ACCELER8OR

Aug 14 2012

Extreme Futurist Fest: An Interview With Rachel Haywire

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Rachel Haywire

Rachel Haywire is organizing the second Extreme Futurist Fest, scheduled to take place on the legendary date 12/21/2012.  In Rachel’s own words, “Extreme Futurist Fest is a 2 day arts and technology festival focusing on radical voices of the new evolution. Last year we had a great event and we were called ‘a TED conference for the counterculture’ by the LA Weekly.  This year we seek to make XFF an even more epic experience.”

RIKKI AUDAX:  I recall there was an issue with Kickstarter. What sparked the move to RocketHub?

RACHEL HAYWIRE:  RocketHub was a lot friendlier to me than Kickstarter and they were very understanding of my situation. They allowed me to block comments so my stalker could not harass me and my backers. They placed Extreme Futurist Festival on their front page and helped me promote it. They were focusing more on science and technology and I felt that their general vibe was very welcoming to people like me. It’s a really tight community of people working on projects related to science and the future. A project for NASA was just funded there.

RA: What is your vision for XFF?

RH:  Bringing together the best minds of my generation. I worked on this video with notthisbody which explains things pretty well:

Extreme Futurist Festival 2012 Trailer from H+ Worldwide on Vimeo.

RA:  What is your strategy for building this festival?

RH:  Kicking as much ass as possible. If XFF 2011 was the beginning of the new evolution XFF 2012 is the pulse of its formation. We have just started to book speakers and bands. Our first announced speaker is Aubrey de Grey and we will be announcing a lot more soon. Sniff Code will be designing our website and we’re currently raising funds at RocketHub so we can get a better venue than last time and make this a fully immersive experience. I want this to be an event that people talk about for years to come. You can check out the RocketHub page here: http://www.rockethub.com/projects/9220-extreme-futurist-festival-2012

RA:  What feedback have you received from Transhumanism community as well as the counterculture movement?

RH:  People seem to welcome me in the Transhumanist community more than they do in the counterculture. We are a tribe of leaders and visionaries who have a shared desire to improve humanity. Meanwhile I am bringing a lot of counterculture people into the Transhumanist movement who are sick of the counterculture and its usual cliches. Creative people on the fringes of society need a more intellectual world than the counterculture provides. What I am building is a reaction to the counterculture that maintains its cutting edge and risk-taking attitude yet rejects the status quo of what the counterculture has become.

RA: For people who want to get involved, how can they assist in helping XFF grow?

RH:  The main thing right now is to donate to the festival on RocketHub. We only have a few days left and every little bit is important. You can also email extremefuturistfest2012@gmail.com if you would like to speak or perform.

Aug 05 2012

How I Learned About the DMT Entities

Of all the weird jobs I’ve had in my life, the most entertaining was probably a floor managing gig I took in the early 2000s at a metaphysical shop called Gateways Books. In a town known for its high WTF factor — Santa Cruz, CA — this place was quite possibly WTF Headquarters. Gateways was a magnet for a vast panoply of enlightenment seekers, occultists and countercultural characters of all strains: Buddhist monks, cult escapees, Shiva worshippers, black magicians, clairvoyants, pagan priestesses,  psychedelic trippers, channelers, Tantrists, breatharians, Silence of the Lambs-style cross-dressers in smeared black makeup, etc., etc.

Ah, how I loved all these Star Wars cantina creatures and their endlessly unpredictable antics. I routinely feasted on wildly original ideas from some of the most unique characters on the planet, such as the shaven-headed fellow who vigorously explained that to be 5150 (police code for crazy) was to be greater than 100% ( i.e., greater than 50/50), or the numerologist/rune expert who pontificated at length about the metaphysical links between the faerie archetype and the actress Fay Wray (fay-ray: get it?) and between comedienne Minnie Pearl and the New Testament’s “Pearl of Great Price.” (“You see, Minnie Pearl came from Memphis, and the rune for ‘Mem’ has a numerical value of 14, which, when divided by the numerical value of the rune for ‘Phis’ and then multiplied by the number of the Goddess, comes out to Minnie Pearl’s street address, which also happens to be the last three digits of my phone number.” That kind of thing.)

To me, the customers who didn’t fit the profile of the calm, soft-spoken “spiritual” type often came off as more legitimately mystical than the ones who did. Many of the by-the-book types (in honor of whom I sometimes called the store Getwise Books in secret) appeared to be wearing spirituality like a temporary tattoo, whereas the rowdies and crackpots seemed more like thrill seekers who had accidentally crashed their hang gliders into realms of higher consciousness.

On any given day at Gateways, you might witness a disheveled store patron sending himself into orgasmic ecstasy by pressing an AA battery against his teeth, or you might hear a self-professed UFO abductee impassionedly extolling the virtues of hooking a crystal up to a car battery and then placing it to your forehead. One regular customer, a secret societies aficionado who used an expensive array of radionic devices to achieve spiritual contact with the ’80s pop singer Tiffany, was interesting enough to earn a starring role in the stunningly strange documentary film I Think We’re Alone Now, which can and should be watched streaming via Netflix or here. And trust me: when two or more of these characters interacted with one another, it was epic viewing on par with Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein or Godzilla vs. Mothra.

The job perks weren’t bad, either: on one occasion, a Hindu man in a saffron robe gave me a dried pineapple ring that left me feeling oddly elated, and on another, a friendly Buddhist raver kid handed me a freshly picked mushroom that gave me an almost religious appreciation for the magnificent precision instrument known as the human eye.

One afternoon, a tall, frighteningly animated guy from L.A. burst through the front door, startling the entire shop—and quite possibly a few wild beasts of the Serengeti—with his overpoweringly loud voice. “HEY, BRO!” he shouted. “DO YOU HAVE A BOOK CALLED ‘PLANTS OF THE GODS’?”

After taking a moment to peruse our computer records, I responded affirmatively. The customer—let’s call him Taz—assimilated this information by jumping around as if he had a spider in his sock. “NO FUCKING WAY!” he bellowed. “ARE YOU SERIOUS? NO, MAN, YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND—I’VE BEEN LOOKING ALL OVER THE COUNTRY FOR THIS BOOK! I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU’VE GOT IT!”

Speaking in the most soothing tones I could find in my voice box, I led him to the Psychedelics section, where the book in question lay in wait. Letting out a victory yelp, he seized his prize and feverishly thumbed through its pages. Within seconds, he zeroed in on a colorful painting of a bulls-eye pattern with a flower petal-like border. “YOU SEE THIS RIGHT HERE?” he demanded, seemingly on the verge of gouging out his own eyes with excitement. “I SAW THIS! I SAW THIS!!”

Now, it so happened that the man standing to our immediate right was dressed as a druid. Not a cheap, Halloween-style facsimile, mind you—this guy was a real-deal, straight-outta-Rivendell, fireball-hurling badass, complete with staff, white beard, black cloak and hand-crafted metal bracelets. (We’ll call him Draco.) With the calm, knowing air of a learned magus, he turned toward us and intoned, “I’ve seen it, too. But not just those circles.” He waved the extremely long nail of his index finger toward a gaggle of animals and spirits surrounding the bulls-eye pattern. “All this as well.” With an extra measure of wizardly self-assurance, he added, “Did you know you can go inside those circles you saw?”

Taz completely lost his shit. “I DID!! And then I heard this SOUND…”

“Stop right there,” Draco cut in. “It was one of two sounds.” He emitted a low, metallic rumble that sounded something like a robot playing a didjeridoo. This didn’t seem to ring a bell with Taz. But when he switched to a high-pitched space probe whir, he hit pay dirt. “THAT!!” Taz screamed.

Unsurprised by his success, Draco pressed on: “And did you meet… Them?” He leaned forward slightly, smiling conspiratorially. “Do you know what I mean by ‘Them’?”

Ohhhhhhhhh, yeah! Ohhhhhhh, yes I do, bro!” The assurance in Taz’s tone left no question that he knew exactly what Draco meant, and that he had, in fact, encountered “Them.” Fighting the urge to raise my hand and say, “Huh?”, I listened raptly as the two trippers journeyed into conversational terrain where I could no longer follow.

Waaaaiiiiitttt a second, bro,” Taz interjected. “Did we have the same catalyst for this?”

“Probably,” Draco replied. There was a momentary pause, and then, with an uncanny similitude of timing, pitch and inflection that had to be heard to be believed, they both blurted out, “DMT.”

It was a magical moment. Everyone within earshot of the conversation, including Taz and Draco, burst into laughter at the perfection of the synchrony. Eccentricity aside, there was something undeniably powerful going on here.

The conversation lingered on my mind for days afterward. Could DMT be a guest pass to hidden dimensions with an objective existence? And what, exactly, had Draco meant by “Them”?

Only much later, after skimming Rick Strassman’s DMT: The Spirit Molecule and listening to some rants by Terence McKenna, would I learn the answer to the latter question. “They,” as many readers already know, are the otherworldly beings that an astounding number of experimenters claim to have encountered while under the influence of DMT. Most such claimants are convinced that the DMT entities are not aspects of their own psyches, but are in fact independently existing denizens of a domain completely alien to our understanding. One popular theory is that DMT is a portal to the afterworld, and the entities are none other than spirits of those who have crossed over.

From an outsider’s perspective, there is, of course, a much simpler explanation: we have here a situation where the question “What have you been smoking?” doesn’t even need to be asked. This would be an easy position to take were it not for the astonishing consistency with which certain archetypes show up in different people’s DMT visions. Among the most common of these figures are insectoid aliens that perform some sort of surgery and/or testing on the tripper, and playful, self-transforming “elves” or “gnomes,” many of which offer the DMT voyager inscrutable objects that they’ve created by way of some kind of visible language. I personally have talked with folks whose descriptions of their own experiences of entity contact perfectly matched the stories I’ve read, in spite of the fact that some of these people had never heard of “Them” before smoking DMT.

Former Trip Magazine publisher James Kent has proposed that the entities are the product of DMT’s disruption of our visual processing: being anthropomorphically oriented by nature, the brain tries to find order in the chaos by sculpting the neural static into humanoid figures. Seems reasonable enough, though it doesn’t explain the regularity with which incredibly specific visions occur (surgical scenes, for example), nor does it account for all the highly intelligent DMT users who have undoubtedly entertained this hypothesis, yet who still insist that there’s something more going on here.

If you went back to the 15th century with a microscope and told folks that this piece of plastic and glass was a gateway to some kind of secret domain where various odd-shaped critters were moving around, they’d have called you crazy. Similarly, the very idea that you and someone in another country can see these words at the same time probably would have seemed insane, impossible or magical to pre-electronic civilizations. Perhaps DMT is a kind of “technology” that provides access to data that our primitive 21st century minds just aren’t capable of comprehending.

Getting back to the shop: Gateways is no more; in 2011, the recession forced the place to shut its doors after 32 years of service to the AA battery-munching community. I can’t imagine where I’ll ever find another gathering place for such a colorful assembly of otherworldly beings.

Oh, wait a second — yes, I can…

Jun 25 2012

The Counterculture Is Better In The Suburbs

 

The first time I was ever in San Francisco it blew my mind. It was a city of freethinkers and artists who were “on the level” and “got it.” Sometimes it’s hard for me to accept that I was born in South Florida. The isolation and alienation was so severe that I literally believed I was another species. In San Francisco, there were crazy people everywhere and it was the utopian dream. For several years I was born again. The freaks were everywhere and I united with my people at last.

So what happened? I gradually started to notice that people in the mass counterculture were as blind as “the sheep” only they were conforming to a different set of social norms. I came up with the term anti-sheep-sheep to describe them. I felt myself longing for the initial alienation of identifying as a mutant and feeling like I was the only one. After all, meeting people like you is a lot more exciting when you feel like you are the only one. The people who truly influenced my life were the few counterculture people who I met in South Florida. They were as isolated and alienated as I was. They felt like they were another species too.

I remember how we would have all these exciting discussions. “What are we?” was the question. Everyone seemed to have their own answer. “We are an alien species that has been put here to study the human race.” “We are demons from hell and our job is to eliminate the homo sapien.” It seems quite silly to me now but back then it was my inspiration for creating art. It was my job to become a tribal leader. I was going to give “what are we?” the best answer possible.

One of the kids I remember from South Florida created an entire civilization on paper. Since he did not belong in the world of the suburbs he was intent on creating his own world. He showed me a map of his civilization that consisted of a notebook full of beautiful drawings and cryptic messages. “This is where people like us are from,” he would tell me. His civilization had its own language consisting of symbols that he personally designed. We took acid together and discussed the possibility of replacing their civilization with our own.

I met some others in Miami. Thor was the metalhead philosopher. He carried a scepter, recited street poetry, and ranted about how nothing around us was real. His mission was to show people that they were living in the matrix, by any means necessary. Jackie was the transgender shaman punk who did not belong on this planet. Her goal was simply to return home so she could be among her own kind. “I think you guys are from my planet too,” she once whispered to Thor and I. “But what are we?”

The suburbs were an alienating place but the conversations were the best. It was all about being the few. We had a sacred sense of tribal unity that related to our sheltered and conservative upbringings. We were the ones. In San Francisco people didn’t grow up like us. They didn’t grow up like us in Los Angeles or New York either. In major cities people grew up with the counterculture being a visible part of mainstream culture. They grew up homo sapiens.

I want to make the argument that the counterculture is actually better in the suburbs. The scarcity of artistic and eccentric thought forces people to create their own civilizations. It fosters an intense unity between people who do not fit into the mainstream and creates extreme connections among those on the edge.

In contrast, larger cities force marketers to be “on the edge” so they can appeal to the counterculture demographic. You cannot walk down the street without seeing punks, ravers, goths, or at the very least hipsters. There is an over-the-counterculture element of commercialization that makes being a freethinking mutant another fad. The anti-sheep-sheep run prominent.

If I grew up in San Francisco: surrounded by counterculture models on billboards: always having a record store to hang out in: there is no way I would be the person I am today. Being a natural freethinker I would have rebelled against the dominant liberal culture. I wouldn’t have gotten any tattoos. I wouldn’t have become an alternative musician. I wouldn’t have made my artistic goal to answer the “what are we” question.

People were always shocked when I told them I was from South Florida. I was way too “cool” to be from the suburbs and obviously must have been from New York or LA. When I met other kids from the suburbs we would talk about how much easier it was to meet people like us in these big cities. We shared a deep knowledge about alienation that people from New York and LA simply couldn’t understand.

Big cities are known for their thriving countercultures but I see counterculture at its peak when it is at its most obscure. When there are only 5 other people in your entire city who “get it” you tend to get creative, start a fantastic cult, and plot world domination. It is the sense of alienation that connects people in the suburbs and it is through this alienation that new subcultures, tribes, and species are defined.

Maybe it is better to grow up human. You don’t need to sit alone in your room and wonder why you have been put on the same planet as “the sheep.” You don’t need to cry and scream because everybody around you is stuck in the matrix. You don’t need to be the real life protagonist of the movie “They Live” because nobody will put on their glasses. Still, there is so much that you take for granted because you have been surrounded by counterculture your entire life.

Is big city counterculture actually counterculture? I am not so sure that it is. Listening to GG Allin in New York is great but it does not give you the same rebellious thrill as listening to GG Allin in the suburbs. The more taboo something is the more exciting it becomes. Something cannot, by definition, be both popular and edgy. In South Florida it is edgy to be against war. In San Francisco it is socially enforced to the point of banal conformity.

The counterculture is better in the suburbs. It is through the isolation of “being the only one” that your life changes the moment you meet a brilliant person to make art with. Some of the most eccentric minds in existence are currently stuck in these boring towns of nothing. They have “what are we” conversations until 6 AM and it never gets old. They represent us because the billboards refuse to.

May 03 2012

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

For me, the Mondo 2000 History Project is this weird process of exploring my own history — among others — in the context of that magazine and scene.  In an introduction for the book (expect it to be completed around the end of the year), someone who shall remain nameless for now quotes from my original proposal for a book that would have been similar to this one but even more complicated and extensive.  It stands alone as a sort of reflection on memory and identity in relentlessly fast forward and memetically crowded times…  and, of course, it peters out at the end with a note to self, which makes a sort of sense in context.

Here then…

From Introduction to Use Your Hallucinations: The MONDO 2000 History Project 

Consider first of all the disconnect that all of us feel from ourselves in the past.  A few decades back, neurology imagined memory as a sort of computer file from which we could search and call up precise replicas of our experiences if only we had sufficient abilities to remember.  These days, it’s understood that memories are fluid, composed of the detritus of actual observed occurrences; impressions that may have been inaccurate in the first place and may have mutated over time; temporally scrambled memories (events that are conflated); and, for many, false memories (more frequent with women than men).  At the extreme of memories’ malleability, there are even people who intentionally or unintentionally implant memories in others with measurable success — an alien abductions (and, yes, perhaps an autopsy) is recollected under “hypnosis” or guided visualizations, etc.

And in fact, neurological evidence now suggests that childhood trauma may have less to do with who we are than last month’s ill treatment at the hands of a bank, law enforcement or abusive relative.  In fact, given the recent evidence, it has been conjectured by longevity nuts that humans who live 400-600 years will likely not remember there childhoods at all.

If memory, by nature, is so vague that one needs to act as one’s own detective to gather up the bits of one’s biographical life, the situation is rendered even more dire when living in mediated, populated times.  To wit: we might see more people in an afternoon on a city street than were alive on planet earth at the start of agriculture.  If you’d lived through the Civil War in 1861-‘65, your memories would probably have been more intense than those of a boomer hipster who avoided Vietnam to hang out in the counterculture, but they would likely be far fewer.  Your human interactions would probably have taken place in your hometown involving a few thousand people, and out on the battlefield with a few thousand more. If you were literate, you may have filled your mind up with ideas and characters from books – still, this leaves you with the possibility of an uncluttered and leisurely stroll down memory lane compared to what we contemporaries have experienced.

The modern – or if you prefer postmodern memory – is, by comparison, an assault victim, if not an amputee.  We have been filled up by a thousandfold more interactions and a millionfold more observations of fabricated, mediated realities — the memories of thousands of television shows and films, probably hundreds of thousands of songs, and the nearly infinite variations of content and interaction that have passed before our seemingly conscious minds online.  Our memories are filled largely with the trivial — discards that don’t get discarded, but fade and are swallowed into the mashup that constructs our alleged selves.  And none of this matters much.  There is no absolute necessity for most of us to make a connection to a personal biographical narrative.   There is, in fact, as postmodernists and neurologists have told us, no central self, no little homunculus sitting at the seat of the nervous system or soul making the movie of our selves 24/7.

The sense of self, in fact, seems to be an epiphenomenon that arises out of distributed, disconnected thoughts and experiences that are only nominally and occasionally integrated and variously recombined dependent on the circumstance and the kind of effort it does or does not require.  A different self then occurs every moment, albeit it’s a self with habits and attitudes very much like the one from the moment previous.

So it may be the better part of wisdom not to locate one’s life story, but rather – like the ancient Chinese Taoists, to go with the flow…  in this time, the flow being entirely forwards, a flow of acceptance of speed and distraction, of involvements – frequently mediated — with the present and future, with past memories only valued in accordance with the statute of limitations and if under indictment.

Humor me though if I take my personal case a bit further still.  While I identify all of us with these conditions of memory, I launch this investigation into my biographical narrative with at least the illusion that my sense of being in the world – and perhaps therefore my sense of the distance between self and memory — may be more pronounced than most, and that my process of rummaging around amidst the evidence of a life lived weirdly might illuminate something about human consciousness.  (note to self: mild autism?, family vagueness, lack of continuity with friends, drugs).

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)

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.

Nov 29 2011

The Impatience (And Genius) Of Jobs: An Interview with Walter Isaacson

I never felt a particularly intense curiosity about the life and personality of Steve Jobs until the night he died.  Oh sure, he was a sort of hip entrepreneur from the baby boom, so there was always a glimmer of interest — somewhat along the same lines as the vague interest I would have in the life of Richard Branson.  But my tastes in favorite biographies would tend to the more extravagant; a Timothy Leary or a Keith Richards or an Antonin Artaud or a Salvador Dali (and I must confess to a taste for the occasional bio of a power mad dictator).   Entrepreneurs, however extravagant or autocratic in their realm, would come up short in terms of satisfying whatever perverse delights in abused privilege, eccentricity, cosmic ambition and/or mighty flame-out I might hope to find in my favorite biographies.

But on the night Jobs passed, I took a look around my home and realized that my world is intimately suffused with the ghost of Jobs’s creativity — all those beautifully designed complex and total-package mechanisms for communication and creation are deeply woven into the proverbial fabric of my life.  Plus, he was one of those successful acidheads whose embrace psychedelic veterans like myself like to wave as a banner against the clichéd assumptions the mainstream has about those who have dipped their psyches in that font of lucid vision and/or sensory overload (depending).

I immediately contacted Walter Isaacson to find out if I could get a copy of his then-upcoming official Steve Jobs biography for Acceler8or and interview him about it.

The bio did not disappoint.  While no one reading Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson would come away comparing Jobs’s excesses and temperament to, say, an original dadaist or a major 1960s rock god, by most lights, he had personality and artistic sensibility to spare — and his visionary sense of self and determined refusal to do anything any other way than his own — makes for a lively and compelling read.

Isaacson lets his own prose sparkle as never before — including a use of playful titles and subtitles.  It’s fun.

I conversed with Walter Isaacson via email.

RU SIRIUS: At the halfway mark in reading the book, my most prominent thought is…. nobody could emulate this guy – his behaviors or even his business strategies and methods — and expect to succeed in business.  More likely, someone else would get punched in the head fairly frequently.  So I guess to formulate this as a question: what do you think about this observation…  and… is Jobs the most unique dude you’ve ever covered as a writer and journalist? Would you compare him to anybody?

WALTER ISAACSON: Steve is by far the most intense person I ever met, and he’s filled with contradictions. Who can I compare him to?  NOBODY! He was more inspiring than anyone I ever met, and also the least filtered. “I’m a black-and-white kind of person,” he told me when urging me not to use a color picture of him on the cover of the book, and he even thought in black and white: You were a hero or a shithead. He could taste two similar avocados and proclaim one to be the best ever grown and the other to be inedible. Most of us have a filter, so that if our first reaction is that something sucks we pause or temper our words. Steve was brutally honest. That made him seem like an asshole at times. But it also ended up making him charismatic and someone who could create a loyal team.

RU. I’ve never seen Jobs’s acidhead hippie aspect foregrounded to this degree, particularly in the early part of the book.  It’s sort of a weird contradictory relationship to counterculture.  I have my own thoughts about this, but let’s start with yours.

WI: Steve represented the fusion of many strands. One was the hippie, counterculture, anti-authority, drugs, rock, rebel spirit of the late Sixties. Another was the hacker, wirehead, phone phreaker, geek hobbyist culture. You melded both of these when you launched Mondo 2000 in the 1980s. To these two cultural strands, Steve also added the entrepreneurial, startup, business mentality that was arising in the 1970s in Silicon Valley, especially after the advent of the microchip. He embodied a lot of contradictions. A seeker of Buddhist enlightenment who becomes a billionaire businessman. A misfit, acid-dropping, counterculture rebel who is a tough businessman. Someone with a new age and alternative spirit who also is a believer in technology and rational science. It all seems a bit weird, but it’s also kind of cool.

RU: Did you see any interest on his part in the political aspects of counterculture… aside from loving Joan Baez?  Did he ever reference the antiwar movement or civil liberties struggles or environmental issues or even the war on drugs, to your knowledge?

WA:  He didn’t seem all that interested in politics. His main interest was education reform. He really thought the school days should be longer; teachers should not have tenure, etc. He wanted to make ads for Obama in 2008, but wasn’t on the same wavelength as David Axelrod.

RU:  One area where he contradicts most countercultural sensibilities was in his making Apple very much the opposite of open source and free software and all that.  What intrigued me in the book was that he seems not to be motivated so much by greed as by artistic sensibility.  He saw himself as an artist and he was the director of these creations — almost like Hitchcock making a movie.  It had to be just so.

WA: He really looked at himself as an artist. And he had the temperament of one. He was demanding, a perfectionist, and sometimes a control freak. He said he cared more about making beautiful products than about making a profit, and I believe him.

RU: For those of us who were around in the early days of digital culture, you could say Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak in one breath… sort of like Lennon and McCartney.  So was Wozniak a fluke?  Did Jobs ever imply that he viewed it that way?

WA: Woz was not a fluke. Steve Jobs said he was 50 times better than any engineer he had ever met. He was particularly brilliant at a very specialized thing: designing circuit boards using the minimal number of chips. But the importance of that talent waned, and he did not care about the other aspects of Apple.

RU: Did he have a Sancho Panza… a partner outside of his family who sort of stuck by him?… or at least some career long accomplices about whom you could tell us a bit about their relationships?

WA: One of Steve Jobs’s longtime mentors was Mike Markkula, the first real investor in Apple. He became a mentor. He taught Jobs about focus and marketing and packaging. But he sided with John Sculley in the showdown of 1985, and when Steve returned in 1997 he asked Markkula to leave the Apple board.

RU: You were surprised that Steve asked you to write a biography and gave you free reign over it, given his love of privacy and control.  Did he ever waiver?  Any freak out moments when he tried to shut you down… or where you worried he might do that?

WI: The one thing I could never fully understand was why Steve Jobs did not insist on more control over the book. He kept saying he didn’t want to see it in advance. He said he knew I would write things that would make him mad, but he wanted me to be honest. He said he wanted to avoid any perception that it was an in-house book. He wanted it to feel independent. The only time he interfered was when he saw a proposed cover design and thought it was ugly. He asked for input into the cover. I agreed.

RU: What did you learn that surprised you most about his personal life as you researched the book?

WI: What most surprised me about his personal life was how it was connected to his professional life. He was intense and emotional in both. In both cases, he had a romantic new age side and a sensible, technological, rational, business side. These two sides ended up connecting in both his personal life and business life. In his personal life, the two strands connected in his marriage. It was both a romantic and rational marriage.

RU:  I indicated at the beginning of this interview that Jobs was so unique that no budding entrepreneur could benefit from emulating him.  But I wonder, what lessons are there in this bio for people who want to make world changing art or technology?

WI: The most important lesson is to have a passion for connecting art with technology. It was the lesson of the fusion of the hippie and tech geek of the early 1970s, as reflected in Mondo 2000, and it’s embodied in Steve’s life.

RU:  Have you had any interesting responses to the book — for example, was anyone shocked or dismayed by the LSD references… or anything else?

WI:  Some people responded to the book by focusing on, and being shocked by, his petulance. That misses the point. I tried to make the narrative a tale of how the petulant personality was connected to his passion for perfection — and how eventually he made that inspiring rather than off-putting.

RU: Do you think Apple can keep up the magic without Jobs?

WI:  Apple has been infused with Steve’s belief in connecting art to technology. Tim Cook and Jony Ive get it. So do the other members of his top management team. They can make it work.