Morgan Russell came into the “MONDO 2000” orbit in 1987 when we were still called High Frontiers. He had come out from Lake Geneva, Wisconsin to attend a 20th Anniversary of the Summer of Love that was taking place at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco. But let’s let Morgan tell it.
Morgan Russell: There was a good crowd but no one seemed to be taking photographs. I set up a tripod and a long lens and took photos of people at a distance.
R.U. and Queen Mu were on the hunt for people to attend a Reality Hackers Evening or something… an event sponsored by the magazine. And it was a cyberpunk event—before this word had really entered the vocabulary. They approached me. In addition to the flyer for the event, Queen Mu gave me a copy of High Frontiers number 3 which I devoured in a night’s time and then knew that I had to meet the people therein. It’s not a reaction I normally would have reading a magazine, but I was convinced I had to make contact with them. At the same time, Mu was searching for a contact with me, which was made through Peter Booth Lee, who was kind enough to give me a ride home to the place where I was living then with my cousin. She had the intuition that I could be helpful to the magazine. Peter Booth Lee was put on the duty of scouring the neighborhood where he had dropped me off; because he didn’t see what building I went into. He didn’t find me. But at the same time I was looking for them.
I was so impressed with the magazine that — there was an ad for Pink Tarantula hairdressers and I went there when I needed a haircut. It was run by a woman who used to be a whore. She described herself as that or a prostitute. She was from Australia, and she had bones in her hair like other people would have ribbons in their hair. I didn’t know if they were chicken bones or something and I didn’t ask. They specialized in making more exotic cuts and colorings of hair before this was really happening in a widespread manner. A little girl came in with blond hair and the hairdresser made it bright pink or something like this. So I absorbed everything, even the ads. There weren’t too many ads.
R.U. Sirius: OK that’s a start but to get the real skinny you have to read the mad mad article that Morgan wrote for us about the event, about us, about whatever the fuck popped into his manic mind. In the process of putting together MONDO memoirs, I described his style as a cross between Hunter Thompson and Oscar Wilde — a dandy gonzo.
Seriously, stop reading this… and read this article! You may want to return to the rest of this tomorrow.
So Morgan came for the conference as a visitor, but he never left. I believe he may have gone home for a few days, but he was basically in the pudding for the next few years.
He stayed for a while at the Hotel Ansonia in San Francisco and eventually found himself living in an apartment in Oakland with High Frontiers veteran art director Lord Nose. But it wasn’t long before he was ensconced in the “technogothic citadel in the Berkeley Hills” (as it would be described in various periodicals out of which we were running our magazine. (It would eventually be known as “The MONDO House.”
Morgan Russell: Much of our history is tied to a place usually referred to as the MONDO House, designed by a follower of Maybeck, situated high in the Berkeley Hills and reigned over by Queen Mu. It eventually became the HQ for the latter High Frontiers, all of Reality Hackers and most of MONDO 2000. Before this, the business was located in the financial district of SF. I met R.U. Sirius there in the midst of people wearing jackets or suits with tie. There was cognitive dissonance woven into our aims and our neighborhood.
I remember the “Mondo house” perfectly. But maybe I was so astounded that I lost sense of what proceeded or followed it. It was something like heaven. Certainly, when Mu called me at Lord Nose’s industrial stronghold and said that there was a room opening up… I didn’t dream of getting that phone call. Debbie was leaving. But when I came over, Debbie was still there. There wasn’t a room there but the place was big and I was housed.
R.U. Sirius: His infatuation with Mu was immediate.
Morgan Russell: Mu immediately gave me the strangest materials to read, photocopied from her vast collection of photocopied materials. I devoured that just like I devoured the magazine. It was like the queerest stuff that I had read. And she seemed to have plenty of the material. She gave me journal article after journal article. At the same time, she was feeding me –and everyone else in the house — very fine foods. So I took her literary diet, plus the more mundane diet.
The sort of papers she shared were, or example, about stingray venom, which she was very hot on. About how the people who had been exposed and had been injured in their penis by the stingray… the penis swelled remarkably and stayed that way for an extended period of time. (laughs) And that was just a hint at a much deeper association that she had with the stingray.
One night I was searching for food, and the refrigerator was well stocked with stuff, and I found something that looked like a sausage or a Slim Jim. I thought, “Oh, this would be nice.” I was about to bite into it when I noticed that there was a bone running through the Slim Jim. So I put that back and found something more recognizable. I mentioned it to Mu the next day and she said, “Oh, you found my bear penis.” Then I knew I had to be careful every time opening the refrigerator. I had to beware of what I might find, including bears’ brains… she linked this with the berserkers. They drove themselves berserk by eating bears’ brains. But this was just another day in the house. This was nothing especially remarkable for MU. This was completely normal stuff.
I had never met a creature like this, let alone suspecting that one could even exist. St. Jude later said read Huxley’s Chrome Yellow (Mu had a youthful friendship and correspondence with Huxley) and you’ll know everything you’ll ever need to know about Queen Mu.
R.U. Sirius: Morgan settled in and wrote that really fine article titled Steal This Conference. It was an ordeal. He didn’t write easily. He made quite a melodrama of it. I think he read some massive Nietzsche tome, procrastinating. I can’t remember which one. He became quite frantic and manic and he found various newfound friends to comfort him, since MU and I weren’t having it. But he pulled off a masterpiece, plus a very fine interview with the acid raconteur Captain Clearlight.
Aside from getting into our mix, he went far and wide as a rep of the magazine. He had a dandyish and unique sartorial style that he wore handsomely and despite some nervous ticks, he made an elegant if strange impression.
Stefan Z., Amelia Rose, J.P. Barlow, Morgan Russell
John Perry Barlow: I met Morgan at SIGGRAPH Boston and then I encountered him at Autodesk and found him really intriguing. I had gone to hear Paul Saffo at AutoDesk. Morgan had gotten himself lined up there to be a speaking series coordinator.
I had never met anything remotely like Morgan Russell. He was kind of like something out of a Bill Gibson novel, only, even Bill couldn’t have made him up… with his very early steampunk. A lot of steampunk came out of Morgan. That somewhat Edwardian aesthetic… and the H.G. Wellsian, Gyro Gearloose-ian stuff that he was adorning himself with. It was an aesthetic that I’ve subsequently seen quite a bit of but I had never seen before. And his way of being is kind of monotone and going on at very detailed length about his peculiar life being raised, essentially, by criminals in the wholesome Midwest.
Despite his personal weirdness, he had a wonderful way of getting a lot of people on the bus.
Later on, he did something so marvelous with Ars Electronica. There was this Ars Electronica event that Morgan managed into existence. It was, in some ways, the highwater mark of the New Edge. It happened in Linz, Austria. He had Bill Gibson. He had Bruce Sterling. He had Jaron. He had Tim Leary, Marvin Minsky, Terence McKenna, Warren Robinett, Brenda Laurel, Debby Harlow. Everybody was there. And he managed to get Ars Electronica to pay for tickets for this rather astonishing assembly of folks, who all kind of knew each other, but had never gotten to go off to a three-day camp. It was quite an adventure for all of us and very bonding in a way that was ultimately useful to a sense of cultural unity.
R.U. Sirius: He had everybody but us. :–) But the darker side of Morgan’s ups and downs with MONDOs desperado pirate ship is a story best left for later … maybe much later.
R.U. Sirius: We were without an Art Director. Morgan had traveled back to Wisconsin for a bit and ran into Rudy Rauben. So he brought us an art director.
Rudy Rauben: I made the acquaintance of Morgan Russell, who happened to be a writer for this Berkeley, California magazine called Reality Hackers. We hit it off immediately. We were into similar things: Robert Anton Wilson, Peter Tosh, Church of the Subgenius… boho wackiness in general. Reality Hackers happened to be minus an art director. By then, I was so sick to death of D&D-land. I just bolted for Berkeley with Morgan to take the job, never really looking back or bothering to make sure that the contracts were in order.
Morgan Russell: I looked at RR’s work and admired his graphic ability and design sense even though it dealt with dragons and orcs or trolls. It would take a chair and a whip, or a gun pressed to the temple, to get me into the subject matter. I let RR know we were in need of an art director and he was game, although his partner seemed not so enthusiastic about moving to California. I must have communicated to (pre-)MONDO HQ that I would be bringing an art director with me.
We set off in my ’71 MGB Roadster (with ’67 engine — the best) loaded to the gills. There was just room enough for the two of us. We set off after dark to avoid traffic. We cruised between 100 – 110 mph through the relentless cornfields of the Midwest. At some point there was no traffic. I rolled joints continuously while steering with a knee. We were driving nonstop to the West Coast. Somewhere in Iowa, the car’s electrical system went down. I was not worried; having spare newly-rebuilt electrical parts with me along with a full set of appropriate metric tools in a big tool box. It took a while to coast from 110 to 0 and I pulled over at the last moment. RR was truly scared.
I ignored him, took a wrench and tapped at specific places on the underbelly of the car. It roared to life again and got us to a truck stop before dying again. There was an all night diner and a service station that would open around 07:00. It was 03:00 or 04:00 in the morning and no prospect for help for some hours. A madman came roaring up in a station wagon, went into the diner and came out with a huge burger that he was literally stuffing into his face, tomatoes and sauce just dribbling. He asked us what was up. Electrical problems. “Here,” he said, handing over a huge bud. “Maui Wowi.” He sped away. Well, there was nothing else to do except fish out the Protopipe and load it up.
It was indeed potent and we were enveloped in a dense fog with windows rolled up when a police car pulled up alongside us. I immediately got out of the car and tried to keep the smoke in. He asked what we were up to and I told the cop the story of the electrical problem. He was bored in the middle of the night and told me of the last major happening in the local town. Jesse James had robbed the bank. Roger and the smoke were still inside the car and I was plenty high. The cop went on to relate the story of a local State Fair starring the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Noel Redding was sick. The cop used to play bass and knew the songs so he filled in. I thought I was hallucinating by this point and wished RR out of the car to hear what was being said. The cop wished us a good night and drove off. I was relieved and got in the driver’s seat and smoked more of the Maui Wowie to clear my head.
Just for the hell of it, I turned the key in the ignition and it started up like nothing had happened. We drove from Lake Geneva, WI to Berkeley, CA in fewer than 48 hours and the trusty MGB never had another electrical malfunction for the rest of its life.
Many synchronicities were happening during those several years and we just needed to have a problem long enough for the madman to give us the bud and the cop to tell his story.
To be continued