ACCELER8OR

Jun 28 2012

NeoPsychedelia & High Frontiers: Memes Leading To MONDO 2000 (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #21)

Share/Bookmark

 

“The rising popularity of MDMA and other designer psychedelics. The developing scene around intelligence drugs and nutrients. The psychedelic roots of Apple computers.  The psychedelic garage rock phenomena that was mostly focused in L.A.  Even recent releases by Prince and Talking Heads…”

Yet another excerpt from the upcoming book, Use Your Hallucinations: Mondo 2000 in the Late 20th Century Cyberculture.

R.U. Sirius (early 1985:  I had come to San Francisco to start the neopsychedelic movement. And even before the first issue of High Frontiers went to press, I heard that there was a new psychedelic rock movement afoot. Some bands were emulating the style of ‘60s garage psychedelia — stuff like The Seeds, 13th Floor Elevator, Blues Magoos, Electric Prunes.  The beginnings of this scene had been labeled “the Paisley Underground.” I read that an L.A. band called The Three O’Clock was sort of rising to the top of the scene so I bought their record, disliked it, and gave it a bad review in that first issue — comparing it unfavorably to what I considered smart psychedelic music — stuff you’d actually want to listen to while tripping like Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy by Brian Eno or The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein by Parliament Funkadelic.  Not that I was averse to… if you will… exploiting every pop cultural indicator of the coming of neopsychedelia in my quest.

And, with the release of issue #2 of High Frontiers, we had a calling card worthy of some media attention. We (mostly Lord Nose and myself) started promoting the idea that there was a “neopsychedelic” resurgence going on.  Several journalists and media outlets took the bait.

We (well, mostly me) gave them a kitchen sink of evidence that something novel was afoot. The rising popularity of MDMA and other designer psychedelics. The developing scene around intelligence drugs and nutrients. The psychedelic roots of Apple computers.  The psychedelic garage rock phenomena that was mostly focused in L.A.  Even recent releases by Prince and Talking Heads; a sudden plethora of trippy MTV videos; and the playful, upbeat, sci fi, expansive themes running through the new wave radio stations from bands like the B52s and The Thompson Twins (Yes, I would even employ such dribble as the Thompson Twins in my plot for world mutation), we told them, indicated a developing shift in the zeitgeist.  Lord Nose would add a note of earnest shamanic gravitas to my pop culture spinnings and, all together, it worked.

We got coverage in San Francisco’s leftist weekly, Bay Guardian and an article by Laura Frasier for the wire service PNS wound up in several daily papers, including Long Island’s main outlet, Newsday (Laura would become a friend and, for a while, Lord Nose’s lover).  There were even still more outlets, long forgotten.  It was our first small flurry.  The viral meme, “neopsychedelia,” was injected into the body politic.

We decided to throw a giant party for the issue and the new psychedelia in San Francisco.   Tongue firmly piercing cheek, Lord Nose came up with the idea to call it the Neopsychedelic Cotillion Ball.  No doubt, he was having a bit of a giggle at the expense of Alison’s upper crust breeding and quasi-Victorian stylings — as she was replacing Mau Mau as the third dominant figure in our little karass and — at the same time — playing with Ken Kesey’s famous “Acid Test Graduation Party” that had spelled the end of the Merry Prankster era.  We secured this wonderful large venue called “The Farm” and started contacting bands and speakers to see who would appear… for free…

Somerset Mau Mau: I didn’t have much to do with that.

R.U. Sirius: Mau Mau and X knocked on the door at Alison’s house one day to complain about the naming of the Neopsychedelic Cotillion.  They said it was alienating to acid veterans in the Haight and hardcore street mutants in general . It sounded too bourgeois.  I found that bizarre, given that these guys over in Marin were even more relentlessly absurdist than we were, that they would have taken the title sort of literally.

 

We got an incredibly positive response when we asked people to perform for us.  We had 5 or 6 popular local bands, including The Morlocks, who were the kings of the local garage psych thing. They were like 10 years old (Ok, maybe like 19). .  And we set up panels on quantum physics and psychedelic drugs and maybe a few other things.  Wavy Gravy agreed to MC.  The freakin’ voice of Woodstock for our neopsychedelic rally!

Lord Nose and I went to see Wavy at his famous Hog Farm house in Berkeley to ask him to MC. It was the first time I’d ever been there.  He had the Big Pink cover on his bedroom door.  His bedroom door was kind of a collage of all sorts of memorabilia of the counterculture and the Grateful Dead, but that 11” x 17” thing dominated.  (When I saw him a few years ago, he told me it was still there.)

About a week before the event, I was invited to appear on the Michael Krasny Show on KGO. Two hours long, on Sunday night, it was the Bay Area’s biggest talk radio show and I was going to be the only guest.  I woke up that morning with a monstrous cold — cough, fever, the whole package. Early that evening, I downed a triple dose of cough medicine and hit the BART from Berkeley to downtown San Francisco.  This was before I was familiar with the effects of Dextromethorphan; a hallucinatory dissociative that’s in many commercial cough medications.  By the time I exited the BART, I was cross-eyed and painless; relaxed and floating; and my mind was… lucid — full of thoughts and quips about neopsychedelia and the magazine and the oncoming event.

I was damn good, if I do say so… quick, self-amused (this annoying tendency actually tends to come off well on radio), and perhaps a bit too fearless.  Krasny seemed to enjoy bantering with me about the perceived dangers of mass psychedelic use versus the wonders of a psychedelic movement and about politics and culture and whatever came up.  My tongue and brain were loose and careless.

Then the phone lines opened up to callers.  In between calls from people asking for drug advice and wanting to know details about the magazine and upcoming party, there were numerous angry calls from people upset that Krasny would even have this glib freak on his esteemed show advocating for psychedelic drugs and displaying bad attitude towards God, Mom, Apple Pie, and Patriotism (or whatever the hell I spoke about in my ripped and fevered mental state).  Finally, just a few minutes before the show’s end, a man with a deep angry voice thundered across the airwaves, “Tell that asshole we’re gonna kill ‘im.  We’re gonna shoot ‘im.”  Krasny fell into a rage.  “Nobody makes death threats on my show!  I’ve never had a death threat on my show!”

Exiting the station to make the 4 block walk back to the BART, I was a bit less fearless, but, as I remember it, there weren’t even any cars rolling past as I made my way.  And, anyway, on the radio, no one can tell what you look like.  (And they couldn’t Google you yet.)

When I got back to her place, Alison exclaimed: “That was incredible!”  It was the first time she’d been thrilled by one of my public appearances; in fact, up until that point, I think she had her doubts about my mental dexterity.  (Those doubts would occasionally reoccur, maybe deservedly so.) Anyway, that’s how I know that the whole thing didn’t just seem good to me because the Dextro was flooding my brain with Serotonin.

I was stunned the following Saturday as hundreds of  paying customers — most of them young — flooded into The Farm for the event.

It was an incredible venue; large, with an upstairs section.

Scrappi DuChamp:  I went to that. I was really fascinated by the place… It was an animal auction house… it was like an auction for slaughter, basically, of livestock, run by hippies. I thought that was pretty amazing. It was under a freeway or past a really old part of San Francisco that was still sort of undeveloped.

R.U. Sirius:  Wavy was on and enthusiastic.  The psychedelic drugs panel was colorful, as Zarkov, the libertarian investment banker, appearing in a dramatic disguise, denounced his fellow panelists for trying to get psychedelics sanctioned by the government for the exclusive use of psychotherapists.  And we quietly passed out capsules with threshold doses of the still legal designer hallucinogen 2cb, which definitely added a cheerful intelligence and intensity to the affair…

 

…  R.U. Sirius: The “Neopsychedelic renaissance” continued apace, with major features in High Times and other long forgotten zines, radio interviews and so on —with High Frontiers often touted as the reigning representation.  It seemed that I was blabbing to someone in the media about it at least a couple of times a month.  Soon word hit us that people on the L.A. garage psychedelia scene were being drenched in high quality LSD and were diggin’ on High Frontiers. Greg Shaw’s Bomp Magazine was at the center of that scene and he sent us his back issues (which we were already buying, anyway) and suggested we come for a visit. Jeff Mark and I arranged to go down there.

Jeff Mark: Winter Solstice 1985, R.U. and I took a trip to Los Angeles. The “Neopsychedelic Revival” was by then a real phenomenon. Tom Petty had released “Don’t Come Around Here No More”, including the Alice-in-Wonderland video — videos themselves were still new then, recall. Newsweek had even done a feature piece on the L.A. manifestation, focusing on Greg Shaw who was putting together some L.A. neopsychedelic ‘zine. R.U.’s intention was to make contact and build a bridge; the Pranksters’ visit to Millbrook, no doubt, in the back of his mind.

So we hung out for a while with Greg. I think we did a little sightseeing, and then that night we went to see some bands being promoted by him. The space the bands would play in, around the corner from Hollywood & Vine… well, you can’t call it a club. It wasn’t that, it was just… a room. The entrance was at the top of an external staircase, from which I could see underneath the building, noting with some trepidation that the second floor was supported by a bunch of those steel jacks that builders use to keep a weak ceiling from collapsing. And this would be holding up a couple of hundred dancing humans. I think this might even have qualified as an early form of rave, had that term yet been coined.

There were maybe four or five different bands, each doing 30-45 minutes or so, and the first thing I noticed was that, in keeping with the whole “Neo-Psychedelic Revival” thing, each of them did a version of “White Rabbit”. OK, that’s an exaggeration; one of them didn’t. The next thing I noticed was that the bands each seemed to be made up of the same seven or eight people in varying combinations of four or five.

So, anyway, the building didn’t collapse, and we retired after to some other location lost to history for a party. Everyone was high on MDMA, of course. As the evening progressed, I engaged in conversation with several very nice people, and by way of introducing each other, the usual “so what do you do?” kinds of questions arose. Now, I had a straight job at the time, civil service, thoroughly boring. But the people I spoke with described themselves as “make-up artists” or “costumers” or writers or artists of one flavor or another. I began to realize that vocationally, each of these people depended on all the others, networking (another not-yet-coined-term) to get to work on someone’s project about something; their livelihood depended on their social contacts.

Now, when you think about it, this was Hollywood; that’s how Hollywood works, that’s how creative communities, particularly those in collaborative crafts, operate. That’s how they produce. Obvious to many, but news to me. The pattern-recognition subsystems of my mind began to assemble what I would come to call my “Theory of Scenes”.

A few months later we returned, with Lord Nose, to participate in this event that featured a couple of local bands, and somebody wheeling out Sky Saxon  from the Seeds (“Pushing Too Hard”).

Nose was showcasing these black t-shirts with the yellow day-glo anti-happy face or whatever the fuck that was (I still have mine, but it no longer fits…) (ed: Sacred Cow Mutilators t-shirt). And it struck me that the 200 or so people at that event, which included almost everyone we’d met in December, comprised the whole of the “neopsychedelic scene” in L.A. That was it. That was all of them. 250 people tops, and they were getting all this media attention. And I realized that’s how it probably was in ’65, as well; there was the Whiskey á Go-Go scene, one or two other places; a dozen or so bands with some duplication among their personnel, various friends and hangers-on. In the Haight, the same thing. There was the Fillmore, and the Matrix, the Diggers, the Oracle, and it was all the same… what, 300 people? It applies elsewhere also. There’s the NYC comedy scene (which in the 70s gave us SNL, and is now focused around The Daily Show), the Boston Harvard/National Lampoon scene, the L.A. Conception Corporation scene (whence came Spinal Tap). All of these basically, at least in the beginning, were not much more than groups of friends. Even in politics. One of my disappointments as I’ve gotten more sophisticated about politics is the realization that so much of what happens in a place like Washington D.C. takes place in what appears, anyway, to be a social environment, which is why it reminds us so much of high school. And this was, largely, how “Mondo” functioned within the context of the Berkeley New Age “Scene”.

R.U. Sirius:  Greg Shaw and this guy from a band called Dead Hippie volunteered to throw a High Frontiers party in L.A. so we went back down there a few months later.  The Dead Hippie guy was intense. He had sort of a Charlie Manson look and a stare to match and seemed to be searching for some sort of gut wrenching apocalyptic truth. Other that that, he was nice. We hung out for a while as the party was being set up until it became clear that we had no responsibilities other than to man our booth, sell magazines and t-shirts and take home some money.

One peculiar memory: we split for a while for dinner and drinks and somehow struck up a conversation with this crewcut military-looking young dude.  When we told him what we were in town for, he tried to convince us to ditch the benefit show because it would be more interesting to drop acid and play paintball at some arena a few miles away.  It was his favorite thing.

As with the “Cotilllion,” the L.A. High Frontiers benefit was massive, with bands like Thelonious Monster (I was already a fan) and members of Black Flag who were doing this sort of metal psych as a side project. Sky Saxon jumped on stage with everybody.  This being L.A., everybody looked perfect, particularly the young girls in their tight short skirts.  After hours of watching hundreds of these chicks stream though, the massive doorman/bouncer finally cried out, “I’ve got a sheet of acid for the first chick who will drain my cock.”  I seem to remember him being approached by a volunteer.

I really didn’t connect with anybody other than one porn star-gorgeous chick I’d met the last time around, and her attention was divided between myself and several others taller, darker and more handsome.  It was a whole different vibe, not only from the San Francisco party but from the previous hangout in L.A., which had more of a gently androgynous fashion-y pop vibe — all retro Nehru shirts and flared striped pants.  Now the scene had become psych metal. They’d gone from Strawberry Alarm Clark to Blue Cheer in a matter of weeks.

 

Previous MONDO History Entries

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

Gibson & Leary Audio (MONDO 2000 History Project)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The New Edge At The New Age Convention (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #19)

The Belladonna Shaman (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #20)

Jun 05 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Stephan Ronan (Beat Historian, Mondo writer)

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

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

 

Walter Isaacson (Author, former editor of Time)

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

 

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

 

Previous MONDO History Entries

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

Gibson & Leary Audio (MONDO 2000 History Project)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jan 08 2012

2012 And The Failure Of Imagination

Advocates of psychedelic drugs often claim that psychedelics expand consciousness and stimulate the imagination. To demonstrate this point a few famous examples are often repeated, such as Francis Crick envisioning the spiral shape of DNA while high on LSD; Kerry Mullis coming up with his Nobel Prize winning PCR DNA replication method while high on LSD; or Steve Jobs seeing a world of people connected by Apple computers while high on LSD. There is some truth to these few examples, enough truth to make hipster comedian Bill Maher exclaim that taking LSD makes you a genius in a rant about how putting LSD in Halloween candy might actually be a good thing. After decades of bad press and public mockery, it seems that psychedelics have finally escaped the fringes and are ready to be embraced by the mainstream as miracle cures. More and more average people are reading about the healing properties of psychedelics, and more public figures are warming to the notion that psychedelics can create powerful and lasting spiritual experiences. Scientific publishing in psychedelic research is at an all time high. And then there is something about Mayans and 2012.

Whatever else you have to say about psychedelics, the meme of 2012 is now inseparable from psychedelic thought. Just like the term “entheogen” has replaced the term “hallucinogen,” the meme of a catastrophic or epic evolution in human culture has now replaced peace, love, and unity. Concepts of freeing your mind and seeking inner peace have morphed over the decades into dramatic tales of impending apocalypse and revolution, ending in a singularity that will engulf and change history forever. And this event may or may not happen on December 21, 2012, which happens to be at the end of the great cycle of the Mayan calendar, which coincides with our sun aligning with the galactic equator during the winter solstice, which only happens once every 26,000 years, or so the mythology goes. But the exact science doesn’t matter. What matters is that instead of eating mushrooms and having a good time, or imagining a cure for cancer, or visualizing a cleaner car engine, you instead get pulled through a singularity and come out thinking your an immortal astral shaman waiting for reality to fold inward on itself at the end of time. And then you think you have discovered the biggest secret in all of human history and you call yourself a genius, and become obnoxious about how prescient you are. And then you think you might be crazy, but then read a dozen trip reports just like yours on Erowid or The Shroomery and you wonder if everyone else has already taken mushrooms and seen this movie. And the answer is yes; we have already seen this movie.

It is easy to point to Terence McKenna as the originator of the modern psychedelic 2012 myth; his Timewave Zero idea was first introduced in “The Invisible Landscape” in 1975. McKenna’s idea came from a mushroom trip in La Chorrera, Columbia, in 1971, and was mostly ignored as insanity for many years. When McKenna’s popularity peaked twenty years later in the mid 1990s, the 2012 meme had already been adopted by Jose Arguelles and John Major Jenkins, and the Mayan connection kicked the meme out of the psychedelic underground and into astrological and New Age subculture. By the time of McKenna’s death in 2000 the 2012 mythology had become so firmly embedded in fringe culture it was even mentioned in the 2002 X-Files TV finale as the date of the impending alien invasion, the hidden secret root of all evil government conspiracies. Even though the details of the 2012 singularity, or the Eschaton, were never well defined, the apocalyptic tinge of the mythology took on a life of its own. The doomsday prophecy is a common theme in human history, and the 2012 myth fit easily into recycled bits from other ancient doomsday prophecies that people are still waiting for. 2012 is a fascinating piece of modern mythology, fascinating enough to be taken seriously by a large group of people. Fascinating enough to become a global meme.

Popular psychedelic mythology may be fun and exciting, but analyzing the worth of the 2012 meme poses some hard problems. For instance, instead of studying physics or biology or computer science and making Nobel prize winning breakthroughs in biochemistry, like the examples mentioned above, many geniuses in the psychedelic underground turned instead to studying Mayan calendars, UFOs, and crop circles, and look everywhere for signs of the end times. This is what I call the first failure of imagination. Instead of following the paths of the few rare individuals who took psychedelics and produced discoveries of great scientific importance, young psychedelic explorers turned instead to tales of stoned apes, machine elves, mushroom aliens, Mayans, 2012, and the transcendent hyperdimensional object at the end of time, as if these were matters of great importance. If taking psychedelics is supposed to turn you into a genius, then all the geniuses taking psychedelics should have been able to distinguish scientific reality from the quasi-spiritual historical fiction comprising the 2012 mythology. It’s not enough that psychedelic imagination starts with the discovery of DNA and ends with everyone connected by iPads — that is not enough. There must also be a global paradigm shift. We won’t be happy unless we get our global paradigm shift. And the global paradigm shift must be so dramatic that it renders all previous human history as obsolete. And we want it to come on an exact date, in an exact year. And it will play out just like revelations with famines and floods and plagues and catastrophic global upheaval.

Which brings us to the second failure of imagination, which can be blamed on the media and popular culture in general. Of all the memes to come out of modern psychedelic thought none has gotten more popular traction than the meme of 2012 and the “end” of the Mayan calendar on December 21st, 2012. Talk shows and news programs run stories on 2012 and the Mayan calendar; conspiracy theorists pick up whatever thread they want and tie it to 2012, and prophets point to 2012 as a time of transcendence, when the impoverished illiterate masses of the world will spontaneously realize we are an enlightened tribe of mushroom children all dancing to the same cosmic drummer. There was a movie about 2012 called 2012 that was horrible, and all the documentaries on History or Discovery channel are so obsessed with apocalypse its hard to tell which end-time prophecy they wish would hit us in the face first. What does this say about the quality of intellectual property coming from the psychedelic meme pool? Of all the progress that has been made in psychedelic research, of all the shamanic exploration through the rainforest, the thing that gets the most imaginative play is how we will destroy ourselves when the big dial on the Mayan calendar clicks over to the next pictogram? Pinning your mythology on an arbitrary, rarely occurring cosmological event seems like a desperate move to me, the kind of thing you pull out of your ass when you’ve run out of good ideas.

If you remember back to the early days of psychedelic experimentation, there was a period of time before McKenna where taking psychedelics was for fun. People turned on, tuned in, dropped out, listened to music, partied, had sex, freaked out, had bummers, got crazy, and found their inner freaky flower child. Now people take psychedelics and get serious; they seek the shamanic cure to every modern malady, or that hole at the end of time where all of history collapses and everything happens all at once. Earnest psychedelic advocates preach about the coming evolution in global consciousness where paradigms shift and the planet transcends into utopia or chaos, or the technological singularity ushers in dystopia or immortality, or something along those lines. For a group of people who used to be so focused on “being here now,” the psychedelic community morphed into a group of New Age future watchers always getting hooked on the next big hype that can never quite live up to its promise. And the biggest hype of them all is 2012. We’ve lived with the promise of 2012 for so many years, how can anything less than elves of chaos erupting out of fractal wormholes possibly satisfy us? Is there any way 2012 can possibly deliver on the outlandish promise of the prophecy?

When McKenna first presented the Timewave Zero meme it was a novelty, it actually came in a package marked “Novelty Theory.” And for many years the 2012 meme was fun and interesting because it was like a thought experiment; it was something you could fiddle with like an algorithm or a piece of software. The 2012 meme allowed all kinds of people to have quibbling discussions over the i Ching and mathematics and Mayan prophecy and Bible prophecy and ancient aliens and so on. The 2012 meme lived on past McKenna’s death and was recycled by New Age writers looking for a new hook into astrology, spirituality, prophecy, movie screenplays, and so on. The 2012 meme was such a convenient hook that people didn’t need to use their imaginations anymore — the screenplay for the future had already been written. That is fine for a thought experiment or for a whim of the popular imagination, but now it is actually the year 2012 and it will be the year 2012 all year long. I was sick of the year 2012 fifteen years ago. I’m not sure how much more 2012 I can take. The closer the December date becomes the more fixated the public consciousness will become on what it all means. The inventory on the shelves of our modern mythology cannot move forward until then, our imaginations are stamped with an expiration date, and we will be forced to eat the same old 2012 apocalypse transformation meme over and over again until it expires at the end of the year. No new memes are allowed until then. There is a singularity in time blocking any planning forward into 2013. It is a blurry space clouded by the dark side of the Force. All we can do is ride out this disaster movie until it’s over, and then its over. When 2012 passes without major incident the public imagination will be bankrupt, our modern mythology will be devoid of meaning, and we will be forced to think about what happens next. And that is scarier than having to deal with any singularity.

Latching on to a science fiction end-times prophecy is not genius. It is not expanded consciousness. And it is not a triumph of imagination. 2012 is lazy thinking and empty ideological fatalism with no hope of delivering on its promise. The 2012 meme represents the most infantile aspect of psychedelic thought; the wish to get something for nothing, believing that major change will happen by doing nothing more than waiting for a date on the calendar. By adopting the 2012 meme the psychedelic community went from being that tie-dyed hippie saying “Peace and Love” to that tattooed burner with a sign reading “The End is Near” in under two decades. That a group so fascinated with love and peace would adopt such a nihilistic and grandiose mythology and that the public consciousness would be attracted to this meme over any other offering from the psychedelic community demonstrates a fundamental failure of public imagination. It is impossible to say how many millions of people have taken psychedelics in the past few decades, but if the 2012 meme is the fittest idea to come of the psychedelic community since 1971 than we are in trouble. The mushroom’s gift to humanity has trapped us in an end-time prophecy awaiting the impending singularity. That is just embarrassing. The mushrooms clearly need new writers. But that’s too bad, because new ideas are embargoed until 2013, when our imaginations can go back to work. We’ll need a bunch of new memes for the rest of the 21st century. Our old memes have expired.

Nov 29 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

I conversed with Walter Isaacson via email.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nov 06 2011

The Seeker: A Psychedelic Suburban Youth Doesn’t Find It Tripping. An Interview with Peter Bebergal

 

“Psychedelic music  functions as tool for exploring all the myriad aspects of the psychedelic experience; the bliss, the dread, the melancholy of coming down, and the joy of having felt as though you have glimpsed the infinite.”

 

I could have quibbled with Peter Bebergal about the purpose and value of psychedelic drugs and psychedelic culture, but I decided to just let him share his experience and views.

Bebergal has written a deeply personal and very moving story about seeking god and transcendence through psychedelic drugs and mysticism in the cosmic desert that was late ‘70s/early ‘80s suburban youth culture.  Too Much To Dream: a psychedelic american boyhood takes us from the innocence of a young pothead learning mystic secrets from a likely schizophrenic old tripster while working at his job in the mall through happy acid flashes and big bummers; through hanging with ‘80s punks in Boston, and eventually through hard drug addiction and finally sobriety. All the while, Bebergal seeks spiritual satisfaction and understanding.

Bebergal also encloses satisfying bits of psychedelic history and a manifest love for psychedelic music that will make you want to punch up Sid Barrett on Pandora and absorb all the influences.

RU SIRIUS:  Yours is a very interior story of psychedelic seeking, despite some cultural referents.  My experience – in turning 18 in 1970 – was more like, “Oh yeah.  I caught a glimpse of the infinite divine again last night.  That’s cool… but on with the revolution!”   I wonder if the focus on finding god is peculiar to you or peculiar to the times you found yourself coming of age in.

PETER BEBERGAL: My generation was certainly lacking a cohesive counterculture. Even the punks couldn’t agree on what we were actually fighting for. The only thing we knew for sure was that the hippies failed. Charles Manson and Kent State were the ubiquitous images of the sixties when I was growing up in the late 70s and early 80s. Along with these dark shadows was a restless spiritual need. The aquarian age never materialized and the normative Judeo/Christian teachings felt hypocritical and empty. There were no teachers, no gurus, no grown ups we felt we could really trust. For many, myself included, this resulted in an overreaching for meaning. Looking for spiritual insight, it was impossible not to find yourself browsing through the Occult/New Age section of the bookstore. What was there but more overreaching?… a kind of schizophrenic brew; Carlos Castaneda, The Tao of Physics, the Rider-Waite Tarot Deck, and Chariots of the Gods.

Nevertheless, I also think there is something peculiar to the makeup of the addict/alcoholic, an underlying feeling of disconnection and loneliness; a deep need for divine communion of some kind. Sadly it often results in desperation towards self-destruction. So this combined with my generation’s own lack of social/spiritual authenticity meant I was essentially doomed.

RU:  It strikes me that psychedelics are both an enhancer and distorter of
pattern recognition.  It’s like once the mind becomes too conscious and too obsessive about pattern recognition, it becomes delusional.

PB:  This is probably the most succinct way of putting it I have heard. It’s essentially what we see happen with Phillip K. Dick. It’s part of the reason why no matter how non-addicting psychedelics might be from a chemical point-of-view, the capacity for the human mind to compulsively search for the same connection/insight over and over again is boundless. This same phenomena can be seen with a certain kind of occultism. Hermeticism can become an exercise in endless connection making and it’s amazing how even the most thoughtful occultists can become conspiracy theorists overnight. Psychedelics, and other forms of non-ordinary consciousness, can readily show that there is more to the human mind, and possibly the universe, than we can perceive normally, but when we lose the ability to critically distance ourselves from these experiences, the danger for delusion is great.

RU:  Could you say something about what your peak experience was with psychedelics… and then… without it?

PB:  Sadly, despite my best efforts, I never had what I call a peak experience with psychedelics. They always seemed just out of reach. I would have glimpses, moments where I could literally feel certain doorways open, but they would snap shut if I tried to walk over the threshold. During one trip I felt deeply connected to the woods I was in. It was an autumn day and the leaves rose up and applauded, winking and dancing all around me. I felt a spirit of the world moving around me and I was ready for a true communion, but of course some giggling friend I was with took me out of the reverie. I was trapped in the suburbs. The holy places for me were the copse of trees adjacent to the golf course or a rooftop overlooking the train tracks. But for whatever reason they did not signify deeply enough, and I was always looking around the corner of my experiences for something deeper.

Without psychedelics, I have had what I could call essential peak experiences, but they were more about immanence than transcendence; watching my mother die in the arms of my father as the cancer took her. I felt the spirit of the universe descend into the room that night and I believe I experienced a profound state of non-ordinary consciousness, brought on by the amazing chemistry of deep sadness and wonder. Similarly watching my son being born, and then in even more subtle moments, as when a giant blue heron flew along the window of a train as I looked out.

RU:  It always struck me as interesting that psychedelics can be used as a cure for addiction and yet — in a certain percentage of trippers — it seems to bring out the addictive personality.  How would you describe that seeming contradiction or odd contrast?

PB:  When used a cure, psychedelics are administered in a very specific context by a therapist or within a ritual context as in the Native American Church who use peyote and see a dramatic decrease of alcoholism. I cannot imagine someone getting to the other side of their addiction self-dosing and tripping on their own, but you never know. Bill Wilson, the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous used LSD after meeting Humphrey Osmond who believed that LSD could induce states akin to delerium tremems and possibly scare alcoholics away from booze. But Wilson saw another potential, a way of bringing about a spiritual experience that he believed was essential for a drunk hoping to get sober. He eventually had to give up the experiments for the overall good of AA, and later was said to have remarked that even though he had deep insights on LSD, that he also discovered there was no escaping from himself. Real recovery was going to have to be a slower, more deliberate process after all.

RU: Throughout the book you talk about a love for psychedelic rock music, which could only have emerged from the street use of psychedelic drugs, even if some who play it didn’t – or don’t imbibe.  What would you say about what this music evokes and do you feel some ambiguity about your love for it?

PB: Music has become one of the most important sources I have for experiencing and recreating current and past altered states. Psychedelic music in particular functions as tool for exploring all the myriad aspects of the psychedelic experience; the bliss, the dread, the melancholy of coming down, and the joy of having felt as though you have glimpsed the infinite. Music is capable of containing so much and it’s the best “language” I know for expressing the psychedelic experience.

It was music that started me on the path of writing this book. I found myself collecting psychedelic music again and uncovering an entirely new generation of artists working with these tropes. From the psych folk of Woods, Blithe Sons, and United Bible Studies to the dangerous stoner rock of Black Mountain to the transcendent groove of White Rainbow. And all these artists are doing something remarkable. They are, for the most part, looking inward, towards a more immanent and pantheistic notion of divinity at least musically if not personally.

As for ambiguity, I only wish that I had the sense to listen to more Stooges and Soft Machine than all that bloody Syd Barrett when I was a kid.

RU:  You remain interested in the psychedelic movement even though you feel you can’t risk taking them yourself.  What do you hope for people today who take psychedelic drugs in a way that is conscious of set and setting and so forth?

PB: I have come to believe in the absolute necessity of ritual and community, whether it’s the Native American Church or your local OTO lodge. However you can find it, try to access a group of people that share your spiritual/psychological sensibilities and that hopefully have a few seasoned elders and teachers. This is not to say there aren’t those that can handle the solitary journey, but I still think however one can position oneself into a larger context with its own myths and symbols can only be a good thing.

But more importantly I hope that those who use these drugs will see them not as a path but as doorway towards a spiritual/conscious way of life. As Alan Watts is often quoted as saying, “When you get the message, hang up the phone.”

RU:  Was it difficult writing this personally revealing book and do you hear from other American suburbanites who resonate with your experience?

PB: Writing this book was a challenge because it forced me to do away with how I had continued to romanticize my past and at the same time see that I was not unique, that I was just a kid doing the best I could during a time of great spiritual and social confusion. Being predisposed to addiction made my experience a little more dramatic than some, but in the end, I was a teenager trying to negotiate something very human that had revealed itself to me at an early age in a very intense way; there is meaning to be found beyond the conventional, beyond the mainstream. I am so glad I learned this. I have kept it close to my heart my whole life. Despite it all, I am glad to be one of the freaks.

I have some very nice conversations with others who identified with this journey, and who also see that while drugs can reveal some interesting and important things, at the end of the day we must trudge a road without special aid, with merely our own malleable and precious consciousness and that music, art, meditation, a little fasting here and there, and people to share our stories with is a path that can take us to places we never could have imagined.