ACCELER8OR

Aug 03 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 05 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Stephan Ronan (Beat Historian, Mondo writer)

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

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

 

Walter Isaacson (Author, former editor of Time)

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

 

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

 

Previous MONDO History Entries

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

Gibson & Leary Audio (MONDO 2000 History Project)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jan 02 2012

An Insufficiently Advanced Technology For McKenna’s Magical 2012

By now, everybody knows that there’s a big crowd of folks who think something really big is going to happen this year because the Mayan Calendar allegedly ended in 2012 — specifically December 21, 2012

Less well known amongst the masses that are vaguely familiar with the meme is the fact that psychedelic/cyberdelic philosopher Terence McKenna was the original primary source for this notion and for this particular date. (If my memory serves, Jose Arguelles — the recently deceased new age guru perhaps best known for 1987’s “Harmonic Convergence” — originally set a different date for this Mayan-influenced ending of all endings, but if you try to google for data… at least to the limits of my patience…  you’ll find that any notice of this is buried beneath the now unified meme that December 21 is the hot date with destiny.)

Both men envisioned not an apocalypse (as per the current dominant meme) but some sort of transmutation of the human condition (a positive apocalypse).  While Arguelles’s perceptions were largely influenced by mystical esoterica, McKenna’s vision was much more a hybrid of the mystical and the technological.

Like Ray Kurzweil, McKenna foresaw a world in which technical evolution (he liked to use the word novelty) would keep doubling at an exponential rate until we would hit a singularity.  Only McKenna originally envisioned this constant and ever-quicker exponential doubling not by charting technical evolution but by “channeling” the “logos” behind huge quantities of tryptamine hallucinogens in the Amazon.

In McKenna’s singularity, we would unite with “the logos,” after which all of human history and materiality itself would be seen platonically as an idea space and everything — including all proceeding time and human experience — would become, in some sense, our plaything.   And this would happen on December 21, 2012.

While McKenna divined much of his theory from such mystical sources as the i Ching and ideas taken from psychedelic shamanism as practiced in the Amazon, he was also an astute student of developments in hard science, technology and culture and his sense of this drive towards the singularity was at least somewhat “grounded” in how he saw real material and cultural developments.

Thus, when McKenna described his upcoming singularity as a place where the boundary between the exterior and interior collapses and what you imagine “simply comes to be,” it was not just mystical intuition. He would also be following movements towards technologies that allow us to control other technologies with our minds, he would be getting excited about K. Eric Drexler’s prediction of molecular control of the structure of matter; and he would be thrilling to predictions of desktop manufacturing (If you put those three things together, you get something like a world where what you imagine “simply comes to be.).  He also jumped on the Virtual Reality train in the early ’90s, as that would be a kind of ecology of mind where this vision would be even easier to realize.

McKenna’s technophilia — to the extend he was a technophile — was not without its ambiguities. He believed technological advance without the intervention of spiritual, psychedelic consciousness and values would be both ugly and lethal.

Still, it would probably be a mistake — one that seems to be made by many current McKenna-philes — to think that Terence would feel confident that this grand transmutation based, only in part, on the Mayan Calendar was going to occur on time despite the fact that the technological training wheels needed to boost us into this platonic state have not yet sufficiently developed (if ever).

McKenna never took his role as a prophet as seriously as some of his disciples now appear to.  As a self-admitted “carnival barker” (and how self righteous and humorless have we become that many reading this will find this reason to dismiss him entirely?), there’s a pretty good chance that he would have hopped aboard the 2012 circus for purposes of livelihood and as a context for spreading other aspects of his philosophy, and he probably would have been available to be propped up on a hemp-woven throne at the stroke of midnight at the 12.21.12 global rave, but I feel certain that he would have been much more surprised if December 21, 2012 turns out to be a day of magical transmutation than he would have been disappointed if it does not.

 

Dec 04 2011

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

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

Cover, High Frontiers #2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RU: You were having a good time anyway.

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

HIGH FRONTIERS CONTENT

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

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

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

DESIGNING THE MAGAZINE

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

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

Choreographer and dancer Lucas Hoving in High Frontiers #2

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

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

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

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

TRIPPIN’ BALLS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MF:  No, I don’t remember that.

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

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

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

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

RU: Synergy.

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

RU: Yeah. They both are highly energetic.

MF: We both really liked the DMT.

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

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

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

MAKING & MARKETING THE PSYCHEDELIC MAGAZINE

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

High Frontiers #2 Centerfold

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

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

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

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

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

THE LA TRIP

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

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

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

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

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

RU: Wasn’t she dressed in…

MF:  Black leather.

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

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

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

Remember what happened when we returned from LA?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

……………………………………………………

PART TWO: THE TRANSPERSONAL (PSYCHEDELIC) PHOTOGRAPHY PROJECT

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

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

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

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

Albert Hoffman, photo by Marc Franklin

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

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

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

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

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

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

ACCESSIBLE, BUT DENSE

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

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

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

RU:  Right. Those are real clean pictures.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Timothy Leary, photo by Marc Franklin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

William S. Burroughs, photo by Marc Franklin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nov 06 2011

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Nov 04 2011

Shpongle & Psychedelics: An Interview with Simon Posford

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Girlfriend: Cause I’m on acid now!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DJB: The experiences that have influenced you the most.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DJB: How do you envision your future music evolving?

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

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

SP: Yup.

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

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

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

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

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

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

DJB: And it will! (laughter)

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

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

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

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

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