ACCELER8OR

Oct 09 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Jun 12 2012

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

 

The origins of the term “New Edge” may be under contestation.  I recall John Perry Barlow claiming the coinage and I’m sure Mondo Publisher Queen Mu has claimed it as well.   I think maybe Morgan Russell has also claimed it.  I have a fairly strong impression that its first usage was in Mondo 2000 promotional rhetoric, which would give the advantage to Mu.  In an interview for the Mondo book, Joichi Ito indicated that the Japanese professor and media philosopher Mitsuhiro Takemura and he coined the term for a Japanese magazine. But when I mentioned the other people who claimed to have coined it, Joi thought maybe they were just the first to spread it in Japan.

I secretly think I came up with it (yes, irony noted). Not that it matters much.  Changing Age to Edge is not exactly an accomplishment on par with feeding the poor and hungry or writing Crime and Punishment or “The Special Theory of Relativity.”

But what are — or were — the implications of the “New Edge.”   Was it the “new age” plus techno?  Was it the avant garde of the ‘90s?  Was it some Mondo hype that we only intended to feed to potential advertisers before deciding — what the hell — it’d be a good title for the book.  Or was it, as noted by Wikipedia, “a styling theme used by Ford Motor Company for many of its passenger vehicles in the late 1990s and early 2000s.”

The audio file below contains a brief talk I gave in 1990 at a Whole Life Expo titled “The New Edge” and gives my take on it at that time.  I opened with an audio collage that was organized by Don Joyce of Negativland, although I don’t remember exactly how that happened.   Those of you who saw the film Cyberpunk will recognize that much of it is appropriated from that blockbuster.  It’s included in the file and is pretty cool and fun.

 

Listen to the audio now:

 
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)

 

 

May 06 2012

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

After the confident declarations of inevitable cyberpunk youth takeover in the first edition of Mondo 2000 and the philosophically trippy and mostly utopian read on Virtual Reality in #2, it was inevitable that affairs in the world would bring us crashing down to earth… at least a little.  The third edition revolved largely around the hacker crackdown that was called Operation Sundevil — a situation in which a confused and clueless law enforcement establishment pursued crimes they didn’t understand on a terrain they hadn’t realized existed.

Issues #4 and #5 found us, meanwhile, reacting to Operation Desert Storm — the first full-on return to American Triumphalism since the Vietnam war turned sour in… what?… 1968?  We weren’t watching much TV at the Mondo house/office but I remember CNN being on as a sort of background phenomenon during the run-up to the war.

This was the first time the media’s inevitable participation in the sort of unquestioning jingoist war propaganda that we’re always treated to during the run-up to a major intervention was ginned up by computerized special effects.  And prideful current and former military leaders sharing technical details about shiny new weapons systems would bring irresistible frisson to certain types of technophiles.  Smart bombs!  Wowee!  Well, as John Fogerty sang, “It ain’t me.”

President George H.W. Bush even enunciated the idea of a “New World Order” spawning a million new byzantine conspiracy theories that have iterated and turned into ever-weirder and more complex alternative realities since.

As for me, I organized a radio show called “New World Disorder” on KALX fm in Berkeley with Don Joyce from Negativland and wrote an editorial in #4, also titled “New World Disorder.”  But more on that (including some audio) in a later post.

In issue #5, John Perry Barlow took up the antiwar banner identifying Desert Storm as the first Virtual War in the layout and text provided below.

Don’t get me wrong.  Mondo wasn’t freakin’ Mother Jones or something.  The rest of the edition featured an erotic quantum physics limerick; newer smart drugs; the cyber-surrealism of Mark Leyner in the immediate aftermath of his incomparable Et Tu, Babe; a gigantic section on industrial music; Mark Dery deconstructing machine sex and sex machines; a much criticized spread with lovely ladies with their bare nipples shining through microchips; and speaking of smart bombshells, that cover you see is Dr. Fiorella Terenzi who talked to us about her music of the galaxies.  I was told later that every male in the building — except me — stopped work that afternoon to gather in the art room where the interview took place.  Was I noble?  No,  I was shut in my office working on something… completely unaware.  I was the editor-in-chief and nobody told me a damn thing.

Oh it might also be worth mentioning that we scrambled the names of two avant-garde guitarists on the cover, leading to embarrassment followed by some theorizing about “Art Damage” in the next edition.

Anyway, here’s “Virtual Nintendo” by John Perry Barlow from issue #5 of Mondo 2000. 

R.U. Sirius

Below the scan of the actual magazine, you will find a purely textual version of the article.

 

Mondo2000 Issue 5

 

VIRTUAL NINTENDO 

by John Perry Barlow

It is precisely when it appears most truthful that the image is most diabolical.
-Jean Baudrillard

Like most Americans last February, I was hooked on the new CNN sports series War in the Gulf. It didn’t sound strange to me when a friend said he didn’t know whether he wanted to watch the War or the Lakers game that evening. They were fairly indistinguishable. Both commentated by fatuous men well removed from the action. Indeed, in the case of the War, one wondered if there even was any action. The closest one got to that was the occasional footage of people scurrying around in the darkness following a Scud warning, followed by a blurry flash of distant fireworks as the Patriot took out the Scud.

Which was, in a way, a perfect metaphor for the abstraction and bloodlessness of this new form of combat. A missile would emerge without any tangible point of origin, its senders anonymous and devoid of human characteristics. A machine would detect it, another would plot its trajectory, and a third would rush out to kill it. It was like an academic argument. Flesh and bone were miles away from anything that might rend them.

Finally, after weeks of this shadowboxing, it was determined that the map of Kuwait had been sufficiently revised that it was now safe to send in live Americans. Personally, I still had such fear of the Republican Guard that I thought we should soften them some more. What I thought we faced was an army as large as ours, toughened by almost a decade of the nastiest combat since World War I, comprised of Muslim fanatics, each convinced that death in battle was just a quicker trip to Paradise. Certainly more than a match for a bunch of rag-tag American kids who’d joined the military because they couldn’t get a job at the 7-11.

Then we saw them for the first time. Trying to surrender to the Italian television crew through whose cameras they were beamed to us, they looked hapless and confused. They were devastated refugees from the real world, trying desperately to enter the sanctuary of the Screen, a sanctuary we had enjoyed throughout this affair whether in an armchair in Terre Haute or at the bombardier’s workstation in a B-52.

More video arrived of the areas we had been softening. I realized for the first time, astonishingly enough — that there had been people down there. The Republican Guard was not a thing. It was a bunch of human beings, with wives, and best friends, and babies who loved to be thrown in the air. The charred and contorted remains I saw would toss no more babies. Indeed, they didn’t even look all that soft, more like briquettes than people.

A wave of revulsion and shame hit me. Like most everyone in America, I had been suckered. I had become part of what Hannah Arendt, referring to the Nazi bureaucratization of murder, had called “the banality of evil.” What I had seen of the war had been a computer generated simulation; with perhaps higher production values than Nintendo, but otherwise the same. I had been placed in a reality which was sufficiently complex to seem like the real thing even though it was entirely manufactured.

A far more persuasive reality had been in the bunkers where several hundred thousand human beings had been treated to explosives which first sucked all the air out of their lungs and then roasted them alive. Meanwhile, the object of this exercise — the Butcher of Baghdad — in whose place we butchered so many ourselves, is still in power. In fact, he is there because we want him there.

According to James Derderian, a defense analyst at the University of Massachusetts, the War in the Gulf was a precise replay of a computer simulation which had been constructed in the summer of 1990 before Saddam invaded Kuwait. Called “Operation Internal Look 90,” the simulation had been accurate all the way to victory. Trouble was, it had included no endgame. The screen went blank end of the tape, and so did the administration. They looked up, blinked in the light of the real world, and said, “Holy Shiite! If Saddam goes, he’ll be replaced by something worse!” No one had given that much thought while the exercise was in progress.

But never mind that. Saddam was old news. The camera was now on the Victory Parade. A patriotic exercise with my countrymen staggering on in TV hypnosis. The massacre, in which we may have incinerated as many as 400,000 while losing 179 of our own troops, was pronounced a great and courageous victory.

Not since Agincourt, when the technology of the English long-bow thoroughly undid the French, has there been such an unfair fight. But at least the English had the grace to mourn the French. They had been in direct contact with the humanity they had snuffed out. For us, it was a statistical exercise.

Suddenly, I realized that my America has become the most dangerous country the world has ever known. We are a country of unspeakable and unchallengable military power which is now under the impression that war is as easy, cheap, and fun as a Lakers game. In the field, we are so abstracted by our weapons systems that we can slaughter an army and never see a dead man. At home, we are so abstracted by television that we can commit these atrocities and then celebrate the courage of our executioners with ticker tape and Budweiser commercials.

Now America can’t wait to kick some more ass. America’s a vacant-eyed man in middle age, his lumpish belly barely contained in his Desert Storm t-shirt, yelling at his kids. The polls tell me he represents the overwhelming majority of Americans, 78% of whom say that the “victory in the Gulf’ makes them “feel better about America.”

Not me. For the first time, 1 am genuinely ashamed of my country.

And angry.

The object of my wrath is as virtual as its cause. I can’t blame Dick Cheney or Pete Williams, both old friends of mine. In removing the merciless eye of the camera from any real gore, they were only doing what I would have done in their position. Many lessons were learned from Vietnam, one of which is that if the folks back home can see Hell, they’ll want to leave it. Given that Cheney had been told by the President and Congress to conduct a war, he set about, in his crisp analytical way, to see that it was done right this time. This meant exposing no voter to its reality until it was too late for anyone to object.

Thus when Bush exulted “By God, we’ve kicked the Vietnam Syndrome once and for all,” he meant merely that he had figured out how to give war a new lease on death-by keeping it at a distance and transposing another, denatured, reality between the electorate and barbecued bodies.

The enemy then is Mediated Information. This is a new, almost concrete form of abstraction we have developed, which Jean Baudrillard referred to when he wrote: “Abstraction today is no longer that of the map, the double, the mirror or the concept. Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being or a substance. It is the generation by models of a ‘real’ without origin or reality: a hyperreal”

It is this “hyperreality” which has become the new and terrible American Dream. And it is a lucid dream, subject to selective mutation by the Dreamer. As long as we remain in it, no atrocity is beyond us, for we have kicked the Reality Syndrome once and for all.

 

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)

 

Mar 28 2012

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

We talked and tripped. I decided to know God at any price, but when I came down and found some 10 Chaos guys spread around in my living room snoring and shouted, I greeted them as God, but he was with so many! We also discussed the Silicon Brotherhood idea while sitting both in that bathtub.”

As I explore Mondo 2000 History, I find myself unreasonably surprised by my own recollections — particularly by the degree to which “new age” influences flowed through both the scene and the magazine.  My own exploration of this cultural and memetic milieu  is shaping up to be fairly critical, but in this commentary sent to me for use by the Mondo 2000 History Project, Dutch writer, publisher, and entrepreneur Luc Sala eloquently embraces Mondo as “a door to understanding and experiencing the convergence and integration of technology, new age, philosophy and art”… while also noting our distinctions from some of the more formal “spiritual” practitioners.  I’m always happy to have inspired anything… well, just about anything.

Luc sent us a long ramble… a mini-memoir for the project, which he has graciously consented to my publishing here.  I’m going to run it in two parts — today and Friday. I think it provides one of the many flavors of Mondoid reality.

R.U. Sirius

 

Mondo 2000 has been, for me, a door to understanding and experiencing the convergence and integration of technology, new age, philosophy and art. I believe the magazine and the scene were at the root of the development of the late twentieth century cyberculture and have helped bridge the gap between the more traditional new age (fairly conservatively focused on eastern traditions, health and body; somewhat negative and Luddite about technology) and the computer/information wave.

My involvement with the actual magazine was limited, I sponsored with money and was international distributor (paying in advance helped to print the magazine). My involvement with the people of and around Mondo was what was most important for me, those contacts opened a door into the world of cyberspace, cyberart, psychedelic (ontological) philosophy, design and counterculture. The Mondo scene was where one would meet the great alternative thinkers and writers. They were easy with their contacts and networking; opened many, many doors for me and I am very grateful for what I took home — not so much in material things, but in thinking for myself. Mondo inspired me to publish a similar magazine in Dutch, called Ego2000, and has been a source of contacts and new ideas for my activities in the nineties. Apart from writing and publishing. this encompassed my broadcast television station in Amsterdam. This Kleurnet channel (colored net) produced some 8000 television programs between 1995 and 2001, covering a wide range of subjects, many with a similar focus and taste as to what Mondo offered.

Mondo 2000 was a focal point where the counterculture, psychonauts and mind-researchers met, physically in Berkeley, and at various events in SF and elsewhere. They met in person, but also communicated via the then emerging email and budding internet communications of the times such as The Well. It united the greatest out-of-the box thinkers and change agents of the era, but was not a commercial success. Money to pay the printer had to be found every time. Lack of commercial talent and financial savvy hampered its development so that the newer Wired was able to capture the flag of the cyberculture. Wired was more of a hit, but remained more gadget-oriented and lacked the heart and zeal of the Mondo initiative. Funny enough, founding publishers Louis Rosetto and his partner Jane Metcalfe (after their Electric Word venture in Holland) contacted me in early 1990 to ask for funding for a new magazine in the US, which later became Wired (1991 trial, 1993 first issue). Jane was a great networker and organizer and I actually employed her for a while. She set up the seminal September VR-party in my house in Hilversum, near Amsterdam. I always considered Wired as overly commercial and not so ethical and was proven right when Wired tried to go public and failed because their data were not very honest, to say the least. While many contributors wrote for both magazines, the WiredMondo dichotomy; the difference in focus taught me a lot about the soul, the root energy of a venture, how the initial thrust kind of shaped its future. Wired in a sense was a cheap market oriented venture, it lacked the quality and integrity of the Mondo format.

In the early Eighties (1982) I started my computer magazine publishing company, after working as a launch editor and roving reporter for Pat McGovern of IDC/IDG, before that being employed by Fasson, Bruynzeel and Philips. As a then new journalist (I never trained as such) I travelled extensively to the USA, as the rise of the home computer (Commodore, MSX, Apple, PC) was partly a European thing with English makers like Sinclair, but obviously the USA was the motherlode for computernews. I went to shows like the NCC, the Comdex and the CES shows, often in Las Vegas, where I hooked up with the Californian crowd of computer journalists, afficionado’s and hobbyists. Those were exciting years, the computer spread from the highbrow DEC/IBM scene to the home, hobbyists became involved, the Commodore 64 opened a new world of low level ICT. I rode that wave with magazines, end-user shows (PC Dumpdag), books and even a retail operation. I was familiar with computers already during my studies (Physics at Delft University and Economics in Rotterdam), in my early career followed trainings in Industrial Engineering and was groomed by Philips for an executive commercial position in telecom in a year-long worldwide training program. When the personal computer emerged, I jumped in with a 16 KB Philips P2000 unit I used for my first books about home-computers, computer games and programming and then gradually developed my publishing and writing activities in telecom, the home computer field and later in more general ICT. I am happy I went through the rigorous mathematical and physics programs at university, because it taught me to think straight and systematic; this being in line with the slight Asperger syndrom behaviour I sometimes display. Apart from that I have always read extensively and my journalistic and media skills were acquired and learned by doing and supported by some guts, I was always in for a new venture.

Homebrew computers

In my travels for the computer press I met people like Lee Felsenstein, Jan Lewis, Mary Eisenhart (Microtimes), and of course Allan Lundell, Amara Angelica, Saint Silicon (Jeffrey Armstrong) Dusty Parks and friends. We were hanging out together; meeting at the computer shows in the press rooms. We joined the insider parties at these events with what then were budding entrepreneurs like Gates and Philippe Kahn (Borland), and opinion leaders like John Dvorak and Jerry Pournelle. I felt part of the new wave of ICT for the masses, but as an insider. I wasn’t only a journalist and writer, but invested a bit, started trading computers and basically used my publications to get in touch with interesting people. This is something I have always done, even my Kleurnet TV station was a kind of front, a mousetrap to catch the inspiring and interesting ones, the change-agents, the mavericks.

However, in those days it was all very straight; computers, ICT, business, the alternative wasn’t on my mind, but I was connected. This all changed in 1989. I got in touch with new age thinking, had some deep and life-changing personal mystical experiences and opened up to the  alternative side of computers, like brain machines, mindware (Bruce Eisner’s focus) and saw the much broader horizon opening with multimedia, pictures, video. There were visits to Xerox Parc, contacts with fringe scientists, hackers, game-developers… I realized that the days of alphanumeric number-crunching were over. Another notion that dawned upon me then was that data and information are not the same; “a bit is only information if it bytes” was the keyphrase I used and use to make that clear.

GHC

Then around the first big Hacker Conference august 1989 in Amsterdam (Hack-Tic/Paradiso),  I was approached by my friend Allan Lundell (his book Virus was just out… and the famous Captain Crunch — John Draper — was there too) who proposed to me that I support a new magazine which was to be called Mondo 2000 and showed me a mockup. It looked fantastic, desktop publishing really applied to creative publishing, in color, with visual effects that were, at that time, revolution in action. At the closing day of this conference (The Galactic Hacker Conference/ICATA) we had a party at my house in Hilversum (25 km from Amsterdam), where many showed up. The hacker folks, the Chaos Club people with Wau Holland, the local hack and Digitale Stad luminaries like Rop Gonggrijp and Caroline Nevejan came. It was a nice party, that cemented many connections made at the hacker conference, which was in itself a major networking node in the pre-internet times (we had some email, but no web then). Allan and I dropped acid, sitting in the bathtub of my house. We talked and tripped. I decided to know God at any price, but when I came down and found some 10 Chaos guys spread around in my living room snoring and shouted, I greeted them as God, but he was with so many! We also discussed the Silicon Brotherhood idea while sitting both in that bathtub. Allan has some video from that party.

Locally this GHC stemmed from Hack-Tic and resulted in what later became XS4all and De Digitale Stad, but I personally had little empathy for what then was labeled as technoanarchistic hacking and focused myself on the USA and international side of things. However, this GHP brought together ‘the crucial network’ as Caroline Nevejan describes this and certainly influenced the cyberculture and cyber-counterculture. She, in a way, sees this as a consciously staged and orchestrated process, bridging the incommensurability (see 1962 Thomas Kuhn ‘The Structure of Scientific Revolutions’) between participants. I tend to see it more as an autoconspiracy (again a notion Barlow inspired), an energetic exchange that fits the times and the place, and kind of inevitable happens. Maybe this is because I always more liked less staged parties and the mixing of people, ideas and disciplines that can then happen, more the be-in philosophy (Michael Bowen 1967). We come together because we had to, and for an outsider this might look like a conspiracy, but it is more a play. There usually is a spielmeister or facilitator, who sets the stage, but does not know or plan the outcome. This all of course has to do with my understanding of time, future and energy and how things come to pass,. The malleability of reality and the laws of nature is a major issue in my further work and development.

These events, like the GHP and the 1990 Linz Ars Electronica were pivotal events. The people that mattered in what later was coined the new edge movement met and started to make it happen.

Mondo

As a result of meeting the Mondo people in Amsterdam and my promise to help them out financially, somewhat later in 1989 I went to the USA, partly because of my regular visits to computer shows and Silicon valley as a journalist/entrepreneur, but also to renew contact with Lundell and the Mondo crowd. That late summer many things happened in my life. I discovered spirituality and had some amazing mystical experiences, got in touch with the Esalen new age crowd and began to see computers in a much wider and more spiritual context. Before, I was already interested in what computers could do for psychology, like with brainmachines and even started a small shop called Egosoft. There I was selling all kind of mind-enhancing devices, the early smart drugs, and all kinds of brain-tools, hypnotic audio, isolation tanks, even some magic mushrooms — stuff that was totally legal then. But in the late summer of 1989, there came the interest in the more esoteric, even the mystical aspects, like in techno-paganistic work of Marc Pesce (the VRML guy) and how information is a dimension in itself, related to consciousness. These thoughts and notions have kept me busy ’til today, with Infotheism and the legality of Cyberspace still on my mind. Information in that sense is a path, the Silicon path, as in the Silicon Brotherhood Creed from 1989 (see adendum).

In the USofA

In the USA that autumn I got more in touch with the Mondo house and the Mondo crowd, even stayed there for some time. I wasn’t so much working on the magazine but just being helpful, paying for the first Apple Postscript laserprinter, for food and many things — as cash was rather scarce in those days.  R.U. Sirius did have the most amazing collection of weird psychedelics.

It was an old house, above a creek and fairly complex of structure, with offices and rooms tucked away here and there. Alison Kennedy aka Queen Mu and Ken aka R.U. Sirius were living there. Jas Morgan was running around and the whole house was full of rubble, books, stuff, ideas, notes and half-worked articles. Mu and R.U. then were in a strange quasi-relationship. There were lovers and would-be lovers (a guy kind of lived in a van outside); many guests and some people working on the magazine. One of them was Linda Murman, then with Allan Lundell, who did some admin and money chasing. I had a great time there, not doing much apart from sending editorial articles back to my magazine staff. I remember that as the place was messy, even filthy, with rubble everywhere, I tried to clean here and there.

One day I decided to clean out the big fridge in the kitchen, and kind of put aside or in the bin the weird little packages there that I thought were just old pieces of meat or something. This caused a panic, as there wasn’t only a bear’s penis, but also spider venom and a few other outlandish ingredients, related to Queen Mu’s work/hobby. Anyway, I met amazing people there, among them John Perry Barlow, whom I liked and had many and deep conversations with. He had an apartment on Potrero hill in SF, but his family was living in Wyoming. One day he went to visit them. I hitched a ride across the bay, and then our conversation was so animated, that I stayed with him (I could always take a train back was the idea) for the whole trip, some 15 hours through snow and ice, to his family house in Wyoming. I flew back after a nice meeting with his wife and kids. On my 40th birthday, the Mondo people, always in for a party, especially as I was paying for the food and drinks, threw a great birthday dinner for me. Timothy Leary, Barlow, Claudio Naranjo and his wife (Enneagram); the weird professor of Asian religions that Queen Mu was more or less married to (a great dinner entertainer), R.U. Sirius , Linda and some more.

There was a catch, however, as Mu, in her role as grand witch, had secretly decide to match/couple me to Linda. As I was not very experienced with psychedelics at that time, the kind of concoction they half-jokingly slipped me caught me by surprise. Before that summer I had never taken anything, only one toke of a marihuana cigarette when I was 16 or so.

Her recipe in a way worked, I ended up with Linda in bed and for the next few months that was it. She had a house in Boulder Creek, full with Allan’s stuff and took me there. As I had no car, I was kind of stranded for the week out there. I remember how I sifted through Lundell’s gear. He was a writer for electronic and AV magazines, not a great organizer, but assembled the most extensive collection of video gear one could imagine, most lying around in the Boulder Creek house on the hill or stashed in a shed outside. I cleaned out a lot of rubble, read, and watched video’s (no web then!). Sometime in the spring of 1990 I decided to go back to Holland and pick up my activities as publisher. My company kind of ran itself, while away, I just wrote articles and editorials and emailed (complicated procedure in those days with modems and 12kbps connections) them, for the computer magazines we produced, In those days there were magazines for specific machines like Commodore, Atari, PC-DOS, MSX and one about general computer news.

I was (at that time and still) an outspoken and somewhat obnoxious journalist, publisher and entrepreneur and I made money in ICT, and therefore I was a bit the “enemy” of the alternativo’s in the Dutch hacker scene. When the hackers sold out for big money a few years later (Xs4all), I felt they had betrayed their original creed. I however always believed their stance was worth protecting, and the Silicon Brotherhood Creed at the end of my Virtual Reality book (written in 1990, but this creed evolved in and from meeting with Lundell in 1989) acknowledged the importance of the deviant, the alternative, independent hacker).

Barlow was, in those days, a good friend and inspiration. He spent quite some time in SF. We travelled and tripped together, he got me backstage at the Grateful Dead new years concert, we visited trade shows and discussed the world, copyrights, God and psychedelics. His thinking inspired me a lot. I had used so many of his ideas and visions in my VR book, that I decided to put his name on the cover too. We differed in opinion in some ways. I never sided with his belief that copyrights don’t matter, that information should be free. His Cyberspace Independence Declaration/Manifesto was, in the context of his EFF work, a great statement and has been very influential; one of the few articles that really address the need for clear cyberspace rights and laws. It was, at the same time, somewhat naive, expressing a belief in the power of information and freedom that didn’t reckon with the traditions and forces concerning copyrights and the fear of institutions and governments for total freedom. I think Barlow was also inspired by Leary’s Declaration of Evolution (1968). The whole subject of cyberspace rights, legislature and freedom has been the subject of many articles I wrote in Dutch, also in the context of Infotheism and my personal notion of evolution as “a remembrance of the future” and what DNA is (an antenna into the future).

Sacramento 3220

The San Francisco scene in those days had (for me) two poles. One was Henry Dakin’s outfit on Sacramento 3220 (Henry’s Playhouse full with nonprofits and a secret Apple multimedia lab, the SF-Moscow Teleport, Jack Sarfatti and, later, Faustin Bray). The other was the Mondo House, up the hill a bit in Berkeley. Henry was a humble and softspoken millionaire, heir to the Dakin Toys fortune but fascinated by the alternative; be it waterbirth, East-west bridging, dolphins, new physics (Jack Sarfatti), Damanhur or psychedelics. He facilitated so many and was so helpful in organizing, promoting and financing the new, the different, the small and great innovators, I always liked him and his gentle approach. He was easy, slept in the back of my Egosoft new-edge shop in Amsterdam. He was an inspiration for me and many.

The Mondo house, with Queen Mu in charge and at the purse (and the editing!), was a different story. More egocentric, Mondo wasn’t about helping the world. It was an ego-statement by what my kids called catch-up hippies, flippo’s obsessed with the new, the different, who saw the potential of the new technology, as a mind changing and world changing tool. The spirituality that Henry Dakin lived was part of the Mondo culture too, but more as a tool, an experience, as part of the psychedelic awareness, the transcendental in action. Of course the house was full with esoteric art and books. All present were very well read. With people like Claudio Naranjo (enneagram), Barlow and Jaron Lanier around, philosophy and spirituality were part of the daily smorgasboard of discussions and exchanges, but not in a formal way. Although all had some deeper understanding and awareness of the mystical, the transcendental or deep contemplative was not on the agenda. Many had (had) contacts with Alan Watts or John Perry and the beat-generation poets like Ginsberg were not far off, but Mondo was more worldly than that. It made connections with the New Physics crowd via Nick Herbert (and Fred Wolf); dabbled in whatever was new in arts and music, but kind of stayed away from the health scene, the new age body work, Gaia folks and soul searching. But there was enough; the connections from Mondo with what was happening in the Bay area and beyond were fascinating. I really laid the foundation of my network there, which became the basis for my later work (writing, television, esoteric studies) and inspires me till today.

Counterculture

Before Lundell and friends made me aware of Mondo and got me involved, I was familiar with the technological side of things, the ICT industry and its outgrowth into brain machines, mind technology, but was not really hip to the general counterculture of those days. I was more a new age person with an ICT interest. Of course when I got to the Mondo house, I caught up. I have seen and read the earlier publications that R.U. was involved with — High Frontiers and Reality Hackers, but those were more traditional in appearance and layout. It was Mondo (and of course Bart Nagel and Heide Foley who made that jump in layout perspective happen) that really opened up to PostScript and the integrated layout possibilities that so markedly made Mondo 2000 a new wave in publishing.

When the Mondo people asked for support, I donated money to help print the first issue, as did John Perry Barlow and I also subsequently helped out here and there with some funds and became international distributor, not with much success. It came down to preordering and prepaying for some 800 issues (and that helped to get it printed anyway) every run, and having them shipped to some distributors in the Netherland and England. However, I never made money out of Mondo and ended up with serious stacks of Mondo’s, still in my cellars.

As R.U. was not only a keen observer and gifted writer, he also supplied all kinds of things to the Bay area cognoscenti and therefore had a real interesting network. Psychedelics were the not so secret but illicit link between the various subworlds of art, literature, music, new age and technology. Morgan Russell, R.U., Queen Mu, St. Jude (Jude Milhon/Hippie) were all broadly interested, but in different directions, with different networks and it was this convergence that was the hallmark of Mondo. They covered the whole gamut of alternativity, with a distinct “highness” underlying the meetings, events and discussions.

As this was the Bay Area and Silicon Valley was close, the link with the computer industry was easy and logical, There was the money and the excitement, in those days everybody looked at the new possibilities, whether it was in music with synthesizers; in broadcasting with digital media; in entertainment with the emerging computer games — and virtual reality was definitely the magic potion that would free us from the limitations of space and time, the ultimate trip, the electronic drug. Most of the people involved had a sixties background, although there were also the catch-up hippies like myself, who missed out on but were fascinated by the likes of Leary and the Zeitgeist of the sixties.

Part 2 will be published Friday, 3/30

Adendum

The Silicon Br/otherhood :

` We acknowledge the Silicon Path ‘

By Luc Sala and Allan Lundell
Hilversum, August 14, 1989

The computer and information technology, with the word Silicon as its main symbol, is one of the identifiers of the 20th century. This has challenged some to explore its possibilities beyond the mere superficial, utilitarian aspects of it. In arts, media, psychology, Artificial intelligence, consciousness projects, religion and creative crime, new applications are discovered and new interactions mapped. As has happenend in the history mathematics, the quabala, martial arts, building technology etc., such powerful new knowledge is first applied to the relatively mundane fields of economics, warfare and the suppression of people before one acknowlegdes and then explores the transcendental possibilities.

All through the ages people have concentrated on parts of the reality to gain access to the greater or even ultimate reality in themselves and the perennial wisdom of our species and the earth, our Silicon Mother Goddess.

The computer offers us new, and at the same time, age-old, possibilities of concentration and expansion, of communication and isolation, ego-discovery and letting go, that are largely untapped. Those who are now so deeply involved in the computer are, even unconsciously, part of a new tradition, the Silicon Path.

Now we, the initiators, explorers, guardians and even exploiters of the Silicon awareness revolution are concerned about its uses and abuses, and above all, acknowlegde its potential for growing awareness and human transcedence. We owe today’s hackers and whiz- kids, and ourselves, the opportunity to follow the Silicon Path, becoming the magi(cians) and mystics of our times. If the computer is nothing but another way to get in touch with the ultimate reality (and what else could it be), it needs some `small’ br/others to safeguard that path.