Making Sense of the Butthole Surfers

artwork by Chad Essley

 

Unlikely Texas music historian Ben Graham talks San Antonio acid, 1960s psychedelic rock and writing Scatological Alchemy, his new book about the Butthole Surfers

By Michael Pinchera

In May 2015, Brighton, England-based author Ben Graham visited Texas for the first time. The impetus for the trip was to see the 13th Floor Elevators’ 50th anniversary reunion show at the Levitation festival in Austin — the first time in decades all living members of the influential Texas psych band would play together—yet it also acted as the U.S. launch of his book, A Gathering of Promises.

“I was a little bit embarrassed about that because A Gathering of Promises was all about the 13th Floor Elevators and the 1960s psychedelic scene around the Austin area. And I basically wrote that without ever having been to Texas,” he explains. “I felt a bit like one of those 19th-century explorers who writes entire books on Africa whilst in the comfort of their sort of drawing room at home.”

On paper, this is an incredible setting for a book launch party; in reality, the last-minute arrangements he’d made with Levitation festival organizers basically meant A Gathering of Promises would be available at the event’s merch table before any other outlet in the U.S. But he was given a pass to the three-day, outdoor music festival—covering it for a couple of publications—and was finally able to spend a week in Austin, an almost mythical place about which he’d been immersed on a time-traveling, research-and-interview level.

“The people I met there were super friendly, especially all the older guys who’d been around, all the musicians, just so happy and interested that this younger English guy had written a book about their music and their scene, and they were really happy to share their stories,” he says. “A lot of the people I interviewed or people who were just around in that scene were amazed that I’d captured it so well, certainly without having been there in the 60s, but I hadn’t been to Texas at all.”

Having entirely missed the 1960s, the closest that 40-something Graham had previously been to the Austin area was 1,800 miles away, decades earlier, during a six-month American Studies college program in New York.

“I went [to the Levitation festival] because I’d finished the book and thought I’d never get to see the 13th Floor Elevators live—even though I’d seen Roky Erickson play in the U.K. a couple of times,” he says, summarizing the rationale that started the narrative you’re reading.

13th Floor Elevators reunion

 

Recipe for a memorable Texas trip: Take one music journalist/fanboy, add an essential 1960s psychedelic band that’s reformed for one time only, add a tab of San Antonio acid and levitate. Wait a second…“San Antonio acid?” Since when is that a brand of prestige?

“I think that’s the way I described it to friends when I got home,” Graham says, indicating that in all likelihood, someone from San Antonio simply provided the substance. “You know, I’m an English guy, there’s an exoticism to the phrase that conjured up something a bit Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas to me: ‘Yeah, I had some San Antonio acid!’ I have no idea of the provenance—it may have been made in a lab in London.” Read more “Making Sense of the Butthole Surfers”

High Tech High Life: William Gibson & Timothy Leary in Conversation (1989)

The story of Timothy Leary’s conversation with William Gibson is here.  This is most of the text as it was published in the first edition of MONDO 2000 magazine

TIMOTHY LEARY: If you could put Neuromancer into one sentence, how would you describe it?

WILLIAM GIBSON: What’s most important to me is that it’s about the present. It’s not really about an imagined future. It’s a way of trying to come to terms with the awe and terror inspired in me by the world in which we live. I’m anxious to know what they’ll make of it in Japan.

TRAPPED

WG: Oh, god. I’m starting to feel like Edgar Rice Burroughs or something. I mean, how did Edgar Rice Burroughs finally come to feel about Tarzan in his own heart, you know? He got real tired of it. Wound up living in Tarzana, California.

TL: You’ll end up living in a space colony called Neuromancer.

WG: That would be OK. I don’t think we’re going to have this kind of future. I think this book is so much nicer than what seems to be happening. I mean, this would be a cool place to visit. I wouldn’t mind going there.

TL: Where?

WG: To the Sprawl, to that future.

TL: Go up the well?

WG: Yeah. Go up the well and all of that. A lot of people think this is a bleak book but I think it’s optimistic.

TL: I do, too.

WG: I think it’s actually gonna be more boring. I think some kind of Falwellian future would probably be my idea of the worst thing that could happen.

TL: Yeah. That was a wonderful scene where you have those Christians who were gonna mug those girls in the subway.

WG: It’s not clear whether they’re going to mug them or just try to force some horrible pamphlet on them or something. Personally, I have a real phobia about guys like that coming up to me on the street . . .

TL: That’s a powerful scene! And you describe the girls as like hoofed animals wearing high heels.

WG: Yeah. The office girls of the Sprawl.

TL: Yeah, and they’re wearing vaginas, and — Oh, God! That’s a powerful scene.

WG: I like the idea of that subway. That’s the state-of- the-art subway. It goes from Atlanta to Boston, real fast. Read more “High Tech High Life: William Gibson & Timothy Leary in Conversation (1989)”

Timothy Leary’s Trip Thru Time (born on October 22 in 1920)

Then this tree, like a cosmic vacuum cleaner, went ssssuuuck, and every cell in my body was swept into the root, twigs, branches, and leaves of this tree. Tumbling and spinning, down the soft fibrous avenues to some central point which was just light.

It’s Timothy Leary’s birthday and for your pleasure, here is the original version of a chapter from Timothy Leary’s Trip Thru Time

by R.U. Sirius

Timothy Leary AP (After Psychedelics) — The Harvard Psilocybin Project

 

Timothy Leary’s First Trip

When David McClellan, director of the Center for Personality Research at Harvard asked Timothy Leary to teach there under his aegis, he told Tim to “stir things up a bit.” In his later years, Leary liked to quip, “I think he got his money’s worth.”

Leary first heard about the effects of psilocybin in 1959 from his friend Frank Barron, who had recently tried the mushrooms and came away impressed by their visionary properties. Tim reacted negatively to Barron’s suggestion that he try them. Lacking any awareness of psychedelic substances — and in spite of Barron’s vivid description — he thought of drugs, along with such gross physical methods as electroshock therapy, as blunt, harmful, coercive tools that behavioral psychology used to force patients to conform. However, the following year — perhaps undergoing one of those much vaunted “midlife crises” as his fortieth birthday was approaching — Leary suddenly got the urge to try the mushrooms.

Timothy Leary’s poolside psilocybin trip on August 9, 1960 in Cuernevaca, Mexico is an oft-told tale — central, as it is, to the history of Western psychedelic culture.

The ‘shrooms were copped by Leary’s friend, historian Lothar Knauth, from “Old Juana,” a disheveled, hunchbacked old woman in raggedy clothes who led him wordlessly out of town and onto an old dirt road before effecting the deal.

Timothy Leary’s first trip began pleasantly. He felt lightheaded “as if from laughing gas.” One of the people who had not taken the drug had been assigned to take notes. He was nerdily-dressed in oddly mismatched clothes. Leary, seeing him scribbling earnestly in his notepad, went into fits of laughter that only increased as he reflected on the pomposity of socialized professionals, himself included.

As the trip intensified, he had a brief moment of panic, worrying that the effects may be too strong, and that his kids, playing blissfully unaware inside the villa shouldn’t be around a bunch of drug-crazed adults. He had one of the straight adults send the kids off to the movies for the afternoon. Then he let himself go.

In High Priest and other autobiographical books, Leary describes visions of “Nile Palaces, Bedouin pleasure tents, mosaics of flaming color, jewel encrusted reptiles, mosaics lit from within.” And then he re-experienced all of evolution; floating “down through snake time, fish time, giant jungle-palm-time, green lacy fern leaf-time” until “hello, I am the first living thing.”

Read more “Timothy Leary’s Trip Thru Time (born on October 22 in 1920)”

Pull Quotes from “Kids Do The Darnedest Drugs”: Issue #2 High Frontiers

Image by Lord Nose

I’m pretty sure we only printed 2,000 copies of High Frontiers #2 (1985) just like #1. But this time, we sold most of them. Ron Turner at Last Gasp was very excited by it. He was sure we would be sued by Disney because we had the three-eared Mickey Mouse holding the Central Intelligence Agency hit of blotter acid. And all that happened, according to Turner, was that someone from Disney went to a single popular magazine rack in L.A. and made them pull it from the shelf and hand them over. Odd. Not sure how that works. Maybe some of the workers at Mouschwitz just wanted some free copies.

Image by Lord Nose

Excerpt from Freaks in the Machine: MONDO 2000 in Late 20th Century Technoculture (in progress)

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

HYPER-INTERACTIVITY TEARSHEET From “Freaks In The Machine: MONDO 2000 in the Tech Culture” High Frontiers 1988

Describe your earliest peak experience in 500 words or less. The best response, as determined by a panel of huffy curmudgeonly semioticists, urban folklorists, and idiopathologists, will be published in the next issue.

Magazines are supposed to learn more about their consumers for advertisers. We needed advertisers just like anybody else. But this tear-sheet from High Frontiers #4 (1988) was not at all normal. Some of it today might just look like cheap “hipster” appeal, but these semiotics were potent and friendly in the day. And some of these are genuinely amusing.  I believe many of the questions came from Morgan Russell. Also, from Queen Mu and R.U. Sirius and maybe some other folks. Answer Us! Read more “HYPER-INTERACTIVITY TEARSHEET From “Freaks In The Machine: MONDO 2000 in the Tech Culture” High Frontiers 1988″

Deeper Into The Magick Grant Morrison Interview Part 2

“You wind back into your mother’s womb, she winds back into hers, like branches retreating into buds on a tree and it all goes back in billions of unbroken lines to the first mitochondrial cell dividing in the pre-Cambrian ocean 3 and a half billion years ago.

Interview by Robert Anton Wilson biographer Prop Anon, and Laura Kang, February 2017 in Brooklyn NY

You’ve told us that your take on magick is a little different than RAW’s. Can you explain how it is different? 

GM: Maybe I’m wrong. I think he saw magic  in the Crowleyan, ritual, alien contact sense — as some collision of psychology and quantum weirdness. For me, it’s much more literal and it’s all about emphasizing the transcendent, psychedelic aspects of the ordinary by following logic to its conclusion. Magick for me is all about maintaining a fluid and creative relationship with things as they are.

Simple things, like adding time, or the 4th dimension to the picture can eliminate a lot of apparent psychic phenomena, like clairvoyance, action at a distance, ESP, reincarnation etc. When you add time, you realize fairly quickly that all living things are intrinsically connected as one singular organism. You wind back into your mother’s womb, she winds back into hers, like branches retreating into buds on a tree and it all goes back in billions of unbroken lines to the first mitochondrial cell dividing in the pre-Cambrian ocean 3 and a half billion years ago. It’s no surprise that sometimes people get a sense of other parts of the structure they belong to, or experience “past lives” — those lives are all still happening, all simultaneously.

That same original, immortal cell is still at it, separating inside all of us. Maybe mitochondrial DNA might be what humans have been calling “soul” for centuries. The fact is, we actually do have an immortal indwelling presence living deep inside the perishable structure of our bodies. Maybe mitochondrial DNA has consciousness and when we narrow down on that waveband, we experience the feelings of timelessness and divinity people refer to as a religious experience… Read more “Deeper Into The Magick Grant Morrison Interview Part 2”