Pirog found another bean bag: “OK, this is the last one”.     

         Shatto hugged as close to the Austrians as sanity allowed, and Small took a deep breath and threw out the final bag. This time it was a success. Edelbacker grabbed hold of the bag and anchored the cord to the wall, while Pope and Webb readied themselves to make the move to the ledge. The bean bag cord was already attached to a regular rope which was then lowered to Pope and Webb from the helicopter in a giant loop. As of that moment, Pope and Webb were connected to the ledge where the climbers waited. The helicopter rose higher so that the two medics were in line with the rock shelf.

        Now came the heart-stopping part of the mission.


         No helicopter pilot wants to be tethered to a giant rock. It’s something search-and-rescue teams try to avoid. Normally, at this point during the rescue, the helicopter would disconnect from the mountainside, fly around for a while, and then come back to pick up the injured party. But because the crew had used the last bean bag, Shatto felt they had little option but to to stay in position. Even so, as long as Pope and Webb quickly hurried across the 20 foot gap between them and the climbers, he thought he could maintain his position without drifting into the cliff face. 

         The initial idea was for Edelbacker to pull the park rangers over to the ledge, but the Austrian was so weak with exhaustion that the rope kept slipping through his fingers. Pope and Webb motioned for him to tie the rope to the rock and started dragging themselves across to the ledge. It was backbreaking work. At this point, the duo was no longer perpendicular to the aircraft, but at an angle, and as they pulled harder on the rope, the angle increased. Shatto prayed that an unexpected gust of wind didn’t send the chopper into a tailspin. 

         Shatto grew impatient and stared out of the bubble-like vertical reference window on the side of the helicopter that allowed him a clear downward view. By now, he had expected them to have nearly made it across, but they were less than half way there. 

        “Come on, guys,” he thought to himself. “I can’t keep hovering in this position all day.”

         It was the longest ten minutes of Shatto’s life, but the two EMTs eventually succeeded in pulling themselves across to the ledge, where the first thing Webb asked Schmoelzer was “Do you have the thumb?” Conversation was difficult because of the the noise of the rotors slapping against the air, so Schmoelzer simply tapped the breast pocket of his jacket with his left hand to indicate he had the thumb safe and sound, stored in a ziplock bag in his jacket.

         Pope inspected the injured Austrians’s hand and decided that he could wait for medical attention until he got back on the ground, but it took another four or five minutes for Pope to hook him to the short haul rope.It had been decided in advance that Pope would fly off with the injured Schmoelzer, while Webb would spend the night with the other climber for fear of overloading the helicopter.

         Finally, Webb cut the anchor line between the rock and the helicopter and announced the words Shatto had been waiting to hear for thirty long minutes: “Disconnect and clear.” The pilot moved carefully away from the cliff face and flew Pope and the injured climber down to the ground. There, a medical team met Schmoelzer, put his finger on ice and hustled him into another helicopter that flew him to San Francisco’s California Pacific Medical Center, where around one in the morning, a surgeon successfully reattached his thumb.


           Three weeks later, YOSAR team members gathered around a lunch table in a spartan meeting room at the helicopter base in the nearby town of El Portal to conduct an “after action review.” The consensus was that the operation could have gone smoother; YOSAR needed more training using the bean bag toss. There was some dispute about why it took so long for Dave Pope and Jeff Webb to reach the climbers. The helicopter crew said the length of the cord was too short. Pope — backed up with diagrams and mathematical calculations supplied by John Dill — claimed it was the position of the helicopter that was at fault.

       All the same, the mission had proved a success. No first responder was injured and Schmoelzer was recuperating at home in Austria, eternally  grateful to the brave men and women of YOSAR for risking their lives to reunite him with his thumb but forever haunted by the blank-faced giant he never got to conquer.


Chris Paciello Ratted on Mob Bosses, New Documents Show by Frank Owen Miami New Times March 8, 2012

Posted: March 9, 2012 in Articles, Village Voice Articles
Tags: Bank Robberies, , , Colombo Crime Family, Delano Hotel, , FBI, FDR lounge, , Ingrid Casares, Investigative Reporting, Italian Mafia, La Cosa Nostra, Miami Beach, Miami New Times, , , Nightlife, NYC, Snitching, South Beach,



Golden Oldies: An Occasional Series Highlighting the Best of Frank Owen’s Writing

Posted: January 13, 2014 in Articles
Tags: Fab Five Freddy, , , Max Roach, music, Spin Magazine

Fab 5 Freddy & Max Roach: Hip Hop Bebop, Spin, October 1988

Max Roach says the new Charlie Parkers are in hip hop. The inventor of modern jazz drumming celebrates the new generation with wild stylist Fab Five Freddy.

MAX ROACH — legendary drummer with Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk; a key figure in the creation of the music known as bebop; University of Massachusetts professor and recipient of a MacArthur, or “genius” fellowship; and now a collaborator with Fab Five Freddy on a hip hop/bebop project — is screaming at me at the top of his voice: “I can’t stand it, I can’t stand it, I can’t stand it. Don’t talk no more. Just get the fuck out of my house, you racist motherfucker, you supremist cocksucker.”


Max Roach

Max Roach

Golden Oldies: An Occasional Series Highlighting the Best of Frank Owen’s Writing.

Posted: January 2, 2014 in Articles
Tags: dance music, , larry Levan, New York, Nightlife, Paradise Garage, Vibe Magazine

Larry Levan: Paradise Lost, Vibe, November 1993

For over a decade, Larry Levan ruled the dance-music world from his roost in the DJ booth at New York’s legendary Paradise Garage. Last November, his weak heart — made weaker by years of excessive drug abuse, gave out. Was it a gradual suicide? Frank Owen looks back on the day the music died.

A TYPICAL NIGHT at the Paradise Garage began after 4 a.m. At a time when most clubgoers were finally heading home, Garage devotees were trekking through the near-deserted Soho streets. They came from New Jersey via the PATH train, from Brooklyn and Queens by subway, from uptown in cabs, and the nearby West Village on foot. They came for the atmosphere, the electricity, the “religious experience.” But mostly, they came for the music: the “garage sound” — that classic combination of booming bass, honky-tonk piano, and soaring gospel-derived vocals.


Larry Levan at Paradise Garage

Larry Levan at Paradise Garage

Golden Oldies: An Occasional Series Highlighting the Best of Frank Owen’s Writing.

Posted: December 18, 2013 in Articles
Tags: 1980, Bronx, , , interview, , NME magazine, rap, scott la rock

Scott La Rock: Wasted In The Zoo, NME, 26 September 1987

Less than a month ago, the Bronx rap supremo SCOTT LA ROCK was tragically shot dead in a street brawl, the very day he’d signed a high profile contract with Sleeping Bag. FRANK OWEN, who did the last interview before Scott’s death, here pays tribute.





frank-owen-interview-titleMichaelangelo Matos Interviews Frank Owen for Red Bull Music Academy

Interview: Frank Owen

By Michaelangelo Matos

Born and raised in Manchester, England, Frank Owen was a rock critic and feature writer for Melody Maker in the ‘80s when he began to visit New York City on a regular basis. An unabashed fan of funk, soul and the emerging strains of hip hop and house music, Owen was a fearsome, funny, often chemically-driven presence in person and on the page. (He writes entertainingly, and a little harrowingly, about this in his second book, 2007’s No Speed Limit: The Highs and Lows of Meth.) He eventually came to New York and became an editor at Spin, making and remaking the magazine at the whim of its mercurial founder and editor, Bob Guccione, Jr. “The most disorganized place I’ve ever worked,” Owen recalled.

Owen was sniffing out stories and scenes early and often: seeing The Sex Pistols at 16, becoming a devotee of Larry Levan at The Paradise Garage, dancing to Frankie Knuckles at Chicago’s Warehouse and most famously, writing the definitive account of New York’s infamous club Limelight, 2003’s Clubland, detailing the rise and fall of the club’s impresario, Peter Gatien, and the murder of drug dealer and club kid Angel Melendez by Limelight promoter Michael Alig. Red Bull Music Academy’s Michaelangelo Matos spoke with Owen over the phone in January about New York club history, the late ’90s nightlife crackdown and why Alig is the new Charles Manson.

When did you move to New York?

I moved to New York in October 1987, the very same day there was a big stock market crash. I remember getting off the plane and getting a newspaper and thinking, “Oh, I guess I chose the wrong time to come.” [laughs] It was a huge crash. It was nothing like what we just went through now, but for a few years it was pretty bad.

You had been working at Melody Maker, right?

Yeah. I covered hip hop and house music, so I would come to America all the time on assignment. I would spend a couple weeks there interviewing people: “Please call tomorrow to interview Morrissey in Cleveland.” I was spending a lot of time in America – about six months of every year – and I met my future first wife at The Paradise Garage. So that’s why I came out.

I went to the final night [of The Garage]. That was funny, because you could not get anybody to go to The Garage in those days that wasn’t already part of that scene. I could not get anybody in England even interested in writing a story about it, which is ironic, because now there are stories all over the place. It was only after it closed that it assumed that kind of legendary significance. [They’d say], “What do you want to write about all these grungy Negroes in there?” It wasn’t the hip thing, The Garage. It was seen to represent an era that had long gone.

My first job when I came over here was throwing hip hop parties at The World – between B and C on Third Street. That’s where I met everybody who would subsequently be in Clubland: Steve Lewis, Michael Alig, Lady Bunny, Kenny Kenny. At the door I would let anybody in. I had trouble back then turning people away.

It was a disaster. People got shot. That was my brief career as a club promoter.

The World [had] hip hop parties on Sunday nights, upstairs. Our idea was to mix acid house and hip hop, but we stopped that after the first time some homeboy stuck a gun in the DJ’s face and told him if he played that crap again he’d shoot him. The whole thing ended when, about six months later, we threw a big party for Afrika Bambaataa and the Zulu Nation. It ended up in a huge fucking riot. People were going up and down the street, shooting each other. We basically all got fired because of that. It was a disaster. People got shot. [laughs] That was my brief career as a club promoter.

1987-88 was crazy. You’d go to shows, and you’d be dodging bullets all the time. People think it’s violent now, but it’s nowhere near as violent as it used to be. It was dangerous back in those days.

At Spin, writing the Singles column, you were sounding the horn about dance music. Did you go in there with that as a mission?

At the time that was definitely it. Nobody treated dance music seriously at all. Melody

Maker was wall-to-wall rock ‘n’ roll when I arrived. It was only by a lot of fighting with editors – a lot of fighting – and by the fact that it soon became obvious, at least for a while, that it had legs. This was still, at this point, still singles music, 12-inch singles music. It was viewed as a fad. It was only when people started to see this was commercially viable that the fighting stopped.

I’m somebody who was actually a big proponent of [electronic music], and I kind of despise it now.

I had a lot of hopes for it, especially the stuff that was coming out of Detroit. When I first heard Derrick May, I was blown away by that stuff. But it’s how many decades later? I don’t really hear that much progression anymore. Having said that, do you know how much they fucking charge for those tickets as well? It’s like $100, $200. It’s a fortune to go to a rave these days; it’s unbelievable.

I’m in Miami Beach now. I am totally amazed by [the EDM boom], because rave, for a while, was dead. It really surprised me. Dance music is now what hip hop was ten years ago. It’s fucking nothing but – if you go to a college campus nowadays, that’s what they’re into. I’m somebody who was actually a big proponent of that stuff, and I kind of despise it now. There’s just too much of it. It’s a lot to do with where I live. You cannot go out in this town – to buy a pair of trousers, to have a meal, to sit at a pool – without hearing BOOM-BOOM-BOOM-BOOM. It’s everywhere. It’s become the world capital of bad techno music.

One reason dance clubs were dreary in New York for so long was bottle service.

That’s how they design clubs now. You talk to Steve Lewis about it and he’ll tell you: Over time, the way the space is used to allocate the dance floor has shrunk, and the space allocated to table service has grown. When that first started in New York, it was the whole lounge thing, [like] Spy. I hated those places. It wasn’t fun; it was just people sitting around and ogling models and drinking expensive liquor. I didn’t know it at the time, but that was the future of club culture.

There were about three lounges that started up, started doing bottle service. They were playing dance music, but people weren’t dancing to it. It attracted a lot of models. It was very white, though not exclusively by any means. It seemed to me really bourgeois, really boring. You know all that comes from the south of France, right? That’s where bottle service began. The whole thing there [is], you buy a bottle and you don’t drink it. They put it behind the bar with your name on it, and you get it the next time you come in. So it’s slightly different.

That’s reflected in the club ecosystem: The cool people stop going to clubs when the uncool people start to show up.

Sometimes the energy is more with the more democratic form of club culture, the more inclusive form, and sometimes it’s with the more snootier, more exclusive form.

Right. What happened, I think, now the people who are the real celebrities in terms of [being] the center of attention in nightclubs are people who would have never gotten into Area, would never have gotten into Danceteria – probably they would have gotten into The Limelight. But the center has shifted so dramatically to these people, and catering to these people, and they’ve got money. So there’s no way we’ll go back to that other kind of nightlife now that the club owners have figured it out.

There’s always been a tension in club culture between exclusivity and inclusion. One of the nice things about the rave scene was that it was initially a reaction against that whole “We’re not going to let you in” [thing]. Studio 54 was the most famous for that – they would initially turn away celebrities. But that was a part of club culture for a long time. You remember the supper clubs of the ’50s – they were more picky. There’s lots of stories about people being turned away for all types of racial reasons, or sometimes for class reasons, from these clubs. So there’s always that kind of – especially in New York – that lowlife-meets-high-life; there’s always been that mixture of classes. Sometimes the energy is more with the more democratic form of club culture, the more inclusive form, and sometimes it’s with the more snootier, more exclusive form. But that’s played itself throughout the history of club culture.

Club culture in Manhattan was put in a bad place by the Giuliani administration, did it not?

I think it’s a mistake to think of clubs as this big thing for Giuliani. I don’t think he was out to get Peter Gatien. Peter presented himself as a convenient scapegoat. He didn’t mean to do that. But he did. Like the squeegee-man thing – it wasn’t that he got the squeegee-men off the street, or declared war on nightclubs. The squeegee-men and Peter Gatien presented convenient bogeymen. The whole campaign had much bigger targets.

Gatien made some dumb moves, and he did it in a very public way, and Giuliani pounced. He saw the opportunity. And with [journalist] Jack Newfield in tow, they turned Gatien into this evil monster who was destroying our kids. But I don’t think it was anything particularly personal. Gatien thought he was safe because he was bribing the [cops]. But he didn’t understand the ways in which the police department had changed – that there was zero tolerance for that sort of corruption. You couldn’t get away with it the way you could back in the ’80s – cops taking bribes.

Now it’s this whole new generation of club-going kids who idolize the Limelight, the way a previous generation idolized Studio 54.

He thought he was protected. He was giving money to Giuliani’s campaign. He was giving money to all the local politicians. Also, he wasn’t taking a cut from the drug dealing, so he thought he had plausible deniability. And he completely failed to see that things had changed – that this was a new regime; that the old ways weren’t going to work anymore. He did nothing that other club owners hadn’t been doing in this town for decades.

You covered Gatien extensively in Clubland. Did you cover nightlife much after that?

After Clubland I made a very conscious decision to move away from [writing about] clubs. The first thing I did after writing Clubland was a piece about the murder of Jam Master Jay. It wasn’t a music piece at all – it was about all the gangsters he knew. The second piece I wrote was a big, 9,000-word story about the murder of my brother-in-law in Detroit. I made a very conscious decision. I knew I just wanted to make a very, very clean break.

The thing that got me back into this stuff now, the truth is, [laughs] Facebook and the Limelight documentary – the incredible resurgence of interest. That died for a while, four-five years after Clubland came out. Then the next year it started to pick up again. Now it’s this whole new generation of club-going kids who idolize the Limelight, the way a previous generation idolized Studio 54.

Michael Alig has become the Charlie Manson of club culture. I get all these letters from these 18-, 19-year old Twinkies about how they want to party with Michael Alig. And you know what? I understand that. Because take away the killing – even though it wasn’t my favorite time in nightlife, it was a very creative period. These people made their own clothes – they didn’t go to fucking H&M to buy some cheap slacks. Even the invitations in those days were works of art. The smallest detail was important. Compared to how club culture is now, I can see why they look back even if they were too young to go there: “Wow, that must have been amazing. That must have been incredible. We don’t have anything like that.”

Frankly, I thought, what, ten years later, I wouldn’t really give a fuck about the Limelight. I thought it’d be a bunch of old codgers sitting around: “Do you remember the days when we used to party at the Limelight? What’s it like today?” I thought it’d be a nostalgic thing among people who went there. It’s all these new kids now, too young to have gone there, completely fascinated by the Limelight. That’s why Michael Alig is still [famous]. Who the fuck would have thought?

Link  —  Posted: May 17, 2013 in Articles

Charles Ayres Interviews Frank Owen for Impossibly Glamourous

Posted: August 18, 2012 in Articles
Tags: Charles Ayres, , , , , Impossibly Glamorous, Interviews with authors, , Nick Cave, Worm Tamer

The Limelight, the Club Kids and the scene they created has evolved into a nostalgia moment for those who came of age in the late ’80s and ’90s. Rather than quaint memories of poodle skirts and greasers of the “American Graffiti” variety, our nostalgia involves platform shoes, techno music and MDMA (Ecstasy). Frank Owen explores the inner-workings of the New York scene centered around “The Limelight” and how it interlocks with the mafiosi-run clubs of Miami in his excellent book Clubland: The Fabulous Rise and Murderous Fall of Club Culture. Mr. Owen, who is featured heavily in the documentary The Limelight, kindly agreed to answer a few questions for Impossibly Glamorous.

Charles (C): You lived in New York during the zeitgeist of big ’90s club scene. What city do you feel is under the world spotlight now?

Frank (F): Club culture as we used to know it is dead, buried underneath the rubble of bottle service, horrible techno music and brainless bottle bimbos. The only party that I’ve seen slightly mimic what we had back in the ’90s is Miami’s monthly fetish party called “Submission” which is run by a Limelightveteran.

C: You’ve written quite a bit about drugs including Special K, meth, heroin and more. Which is the most dangerous?

F: It’s not the drug, but the dose that makes the poison. It is ludicrous to say that one drug is more dangerous than the other. Over-the-counter Tylenol in high doses will do more damage to you than a small bump of meth ever will. Also, in most cases it is the combination of multiple drugs that’s most lethal. That’s why I never take Ecstasy anymore. It’s not just that there’s very little MDMA in Ecstasy, it’s the polydrug combos contained in the pills: Oxycodone, methylone, LSD, crystal meth, 2C-B, BZP, Special K etcetera. Less is more when it comes to both architecture and drugs.

C: You said in another interview that you like to tell stories from “the criminal’s point of view.” Which of the criminals you have written about do you still find most intriguing?

F: Chris Paciello is intriguing not because he is so interesting but because after all that he has done, all the crimes he has committed, people treat him as if he is God in South Beach. People will forgive anything for a good time in South Beach.

C: Who would win in a fist fight, Al Capone or Jack the Ripper?

F: Al Capone no doubt. Jack the Ripper was a coward. Serial killers usually are.

C: I discovered your work via your riveting book Clubland, but I always wondered in the Michael Alig case why he could not claim self-defense. Why is that, and what do you personally think happened in that apartment?

F: Well, Michael described the incident as “a sissy fight that span out of control.” I believe him. If after Michael and Freeze killed Angel, they had cleaned up all the drugs in the apartment and called the police, he could have legitimately claimed self-defense, but that’s not what they did, is it? The real horror wasn’t that they killed Angel, it’s what they did afterwards, especially the hell they put Angel’s family through.

C: Do you think he will ever walk free again or is he bound to be a lifelong jailbird?

F: They’re going to have to release him eventually, but Michael is his own worst enemy. More than drugs, Michael is addicted to bad behavior. Michael’s partner-in-crime Freeze was released because Freeze behaved himself inside. Michael would rather be infamous and in prison rather than a nonentity and free. He doesn’t help himself by continuing to give interviews to journalists. Parole boards don’t like that. Michael would have been out by now if he had kept quiet and behaved himself, but that not Michael’s way, is it?

C: Tell me what your fans can look forward to next from you.

F: Just finished a big story for Playboy magazine debunking the myth that there is a “bath salts epidemic” in this country. There isn’t. It’s a minor drug trend that has been hyped by the media. The story comes out in December. Also, I’m about to start on a new book called Kink, USA. It’s a a memoir about my relationship with a 21 year-old dominatrix and my soon-to-be spouse. Anybody who wants to read more of my writing can go to my website frankowen.net.

C: What’s the top song on your iPod playlist now?

F: I don’t own an iPod—I hate listening to music on headphones—but the music I’m listening to at the moment: “King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown” by Augustus Pablo. It’s a groundbreaking early 1970s dub reggae album that is a huge influence on contemporary dance music. Also listening to the various remixes of Nick Cave’s Grinderman project, especially “Hyper Worm Tamer.”

You can check out more writing by Charles here: impossiblyglamorous.com