Morgan Russell High Frontiers/Reality Hackers/MONDO 2000 Writer/Editor Publisher RIP 12/11/1957 — 7/16/2018

Morgan Russell 

 

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.  Read more “Morgan Russell High Frontiers/Reality Hackers/MONDO 2000 Writer/Editor Publisher RIP 12/11/1957 — 7/16/2018”

Memes Are For Tricksters: The Biology of Disinformation

by R.U. Sirius

An interview with Douglas Rushkoff, David Pescovitz & Jake Dunagan

Back in 1990, when MONDO 2000 magazine promised Screaming Memes on its cover, it was more or less a secret argot winking at our technohip Mondoid readers. I mean, sure there was that Dawkins book in which he invented the concept, but it seemed to be a bunch of playful, subversive freaks who were using them to blow open some heads (and maybe sell a few magazines). 

We’ve come a long way baby. Now, the world appears to be defined by memetic warfare and the damage done is real world crisis and horror.

A recent paper by Douglas Rushkoff, David Pescovitz and Jake Dunagan written for the Institute for the Future titled The Biology of Disinformation: memes, media viruses and cultural inoculation describes the contemporary condition and suggests ways to combat this bad operation mindfuck.  

Read The Biology of Disinformation

David Pescovitz and Jake Dunagan are both research directors at Institute for the Future and Rushkoff is a research fellow.  MONDOids are, of course, familiar with Pescovitz as one of the founding members of Boing Boing and Rushkoff as the author of many books including the highly relevant Media Virus, from 1994.

We chatted using Slack…

thanks to Satori D for his assistance and participation

R.U. Sirius: In a sense, you’re offering a different model than the one most of us usually think in, as regards memetics. Instead of fighting bad memes with good, or their memes with ours, are you suggesting that we look at memes themselves as viruses attacking us? Is that right?

Douglas Rushkoff: Yeah, that’s the simplest way of looking at it. That’s why I called memes in media “media viruses.” Even if they end up forcing important ideas into the cultural conversation, and even if they ultimately lead to good things, they do infect us from the outside. They attack our weak code, and continue to replicate until we repair it, or until we come to recognize the “shell” of the virus itself.

I think what makes our analysis unique, compared with a lot of what’s out there, is that we’re not proposing yet another technosolutionist fix. Mark Zuckerberg wants to fight fake news with artificial intelligence. Great. He’s already over his head in a media environment he doesn’t understand. He doesn’t know why his platform has led to so many unintended effects. So what’s his solution? Build yet another technology he understands even less to solve the problem with yet another black box.

Even those with the best intentions see all this as a technological problem, when it’s really more a cultural or biological one. The difference in our approach is that we still have faith in the human organism and human society to rise to the occasion and increase their resiliency. So we’re writing for people, not tech companies.

David Pescovitz 

David Pescovitz: I’m also interested in how our networked media environment has evolved to allow this nastiness to occur and, in fact, reward it. During the early days of Twitter and Facebook it was exciting that people were using the platforms to share ideas and “find the others.” But I was also annoyed and later alarmed by the rise in narcissism, emphasis on “personal brands,” and mob mentality. Maybe those people were always like that and social media just amplified those traits. Either way, to me it quickly felt like antisocial media.

Since then, it’s become increasingly clear that the only real way to fix our social media experiences is by fixing ourselves. This is true when it comes to how we interact with other people online but also our own vulnerability to propaganda, disinformation, and coercion. Of course reconnecting with our own humanity is much harder than just giving in to the algorithmically addictive dopamine rush of another retweet or “like.”

Jake Dunagan: There was an old Zuck who swallowed a virus, I don’t know why he swallowed the virus. He swallowed AI to fight the virus…

I was struck by the psychologist Dannagal Young’s point that we quoted in the article: “blaming readers for spreading fake news from a cognitive perspective …somewhat equivalent to blaming a baby for soiling itself. They can’t help it. ”

 

Jake Dunagan

This is what Doug is calling our weak code, our vulnerabilities we’ve inherited from evolution and extended by culture. Humor, satire, memes, are exploiting our cognitive weaknesses, and lowering our defenses. I’ve always loved the Mad Magazine, SNL, and Yes Men ways of showing us how the messages we’re hearing are full of shit. Read more “Memes Are For Tricksters: The Biology of Disinformation”

Ups & Downs With Ecstasy (MDMA, Molly, etc.)

 

by R.U. Sirius

With the recent FDA decision granting a Breakthrough Therapy Designation to MDMA (i.e. Ecstasy) for PTSD, it seems like a fine time to revisit the first ecstasy experience from the unpublished, incomplete MONDO 2000 story (a different sort of MONDO 2000 book is in the works)

While I am thrilled with the continued movement of MDMA and other psychedelics towards social and political acceptance as therapeutic tools, the fact that this is mainly aimed at bringing soldiers to an inward acceptance of the hurt they gathered… and in some case, inflicted… in one of America’s perpetual overseas adventures raises some deep political questions.  Not that I would deny our “wounded warriors” relief. They are not to blame for the poor choices of our political leaders. But it does raise the question whether — in a broader philosophical and political sense — we want the burden of going to war to be lightened and to what degree. 

It also implies the potential for a drug that makes us calmly transcendent and all self-forgiving even in the act of war. This is, indeed, one of the conditions the military is looking to create for its supersoldiers. 

Anyway, here are some excerpts about MDMA from the MONDO 2000 story…

The following entry is from the early part of the MONDO 2000 story, when “Somerset Mau Mau” and I were distributing the first newsprint edition of High Frontiers, the magazine that became MONDO.

From: “Chapter Six: Funky Punk Acid Rag”

A few weeks after publication, Bruce Eisner said that we really needed to hustle down to his and Peter’s hometown of Santa Cruz because there weren’t any copies available in the stores and people had already grabbed the few we had sent them for free.   Also, it would be good to meet the folks in the Santa Cruz psychedelic community. We were invited to stay at Peter Stafford’s apartment.

We arrived at Peter’s place, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Entering a spacious two-room apartment with high ceilings and sunlight streaming in through huge picture windows, Eisner greeted us in the living room. Meanwhile, behind closed doors, there seemed to be a mild hubbub going on. We stood making small talk with Bruce as the door to this other room — it soon became clear it was a bedroom — would quickly open and close.   Eventually the door opened and we could see a bunch of guys in a sort of ill-formed circle around the very tall Peter Stafford, so that we could just see his naked chest, goofy grinning laughing face and wildly flailing arms. Everybody seemed to be arguing with Peter. Bruce sighed. “Peter likes to get naked when he’s high,” he said. We assured Bruce that we had no problems with anybody greeting us naked. Eventually, Stafford apparently compromised with his friends and came out to great us wearing a pair of white undies. We immediately fell into a rapture with Peter, as he excitedly ran us through a full course in his personal psychedelic history; tossing books he’d written or that he was mentioned in at us and waxing mega-enthusiastic — as I recall — about squeezing mescaline from a cactus among many other trippy matters.

Bruce Eisner: You might say Peter (Stafford) was the prototypical hippie. He probably was the first hippie, in my estimation, because I remember him growing long hair when he was living in Greenwich Village in 1963, 64. And he hitchhiked to Mexico with really long hair, and he was very boyish and good-looking in those days. I think he was one of the first people to really inspire the hippie movement. He actually used to publish these tabloids, in the Village. He published these special ones that looked kind of like The Oracle, but they were “Stafford Specials.”

 

And then the party began. As I recall, it was just drink and powerful weed. So the next few days were a blur of way-stoned, half-drunk but absolutely lucid lessons in drug history and psychopharmacology as preached by Peter, interrupted by brief forays around Santa Cruz to meet the local heads. Most impressive were two older women, probably in their ’60s or ’70s. Nina Graboi lived in a neatly furnished modest but brightly colored apartment with huichol peyote paintings on the wall. She had been the New York Director for the League of Spiritual Discovery (LSD), Timothy Leary’s earliest attempt at organizing to educate psychedelic explorers and defend their rights to trip. She had also worked with the legendary LSD psychotherapist Stan Grof. Mau Mau and I felt ourselves in the presence of deep psychedelic history.

The other elder was Liz Gips — a funky gal in baggy blue jeans who seemed to have the hint of a southern accent. I remember being very impressed with her intellect as she laid out the Santa Cruz psychoactive scene and told us about the radio show she hosted on a local public radio station. She invited us to come on her show to talk about High Frontiers a couple of days hence.

The last day of our planned visit arrived and I woke up irritated that we’d stayed so loaded that we hadn’t done what we planned to do. — go to the local bookstores and get them to take magazine. Mau Mau’s heavy drinking and lack of discipline weighed on me. People who wanted to just stay high were clearly too irresponsible to stay on mission… even when the mission was pretty simple. As everybody in the house came to consciousness, I pressed my case for getting out right away and getting to Santa Cruz bookstores with copies of the magazine. My plan was hazily agreed to, but bowls of weed were smoked and lazy conversations sputtered along until the morning was completely gone. I finally got openly pissed and Mau Mau and I got ready to haul ass out the door to distribute the ‘zines. Just as we were walking to the door, this absolutely perfect young blonde haired surfer-looking dude with blazing blue eyes and a blinding shiny white toothed grin walked in. “Does anybody want some MDMA?”

Read more “Ups & Downs With Ecstasy (MDMA, Molly, etc.)”

Mutant/Mutation/Transmutation/The Total Fucking Transmutation of Everything

Excerpt from the unpublished Mondo History Project by R.U. Sirius… partly from preface party from “Chapter 3”

 

Accept for the moment — if just as a literary conceit — that I was entrusted by certain unknowable cosmic extradimensional forces with bringing about what I — in my heyday — called “the total fucking transmutation of everything.” Accept that, a few days after taking a 600 microgram liquid LSD trip, this daft absurd little American whiteboy felt himself to be as one of those windup toys dropped into the play set of the late 20th century human dramedy with a fantastic cosmic mission to transform the human species. An agent of destiny.

This world — the very one we currently occupy — would be led off into n-dimensional hyperspace; or brought via drugs and technology into a novel mutation of being human several degrees up the evolutionary ladder. I would erect my holy grail and plunge forth. All boundaries, borders and banalities clenched by civilization’s tight asshole would be expulsed leaving behind only the alchemical transference of shit into philosopher’s gold and the energies of abundance.

This transmutation was not to lead to the innocent empty eyed bliss ninny paradise of new age gurunoiacs. It would be a postpunk neoyippie trickster utopia — utopia with booby traps to keep everyone on their toes; utopia with a cacophonic bite; with more than a hint of Burroughsian or Sadean perversity, and with just enough science factional ambition to launch a posthuman species into the cosmos.

Of course, smart smug reader, this is all bullshit. I know it too. I knew it even then, except when I didn’t know it… which was just often enough to propel me forth to make this strange thing that was MONDO happen…

Mutant/Mutation/Transmutation/The Total Fucking Transmutation of Everything

In biology, a positive or beneficial mutation increases the fitness of the organism and promotes desirable traits.      

As cultural signifiers, the words mutant and mutation have been in circulation amongst countercultural and subcultural types at least since the mid-1960s when the organizers of the first hippie Be-In declared the hippies “a new generation of mutants.” Around the same time, Timothy Leary started describing the rebellious youths of the ’’60s generation” as post-Hiroshima mutants. Since then, these words have continued to pop up amongst the various flavors of alternativeness. Many Science Fiction fans, for example, see themselves as mutants who are different from — and smarter than — the “normals.”

The main conceit, largely framed by media philosopher Marshall McLuhan, was that the new communications media — particularly TV — in combination with mind-active drugs, was causing the era’s youths to privilege mental and emotionally abilities that were entirely distinct from those privileged by the previous several hundred years of print, alcohol and caffeine-oriented Western Civilization, thus making them a sort of new species living in a linked-up, innately trippy “global village.”

Regarding transmutation, prior to Darwin, evolutionary theorists used the word to describe the transition from one species to the next. The term had been passed down from alchemy and thus also had — and continues to have — a resonance among occultists and other mystics.

The Total Fucking Transmutation of Everything, as conceived by your main narrator R.U. Sirius, represented the idea of a radical transformation in the human condition, both fundamental and surreal.

In fundamental terms, I imagined a humanity that had transcended poverty, unhappy labor, ill-considered taboos, national boundaries, rigid ideologies, racism, sexual repression, absolute gender categorization and identification, and biological and neurological limits on what a human being can do or experience.

At the more surreal level, I was inviting conditions and experiences that defied all possible expectations based on familiarity with how the world is supposed to function, but that might relate to psychedelic philosopher Terence McKenna’s notion that during the 21st Century, we will enter into a place where “whatever we can imagine will simply come to be;” or singularitarian Vernor Vinge’s idea that we will take inside of us AIs with intelligences that will be to us as our intelligence is to the ant and that the future beyond that Singularity is beyond comprehension .  

Or in a less explanatory but more lyrical modality, I once wrote and sang:

I inverted the very color of being

But you weren’t there

Yeah the big ball turned right over

It needs no justification

I wanted to be Salvador Dali

I wanted to be dead and unreasonable

Let’s grieve in concentric circles

To make the night release your brain

In other words, rationality aside, my biggest motivation for invoking the Total Fucking Transmutation Of Everything was probably a fuck-all boredom and impatience with reality.

Timothy Leary’s 1987 rant against Reaganism and the Drug War

Eldridge, Tim & Abbie — Old friends

Timothy Leary ranted to Lord Nose and myself for High Frontiers at his Hollywood home in 1987.  In honor of our new president and his death penalty schtick, I now present the part where he goes off on Ronald Reagan and the War On Drugs, which the Reagan’s really started (you could say they escalated it, since Nixon announced the War on Drugs.  It really became a well-funded “war” under Reagan.)

There are some obviously flaws. It was spontaneous, and of its time. Still… I love this rant.

 

The Reagan administration is an extraordinary recurrence, or flare-up, of the basic American disease, which is the Protestant ethic, the original Massachusetts Bay Puritan notion of predestinarianism. The idea that there are the elect and the damned. Naturally, white Protestants are the elect and everyone who’s not a white Protestant Puritan is damned. Therefore they have no rights, can be offed, enslaved, can be treated basically as in the service of the Devil.

****

People like Reagan because he’s got enthusiasm, energy, charisma. He smiles and feels good about himself. My god, if your president doesn’t feel good about himself, if he’s dragging his ass around like Mondale, what message is he sending to the herd or to the tribe. But I think everyone would agree that at the level of creativity, open-mindedness, tolerance — the basic intellectual virtues — Reagan is a 1 on a scale of 1 to 8.

****

I don’t think that being illegal is going to stop people from taking ecstasy. America’s going through a hysterical fanatic paroxysm of religious intolerance. These Protestant types truly believe they have to have an enemy to be against… it was the Soviet Union. For the last twenty years we’ve been at war with Central America, Nicaragua, Cuba. We have to have colored people, or different language people, or different religions as scapegoats.  These South Americans are obviously dirty sinful people because they don’t sing Protestant hymns. So the American government has to have an outside enemy to whip up the military fervor, and it also has to have an internal domestic civil war going on at all times. So that we started with the Civil War 100 years ago, which was a total disaster; an unnecessary war, whipped up by this insane Protestant desire, “Onward Christian Soldiers,” and then, just in the last century, the scapegoating of Wobblies and trade union people, then the Jews have always been scapegoats of the Protestant ruling class, and then the Japanese for awhile during World War II.  And then after World War II it became reds and communists and pinkos. If you were not a total rightwing republican, you were a communist. Because it’s either/or. There’s no shade. You’re either a god or a devil. So they had to have a new domestic enemy and, of course, drugs are the perfect scapegoat. People that use drugs are young and they tend to be dissident. They don’t tend to be Born Again Christians. They tend to be everything that’s sinful and horrible to a Protestant ethic predestinarian. So the war on drugs is a religious war, and in a religious war there’s no pretense at honesty or clarity or tolerance — anything goes, propaganda, lies, persecution. That’ll end, hopefully, by 1988.

John Perry Barlow Through the Lens of Lisa Rein’s Archival Memories

John Perry Barlow at the San Francisco Aaron Swartz Memorial

John Perry Barlow was a close collaborator and dear friend, since the first day I met him, in 2002. He was extremely encouraging, spoke at many of the events I organized, and was there for me generally, as I followed the breadcrumbs of my archival adventures. First as Dr. Timothy Leary’s Digital Librarian, next as the co-founder of Aaron Swartz Day, and most recently, as Chelsea Manning’s Archivist.

Barlow was a very exciting person to work with. In the beginning, there wasn’t much pressure during our meetings, while he answered questions about Dr. Timothy Leary, who he had a close and very interesting — albeit sometimes strained — relationship with. He was helping me fill in the little details between the overlapping stories I had heard from others. I often showed up with a box of artifacts from whichever specific time period I wanted to discuss that day. Although the lives of psychedelic folks in the 1960s and 1970s are often portrayed as footloose and fancy free, their real lives weren’t really like that most of the time (except when they really really were :).

I would often ask him to confirm specific facts for me, and would end up hearing completely different stories that took place around the time period in question. Being Dr. Leary’s Digital Librarian, I liked to know the story behind every artifact. Since I wasn’t alive yet, much less there, when a lot of things took place, my job, most of the time, amounted to collecting and comparing notes from everyone I could find who was there.

I would often get conflicting stories about how certain events played out, and I was usually hoping that John Perry’s account of events could break the tie. Unfortunately, his accounts did no such thing. More often than not, he would say that something different altogether had taken place, making it so the only thing I knew for sure was that the “official” story was wonky. Nevertheless, it was always quite amusing hearing his take on famous figures — Dr. Timothy Leary, Ralph Metzner, Baba Ram Dass, Bobby Weir, Jerry Garcia -— or hear him tell (and re-tell) the story of forming the Electronic Frontier Foundation with Mitch Kapor and John Gilmore.

These last few years, as things became more intense around my work, if I stopped by for anything, he would literally drop everything (give or take an hour 🙂 to see me and help me figure out what I needed, and quickly. Often, it seemed as if he was dealing with two or three other critical situations at the same time, and I felt quite honored to be included in his circle of intensity.

Barlow at the Leary reunion

In 2009, I worked with the Leary Estate to put on a family reunion and party for close friends. John Perry Barlow was there, and said a few words:

From that talk:

And, this archive…”will attempt to tell a complex story from a number of different points of view”… and will attempt to encapsulate Timothy Leary, who was truly the most paradoxical and vexing and inspiring and maddening of human beings. He probably had more to do with introducing people to the spiritual matter than practically anybody who wasn’t born in the desert someplace, and yet he was, for much of his life, a profoundly anti-spiritual man.

 

He was a very loving man, who introduced a lot of people to a greater depth of love…

 

I think it’s really important to decode this guy. He was one of my friends. I knew him from ’65 until he died, pretty continuously, and I loved him dearly. But it’s important to take him apart, and figure out who he really was, ’cause you can learn a lot about America, from learning a lot about Timothy Leary.”

 

 

Read more “John Perry Barlow Through the Lens of Lisa Rein’s Archival Memories”

J.P. Barlow Remembers… US? Interview About MONDO 2000 (Reality Hackers, High Frontiers)

Stefan Z., Amelia Rose, J.P. Barlow, Morgan Russell

 

John Perry Barlow was interviewed for an oral history of MONDO 2000 several years ago. That version of a MONDO 2000 book has been displaced by something more essay/idea oriented (albeit with some memory mixed in) — and that leaves us free to use some of the interviews here on the website.

We did not, however, expect to be using the Barlow interview so soon. But now, with everybody remembering Barlow, we’re going with Barlow remembering us.

Some or all the persons and references herein may be unfamiliar but with a modicum of intuition and /or imagination, you should be able to get into the MONDOMania as J.P. Barlow recalls it.

 

Meeting Reality Hackers

I met Morgan Russell either at SIGGRAPH Boston or Macworld Boston (1989). But I didn’t really put it all together, I don’t believe, until I ran across Reality Hackers. R.U. Sirius was at a hackers party at the Exploratorium giving away copies of Reality Hackers and High Frontiers.

I just thought this was marvelous. I thought, this is exactly right because there had been this thing that had been gathering in my head, I thought, somewhat independently, about the relationship between consciousness in computing and psychedelics.

I knew about them and I was interested in them for a good long while before I discovered that they had this house that was kind of an artist collective — an atelier of some sort — that was gathering energy around this whole thing. And I was in fundamental agreement and even felt like part of their auto-conspiracy.

Coming to the MONDO house

I was almost certainly lured by Morgan. I thought that the house was a truly magical place. It was out of a Hermann Hesse novel, filled with these people the likes of which did not exist anywhere else. I felt like I kind of made them up. They were so perfectly aligned with something that I wanted to exist.

They were telling the story of something that was going to be a natural continuity of a thread that I’d been tracking ever since I became a teenage beatnik when I was thirteen.

I had been on that path in some form or fashion through LSD and hanging at Millbrook, and finding out that my official best friend was a member of the house band for the Acid Test and all these kinds of things through college and subsequently.

I was re-engaging with something that I had been out of the loop of. I mean, I’d gone off to Wyoming for seventeen years where I’d been a cattle rancher. And yeah, I’d been writing Grateful Dead songs on the side but I actually didn’t feel myself to be at the core of that movement or any kind of countercultural movement… and I very much felt like I was re-engaging what seemed to be my life’s work that night, meeting those guys and becoming part of whatever it was that you were up to.

Read more “J.P. Barlow Remembers… US? Interview About MONDO 2000 (Reality Hackers, High Frontiers)”

Zach Leary Remembers Timothy Leary’s Final Years

Interview by R.U. Sirius

Zach Leary is the host of both the “It’s All Happening with Zach Leary” podcast and “The MAPS Podcast.” They have helped to cement him as one of the most thought provoking podcasters in the cultural philosophy genre of podcasting. He’s also a blogger/writer, a futurist, spiritualist, a technology consultant and sociocultural theorist.

Raised from a young age by Timothy Leary and his mother Barbara Leary, Zach had the ultimate front row seat to Dr. Tim’s later years. I’m excited to have him share some of his memories and thoughts with us about Dr. Leary’s final years as he was dying from prostate cancer.

R.U. Sirius: Was there any sign of illness that you were aware of before your stepdad got his diagnosis of prostate cancer? Anything you can tell us about this?

Zach Leary: Looking back on it, it becomes much easier to connect the dots and to make sense of what went on with his sickness and physical deterioration. Before the actual cancer diagnosis occurred, he expressed to me many times how he was brokenhearted and dejected that Barbara (Zach’s mother, Tim’s wife) had left him. I remember one night less than six months after she left where he confessed that he felt a sense of completion and a loss of a will to live. He simply had so many personal heartbreaks in his life that eventually caught up to him. I suspect from that point forward, he let his personal state of mind effect his physical one. He started to get old fast, so by the time the actual diagnosis happened, it didn’t feel terribly out of place. To me it felt like it might have even been what he wanted.

The fascinating part that makes him so different than most people is that he didn’t let it affect his work and prolific output. During the last 3-4 years of the downward life spiral he still found time to produce some of his most compelling work and inspire everyone around him. He had a stiff upper lip and marched forward.

RUS: How did you learn of Timothy’s cancer? How/when did he talk to you about it?

ZL: Honestly, I don’t remember the specific moment. I do remember him letting me know, but I can’t recall it being a formal “sit down.” The more severe talk/disclosure occurred after his one and only chemo treatment. He went to one chemo session and said “FUCK THIS. I’m not going to do it. From here on out, I’m calling my cancer Mademoiselle Cancer and we’re going to make friends with it!”

He did gauge my feedback by having a talk with me that he wasn’t going to get any treatment — which, in turn, meant he was going to let it kill him. I was young and didn’t know what to do with that information. He seemed to be at peace with it so I played along. That said, it took me awhile to really make peace with it. I was just starting to be an adult and the thought of not having his paternal wisdom in my adult life freaked me out. He certainly was very open and vulnerable to anyone wanting to talk about it, that’s for sure. He didn’t hide one bit!

RU:  Was there a slow or immediate transition to “the mother of all parties” — his public celebration of the dying process? Do you remember any complications around that… practically or emotionally?

ZL: As far as I recall, the transition to what you’re calling “the mother of all parties” was immediate. He instantly recognized the juggernaut potential of making the death and dying process into the final act of his life’s work. That’s how I remember it anyway.

Once he decided that he wasn’t going to get any treatment for the cancer there was a short and very much unsustained grieving process. He somehow charmed us into making his dying into a celebration. Had I been older and more mature, I certainly would have handled that differently. His death, while of course profound and inspiring, hit me after the fact in a very challenging way. I was a lost young man with no identity of my own and part of that was due to me never really having much time to feel the loss and process. We had some really sweet father and son moments towards the end that contained some very necessary tears. But overall I think Timmy’s ability to barnstorm through emotionally difficult milestones was ultimately a downfall of his.

I’m glad the whole “designer dying” idea of his found such strong footing and uncovered so many important topics for our culture, but I do wish there was a more sensitive way to offset the public celebration with some compassion for those close to him. Immediately after he died, my life fell apart very quickly — when that happens it’s no ones fault, but I was by no means prepared for life without him.

Read more “Zach Leary Remembers Timothy Leary’s Final Years”

Pariahs Made Me Do It — Of Dali, Warhol & Leary

Excerpt from the original unpublished unfinished MONDO 2000 book. A new one is in the works for Zero Books! Whoo hoo!

R.U. Sirius

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 they were 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 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 in 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.

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 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 there was a bookstore. 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.

One final thought. Digging the works of all three of these characters are considered by many to be a display of bad taste. This was perhaps the greatest attraction — not just creating a mental space for from the maddening aging “new left,” but also thumbing my nose at intellectuals and critics.

Timothy Leary’s Great-ish Escape

An interview with Steven L. Davis, co-author of The Most Dangerous Man in America: Timothy Leary, Richard Nixon and the Hunt for the Fugitive King of LSD.

On September 13, 1970, Timothy Leary escaped from a low security California prison by pulling himself on a high wire over a 12 foot chain linked fence topped with barbed wire. He was ferreted underground by the radical Weather Underground who helped him escape America. He ended up in Algeria with an exiled chapter of the Black Panther Party lead by Eldridge Cleaver.

All MONDO readers probably know this, but I thought I’d set the scene a bit.

While I was a participant in the late 1960s counterculture — to the extent that a high school student in a smallish town could be — I wasn’t particularly obsessed with Leary. I enjoyed reading his occasional piece in the underground press, but Abbie Hoffman was more my thing. Until the escape. After that, I developed a lifelong interest in his action adventure episode and how it impacted on his philosophical ideas.

That’s why I was excited to learn of the publication of The Most Dangerous Man in America: Timothy Leary, Richard Nixon and the Hunt for the Fugitive King of LSD  by Bill Minutaglio and Steve Davis.  The book doesn’t disappoint. The narrative is in present tense and fast forward. It’s a ripping yarn that bounces back and forth between Leary’s life on the lam and President Richard Nixon’s own personal delirium as he copes with the Vietnam war, extreme rebellion in the streets of America and his own obsession with capturing Leary. 

For those MONDO readers, who have followed Leary’s philosophical musings over the years, this period is kind of the last phase of Tim’s cosmic hippieishness. He comes across as deep into  mysticism; consulting the i Ching and the Tarot for strategic decisions and so forth. In some ways, his intellectual credibility would rely on things he wrote before this time and after it. And yet, I think he gained a lot, in terms of sophistication and insight from the experience, that showed up in his later writing.

I interviewed Steve Davis about the book via email

R.U. Sirius

Timothy and Rosemary Leary in disguise, leaving “Amerika”

R.U. There are a number of things that are illuminated for Leary fanatics (as many Mondo readers are) by your book. One of them is the degree to which many of the ultra-radicals of that crazy period in the early 1970s were not really Tim’s friends. Particularly the lawyer, Michael Kennedy. What can you tell us about this “alliance”?

Steve Davis: Well, you can see this alliance of “dope and dynamite,” as Michael Kennedy enjoyed calling it, play out throughout the book. In some sense both Tim and the radical left were using each other for their own purposes. For Tim, of course, the revolutionary outlaws provided the means for his escape from prison – something he wanted desperately. But then of course once he climbed over the prison fence he entered a blind maze of new prisons – and as you say, these people did not have Timothy Leary’s best interests in mind, from the Weather Undeground demanding his rhetorical fealty to their vision of a violent revolution to Eldridge Cleaver and the Black Panthers demanding that Tim renounce LSD and join them in calling for Death to the Fascists. On and on it went. Tim had to keep shape-shifting to save his own skin. He basically became a pawn of both the far left and the far right (Nixon and his cronies) during this era – and of course when everything ended and he looked back on it, he realized that the law-and-order struggles between the far left and the far right were two sides of the same coin. I think the experience made him suspicious of any alliance after that. Hell, it would do the same to any of us! Read more “Timothy Leary’s Great-ish Escape”