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May 01 2012

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

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What you’ll be looking at is a scan of part of MONDO 2000 Issue #6, including an interview/article inside in which Timothy Leary interviews David Byrne and also writes an art essay titled “Reproduced Authentic.”

First, the cover.   It’s my favorite. Behold and contemplate.  It hailed an inside article titled “America’s First Psychedelic President?” by Nancy Druid.  Or as Bart Nagel put it, “Did the CIA kill JFK over LSD?”  As a matter of fact, there’s a new book out that follows this story titled Mary’s Mosaic: The CIA Conspiracy to Murder John F. Kennedy, Mary Pinchot Meyer, and Their Vision of World Peace and yes, MONDO’s man in L.A., Timothy Leary is involved in this one too.   

Whether one finds these implications plausible or absurd, the image still, I dare say with meager exaggeration, speaks to America’s late 20th Century like no other — capturing a moment of rupture that defined the times, psychedelia spilling from the splattering brain included.

The image was dreamed up and created by one Eric White, who did a bunch of amazing artworks for Mondo before he became a famous painter who you’ve probably never heard of… but doesn’t that just tell ya something about ruptured times and splattered brains?

Inside you’ll gaze upon pages 64 – 69 of the issue involving Byrne and Leary.   Leary’s intro to the interview is on page 64.  A groovy pic of David Byrne is on page 65.  (photos of Byrne and Leary were taken by Yvette Roman.) On page 67 on the right side of the page is a fragment of the Top 10 Conspiracy Theories that are sprinkled throughout the issue… most or all of those (I forget) were written by Gracie and Zarkov. It’s reproduced here in the name of authenticity.

Page 68 is a bit of art theory that Leary wrote in response to a book that David Byrne showed Tim before the interview titled Reproduced Authentic written for a Gallery Show of the same name featuring Byrne, among other, that captured Leary’s imagination.

In the text provided below, I’m running the art essay “Reproduced Authentic” first, followed by the intro/interview and then the little nibble of the top 10 Conspiracy Theories.  I do this because I like the art theory essay as much as the rest of it and you know what they say about short attention spans.

Here it all is… fully reproduced and authenticated.

R.U. Sirius

Thanks to Zach Leary for scans and to Ian Monroe for text scans.

(A full text transcript follows the PDF)

Mondo 2000_issue 6

Reproduced Authentic

Timothy Leary, pg 68. MONDO 2000 #6

Reproduced Authentic is a magnificently bound art book containing five paintings by David Byrne and four other artists which were converted to 8 1/2″ x 11″ images transmitted from New York to Tokyo via telephone line by facsimile. They were exhibited at GALERIE VIA EIGHT, a show curated by Joseph Kusuth.

I consider this apparent oxymoron — “Reproduced Authentic” — to be the most fascinating-controversial-liberating issue confronting us as we move from the solid, possessive materialism of the feudal-industrial societies to the relativity/recreativity of the electronic stage.

Now that Newton’s Laws have become local ordinances, the clunky, static art treasures of wood, marble, canvas, steel become crumbling curiosities, their value insanely inflated by well-marketed “rarity.” These archaeological antiques are huckstered at Sotheby auctions, guarded by armed guards in vault-like galleries or in the mansions of wealthy collectors.

Thus the wretched caste-class possessiveness of feudal and industrial culture which prized “rarity.” Thus the $50 million market for canvases which the unauthentic painter Van Gogh could not “transmit” for a five franc meal at the local bistro. To the feudal aristocrat as well as the Manhattan art critic “authentic” means a “rare original,” a commodity traded by gallery merchants and monopolized by owners. The politics of solid-state aesthetics are authoritarian and one-way — owner-producers on one side and passive gawkers on the other.

Transmissibility replaces rarity. According to German philosopher, Walter Benjamin, “The authenticity of a thing is the essence of all that is transmissible from its beginning ranging from its substantive duration … to the history which it has experienced.” Rarity “now is a… mask of art’s potential for meaning and no longer constitutes the criterion of authenticity. Art’s meaning then becomes socially (and politically) formed by the living.” Reanimated.

These liberating, egalitarian, thrilling notions of “reproduced authentic” and transmissibility are the application of quantum field dynamics and Einsteinian relativity to humanist electronic communication. The implications are profound and timely. The politics are interactive. The passive consumers become active agents.

You receive electronic patterns on your screens, disks, FAX machines, and you transform and transmit.

What is “authentic” is not the possessed object but the ever-changing network — the entangled field of electronic interactions through which the essence-icon is continually recreated.

Recreating the Mona Lisa. The 12 year-old inner city kid can slide the Mona Lisa onto her Mac screen, color the eyes green, modem it to her pal in Paris who adds purple lipstick and runs it through a laser copier which is then faxed to Joseph Kusuth for the next GALERIE VIA EIGHT show in Tokyo.

It is this transmissibility, this re-animation, this global interactivity that David Byrne authenticates so gracefully.

 

Two Heads Talking: David Byrne In Conversation with Timothy Leary, pg. 64 – 69, MONDO 2000 issue #6

Reproduced Authentic

Reproduce: To generate offspring by sexual or asexual union; to produce again or renew; to re-create; to reanimate.

Authenticate: entitled to acceptance because of agreement with known fact or experience, reliable, trustworthy. Example: an authentic portrayal of the past present or future. 

It has been my pleasure during the last 30 years to have hung out with and been re-created by some of the most innovative minds of these high times.

I speak of those who have contributed their talents to our recent renaissance — the humanist, individualistic upheavals of the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s.  Artists; poets; writers; musicians; scientists; filmmakers; entertainers.

These superstars illuminate, energize, disseminate, squirt out memes. They fertilize our minds.  But let’s be frank.  Supernovas don’t conceive.

My life has been guided by a smaller group of illuminati who perform the less visible, but, perhaps more important role of navigating our future.  Multimedia wizards who experiment with new forms of reproducing and transmitting.  People who perform philosophy, if you will.

For bibliographic references I site you William Burroughs, Marshall McLuhan, Aldous Huxley, Thomas Pynchon, Chris Blackwell, Laurie Anderson, Todd Rundgren, Allen Ginsberg.

And speaking of renaissance authenticators, consider David Byrne.

For starters, David helps found the Talking Heads, arguably one of the ten most important rock bands of all time.

He directs two innovative films — True Stories and Ile Aiye, a haunting documentary about Brazilian religious festivals.

He wins an Oscar for scoring The Last Emperor.

His publishing house, Luaka Bop, transmits global sound.  His new album Uh Oh fuses the best of Byrne — biting rock beat, pulsing Latin drive, 21st Century flare, and Talking Heads sass.

And, oh yeah… there’s a symphony.

On November 23, I went to the Seattle Opera House. Sold out. In the lobby you could feel that special expectant buzz.  The Seattle symphony played standard concert stuff for the first half of the program. The second half was devoted to Byrne’s full length piece, The Forest.  Ten movements, no less.

At the end of the symphony the hall boomed with applause.  The conductor waved for David to move to the podium. Standing ovation. What a moment for a rock ‘n’ roller from the Rhode Island School of Design! An authentic moment.

For me, David Byrne transmits the message of the New Breed, the MONDO 2000 spirit.  Human, funny, global, passionate, laid back, friendly, ironic, wise…

And, oh yeah…

Reproduced; re-creational, authentic

 

CORDLESS COSMOPOLITANS

TIMOTHY LEARY: I mention you in every lecture I give, because you represent the 21st century concept of international/global coming together through electronics. How did you get into that?

DAVID BYRNE: With television and movies and records being disseminated all over the globe, you have instant access to almost anything, anywhere. But it’s out of context — free-floating. People in other parts of the world — India, South America, Russia —have access to whatever we’re doing. They can play around with it, misinterpret it or reinterpret it. And we’re free to do the same. It’s a part of the age we live in.

There’s that kind of communication — even though it’s not always direct.

TL: The young Japanese particularly. Read those Tokyo youth magazines! They pick up on everything. Rolling Stone is like a little village publication compared to Japanese mags.

DB: They’re very catholic in that sense.

TL: What’s your image in the Global New Breed culture? How are you seen in Brazil, for instance?

DB: I’m seen as a musician whom some people have heard of — not a lot — who has an appreciation of what Brazilians are doing. Sometimes it’s confusing for them, because some of the things I like are not always what their critics like.

For instance, some of the records on Luaka Bop — like music from the Northeast, and even some of the Samba stuff — are considered by the middle and upper class and intelligentsia to be lower class music. Like listening to Country & Western or Rap here. They’re surprised that this “sophisticated” guy from New York likes lower class music instead of their fine art music.

But sometimes it makes them look again at their own culture and appreciate what they’d ignored. Much in the same way that the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton made young Americans look at Muddy Waters and Howling Wolf. I’m not doing it intentionally, but it has that effect.

TL: What music do you listen to? Who are your favorite musicians now?

DB: The last Public Enemy record was just amazing — a dense collage with a lot of real philosophy. I listened to the last Neil Young record. I have some records from Japanese groups, and Brazilian and Cuban stuff — all the stuff we’ve been putting out on the label.

TL: Tell us about Luaka Bop.

DB: I put together a compilation of songs by important Brazilian artists a couple of years ago, and afterwards I thought it could be an ongoing thing. I figured that I might as well have an umbrella mechanism so that people might see the label and check it out. It was a practical thing in that way.

We’re now slowly getting into a greater range of things. In the future we’re going to release soundtracks for Indian movies, an Okinawan pop group and a duo from England. That will be one of our few releases in English.

INDUSTRIAL SYMPHONY #2

TL: Marshall McLuhan would be very happy with that — globalization.

What about your symphony, The Forest?

DB: It was originally done for a Robert Wilson piece. The idea was that we’d take the same story — the Gilgamesh legend. He’d interpret it for stage and I’d do it as a film. We’d use my music. The hope was that we’d present them in the same city at the same time. So you could see two vastly different interpretations of a reinterpreted ancient legend. I found it’s the oldest story we know. We updated it to the industrial revolution in Europe.

TL: Cosmology and immortality.

DB: It was written in the first cities ever built. Oddly enough, it deals with the same questions that came up during the industrial revolution and persist today — when cities and industry expand at a phenomenal rate. It deals with what it means to be civilized versus natural. So it has a current resonance, although it’s as old as you can get.

TL: The older I get, the more I see everything in stages. I start with the tribe and move through the feudal, Gilgamesh, the industrial… But what’s impressed me about your music is that regardless of the setting, there’s always the African body beat.

DB: It’s part of our culture now. It’s something we’ve been inundated with. The Africans who were forcibly brought here have colonized us with their music, with their sensibility and rhythm. They’ve colonized their oppressors.

TL: Michael Ventura, who explains how Voudoun came from Africa, says the same thing. I wrote an article about Southern vegetables — we colonials going into Southern cultures and grabbing their sugar, coffee and bananas. The industrial people arrive, build factories, and then they become counter-colonized by the music, the food and the psychoactive vegetables. It happened to the British in India.

DB: In a subtle way it changes people’s ways of thinking; it increases the possibilities for what they could think and feel. And they’re not always aware of what’s happening to them.

THE TAO OF TURTLE WAX

TL: I see the industrial age as a stage — a very tacky, messy, awkward stage of human evolution. We had to have the smoky factories, and we must mature beyond them. I was very touched by your comments about The Forest. You were trying to acknowledge the romance and the grandeur of the factory civilization even though it was fucking everything up.

DB: My instinctual reaction is that this stuff sucks. It’s created the mess that we’re in. But you’re not going to find your way out of the mess unless you can somehow, like the Samurai, identify with your enemy. Become one with your enemy, understand it, or you won’t be able to find your way out of the maze.

TL: The Soviet Union is a great teacher about the horrors of firepower and machine tech. You see the smog and those grizzled old miners coming out of the deep, sooty mines with their faces black. On the other hand, there was a grandeur to it, and you can’t cut out the industrial side of our nature, because it has brought us to this room where we can use machines to record our conversation. That’s something that I find interesting in Japan, which is the perfect machine society. There’s not much pollution there — you never see any filth on the street.

DB: No, it’s cleaned up pretty quickly. You get scolded for tossing a can out your car window.  I’ve seen people get scolded for not washing their car! It’s a matter of lace.

TL: And nothing is old there. I didn’t see one car that was more than four years old or with a dent in it.

DB: That’s taking LA one step further.

TL: I spent some time today watching your video, “Ilie Ayie.”

DB: It’s about an Afro-Brazilian religion called Candomble. “Ile Ayie” in Yoruba… an African language, roughly translates as the house of life or the realm that we live in.

TL: The Biosphere 1…

DB: Yeah, the dimension that we live in rather than other existing dimensions. It was done in Bahia, in the city of Salvador, on the coast of Northeastern Brazil. It’s about an African religion that’s been there since slavery times. It’s mutated and evolved over the years to the extent that now it could be called an Afro-Brazilian religion — there’s a lot of African elements. The ceremonies, the rituals consist of a lot of drumming, people occasionally go into trance, offerings are made, altars are made… the occasional sacrifice … It’s an ecstatic religion — it feels good.

TL: I’ve never seen so many dignified, happy human beings in any place at any time. For over 90 minutes the screen is filled with these stately older black women…

DB: It’s very joyous and regal. When the drums and dancing kick in it’s like a really hot rock or R&B show. When the music hits that level where I’ve seen everybody tunes into it, it’s the same kind of feeling.

TL: That’s what religion should be. But it’s not all joyous. At times there’s a sternness — a sphinx-like trance to it.

DB: It deals with acknowledging and paying homage to the natural forces. Some of those are deadly, some are joyous, some are dangerous and some are life giving. That’s the flux of nature, and Candomble acknowledges the entire dynamic.

TL: You also said that the aim of these ceremonies is to bring the Orixas — deities who serve as intermediaries between mortals and the supreme force of nature. Tell us about that.

DB: When the vibe is right somebody gets possessed by one of the gods. There’s a pantheon of gods like in ancient Greece or Rome. The god is said to be there in the room, in the body, so you can have a conversation with him, or dance with him. God isn’t up there unreachable, untouchable. It’s something that can come right down into the room with you. You can dance with it or ask direct questions.

TL: The great thing about the Greek gods was that they had human qualities.

DB: These as well. They can be sexy, jealous, vain, loving, whatever — all the attributes of people.

THE MOTHER DOING WHAT?

TL: William Gibson has written about Voudoun. Many of his Voudoun people talk about the human being as a horse, and how the god comes down and rides the human being.

DB: That’s the Haitian metaphor — the horse. It’s the same idea.

TL: The healer, the warrior, the mother bubbling — one after another these archetypes of characters or natural forces — basic human situations, roles…

DB: The nurturing mother or the warrior man or woman, the sexy coquette…

TL: The seductive female warrior — that’s Yarzan. I became confused when that man dressed as a Catholic priest rants about false prophets.

DB: The African religion is periodically being persecuted by the Catholic Church, by the Protestant Church, by the government. They go through waves of being recognized and persecuted and going underground and coming back up again and being recognized and pushed down again.

TL: I know the cycle well.

DB: So that was a scene from a fictional film there dramatizing persecution by orthodox religion.

TL: You wrote it in…

DB: It was something I found in a Brazilian film. It was an example of recent persecution, so l threw it in.

TL: That’s a very powerful moment because it wasn’t orchestrated. It was authentic, as your friend here would say. [Points to a copy of Reproduced Authentic] Would you comment on this book?

DB: An artist named Joseph Kusuth organized it. He’s most well-known for art that looks like your shirt.

TL: [Displays shirt] It’s designed by Anarchic Adjustments. The front reads “Ecstasy,” and on one arm it reads “Egos In, Egos Out.”

DB: Joseph Kusuth would have a definition of a word and just frame that. He invited me to be part of this exhibition in Japan where the idea was to create art with a fax machine. I did something equivalent to the seven deadly sins. It didn’t exist — I collaged it, sandwiched it in the fax machine, and it came out the other end. They took the fax and blew it up to the size of a painting. When it was transmitted, rather than receiving it on paper they received it on acetate. The acetate became a photo negative. They have fax machines that can receive other materials, and then they can blow it up to any size.

FAX MUSEUM

TL: You say you didn’t want to be a scientist because you liked the graffiti in the art department better. If you had been a scientist what would you have been?

DB: At the time I was attracted to pure science — physics — where you could speculate and be creative. It’s equivalent to being an artist. If you get the chance, and the cards fall right, there’s no difference. The intellectual play and spirit are the same.

TL: Nature is that way — it’s basically playful. Murray Gelman, who is one of America’s greatest quantum physicists, used the word “quark” to describe the basic element from a funny line from James Joyce, “three quarks from Muster Mark.”

DB: I had a math teacher in high school who included Lewis Carroll and Alice in Wonderland in his higher math studies. I thought, “This guy knows what he’s doing.”

TL: Dodgson, the fellow who wrote it, knew what he was doing. That metaphor of through the looking glass on the other side of the screen. Talk about your Yoruba gods and goddesses. Talk about Yarzan and Shango. Alice is the Goddess of the Electronic Age. 

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Page 67, right column.  MONDO 2000 Issue #6

Number 5

Propaganda Due (P2)

• Conspiracy for conspiracy’s sake.

• They leave flowers at Giordano Bruno’s statue on the anniversary of hisdeath at the stake (see Catholic Church).

• However many teams there are, they belong to at least N+ 1.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

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)

 

 

 

Feb 19 2012

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

Some time in 1986, I walked into Cody’s Books in Berkeley and saw a book on prominent display titled Acid  Dreams: The Complete Social History of LSD: The CIA, the Sixties, and Beyond by Martin Lee and Bruce Schlain.   Containing an impulse to start dancing around the aisles, I grabbed a copy and bought it.

I think it’s fair to say that nothing fascinates psychedelic aficionados as much as the connection between acid and the US intelligence and military establishments during the 1950s and ’60s.  For those who had profound and important experiences  — and perhaps more to the point — for those who had subversive experiences that made them doubt the very existence of nation states and their borderlines amongst other antiestablishment insights, the notion that not only did the powerful view these substances as tools for war but that we all might be “useful idiots” in some psychologically and spiritually heightened Machiavellian war on consciousness was… yes… frightening, but even more, intriguing.

We were able to catch Martin Lee in San Francisco — who, at that time lived in Washington D.C. — while he was on his book tour.   Jeff Mark aka Severe Tire Damage (“I was the one with the car”) and I had the pleasure of interviewing Marty over dinner.

As Queen Mu and I batted around ideas for an introduction to the q&a, it transpired that she was not wholly satisfied with what we had extracted from Marty about the possible conspiracies with nefarious sorts and we got on the phone with him.

That phone call was — as Mu was inclined to put it — utterly fascinating, and it did turn out that Lee harbored some suspicions that he hadn’t included in the book.  This resulted in an introduction by Mu in which she wrote:

“In a recent telephone conversation, Marty continues to speculate — on the connections between Italian Fascist philosopher Julius Evola with his ‘spiritual warrior elite,’ Rene Guenon (the French Esotericist) and mescaline; on the reported fascination with psychedelics by Sartre, Maurice Merleau Ponti and Henri Michaux. The links are intriguing if difficult to pin down.  Clearly though, by the 1930s, an awareness of hallucinogens had spread through artistic and literary circles in Berlin and other European capitals.

“All this merely contextualizes the real heavy-duty experimentation with psychedelics which Joseph Borkin stumbled on while researching The Crime and Punishment of I.G. Farben. A discovery which Borkin left out of the book was that I.G. Farben maintained, throughout the ’30s, a special secret division devoted to research on psychotomimetic agents. In Acid Dreams, Martin Lee detailed Nazi mind control experiments with mescaline carried out by Nazi doctors in Dachau. Here he raises the interesting point that LSD, first synthesized in 1938, actually fell into the ambit of I.G. Farben when they gobbled up Sandoz that same year. Curiouser and curiouser!”

This is a segment of the very long conversation between Martin Lee, R.U. Sirius and Jeff Mark and it involves a wide range of topics, including:

  • The mystical implications of the LSD experience
  • CIA, LSD and the counterculture in the 1960s
  • Secret societies amongst the ruling elite
  • Using psychoactive drugs as chemical weapons

The recording is a bit rough to hear in spots… but you can make out pretty much everything Marty says, and that’s the important part.

Listen to the audio now:

 

Download Martin Lee discussing LSD, the CIA, and 1960s counterculture.

Jan 29 2012

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

By 1988, High Frontiers was a somewhat more smoothly functioning operation.  We’d given up — for the moment — on trying to get out more than 2 issues a year, but we were running a very dynamic and well attended local lecture/community gathering series called Reality Hackers Forum at Julia Morgan Theater in Berkeley, putting on one program almost every month.  Queen Mu would whip up an extraordinary “Trifle” — this amazingly rich densely layered cake dish with home-whipped whipped cream, so the events — which, if I remember, seated almost 100, had a homey vibe.  After each talk, we would have a group discussion.  I’ll always remember one guy saying: “I can make backups of my files but I can’t make backups of myself. I want to solve that problem.”  These days, that’s almost a transhumanist cliche and subject to much debate but back then, it just sounded way edgy and cool as hell.

I can’t remember if having RAW give a lecture titled “The CIA-Vatican-Cocaine Conspiracy” was his idea or ours.  I think it was our idea based on the fact that he’d written about it somewhere and we thought it was interesting.

Although he was no longer really a staff member, Lord Nose was still a pal to us all and he somehow got the assignment to pick Bob up from the airport.  Now, Nose didn’t tolerate anyone smoking in his car and Bob was a smoker’s rights militant (a fact that would later cause his column to be dropped from Mondo … not my idea, but that story is for later.)  So Bob got into Nose’s car and lit one up and Nose asked him to put it out.  I don’t recall how that standoff was resolved, but (like Nose’s lungs) I heard about it secondhand and that Bob was peaved.

But after he visited with some friends, it was a jovial RAW who showed up at Julia Morgan Theater for a talk that was at the top of his game.  He didn’t follow the script very closely, but it didn’t matter — it was big mind-stimulating fun for all. Some fragments of the talk — which will be included on the Mondo 2000 History Project Website when it’s made public — are presented below.

In the first recording, Robert Anton Wilson tries out a little bibliomancy with Finnegans Wake, and discusses the connections to European history and psycho-linguistics

Listen to the audio now:

 

Download Robert Anton Wilson discusses Finnegans Wake

The second recording features a spirited question-and-answer session about conspiracy theories, Operation Mindfuck, the Vatican, and reprogramming your own brain.

Listen to the audio now:

 

Download Robert Anton Wilson – Conspiracy Q&A

Jan 04 2012

Commandeering the Inner Space Shuttle: Silence and Ecstasy in the Sensory Deprivation Tank

I recently began a series of experiments with the sensory deprivation tank as developed by John C. Lilly, M.D., a device that most have heard of but few have tried. (Yes, that’s the one from the 1980 movie Altered States.) It took me a decade and a half of self-directed experimentation on consciousness to finally get around to using one. Luckily, when I was ready, I found that there was a facility five minutes from my workplace. I booked the time. I got in.

The sensory deprivation tank is exactly that — a large, soundproof, lightproof tank filled with shallow, warm, buoyant water, all designed to completely shut off all sensory input.

The tank itself is heated to exactly 93.0º, a temperature that feels warm without being intrusive, so that your body quickly tunes it out. The water — just shallow enough to lie in — is saturated with Epsom salt, which means that you float effortlessly on the surface. It also means any cuts or scratches that you may have gotten before going in will start viciously burning; for this Vaseline is recommended to cover over them and keep out the salt.

The inside of the tank is remarkably spacious — big enough to sit up in, even stand up while crouching. (The model I used was the Samadhi, the original developed by Lilly. There are other versions; tanks in Europe, apparently, are often much smaller and pod-like, offering very little room to move about in, limiting the size and weight of the occupant.) The inside of the tank is about three and a half feet wide; consequently, I spent a lot of time sliding from one side to the next until I figured out how to stabilize myself. (Hint: Stick your arms out and hold the sides until the water calms down, then hold yourself completely still and breathe slow and deep enough that you don’t disturb the water. Breathing slow, of course, will also help stabilize your body and mind faster.)

One’s experience in the tank, as I was told, is highly susceptible to suggestion. For this reason, the owners of the venue I visited told me they’re very careful about not telling people anything but the basics when they get in, in order not to pre-load their trip.

I found I had some of my own pre-loading to get rid of after getting into the comforting darkness of the tank. Foremost in my mind were the experiences of the tank’s founder himself, Dr. John Lilly: born in 1915, Lilly was raised on a rigid scientific track, developing the tank in the early 1950s while studying neurophysiology for the US Public Health Service Commissioned Officers Corps—work allegedly connected with the CIA MK-ULTRA program, though he broke with the US government almost immediately thereafter. His own experiences were nothing short of revelatory. He later went on to do research trying to communicate with dolphins while on LSD, became involved in SETI, and continued using the tank until his death a few weeks after 9/11.

Lilly reported some mind-stretching tank visions in his books. At one point he believed he had come into contact with extraterrestrials, or “Earth Coincidence Control Organization (ECCO),” as he called them. He also spoke forebodingly of a potential period in the future where “Solid State Intelligence (SSI),” an entity that he believed was composed of the entirety of electronics on earth, would take over and dispense with human life. (Facebook anyone?) But then again, Lilly wasn’t just going in cold: he extensively experimented first with using LSD in the tank, then with Ketamine, both substances he had easy access to as a member of the medical establishment.

These are the images I had swirling in my mind as I climbed into the tank; not surprisingly, nothing happened as long as I continued expecting fireworks on-demand. It wasn’t until I consciously let go and decided to see what the tank had to offer on its own terms that I started to get something. And at least for me, what I experienced wasn’t “psychedelic” at all—far from a mental experience, what I discovered was a drop into a deeply physical, embodied state; once this had happened, the boundaries of the body, tank and space itself just seemed to fall away. Thereafter I seemed to enter into a primal infinity, from which perspective I could comfortably see not just my rational mind but the entire mental bandwidth of Western culture as a tiny, almost inconsequential pinprick in a vast field of mystery. Not “the light,” not “the void” or other shorthands for the unthinkable… simply an endless mystery.

I’ve tried innumerable meditation techniques over the last decade and a half: I’ve learned to sit inhumanly still for hours, slow my breath down to one inhale/exhale per minute, learned the original kundalini yoga of the Himalayan adepts up at 13,000 feet in India, studied a bit of Zen and Tibetan forms of meditation like Samatha or “calm abiding.” But no matter how you twist, prime or calm yourself, the same problem always remains: the body just won’t go away. Even if you’ve “mastered” your awareness of the physical and can sit like a rock with little to no breath, you’re still going to have awareness of the body, and it will continually remind you it exists. Which gives you two options: suppress it as much as you can, or work with it.

But with the tank, the body is just so free of external sensation, and so contented with its literally womb-like surroundings, that it just kind of blips out.

Well, let me rephrase that. First, it fidgets insufferably. Adjusting to the tank can be so initially frustrating that the center I visited gives the first hour for free. Once you “get it,” though, your body remembers the right position and will enter that state rapidly every time you get into the tank from then on.

After the initial learning curve I ended up in place more relaxed, more contented, more free, more expanded than I have after years of meditation — in a few minutes. So much of the discipline of yoga and classic meditation manuals like the Hatha Yoga Pradpika is concerned with “turning the body off” with proper physical postures; a sensory deprivation tank does it almost immediately. The classic instructions for yoga all seem to continue to apply to the tank experience — stilling the body and breath, offering the in-breath into the out-breath, and so on — but one is immediately put into an ideal state physical state, the kind it presumably takes years of yoga practice to get to, if it is even reachable at all without the tank.  

For that alone, I’m a new convert. Take away all the spiritual woo, the promises of inner experiences, and at the very base level you have a tool for relaxing more deeply than perhaps previously thought possible, identifying and then releasing muscle tension you weren’t even aware was there. You feel it. And then you let it go, bit by bit. And then you float. The applications for health alone, when so many physical problems are caused by chronically holding tension, are obvious. Of course, as the physical tension goes, so does the mental tension. I found myself getting insights into, and letting go, of long-standing mental cramps, deep unsolved indecisions or confusions, that I’d forgotten were even there, as they had been embedded into the background noise of the mind for so long.

Of course, that was just the beginning. Beyond the relaxation of the body, I observed a secondary effect: the body enters what I can describe only as an orgasmic field. Here we enter into the domain of Wilhelm Reich’s orgonomy or even of mysticism but, put simply, the message was that nearly all mental and physical tension is the individual attempting to suppress its natural orgasmic state. By orgasmic I don’t specifically mean orgasmic release through sexual contact — I mean that when the body’s energy becomes unlocked it, itself, becomes all-over orgasmic. One releases into infinite “bliss,” the body-as-orgasm melting into the universe-as-orgasm.

Lilly experienced something similar, writing in his autobiography The Scientist (in third person) that “The tank experiences gave him new access to bodily pleasure which he found difficult to integrate with his rather… Calvinistic conscience. His conflicts with sexual expression, sexual transactions, took up a good deal of his time. The resting body accumulated positive energies that were expressible sexually to an almost intolerable level. He began to recognize the intrinsic nature of sexual drives. His parallel studies in neurophysiology revealed the sources of the sexual energy within the central nervous system. He began to see that these sources existed in himself, in his own brain.”

The next level was the seeming heightening of “psychic” phenomena such as telepathic communication (with people who could be dozens of miles away) and the intrusion of “energies” or imagery from the collective unconscious, or simply the individual unconscious depending on how much one gives credence to the idea of transpersonal mind. As these phenomena are entirely subjective, unverifiable and largely deeply individualized to those who experience them, I here pass over details of any specific content, leaving this to individual experience.

The usual tank session is an hour. One returns to “normal” consciousness immediately and seamlessly after exiting the tank. There is no hangover or disorientation. I found rush hour traffic while leaving the facility slightly more aggravating after the peaceful tank experience, but beyond that there were no noticeable side effects. More importantly, one feels as if one has just awoken from a deeply satisfying and relaxing sleep, even if one didn’t sleep in the tank, and even, as I experienced, if floating after a long and hectic working day.

It seems that, when separated from outside stimulus and given free reign, the bodymind knows exactly what it needs to do to restore health and equilibrium to itself, and goes about doing it, quickly and precisely.

For these reasons — and more I’m sure I’ve yet to discover — I recommend the tank to all.

It’s a technology that has largely fallen by the wayside, though it’s recently been making a comeback thanks in part to the highly enthusiastic publicity the comedian Joe Rogan has given it. I suspect that it probably has more to offer us now than it did when Lilly invented it. Silence is a rare commodity in our overstimulated world.

We owe it to ourselves to give ourselves back to ourselves.

Find a place near you to float here: http://www.floatation.com/wheretofloat.html

Jason Louv is the author of Queen Valentine and editor of Generation Hex, Ultraculture and Thee Psychick Bible.  www.jasonlouv.com

Dec 04 2011

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

I met Marc Franklin (aka Lord Nose) in 1984, when I was putting together a little magazine called High Frontiers (with our first issue, we declared ourselves “the official psychedelic magazine of the 1984 Summer Olympics” — no one else rose up to challenge us for the title).  High Frontiers would eventually become Mondo 2000 via Reality Hackers.  After seeing the initial edition, edited and designed primarily by myself and Mark Frost (who christened himself Somerset MauMau), Franklin gave us a call, telling us that he loved what we were doing but that we desperately needed some design help.  Which we did.

Cover, High Frontiers #2

Marc ended up designing what — for me — may be my favorite edition of the entire 13 year “Mondo” publishing experience — issue #2 of High Frontiers.  As he tells it himself, each spread in HF #2 is a visual feast — a “poster.”  On the cover of the big hot pink “17” x “11” magazine was the mutated face of Art Linkletter saying “Kids do the darnedest drugs,” along with a three-eared Mickey Mouse holding up a blotter of CIA LSD (along with a few other design elements.). Although we only published 2,000 copies, this edition had both elegance and street cred and put us on the map with alternative periodical distributors and newsstands alike.  It also caused at least a few perturbations within the psychedelic community, but mostly, people were bowled over by the sense of art and fun that emanated from its pages.

Employing a uniquely personal and revealing photographic style, Marc went on to work on an amazing project photographing nearly all of the still-living psychedelic explorers in the 1980s and ‘90s.  Now there is a gallery showing in Los Angeles that includes these photos — some of them blown up into 24’ x 36″ prints — as well as some very unique “nature photos” that add to the aesthetic of the presentation.

If you’re in or near LA, make haste — go right now to SPF:a Gallery where the exhibit will be up until the end of 2011.  You’re in for a consciousness expanding experience.

In the following interview, I do two things. In Part 1, I reminisce with “Mr. Nose” about our experiences with High Frontiers.  Some of this material (and more – we’ll be doing further conversations) will be used in the Mondo 2000 History Project book and website that will tell the story of that historic “psychedelic cyberculture” publishing project through the voices of as many of the contributors as I can rope in.  And in Part 2, I talk with Mr. Franklin about his amazing photography project.

Incidentally, if you follow all the links from this conversation, you can get a full education in the worlds of psychedelic research along with these colorful anecdotes.

PART ONE:  THE “HIGH FRONTIERS/MONDO 2000” STORY

MARC FRANKLIN (LORD NOSE):  I found High Frontiers #1 in a head shop on San Francisco’s Haight Street called Pipe Dreams. I grabbed it immediately and began reading it and then I bought it. I discovered that you had put a little notice in there about people that wanted to help to contact you, so I hurried home and immediately called the number listed. I realized that it was an opportunity for myself to kind of assist a nascent publication that had amazing potential. I thought: this is a hot idea! I love the idea.

You and Somerset MauMau came over.  I was living in a house on Broderick Street close to the bottom of the Panhandle in San Francisco with my wife Betsy that we shared with the owner, Don Emery.  Don had bought a wonderful 1906 Queen Anne that had been completely renovated. It was just totally luxurious.

I remember very vividly you guys arriving.  I’ll never forget what you said to me the very first moment we met. I had opened the door and you said, “We don’t look like what you’d expect.” (laughs). It’s funny also because nine years later someone else said the very same thing when I first met her…

I had designed numerous publications before then in New York. I had been working professionally doing that. I had also worked as a photographer. I had done the photography for the 1974 Mobil Annual Report. Back then, Mobil Oil was the fifth largest corporation in the world. However, photographing a phosphate strip mine operation in Florida really radicalized me. I thought: whoa, that’s the wrong direction. I’m not going in that direction. I’m going as far away from that as possible.  So High Frontiers was the perfect vehicle — the perfect opportunity.

Anyway, after we met, we had agreed to get together and hang out. We wound up going one day out to Tennessee Valley in Mill Valley. It was MauMau, myself, you and Betsy. We had quite an experience with trying out for the first time “ecstasy” (MDMA) and — we sort of all bonded. That is, with the exception of Betsy.

MDMA was a change from every psychoactive I had previously experienced. It was certainly different and, of course, it was not a psychedelic. It was where we dropped the “I/Thou” and suddenly we’re all these big amorphous fingers on one hand. We all felt so damn good. And, then there’s Betsy off alone. Betsy was dealing with the fact that she needed to leave me. And this experience gave her the space she needed to deal with that. So the three of us were tight and Betsy was dealing with her own stuff. And I felt really strange about that, but at the same time, it was perfect.

RU: You were having a good time anyway.

MF: Yeah. I mean, it wasn’t that it was a bad time for her… but it was a difficult time for both of us, generally.

HIGH FRONTIERS CONTENT

MF:  The subject matter was something that was quite dear to me. I had come out to California to continue my study and practice of shamanism. I mean, that was the end-all, be-all for what I was doing. I was really learning about healing modalities, and divination. One of the aspects, of course, was psychedelic shamanism. So it was just like hand-in-glove. It was like here the universe is providing me with an opportunity that I could not pass up. Looking back, at the time, that it was a very good fit.

We all seemed to have that same kind of spark. There was some spirit there that really grabbed me immediately. I thought: this is beyond a job… this is not a job. This is a lifestyle. It was beyond anything one would normally consider. It felt so good. And right.

At the same time, I was undergoing emotional turmoil with the breakup with Betsy.  So it was a pretty interesting sort of rebirth — a death of one aspect of myself and the birth of another. It was quite a challenge to shift — to sort it all out. It was almost like a landlubber suddenly getting onto a ship. You have to get your sea legs. You’re kind of walking along and suddenly you’re thrust out onto a moving vessel in the throes of a storm. It’s either sink or swim. You’re either going to be able to do it or you’re going to fail. And it was not a matter of failure. It wasn’t in the cards. There was some important reason for it all happening.

DESIGNING THE MAGAZINE

MF: At first, I didn’t have an idea of what I would do with the design of this new magazine. I mean, I had some thoughts about it.  I had taken advanced graphic design classes with Milton Glaser and Henry Wolf and Clay Felker from New York Magazine when I was in New York. I was really crazy about publication design.

When it came time to conceptualize the magazine, I decided and told you and MauMau that what I wanted to do was create something where each spread was like a poster.  Each page would be — in and of itself —something really inspired. I said, “When you enter into that non-ordinary reality, it’s not tepid. That is so dramatic.” So I wanted to kind of utilize the knowledge I’d gathered to do something that was really aesthetically grabbing. At that point, psychedelics had such a bad rap… you know… had a lot of baggage because it was all over the map in terms of how people were using them and the results. And I felt it was really important to do something in terms of the neopsychedelic notion.  It had to be strikingly different. To boot, we had no real budget, so I had to rely on my ingenuity. Hitting upon the Xerox copier—like the Punk fliers that were around then — allowed for a cheap workaround. Especially when the sympathetic clerks realized what I was doing. Most times they would not charge me for each copy I had made… usually because I would spend hours on the machine, selecting, resizing, cropping, collaging and experimenting all before them. The creative process is not linear— and I am definitely not a left brained sort… without intuitive spontaneity the results look quite dismally plain. Ordinary. Our magazine required exceptional graphics.

Choreographer and dancer Lucas Hoving in High Frontiers #2

RU SIRIUS:  It really pulled off a new aesthetic that was really hip and really irreverent and appealing to young people.

MF:  At the same time, it was different from the then current design standpoint. None of the stuff I do is ever trendy. Actually, there’s a certain inherent classicism so the project looks as fresh today as it’ll look thirty years forward.

RU: And yet that second issue sort of fit in with the punk vibe that was around.

MF:  Oh, yeah.  Living close to the Haight — and what with all of the punk bands in San Francisco and that graphic look that they had — I wanted to take advantage of that because I liked it. There was a freshness to it. A certain rawness. A haphazard spontaneity. At the same time, the Punk aesthetic was generally pretty rough edged. So I took a pinch of that influence and morphed it into something else. Kind of thesis, antithesis… and then you get your final product — a unique synthesis.

TRIPPIN’ BALLS

MF: Every weekend we went out there to that cove and spent the entire night there.  It was the most extraordinary period of growth, because we were getting to know ourselves from a very different point of view. And we were getting to know each other—plus, we were getting to know other people as well. I could not help but think we were pretty mindful of the fact that we were doing something important with the magazine… without feeling self-important. Carol (High Frontiers attorney) had said to me one day: “You’re dreaming for the rest of us.” She was correct.

RU: Usually it was you, me, and MauMau… and we’d sorta pick out one or two people and bring them out… (laughs)

MF: Yeah… and totally freak them out. (laughs) They were never the same after that.  Reflecting back on it — that was really ballsy. But at the same time, it was done with such a good intention and good-heartedness— and a sense of humor. But mostly, in innocence. I know we were genuinely innocent because we were never trying to impose ourselves on these other people. I’ve had so many weird, peculiar experiences with some of those strange people who had come through the doors — especially those power trippers that came through.

RU: You mean during those times, or at other times?

MF: Yeah, during the High Frontiers period. One day I had an unusual experience with some psychologist that I met through the magazine. We went out there to the Valley together.

This I’ll never forget:  I had driven over from Berkeley. As soon as we had gotten high, suddenly this other entity appeared on the scene. Now, it became abundantly clear I was in danger. Psychic danger. This became a battle. It turned really weeeiiiird… I mean really, really weeeiiird…

Now when I say weird, I’m talking like vampire weird where I knew that there was something extraordinarily wrong with his intention. I recall that we split up during this experience. A bit later, when we met on a trail, he said to me something along the lines of: “thanks for the ride.” It was clear he meant he had somehow… I don’t know what he done to me psychically. I have no idea what happened, except that… it was very, very, very weeeiiird. Suddenly, still out in the ozone, I’m leaving the place alone. How he got back, I have no idea. And I never ever heard from him again. (An analogy today: he downloaded files without permission… a “sneak and peek” rummaging through my mind.)

RU:  (laughs) Yeah, there were some spooky times there.

MF:  There was one time, you and I came back to Mill Valley, and it was the same kind of stuff.  This insanely weird stuff going on. You can’t talk to someone about this because they’ll think you’re absolutely bonkers. Guess we were/are?

RU: Was that the day we came back to Mill Valley and there was a guy in the burrito shop in front of us who was naked?

MF:  No, I don’t remember that.

RU:  (laughs) I think that was you, me and MauMau…  but you had split back to San Francisco already. And it was one of the most intensely strange excursions. We were back in Mill Valley, and we were like: Are we in a Philip K. Dick novel? Is this the same universe we were in before or a parallel universe? And then we walk into the burrito shop and there’s this guy in front of us completely naked. (laughs).  Then I knew we had come down to a different universe.  I went to a phone booth and called Terence McKenna about it.

MF: I remember one.  I think it was the first time that we had spent an evening with LSD, and fortunately at that time we were able to get some really clean stuff and it was one of those spectacularly diamond clear experiences. And at the end, we had been given some DMT to experiment with… the first time that we did that. And that was… a remarkable revelation. I love DMT.

RU: I think we had actually sort of been debating — (both laugh) — earth vs. space or something like that. And then we sat down and smoked the DMT and that just kinda splattered rational argument into a zillion pieces. None of it mattered.

MF: That was when we began the quest. The quest for using multi-molecule routes.

RU: Synergy.

MF: The synergies.  I told Sasha (Shulgin) that the best combination I’d found was 2cb and DMT. He was amazed…. couldn’t believe it. For me, that was the best one. I liked that combination the most… of all the trials run.

RU: Yeah. They both are highly energetic.

MF: We both really liked the DMT.

RU:  Yeah, that was a real love affair for me.

In the process of designing the second issue, I remember you doing excursions for inspiration almost like for every image. Is my memory false, or…

MF:  (laughs) No. It’s very true. You would bring me an article. And I’d read it and then try to get a handle on it. What was it exactly that had to be brought forth visually to make it worthwhile — because it couldn’t just be a simple illustration. That’s not what it was about. It was more a matter of finding the essence of the story and then bringing that out visually. Like the amazing story we had by Ram Dass gotten from Peter Stafford’s  Magic Grams.” [unpublished book manuscript] It was a terrific piece and I think the illustration really, really worked on numerous levels.

MAKING & MARKETING THE PSYCHEDELIC MAGAZINE

MF:  I’d split with Betsy in July.  I was living in a loft in the Tenderloin. I had no money. You said, come to the San Francisco Symphony with me to sell season tickets. Here I am — tongue-tied, totally introverted… but flat broke. When I began with High Frontiers; I was about as insular as you can be.  My wife had been working in the world.  I very much liked being quiet, being in the wings, and not having to assert myself. And suddenly, I’m thrown out there to the lions. I’m out of money.  I said, “Well, I’ll give it a shot.”

High Frontiers #2 Centerfold

For the first two weeks, I didn’t make one sale. Not one. It was strictly commission. I was determined to succeed. It was important for me to learn how to communicate verbally. As you know, I have this enormous capacity to persevere. Finally, on the 15th day, I made my first sale… and then I started making at least $200 a week! You know, that was not bad considering we only worked four hours a day. Suddenly, I learned how to speak with strangers, how to get them to see my point of view. I realized that I enjoyed it. It was like learning that while all my life I had never played baseball — but when I was forced to play, that I loved the game, and was good at it to boot.

I remember that you and I moved into a house in Berkeley, a duplex.  We were gathering the material for a magazine with lots of people coming around. It was coalescing into quite a scene.

That certainly was fun because at the same time it was during the reign of Ronald Reagan and here we’re doing something so completely opposite to mainstream, conservative America. How could we not just adore what we were doing?

Here we’re working towards a lofty goal — the excitement was really, really palpable. Creating this magazine was worthwhile. There was finally a reason for being…

I had set up a studio in the back bedroom. You were living in the living room. Your mattress was a simple piece of foam rubber that you slept on.  No furniture at all. Then, suddenly, you got together with Alison (Kennedy aka Queen Mu) and began living in the antique-laden lap of luxury up in her place in the Hills.

THE LA TRIP

RU:   Not long before we had the issue printed, we went down to LA.  That was a great trip!

MF:  I remember when we interviewed Timothy Leary — we finished interviewing him and we were talking afterwards. His wife, Barbara, came out and she said she was going to the gym. And he said, “Can I join you?” And she said something along the lines of… “no.” And we realized Barbara ran the show. Tim was just completely shot down. “No, you can’t join me.” I was shocked. Here’s the great Tim Leary and look at the way he’s…

We went to see Tommy Retitg [ed: he was Timmy in the TV show Lassie] That was the fun one. We went to his house — his apartment in Marina Del Rey… He was a nice, kind person. And he turned us on to some guy that had created a little booklet of materials for replenishing your neurochemicals if you use these miraculous molecules. We published some of it.

And then we went to see the publisher Jeremy Tarcher in Beverly Hills. In another wing of the house, his wife Shari Lewis was having singing lesson. We were talking with Jeremy, when Shari comes out and says: “You weren’t here, were you?” She was so embarrassed.

I remember driving down to Manhattan Beach to meet Durk Pearson and Sandy ShawThere was a heavy, low fog. Looking up, one could see the arcs running between the insulator and the wires as we passed Los Angeles Power and Light’s generation plant.  Just like in Blade Runner. It looked like we were entering Hell. Arriving in their neighborhood, in the street, there was Sandy screaming into a two-way radio… announcing our arrival. Apparently she’s deaf.

RU: Wasn’t she dressed in…

MF:  Black leather.

RU: I remember they were in army fatigues… camouflage. Sandy screams into a walkie-talkie: “They’re here!”

MF:  They had this green pallor about them… oh, my God. I have a photograph of them with him opening that refrigerator filled with all those hundreds of nutrients.  What a strange couple they were…

RU: They had, like, the strongest weed I’d ever smoked and then we all sat down and watched some weird Masterpiece Theater spy show that they were really into . (both laugh).

Remember what happened when we returned from LA?

MF: Oh, yeah. We came back and suddenly the house was transformed. I remember that the guys who were living in Marin… MauMau and Amalgam X and so on had brought over all kinds of pillows and coverings. But first they had destroyed the house. It was sort of like destruction and then creation.

RU: MauMau had basically eaten all of the magical molecules that we had in the refrigerator… everything at once.  I think he drank a jug of wine first.

MF: …Then just completely destroyed everything. And then they came back and they fixed everything.

RU:  Things started to split up in various ways pretty quickly even before the publication of that issue.  There were a lot of really different characters involved.

MF: Right. Mau au and X sort of split off and stayed mostly in Marin while we were in Berkeley.  (Amalgam X!  What an amazing character! What a genius for comedy!)

We stayed in Berkeley and they were doing their craziness over there. It was very interesting. From a sociological standpoint, the difference between what was happening in Marin and what was happening in Berkeley was pretty interesting. Berkeley was much more cerebral, more intellectual.

RU: (laughs) Yeah, we were like two tribes. We were all Jews over in Berkeley. (both laugh) We tried to keep it together. (both laugh).

 

……………………………………………………

PART TWO: THE TRANSPERSONAL (PSYCHEDELIC) PHOTOGRAPHY PROJECT

RU:  So you started this almost lifelong project of photographing individuals who were involved in psychedelics in some way. Describe how that came about.

MF:  Well, I bought my first Nikon F, an SLR, in 1961, while a sophomore at Pratt. I worked in a paint store. For 75 cents an hour. So you can imagine how long it took me to make $200 to buy the camera. I scrimped and I saved, but I bought this camera. When I discovered the “camera,” I realized that I no longer wanted to be an industrial designer. No longer was I interested in designing racing cars. Thus began my lifelong love affair with creating two-dimensional images.

In 1988, I spent the entire summer in Europe. I called Albert Hofmannit being the 50 years since the first time that he created LSD-25… I called him and I told him that I wanted to visit him to do a photograph. He said he would welcome that, but he couldn’t do it then.  I think he was having a health issue. I knew he was coming to Santa Rosa that October for the Association of Transpersonal Psychologists annual meeting. (Stan Grof’s group).

I arranged to meet him there.  I photograph him on a Sunday before the event began to catch him fresh. The next day I had the film processed. That evening, I made a print — went back up to Santa Rosa, presented Albert with the portrait, and I explained to him that I plan to photograph all of the living psychedelic pioneers.”

Albert Hoffman, photo by Marc Franklin

At this time, the US government was running a stupid ad campaign, truly asinine propaganda: “This is your brain, this is your brain on drugs.” Showing a fried egg. Preposterous. Lumping psychedelics together with speed, opiates, and all the myriad other drugs of abuse. I thought, “You know, that’s such a load of horseshit. I must do something about that!”

Knowing full well that so many wildly creative, intellectually robust, well-rounded individuals had seriously and irreverently undertaken working with psychedelics as healing agents, for divining the future, for creativity, for re-creation… they weren’t the burn-outs, the walking wounded, riff raff, that the government would have you see — but rather they were society’s most intelligent beings. These were the leaders in every field —  visual art, music, science, literature, religion, human consciousness… the crème de la crème! “I’m going to portray these people how they are. I’m going to dismantle that poisonous propaganda lie visually. That is what I do best.” Thus began this multi year project.

That Monday, I called Richard Evans Schultes at Harvard explaining my plan. He agreed to sit for me. I quickly made arrangements to get to New York. Then I phoned Allen Ginsberg, who I had known from my Yippie days in NYC.

Turned out that Ram Dass just happened to be in New York City, so I called him. From Manhattan I drove up to Cambridge, spending a marvelously insightful day with Schultes at Harvard’s Botanical Museum. That was quite something. All RES did was rail against Michael Dukakis, who was then running for President. I mean, this guy was not a Republican — he was a Tory! [Laughs] What a character.

RU: Your photos have a particular look, a particular sort of framing mechanism that brings out something.  Did you have that in mind right from the start?

MF: Before I even went to photograph Albert Hofmann, I knew immediately that this project was going to be a matter of capturing… delineating the soul. The photographs themselves had to be “psychedelic.” But certainly not like anything heretofore seen, and not obvious. As a point of departure I used the cliché: the eyes are the gateway to the soul. I love clichés. Why? Because that gives me much ammunition to work with. Employing a strong vision with hackneyed, trite, severely overused clichés, but in a new manner — suddenly you’re a genius, you know… because everyone before has attempted to do this before, but failed. So if one can achieve it in a different way—then there is that satisfying “ah ha” moment.

ACCESSIBLE, BUT DENSE

What differentiates my portraiture from the mass of snaps is that I photograph the inner person… not the exterior husk.  I’m able to “grok” people… instantly. That’s what these transpersonal portraits are—a concise distillation if you will. A symbol. More than anything else, without the person’s active participation in perpetuating their ego bound mask.  Suddenly, without their intervention, it’s the most precise liberation of that individual — a distillation of their vital essence, visually. No need for words of explanation, either.

Generally I would just call someone and say, “I want to do a portrait of you for this ongoing project” or simply,  “I want you to come over.” Like, I phoned Wavy Gravy, all right? Wavy and I have known each other for many years. He is familiar with my work. So he came over to San Francisco. The result of this collaboration: I have a portrait of Wavy that is unlike any others taken of him. Curiously, some particular but crucial element of the portrait had escaped my scrutiny. It had eluded me for 23 years! Only when I had these 24 by 36 inch prints made, did I discover that there’s a teardrop running from his eye! Wavy’s particular expression — the quintessential bittersweet clown image, smilingly sad. But with a tear drop. Each one of us has an inherent sadness that is overwhelmingly obvious if one is sufficiently perceptive.  This is the human condition.

About the framing. No, it is not at all arbitrary, but rather the closest I can get to someone’s face with a particular lens that I have chosen to use. It is a 105mm lens — a portrait lens — to avoid facial distortion. Use of a shorter focal length lens in close would make the sitter’s nose become the size of a basketball, their eyes like peas. To emphasize the eyes meant I needed to crop out a portion of the face. Since hair is the least important personal feature, it’s outside of the picture frame in these images. The sitter’s chin is so much more important. But it is the eyes that are of paramount importance.

RU:  Right. Those are real clean pictures.

MF:  Of course. After these many years my technique has become painstakingly perfected.  One would hope so. [Laughs] Also, as one stricken with the curse of perfectionism, I knew that with black and white photography, especially these close-in portraits — that the most important item you have is the photographic negative. Not having had my own darkroom since 1972, I always had to have a pro lab process my film. Always I sought out the best possible lab, paying top dollar to have my film processed. Because I knew that in the future, the only thing I would have to work from is what I had created in the past. I’ve got to have good material. If I’m going to spend the time to do it; it’s got to be done well. Likewise I’ve also always sought out the best equipment. I found the best lab in San Francisco when I was working with the Nuclear Freeze movement in 1983. Not inexpensive, but hang the expense if they do a great job. In the grand scheme of things, film costs and processing expenses are trivial. I was not looking to save money. I was looking to have impeccable negatives to print from.

This summer, I needed to have the negatives drum scanned.  Fortunately, I was introduced to a superb craftsman, Steve Philips. He lives here in Santa Cruz. Steve works with many of the National Geographic photographers, along with the world’s top wildlife photographers represented by Minden Pictures, a stock agency in Watsonville, of all places. Publications require high quality input. Minden uses a high-resolution Heidelberg drum scanner to digitize the film images of their photographers. Steve provided superb scans of my negatives at a very reasonable price. (One reason was the cleanliness and quality of my negatives—a result of having chosen properly years ago.) His work is exceptional… His long term printing expertise was what allowed me to make 24 x 36 inch prints from my 35 mm negatives, with ease. It’s amazing when you consider this: we’re talking about a 35 mm negative that is one inch by one and a half inches. That means it’s a 24 times blow-up. That’s pretty extraordinary when you think about it. Can’t be done readily with analog photography. The image would disintegrate. But these digital images are absolutely sharp edge-to-edge. With judicious editing in Photoshop, they are totally clean of unnecessary artifacts. Dramatic. Majestic.

RU:  Let’s talk a little bit again about some of the people you photographed.

MF: Claudia Naranjo was the second person that I photographed. Afterwards, I flew off to New York to see Allen Ginsberg.  From Northport, NY I called him. “Oh yeah, come on over. Of course. Of course, come over.” When I got to New York City, I called him again to arrange a specific time. Allen said, “I can give you five minutes.” I said, what are you talking about, five minutes? When I arrived, he says, “I’ve got five minutes for you.” “Five minutes? It’ll take me more than five minutes to unpack my camera.” An hour and a half later, I was finishing up.

A year later, after I gave him a print, he asked, “Why is it so sharp?” I said, “Allen, I’m a photographer. I know how to focus. And I use Nikon lenses.” “Oh…”

To preclude the sitter’s preconceptions about what was about to happen, rarely, if ever, would I show them a finished portrait from the series. Not until the session was completed. I didn’t want them to know what I was about to do. All I asked of my subjects was to look directly into the lens, to not smile, and most importantly — to continue breathing.

Fast forward to December 1988 and I realize, “Oh, look who’s going to be playing at the end of the year — The Grateful Dead.”  I called upon Dennis McNally, their publicist, to make the needed arrangements. After seeing the portraits I had with me, Dennis remarked, “You can only go in alone. You can’t bring an assistant.” (You can’t do this. You can’t do that.) And I’m saying, “But I typically have been photographing everyone with available light, using daylight.” He says, “You can only photograph them at the concert just before the performance.” Despite the conditions, I got exceptional portraits of Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir. The other band members did not see fit to sit for me. To this day I do not know if Dennis ever mentioned to them that I was doing portraits.

Nearly everyone I contacted agreed to sit. The only exceptions were Mountain Girl and Ken Kesey.  Caroline Garcia (Mountain Girl) did not want me to photograph her, but she brought me to a Dead show as her date…

Seems like Ken Kesey, his wife Faye and I danced for months. For hours on end, I would be on the telephone with them. Eventually I managed to photograph of Ken in SF when he was drunk on sloe gin… but it’s not the same. You know? I didn’t want to show that side of him, the Trickster that he was.

Following a peyote hunt in the Mexican desert along the Tropic of Cancer with the Huicholes, in March of 1989 I went to see Oz (Oscar) Janiger in LA. He said to me, “Make my house your house. Here’s my Rolodex. Consider it yours. Who do you want to meet? I’ll call them for you.” Oz was so generous. He was very excited about the project. He loved the portraits.

During that visit to LA, I went to Nick Bercel’s house. Nick Bercel was the psychiatrist that gave LSD to spiders. He was apparently the first individual on the west coast to take LSD. Actually, not to take LSD, but to administer LSD. This was 1949. Nick told me a really funny story of how he got an unnamed divinity student as his subject, he broke open the Delysid ampoule and he put it into the distilled water. Back then, like nearly every adult, he was a cigarette smoker. Sitting back across his desk from his subject, the man remarked, “Every time you raise your voice, you get larger, and every time you lower your voice, you get smaller.” And he tells the subject that the same thing was happening to him. He said he must’ve spilled some on his hand and that transferred when he was smoking the cigarette. So he said the next day, he took LSD to discover the effects for himself….

Later, I went up to Tim Leary’s house. Arriving early, I waited in the driveway for Tim to come back from the gym where he was going to be with (his wife) Barbara. I dozed off. She honked the horn. I wake up and make my way to the house. She said, “Do you have any photographs to show me?” I made the mistake of showing the portfolio of portraits that I always show afterwards. Barbara then said, “Hold on a minute, please.” About 20 minutes later, Tim comes back freshly shaved, now dressed in a suit jacket and tie… he had been in a Nike running suit.

I asked, “Barbara, will you allow me to photograph you?” She said, “Absolutely not. Your photographs show everything.”

But Tim loved his portrait. He became one of my biggest fans.

Timothy Leary, photo by Marc Franklin

After the session with Tim, I’m leaving to go back up north to my home in San Francisco. Earlier I had made arrangements to drive up to John Lilly’s house in Malibu. It was March, so the sun is going down fairly early. For these portraits I’m using available light… Driving up the coast along the ocean, just as I am about to turn onto the road to get to John’s house, a humpback whale spouts! Greetings from Malibu.

Arriving at John Lily’s house, I spy John standing in his bathrobe, pajamas and slippers. With a weeks’ stubble on his face. He’s got a cigarette dangling from his mouth. John says to me, “Where do you want me?” “John, we better hurry up, because we are fast losing the light. Let’s do it right here.” With that, he opens his mouth, and the cigarette tumbles out. “Oh, this is going to be a very interesting time, very interesting.”

Well, I photographed him in the driveway. My three exposures. Boom it’s done. Afterward, we go into the house. He introduces me to his daughter, Nina, and the others that were there. At a certain point, he looks at me and says, “Now, you’re the psychedelic photographer. Do you have any drugs on you?” I said, “Well, John, as a matter of fact I do. Some liquid peyote that I brought back from Mexico. You’re welcome to have some.” At that point Nina pops up, and she says, “John, you just had a steak. Let it digest.” (laughter)

Back home in San Francisco, I compiled a master list of the individuals all around the country I wanted to include. I mapped out an itinerary, starting with a second trip down south to LA. I decide May was time to begin this major road trip. Seven weeks, eleven thousand miles as it turned out. Oz Janiger assisted me in LA, arranging appointments with all the locals… From LA, then onwards to Tuscaloosa AL (Humphry Osmond) to Tennessee (Stephen & Ina May Gaskin), Maryland (The Spring Grove Hospital crew), NYC (Joan Halifax, Harry Hermone, Howard Lotsoff), Boston (Grinspoon and Bakalar), Toronto (John Beresford),back down to Pittsburg, and out to Lawrence, Kansas to stop and see William Burroughs.

In the process of setting up my itinerary, I called William Burroughs. His secretary, James Grauerholz – we had known each other for years —  said, “You know, we want to see you, but we’re going to be in Switzerland in May. William’s shotgun paintings are going to be on exhibit. But we really want to see you. Instead of coming and seeing us on the beginning of your trip, come and see us at the end. We do want to see you – definitely. Come by. However, you know, William hates having his picture taken. And he hates psychedelics. But we want to see you, so please come by.”

I didn’t think anything much of this conversation… I just marked it down that I had to go see William Burroughs in June. The real trip began when I went to see Humphrey Osmond, who lived in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. I was to go all through the country, eventually driving up to Toronto for John Beresford. It was his insistence and acid that Michael Hollingshead used to turn Tim Leary on to LSD (before that he was sticking with psilocybin). I motored up to Tennessee to The Farm. While I was at the Farm, Ina May Gaskin asked, “Aren’t you tired of photographing only men? This is a project primarily of men.” I said, “You’re right!” “Would you like to photograph midwives?” I agreed, “I’d love it.” So concurrently, I would be photographing midwives. It was a beautiful balance for me.

Enroute to Baltimore, I stopped in North Carolina to photograph Weston LaBarre. In Baltimore, I photographed Rick Yensen and all of the people, except Stan Grof, that were at Spring Grove Hospital… This group of psychiatrists and psychologists had done ground breaking work, legally, with psychedelics at Spring Grove Hospital.

Then I drove to Manhattan. “Joan Halifax wants to see you,” my friend Jeff informed me. “Joan Halifax wants to see me?” Last time I had seen Joan Halifax, it was to interview her for High Frontiers magazine. When Joan had opened the SF hotel room door — she bit my head off. She snarled, ‘You came in here thinking I was an advocate for psychedelics? Well I’m not!’”

At the Open Center, there’s Joan at the back end of the space. She sees me, she pops up, comes running towards me, throws her arms around me and gives me a big wet smooch! “What do you want? What can I do for you?” I said. “Joan, uh… I’m here to photograph you.” She asks, “Where shall we do this?” I said, “Well, we gotta do it outside quickly. Again, the light was fast fading. “Let’s take two chairs outside on Spring Street and we’ll do this.”

Sitting across from Joan, I’m ready to take the first exposure. Now you have to understand, when I photograph, I take two or three snaps. That’s it. I don’t use the shotgun approach. I’m very mindful… four photographs, at the most. I’m selective. Very very judicious. I use the full frame of the camera. So, I’m ready to fire off the first exposure when suddenly someone’s tapping my shoulder. He inquires, “What film are you using?” [Laughs]

I arranged to photograph Lester Grinspoon at Harvard. I said, “Lester, I’m going to be here during this particular weekend. I’m going to get to New York and then I’m going to drive up to see you.” He says, “No problem. I’ll be there.” I drive all the way up to Boston — 200 miles — a four hour drive, right? He’d gone to Portugal! I had to drive back to NYC empty handed. I arranged to return the following week.

On to Toronto where I’m going to see John Beresford, MD. Talk about a character!  He was such a sweetheart. I go up to his office on Young Street into this modern high rise building. He’s dressed in a three-piece suit with a tie. “Where do you want to photograph? I answered, “Well, I’ve been using available light outdoors. Let’s go down to the street.” In the elevator, he starts disrobing! Takes off his jacket, takes off his tie, takes off his vest, takes off his shirt. Takes off his t-shirt! “I want you to see something.” He’s got this ‘happy cross’ hanging around his neck. You know, a Christian cross with a smiley face? He put the smiley face on a cross. John told me, “What’s wrong with the cross is that it’s a symbol of death and destruction. We’ve got to put a smiley face on it to make it happy.”  He gave me one. I have it. Sterling silver. What astounding eyes this guy had. What a heart…

From Ontario, I drove to Pittsburg, Pennsylvania to photograph a midwife there.  Continuing my quest, I headed out to Lawrence Kansas to see Burroughs. 26 hours straight, I was on the highway. I get there at 11:00 am. I bound up the stairs to see James Grauerholz. He’s there. I show him my portfolio. We chat and catch up. “Hold on a minute.” James is on the phone. He looks at me and says, “Would one o’clock be good for you?” “Yes, point me in the direction of a health food store, I’m starving…”

We have a little caravan of cars heading off to William’s house. Me, in the California plated car, I was followed by a local police cruiser. [Laughs]

William’s tiny house is threadbare, literally. He’s got a small wooden table, no carpet… nothing on the walls. No furniture in the house beyond the chairs we were sitting on. It’s 98 degrees with 99% humidity. We were sitting at the table and talking. I show him my portraits, because I knew that I was not going to photograph him. We’re talking about all sorts of wide-ranging, interesting subjects. “Would you like a drink?” he says, as he walked over to his refrigerator. “What are you going to have?” ” A Cuba Libre.” I noticed he had a Dos Equis on his refrigerator door. “I’ll have that Dos Equis.” I knew that I could sip on that for two days if need be… appearing quite social enough. Because if I drank any alcohol to speak of, I would fall over and collapse from the sheer exhaustion of the crazy drive…

William belts back several of these drinks faster than I could blink, right? He takes his bony finger and he points it in my face. “Tell me something. How long do these photographs of yours take?” “Oh, approximately a sixtieth of a second.” “You’re on.”

William S. Burroughs, photo by Marc Franklin

RU: So let’s talk about this show down in LA.

MF: The show is an experimental mix in a non-subtle manner of large-scale transpersonal portraiture and events, countered with portraits of the natural world. All my work is essentially psychedelic portraiture, be it hydrogen-bomb scientists, harbor seals, redwoods or ticker tape parades. All the same. Brute force is required to bust through the din… Today we are swimming in a veritable stew of images, an onslaught overwhelming our visual sense gate, each vying to be seen, to inform us. Beautiful images are healing. Aesthetically uncompromising photographs allow me to speak directly to their “being” introducing to the beholder novel concepts that verbally would never be considered, accepted… let alone understood.

Nature as healer. That remains the guiding concept of mine… A number of years back I began photographing plants and trees seriously as healing images for hospitalized veterans. (Neuropsychoimmunology: images used to heal.) I began with the process of looking carefully—and seeing. Seeing the world, interconnected, interdependent, not as separate “things”—but as process.

When first viewed, the large-scale prints of the exhibit look weird, “unreal” to the uninformed.  Because they’re not as sharply focused throughout as one normally views this consensual reality. To bust through deeply embedded prior preconceptions, shallow focus is employed for emphasis — to delineate particular aspects of a flower. It’s essence. The “isness” of the flower.

The trees flow, they sway, they shudder, convulse, shake, spin. Animated, yet are captured within a “still” frame. This contradiction serves well to help one in questioning “reality” — acknowledging just what we do not know. Disorientation causes one to feel: “Wow, what feelings come up from seeing these images.” Each a little miracle.

The psychedelic pioneers’ portrait series meshes well with the images of nature, because all of my work is that of a portraitist.

People, animals, plants, events. All the same, really.

Employing XYZ, the concept of dominant, subdominant and subordinate, each visual element fits perfectly within the rectangle formed by the camera. This elemental underlying concept, XYZ forms the basis for all works of art: painting, sculpture, graphics, poetry, film, music, literature, photography… 

The Marc Franklin  Beyond: A Transpersonal Photograpy Exhibit  at SPF:a Gallery in Los Angeles until the end of 2011