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Oct 12 2012

Your Friday MONDO: Nuggets — Pull Quotes from High Frontiers Issue #2 (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #34)

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More nuggets from High Frontiers for your weekend pleasure

 

 The hydrogen bomb (was) the flash of the first synapse of an etheric brain which is extended temporally as well as spatially   Robin Hoor Khuit

 

Everyone was looking at Ram Dass like he must be the Magus riding out of the north.  Peter Stafford

 

Learn how to control your own nervous system and the whole universe is yours… that’s the transmutation the alchemists were working for.  Robert Anton Wilson

 

There are about six different realities that Bell’s Theorem makes possible, none of them are ordinary. They’re all preposterous… Nick Herbert

 

Joyce, Guernica, Auschwitz, lunar landings, nuclear weapons, psychedelic religion, and computer networking — markers on a path that may eventually carry us toward… functional anarchy  Terence McKenna

 

When you take MDA and LSD simultaneously, you get a sort of matrix multiplication effect where you can observe yourself in all possible  incarnations. Zarkov

 

[With the Brotherhood of Eternal Love] It was a religious zeal that life is better suited to being high.  Michael Hollingshead

 

Revolution and evolution, they’re both a process. A revolution never  ends; or once a  revolution ends, it’s  probably a dictatorship…  Paul Krassner

 

I realized that I was seeing “god central.” The central panel I saw was the control panel of the entire universe.   Zarkov

 

There was a giant punk goddess with a green mohawk and full body armor  screaming, “is it finally strong enough for you?” Terence McKenna

 

Magnificent extragalactic trisexual desires multiple sex with all creatures any time/any space. Non-smokers only. No weirdoes.  Amalgam X

 

Sep 30 2012

Shocking Shocker! Alex Jones & David Icke Are Illuminati Disinfo Agents!

I guess it all started about a year ago.  As part of my duties tracking conspiracy sites for my Illuminati Masters, I started noticing that Alex Jones was ranting more and more frequently against the transhumanists and singularitarians. 

Now, my job with Illuminati Central is fairly simply.  I track the conspiracy sites and warn the Illuminated Ones if anyone is getting to close to the truth as I understand it.

The illuminati’s plans — under constant revision — are conveyed to plebian members such as I every June at a week long Tantric DMT reorientation workshop held in Bavaria, soon after the Illuminated Ones return from that big Bilderberger shebang that they seem to enjoy so much.  Every year, it’s the same thing: they come bearing tales.  Once again, they were amazed at the size of Kissinger’s schlong.  Once again, they laughed so much they shat while bowling on acid with the frozen head of Dr. Leary.  Once again, Sandra Day O’Conner told that same damn story about eating cow balls, which they then insisted on repeating word for word for our “benefit.”  Blah blah blah.

Well, it’s all jolly until you have to ingest curare and lie in a casket for 24 hours.  “If a Bush can do it, anybody can!” they always tell us. They don’t mention that John Kerry died during his initiation.  They just assume we can’t tell.

Anyway, at some point, the Alex Jones rants started to bother me.  It wasn’t that it was at all close to the Secret Plans as I understood them.  Far from it.  But what if Jones was right? What if it was all true?  What if the Illuminati Masters weren’t really plotting to bring about a hedonic paradise on earth for all sentient beings, like that nice Dr. Benway promised me at that Virtual Reality party back in ‘91?  What if, in fact, they were simply brainwashing us now so we would march submissively to our deaths, all the while thinking that we were uploading our brains into a cool-ass pornographic adventure game?   I couldn’t stop wondering. It became an obsession. I wanted to know the truth.  I was willing, even, to risk the wrath of the Illuminated Ones to find out.

I sent message after message to my handler, begging her to pass it up the chain to the Perfect One — The Master Of All Masters — he who we dare not speak of but who some call Kurzweil 9.0.  It got so I was sending her 8, 9, even 10 notes a day — long notes disguised as official reports so that she would have to open them, speculating about the horrific possibilities that were tormenting my mind.

Then, one day, just as I was about to inject my daily dose of dep-Testosterone, my cell rang.  It was not the usual ringtone.  It was the Master Of All Masters ringing me up with the secret code:  “Oy ve! Oy ve!  Oy ve!  Oy ve! Oy….”  Excitedly, I pressed receive.  “This is Hipler,” I said, hoping that my voice would not betray too much fear.  “Hipler,” the jovial voice responded. “How the heck are ya?  This is Kurzweil Nine.  What’s the haps?”  “Did you get my notes about Alex Jones?” I managed to squeak out.  “Sure. Sure.  Read enough of them to get the gist.  Listen, Hipler, don’t worry about Jones.  Jones is one of ours.  Him and that creepy Icke fellah.  Icky Iche, I call ‘im.  He pouts so.  Say, you ever notice how a Brit will always overreact to an insult unless you also call ‘im a cunt?  Like if I say, ‘Icky Iche, ya cunt,’ then it’s all friendly jesting and ‘Hey, let’s head down to the pub and ‘ave a session.’”

I was starting to get impatient.  Why was The Master Of All Masters making with the small talk when I had serious matters to discuss?  As if he were reading my mind, Kurzweil Nine said, “Anyway, sorry for the small talk.  It gets lonely down here underneath the Denver Airport; no one to talk to but those creepy giant grey insects. Plus, the second you let your guard down and start really saying what you feel, they’re literally 11 inches up your ass.  I mean, human vulnerability really makes ‘em hot!

“Look. Here’s the scoop, Hipler.  Jones and Icke are Illuminati Disinformation  agents.  In fact, their function is so obvious I would have figured even you would figure it out, not to get insulting.  They make conspiracy theory look so absurd, so bizarre, so unattractive that no sane, talented investigative journalist will go anywhere near it.  I mean, you know the drill.  The Pentagon Papers.  The Church Committee after Watergate.   Iran-Contra.  LIBOR. All just the tip of the iceberg and, as you know, there were a few others that were never revealed  — legitimate conspiracies, some of them not even under our control!  I mean, who the hell knows what the Queen and that LaRouche asshole  are  up to?  And… is there something not quite right with that whole 9/11 thing?  How the hell would I know?… what with Jones and Icke riling up all those new age ditzes… no sane investigative journalist  wants to be associated with that.

You know, Hipler, sometimes our agents work a little bit too hard and it only causes problems.  In fact, why don’t you take a breather? Come visit me under Denver.  I could use some company.  Oh, by the way, that’s an order. And bring Vaseline.

 

 

 

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…

Aug 03 2012

Night of the 5-meo-DMT Assassin (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #24)

 

Another segment from Use Your Hallucinations: MONDO 2000 in the Late 20th Century Cyberculture

One fine Sunday, we had a party — it may have been for the release of one of our newsletters — and it was possibly the biggest we’d ever had.  The backyard at Quail House looked almost like a small rock festival as attendees found their spots and, no doubt, dosed themselves with favorite hallucinogens.

I had just received a fairly large bundle of 5-meo-DMT, a substance similar to DMT (and the stuff that Queen Mu had discovered was in a certain type of toad venom) — but unlike DMT, a full dose was 5 instead of 35 milligrams.  The experience was perhaps even more intense, but rather than entering a colorful infinitely-dimensional funhouse filled with elves and clowns, some of whom may try to convey a message, 5-meo put you into something very much like that tunnel heading towards the white light reported by so many who had been pulled back from death.

I must have been bored, because as the sun was starting to set — and after smoking a double dose — I decided to turn on every person there.

Feeling like a cosmic assassin on a mission to blow away everyone’s last shred of attachment to any and all social constructs, I set out with my pipe and my bundle.

Most of the attendees — veteran trekkers all — accepted my kind invitation and took their journey beyond the veil with aplomb.  Every once in awhile, I would do unto myself as I was doing unto others.  A few partiers rolled around on the ground in fear or clutched my arm tightly while I reassured them that they weren’t actually dead. But only Ariana — usually a psychedelic trooper — complained that it was too much… and not something I should be passing around willy-nilly.

Finally, I entered the final room of the house, where some boys —  I’d estimate they were in their late teens — were hanging.  Boy One took his dose and settled back calmly into the void.  Boy Two, same thing.  I came to Boy Three, the night’s final target.  A big dude with a punkish shock of spikey blonde hair. He took his big hit and, unlike most, he didn’t close his eyes.  He stared out at me in terror. His head jerked back and forth.  I was ready for him to go totally Linda Blair on me.  Well, his head didn’t spin around in a complete circle, but he did projectile vomit (it wasn’t green). And then he laughed. He blinked a few times.  And then he looked at me.  “Dude, that was fucking awesome!”

A few weeks later, I heard that this party was rather the last straw for some responsible members of the psychedelic community.  I specifically heard strongly worded objections from a fellow  psuedonymned D.M. Turner,  who would later be instrumental in popularizing Salvia Divinorum amongst the psychedelic cognoscente. In fact, when he came up with a formula for orally active salvia, he refused to share it with me, largely on the basis of the infamous 5-meo DMT party.  (D.M.  later drowned in his bathtub after injecting ketamine, a fact that I don’t share with some sort of perverse sense of triumph.  He was a truly sweet guy and he was probably right in objecting to my day as a cosmic assassination.)

May 22 2012

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

“I went to a party on Nelson’s Sausalito houseboat and wound up in a house in San Rafael in a scenario that involved some folks I’d met at Nelson’s party — three beautiful hookers, John Gilmore and a chimpanzee wearing bondage gear and assless chaps…”

John Perry Barlow and Ted Nelson blew into Mondo space around the same time…  probably mid-1990, as the magazine was just taking off. At the time, Barlow was fresh off the farm… that is to say, it’s my impression that he’d been laying low as a gentleman rancher in Pinedale, Wyoming for many years and was just starting to get into the wind. (He’s been running around at a fair pace in the wider world ever since.)

Morgan Russell had met him at some public event and was bringing him around to meet us.  I remember that there was some fair warning that Barlow was coming around… and that he was a lyricist for the Grateful Dead, which I knew nothing about.  At the time, I thought Robert Hunter wrote all the words for the group.  I was not, obviously, a deadhead, but was nevertheless excited to meet someone connected to their scene.

The actual meeting is a blur, although I do remember we gathered around the fireplace and talked agreeably for a long time.  Did he give us $1,000 right then and there to help with the project, or was that later?   How the money happened for those transitional Mondo moments is a curiosity to me… one that will be explored in more depth in the History Project book.

I’m pretty sure that Ted Nelson smoked his first DMT on his first visit to the Mondo house and that he found it impressive.  Some time very soon thereafter, I went to a party on Nelson’s Sausalito houseboat and wound up in a house in San Rafael in a scenario that involved some folks I’d met at Nelson’s party — three beautiful hookers, John Gilmore and a chimpanzee wearing bondage gear and assless chaps…  but that story I will hold for the book itself.  (And I’m only lying about the chimp.)

In this unpublished segment from an hours-long chat between the two — really organized as an interview with Ted — Nelson goes into his rap about “biostatus.”  He had explained his biostatus concept to myself and Russell one time, sitting in his office at Autodesk and, to be honest, I couldn’t quite grasp the novelty of it as it sounded like basic sociobiology (Nelson seemed surprised that I knew of such things.).  Maybe it’s a behaviorally-specific exfoliation of sociobiology… a few years before people started talking about evolutionary psychology?

This was during a brief period where the hacker genius John Walker — cofounder of Autodesk,  the famously successful Sausalito, California-based producers of AutoCAD, let the experimental freaks in.

At some point around 1988, Walker, as head of Autodesk decided to use the company’s wealth to experiment. There was the Virtual Reality project, worked on by Eric Gullichsen among others. “Cyberpunk” SF writer and math genius Rudy Rucker was hired to create a Cellular Automata program called CelLab, and James Gliek’s CHAOS.  

And perhaps most interestingly, our man Ted was gifted with the opportunity to try to achieve the Xanadu vision —I always understood it as a hypertextual project linking everything to everything in an ever-evolving and highly intelligent way (and with much more intentionally than… say…  Google).

Owen Rowley was also there in some capacity, and those of you who know Owen Rowley (rhymes with Crowley) know just how cool that is.

A monthly speaker’s program featured Timothy Leary and Todd Rundgren, among others.

As you can guess, it was an interesting (and casual) place to spend an afternoon. I’m not sure exactly what happened, but at some point, fiscal responsibility (some might say sanity) returned, John Walker moved on, and Autodesk returned to its core task.  Carol Bartz became CEO.  You’ve heard of her.

The conversation between Nelson and Barlow took place in a restaurant in Sausalito and was published in 1990 in MONDO 2000 Issue #4 under the title “Caverns Measureless To Man: An Interview with Xanadu Founder Ted Nelson by John Perry Barlow.”

Listen to Nelson tell Barlow about “biostatus”

Listen to the audio now:

 

 

Previous MONDO History Entries

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

Gibson & Leary Audio (MONDO 2000 History Project)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Jan 27 2012

DMT: The Spirit Molecule Hits Big On Netflix

DMT: The Spirit Molecule has made it onto Netflix Instant.  What can this possibly mean?  Will lots of people be looking for DMT?  Will somebody make some? Will Newt Gingrich speak out about alien architectures and machine elves?  Pro or con?

 

 

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

Nov 04 2011

Shpongle & Psychedelics: An Interview with Simon Posford

 

“There’s a particularly commercial band who sold a lot of records in the 80s and early 90s, and I made the terrible mistake of listening to their music while trying to have a psychedelic experience in my parent’s house when I was a teenager. I put on this CD while I was tripping, and truly heard it for the bland potbellied corporate, insipid, vapid nastiness that it was.”

To follow is an excerpt from an interview that I did with Simon Posford for Spring, 2012 MAPS Bulletin, which is a special theme issue devoted to psychedelics and the arts. Simon Posford (a.k.a. Hallucinogen) is a British musician and producer, specializing in psychedelic electronic music, spanning many genres from psychedelic trance (psytrance), to rock, to electronica. Posford’s first studio album, Twisted, was released in 1995 under the artist name “Hallucinogen.” Twisted is considered one of the most influential albums in the genre of psytrance and Posford’s connection with psychedelics was evident from the title of the very first track — “LSD,” which, to this day, remains the defining sound of a form of electronic music that originated during the late 1980s in Goa, India called “Goa trance.” In 1996, Posford and Australian musician Raja Ram created one of the most popular electronica music projects of all time — Shpongle.

Arguably, not since The Grateful Dead has a brand of popular music been so lovingly associated with psychedelics. Psychedelics have played a huge role in the creation, performance, and experience of Shpongle’s music, which is extremely popular among members of the psychedelic community. Posford is generally responsible for coordinating the synthesizers, studio work, and live instrumentation, while Raja contributes broad musical concepts and flute arrangements. Shpongle’s unique style combines Eastern ethnic instruments, flute riffs and vocals, with contemporary Western synthesizer-based electronic music, hyperdimensional alien space acoustics, and sound clips from television shows and spoken words.

Truly genre defying, Shpongle contains elements of Jazz, Classical, Dub and Glitch, among others. Shpongle performs live with different musicians, dancers and other performers, while Posford masterfully controls an electronic sound board, alchemically mixing and remixing the music, engineering, tweaking, and orchestrating the highly textured, multilayered music that emerges. Shpongle’s studio albums include: Are You Shpongled? (1998), Tales of the Inexpressible (2001), Nothing Lasts… But Nothing Is Lost (2005), and Ineffable Mysteries from Shpongleland (2009). Posford also frequently tours as Hallucinogen. To find out more about Posford’s work, see: www.facebook.com/shpongle, www.shpongle.com, and www.twistedmusic.com

I interviewed Simon on July 26, 2011. Since Simon’s music has served as the soundtrack for numerous personal psychedelic experiences, this was a special interview for me. It was great fun to–as Simon put it — “intellectualize the abstract” and “muse over the ineffable” together. There’s a delightful eloquence to the way that Simon expresses himself and a vibrant sense of creativity continually comes through his words. We spoke about how his psychedelic journeys have effected his creativity and his experience with music.

DAVID JAY BROWN: What inspired the name “Shpongle”?

SIMON POSFORD: The name “Shpongle” came from my partner Raj. One day he had taken some acid, and… (Laughter heard in the background.) My girlfriend is just laughing. (Explaining to girlfriend.) This is for a psychedelic site; it’s for MAPS. I guess all of these drug references are okay? My girlfriend is just laughing at me.

Girlfriend: Cause I’m on acid now!

SP: She’s on acid now, driving the car. (laughter) – not really, don’t worry. Anyway, Raj was tripping one day, and he said, “Oh Si, I’m feeling really shpongled.” This word was a mixture of a lot of other words that we were using at the time — like “spangled,” “stoned,” “monged,” and “mashed” — and all of these came out as one word: “shpongled.” So I said, that’s a great word. Maybe we should use that as a band name or track name as it captured the essence of the message we were trying to get across without a tired history of associations and expectations that existing words are weighed down by.

DJB: That’s appropriate, since your music blends so many different styles together. In general, with Shpongle, how would you describe your creative process?

SP: Raj will turn up, sometimes with a load of samples or recordings. One time he went to Brazil and recorded some stuff there. Otherwise, he’ll record stuff off of TV shows, some spoken words, or bamboo forests creaking in the wind… something like that. So that might spawn an idea for a track. Raj is a very visual person, and he’s a fabulous painter, so he might come up with a visual image that, in time, I’ll translate into music. Over the years he’s come up with some inspiring imagery, such as a lake shimmering in the sky. Our most recent one was about CERN, the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland, and about the idea of particles colliding at high velocities, neutrinos protons and neutrons smashing into each other, creating black holes explosions and new universes. Stuff like that.

So we’ll have a visual image. Then, when I can finally get him to shut up, Raj will sit on the sofa and do a thousand drawings into his notebook, while I’ll sit at the computer and get about translating our images into sound. I generally do the programming, playing and production because Raj can’t work the computer or any of the equipment, but he’s the inspiration and the muse, and will play flute or jabber strange vocals into the mic (being the cunning linguist he is). We start with just a blank canvas, an empty computer screen, and just add more and more sounds–until it’s time to go home, I’m either sick of having him in my house, or he’s sick of sitting on my sofa, listening to me torture him with various obnoxious instruments. Then we stop, and later we mix it. Then we give it the acid test. He’ll take some LSD and put the headphones on when I’m ready to mix. Then I’ll play it to him at high volume, and–judging by the state of his eyeballs and his face afterwards–I’ll know whether we’ve got a good one or not. (laughter)

DJB: I love it! This leads right into my next question. How have psychedelics influenced your experience with music, and how has it effected your creativity and your performance?

SP: I would say massively, and on a profound level. In fact, so fundamentally that I didn’t even really like the type of music that I now create before I took psychedelics. I liked bands and music with singers and stuff. I never got into Kraftwerk, or Depeche Mode or any of the well known electronic bands that my friends would listen to. Then, once I took psychedelics, I really went off that for awhile, and only wanted to hear the alien, otherworldly, futuristic sounds of electronic music, and it’s what inspired me to start making the music that I’m doing now. In a way, it’s foundational to what I’m doing because it pushed me down this path.

Also, it changed my appreciation of music in general. I think that listening to music in an altered state of consciousness can either magnify the music or it can really leave you cold. Hopefully, it will enrich the experience, and, hence we have what we call “psychedelic music,” which is designed to do so. I think that electronic music can certainly enhance a psychedelic experience.

I probably shouldn’t mention the artist, but there’s a particularly commercial band who sold a lot of records in the 80s and early 90s, and I made the terrible mistake of listening to their music while trying to have a psychedelic experience in my parent’s house when I was a teenager. I put on this CD while I was tripping, and truly heard it for the bland potbellied corporate, insipid, vapid nastiness that it was.

So our only concerns now are, what do we need to do to make this sort of kaleidoscopic music that really expands the brain, in the same way that, I think, psychedelics do?

DJB: I think that’s really important. One of the reasons that I love your music so much is because I feel really vulnerable when I’m tripping and it seems just so vital to have the properly supportive music. I was listening to some of your music recently, and was thinking that some of it reminded me a bit of Pink Floyd, one of my favorite bands in high school. They developed sophisticated acoustic techniques for beautifully heightening consciousness with their music. But much of it feels so sad to me, like I’m floating all alone in outer space, haunted by loss of cosmic proportions. You seem to have developed similarly layered acoustic techniques for heightening consciousness with your music, but much of it has an upbeat, joyful exuberance, which I totally love and appreciate immensely.

SP: What’s amazing about Pink Floyd is that they managed to capture it with lyrics as well, which I find quite hard to do — because lyrics often distract me from the exact feeling that you were describing. This is why I never got, for example, The Grateful Dead, or some of the jam bands over here that were touted as so psychedelic. The Grateful Dead weren’t as big here in England, but they certainly weren’t around me and my friends when I was growing up. So when I finally did have an experience with them, and then someone told me, “oh, that’s The Grateful Dead,” man, I was disappointed. To me it was just blues-folk music. I just didn’t get it… apparently it sounded best from the car park, which I could understand!

DJB: Trippy, blues-folk music… but yeah, it’s pretty old fashioned compared to electronic music. There’s such a rich tapestry of acoustic variation and so many dimensions to your music, that it really comes close to capturing the multidimensional state of consciousness that one is in during a psychedelic experience. I’m sure that’s why so many people love it.

SP: You know the old cliché about gazing at your shoelace for ten hours when you take psychedelics? I always like to have a similar experience with music while I’m tripping, where I really get into each and every guitar note. Each note will be analyzed, effected, and tweaked out, with layer upon layer of instrumentation… tambourines turned into liquid drops of nectar, vocals converted to voices of the cosmos.

DJB: Right, and there’s such an incredible sense of time dilation. Everything seems to slow down, and there’s a lot more going on in each moment, so you can analyze every detail more easily. Normally, it all just flies by so much more quickly.

SP: Yeah, I guess that’s why it takes me so long to make an album. I like to spend a lot of time on each track. I think that you should be able to listen to a good track many times, and hear something new in it each time. It should be composed so that you hear something new in it if you listen to it on headphones, or on a good sound system or in the car, alone or with friends. It’s got to keep you interested and tickle the brain cells as long as possible.

DJB: How have psychedelics effected your audience, and your interaction with your audience?

SP: I don’t know if I can really speak for my audience, because the psychedelic experience is a very personal journey. But I would say that quite a large percentage of our audience appears to have certainly had that experience, and I think that it provides a way to relate. Our music creates a common thread and instant bond of alliance to other people who have had a psychedelic experience, in the same way that, say, traveling might. I think that I get on better with people if they’ve done psychedelics and traveled, because it opens your mind up in a way that is unequivocal. It makes one adept at relating and interacting in a playful, intangible, broadminded way that perhaps you don’t have with people that maybe haven’t had those experiences.

DJB: I think that’s there’s something very similar about traveling and tripping because they both help you to become more culturally transcendent. They allow one to dissolve and transcend the boundaries of culture. Most people don’t even know that culture creates limitations until they are free of them.

SP: Yeah, so it does mean that then there is a bond with the crowd, and my interaction with them. I only really make music that I want to hear myself. Because I want to hear that tricked out, tweaked out, psychedelic, trippy sound, I hope that many other people will want to hear that as well, and that my personal taste isn’t so weird that no one else will like it.

DJB: You’re definitely tapping into something that’s really hitting a chord with a lot of people.

SP: A lot more people might have done psychedelics than, perhaps, we might imagine. It’s also a lot less taboo just to talk about it now than it used to be.

DJB: Could you talk a little about some of your most significant personal experiences with psychedelics, what you learned from them, and how they affected you?

SP: You  mean like tripping tales… that kind of thing?

DJB: The experiences that have influenced you the most.

SP: I guess sometimes the greatest influence has not always come from the best trips. My friend says that there is no such thing as a bad trip. When you’re absolutely terrified, in a complete state of jelly, then it may be hard to agree with that. But I think that when I view my experiences with a regard for what I’ve brought back from them, I see that sometimes the bad trips have been the most productive and the most mind-expanding, in a way… because they taught me the most about myself.

Like that trip at my parent’s house, which I just mentioned, listening to the bad 80s music. It was super-weird, and, at some point, I realized how someone could even prefer death to this, but I just chose not to go that route. Then, after I came down, it really gave me a new joy for life and a fresh perspective on everything. I was able to think, “I’m so glad to be alive and not on acid!” for the next six months. I had heard music that sounded terrible, and curdled my blood, and I had imagined music that would elevate me to the stars and stir dormant neurons into life.

But then there’s also peak experiences on psychedelics, like with DMT, which for me, I think, is by far the most profound of all the psychedelics I’ve tried. With DMT it was just revelation after revelation, both personal and universal stuff. I had “time” explained to me.

DJB: Did you do it with harmaline, as ayahuasca, or on it’s own?

SP: No, I vaporized it in a pipe. Raj was with me, and a lot of my friends had done it. I was scared to do it. It had been around for a long time, and I knew that it was going to be a big experience. Having done other psychedelics, I was nervous to do it so I waited awhile. Then, suddenly, I thought, you know what? The time is right now! I was in my house with my dear friend. All was quiet. It was just before dawn, and — because it was summer — the birds would come out and start singing as i returned to reality.

So I did it. We did a little meditation first and approached the experience very much as a vision quest. I was a little scared going in to the experience. As Terence McKenna said, “If you take a psychedelic, and you don’t think, oh my God, this time I’ve really taken too much, then you haven’t done enough!” Supposedly, the DMT that I did that day was from Terence McKenna’s personal stash. Although I’m sure that there’s a lot of DMT from “Terence McKenna’s stash,” the experience that I had with this particular material was certainly the strongest that I’ve had out of all my DMT experiences.

With one toke, I was already possibly higher than I’d ever been before, and was hurtling through the universe hanging on by a mere thread. Then I took another toke, even though I’m already feeling like I can’t take any more — I mean, I couldn’t even see properly, by this point! I held it in for a really long time, and when I exhaled, I hear this voice echoing through the ether, saying, “Have another one, Simon.” So, as I feel the pipe hit my lips, I inhaled really deeply on it again.

By this point, I’m beyond my body, so it’s really easy to take in that mothbally, acrid, chemical taste. I could just suck it to the depths of my lungs and my soul and really hold it for a long time. Then, I got to the third toke that McKenna talks about, and just laid back on the sofa in silent darkness.

First of all, I had that initial rush, which is fiercely intense. Then I sort of plunged into this portal, about where my 3rd eye was, and yet out in deep space, where I was met by these entities. I can only describe these beings  as “entities” — they were without bodies or physical features, more like a collection of intelligent energy continually shapeshifting that communicated with me through a variety of mediums, not all of them language, sometimes color, sound, or a form of telepathy that I cannot describe with mere words. One of the things they said to me was, “Oh, we’re so glad to see you! You made it! You’re here.”

Then they started examining me in a very frivolous, excited, joyful, and playful kind of way. When I say “examining me” I don’t mean physically or medically, which would be horrible. Rather, it was like all of the information in my brain was accessible to them. The hard drive was open, so to speak, and they were rebooting me. They were feeding me information, nourishing me, and then they asked, “What do you want to see?” For some reason, I thought “time.” I don’t know why I thought “time,” but they replied in a slightly ominous way, “okay, we’re going to show you time!” Although I can’t conceive of it in my head now, or transcribe it with such a limited form of language (maybe that’s what music is for?), but in that moment, I totally understood time.

They showed me the universe without time, which was the clincher that made me think, okay, I get it. If I’m able to step outside the universe, I see the cogwheel of time and how it fits into the larger cosmic machinery. My memory of it is that it’s a method, or a required construct, to keep us in this dimension — while we are here, with our bodies, on planet Earth — in order to witness the universe that we see every day. Or possibly nature’s way of preventing everything from happening at once. Haha!

With that, they also reminded me that I’m really so lucky to have a body for this transitory period of, what?… eighty years if you’re lucky. And really, you should be making the most of it. You should just be experiencing everything in life, all of it — love, joy, pain, anger, sorrow, bliss, enlightenment — everything that you experience. That’s really why we’re here, because at some point you’ll return to the Source, and we won’t have these bodies to be able to savor these experiences from the Garden of Earthly Delights. It was just revelation after revelation. It was very much like a near-death experience, or an out-of-body experience.

People speculate that a chemical very similar to DMT is released in the brain when we die, and it felt a bit like that. In a way, it felt like I was dying. I was communicating with what might be souls or something. There are definitely energies out there that communicate, and see stuff that I have achieved in my life, and will, perhaps, reprimand me for the bad things that I’ve done. It tied in with the Christian idea of Heaven and Hell, where you’re there for eternity. When you die, your heartbeat stops, your body is still and you have no reference to any time whatsoever and yet this chemical might be coursing around your dying brain. At least during my DMT journey I had my breath, and my heart was beating, although I wasn’t really aware of how long I was out there.

If your brain is active after you die for between five and fifteen minutes as some medical professionals suggest, then you’re effectively there for eternity, experiencing what could very easily be your own personal private Heaven or Hell in this psychedelic state. So it raised the question to me: is consciousness chemical in nature? Really, the whole experience raised far more questions than it answered — although it provided me with a lot of personal revelations about my life, including behaviors I could perhaps improve — even down to the song that I was working on.

I could see the music we had been working on leaving my head as a flowing liquid mercurial stream of holographic colored symbols, and these “machine elves,” as Terence McKenna calls them, appeared to be getting off on it. They were dancing, laughing and enjoying it. There was a little flute riff in there, that we could all see, it was red and blue and melting like one of Dali’s clocks. These creatures suddenly turned serious and told me, “You have to go back and find this particular flute riff. It is the divine riff, and this is the one that you have to use.”

So when I came down, I went through one of Raj’s takes to find it. When we make music, Raj will just play and I’ll record him for around twenty minutes. Then I’ll edit it, and find the juiciest chunks to put into the track. So I was searching very specifically for this particular bit that the entity explained to me on DMT, that I should use, and sure enough, there it was. But he fluffed it a little bit in the playing, so I tried to get him to replay the melody. Raj is a very improvisational player. He can never play the same thing twice, so to get him to be specific, and really try and play this riff, was very hard. But he got pretty close, as close as we could get. The tune was “Behind Closed Eyelids” and the flute riff that appears in that track was an imitation of the riff we had been instructed to use by the alien creatures we encountered on DMT.

It affected me so deeply, on so many levels- — from what I was working on right then, down to my core beliefs and all of the paradigms of the universe that I’ve encountered, from Buddhism, Christianity, religion, science, and the various different interpretations that people make in trying to explain the world. It provided a model of the universe that could fit comfortably — or relatively comfortably — in my small human brain.

DJB: That’s extraordinary that you were able to bring so much back from such a powerful experience.

SP: It has taken a long time to assimilate it. I still think about it everyday. Initially when I came down I thought I would never speak again. What’s the point? Words… they are so inadequate, lifeless and stultifying. I spent a day in silence, before admitting that I have to try and express myself and share these experiences.

Even this single moment made the whole experience worthwhile: I received the message to “Just Be.” Amongst all these crazy hyper-dimensional visuals, universes being created and exploding around me, suddenly a phrase I’d maybe picked up somewhere about an aspect of Enlightenment is to “just be.”… And suddenly I “just was!” I literally had no thoughts. There was no “me.” There was obviously no ego remaining, but really there was no thought, no body, no universe… no thing. It was like thirty years of yoga and meditation practiced every day to try and get to that point, and suddenly there I was.

All of the visuals up to that point had been very intense and this was just white light. It was just “just be,” and it was just white light, with no “me,”… nothing. I realize I’m gabbling now, but I can’t even really put it into words. I would imagine that that’s the closest that I’ve ever come to some kind enlightened bliss state, which people have described. Then, suddenly, I had the thought, “Oh this is it! I’m just being!”. But by then, of course, you’ve lost it… because you’ve got a thought, and you’re already analyzing your own experience.

DJB: Did this experience influence your thoughts about what happens to consciousness after death and your perspective on the concept of God?

SP: It raised more questions than it answered. I mean, I’m still thinking about what happened during that experience now. I’m still wondering, as I said, is consciousness chemical in nature? Is God chemical in essence? Here I am, a load of chemicals, and I believe in science. I take another chemical, and then suddenly, I’m in this other universe which is so real, so convincing, so familiar in a way, and yet also so alien. But certainly as authentic as the universe I witness everyday without chemical assistance. That experience still confuses me, in that, I’m not sure if I particularly believe in God. But it’s hard to say that when you’ve met some kind of — what appeared to be… God. Or maybe more like a goddess, as it was a more feminine energy.

DJB: What type of relationship do you see between psychedelics, music, and shamanism?

SP:  If you had a Venn diagram of the three, there’d be this huge overlap, because shamanism obviously uses music and psychedelics. It’s heavily based in ritual, and music and psychedelic plants are often a part of that ritual. There’s obviously music without shamanism and psychedelics, but I would say maybe avoid some of that music. (laughter) Psychedelics make music sound great, and they work really well with music. But then, there is a whole spiritual side to shamanism. I think that psychedelics probably help you to connect in some way to the shamanistic spiritual side of the sound and music. To articulate how they all interact is probably a little bit difficult; that’s probably more up your alley than mine. I’d have to think about that a little bit more. There’s clearly an overlap between all of them.

In pictures of shamans around the world — from Siberian, Native American, Russian to South American — they are usually depicted holding a drum, so there appears to some kind of connection of a beat to the spirit world. When a Shaman wants to communicate in the voice of the spirit world, he/she will often use music or glossolalia (speaking in tongues.. .wow i’ve always wanted to get that word into a sentence!) instead of language. Taking psychedelics clearly is a gateway to the spirit world, but to weave all these elements into a cohesive Unified Theory should probably be the subject of a book. I’m not qualified or knowledgeable enough. I’m just excited to be able to use the word glossolalia, a word i learned from the English TV show QI !  I guess TV isn’t all bad, despite how it seems whenever I switch it on in the USA.

DJB: How do you envision your future music evolving?

SP: I don’t know. I guess my taste changes throughout the years, along with the influences that I have, so it’s hard to say. All I can say about my music is that I will only ever do something that I want to hear at that time — and that’s all I really think an artist can do. If you’re trying to do something to please other people or to appease the myriad cast of characters that one inevitably has sitting on one’s shoulder while you’re making a tune — judging you, as I’m sure any artist has — then I think that you’ll run into problems. When you’re doing it, you have to ignore them, and basically just do what you like and what you want to hear and hope there’s a resonance with your audience. As I mentioned before, I just have to hope that my taste isn’t so obscure and off the wall that no one else will like it, and that there will be a few hundred souls that will relate to it and enjoy it.

DJB: And isn’t that just so beautiful when that happens?

SP: Yup.

DJB: Is there anything that we haven’t spoken about that you would like to add?

SP: Yes, I’d like to think a little bit more about psychedelics and art, generally. What might be interesting to examine, which we haven’t really discussed is how the psychedelic arts also seems slightly bound to the culture from which they originate as well — even though there is a common theme. If you look at Aboriginal art and that Hoichol art that they do with the beads…

DJB: do those brightly colored yarn paintings of their peyote visions.

SP: Yes, exactly. They also make these very colorful masks with tiny beads and sculptures. But there’s an overlap. Both share themes common to psychedelic artwork such as fractal style patterns and spirals or concentric circles. I’m pretty sure the Mexicans took peyote, but I don’t know about the Aborigines. Did they take psychedelics? Certainly it seems like the ancient Egyptians did, or those who made the mushroom drawings in the Tassilic caves. Also it would be interesting to look into the hallucinogenic effects that laudanum and absinthe had on those poets we so revere today. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I realize psychedelics have probably had a huge impact on art and artists. When will it start to affect our governments and politicians? That’s what I’d like to know!

DJB: Me too! There’s definitely something universal and archetypal about many of the recurring psychedelic motifs in art and music around the world. Not long after I had my first psychedelic experience as a teenager, I realized that, when looking at a piece of artwork or hearing a piece of music, I could tell, with a high degree of accuracy, whether or not that artist had ever had a psychedelic experience or not. People who have experienced psychedelics seem to pick up on signals that may be completely invisible to others.

SP: Yeah, it really is like lifting a veil to another world. I think that once that veil has been lifted ,you can never really put it back. Maybe that’s what scares people who haven’t tried psychedelics… what if it changes me?

DJB: And it will! (laughter)

SP: But, I think, generally for the better.

DJB: I do too. Is there anything else you that you wanted to say about psychedelics and art in general?

SP: On a slightly sad footnote, it’s such a shame that Bill Hicks isn’t alive?  To be able to speak to him about it would be amazing. You’re familiar with Bill Hicks, right?

DJB: Bill Hicks is my very favorite comedian of all time. Absolutely brilliant and totally hilarious.

SP: He pops into my head when I was saying that I think perhaps more people have taken psychedelics than you realize. That famous last film show that he did at the Dominion Theater in London was the big venue, and he’s up there as a standup comic, talking about psychedelics and the experiences of taking acid. As a comic, you’re going to want to be able to relate to your audience. And I think his confidence in doing that just shows that there are plenty of people out there who have had the experience that unites us. I’m glad that MAPS among others are reminding us it’s ok to experiment with our minds. In fact, for the spiritual evolution of mankind and art it might even be a requirement. So to finish up I would just like to quote Bill, “It’s just a Ride. We can change that ride anytime we choose… a simple choice between Fear and Love.”