ACCELER8OR

Oct 12 2012

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

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More nuggets from High Frontiers for your weekend pleasure

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Aug 10 2012

Acceler8or Editor Turns 60! In Shocking Development, Everybody In The World Sends Him A Dime

Half a lifetime ago, I flew from JFK to the Oakland airport with the intention of starting the “Neopsychedelic Wave” — by starting a magazine, a rock band and a political organization of some undetermined nature.  Now that the world is a gassy utopia full of happy starchildren sucking peace -and-love lollipops on space colonies for all eternity, you can thank me.

Ummm…  well, so this is a moment of self indulgence and here are a few of my favorite things by me or about me on the web…

photo by Eve Berni

Introducing the Mondo 2000 History Project

The Tyranny of Hip  (1993)

TechnoSurrealism  (1998)

R.U. Sirius Show: Neil Gaiman Interview (podcast)

Future Mutations: Interviewed by Reality Sandwich

Mondo Vanilli: IOU Babe (album)

 

 

 

Jul 29 2012

From Psychedelic Magazine With A Tech Gloss To Tech Magazine With A Psychedelic Gloss (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #23)

Another segment from the rough draft of Use Your Hallucinations: Mondo 2000 in the 20th Century Cyberculture.  Note that “the total fucking transmutation of everything” is established as a conceit early in the narrative, thus its use here reflects on a major theme.

…Meanwhile, we made a rash decision.  Despite High Frontiers relatively successful rise within the ‘zine scene (where 15,000 in sales was a pretty big deal), we decided to change the name of the magazine itself to Reality Hackers. 

It was my idea.

We’d been hipped to cyberpunk SF and I’d read Gibson’s Neuromancer and Sterling’s Mirrorshades collection.  His famous introduction for that book, describing what cyberpunk was doing in fiction — seemed to express precisely what a truly contemporary transmutational magazine should be about. Here are some parts of it:

The term, (cyberpunk) captures something crucial to the work of these writers, something crucial to the decade as a whole: a new kind of integration. The overlapping of worlds that were formerly separate: the realm of high tech, and the modern pop underground.

This integration has become our decade’s crucial source of cultural energy. The work of the cyberpunks is paralleled throughout the Eighties pop culture: in rock video; in the hacker underground; in the jarring street tech of hip hop and scratch music; in the synthesizer rock of London and Tokyo. This phenomenon, this dynamic, has a global range; cyberpunk is its literary incarnation… 

An unholy alliance of the technical world and the world of organized dissent — the underground world of pop culture, visionary fluidity, and street-level anarchy… 

For the cyberpunks… technology is visceral. It is not the bottled genie of remote Big Science boffins; it is pervasive, utterly intimate. Not outside us, but next to us. Under our skin; often, inside our minds.

Certain central themes spring up repeatedly in cyberpunk. The theme of body invasion: prosthetic limbs, implanted circuitry, cosmetic surgery, genetic alteration. The even more powerful theme of mind invasion: brain-computer interfaces, artificial intelligence, neurochemistry — techniques radically redefining — the nature of humanity, the nature of the self.

The Eighties are an era of reassessment, of integration, of hybridized influences, of old notions shaken loose and reinterpreted with a new sophistication 

Cyberpunk favors “crammed” loose: rapid, dizzying bursts of novel information, sensory overIoad that submerges the reader in the literary equivalent of the hard-rock “wall of sound.”  

Well, then…

Also, Jaron Lanier was hanging around some, sharing his lofty goals for virtual reality; and Eric Gullichsen, who was teaming up to do some writing with Timothy Leary — with whom he shared a mutual fascination with drugs, extreme technology and Aleister Crowley — was already even a bit deeper in the mix, while dreaming his own VR schemes.  Various hackers like Bill Me Later and John Draper (Captain Crunch) were popping up with increasing frequency.  Hanging in hacker circles, we were also befriended by John Morgenthaler, who was getting very serious about the exploration of smart drugs.  Something was starting to surface.  Several small subcultures were drifting together, and some of these, at times, esoteric groupings included men (yes, men) who were creating the next economy.  Clearly, we were positioned to become the magazine of a slow baking gestalt.

Other factors played into this change.  While a strutting, pop-intellectual, irreverent psychedelic magazine (in other words, High Frontiers) could surely build an audience somewhat larger than 15,000, we probably weren’t all that far from our optimum, unless we wanted to stifle our Gonzo-meets-Camp writerly excesses and dumb ourselves down to something more like a High Times for psychedelic drugs.  Also, acid dealers didn’t advertise.  The number of potential advertisers for a magazine that revolved primarily around psychedelics was limited, particularly in this “just say no” period. Hell, dope friendly humor was even voluntarily eliminated by Saturday Night Live, the once-hip show inspired by a Lorne Michaels mescaline trip.    And then, admittedly, by emphasizing technology, we could, in theory, put a bit of a buffer zone between ourselves and “the man” — throw him off our druggy tracks while sneaking sideways into the center of the oncoming digital establishment, all the better to affect the total fucking transmutation of everything (bwahaha)… or maybe even make a livelihood!

Lastly, it had really been my intention from the start to create a magazine that (to slightly detourne the original subhead of High Frontiers) was balanced between psychedelics, science, technology, outrageousness and postmodern pop culture.  The psychedelic impulse had gloriously taken center stage for the first four years.  Now it was time to push into new territory.

To consolidate my thoughts about the Reality Hackers, I wrote a small manifesto (a list, really) titled:

What Are The Reality Hackers Doing

1: Using high technology for a life beyond limits

2: Expanding the effectiveness and enjoyment of the human brain, mind, nervous system and senses

3: Blurring the distinction between science fiction and reality

4: Making big bureaucracy impossible

5: Entertaining any notion — using what works

6: Infusing new energy into postmodern culture

7: Using hardcore anthropology to understand human evolution

8: Using media to send out mutational memes (thought viruses)

9: Blurring the distinctions between high technology and magic

10: Replacing nerd mythology with sexy, healthy, aesthetic, & artful techno-magicians of both genders.

With this, I was also aligning the magazine ideologically with a transhumanist agenda.  I’d attended meetings of a nanotechnology interest group hosted by Christine Peterson and, sometimes, Eric Drexler.  I started to see the actual dim outlines of a plausible “total fucking transmutation of everything;” with molecular technology giving us total productive control over matter for unlimited wealth; biotechnology giving us the potential for positive mutations in the human organism; and neurotechnology theoretically allowing us to maximize our intelligence — not too mention cleaner, better highs with no downside.

Of course, we were maybe throwing away four years building a brand but, if we were anything, we were impulsive.

Ken Jopp: Reality Hackers was, to me, inelegantly titled. Still, the cyberpunk thing was revving up.  The weekly tabloid in my town ran a cover story on hackers: teenagers who lugged computers into phone booths, and then, when nobody was looking, they made long-distance calls for free! This was subversive stuff. Off the Establishment! I bought the issue of Reality Hackers and adopted it and its kin as a cultural security blanket.  These proto-Mondo publications, arriving during the Dark Ages of President Ronald Wilson Reagan (666), were a source of what later would become hollowed out to form a tinhorn. I mean, Hope and Change?

Lord Nose: I think it kept getting more and more mainstream in hopes of getting on to the newsstand and getting advertisers. It was being slowly made more palatable — or seemingly palatable — for the corporate interests that had no taste. I mean, it was so different. High Frontiers had a very different thrust.

Jeff Mark: Those of us serious about psychedelic exploration continued. Indeed, there was considerable activity, particularly around Tim Leary and Terence McKenna, but the momentum was spent. People started worrying about making a living.  High Frontiers/Reality Hackers had to get their shit together. 

 

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)

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

“I’d Never Met A Libertarian Before” (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #22)

 

Mar 30 2012

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

“This was, for me, the meeting that rang true as an energy exchange and creative chaos event, where so many contacts and ideas and plans surfaced or were born, that I consider it on par with what must have happened in Socrates/Plato times, in Gottingen early in the 20th century with the physicists (Bohr etc.), a once in a lifetime creative fire.”

 

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

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

I should add here that some of Luc’s impressions of how Mondo functioned as a business are just that… impressions.  Some aspects were slightly more conventional than he perceived… but that’s part of this project — differing perceptions and memories are part of the narrative.

R.U. Sirius

New Edge
The term New Edge — as in bridging information technology and new age — is a phrase that kind of developed between me and John Barlow and was first used in print in the Ego2000 magazines I published in the Netherlands, and was later used by the Mondo crowd. In the new edge; hacking, virtual reality and alternative (psychedelic) reality came together with the new age ideas of ecology, sustainable ecology, self-development and body awareness. The MONDO 2000 User’s Guide to the New Edge by Rudy Rucker, R. U. Sirius & Queen Mu, came out in 1992 (HarperPerennial). Funny enough, there was no connection with the Bhagwan/Osho  movement. Osho died in 1990 and was a major alternative movement — or with TM (Marahishi).

The new age folks in those days were a bit anti-computer — a kind of neoluddite stance — and certainly didn’t see computers as spiritual and psychological self improvement tools. The New Edge obviously did. The great amalgam of the Web information exchange hadn’t happen and movements developed still more or less independently. The internet at that time was limited (text only… the WWW-internet really started happening in 1993). I remember Barlow at the first (and last) New Edge Conference in Amsterdam that I organized in May 1993 as an evangelist preaching the WWW revolution, validating and appraising the then half-underground pioneering work of Rop Gonggrijp and the Digitale Stad. That I-Conference, in itself , with Lundell and friends, Barlow, the Extropy  and Boing Boing editors (Max Moore and Mark Frauenfelder), Werner Pieper, St.Silicon, Captain Crunch and many others was again an amazing meeting of the high-tech counterculture luminaries of the time.

The convergence, or rather the undercurrent of psychedelic consciousness in the computer scene in the 80s and 90s was not an isolated phenomenon, I have interviewed many luminaries  — like Philip Glass and John Allen of Biosphere 2 — who admitted that LSD or other highs had given them the inspiration for breakthrough work. Stan Grof, the Arica people, the whole new age movement with Esalen (Big Sur) as a focal point was (unofficially) very aware of the potential of the psychoactive substances. XTC and other more chemical entheogen concoctions were coming up in those days. The Shulgins were of course pivotal in that development.

The Mondo crowd was more than familiar with what happened in the psychedelic world, they were the spider in the web. It was of course R.U. who had the best connections with the likes of Leary and McKenna; both flagbearers in the psychedelic movement and both with good contacts in Europe, with Albert Hofmann and Werner Pieper (Grune Zweig) and Fraser Clark and Rupert Sheldrake (and the Huxleys) and the Beckley foundation in the UK. I met Terence and Leary many times, drove the Shulgins around Europe, stayed at Tim’s house, met very interesting people there and was with him at his house some months before he died when was already was very ill.

Tim was a hyper-optimist, always positive and stimulating new ideas and projects. He had his theatrical side. I accompanied him on some of his lecture tours, going from venue to venue, where he was often acting clown-like and over-the-top on stage. In private, and at his Hollywood home, he showed his other personality. He was a great host; had an immensely creative mind and was always open to the new, the hip, the different. He had early seen the importance of information technology as a broad tool and predicted the Cold War would end because of the exchange of information. He developed —  still in the Commodore 64 days —  psychological computer programs, a category that Bruce Ehrlich (Eisner) of the Island group called Mindware. His work in that direction was groundbreaking, but alas the development of mindware has kind of stopped. Here and there, the game industry comes up with psychological profiling and sometimes biofeedback, but the category kind of died out. That is, as publicly available tools, the whole profiling trend with Google and the social networks and the security industry is applied psychology, fishing and mining data like search patterns, contact links for patterns and indicators that predict commercial or other (deviant) behavior.

Tim was very positive and stimulating, when in early 1990 I suggested a VR-conference in Amsterdam. He was enthusiastic, promised to come but also supported my plan/idea about writing a book — at that time conceived as a kind of conference book, and promised to write and send some chapters. He actually did and this convinced and pushed me to actually produce the Virtual Reality book that came out later in 1990. Some of the visits to Tim were with Barlow. I remember we went to LA with Linda Murman and found Eric Gullichsen there, demonstrating his VR gear. Leary was a pioneer thinker and evangelist of how psychedelics and esoteric paradigms fit in with high tech and personal computers. He was well ahead of the world there. The Mondo connection gave him the possibility to spread that insight (or should we say belief) to the world. Tim was, at the end of the eighties, no longer seen as a serious scientist or even opinion leader, but through Mondo he got connected again to at least the mainstream counterculture. There, Mondo was pioneering the spider-approach or what is now called the starfish model of open connectivity (The Starfish Concept by Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom). Everybody was equal (until the editing pencil of Queen Mu that is) and although there was a lot of internal struggle (relationships and money usually), towards the external world there was great openness.

Tim Leary was not only a keen observer; he was an optimist, saw a postplanetary future, and can be described as an technologically informed utopist. He believed — and this is were the new edge definition comes up — that technology was the bridge, held the promise for human salvation and happiness. Psychedelics were part of that bridge, but so was  technology like computers, smart drugs, life extension, brain machines, mindware. Although we were all influenced by science fiction, and the SF writers were part of the scene, I personally had some connection with SF author and IT-columnist Jerry Pournelle who also lived in LA. We believed that what is formed in the mind eventually would yield a reality result. The progress in IT was only possible because there were dreams and visions. All the great inventions came from people who dared to dream, the computer interface is a great example.

I remember a trip to Las Vegas with Linda Murman and Barlow. We visited Leary on the way from SF via LA, did the Consumer Electronics Show with its gadgets, new electronic wonder-things and some VR demo-ing; the Jan Lewis foot-massage press event in the Landmark hotel across from the Convention Halls; and on the last day bought some cheap watches. We then drove back via Death Valley and took some acid when we went over Daylight pass. In the mood of the moment, we then buried those watches in a ritual attempt to forget about time and tried to get over the Sierra’s passes to the coast. This didn’t work, as they were barred because of snow, so we had to go all the way north past Mono Lake (an impressive salt lake) and up to Lake Tahoe and then back to SF. Barlow, stoned to his ears, tried to cross over before, turned off the car lights in order not to alarm the cops and we drove, in a snow-ridden landscape, in the dark on those mountain road. It was fantastic. We thought we saw UFO’s, discussed the world and then suddenly Barlow stopped, seemingly for no reason. He turned on the lights, and at about 50 yards there was a chain over the road, obviously to prevent cars to cross the mountain pass there. But I will always remember that moment, for if Barlow would not have stopped, we would have hit the chain with maybe fatal results. Was this LSD, God or just luck?

Ars Electronica September 1990; Linz
see also http://90.146.8.18/de/archives/festival_archive/festival_overview.asp?iPresentationYearFrom=1990

The Austrian city of Linz had a yearly festival around electronic art — much of it about video and video art, but in 1990 virtual reality was the big thing. The spielmeister was Peter Weibel, who brought together a set of people in a setting I have not seen since — even the much acclaimed TED conferences didn’t bring this kind of creative change agents together. Virtual Reality was already there — and in the USA — as a research and innovation trend in the late eighties — becoming a fashionable thing.  I had seen quite a few demo’s, like the session early January 1990 with Eric Gullichsen at Tim Leary’s Hollywood house. There was a lot of talk; a lot of competition; the big ones like AutoCad and the small upstarts like Sense8 (Eric Gullichsen); Vivid Effect from Canada, and of course, Jaron Lanier, who defended his rights to the word Virtual Reality. This was done mostly by his somewhat deviant wife of the times who was also a guest at my party in 1990 and then took some LSD with Barlow, really scaring my kids when playing out their weird trip in my downstairs salon.

Although it wasn’t made part of the press releases and business plans to attract seed money for VR research, psychedelics played a major role in VR development, oftentimes one experimented with the systems using various substances; also sex (Ted Nelson coined dildonics) was part of the VR fascination. Virtual Reality was seen as a major breakthrough, as the psychedelici realized that this was a way to demonstrate that reality is a construction of the mind and a great tool for psychological (re)programming. This was one of the reasons Leary was so interested, here was potentially a technological drug, an electronic psychedelic.

Linz was an event that has shaped the development of VR, but also the development of Mondo and the New Age movement. It brought together the writers (SF), the techies (developers), the hackers (Chaos Computer Club), the entrepreneurs, the thinkers, the artists, the counterculture press and a couple of real change agents, like Barlow. Later I learned that even people from a whole different realm like Ra Uru Hu, a maverick astrologer who received or imagined the Human Design System, would become a great inspiration for my thinking in later years.

This was, for me, the meeting that rang true as an energy exchange and creative chaos event, where so many contacts and ideas and plans surfaced or were born, that I consider it on par with what must have happened in Socrates/Plato times, in Gottingen early in the 20th century with the physicists (Bohr etc.), a once in a lifetime creative fire. I went there, because some of my friends went there, and found myself amidst the great technominds of that time, but also the literary geniuses and artists. The program itself I hardly followed, but talking with participants, speakers and messing around with the demo equipment, it was an impressive time. I was familiar with many of the speakers and luminaries there, via my Mondo connection, my own publications, my work with brainmachines and my visits to the USA. So I joined the dinners and informal meetings; sitting in very Austrian pubs and places around the Linz market. It was a feast meeting all those people, participating in their discussions and getting inspired about the possibilities of this new way of using and integrating computers and information technology. There were interesting meetings, like with Morgan Russell, an early Mondo dropout who had some rights to the title and later (from Vienna or Hungary I believe) obtained archives and copies of Mondo.

The list of speakers and participants read like a Mondo 2000 article list, with Jaron Lanier, Warren Robinett, Brenda Laurel, Marvin Minsky, Timothy Leary, John Perry Barlow, Bruce Sterling, William Gibson, Jeffrey Shaw, and many, many others like Fluxus artist Willem de Ridder, de Vasulka’s (video pioneers), Richard Teitelbaum, Ivan Sutherland, Scott Fisher, les Virtualistes, Erich Gullichsen, Vivid (Vincent John Vincent), Chuck Blanchard, Scott Fisher, Ron Reisman, Derrick de Kerckhove (M.McLuhan Institute), Rudolf Kapellner, Ernst Graf, David Dunn, the Dutch Bilwet people and also Terence McKenna. Terence and Leary were the acknowledged leaders of the psychedelic movement. Both were well within the Mondo tribe and since Linz, Barlow and Leary started their tours and performances together. I remember how fiercely Barlow attacked Minsky and his meat computer approach. There was the deeper spiritual touch that wasn’t on the program and went mostly unnoticed, but in private conversations all the luminaries familiar with psychedelics expressed their deep spiritual roots, which didn’t surprise me, but enhanced my interest in the whole movement. Quantum Physicist Nick Herbert, later a good friend of mine, was in the program book, but I don’t remember him being there, and when in Amsterdam at my 50th birthday in 1999, he claimed that was his first visit to Europe.

The Ars Electronica festival had presentations, paid tickets for presenters, and awarded prizes like the NICA’s, but they always seemed to have gone to the wrong people. The real change agents were other people and although Linz made this annual festival a kind of hallmark event for the city, with a special museum around it, recently extended, and a Futurelab, I have a feeling they never reached the impact of the 1990 event again.

As I was planning a VR event later that year, I started producing a book about Virtual Reality somewhere in 1990. A few copies were for the party with Leary and Barlow and the famous VR-garden party at my house, basically bringing together all the relevant articles, although translated in Dutch, obviously nobody would give me permission for an English publication. This book, however, is really still the best collection of relevant material about the early VR-thinking and contains many contributions, but also illustrates my main focus always has been “a bit is only information if it bytes” meaning that information is more than data and that our present mountains of digital data have little meaning if they don’t bring real change. In that book many ideas and suggestions about the use of computers and information technology were written up, some so outlandish they have not been realized even today, like the ego-processor unit next to the CPU, GPU and also the general notion of Information as a new religion pops up there.

The VR event did happen, a few weeks after Linz and apart from Leary’s appearance in Paradiso (jointly organized with Ben Posset) the most important meeting was the garden party afterwards in my house. Many people came to Amsterdam after Linz, and they all assembled at my Hilversum house. Barlow, Leary, Lanier’s wife, les Virtualistes, the Vivid people (Vince and Sue), Dusty, many local luminaries like Simon Vinkenoog; quite unexpectedly Ted Nelson showed up… this was the party of my life! Everybody was totally relaxed, everybody mixed and I remember that I was actually watching the crowd form behind the trees in my garden, moved to tears. later I have met people in the USA, who told me that they were once at a party in the Netherlands, that was so impressive and stimulating, they remembered it ten, fifteen years laer. Who the host was, they didn’t know, but they did remembered the place, the people, the atmosphere.

Europe

In Europe, there were cyberactivities here and there. The hackers kept busy and had large scale events in Holland (thanks to Rop Gonggrijp cs), some virtual reality events; of course, the New Edge Amsterdam conference in 1993 with Barlow, Max More, Mark Frauenfelder, Lundell, Dusty Parks and many others, there was activity everywhere. I published Ego2000 in 1990. Wave, from Walter de Brouwer, followed in Belgium in 1994 (he has been quite an entrepreneur and figure in cyberspace since). In England good old Fraser Clark was the zippie man. He eventually spent some time with the Mondo crowd in Berkeley. Mondo as such was not widely distributed in Europe, but the cognoscenti knew about it, and through the New Edge Conference in 1993 most of the cyberactivists and hackers came together and mixed. The digital city folks and their crowd, including Mediamatics, Bilwet and de Waag developed and became a scene in itself, quite influential, but relying on government subsidies. Their focus was more on community and art and applied technology, less on the philosophical and esoteric. I myself was more involved with the Ruigoord community and my publishing and entrepreneural activities (for IT-magazines and Ego2000, for my Egosoft shop, my software activities (MSX) and later for the television channel). This did bring me all over the world, also to Japan where I had some contacts with Joey Ito and Kay Nishi. I traveled to Tibet, Nepal and India and usually connected with the alternative scene and writers there.

Mondo compared to other magazines

Apart from the obvious Wired, there were new age magazines and gadget magazines, but the convergence in Mondo was quite unique. Of course there were also hacker magazines and Extropy and Boing Boing, but as nobody really made money, there was no competition, more a camaraderie. As a professional publisher with quite some staff in those days in my Amsterdam operation (some 20 plus) I was amazed at how Mondo operated. They had some administrative people, notably Linda, but I never figured out how sales and acquisition were happening. It was mostly personal contacts I presume, but then I had little daily operational involvement. The Wired people were far more commercial, lied through their teeth about their success, which at a publishing conference in Zurich kind of got debunked publicly. They were not very ethical, but who is in big time publishing? Ad-selling is like that. Many people (Negroponte was also a shareholder and columnist) I assumed (wrongly, Rosetto has pointed out) that Eckhart Wintzen was a private shareholder and used his public company’s ad-budget, he obviously was proud to be involved in some way) used Wired for ego-boosting. Barlow once remarked, in a Wired Video, that media were not about informing, but about selling eyeballs to advertisers, I wonder if he wasn’t poking fun at Wired then. I never liked Wired. It was too material; too hard. Maybe this is because I turned Louis Rosetto and Metcalfe down earlier, but I never trusted the Wired approach and in the end their great plans of going public failed because of those reasons and finally the magazine was sold to a big time publisher, Conde Nast. Jane was a great human contact talent. She made this September 1990 garden party at my house a real success, but I couldn’t afford to hire her longterm. Of course many or in fact most contributors to Mondo ended up writing for Wired (and were paid, something Mondo couldn’t do).

Mondo, on the other hand never really was run as a business. It was a hobby; a social engineering venture by people with not so much interest or ability in the competitive world of publishing. Alison spend her heritage (and a lot of energy and talent) on the project. There were sponsors and benefactors, but Mondo was more an art project than a business. The same was true for my Dutch publication Ego2000. We made seven or eight issues and never made money. As the owner of the Sala Communications corporate structure however, it was my prerogative to have a hobby publication and it fitted well with my little Amsterdam cybershop Egosoft and my interests in what happened in the USA with Mondo. The editorial in Ego2000 covered roughly the same subjects as Mondo. I, of course, interviewed many of the Mondo contacts, added local content and articles, my travelogues, meetings all over the world, my hero’s of the time, it was obviously an ego-document. Kyra Kuitert was my main editorial assistant and we had fun making it, nobody asked nasty questions about cost or income. I had the money, the same as with my television channel Kleurnet a few years later. It was my thing and who would stop me, as long as the general Sala Communications corporation (I had shops and many other activities, digital picture library activities, computer shows and publications) made money, who cared? For me, work never was work It was personal development mixed with fun and a chance to meet interesting people. The enormous list of TV interview and programs from those days speaks for itself.

What remains of the Mondo spirit twenty years later is an interesting question. The cyberculture of gadgets and IT-connectivity has become mainstream, the future of Mondo then is a reality now in many respects. Mondo was fundamentally politically incorrect and fearless, now most media are all about fear. The new age has become a movement of fear (health, environment, 2012), not of hope. Society has lost much freedom, traded for the post 9/11 fake security that really hides the police state and the war on people. Freedom and Security have become opposites, not the Plato span of horses with a common goal, profiling the new and sneaky discrimination tool. Cyberspace is not the new democracy Barlow hoped for, but more and more a repression and consumerism tool.

Mondo was a magazine for freethinkers, made by freethinkers and there was a period of about 5 years (1990-1995) that this had a real effect, but then the mood changed, the war on people (war on drugs) intensified, the status of the US as a world opinion leader went down with ever more negative news, eclipsing in the 9/11 situation. Progress since then has been in the technology, internet, mobile computing and multimedia, but what really great music, art, literature or films have we really seen? What new science has evolved? We are stuck, captured in the rational and logical thinking, cut off from the spiritual and in a dead-end alley as far as science, environment and social justice are concerned. The financial crisis is not the result of manipulation by the banks and the system. We, the people, and our greed (hence the focus on the material because of our deep fear and lack of hope) have caused the crisis. The banks and institutions have just provided the tools and instruments. We have lost and cut off the contact with the “other,” the unseen, the irrational, the metaphysical.  We’re busy fighting our fears with our smartphones, social networks and hoping to find a solution in the digital bits. The chance we had to resize our worldview, to accept the adventure of not knowing; of not being safe and thus really learning has been handed over to the always-on security of our smart phones and our monitored world that will eventually lead to stagnation and loss of entrepreneurial initiatives. We are less creative, less daring, and as I personally confront this trend in public appearances and in publications of many kinds I am very disappointed that even the so-called spiritual and cultural leaders of our world are more concerned with their personal ego and maintaining their circles of influence than with new opportunities and vistas.

History now

Energetically, the Virtual Reality wave of the 1988-1994 period has died out. VR is now a technique used in engineering and the medical field but has not reached the wider society (it had some nasty health issues like now 3D) and the IT industry has focused on getting IT everywhere, all-the-time and always on. The adventure of merging and combining new technologies, new thinking, out-of-the box thinking, convergence of ontological views (i.e. the psychedelic) has stopped, we are all high tech neoliberals now (we think forgetting 2/3th of the world population). Mondo was positive, open, while mainstream media mostly have become closed, less pluriform, more politically correct. Mondo was a horizontal magazine, working from the premise (psychedelically inspired) that there is no ultimate truth, no general reality, there is individual truth and reality we can share and enjoy. This more horizontal paradigm does find its way… it’s now very noticeable. I think the (as yet not recognized) changeover from vertical (screen) computing to horizontal touch computing (tablets and pads tilted the interface fundamentally) will have a profound effect on hierarchical organization to come. It’s hard to keep the boss/subordinate model going when discussing things over a pad and with close finger-contact.

The internet has changed the world, and only Boing Boing has remained from those Mondo times. Wired is a gadget-oriented quasi-intellectual mainstream publication, and the Mondo crowd has spread out. Tim, Terence and many others are no longer there, and I am amazed that it took only fifteen years before the academic world started to be interested in what they now call late-century cyberculture and spirit. We will see how accurate and valid they will portray the Mondo and New Edge movement.

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

Jun 28 2011

The Interwingularity Is Here! Sex & Psychedelics & Interconnection

an Interview with Richard Doyle, author of Darwin’s Pharmacy: Sex, Plants and the Evolution of the Noosphere

 

Books that offer novel perspectives on psychedelic drugs and evolution are a rarity; and those that enclose densely complicated, multiperspectival themes in language that virtually leaps about with acrobatic joy are rarer still.  And perhaps rarest of all is a book about psychedelics (or as the author likes to call them; “ecodelics”) that embraces the experiences and insights provided by LSD and ayahuasca, by Psilocybin and 2cb, by Ibogaine and Ecstasy; and that gives some respect to Dr. Leary and Dr. Shulgin, Aldous Huxley and Bill Burroughs, the counterculture and the rigorous scientists. Anyway, you get the picture.

I interviewed Richard Doyle about his books and about these mind altering substances and how they relate to sexual selection and Darwinian evolution via email

R.U. SIRIUS:  Let me start off by asking something simple: what you mean by your use of two different words.  The first word ― which is probably not familiar to my readers ― is ecodelic.

RICHARD DOYLE: Well, there is a good reason why your readers would not be familiar with the word “ecodelic” ― I made it up! I am a “neologista” ( I made that up too, at least in English), meaning that I practice the strategic invention of new words (neologisms) and the careful construction of their contexts in order to help map different aspects of our reality. Following Robert Anton Wilson (who methinks your readers will indeed know very well), I am trying to help readers break through their “reality tunnels”, the tiny sliver of reality we live within most of the time ( although less than readers of those Other Blogs). These reality tunnels are made up of our habitual modes of thought, and the language we use is one of the most powerful ways we construct our reality tunnels. The good news is that we can make different reality tunnels with different scripts.

So “ecodelic” is, to paraphrase Wilson, a word. But it is a word I offer to help alter our conception of these plants and compounds we usually call “psychedelics.” We are very much living in a reality tunnel when it comes to these plants and compounds, one forged by the drug war and a torrent of misinformation.

Now I like the word “psychedelic.” It was invented in a poem by scientist Humphrey Osmond in correspondence with the writer Aldous Huxley, and it means “manifesting mind” or, intriguingly, “manifesting life.” Huxley’s name for it was “phanerothyme,” and both of them were trying to come up with a word that was better than “psychotomimetic” (meaning “simulating psychosis”), which they found down right inaccurate. Earlier, the German Louis Lewin used the term “phantastica.” Later, Carl Ruck, Jonathan Ott, Gordan Wasson and others suggested “entheogen.”  All of these terms give us slightly different maps of the reality of these compounds and the experiences they can occasion, especially because the experiences themselves are so sensitive to “set and setting” ― the context and intention with which we use them. “Ecodelic” is a way of amplifying the way many people have found these plants and compounds to help them perceive their interconnection with the ecosystems of our planet. The book suggests that this may be part of the evolutionary legacy of our use of these plants. Our usual reality tunnel insists that we ‘really are” separate from each other and our environment, when in fact nothing could be further from truth – we are an aspect of ecosystems, not separate from them. “Ecodelic” is a way to remind us of this.

RU: The second word, then, is transhumanist, which you use differently than most of the denizens of the transhumanist movement use it, and yet I sense they ultimately intersect.

RD: “Transhumanist” comes from “transhuman,” a word that seems to have received its modern meaning in correspondence between Julian Huxley (Aldous’s brother!) and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, the French Jesuit paleontologist and theologian. I found a letter in the Rice University Archives where this occurs. Teilhard distinguished the ‘transhuman” from the “ultrahuman,” with the latter meaning a kind of souped-up version of the human, and the former indicating an actual transformation ― evolution -― of who we are. For Teilhard, this transformation was evolutionary as well as spiritual. The challenge of the transhuman is to actualize our unique individuality within the much larger planetary collective he saw emerging. Teilhard was really one of the early theorists of globalization, among other things, but he insisted that planetary “communion” could only come about through the difficult work of individuation: In order to evolve, we each must become who we are, together. Let’s get on with that epic, shall we?

Now most recent usages of “transhuman”, it seems to me, have forgotten most of this, and mistaken the “transhuman” for the “ultrahuman” ― a kind of upgrade to the same basic model, still denying our connection to each other and the environment. We are trapped in a reality tunnel again, souping up and “enhancing” who we already are rather than really evolving. My usage of “transhuman” goes back to Julian Huxley’s 1957 “Transhumanism”, which had the rather pointed subtitle “New Bottles for New Wine.” Huxley, a biologist, very much intended “transhumanism” to indicate a change in who and how we are, and this change centered on a recognize of our radical interconnection with the cosmos, a perception of unity. His essay opens with “As a result of a thousand million years of evolution, the universe is becoming conscious of itself.” The astronomer Carl Sagan repeated this with his notion that “We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.”  Now “transhuman” etymologically suggests “beyond the human”, and in my view much of what we call “transhuman” these days ― the technological enhancement of our already existing nature to cling to life and deny the role of death, for example ― is, as Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, “human, all too human.” It is an individual ego’s vision of evolution.

Now this does not mean I think we should just give up enhancement or that we ought not be grateful and amazed at the capacities of modern medicine and technology to extend and improve our lives, only that we need to rethink the maps we are using to plot our epic quest of evolution. Because like it or not, as Huxley points out in 1957, we are now steering the starship. “Whether he wants to or not, whether he is conscious of what he is doing or not, he is in point of fact determining the future direction of evolution on this earth. That is his inescapable destiny, and the sooner he realizes it and starts believing in it, the better for all concerned.”

What I call the “transhuman imperative” is this necessity for humans to take the next step in evolution, and that begins with experiencing and acting on our interconnection with the planet and each other. Ecodelics seem to help foster that recognition through what the psychological literature called “ego death” ― the recognition of structures much larger than our individual egos. Sometimes, as in the 2006 Johns Hopkins experiments with psilocybin or the Native American Church use of peyote, those structures feel divine. This links us to the much older tradition of “transhumanism” ― the yogic quest to become divine. Transhuman indeed!

RUS: There are layers upon layers of dense interconnecting scientific and philosophic and experiential tropes in the book.  It seems like, ultimately, all one can do is evoke ― rather than explain ― the ecological connections of everything with everything and what psychedelics (or ecodelics) have to do with it all.  And this seems to relate to your exploration of the claims made by many psychedelic commentators that what is learned can’t ultimately be languaged… and at the same time, that psychedelics can evoke a very affective sort of rhapsodic oratory.  I’m not sure there’s a question here, but would you untangle or further tangle these thoughts in terms of your book?

RD: Well, the book is participatory. You have to engage in an epic quest to understand its twists and tropes and turns, and it is hoped that by engaging these layers, readers will come to understand themselves and their active role in interpreting the world.  We have become accustomed to language and discourse that approaches pure information that requires nearly zero interpretation. To paraphrase Humpty Dumpty, it means what it says and says what it means. Now the problem with this is at least two fold: First, there is a relatively small subset of phenomena and processes that are so simple that that they can be taken out of their context and rendered in this fashion. It’s not just ecodelic experience that resists languaging in this way ― family life is practically built upon the unsaid, and highly intricate premises (unspoken maps) within which we live and work. How often does one hear “What’s that supposed to mean?” in such a context? Love and courtship call forth poetry and song because of the importance of ambiguity as well as communication in creating a relationship. The second problem with this use of language to approach pure reference (besides the tiny sliver of the universe for which it is appropriate, such as “stop!”) is that we become incredibly lazy and incapable of reworking the labels we use to organize the world, and we take them to be the world.  We accept the default language, such as “conservative” or “liberal” and squeeze an incredibly dynamic world into it. So I am offering my book as a kind of “pilates for your head” towards discovering the creative freedom we have in mapping our world. New maps for new realities! Reality is a verb!

Besides, it’s sublime fun to play in the interconnections of language. Wasn’t this Terence McKenna’s specialty? I doubt I ever recovered from reading James Joyce.

Now clearly there is something rather special about ecodelics, otherwise I probably wouldn’t have spent nine years writing a book about them. As you point out, many commentators on psychedelic experience have discussed the “ineffable” nature of their perceptions ― my favorite is 19th century psychologist and sexologist Havelock Ellis’s use of the term “indescribeableness” to describe his encounters with mescaline . Now, on one level that is certainly true. But, then again, who among us can truly describe the taste of  a piece of cheese? We can’t.  There are the words we use, and then there is the experience. Now, some can do a better job than others, and it is worth nothing that even our description of said cheese has recourse to non-referential language ― such as the synaesthetic trope of “sharp” cheese, where the modality of “taste” is mixed with the vocabulary of “touch.” What seems specific to ecodelics is that we persist in noticing the distinction between the language we use to describe an experience and the experience itself, what Korzybski called the “map and the territory.” This may be part of the key to their effects. Psychedelics can help remind us of the very existence of our reality tunnels by persistently refusing to conform to our maps of them. Language is such a powerful lens for shaping reality that we frequently forget that it is a tool at all, and take it for reality.

And it gets curiouser and curiouser. For as I mentioned above, it is also the case that the language we use to describe a psychedelic experience becomes part of the experience. So our description feeds back onto the experience itself. Hence “ecodelic” ― it is time to explore our interconnections with our ecosystems, and the book offers readers intensive experience in interconnection through the rhetorical entanglements of the book. Most everybody has had the experience of looking at a mandala, where layers hold our attention and somehow connect us to a visual whole. I seek to do the same thing with argumentative prose. Some people report that they practically “trip” while reading it.

RU: So I feel like we’re dancing or skating around the core of your books theme… your essential thesis, if you will.  Can you give us the short version?

RD: The book puts the human use of ecodelics into an evolutionary context. The human use of ecodelics is very old. Many researchers have wondered how psychedelics could be such a persistent part of human culture given the evolutionary pressures of natural selection. The idea is that it might be difficult to deal with the tiger at the edge of the village if it seems to have six heads or a thousand pairs of eyes. My argument is that we need to take a broader view of evolution to include the crucial and now recognized role of symbiosis and what Charles Darwin called “sexual selection” ― the competition for mates. The book argues that ecodelics likely played an integral role in the development of human consciousness through these two vectors of evolution.

Why “Darwin’s Pharmacy?” In The Descent of Man, Darwin describes watching birds engage in competitive singing, and determined that the best singers usually left more progeny as a result of success in these singing “duels.” In the next chapter he discusses the evolution of the human voice in oratory ― he was arguing by implication that our capacity for speech and reason evolved through courtship. A more recent book by Geoffrey Miller argues that our oversized brains are essentially courtship devices. I argue that ecodelics likely functioned as “eloquence adjuncts,” aids to our capacity to generate discourse that capture human attention, creating the capacity for seduction and the generation of group bonds. A bow greatly increases our capacity to launch projectiles; Ayahuasca induced researcher Benny Shannon to sing. Mushrooms make many people perceive an inner voice or “the logos,” which seems to speak through them in what researcher Henry Munn called “ecstatic signification.” Peacocks display their fan of feathers to capture the attention of peahens, and mandrills eat Iboga roots (which are psychedelic) before engaging in highly ritualized combat that determines mate pairing. I just drank a double espresso to write this up. Are we still dancing?

RU: The book quotes intellectuals and discusses people who use psychedelics (or ecodelics) for serious purposes and at the same time it’s an expansive look at the effects of these plants and chemicals on human kind.  How would you weave the mass use of psychedelics by people at, say, heavy metal concerts or the sort of terroristic uses by people like the Manson family or Aum Shinriko into your vision?

RD: Well, it’s true that I look closely at the work of  people like Aldous Huxley, Henri Michaux, William Burroughs, Dennis McKenna, Kary Mullis, Alexander and Ann Shulgin, Francis Crick, Lynn Sagan, Albert Hofmann, Arnae Naess and other great minds that have commented on psychedelics. I think it’s crucial to balance the drug war distortion that suggests that the careful and intentional exploration of our minds is somehow inherently idiotic or self destructive. The near total prohibition on psychedelic research means we know much less about our minds than we should. We have become a culture that is downright afraid of inquiry, let alone inquiry into our own minds. But I also write about plenty of less famous and often equally impressive psychonauts who post on places like Erowid.org ― archives of open source cognitive science of self exploration. And the cultural revolutions of the 1960s and 1970s were very much a mass affair, arguably akin to other Great Awakenings ― religious revivals ― that have occurred throughout US history. It is often forgotten ― though I doubt by you ― that when Timothy Leary urged people to “drop out,” he was following the same advice as contemplative mystics throughout the ages: “Complete dedication to the life of worship is our aim, exemplified in the motto “Turn on, Tune In, Drop Out.” (as he wrote in “Legal Papers,” League of Spiritual Discovery, in 1966)

Now, as for the Manson Family and Aum Shinriko, let me just say first that as you know millions of people who never had anything to do with anything like the Manson family took LSD or ate psilocybin mushrooms and smoked plenty of ecodelic ganja, so the continual invocation of Manson when the topic of LSD comes up is rather propagandistic.  I know you have to bring it up because others will. So here is my answer: Yes, these are tools, and human beings have the creative freedom to misuse tools. Somebody just sent me spam ― Damn computers?! ― and I just drank another espresso, though I probably shouldn’t have. But hopefully when we bring up the space program ― something I think this country should be immensely proud of ― we don’t just show the Challenger blowing up over and over again. Almost by definition these kinds of tragedies are just that ― tragic ― and they resist easy explanation even if they have some contributing causes ― such as criminal individuals or a flawed O-ring. (BTW, you probably know that it was that dope smoking and LSD using physicist Richard Feynmann who figured out the cause of the Challenger explosion. He also invented nanotechnology in 1959, well before he received his Nobel Prize in 1965. According to the NSF, nanotechnology will be a one trillion dollar industry by 2012. Do we need more stoners to help the economy?)

That said, at first glance the Manson “family” would seem to fit the hypothesis of psychedelics and sexual selection very well indeed. A group bond was formed with a very high ratio of women to men: How? I don’t recall the specifics of their use of psychedelics, though, except that they dosed somebody to keep them from becoming a witness. I have a feeling good old-fashioned violence and intimidation played a more important role than psychedelics, and I believe one of their victims ― a Folger heiress ― was on a psychedelic when she was attacked. So not the attacker, but the victim, was using a psychedelic.

I don’t know enough about Aum Shrinko to really comment except to say that sadly the terroristic uses of all manner of compounds ― I believe alcohol is the number one date rape drug ― is likely as old as most of the compounds themselves. Mescaline was used at Dachau as an interrogation tool, and of course, we know about the CIA’s use of LSD in MKULTRA. I am proud to say that it was here at Penn State that psilocybin mushrooms were first mass cultivated by Ralph Kneebone in 1959, but sadly the security state seems to have later wanted metric tonnage amounts for chemical weapons purposes. Don’t blame the medicine, blame the irresponsible user.

And as for using psychedelics at a heavy metal show, I guess there is no accounting for taste, but the effect of set and setting would probably cause a good deal of negative reactions. I guess more research is needed. Most shamanic traditions that are experienced with these plants include strictures on their proper use.

There is something dirge like and darkly religious about some heavy metal, and I think that a good social contract for the decriminalization of these plants and compounds would be to agree to collectively treat them as sacraments ―  as many of us already do. This would probably mean treating them with respect and with clear intention, and with respect for those around us. We don’t seem to really have a problem agreeing as a society that unless you are in the desert or on a closed track, you probably shouldn’t go much over 80 miles per hour in a car or on a motorcycle, so probably we could come up with some agreeable common sense guidelines for the legal use of ecodelics. After all, cars kill over 40,000 people per year in the US and are involved in around ten million accidents, and I know of no one suggesting that we prohibit them. We do require training to drive that (at least implicitly) includes informing drivers that they should not  drive around at heavy metal concerts :) We could, and should, offer similar guidance in the use of ecodelics, but please don’t let the DMV handle it.

RU: Sex and drugs and evolutionary competitive advantage? A new motto for the 21st Century?

RD: Well, I love mottos, but I don’t really like this word “drug” ― it seems to be word that is used to describe things that other, usually very bad, people use. It reminds me of the “freedom fighter” versus “terrorist” debates around Nicaragua in the 1980s. Everybody “knows” that alcohol is a drug by any sense of the term, but still the term is reserved for other inebriants, some of which are obviously less toxic and more interesting (to many of us) than the default intoxicants of alcohol, tobacco and coffee (though I love coffee).

In the very early stages of this project, I got the opportunity to travel down to Peru as part of an audio documentary about ayahuasca tourism. The contract actually read that I was to travel down and “trip balls.” I had honestly never heard the phrase before, but I had a good sense of what it meant. I went down expecting to experience a drug, and this no doubt shaped my initial experience, but what happened instead was that I was healed. I remember speaking out during an ayahuasca ceremony and saying, in my broken Spanish, that ayahuasca was not drug, “it is medicine.” It might seem like a minor distinction, but as a result of these ceremonies and a good deal of introspection and practice, I was healed of life long, severe asthma and whole body eczema. You can see why I had to write the book and try and share and understand what I perceived to be a healing through plant intelligence.

And healing (if you will forgive an English professor) comes etymologically from “to be made whole.” Perhaps I got just a glimpse of reality undivided by our mental labels. It definitely feels infinitely better.

As for “evolutionary advantage”, the book is suggesting that we recall the evolutionary advantage found through interconnection. Our cells have a nucleus as a result of what biologist Lynn Margulis called the “long bacterial embrace”, the endosymbiotic evolution of eukaroytic cells.

RU: It seems that Ayahuasca has become the sort of signifier ― and the source ― for serious psychedelic exploration in recent years.  Is there
an evolutionary and/or cultural difference between an Ayahuasca oriented culture and an LSD oriented culture?

RD: For me at least, Ayahuasca culture is quite distinctive. There is a palpable and unmistakable sense of being taught by the plant. I had formerly considered the notion of a “teacher plant” to be “just” a metaphor, and nothing but. But to my utter astonishment I learned otherwise. This also se ems to be true of cannabis, but it is subtler and most people do not seem to potentiate this “teacher plant” aspect of the plant… more reality tunnels. Because of this feeling of being “schooled,” my experience has been that the cultural contexts of ayahuasca are perhaps slightly more intentional; the very difficulty of taking part in an ayahuasca ceremony, either in the US or elsewhere, seems to alter the interface with the plant. One is doing something very specific in seeking out this plant brew, and that specificity may sometimes sharpen the intention. One of the things I learned in my first experience was that I was totally free to explore the experience in any way I wished. How did I want it to go? I had never felt so totally free in my entire life even as it was clear that I was not completely in “control” of the situation. I was free by necessity. Subsequent experiences continued the teacherly and healing theme, though I knew nothing about the healing aspects of ayahausca before I journeyed, and was seeking it out because I was following up on some research on the writings of William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg in The Yage Letters.

Now the very characteristics that helped LSD become such a revolutionary force in the 1960s ― the ease of transporting it, even, the ease of its ingestion ― lends it a wonderfully technological feel. It approaches Arthur C. Clarke’s notion that “every sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” We can see why Leary, through McCluhan, saw it in cybernetic terms; it  is as “easy” as flipping a switch, dropping a tab. “Turn on, Tune in, Drop Out”: The triplet code of the psychedelic revolution.

Make no mistake ― Albert Hoffman’s discovery was a phenomenal one. It was also timely. An increasingly technological culture found “better living through chemistry,” and the fact that you could carry an enormous number of doses in a mayonnaise jar made it difficult to interdict even after it was prohibited. Ayahuasca’s magic feels, and is, much older. It roots us in the ancient shamanic practices that we in some ways participate in through re-enactment. We connect across space and time with the practices as well as the experiences of ayahuasca. Of course, with Hofmann, we connect with the ancient alchemical traditions, and he spoke of LSD, too, as if it were an organism. He thanked LSD itself on his 100th birthday. It too can seem to have a teacherly agency. So I would say that these subtle differences translate into a different “vibe” in cultures of the vine and “dose nation” ― the plant and compound are respectively part of the set and setting for ecodelic experiences. The medium is part of the message. But, of course, there is plenty of overlap, both demographically and experientially.

When I started this project, I was struck with a kind of sci fi hypothesis that “Psychedelics are chemical messengers from Gaia to remind us that she is here.” Now this is just a map, a tool for exploring ideas. It came in an early morning instant at Harvard Square ― I couldn’t sleep and went out for a walk, and I had this idea out of the blue in totally “ordinary” consciousness. I think for me, ayahuasca was more in tune with this “Gaian messenger” theme, but that could very well be an attribute of my experience rather than something essentially different about the two ecodelics. It is interesting to recall that in fact “LSD culture” as it emerged at Harvard was deeply informed by ayahuasca ― Ginsberg brought his experiences in Peru into play as he was helping Leary figure out how to manage and “program” psychedelic experience.

RU:  So is anything unusual going to happen on December 21, 2012?

RD: Yes! If we learn to focus our attention on any particular moment, we can experience its utter “fullness.” That will be unusual indeed. I think the discourses about 2012 are fundamentally about the need for a qualitative theory of time. Both the calendar and the clock divide time into discrete units, all allegedly equivalent to each other. This is both an incredible triumph of technology and, from the point of view of living experience, a bizarre fiction. As finite beings, time has, for us, qualitative attributes as well as quantitative ones. When I read the late José Argülles many years ago, and again more recently, this is what struck me: we seek an account of time that does justice both to the blind ticking off of moments and to the specificity of this moment and that one.  Sometimes, this perception is unavoidable: The moment my son was born was not just any moment ― a new world emerged, for my family, with him. When my daughter was born ― yet another singular moment. The Greeks had words for these two aspects of time ―chronos, or quantitative time, and kairos, or qualitative time. Having a sense of timing means knowing that all moments are not, despite the calendar and the clock, equal, and 2012 feels to me like a more or less unconscious realization that both of these aspects of time are equally actual. The possible limitation of even the Mayan’s precise map of time is a veritable announcement that “the map is not the territory.”

Now the qualitative difference between one moment of time and another can’t be measured by the atomic clock in Colorado, but it can be perceived by consciousness if we will focus our attention on the “thisness” of any particular moment. Think Ram Dass, Leary’s colleague: Be Here Now. If we will focus our attention on any particular moment, we notice that of course it is always Now, and that “always Now” characteristic feels like a connection to eternity ― it is now, Now, just as it was for the ancient Mayans or our contemporaries, Jesus, or George freaking Washington. Maybe that is what will happen in 2012. We’ll notice that it is still Now, and that all the maps and calendars are just extremely useful reality tunnels that we ought not be stuck within, except by collective choice. I think it was Buckaroo Banzai that said ‘Wherever you go, there you are.” A temporal corollary might be: “Whatever time it is, it is always Now.”

In other words, something unusual is always happening, and this “always” is Now. When Camper recently predicted the end of the world, again, I told my friends that he had it only half right. Yes, the world was going to end, as it does each instant, but so too was it going to begin again. Each moment, a version of the world passes and a new one comes into being. Change, samsara, never ceases. This too shall pass! When we focus our attention on the qualitative as well as the quantitative aspect of time, we attend to both the unique creation and destruction that inheres in each moment. As George Clinton might put it: Once Upon a Time Called Right Now! Our culture, in love with apocalypse and narrative closure, forgets creation. My understanding is that the Mayan elders describe December 21, 2012 as a time of transformation. To a culture such as ours, with no sense of qualitative time, it is understood as apocalypse.

Two more things that may be of interest to your readers regarding 2012: The National Science Foundation and Reuters both estimate that nanotechnology will be a one trillion dollar industry by 2012. Is this the flash of the transcendental, utopian other at the end of time Terence McKenna seems to have glimpsed? And when I asked ayahuasca about 2012 way back in 2003, I was “told” that it was merely storms, “just some storms.”

RU:  In Leary’s future history series, he tried to puzzle out the evolutionary purpose of psychedelics in the future.   One thing he indicated was that psychedelic experience was rather in conflict with an industrial culture but provides evolutionary openings to future cultures that would be very different. Have you explored those metaphors?

Let me add that one thing I’ve been thinking about is this idea that he used in his book, What Does WoMan Want? He kept on talking about “Brain Reward Drugs” ― which sounded Orwellian to me and seemed to conflict with the subversive tone of the rest of the book.  But now I think I understand that we have neurochemical patterns and releases that make us feel rewarded when we win. And these patterns are associated with ambition and success and accomplishment.  But there seems to be this other rewarding psychedelic possibility built into our neurology that offers other ways to feel and experience something marvelous. Any thoughts on that?

RD: Well, in the book I argue that ecodelics are transhuman in yet another sense: they put our sense of “human” ontology into disarray. When the maps are found wanting, ecodelics put the ontological question of what we are to us. This is a utopian question, because even asking the question illuminates the degrees of freedom we have as well as our creative responsibilities for the planet and ourselves. What shall we become? For Leary, a good deal of the utopian vision for psychedelic – mind manifesting – evolution involved a journey to the stars. Starseed: “Evolution is concerned with nervous systems and the sexual attractive efficiency of bodies, the expansion of consciousness.” This is a sexual selective theory of consciousness all right: Not only the Psy Fi vision of  “What does Woman want?” (the question to which life is the answer), but the scaled up “What does Gaia Want?”: the question to which evolution is the answer. Let us speculate just a bit for the sake of our imaginations and our possible futures: Gaia wants to get galactic in scale. It seems like we have turned our back on space. But another thinker from the Fourth Great Awakening, Bucky Fuller, reminds us that we’re already on the journey.

Now Spaceship Earth has not achieved escape velocity and is now finishing up a stint as Prison Planet coincident with the Great Prohibition of Psychedelic States. Epic plot twist: It’s time to free the inmates! Wikileaks Sez: Information wants to be free, and people – over a billion of them – need clean water, electricity, and the education to achieve our birthright: the collective evolution of the noosphere, the rather obvious transformation that is taking place as we live and breathe. Tweet this: Nanotechnology is yielding new technologies of water filtration and solar cells that can deliver on Fuller’s vision for Spaceship Earth. Will we “make it so”?

Whether or not we achieve our evolutionary epic quest depends upon our experience of each other and our ecosystems in, yes, marvelous interconnection. We are wired for ecodelia. It’s hard to avoid the tug of the stars, if we’ll gaze upon them with awe. We are indeed stardust. Tat Tvam Asi. And if we’ll look with marvelous ecodelic adoration at each other, all of us, and perceive what Ted Nelson called our “intertwingularity”, we’ll behold One planetary life form on the brink that thrives on, needs our conscious individuality Now in loving, collective action. How then will we resist the tug of nanotopia and beyond? Singularity? Get a late Pass ―the Intertwingularity is Near!