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”

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)”

David Bowie’s Strange Louis Vuitton Ad From 2013

We’re inured to it now — even those of us who remember a time when weirdo rock music, even of the most commercially popular sort, wasn’t used in television advertisement.  But every once in awhile, there is an odd or interesting enough juxtaposition of the content of the song to the company being advertised… or even just to the fact that someone deemed this appropriate to be part of an ad, that it makes me, at least, sit up and take notice (and wonder why no one else ever seems to).

The first big fuss, way back,  was about The Beatles song Revolution being used in an ad for Nike (the song was owned by Michael Jackson) in 1987.  Revolution wasn’t a particularly revolutionary song (“Don’t you know it’s going to be all right?”), but McCartney made some unhappy noises about its use (Lennon being unavailable).  McCartney’s songs have since been in a number of ads.

 

A stranger note was stuck by the use of the Jefferson Airplane’s Yippie-esque marching song, Volunteers in an E*Trade ad, which I think may have been aired in the late ’90s, if memory serves, or it may have been later.  Iggy Pop’s Lust For Life to advertise Royal Caribbean Cruise was pretty strange if you know the lyrics, but in contrast with Volunteers, the songs’ more radical or distinctive lyrics weren’t a part of the ad.

The truly weirdest thing I ever saw mixing rock with advertising was — I swear to my own memory of this — a Goodyear Tires ad using Venus In Furs by the Velvet Underground.  Now, I find on YouTube only a Dunlop ad from Great Britain, which is peculiar enough, but this ad is visually strange whereas the Goodyear ad was visually straightforward, and therefor did not call any attention to the content of the song.  I saw it once and never again.

And in 2014, we had David Bowie’s harpsichord remake of “I’d Rather Be High” for Louis Vuitton with its chorus

I’d rather be high
I’d rather be flying
I’d rather be dead
Or out of my head
Than training these guns on those men in the sand
I’d rather be high

So there’s the contemporary anticolonial war undercurrent (we naturally think of western soldiers in Arabic territories), but what really sticks out like a sore thumb with a tab of ecstasy on it is the well enunciated “I’d Rather Be High.” The French Revolution-era Court of Louis XVI party decadence visuals are just there. Interesting, but more Louis Vuitton than I’d rather be high. But then, at the end, the fashionable and contemporary beauty  — model  Arizona Muse sitting at the piano gazes up rapturously at the Michaelangeloesque ceiling, reaches slowly — as though, in fact, high, slightly out-of-body, for her fashionable LV pocketbook and then, outdoors, gazes at the camera with eyes that seem, well, high in a psychedelic sense, a bit like she’s seeing you better than you’re seeing her, and maybe having casually drifted up to that Michaelangelesque ceiling, she’s now a tad the chic urban visionary, and at the same time she’s not experiencing quite enough boundary between her self, the camera and whatever’s behind it.

What’s interesting here isn’t any residual purity anyone may have about rock in advertising. That ship sailed long ago. What’s interesting is the conflation of being high… on drugs… with the desired product. Which has been done over and over again for years, but never enunciated, clearly, lyrically, until now.

So that’s it then. A cultural watershed? Wanting to be high… even being high… it’s normal as wanting to be chic, which is… how normal?  Not sure. But the whole negotiation around drugs, their legalization, their use, and maybe even the more liminal states that  some of them sometimes provide are coming into the open. Maybe? In most peculiar ways.

Steal This Singularity – The Yippies Started The Digital Revolution

 Steal This Singularity 1: The notion that the current and future extreme technological society should not be dominated by Big Capital, Authoritarian States or the combination thereof. Also related, a play on the title of a book by 1960s counterculture radical Abbie Hoffman. 2: The notion that in our robotized future, human beings shouldn’t behave robotically. The well-rounded posthuman — if any — should be able to wail like a banshee, dance like James Brown, party like Dionysus, revolt like Joan of Arc and illuminate the irrational like Salvador Dali. 3: The title for a website in which R.U. Sirius says and does as he pleases.

Addendum: Steal This Singularity has almost nothing to do with the notion that we will develop Artificial Intelligences that are smarter than us or that if such a thing were to happen it would be a “singularity.” I just like the name.

In 1971, a revolutionary prankster/celebrity named Abbie Hoffman, who had started the radical group the Yippies (Youth International Party) released Steal This Book, a manual for living on the fringes of a wealthy society by grabbing up some free shit from corporate powers while committing some Blows Against the Empire.

See, 1971 was the last year that the vanguard of the counterculture thought that they were going to make a total cultural and political psychedelic/anarchistic/left wing revolution before realizing… fuck it. Let’s campaign for McGovern.

But more to my point here and the milieu it attempts to speak to… true story… the Yippies started the phreakin’ “digital revolution!” To wit: The hacker culture started as the phone phreak culture. The phone phreak culture came out of the Steal This Book attitude about getting free shit from the detritus of corporate culture, in this case, the phone company. The first legendary phone phreak, John Draper aka Captain Crunch, who built the blue boxes, used to hang out at 9 Bleeker Street, NYC, Yippie headquarters. The first magazine that focused primarily on phone phreaking was YIPL (Youth International Party Line), which was started by Hoffman and “Al Bell.” In 1973, it transmorgified into TAP, which is more broadly remembered as the initiatory phone phreak periodical.

Phone phreaks were computer hackers. Draper famously noted that the phone system “is a computer.” From this milieu, the personal computer arose. Famously, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak funded the birth of the Apple by selling Blue Boxes So, you see, I stand on solid-if-hallucinatory historical ground today as I sound a Hoffmanesque note towards The Singularity Or Something Like It.

See Also Did It! From Yippie To Yuppie: Jerry Rubin, An American Revolutionary (Excerpt)

 

The Invention of Reality Hackers – A “Mutazine” (1988)

Something was starting to surface. Several small subcultures were drifting together, and some of these esoteric groupings included those who were creating the next economy. Clearly, we were positioned to become the magazine of a slow baking gestalt.

 

From Freaks In The Machine: MONDO 2000 in Late 20th Century Tech Culture

by R.U. Sirius

Some time in 1988, we made a rash decision. Despite High Frontiers relatively successful rise within the ‘zine scene (where 18,000 in sales was solid), 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. Sterling’s 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. Read more “The Invention of Reality Hackers – A “Mutazine” (1988)”

The Night of the 5-MEO DMT Assassin (From Freaks in The Machine)

Feeling like a cosmic assassin on a mission to blow away everyone’s last shred of attachment to any and all social constructs, I set out with my pipe and my bundle.

Another segment from Freaks in the Machine: MONDO 2000 in 20th Century Tech Culture

R.U. Sirius

One fine Sunday, we had a party — it may have been for the release of one of our newsletters — and it was possibly the biggest we’d ever had. The backyard at Quail House looked almost like a small rock festival as attendees found their spots and, no doubt, dosed themselves with favorite hallucinogens.

I had just received a fairly large bundle of 5-meo-dmt, a substance similar to DMT (and the stuff that Queen Mu had discovered was in a certain type of toad venom) — but unlike DMT, a full dose was 5 instead of 35 milligrams. The experience was perhaps even more intense, but rather than entering a colorful infinitely-dimensional funhouse filled with elves and clowns, some of whom may try to convey a message, 5-meo put you into something very much like that tunnel heading towards the white light reported by so many who had been pulled back from death.

I must have been bored, because as the sun was starting to set — and after smoking a double dose — I decided to turn on every person there.

Feeling like a cosmic assassin on a mission to blow away everyone’s last shred of attachment to any and all social constructs, I set out with my pipe and my bundle.

Most of the attendees — veteran trekkers all — accepted my kind invitation and took their journey beyond the veil with aplomb.  Every once in awhile, I would do unto myself as I was doing unto others.  A few partiers rolled around on the ground in fear or clutched my arm tightly while I reassured them that they weren’t actually dead.

Finally, I entered the final room of the house, where some boys — I’d estimate they were in their late teens — were hanging.  Boy One took his dose and settled back calmly into the void. Boy Two, same thing.  I came to Boy Three, the night’s final target. A big dude with a punkish shock of spikey blonde hair. He took his big hit and, unlike most, he didn’t close his eyes.  He stared out at me in terror. His head jerked back and forth. I was ready for him to go totally Linda Blair on me.  Well, his head didn’t spin around in a complete circle, but he did projectile vomit (it wasn’t green). And then he laughed. He blinked a few times. And then he looked at me… “Dude, that was fucking awesome!”

 

Magic Works: An Interview with Grant Morrision Part 1

Given the options, who wouldn’t prefer to be rampaging around in higher planes, interacting with eternal archetypes and pop culture gods?

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

I first encountered Grant Morrison at the Disinfo.com conference of 2000, organized by Disinfo’s founder, media magician, Richard Metzger. As I walked upstairs from the basement hangout zone of NYC’s Hammerstein Ballroom, at the beginning of his now legendary lecture, I heard Morrison’s bone-chilling scream into the microphone, which reminded me of another Morrison, and thought “Who the fuck is this guy?’ He then announced that he was drunk and had just eaten some hash and it was about to kick it in, all with a thick Scottish accent. Such punk rock antics won the rapt attention of the wild crowd, myself included, and over the course of the next hour or so, he voiced all the countercultural excitement of the moment. During that cold February day in New York City, Morrison’s message was clear, Magick works, but you should not take his word for it, you have do it yourself to learn how it works. Read more “Magic Works: An Interview with Grant Morrision Part 1”

From “Freaks In The Machine: MONDO 2000 in 20th Century Tech Culture”

From the MONDO 2000 history book/memoir Freaks In The Machine: MONDO 2000 in 20th Century Tech Culture, yes, still in progress

by R.U. Sirius

Definition Of Vital Terms & Concepts (As Used In The Book)

DMT

The extremely powerful psychedelic drug DMT – Dimethyltryptamine — was a big part of the MONDO weltanschauung, subject to quite a bit of use and even more discussion. DMT is smoked and its effects last about 5-10 minutes. It is arguably the most powerful psychedelic experience, although that is not to be confused with deleriants. Deleriants such as Belladonna (Scopolamine) can take you even further from ordinary reality but the experience generally can’t be remembered and offers no insights or alterations to the imbiber. Read more “From “Freaks In The Machine: MONDO 2000 in 20th Century Tech Culture””