ACCELER8OR

Jun 28 2012

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

 

“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 25 2012

Give Tents A Chance: The Learys & The Lennon/Onos Chat In 1969

photo by Stephen Sammons

 

The folks over at  the Leary Archives have just posted a fascinating historical document, a transcription of a conversation between Timothy and Rosemary Leary and John Lennon and Yoko Ono that took place during the Lennon/Ono’s famous “Bed-In For Peace” in Toronto, during which Lennon and surrounding friends recorded “Give Peace A Chance.”

As you’ll note, it’s very 1960s.  The loveliest bit is at the beginning where the counterculture icons talk about — in essence —  various ways to achieve an alert and aware and awake state of mind (live in a tent.. or try living blindfolded for awhile.)

Leary archivist Michael Horowitz provides fascinating memories and perspectives, including part of an outline for a proposed book by Leary about ’60s heroes (see below the link)

Link

Dec 04 2011

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

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

Cover, High Frontiers #2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RU: You were having a good time anyway.

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

HIGH FRONTIERS CONTENT

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

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

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

DESIGNING THE MAGAZINE

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

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

Choreographer and dancer Lucas Hoving in High Frontiers #2

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

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

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

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

TRIPPIN’ BALLS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MF:  No, I don’t remember that.

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

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

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

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

RU: Synergy.

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

RU: Yeah. They both are highly energetic.

MF: We both really liked the DMT.

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

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

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

MAKING & MARKETING THE PSYCHEDELIC MAGAZINE

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

High Frontiers #2 Centerfold

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

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

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

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

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

THE LA TRIP

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

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

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

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

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

RU: Wasn’t she dressed in…

MF:  Black leather.

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

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

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

Remember what happened when we returned from LA?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

……………………………………………………

PART TWO: THE TRANSPERSONAL (PSYCHEDELIC) PHOTOGRAPHY PROJECT

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

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

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

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

Albert Hoffman, photo by Marc Franklin

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

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

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

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

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

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

ACCESSIBLE, BUT DENSE

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

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

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

RU:  Right. Those are real clean pictures.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Timothy Leary, photo by Marc Franklin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

William S. Burroughs, photo by Marc Franklin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aug 22 2011

Combining Extreme Distrust and Spastic Bursts of Blind Faith… What New Edge Culture has to say about Today’s Schizophrenic Information Society

“This magazine is about what to do until the millennium comes. We’re talking about Total Possibilities. Radical assaults on the limits of biology, gravity and time. The end of Artificial Scarcity. The dawn of a new humanism. Highjacking technology for personal empowerment, fun and games. Flexing those synapses! Stoking those neuropeptides! Making Bliss States our normal waking consciousness. Becoming the Bionic Angel.”

If it is the task of a magazine editorial to inform readers in clear language what to expect in the pages to come, this editorial of the first issue of Mondo 2000 in 1989 didn’t quite live up to its promise. It bent the minds of the readers in an uneasy twist: while making far-reaching claims about the promising, even spiritual nature of technological futures to come, its hyperbolic style begged the reader not to take such claims seriously. Critics have often tried to unveil the “real message” underneath such New Edge double-sidedness. Yet, I argue here, the paradoxical style of New Edge shows us exactly what it means to live with the unresolvable tensions of today’s information society. And the 1960s hippies were there to see it first.

Oxymoronic Futures

The editorial of the first Mondo formed the overtures of a magazine that baffled through its irony, incomprehensible language, screaming images, and particularly through the collision of many different, oppositional modes of thought. It flirted, for instance, with the utopian idealism and spiritual longings of the 1960s as well as with the technological entrepreneurialism of the 1980s; and it was nostalgically romantic at the same time that it was futuristic and high-tech. So one ad recommended digital image enhancement software as a tool for conveying “the shamanic experience;” and Mondo contributor Timothy Leary claimed that  “spiritual realities for centuries imagined” could perhaps now “finally be realized” through the “electronic-digital.”

Such a fusion of  New Agey spirituality, tribalism and nostalgia with an entrepreneurial, futuristic and technology-loving attitude was not unique to the magazine, but was part of a larger Californian culture some key members came to think of as “New Edge.” One element of this New Edge culture was electronic dance events — raves — wherein Earth Goddesses were worshipped while geeks spun electronic music and beamed fractal-shaped artificial life forms onto the walls. In flyers for such events, as well as in magazines, manifestos, cyberpunk fiction and conferences, information technology was both advertised as a clever tool for individual empowerment, and was seen itself a self-evolving higher form of consciousness. Today, such a blend of attitudes still characterizes the annual Burning Man festival, and tech-psychedelic events like the Mindstates conferences.

Not surprisingly, scholars and other commentators who have looked at this confusing blend of attitudes and worldviews have struggled to interpret it. Regarding Mondo 2000, the art critic Vivian Sobchack wondered — in a 1990 article for ARTFORUM International: “What was being enacted here, what was really being sold?” “At first sight,” Sobchack answered herself, M2 seemed “somehow, important in its utopian plunge into the user-friendly future of better living not only through the chemistry left over from the 1960s, but also through personal computing (…).” Yet Sobchack eventually judged the magazine “the stuff of a romantic, swashbuckling, irresponsible individualism that fills the dreams of “mondoids” who, by day, sit at computer consoles working for (and becoming) corporate America.” “Combined with an ‘unabashed commitment to consumerism,’ its political idealism leads to an ‘oxymoronic cosmology of the future,” she wrote.

Sobchack’s reading of Mondo 2000 belongs to a broader line of commentaries that look with suspicion at the way in which Silicon Valley technologies have acted as vehicles for “countercultural” utopian and liberal messages. Most of such critical writings treat the hippie rhetoric with which Californian technology enthusiasts promise the latest high tech invention to offer individual empowerment, social unity, a clean environment and democratic freedom as no more than a smokescreen; shielding from view the actual selfishness, greed and exploitative nature of high tech practice. Often these critiques have been accompanied by nostalgic looks at a countercultural past where intentions were “pure” and products of liberation were “untainted” by corporate cooptation and mainstream hype.

Differences are often noted — for example — between the ethos of open sharing that characterized hacker culture in the 1970s and the secretive sphere of nondisclosure and patenting that characterizes technology development today; or between early 1990s Virtual Reality where people were actively and creatively involved in interactive online worlds and later VR theme parks where the technology was now used for quick consumption and entertainment; or between the creativity of the first websites and the standardized sites today. In similar fashion, one might reflect on post-countercultural communal experiments such as Burning Man. Each year, participants and organizers of this desert city go through cycles of anxious self-criticism. Can a festival that attracts 50.000 participants still be called subversive? Despite the ethos of radical self-expression and creativity, don’t the majority of visitors come to passively consume the scenery? What about the pollution caused by the festival… and what does the fact that most of its visitors are caucasian say about its universalistic, inclusive ethos?

Such questions, I believe, are important. Yet, if they lead only to the cynical conclusion that we are here dealing with coopted and contrived forms of once authentic cultural practices, we forget something crucial. While critical thinkers scrutinize New Edge culture for how it is actually conservative, mainstream and selfish rather than progressive, subversive and socially responsible, they don’t take into account that New Edge positioned itself at the pinnacle of a cultural environment that cannot adequately be accounted for in such familiar binary terms. Starting from this point of view, in my recent dissertation “New Edge. Technology and Spirituality in the San Francisco Bay Area” I have sought to understand this dimension of New Edge: the extent to which it gives voice and form to a cultural moment that is still ill understood in all its tensions and experiential contradictions.

Taking Control Over Perception and Evolution

My study of New Edge begins in the 1960s and ’70s, amidst a network of people, ideas and organizations, all of which cannot easily be characterized in terms of distinctions between counterculture and corporate culture, spiritual or scientific orientation, and technological or rustic-romantic focus.

Take the Human Potential Movement at Esalen, inspired by Aldous Huxley’s notion that there are “still a great many potentialities — for rationality, for affection and kindliness, for creativity — still lying latent in man.” Huxley believed that “since everything has speeded up so enormously in recent years, that we shall find methods for going almost as far beyond the point we have reached now within a few hundred years.” In their pursuit to “produce extraordinary things out of this strange piece of work that a man is,” therapists and intellectuals at Esalen were inspired by Eastern spirituality as much as by cutting edge science and technology. As Esalen historian Walter Truett Anderson writes, they even turned “the flowing together of East and West, the ancient and the modern, science and religion, scholarship and art” as a guiding principle.

Or think of the entrepreneur Stewart Brand, who initiated the famous Whole Earth Catalog as a compendium filled with tools and intellectual baggage  — both rustic and high tech — with the intention of helping “hippie” communards in their pursuit for self-reliant living. Although the Catalog supported a culture that imagined itself to ‘counter’ the corporate mainstream, Brand was open about the fact that the Catalog itself was an “advantage seeking” product, financed through investment aid from his parents, and by means of stock bought in his name.

Anticipating the boundary-crossing New Edge culture were also academic scientists like Gregory Bateson and Norbert Wiener whose interest in cybernetics became foundational for thinking about human-computer interaction as it also became entwined with other strands of holistic thought.

Not to forget the Merry Pranksters, a group of hippies that formed around the writer Ken Kesey, who wholeheartedly embraced the blinking, speedy consumer goods that postwar America had to offer while their attitude began to involve, as Tom Wolfe wrote about them, “the main things religious mystics have always felt, things common to Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, and for that matter Theosophists and even flying-saucer cultists. Namely, the experience of an Other World, a higher level of reality. And a perception of the cosmic unity of this higher level.”

What connected these networks of people was an aspiration for human empowerment and positive global change that came from humanity’s heightened perception and understanding. This understanding was to come from the growing availability of chemicals such as LSD, high tech tools and exercises that were able to compensate for the otherwise poor perceptive capacities of humans. In his famous essay “The Doors of Perception,” Aldous Huxley called the human brain a “reducing valve” that, in everyday life, only allows a “measly trickle of consciousness.” Huxley talked about mescaline as a tool that could “reopen” humanity’s door of perception — it made people aware of the “totality of awareness” or “Mind at Large.” Similarly, the Whole Earth Catalog invested strongly in the idea that high tech could bring about just such a growth of awareness. The very name of the Catalog was, in fact, inspired by the greatest technological achievement of that time — a picture of the earth as seen from the Apollo, which appeared on the front cover of each edition. As John Markoff put it: “He [Brand] realized that an image of the whole earth might inspire others to have a more complete sense of man’s place within the planet’s ecology and all of the implications that flowed from such a view of the world.” The paradoxical hope was that in its union with high tech, man would restore holistic and more complete ways of seeing and experiencing that it had learned to forget in the course of modern life. Also, biofeedback equipment — which measures heart rate, blood pressure, perspiration or brainwaves and feeds such information back to the user as a way of making her aware of her level of relaxation — was advertised in 1970s manuals as a technique for obtaining a “real knowledge of the self” — a knowledge that “has been lost by humanity over centuries by civilization.”

Both the use of psychedelics and high tech endorsed the experience among these early pioneers that they were godlike in their potential for comprehending reality. “We are as gods and might as well get good at it,” as Stewart Brand famously stated in the pages of the Whole Earth Catalog. “Being as gods” meant, among other things, not only having greater perception but being able to take part in evolution itself. Additionally, this idea cut across spheres where spiritual practices dominated and where high tech pioneering took place: at Esalen, new forms of therapeutic practice such as “Rolfing” came to be thought of as the “first conscious attempt at evolution made by any species in modern times;” while at the Stanford Research Institute, the computer scientist Douglas Engelbart employed the term “co-evolution” to describe the “symbiotic, co-adaptive learning process by means of which humans and computers develop as one intelligent system.” Whether one was taking psychedelics, hooking oneself up to a biofeedback system, logged on to mainframe computers, or taking part in consciousness raising sessions at Esalen, a pervasive sense thus existed within these networks of tinkerers that humans were taking control over their own evolutionary development.

The World Slipping Away

What makes this belief in the capacity of high tech and science to turn people into all-knowing gods so interesting to me is that it combined with a very contradictory notion. In the course of all those practices — psychedelic or technological — whereby people extended and sharpened their ability to perceive and intuit the truths of the world, the world itself seemed to slip away and disappear from view. With perception meaning not so much the ability to touch things with the hand or to taste with the mouth, but to see patterns of connections as they were translated into information by cybernetic machines or to experience synchronistic connections between events across time and space, the world came to be constructed increasingly in invisible, untouchable, and imperceptible terms. “We are migrating from a world governed primarily by the laws of thermodynamics to a world governed primarily by cybernetics — a weightless world (…) whose events are the impinging of information on information,” wrote Stewart Brand in the Catalog. “We are not stuff that abides, but patterns that perpetuate themselves,” read another entry in the Catalog, in response to the cybernetic work of Norbert Wiener, Buckminster Fuller, the eclectic scientist, guru of the counterculture and main inspiring figure for the Whole Earth Catalog sketched a similar vision of the world when he wrote: “In World War I industry suddenly went from the visible to the invisible base, from the track to the trackless, from the wire to the wireless, from visible structuring to invisible structuring in alloy.” As a result, Fuller wrote, engineers and scientists have “lost their true mastery, because they didn’t personally understand what was going on. If you don’t understand you cannot master.” The writer Susan Sontag even called the “present cultural condition” one in which “Western man (…) has been undergoing a massive sensory anesthesia.” Sontag ascribed this “anesthesia” to the fact that scientific and technological developments have changed the daily environment of human beings into one “that cannot be grasped by the human senses.” And Californian therapist Peter Marin wrote: “What is real becomes still harder to touch, to sense, to act upon.”

Peons in a Simulation Game

Today, in the way that people all over the world are seeking to come to terms with the hopes and fears of living in an “information society,” these two oppositional experiences play an equally large role. Together, they make it impossible to settle permanently on the question of whether information technology gives us more or less understanding of — and creative power in — the world. Software such as Google Earth and the powers of parallel computing may give the illusion that we can see, think and self-evolve better — even better than earlier gods. At the same time, crises wrought by computer automated stock trading; the invisible ways in which small devices in our daily environments communicate with each other about personal details we didn’t even know were there; or software so complex that not one programmer is capable of debugging it; make us feel as if we are but peons in a simulation game wrought by alien powers. All over the world, opinion leaders, think tanks, politicians and educators wrestle with the question of what kinds of ethics and moralities should guide our decisions regarding technology development and use. Yet, they are increasingly at a loss because they are unable to permanently identify and locate the sources of power they are confronted with. Claims about the empowering capacity of high tech are canceled out by claims about loss-of-control… and vice versa. For instance, certain thinkers have emphasized the potential significance of self-enhancement technologies to be used by women for “self-determination.” Yet others wonder what self-determination means when technologies injected in the body work incomprehensibly, through programs created in secretive ways by globally dispersed teams with no one being clearly and visibly accountable for the outcomes.

Advanced technologies today don’t only appeal to ourselves as rational autonomous self-determined beings and as divine creators of our own fates, but also embed us in out-of-control worlds that act godlike in their totalizing powers, magical complexity, pervasive invisibility and unaccountability. In order to live happily in this world, we need to be able to use high tech tools to understand and act rationally in the world, but we also need to trust a system that we cannot understand and that is immeasurably bigger than we are. In other words, we need to both act as rational human beings and also as believers. It happens that, in western societies, these two attitudes have historically been seen as incompatible. “Belief” — the capacity to trust in a higher power and to give oneself over to it –—is generally associated with “irrationality” and “religion.” And religion has come to be seen as the absolute opposite of science — which is characterized by objective rationality; the idea that individual humans are able to logically comprehend and control their environment. To imagine a rational human being will believe in a system he cannot perceive nor understand is difficult, yet it is this paradoxical attitude that is being solicited from all of us if we are to live in this world without being continuously anxious and paranoid.

“If You Think It’s All A Joke You Miss the Punch Line”

What made New Edge culture and its 1960s antecedents significant, I believe, is precisely that it accounted for these two different experiential dimensions of living in today’s world. And I suspect that we could understand the irony of MONDO 2000 as well as the many playful aspects of New Edge culture at large, as ways in which this is done.

The irony of Mondo 2000 invited Sobchack to wonder what the actual, real message of the magazine was. She concluded that it was one of the aspects that made the magazine disingenuous in its idealism. “M2 sits squarely, and safely, on the postmodern fence, covering its postmodern ass, using irony not only to back off from a too-serious commitment to its own stance, but also to unsettle the grounds from which it might be criticized,” Sobchack wrote. For Sobchack, the irony of the magazine was proof of its nihilistic and uncommitted stance. Yet, taking into account the historical context in which New Edge emerged, I think it is more accurate to understand this irony as a way of being radically inclusive, committed to extremely different attitudes to technology simultaneously: the ironically hyperbolic tone of the first Mondo 2000 editorial, for instance, forcefully calls for faith in the power of technology to bring salvation from scarcity and other human sufferings, and simultaneously allows a rational and objective stance vis a vis this faith. Its “New Edgy” ironic posture allowed the magazine to conjure up worldviews very similar to what was being proposed in New Age circles, while also including distant, skeptical, rationalistic stances. Irony here works in the way that the literary theorist Michael Saler describes it; as a way to “reconcile enchantment with the rational and secular tenets of modernity.” It provides, he writes, a “ludic space in which reason and imagination cavort, neither succumbing to the other.”

Raves, Virtual Reality environments, postcyberpunk fiction, MMORPG’s and the Burning Man festival continue today to provide similar ‘ludic’ spaces where the unspeakable is allowed: namely the combined presence of “religious” attitudes with rational distance and skepticism. Whether through the celebration of parody cults, performance art, hyperbolic language or ironic self-mockery, play and serious devotion combine, deep connections occur that are fleeting and temporary, and one is absolutely certain of the deep Truth while being in absolute doubt about it. Here, one can be like a typical worshipper of “Bob” — God of the parody cult The Church of Subgenus, as described in one Mondo edition — displaying a “puzzling attitude combining extreme distrust, forced or at least reluctant worship, and sudden, unexpected spastic spurts of blind, unquestioning faith.”

Some may interpret such irony as taking no actual position, but I believe it expresses the desire to take all positions at once — to embrace and accept the logically incompatible realities, perspectives and experiences that are part of the current information society. As such, the best of the worlds of religion and science come together — the capacity to be subjected to a god and to be a god yourself; the cathartic experience of letting go of ego, of giving yourself over to a larger entity on the one hand, and the godlike experience of being individually empowered and able to create your own destiny on the other. As such, it offers a temporary and appealing release from the anxiety and paranoia that befall many people today and that comes from not knowing what you see, what you know and who is actually in control.