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Oct 09 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Aug 30 2012

Re/Search’s V. Vale Seeks Next Burroughs, Ballard, Lamantia… Ken Goldberg Interviews William Gibson

 

V. Vale, the great publisher of Re/Search, has sent out a very thoughtful essay wondering who is predicting the future as well as William S. Burroughs and J.G. Ballard did (particularly Ballard, I think) and calling everyone’s attention to an upcoming appearance by William Gibson in San Francisco.

EDITORIAL FROM V. VALE: “Mirror Mirror On the Wall, Who’s the Most Prophetic of Them All?”

It is difficult to survive and transcend the loss of one’s “father” [figures] — in my case there were three: William S. Burroughs, Philip Lamantia and J.G. Ballard. Philip was an authentic American Surrealist poet and first-generation “Beat” luminary — he read at that very first public reading of “Howl” at the Six Gallery at 3119 Fillmore Street/Filbert-Greenwich Sts, SF, Oct 7, 1955. Mr Lamantia was my first mentor. William S. Burroughs I didn’t meet until fall of 1978 when he came to San Francisco to read at the Keystone Korner in North Beach next to the Police Station. J.G. Ballard I corresponded with beginning in 1978 when I finally got an interview with him by proxy for my Search & Destroy #10 (incidentally, still available in a low-cost reprint from the original negatives). That same issue featured Burroughs on the cover; photo by Kamera Zie, who worked at City Lights, as I did.

When J.G. Ballard died April 19, 2009, I looked around and wondered who could replace him. He was a magnanimous, generous, spontaneous, unpretentious, publicity-avoiding ORIGINAL whose darkly imaginative literary output seemingly contradicted the ultra-polite, warmly humorous manner in which he treated people who visited him (including me). I was fortunate to be in his presence (and tape-record him) a number of times — in San Francisco, Berkeley, Palo Alto (?), and at Shepperton, outside London, near the Thames river where he took frequent après-lunch perambulations. By sheer luck I managed to tape-record both Burroughs and Ballard just months before they died…

Needless to say, nobody has yet “replaced” the above three deceased mentors. The nagging question is: Who are the people alive on the planet who are predicting the future as well as Burroughs and Ballard? The so-called CyberPunk writers (William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Richard Kadrey, Rudy Rucker; who else?) are alive and penning miles of sentences — are they still the “zeitgeist” of now? Is there a zeitgeist of now, besides “Things Fall Apart” and –? Maybe we all need to attend the Extreme Futurist Festival

We have long supported Survival Research Laboratories in their noisy machine performances divining a rusty, improvised-technological future in the perhaps money-less, state-less, more robotic- and drone-filled world landscape ahead of us. We’re reviewing the past 20 years, and an SRL associate comes to mind who has more or less selflessly curated dozens (maybe hundreds) of futuristic, bursting-with-ideas presentations by the crême-de-la-crême of cutting-edge thinkers, scientists and artists — most of them free; no admission charge — at U.C. Berkeley. That would be Ken Goldberg, who has been studying the future for several decades. Anyone heard of telerobotics? To quote, “Telerobotics is the field of robotics concerned with the remote distance control of robots using wireless connections, tethered connections, or internet connectivity via human input. Ken Goldberg, a pioneer of telerobotic art and his collaborative installation “Memento Mori” can be seen as the first telepresent, internet-based earthwork controlled by minute movements of the Hayward Fault in California and transmitted continuously as a seismic data stream to an embedded audio visual display.” [!]

To read this entire essay, go here.

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)

 

Jun 17 2012

The John Henry Fallacy

If you are familiar with American Folklore, you probably recall the story of John Henry. He was a steel driver in the early days of the Industrial Revolution. If you don’t know what that means, it basically means he drove steel wedges into rocks to cut through them for railroads. John Henry was supposedly the best of them, and is famous for the tale of his competition against an early steam rock-cutter. He won against this prototype, barely, and it cost him his life. This story is often used as an allegory of the “Man vs Machine” meme, in which we are presented a choice – either Man or Machine – without any other options presented. In these arguments, the author is generally proposing to eliminate the machine in favor of the man, and advocate the abandonment or imposition of limits on technology.

Indeed, even one of the few books which I would consider positive on the subject of technological advancement, Martin Ford’s The Lights In the Tunnel frequently falls into this dualistic view, that man is in competition with machine, and that this competition inevitably will be won by the machine. In a recent blog post he links to numerous articles showing the ongoing replacement of humans in the workplace by machines. In the next most recent blog he shows examples of how many businesses are reaching a point where it is impossible for them to keep human workers and remain competitive. If we accept that the John Henry options, man or machine, are the only two that exist, then it looks very much like man is losing, and losing badly.

Yet I titled this article as I did precisely because this “choice” is a complete falsehood based on an underlying assumption: that the economy will always be one of scarcity. In an economy of scarcity, the assumption that individual humans need to compete against each other for scarce natural resources, and that this requires them to have “jobs” in order to acquire the means to survive, makes such a “choice” seem inevitable. If “machines” win, “humanity” loses.  Everywhere you turn, machines are taking away human jobs, replacing humans in the workforce in ever greater numbers, and invading jobs which once only humans could perform, from doing basic science research, to preparing legal paperwork, to financial trading, and even medical diagnostics. It’s a bleak prospect for the overwhelming majority of humanity about to rendered “obsolete” to the scarcity economy. Looked at from this perspective, it’s a possible future that makes William Gibson’s “cyberpunk future” look positively rosy. For a rather dark and disturbing look at the possibilities, Marshall Brain’s “Manna” is a highly recommended start.

There’s just one huge, gigantic, impossible to overlook flaw in this logic. “The Market” exists only so long as “consumers” exist to “purchase” good and services. Without people to supply a demand, it doesn’t matter how much supply exists.  A completely automated system of production will destroy the economy of scarcity by creating a mode in which supply becomes effectively infinite, and demand becomes so easily met that it can no longer be “sold” and thus becomes essentially “free”. For all the logical errors I could point out in the first part of Manna, Brain’s view of the possibilities full automation could bring about are just the tiniest tip of the iceberg.

Because the dichotomy presented by the John Henry choice is not merely false, it blinds us to the reality that we want the machines to win. As I pointed out in Adding our way to Abundance the 3d printing revolution is going to force the costs of manufacturing to plunge to below rock bottom. With the addition of robotic “resource gatherers” that can mine, refine, and process natural resources, and robotic drone delivery systems, the need for a human element in the supply chain vanishes, leaving only the demand side left. With supplies able to meet demand at effectively zero cost, the only remaining “jobs” left to humanity will be in creating “new” demand. Because until we create true AI, all of those machines will ultimately have only one single purpose. To give Humanity what it wants, because only humanity can have “desires” for those machines to meet.

So like John Henry, fighting the machines is the worst possible choice. If we “win”, we will only lose.

Jun 05 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Stephan Ronan (Beat Historian, Mondo writer)

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

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

 

Walter Isaacson (Author, former editor of Time)

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

 

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

 

Previous MONDO History Entries

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

Gibson & Leary Audio (MONDO 2000 History Project)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 22 2012

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

“I went to a party on Nelson’s Sausalito houseboat and wound up in a house in San Rafael in a scenario that involved some folks I’d met at Nelson’s party — three beautiful hookers, John Gilmore and a chimpanzee wearing bondage gear and assless chaps…”

John Perry Barlow and Ted Nelson blew into Mondo space around the same time…  probably mid-1990, as the magazine was just taking off. At the time, Barlow was fresh off the farm… that is to say, it’s my impression that he’d been laying low as a gentleman rancher in Pinedale, Wyoming for many years and was just starting to get into the wind. (He’s been running around at a fair pace in the wider world ever since.)

Morgan Russell had met him at some public event and was bringing him around to meet us.  I remember that there was some fair warning that Barlow was coming around… and that he was a lyricist for the Grateful Dead, which I knew nothing about.  At the time, I thought Robert Hunter wrote all the words for the group.  I was not, obviously, a deadhead, but was nevertheless excited to meet someone connected to their scene.

The actual meeting is a blur, although I do remember we gathered around the fireplace and talked agreeably for a long time.  Did he give us $1,000 right then and there to help with the project, or was that later?   How the money happened for those transitional Mondo moments is a curiosity to me… one that will be explored in more depth in the History Project book.

I’m pretty sure that Ted Nelson smoked his first DMT on his first visit to the Mondo house and that he found it impressive.  Some time very soon thereafter, I went to a party on Nelson’s Sausalito houseboat and wound up in a house in San Rafael in a scenario that involved some folks I’d met at Nelson’s party — three beautiful hookers, John Gilmore and a chimpanzee wearing bondage gear and assless chaps…  but that story I will hold for the book itself.  (And I’m only lying about the chimp.)

In this unpublished segment from an hours-long chat between the two — really organized as an interview with Ted — Nelson goes into his rap about “biostatus.”  He had explained his biostatus concept to myself and Russell one time, sitting in his office at Autodesk and, to be honest, I couldn’t quite grasp the novelty of it as it sounded like basic sociobiology (Nelson seemed surprised that I knew of such things.).  Maybe it’s a behaviorally-specific exfoliation of sociobiology… a few years before people started talking about evolutionary psychology?

This was during a brief period where the hacker genius John Walker — cofounder of Autodesk,  the famously successful Sausalito, California-based producers of AutoCAD, let the experimental freaks in.

At some point around 1988, Walker, as head of Autodesk decided to use the company’s wealth to experiment. There was the Virtual Reality project, worked on by Eric Gullichsen among others. “Cyberpunk” SF writer and math genius Rudy Rucker was hired to create a Cellular Automata program called CelLab, and James Gliek’s CHAOS.  

And perhaps most interestingly, our man Ted was gifted with the opportunity to try to achieve the Xanadu vision —I always understood it as a hypertextual project linking everything to everything in an ever-evolving and highly intelligent way (and with much more intentionally than… say…  Google).

Owen Rowley was also there in some capacity, and those of you who know Owen Rowley (rhymes with Crowley) know just how cool that is.

A monthly speaker’s program featured Timothy Leary and Todd Rundgren, among others.

As you can guess, it was an interesting (and casual) place to spend an afternoon. I’m not sure exactly what happened, but at some point, fiscal responsibility (some might say sanity) returned, John Walker moved on, and Autodesk returned to its core task.  Carol Bartz became CEO.  You’ve heard of her.

The conversation between Nelson and Barlow took place in a restaurant in Sausalito and was published in 1990 in MONDO 2000 Issue #4 under the title “Caverns Measureless To Man: An Interview with Xanadu Founder Ted Nelson by John Perry Barlow.”

Listen to Nelson tell Barlow about “biostatus”

Listen to the audio now:

 

 

Previous MONDO History Entries

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

Gibson & Leary Audio (MONDO 2000 History Project)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

May 20 2012

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

 

“Cyberpunk today is mainly like a Pantone chip in the Pantone culture-wheel. ‘Those pants are sort of cyberpunk.’ ‘That video has a sort of retro-cyberpunk feel.’”

We were honored that William Gibson agreed to talk to us for the upcoming MONDO 2000 History Project book about MONDO… and about the ‘90s cyberculture in general and how it looks today.  The interview was conducted by Simone Lackerbauer (with my kibitzing).  These are a few fragments.

Gibson was incorporated into the first “cyberpunk” edition of the magazine via a somewhat devious route, as discussed here.

 

ABOUT CYBERPUNK, MONDO & UNDERGROUND MAGAZINES

Underground magazines had been very important to me. I started with Mad and Cracked, which may not have been formally underground, but were, initially and in terms of context, decidedly off-center, and I remember buying the issue of The Realist with the pornographic faux-Disney centerfold. MONDO 2000 was clearly an underground magazine, and as such I was definitely glad it was there.

I had never thought that the “cyberpunk” label was particularly a good thing, but it obviously wasn’t going away too quickly, so I’d generally shrug and go along with it. I doubted the immortality hackers were going to live forever, the idea of smart drugs didn’t do anything for me, but the attitude was fun. Just the fact that the thing existed, and popped up on fairly normal magazine stands, was cheering.

I’d say it was arguably the representative underground magazine of its pre-Web day. It was completely outside what commercial magazines were assumed to be about, but there it was, beside the commercial magazines. Could that even happen, today?

Posterity, looking at this, should also consider MONDO 2000 as a focus of something that was happening, rather than  exclusively as a broadcast-point. It was a brave magazine, but it was also a magazine of its day. Stuff was happening all over, with no Internet to pass it instantly around.

 

MONDO & TIME

I wasn’t surprised by the rise of Mondo. Something was clearly afoot, memewise. I wondered about the thing’s durability. Winding up on the cover of Time – what does that do? How alternative is something that makes the cover of Time? Of course, that was when Time was still Time, sort of, but I also wondered, after that, how seriously one should take Time? It wasn’t as though I ever read it, ordinarily.

 

MONDO & WIRED

Wired never felt like Mondo, to me. It never felt like an underground magazine, but neither did it occur to me that it was MONDO 2000 tuned down for straight people. I’d assume the difference had more to do with the business model. They definitely had one.

 

90S CYBERCULTURE

I think that whole scene in the 90s  was in some ways the cultural equivalent of all the glorious hype of the Space Age. The iconic babe in the VR goggles and gloves! Iconics, heroics… The difference would be that the end result was somehow akin to the invention of habitable space!

 

TIMOTHY LEARY

We’d bump into one another on the VR rubber chicken circuit. Barcelona, Linz, Venice…  He was really great to have at your table. Kept the evening in flux. And people would come up to him and give him drugs, which he’d give to someone else, usually a perfect stranger, as soon as the gifter was gone. He said that this was a win-win proposition, as the first person could now say that he’d given drugs to Timothy Leary, and the second person that Timothy Leary had given him drugs. I never saw him look to see what was in the envelope.

 

THE VR & SMART DRUGS HYPE

Evidently we didn’t need either one, at least not as we (sub)culturally imagined them then. We do, in fact, now constantly inhabit a sort of blended VR, but we now assume that we don’t need the goggles as long as whatever’s on the screen is sufficiently engrossing. And the distinction between real and virtual continues to blur. The virtual is colonizing the real, but generally in ways we don’t notice. VR was predicated on a notion of  real/virtual that now seems very last-century. Our grandchildren won’t be able to readily imagine where we were at, with that one!

Smart drugs were something I read about. After my time. Had I ever encountered anyone who struck me as 20 IQ points up from where they ordinarily were, I’d have paid it very close attention. (It’s difficult to imagine what that would even look like.) But if it was just a sort of temporary cognitive fine tuning, I didn’t find it that intriguing.

 

ON WRITING THE NEW “CYBER” SF

Whatever I did emerged from the need to find a way to write SF that I could stand to write, that I could live with. That led me to replace outer space with cyberspace, and everything I’ve done since has grown out of that. But I had the advantage of almost accidentally having latched on to the most powerfully emergent technology of my day as a subject.

 

REGARDING THE ’90S UTOPIANISM

I never though that cyborgs and virtual worlds were particularly utopian, so I’ve never been disappointed. The world is always more interesting than some futurist’s vision. If you think it’s not, you’re not really looking.

 

THE SINGULARITY

The Singularity has always sounded to me like a secular version of the Rapture. It seems to fit very neatly into that same God-shaped hole. We’re been there before. I like us better when we aren’t.

 

NOT A FUTURIST

I don’t have thoughts about the future. I probably have fewer than the average person. I’m not a fortune-teller. I construct very large, highly inaccurate models in my head, built from memory and random junk, and run them. Sometimes they seem to have predicted things, in some very vague way, that happen later, but I don’t think of that as prediction. It’s closer to augury, and I can’t do it without, so to speak, pulling the entrails from a real bird. Otherwise, the last thing I am is someone who walks around knowing what the future’s going to be.

 

CYBERPUNK TODAY

Cyberpunk today is mainly like a Pantone chip in the Pantone culture-wheel. “Those pants are sort of cyberpunk.” “That video has a sort of retro-cyberpunk feel.” We know what that means. If someone says “her attitude is very cyberpunk”, I don’t think we’re as certain of what’s meant. I’m not sure what this means, but I do think it indicates something. In a cyberworld, there’s no need for the suffix, and ours is a cyberworld. In a cyberworld, cyberpunk is punk. But it’s not punk if you call it “cyberpunk”.

 

WHO WE ARE

Who we are is largely who we meet. Cities are machines that randomize contact. The Internet is a meta-city, meta-randomizing contact. I now “know” more people than I would ever have imagined possible, because of that. It changes who I am and what I can do.

 

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)

Feb 14 2012

Cyberpunk SF/Mathematics Legend Rudy Rucker’s “Nested Scrolls”: An Interview

Both the funniest and the most scientific of cyberpunk SF’s fab four, Rudy Rucker’s autobiography Nested Scrolls is a laid back groove, in the best sense. It’s funny, real, a bit off center… yet friendly and so thoroughly engaging that I was sorry that it ended.  Maybe Rudy could live another life so that he could take us along, once again.

Aside from being a legendary SF writer and twice-winner of the Philip K. Dick Award for best paperback SF book of the year, Rucker has authored several seminal books in Mathematics and taught at the SJSU Department of Mathematics and Computer Science.  If that’s not enough, he’s also worked on several software packages.  Rucker books include Software, The Sex Sphere, Master of Space and Time, Postsingular, The Fourth Dimension and The Lifebox, The Seashell, and the Soul. 

He lives with his wonderful wife, Sylvia and has a bunch of really cool kids doing interesting things out in the world at large.  I interviewed him via email and — in a tradition we began at Mondo 2000  — he had to send me his answers twice before I acknowledged receiving them.

R.U. SIRIUS:  So I just read your autobiography, Nested Scrolls.  This is a pretty laid-back life in the grand scheme of things — no big drama — and yet you manage to make it very entertaining. Do you feel lucky (punk)?

RUDY RUCKER: My life has turned out better than I expected.  As a youth I didn’t know if  I’d be able to publish books; to raise a family; to find a good job, or even to live past forty.  I don’t know if luck is the right word, though.  It’s more a matter of me being a certain kind of person and of fate working out the consequences.

Becoming a writer isn’t like buying an instant-win lottery ticket.  You have to obsess over your writing for years.  But, at a meta level, I guess you could say it’s a matter of luck to have the kind of personality that makes you work that hard.  If you can call that luck!

In her journals, Susan Sontag says that, to be a writer, you need to be a nut and a moron — a nut to have the wit and the endurance, and a moron to persist.

The craft of writing is soothing to me.  When I don’t write for awhile, I’ll start wondering if I actually know how — maybe I’ve been kidding myself and lying to my friends?  But then when I get back into the work, I find that I have a well-honed capability, and it feels good to use it.  It’s almost like making something with my hands.

RU:  How is your life similar to cellular automata?

RR: As I mention in Nested Scrolls, seeing cellular automata in 1986 was a trigger that sent me into a metamorphosis — like a full moon that changes a man into a werewolf or a werepig.  I moved to California and became a computer hacker.

I need to explain that cellular automata are a type of self-generating computer graphics video.  You think of the pixels on your screen as cells.  With each tick of the system clock, the cells look at their nearest neighbors and use their tiny programs to decide what to do next.  Incredibly rich patterns arise: tapestries, spacetime diagrams, bubble chamber photos, mandalas—and they flow and warp like the shapes inside a lava lamp, never stopping, perennially surprising.

But you’re asking me how my life is similar to a cellular automata.  Well, I suppose I could say that my life, and my mental processes, divide up into specialized cell-like zones.  And information flows from zone to zone.  I evolve in gnarly and unpredictable ways.

Why unpredictable?  One of the biggest teachings that I’ve taken from my work with computers is that even a system with a simple rule produces unforeseeable outputs if you let it run for a little while.  This is particularly true for systems that operate in parallel and which repeatedly munch on the same material.  Which is exactly what the human mind does.

It’s folly to imagine that you can know exactly what you’ll be doing a year from now.

RU:  What’s Embry up to? Did he like Nested Scrolls?

RR:  You’re talking about my big brother Embry, who I mention numerous times in my autobio.  He’s five years older than me, and we weren’t all that close when we were little, although we did see a lot of each other, living in the same house.  In later years we became good friends.  The most memorable thing that Embry and I ever did together was to take a month-long scuba diving trip to the remote islands of Micronesia.  It was a landmark event, a once in a lifetime thing.

Embry’s back to living in Louisville, the town where we were born.  It’s interesting for me to go revisit the city from time to time. He read Nested Scrolls, and he didn’t exactly say that he liked it, but he’s not nit-picking me or arguing about details, which is a relief.  I’m sure that I remember some things differently than Embry does, and that I choose to emphasize different events than the ones he would prefer.  But I do think I depict him fondly.  And it seems like we’re still friends.  So I guess I got away with it.

Writing an autobio is kind of risky in terms of how your friends and family members are going to take it.  It’s wise to think ahead and to be a gentle when you’re writing, wise to have some empathy.

RU:  So did you take some stuff out, thinking better of it?  Conversely, as a fiction writer, did you make up part of your life?

RR: Sure, Nested Scrolls is a somewhat cleaned-up version of my life story.  This time I wanted to focus more on my intellectual development and on my relations to the people around me.  I did however write an earlier memoir that’s a more in the “my wild times” mode that you’re looking for.  This earlier book is All the Visions  — I wrote it in 1983, when I was thirty-seven.  It’s a memory dump of tales about wild things I did to seek enlightenment as a younger man, usually in the context of drinking or getting high.  I typed it on a single ninety-foot-long piece of paper, fully emulating Jack Kerouac’s legendary composition methods.  All the Visions appeared from a small press and is out of print now, but I plan to republish it as an ebook fairly soon.

Regarding your second question, I wouldn’t want to say that Nested Scrolls is a tissue of lies.  But I’m a storyteller, and I’ve told many of my anecdotes before.  As you tell and re-tell a story, you polish it, work on it, make it funnier, more succinct, more to the point.  You edit your memories like you’re editing a novel.

Revising my memories felt good.  That’s one of the pleasures of writing an autobiography.  You tweak your life so that things fit — and then the whole thing begins to make sense.

RU:  You wrote about becoming part of a literary scene, cyberpunk, and about how this felt like being a Beat writer.  But as we discussed recently in a conversation, you cyberpunks aren’t really close in the way that Ginsberg and Kerouac and Burroughs and Corso were, and you’re probably less extreme in how you’ve lived.  Do you agree?

RR:  Let’s start with some similarities between the Beats and the cyberpunks as groups.  We got publicity in the wider press; we were reviled by an establishment; stuffy critics continue to minimize our abilities; we advocated revolutionary views of our society; and our writings ushered in widespread cultural changes.  The end of the Eisenhower years in the case of the Beats; the coming of the Web in the case of the cyberpunks.

At one point I got interested in pushing the cyberpunk/Beat analogy as hard I could, and I wrote an essay suggesting these correspondences: William Gibson ~ Jack Kerouac, Bruce Sterling ~ Allen Ginsberg, Rudy Rucker ~ William Burroughs, John Shirley ~ Gregory Corso.  Gibson writes like an angel and has best-seller status.  Sterling is deeply interested in politics and in changing the world.  Rucker, the oldest, has a scientific streak and an antic sense of humor.  Shirley speaks and writes without the interference of socially-prescribed mental filters.  All of us have an implacable and unrelenting desire to shatter the limits of consensus reality.

Despite what I said to you in conversation, I do feel fairly close to Sterling, Gibson, and Shirley.  I’ve collaborated on seven short stories with Sterling, two stories with Shirley, and Gibson helped me develop the first chapter of my quintessential cyberpunk novel Wetware.

I see Shirley a couple of times a year, Sterling about once a year, and Gibson every three or four years.   So we are pretty close, but of course it’s hard to match the legends of Jack and Neal’s visit to Bill Burroughs’s farm, or Jack’s stays with Bill in Tangier and in Mexico City, or Bill’s unrequited crush on Allen, and so on.

And it’s also true that my life hasn’t been as romantic as the lives of the Beats.  Being a heroin addict, hitching back and forth across the country, having hundreds of gay lovers, living in destitution—all these adventures were denied to me. In some ways I wish my life had been that exciting.  But then I might not have written anything.

It’s possible that to someone on the outside, maybe my life does seem exciting.  After all, I got to work with R. U. Sirius and Queen Mu at Mondo 2000!  And one night at the Berzerkistan Mondo house in the 1990s, some people associated with your scene got me so high that I thought I’d been snatched by a time machine and transported to a holographic virtual room in the 2010s to be interviewed by some weird… oh wait, that’s actually happening right now, isn’t it?

Rudy w. Mondoids

 

RU:  I’ve always felt the voice of Philip Dick in your work, more than maybe I’ve ever said before.  There’s a certain whimsy in the way you present your characters reacting to strange situations in ways that are more offbeat than panicky.  Does that make sense?  Anyway, say a bit about Dick’s influence.

RR: Yes, I’ve definitely been influenced by Dick’s voice, his language-with-a-flat-tire quality.  I still think A Scanner Darkly is one of the funniest and saddest books I’ve ever read.  Dark oboes playing behind the stoner grins.  I like Phil’s California vibe, and, living in the San Francisco Bay Area for the last twenty-five years, I’ve gotten more and more imbued with his tone.

A few years ago I showed one of my SF novels in manuscript to a younger friend who’s a hot quantum physicist.  I wanted him to check the quality of my pseudoscience, the plausibility of my con.  But he went off on a tangent and started complaining that my characters weren’t surprised enough when weird things happened.  Like a giant cone shell snail would fly in and eat someone, and my characters would be like, “I’m glad the cone shell ate that shithead instead of us,” and then they’d go on with whatever insane task they were busy with.

I told that my friend that it would be boring to have my characters continually going, “I can’t believe this is happening!  Am I dead, drunk or dreaming?  How can this be real?  Blah, blah, blah.”  To me, being inside an SF novel is like being inside a surrealist painting, and you don’t want to waste time pretending to be shocked by the changes coming down.  You want to savor the weirdness and, where possible, keep kicking it up to higher levels.

You want a hero who’s a snickering nihilist, not a defender of the status quo.  At least to start with.  And then of course you put in some routine about coming to terms with your inner demons, finding your sense of empathy, and growing up at last.  You need that part for the book to be a novel.

One of the interesting things about Phil Dick is that you can never really tell when he’s putting you on.  And he doesn’t know either.  He’s working in that gap, where you just say anything—to see how it feels.  Does that make sense?

RU:  Do you have a lifebox?

RR: Okay, you’re talking about my notion that it’s possible to make a software model of yourself — a notion which goes back to my first published novel, Software of 1982.  And then people can have the illusion of talking with you, even after you’re dead.  I see lifeboxes as becoming a very big consumer technology.  A simple design is to have a lot of your personal online as a data base, and to have an interactive search tool for accessing this data base.

My autobiography is a lifebox in an older sense.  Moving beyond that, I’ve set up a primitive but functional lifebox of myself at the Rudy’s Lifebox website.  In principle my lifebox could be answering the questions in this interview, although the interviewer would need to be doing some edit work on the “answers.”

Many people are already producing a lot of online data on blogs and social networks.  If you follow someone’s posts closely enough you can indeed get a feeling of knowing them.  And as searching across blogs and social networks becomes simpler and more fluid, we’ll effectively be getting lifebox representations of many web users.

What’s the appeal of lifeboxes?  They make a weak form of immortality accessible to a wide range of people.  For most of us writing a book is quite hard. A key difficulty is that you somehow have to flatten the great branching fractal of your thoughts into a long line of words. Writing means converting a hypertext structure into a sequential row  it can be hard even to know where to begin.

If you have an effective search tool as the front end, it’s okay if your “memoir” is a disorderly heap of random personal factoids.  With the search working, the database becomes an interactive whole.  That’s really what a living personality is, come to think of it.  A mass of brain data with a so-called mind .

Jan 24 2012

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

 As I close in on the evolution of Mondo 2000 History Project book content to the point where I have to consider what the final thing will be — it becomes clear that it will be about 1/3 collective memoir; 1/3 my memoir and 1/3 scrapbook.  The challenge is to have all of it somehow fitting into my grand (or perhaps grandiose… apparently candidate Gingrich now think grandiosity is something to brag about politically and who am I to argue.  Well, actually, I would argue were I to take the time… but grandiosity in art/artifice can on occasion strike paydirt) scheme to have it all somehow fit together and read like a very dense and complex novel (but who would believe in these characters?)

In this context, some of the work involves me retrieving origin stories from my past to illuminate the influences that brought me to High Frontiers and eventually to Mondo 2000 and the cyber counterculture.

Recently, Boing Boing had me contribute to their marvelous weeklong tribute to Robert Anton Wilson — and only as I sat down to write something for them, I remembered that “The Timothy Leary/Robert Anton Wilson trip” was at the unfinished top of my outline of things I need to write for the book. I had put it off as a big challenge and had moved on to other stories and observations.

I originally imagined that this entry for the book would be largely about the philosophy or Reality Tunnel that some call the “Leary-Wilson Paradigm.”  I would — of necessity — interrupt a narrative flow that leans towards storytelling to explain ideas, since the “Leary-Wilson Paradigm,” more than anything else influenced the magazine I wanted to create.

But as my story about discovering the Illuminatus Trilogy emerged for the Boing Boing contribution, it became clear to me that I needed to explain my fascination with Leary in a somewhat similar style — ultimately merging the two stores into one short section of the Mondo book.

And it was while thinking about my initial fascination with Leary that this entry took a dangerous turn towards “confessing” my mid-70s fascination with famous pariahs…  outcasts from outcast culture. I have a touch of trepidation about presenting these thoughts in these knee jerk times… that people will think I’m speaking to today’s politics rather than the complicated and sometimes contradictory impulses that motivate activity  — and also wonder, often, if I’m going to be telling the MONDOids the stories they want to hear — or if I should care about it.

As to the stuff about Leary maybe being “a fink,” yes… I leave it hanging, as it will always be hanging.  I would say, though, that one of my favorite moments in Mondo history was when I began editing the conversation Leary had taped with William Gibson  (not knowing it would ultimately be transcribed for print) and came across Tim casually talking about being thrown into “the hole” in a Minnesota Prison because the feds were dissatisfied with his testimony about the Weather Underground. (You won’t find it in the linked segment, but you will find it in the magazine… if you have a copy.)

Anyway, for your reading pleasure… a possible fragment from the Mondo 2000 History Project book, tentatively titled “Use Your Hallucinations: A History of Mondo 2000 and the Cyber Counterculture.”

Pariahs Made Me Do It: The Leary-Wilson-Warhol-Dali Influence

As you already have surmised, I came up through the New Left Revolution years.  From 1968 – 1971 — during and just after high school, I knew that the revolution had come.   Some as yet inchoate mix of left anarchist radicalism and newly psychedelicized youth mutation was simply taking over the world by storm.  As Hunter Thompson famously rhapsodized, “There was madness in any direction, at any hour… You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning.… Our energy would simply prevail…We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave.”  Right (or left) or wrong, it was exciting and energizing to be a part of it.

But by the mid-70s, people on the left radical countercultural scene had become — at best, mopey and quarrelsome — and, at worst, either criminally insane or very tightly wound politically correct environmentalist/feminist/health-food scolds.  People were either bitchy; or in retreat — smoking pot and listening to the mellow sounds of James Taylor and Carole King.

I didn’t know it consciously at the time, but I needed to create a space within my psyche that liberated me from the constancy of moral judgment and eco-apocalypse mongering — and one that also didn’t represent a retreat into the mediocrity of middle class liberalism.

Thus, I was attracted to flamboyant “hip pariahs” who were very un-left, politically incorrect… even, in some cases, right wing.

There was the glam rock rebellion against blue denim hippie populism. These performers insulted egalitarianism by dressing and performing in ways that set them apart from their generation’s rock audiences . (Naturally, good old Mick Jagger was the major rock god who didn’t need to change to be a part of it.)  David Bowie, Alice Cooper, Lou Reed all nipped — in interviews and lyrics and musical styles — at assumed countercultural values while also mocking, at least, cultural conservatism by their very androgynous existences.

I gobbled up materials on, or by, Andy Warhol and Salvador Dali — each, in their way, pariah outcasts from political decency — particularly Dali.

By being an unsane solipsistic monarchist, loving money, supporting the fascist Francisco Franco, Dali seemed to me to be the purest of surrealists, running with his subconscious atavistic impulses against the earlier sympathies of the surrealists with the left and developing an utterly inexcusable (sometimes when I say — as I do at the opening of this book — that aspects of my story and my mind are inexcusable, I’m not just using colorful language. I mean it literally) but original persona.  His autobiographical and philosophic texts defied logic in ways that seemed to me to be more genuinely playful and funny than his former fellow travels in 20th Century Surrealism who had long since denounced him.

Warhol played an even more important role in liberating my soul and psyche from the depths of resentment and rational piety since his very role in art and culture was to create a space free from judgment.  While Andy was nominally a liberal, his deadpan consumerist art and aphorisms had a Zen quality — it could, paradoxically, cause you to embrace the flow of frozen moments and artifice for artifice’s sake by inducing silence in the chattering, protesting, judging brain.  To properly experience Warhol was to almost stop thinking… in the best possible way… while still hanging on by a thread to a sense of humorous irony.

And then there was Dr. Timothy Leary. There was the legendary Leary…  all that stuff about turning on tuning in dropping out the 1960s.  I had read and enjoyed his book High Priest, but actually thought of him as something of an old guy who seemed to be trying too hard to fit into the youth culture.  It was the Leary of the ‘70s that fascinated me.  During the height of my own romantic infatuation with “The Revolution,” Leary had made a heroic prison escape. He had been spirited away by the guerrilla warriors of the Weather Underground and had shown up in Algeria with Eldridge Cleaver’s exiled Black Panther chapter, pronouncing unity between the psychedelic and leftist and black revolutions and promising to help Cleaver form a revolutionary US government in exile.  At that time, all of these people — Weather Underground leader Bernadine Dohrn, Eldridge Cleaver, Timothy Leary, Stew Albert — who led a contingent of Yippies over there to cement the alliance — were icons to me, more or less on a par with The Beatles and The Stones (or at least, the Jefferson Airplane and Jimi Hendrix).

Then, after conflicts with Cleaver — and just as the buzz of the revolution was souring, he had disappeared, showing up only in a few gossipy pieces that portrayed him hanging out with fellow exile Keith Richards and issuing bon mots that were more of the flavor of Oscar Wilde than Che Guevara.

Then, he was caught in Afghanistan and shipped back in chains to the USA facing a lifetime in prison.  And not long after that, rumors circulated that he was ratting out the radical movement.   This was very depressing.  But at the same time, occasional interesting signals emerged — usually published in the underground press — from Folsom Prison where he was being held.  Strange little quotes about being an intelligence agent for the future; about “offering the only hopeful eschatology around today;” about dna being a seed from outer space; about “going home” to galaxy central and human destiny being in the stars; about how he was writing a  “science faction” book.  Odd signals not fully formed — nevertheless somehow intriguingly differing from the dour vibe emitted by the rest of those publications at that particular time. I couldn’t help myself.  My mutant brain was already starting to find the apostate Leary’s signals refreshing.  I was doomed to become a “science faction” mutant.

[ insert Robert Anton Wilson section here ]

It was several years later, in 1976, that I came across an edition of Crawdaddy, a very cool rock magazine with regular columns by William Burroughs and Paul Krassner that contained an article about the recently released Dr. Tim.  The writer hung out with Tim as he wandered around NYC rattling off his ideas about SMI2LE — Space Migration Intelligence Increase Life Extension — sending up the first coherent transhumanist flare of the 20th Century. There was a picture of Leary in a business suit standing between the newly built twin towers wearing a smile that laughed out loud and pointing, almost violently, with his right forefinger upward to outer space. This was something new.  The picture took its place on my wall in between the cover of the first Ramones album and the picture of Squeeky Fromme being arrested after her attempted assassination of President Gerald Ford.

My final “conversion” to Learyesque proto-transhumanism came in 1977.  It was summer and my mother had the intuitive sense to hustle me away from Binghamton, where my friends were becoming junkies, and moved me early to the college town of Brockport New York where I would start school that fall. The town was empty and there was nothing to do. But the town’s bookstore was open.  I walked in and there — on prominent display — were two books by Timothy Leary, Exo-Psychology and Neuropolitics. The latter also credited Robert Anton Wilson.

I read those books frontways and back and inside out.  And then I read them again. It all resonated.  It all made sense to me.  It was a way of interpreting the world that respected my psychedelic experiences and my times within the counterculture and gave them a new context — one that hadn’t yet failed!  These were now the evolutionary experiences of a premature mutant breaking at least partly free of the programming of an unhappy, repressive civilization so that I could move it towards a bright and expansive future.  The expansiveness that had so energized and delighted me during the late 1960s and early ‘70s would now be — at least partially — a science project to literally expand our space and time and minds perhaps unto infinity.

I was excited, but I was also tentative. I paced around my small one room apartment.  Was I crazy?  Was I wrong?  By now, self identifying as a 1977 spikey-haired hipster who liked to put his cheap punk nihilism unapologetically front and center (yes, trendiness haunts all my days), could I tell anybody about my philosophic attraction to the upbeat pariah and possible fink Dr. Leary?   Actually, that’s something I still ask myself today, although it is clearly too late.

 

Dec 23 2011

Gibson & Leary Audio (MONDO 2000 History Project)

Here’s a little treat for the Christmas season.

In the process of organizing the MONDO 2000 History Project, I’m gathering up some rich media to post on the website version when it’s all complete.  What you have here is a fragment of a conversation between Timothy Leary and William Gibson.  Warning: You may need to listen to this through headphones to catch it all.

Download the audio file.

Backstory

We were working on our first Mondo 2000 issue. It was going to be the cyberpunk theme issue and we’d gotten interviews with the major cyberpunk SF writers, except Gibson. Gibson’s management wouldn’t put us in touch with him.  And then we heard that he was coming to the Bay Area and we turned up the heat, but his press agent had him set up for interviews with major outlets only and we were nobody and it was just a brick wall.  So somehow, Mu wound up on the phone with Leary complaining about this and Leary offered to let us transcribe a tape of him and Gibson in conversation about ideas for the game spinoff that would accompany the release of the film of Neuromancer — all of this being planned then — back in 1989.  Leary was going to lead the development of the game… at least conceptually. (Well, it was all conceptual, ultimately.)

So, the next day, we all showed up at a Gibson appearance in Berkeley radiating some kind of weird intense energy and Gibson was drinking warm beers and glancing nervously over at us while he signed books. We probably looked to him like some weird cult preparing a kidnapping. And after the line of autograph seekers cleared out, Mu strolled up with this insane bezoomny rictus grin that she has and told him that we were running this interview that Leary had done with him.  And he literally held the side of the desk like waves were making him seasick and shouted, “That was no interview!  That was a drunken business meeting!”

The article ran and Gibson eventually became friendly.  This edit from the tape features Leary and Gibson talking about the characteristics of Case (from Neuromancer) and then they go on to talk about William Burroughs.  I recommend listening through headphones.  Gibson’s voice is rather quiet.  There is also at least one other male voice that you’ll hear and that would be someone from Cabana Boy, the Production Company that had the rights to Neuromancer at the time.  If you hear a female voice, that would be Barbara Leary, who was Timothy’s wife at that time.

I recently interviewed Gibson for the MONDO project and he had this to say about his vague recollection: “I dimly remember being annoyed that that was going to be published. Mainly because I hadn’t been asked, I imagine.”

Edit: Now with cleaned up audio!
Download the audio file.

learyGibsonMP3_cleaned "learyGibsonMP3_cleaned"