“I went to a party on Nelson’s Sausalito houseboat and wound up in a house in San Rafael in a scenario that involved some folks I’d met at Nelson’s party — three beautiful hookers, John Gilmore and a chimpanzee wearing bondage gear and assless chaps…”
John Perry Barlow and Ted Nelson blew into Mondo space around the same time… probably mid-1990, as the magazine was just taking off. At the time, Barlow was fresh off the farm… that is to say, it’s my impression that he’d been laying low as a gentleman rancher in Pinedale, Wyoming for many years and was just starting to get into the wind. (He’s been running around at a fair pace in the wider world ever since.)
Morgan Russell had met him at some public event and was bringing him around to meet us. I remember that there was some fair warning that Barlow was coming around… and that he was a lyricist for the Grateful Dead, which I knew nothing about. At the time, I thought Robert Hunter wrote all the words for the group. I was not, obviously, a deadhead, but was nevertheless excited to meet someone connected to their scene.
The actual meeting is a blur, although I do remember we gathered around the fireplace and talked agreeably for a long time. Did he give us $1,000 right then and there to help with the project, or was that later? How the money happened for those transitional Mondo moments is a curiosity to me… one that will be explored in more depth in the History Project book.
I’m pretty sure that Ted Nelson smoked his first DMT on his first visit to the Mondo house and that he found it impressive. Some time very soon thereafter, I went to a party on Nelson’s Sausalito houseboat and wound up in a house in San Rafael in a scenario that involved some folks I’d met at Nelson’s party — three beautiful hookers, John Gilmore and a chimpanzee wearing bondage gear and assless chaps… but that story I will hold for the book itself. (And I’m only lying about the chimp.)
In this unpublished segment from an hours-long chat between the two — really organized as an interview with Ted — Nelson goes into his rap about “biostatus.” He had explained his biostatus concept to myself and Russell one time, sitting in his office at Autodesk and, to be honest, I couldn’t quite grasp the novelty of it as it sounded like basic sociobiology (Nelson seemed surprised that I knew of such things.). Maybe it’s a behaviorally-specific exfoliation of sociobiology… a few years before people started talking about evolutionary psychology?
This was during a brief period where the hacker genius John Walker — cofounder of Autodesk, the famously successful Sausalito, California-based producers of AutoCAD, let the experimental freaks in.
At some point around 1988, Walker, as head of Autodesk decided to use the company’s wealth to experiment. There was the Virtual Reality project, worked on by Eric Gullichsen among others. “Cyberpunk” SF writer and math genius Rudy Rucker was hired to create a Cellular Automata program called CelLab, and James Gliek’s CHAOS.
And perhaps most interestingly, our man Ted was gifted with the opportunity to try to achieve the Xanadu vision —I always understood it as a hypertextual project linking everything to everything in an ever-evolving and highly intelligent way (and with much more intentionally than… say… Google).
Owen Rowley was also there in some capacity, and those of you who know Owen Rowley (rhymes with Crowley) know just how cool that is.
A monthly speaker’s program featured Timothy Leary and Todd Rundgren, among others.
As you can guess, it was an interesting (and casual) place to spend an afternoon. I’m not sure exactly what happened, but at some point, fiscal responsibility (some might say sanity) returned, John Walker moved on, and Autodesk returned to its core task. Carol Bartz became CEO. You’ve heard of her.
The conversation between Nelson and Barlow took place in a restaurant in Sausalito and was published in 1990 in MONDO 2000 Issue #4 under the title “Caverns Measureless To Man: An Interview with Xanadu Founder Ted Nelson by John Perry Barlow.”
Listen to Nelson tell Barlow about “biostatus”
Listen to the audio now:
Previous MONDO History Entries
LSD, The CIA, & The Counterculture Of The 1960s: Martin Lee (1986, Audio. Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #6)
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)
Swashbuckling Around The World With Marvin Minsky In How To Mutate & Take Over The World (MONDO 2000 History Project #13)