ACCELER8OR

Oct 09 2012

Mutant Glory: The MONDO Moment (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #33)

While I mostly employ a playful, self-deprecating voice throughout the upcoming epic combined memoir and as-told-to history of MONDO 2000, I’ve been advised that — somewhere toward the beginning of the book — I should let people know just how brightly the MONDO star shined .  Here then is a segment from the chapter, “Mutant Glory: The MONDO Moment” from the upcoming book, Use Your Hallucinations: MONDO 2000 in Late 20th Century Cyberculture.  Some particularly strong parts are under embargo until publication, for a variety of reasons, so if it seems a bit discontinuous, that’s why.  

Still, pardon my ego, or use it as if it were your own.

I’m seated on the couch in the living room of the MONDO House, the neogothic aerie high (in every sense) in the Berkeley, California hills; my blue fedora with the Andy Warhol button rakishly titled to the right, a hint of my beyond-shoulder length hair swept across my right eye, femme fatale style.  It’s the same couch where, earlier this afternoon, Queen Mu had refused the Washington Post photographer’s suggestion that she and I pose John and Yoko style… naked… for the Post Arts & Leisure secton cover story about MONDO 2000.  

The editorial meeting was running longer than usual. Mu had held the floor for almost an hour with a monologue that veered from her recent argument with Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek about Jim Morrison’s use of Tarantula Venom as an intoxicant — Morrison, in accordance with Mu’s gonzo anthropological researches, had joined a centuries-old secret brotherhood of poets and musicians in the use of this dangerous substance for Orphic inspirations; to the unending details of said tarantula venom theory; to the connections that simply must exist between our Mormon printers in Nevada and John Perry Barlow and the CIA and how they were all plotting to destroy us with a new magazine called Wired; and finally to the efficacy of writing after taking a few tokes of marijuana and then putting on Animals by Pink Floyd (to which our unofficial GenX spokesperson Andrew Hultkrans muttered, “Pink Floyd? It must be a generational thing.”).  When Mu was on one of her strange fantastic rambles she somehow didn’t seem to need to stop to breathe, so there was never an opportune moment to interrupt.  Finally, she decided she was thirsty and went into the kitchen to boil some tea.

The editorial pow wow had produced the usual stuff — good stuff, as a matter of fact.  An interview with early singularitarian Hans Moravec was in the works.  Some peculiar and obscure German industrial band/performance art group had contacted us looking for PR and this might pair up nicely with the Laibach interview that Mark Dippe and Kenneth Laddish had submitted.  Mad Lester Thompson had finally turned in a pretty good “Ultratech” column, rounding up of the latest in homebrew Virtual Reality and cheap digital video tech.  St. Jude told us her “Irresponsible Journalism” column titled “The Grace Jones School For Girls” was almost ready and asked if her interview with Mike Saenz about his porn CD ROM, Virtual Valerie, had been transcribed yet.  Our Art Director, Bart Nagel, as usual, said something that made everybody laugh.

Presently, Queen Mu returns to the living room with her cup of tea and our quiet, softspoken music editor Jas. Morgan pipes up.  “Liz Rosenberg says Madonna will review the new Papal Encyclical for us,” he understates. My famewhore eyes nearly pop out of my head.  “Be sure to follow up on that,” I say.  Everyone else feigns blasé.

This was the age — the heyday — of MONDO 2000. A shorter but far stranger trip, if you catch my drift.

You didn’t hear about it?  Well then, indulge me as I let some other voices tell you that I’m not hallucinating; not this time, anyway.  There was, in fact, a MONDO moment and it seemed somehow important to some interesting people.

There will be plenty of time for self-deprecations, stinging criticisms and embarrassing revelations later, when we return this epic true adventure story back to its beginnings and follow it through ‘til its mad finale.  But for this chapter, let’s bask in MONDO Mutant Glory.

Diana Trimble: You know how certain people, places or things can come to define an era?  The same way that clubbers d’un certain age speak wistfully of the “MK years” in New York City or “the Hacienda era” in Manchester; the same way you can’t talk about the art scene of the 1960s without talking about Warhol’s Factory? Well, that’s the way certain people who were in the Bay Area during the “MONDO days” feel about the house up on the mountain where madness met inspiration for a few remarkable years that directly influenced the development of popular culture on a global scale; a little-recognized fact for which proper credit to MONDO 2000 is long overdue.

It’s one of the best-kept secrets of postmodern history:  the Bay Area psychedelic revival and the explosion of computer science innovations of the late 1980s and early 90s were not only simultaneous and connected by geography but involved deeply interconnected personnel.

 

 

Rex Bruce: The MONDO scene was like the escape hatch out of the 80’s. While hanging onto the rebellious aspects of punk, it successfully retrieved some of the more colorful aspects of the sixties — the hippyish candy raver thing — along with a very thoughtful mingling of technology which had just gone exponential. 

It was the beginning of the period we are still in, pretty much. Nobody really knew what the web was back then or what enormous potential it held. People in the MONDO scene knew and were going at it full force. 

Emergent technology is still a huge area of cultural change. The cyberpunk people made it a movement and an identity — the scene grew to be a substantial part of a long history of bohemian culture that runs against the grain. This time it was armed with the internet, smart drugs, ubiquitous technology and the ubiquitous interface we still love and live in daily. It both began and predicted the times we live in. 

 

Douglas Rushkoff: The idea of having a scene… a place… I mean, oddly enough, MONDO was the last scene of the last era. It’s the last sort of Algonquin group or whatever.  I mean, physical reality isn’t what it used to be. Now you create a Facebook group to do what MONDO did. 

A physical scene… it’s so much more fertile. What I experienced more than anything else in that whole cultural milieu was: “Here are human bodies and human egos attempting to navigate this wholly discontinuous hypertext reality; trying to live in  — and with a full awareness of  — these liminal transition states.” And now, when we’re fully in the Internet era, it’s totally easy to do if you leave the body fucking behind. It’s totally easy to do if your friends are on Facebook and you’re just jerking off to their pictures or something. But try doing that for real. It’s that physical and psychic stress that someone like R.U. Sirius or Stara or Jody Radzik put themselves through… that’s when you gotta start worrying about things like gender and psychogenic dystonia [LAUGHTER]… just the basic… hold your fucking self together, man! [LAUGHTER] You don’t have casualties of the same sort in the Facebook era. It’s a different thing.  It’s bloodless. There’s no pubic hair in that reality. (Laughter).

 

Randy Stickrod: You had the feeling that the people who were creating this were tapped into some source that was outside of the range of the rest of us ordinary mortals. I’m serious, man! It was the real thing… the real fountainhead. 

 

William Gibson: MONDO was arguably the representative underground magazine of its pre-Web day. It was completely outside what commercial magazines were assumed to be about, but there it was, beside the commercial magazines. I was glad it was there. And then, winding up on the cover of Time — what does that do? How alternative is something that makes the cover of Time?  Could MONDO even happen today? 

 

Robert Phoenix: Around 1992 or ’93, MONDO was so on fire.  They’d been on the cover of Time and had a major feature in Newsweek.  Heide Foley was the poster child for the cybergrrl.  She was it!  Everybody was sniffing around MONDO. MTV was at MONDO. Apple Computers basically wanted to advertise in MONDO for life! It was a really, really, really big moment.  I’ll never forget walking around the floor of Macworld with copies of MONDO to hand out. It was like I was passing out the Holy Communion. It was like, “oh my God, oh… MONDO! Thank you!”

 

Josh Ellis: When I interviewed Neil Gaiman, he said something to me I’ve never forgotten: “MONDO 2000 was the coolest thing in the world for six months.” And it’s true, although I do think it was a little longer than that.

 

Hakim Bey: I can’t help thinking that the world, not just MONDO 2000, came to an end in around 1997. And we didn’t know it. And we’re living in the ruins.

Jun 05 2012

R.U. A Cyberpunk? Well, Punk? R.U.? (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry # 18

Dammit! I’m over here presenting some MONDO 2000 material — some of which has some real content that may be worth chewing over… and meanwhile the net goes gaga for someone publishing the off-the-cuff “R.U. A Cyberpunk” parody from a 1993 edition.

Oh well. Glib amusement and fast attention rules, and I haven’t exactly been striving for deep cultural criticism in these posts… nor am I going to in this one… so I may as well go with it.

When we called the first edition of MONDO 2000 the cyberpunk issue, I don’t think we really had a persona in mind (although Larry Welz did present Cherry Poptart‘s friend Elle Dee as a cyberpunk in that issue).  Rather, I think we saw it as a sort of memeplex that would be pretty well expressed not only by interviewing 4 SF writers who were identified with the C-Punk genre (and I don’t think they actually called themselves cyberpunks… maybe some of them were happy to call themselves cyberpunk writers… John Shirley, maybe?); by interviewing the guys behind Max Headroom, by hipping people to Processed World and the latest from the Subgenius; by having mysterious articles on wicked computer hacks by “Lady Ada Lovelace” and “Michael Synergy.”

But did we really know anybody who would stand up in leather pants and shout, “I am a cyberpunk?” I think maybe Synergy was the only one in our circle who embraced the identity. Outside of Synergy, I don’t remember any of the outlaw type hackers we had the occasion to interview or hang out with adopting the ID.

Later, Chris Hudak, the cool looking dude in the “R.U. A Cyberpunk” thing seemed to embrace it. And a little later, St. Jude, myself and Bart Nagel were hired to create Cyberpunk Handbook, which was a humor book about how other people could get a clue and become cyberpunks. Eric Hughes, sharing the cover with Tiffany Lee Brown, identified as a cypherpunk… but that was a semi-organized group with a definite goal to overthrow everything with encryption technology.

I don’t know. I throw it open. Are you now or have you ever been a cyberpunk?

Here are a few brief and rather random quotes from some of the people interviewed for the upcoming Mondo book saying stuff about cyberpunk.

Mark Heley (started Toon Town, a successful group of “cyber” oriented rave promoters in the early ’90s)

It was the beginning of the period we are still in, pretty much. Nobody really knew what the web was back then or what enormous potential it held, people in the Mondo scene knew and were going at it full force. Emergent technology is still a huge area of cultural change. The cyberpunk people made it a movement and an identity, the scene grew to be a substantial part of a long history of bohemian culture that runs against the grain. This time it was armed with the internet, smart drugs, ubiquitous technology and the ubiquitous interface we still love and live in daily. It both began and predicted the times we live in.

 

Rudy Rucker (SF writer, Math writer/teacher, software developer, coauthor of MONDO 2000: A User’s Guide to the New Edge)

I couldn’t believe it. February 8, 1993, the book (“New Edge”) was featured in Time magazine! And it was the cover story. And Bart did the cover photo and there was a full page picture of Queen Mu and R.U. The cover said “Cyberpunk.” I thought: YEAH!

The Mondo thing wasn’t as hard. It was softer. Because they weren’t actually learning. Though most of the cyberpunks weren’t either, but I had a feeling like I was learning how to be a C programmer… an assembly language. I was getting into it in a hard machine-edged kind of way. And Mondo was more of a hippie thing. I’d say cyberpunk was a little more punk. In Mondo, there was this flowers and psychedelic thing… taking vitamins to get smarter. It didn’t have exactly the same feel as cyberpunk.

Stephan Ronan (Beat Historian, Mondo writer)

…that was my first visit to the Mondo house in the hills of Northside and in my account I describe it as a “technogothic citadel.”

Don Joyce (of Negativland) and I had done an Over the Edge program a few years earlier entitled “Cyberpunk” with novelist Richard Kadrey and science fiction poet Andrew Joron (and John Shirley on tape). By this point I was being to tire of the term. I had red in FACE magazine a writer predicted “technogothic” would replace it… so I went for it. Around then a letter was published… It said the letter-writer had been to Mondo house and it was hardly the “technogothic citadel” he had been led to expect. Ha! See how myth-making works?

 

Walter Isaacson (Author, former editor of Time)

I saw Wired, when it came out, not as a competitor but as a complement to MONDO 2000. I think some of the cyberpunk spirit has been lost by the commercialization of the web and the desire to get ad revenue.

 

There are also some William Gibson comments on the topic here.

 

Previous MONDO History Entries

Psychedelic Transpersonal Photography, High Frontiers & MONDO 2000: an Interview with Marc Franklin

Gibson & Leary Audio (MONDO 2000 History Project)

Pariahs Made Me Do It: The Leary-Wilson-Warhol-Dali Influence (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #3)

Robert Anton Wilson Talks To Reality Hackers Forum (1988 — Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #4)

Smart Drugs & Nutrients In 1991 (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #5)

LSD, The CIA, & The Counterculture Of The 1960s: Martin Lee (1986, Audio. Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #6)

William Burroughs For R.U. Sirius’ New World Disorder (1990, Mondo 2000 History Project Entry # 7)

New Edge & Mondo: A Personal Perspective – Part 1 (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #8)

New Edge & Mondo: A Personal Perspective – Part 2 (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #8)

The Glorious Cyberpunk Handbook Tour (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #9)

Did The CIA Kill JFK Over LSD?, Reproduced Authentic, & Two Heads Talking: David Byrne In Conversation With Timothy Leary (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #10)

Memory & Identity In Relentlessly Fast Forward & Memetically Crowded Times (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #11)

The First Virtual War & Other Smart Bombshells (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #12)

Swashbuckling Around The World With Marvin Minsky In How To Mutate & Take Over The World (MONDO 2000 History Project #13)

FAIL! Debbie Does MONDO (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #14)

Paradise Is Santa Cruz: First Ecstasy (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #15)

William Gibson On MONDO 2000 & 90s Cyberculture (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #16)

Ted Nelson & John Perry Barlow For MONDO 2000 (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #17)

May 10 2012

FAIL! Debbie Does MONDO (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #14)

It was the Escape From New York tour with The Ramones, Blondie and Tom Tom Club. I was backstage at Berkeley’s Greek Theater with Bart Nagel interviewing Chris Franz and Tina Weymouth of Tom Tom Club and Talking Heads when Debbie Harry wandered in.   She came right up to me. “You’re the MONDO 2000 guy?”  “Yes.” She came up closer, lowered her voice to just above a whisper and asked, “Do you have any of those new drugs?”

Damn.  Not right now.  I offered to look into it for her the next day but she was otherwise occupied so my 30-second fantasy of doing 2cb or some other designer hallucinogen with Debbie Harry was nipped in the bud.  We exchanged contact info and I went back to the interview.  Meanwhile, Nagel got Debbie to pose for some photos.

 

During the process of prepping Mondo issue #3, we decided to do a section on “21st Century Fashion.”  Both Mu and I were fans of the look of those trendoid club culture magazines with a hint of surrealism like Wet and Fad and Impulse that were popular in the ‘80s and ‘90s.  We figured we could find a futurist SF twist on all that and not only would it look good but we could tap into a potentially rich vein for advertising revenues.  Man, did we ever wind up taking a ton of shit from (some of) the nerds and the righteous hippies and certain types of feminists for letting that bit into the mix.

Anyway, we somehow got Debbie to agree to be interviewed by phone on the topic of 21st Century Fashion.

Now, I’d read some pretty enjoyable Debbie Harry interviews. I mean, she wasn’t going to be Derrida or even Ted Nelson, but she could be pretty damned clever and epigrammatic in a sort of Warholish way.

This was not to be one of those instances. St. Jude’s daughter Tresca wanted in on the interview so she and Jude joined me at the MONDO house/office at the assigned time and we called Debbie.

As you’ll hear, she sounded vaguely drowsy and pretty much told us that she didn’t have anything to say about anything… particularly fashion.  Plus, she was having a difficult time hearing us… which will derail pretty much any exchange.  “This interview is gonna suck,” she told us

 

As anyone who has ever edited a magazine that has even a partial pop culture gloss will tell you, the planned celebrity interview that winds up being pretty vacant is a hazard of the game.  You have to somehow perform a save. You’ll find the few good lines and run them below some pictures; or maybe — if you’re daring — you’ll just turn the show over to the interviewer/author and have him/her cover the fail over with fancy bullshit or — if you don’t care about the celeb — with snark.  In any case, you’ll find some excuse to include the star’s name — maybe even her photograph — on your cover.

I liked Debbie Harry.  So I squeezed what I could from this uncomfortable exchange and later, Debbie agree to let me fax her a few more questions…  which bordered on aggressively obnoxious.  For example:

M2:  You have the opportunity to star in another Cronenberg film, but he wants you to have reversible plastic surgery on your internal organs. Would you rather:
A)    Have your stomach turned into a pollution-belching urban landscape?
B)    Have the collective information of all Haitian voodoo chiefs pass through your subconscious all at once via a microprocessor in the right brain.
C)    Have your cervix turned into a mongoose?
D)    Shoot R.U. Sirius for asking these questions?
E)    Act in Lassie Does Detox?
F)    Other?

DH:  B & D

But she wasn’t actually pissed and one day I returned to the office with a message that Debbie Harry had called and asked for me.  I called her back and I don’t remember what we talked about… and we never really talked again, but I’ll always treasure the brief interaction.

And now, because one should also show the warts sometimes, the uncomfortable and brief phone interview with Debbie Harry.

Listen to the audio now:

 

 

Previous MONDO History Entries

Psychedelic Transpersonal Photography, High Frontiers & MONDO 2000: an Interview with Marc Franklin

Gibson & Leary Audio (MONDO 2000 History Project)

Pariahs Made Me Do It: The Leary-Wilson-Warhol-Dali Influence (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #3)

Robert Anton Wilson Talks To Reality Hackers Forum (1988 — Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #4)

Smart Drugs & Nutrients In 1991 (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #5)

LSD, The CIA, & The Counterculture Of The 1960s: Martin Lee (1986, Audio. Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #6)

William Burroughs For R.U. Sirius’ New World Disorder (1990, Mondo 2000 History Project Entry # 7)

New Edge & Mondo: A Personal Perspective – Part 1 (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #8)

New Edge & Mondo: A Personal Perspective – Part 2 (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #8)

The Glorious Cyberpunk Handbook Tour (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #9)

Did The CIA Kill JFK Over LSD?, Reproduced Authentic, & Two Heads Talking: David Byrne In Conversation With Timothy Leary (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #10)

Memory & Identity In Relentlessly Fast Forward & Memetically Crowded Times (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #11)

The First Virtual War & Other Smart Bombshells (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #12)

Swashbuckling Around The World With Marvin Minsky In How To Mutate & Take Over The World (MONDO 2000 History Project #13)

 

 

Apr 29 2012

The Glorious Cyberpunk Handbook Tour (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #9)

The book project, How To Mutate & Take Over the World, which we were to complete for Ballantine Books in six months was complicated enough — considering that we, at first, took the title seriously — and we were way too young, in terms of technology, to compose a handbook for a victorious fusion of transhuman enhancement with Anonymous revolution.  As St. Jude and I fluxed and floundered and she pinned the entire hope of a hacker revolution on cryptography (see cypherpunk), another branch of our own book company interrupted our flow.

We were contacted by Random House, the very parent company of Ballantine with an offer.  It seemed that Random House had contracted with Penn Jillette and Teller to write a short humor book titled The Cyberpunk Handbook.  They were pretty into this stuff, but they got too busy and dropped the project.  Somehow I was the second choice.  And since  I wasn’t going to be able to just  fill even a short humor book up entirely with bullshit (Penn and Teller will appreciate this), I again invited hacker genius St. Jude to be my partner in this minor crime against decency (both countercultural and mainstream, as you’re surely able to think through for yourselves).

Anyway, after at first trying to force me to get my agent to talk to their own imprint for approval (which would have cost us 15% of the entire $25k on offer), they caved and someone walked down the hallway in Rockefeller Center to make the arrangements.  We would have an extra two months to finish Mutate.  Meanwhile, we would rush to get them The Cyberpunk Handbook. 

I had a doomed feeling about the whole thing. Billy Idol had made his cyberpunk album and a billboard ad had appeared in the BART stations admonishing us all to “Join the Cyberpunks at AT&T.”  Virtually everyone within the culture was saying that the word Cyberpunk was no longer hip.  I was gonna get caught in the backwash… for half of 25k.  

Or less than that.  We got Mondo 2000 Art Director Bart Nagel on board for design, so now the book take would be split in thirds.  I visited Jude and hatched my simple minded scheme.  “Let’s get the advance and then insist on changing the title.”  Jude harrumphed vaguely.  And while I hunkered down still working on Mutate while awaiting the advance, Jude sat down and wrote many thousands of words of hilarious material that embraced the entire cyberpunk handbook concept.  Not only was I defeated, I was happily defeated.  She wrote so much great stuff that I hardly had to write anything!   Bart did a sweet design, the book was turned in, and we went back to making a hash of Mutate.

It took forever for Random House to finally print the book, putting it out barely before the release of Mutate, so that we would practically be competing with ourselves. And then they set up a short three city book tour…

In one appearance, in Northern Virginia just outside of DC, a paparazzi dude showed up, thinking we were celebrities!  “Dude, you took a wrong turn,” said I, while Jude cornered the fellow raving excitedly about the similarities between hacking and taking unapproved photos of famous people. I finally shooed him away, assuring him that nothing more interesting than a book reading to a handful of people was likely to happen.  Actually, something interesting might have happened.  This local couple — long time Mondo fans to be sure — had brought along their young daughter… if I remember correctly she was 14 and, well… I have to be honest, unfairly beautiful.  After we read and spoke and took questions, the three of them approached us.  The daughter, it transpired, identified with cyberpunk and she was going to throw a pie at me for selling out cyberpunk and turning it into a joke for Random House.  But she decided not to. “Damn!  Why not?!”  I asked.  After all, it would have made great theater and this would be about as close as I would ever come (hopefully) to fulfilling the Valerie Solanas part of my Andy Warhol fantasy.

So we had her go out to the car, get the pie and scrunch it in my face.  Bart took photos and I hope I might excavate them in time for the finished Mondo 2000 History Project.

Listen Up

Anyway, the inclusion of these fragments of my own memoir part of the M2K History Project here is all by way of introducing these enjoyable audio segments sent to me by Patrick Di Justo about meeting Jude, Bart and myself while we were in New York City for the tour.  The fact that Patrick thinks it was a long tour and that we were sick of each other is a perfect example of the contradictory memory aspect of the history project… and/or it only took us a few days to get sick of each other.

Anyway, listen up as Patrick Di Justo — who would go on to be a major contributor to Wired and Popular Science and a technology commentator for CNN — talks about his exciting times with us weirdos… and also Bart (nyuk nyuk nyuk).

1PDJ – Meeting RU Sirius – StJude-BartNagel-part 1 of 6

2PDJ – Meeting RU Sirius – StJude-BartNagel-part 2 of 6

3PDJ – Meeting RU Sirius – StJude-BartNagel-part 3 of 6

4PDJ – Meeting RU Sirius – StJude-BartNagel-part 4 of 6

5PDJ – Meeting RU Sirius – StJude-BartNagel-part 5 of 6

6PDJ – Meeting RU Sirius – StJude-BartNagel-part 6 of 6