Don Juan disciple Carlos Castaneda is interviewed by the brilliant teacher and author Theodore Roszak (The Making of a Counter Culture) on Berkeley-based KPFA radio on January 30, 1969.
Venerable, groundbreaking and radical, KPFA was the coolest station to ever elevate the airwaves. Unfortunately, its owner Pacifica Radio corporation went from a progressive collective of media activists to a union-busting bunch of assholes who seem intent on destroying what made the station so extraordinary: its independent spirit. If you’re interested in the ongoing struggle between KPFA’s workers and their corporate bosses, check this out.
Okay, back to the psychedelic part of this post.
On the occasion of posting this interview with Castaneda, I’m taking the opportunity to share with you this excerpt from my memoir describing the first of many of my experiences with peyote (I was 18 at the time):
One afternoon this guy with a wild blonde afro came into the Arbor Café, a natural food restaurant where I worked in 1969. He was from Arizona and wanted to trade a bag of fresh peyote buttons for food. We made the trade. I gave him all he could eat and he gave me three dozen big fat juicy buttons. I called my dear friend John The Poet and told him about my score. That night we had our first peyote experience. An experience that taught me more about the Universe, God and my place in the grand scheme of things than all the books I’d ever read or have read since.
John came up to my apartment. In one room, which was to become John’s, I had laid the peyote buttons on a little altar I’d constructed out of a milk crate covered with Indian fabric, candles and a beautiful statue of the Buddha. We each ate 12 buttons while drinking black cherry juice to try to mask the extreme bitterness of the cactus. 12 buttons is a large quantity of mescaline for even an experienced peyote eater. We had made a serious commitment to Mescalito.
John stayed in the altar room. I went into my room and sat on the bed, which was the sole piece of furniture in my spartan digs. When the peyote came on, it came on strong. The window in my room looked out over the Bay and I could see the Chevron oil refinery in Richmond glowing in a haze of jaundiced luminosity as it spewed spires of rank sulphuric smoke. It was a futuristic vision of hell - an Etch-A-Sketch of a Boschian nightmare. I was consumed with a sense of dread and doom. But soon that dark vision was swept away by a surge of powerful euphoric energy, the beginnings of the awakening of my kundalini and the activation of my chakras.
Okay, I know what you’re thinking. This sounds like some new age mumbo jumbo. But, keep in mind, this was 1969 and I was 18 years old. All the new age crapola hadn’t been written yet. There were a handful of books by scholars of Eastern mysticism on the subject of kundalini and you had to make an effort to seek out this information. I’d read a few books on kundalini, also known as serpent power - a dormant energy coiled at the base of the spine that just waits to be awakened - and I knew about seven points of energy along the spine that corresponded to bundles of nerve endings called the chakras. I’d read about this stuff, but I wasn’t sure I believed it. Well, peyote made a true believer out of me. That bitter green flesh introduced me to serpent power in precise and intricate detail. Unlike the epic acid trip I’d stumbled into back in D.C., my peyote experience was as physical as it was mental, every cell of my body was engaged in a cosmic dance.
I was in the grip of Mescalito’s magic…my body suddenly became white electricity and was humming with energy, and my spine was tingling with waves of pure ecstasy. Beautiful and perfectly detailed geometric mandalas were spinning in the space between my closed eyes. My chakras were spiraling, pulsing, sparkling and luminescent like pinwheels of light in a Fourth of July fireworks display. And when all the chakras were vibrating at the exact same frequency, none prevailing over the other, I disappeared into an infinite white light and no longer existed. Ego death.
While I was going through this extraordinary transformation, John was having a similar experience in the altar room. From to time, we’d call out to each other across what seemed to be infinite space “you still there, you still there?” Our voices faded like the industrial smoke outside my window until they were no more. Our tongues had disappeared along with the rest of us…whater “us” is.
The lesson I learned was this: when we emphasize one aspect of our being while ignoring the rest, we create ego. If our sexual energy is dominant, we create ego. If our intellect is dominant, we create ego. If our emotions are dominant , we create ego. Only when sex, heart and mind are in complete balance and harmony do we experience so called enlightenment. When all of our chakras, our energy centers, are vibrating on the same wavelength, at the same pitch, we become in tune with the cosmos.
We are refined and subtle beings not just meat and bone. Embodiment is the result of getting stuck in just one corner of our totality. The Catholic concept of original sin, the idea of humans as fallen angels, is simply the result of being out of balance. When our mind is in tune with our heart and our sexuality is in touch with both, we become one with the natural order of things and no longer exist apart from the world. That’s how it works. If you don’t believe me, eat 12 fat peyote buttons and get back to me.
The morning after Mescalito’s visit, John and I re-entered the world tenderly, with the vulnerability and openness of newborn children. We looked at each with amazement and humility. We were no longer quite as solid as we were before our peyote trip. We had been introduced to something that was so enormous in its scope and yet so pure and simple that we were both blissed out as well as bewildered.
The deal with psychedelics is that you get the Cliff Notes version of cosmic consciousness. Don’t me get me wrong, the experience is real, genuine, but it’s also just a kind of crash course giving us a quick glimpse of who we really are. Most of us, actually all of us, can’t afford to leave our jobs, family etc. to sit on a mountaintop and contemplate the nature of existence. There have been a handful of human beings who could make that commitment: Milarepa, Buddha, Jesus and a few divinely intoxicated bums who used to practice their Dharma on Bowery and Broadway back in the 70s. But, in this day and age, when there are so many forces conspiring against our attaining even the slightest insight to who we are and what has authentic value in our lives, we need guidance that can lead us to a deeper and more profound understanding of why we are here and where we are going. I suggest taking the crash course. If you can get your hungry hands on some peyote, psilocybin mushrooms or clean LSD (it exists) go for it. Don’t wait for the world to become your paradise. Throw away the travel brochure. Create your own cosmic getaway. If your head’s in the right space, Newark is just as beautiful as the beaches of Belize. But ultimately it’s up to you to follow up on the psychedelic experience and do the hard work of self-realization on a daily basis. While psychedelics do open the doors of perception, it is our mission to walk through those doors and keep walking. There are no quick fixes for what ails us. Peyote showed me the way, a cosmic road map, but I still had to do the driving.
My next peyote trip was in 1972 with the Yaqui Indians on their reservation in Tuscon during Deer Dance. This is a story I’ll share at another time.
Produced and directed by Joe Boyd and Gary Weis two years after Jimi Hendrix’s death, Jimi Hendrix is a solid documentary comprised of some great live performances and insightful interviews with friends, family and a cool mix of musicians including Peter Townsend, Lou Reed, Mick Jagger, Noel Redding and Little Richard.
There’s a particularly lovely scene of Hendrix playing a twelve string acoustic guitar… pure, simple and beautiful.
Live footage from Monterey, Isle of Wight, Woodstock, Fillmore East and the Marquee Club. Deeply satisfying.
‘What did you do in the 1980s, Daddy?’ For those who want to know what it was like to be young(ish) and middle class in Britain during the 1980s, then take a look at the Pet Shop Boys in their one-and-only feature film, It Couldn’t Happen Here. Originally planned as an hour long pop promo to accompany the release of their third album Actually, It Couldn’t Happen Here captures the style, the pretensions, the cultural obsessions and some of the most popular music of that decade.
The Pet Shop Boys are a hugely under-rated band, whose compelling, beautiful and catchy music by Chris Lowe, can often disguise the power and passion of Neil Tennant’s lyrics. For you see, despite what the music press claims (that means you NME), or the modes by which the band present themselves (daft hats and outfits), there is really nothing ironic about the Pet Shop Boys at all. They mean everything they do. Which is why It Couldn’t Happen Here is so frustrating. It could have been like The Monkees Head for the 1980s, with a hard, political edge, but it wanders without any sense of direction through a series of segments that revolve too literally around the songs.
That said, for a pop film it’s not all that bad, and the quality of the songs, and some of the eye-catching performances (Joss Ackland, Gareth Hunt, Barbara Windsor) make it almost passable. If only Derek Jarman (who collaborated on a stage show, and directed the promo for “It’s A Sin”) or Lindsay Anderson (the director of If… and O, Lucky Man! who would had directed the concert film of Wham, yes, Wham, in China) had been asked to direct rather than Jack Bond, then things might have been different. Even so, Bond made it look sumptuous and Neil Tennant found out he couldn’t act.
Would you believe me if I told you that a film involving ESP, serial murder, LSD experiments, a disfigured ladies man who is strongly clairvoyant, a fairytale witch and a strong undercurrent of nihilism, actually exists? Well, believe, nonbelievers, because it does, all in the form of the 1967 Herschell Gordon Lewis film, Something Weird. Nothing, maybe not even my description above, can adequately prepare you for this film.
The film opens up with a woman walking in a deserted looking cement alleyway, the kind you would need a razor to scrape clean. The camera is angled where we initially only see her legs, but think less sexy and more ominous. The sparse Jazz soundtrack, pregnant like a storm cloud, underscores the impending sense of doom. Sure enough, another pair of legs come into the picture, black-slack clad and belonging to a man, who immediately starts to give chase. There’s a struggle and then a collapse, with the woman’s whole form slumping into frame, blank eyed, bloodied and frozen with the trauma that is death. It might be simple in set up, but this is one of the ugliest cinematic death scenes period. It actually shocked me the first time around, especially since I was mentally prepared and outright anticipating the Grand Guignol on strychnine violence that has earned Lewis the nickname, “The Godfather of Gore.” I was not, however, prepared for the stark ugliness and restrained violence, giving the former an even stronger impact. The audio only adds to this, depriving the audience of expected sounds, like screaming, footsteps and threatening words. Instead, it’s just the disjointed harsh imagery and one woeful jazz bass line.
Like a cupful of cold water to your face, there’s an immediate cut to two men practicing karate, complete with an overly loud yell. After an impressive demonstration, the film pinballs to an electrician, getting hit by a broken power line cable and then falling down to the ground, right to his death. Another man, Cronin “Mitch” Mitchell (Tony McCabe), gets hit in the face with the same cable. Unlike the fellow before him, Mitch lives but part of his face ends up horribly disfigured. The once boyish man is now reduced to borderline accosting his nurse and weeping in the bathroom, looking horrified at what his face has become. However, some curses beget gifts, and Mitch has now mysteriously attained extraordinarily strong powers of clairvoyance.
Despite his new gift, Mitch spends his time with his face mostly swathed in thin black fabric and dark sunglasses, working as a dime-store psychic. (Well, more accurately, a $2 one.) But life has more twists in store for our unlikely hero, which soon come in the form of a cackling, decrepit old woman. Turns out that the old biddy is actually a witch (Mudite Arums, yes that is how she is billed), as in any generic fairy tale or one of the more subdued Sid & Marty Krofft efforts. (Proof, there is a pouty red mouth painted on one of her knees, for no discernible reason.)
She notes what a pretty face he had before the accident and offers him a deal; get his old, flaw-free visage back and become her lover. Naturally, Mitch is aghast at the suggestion but is forced to rethink his reaction when, almost like a free sample, she magically removes all of the scar and tissue damage. It’s not long before he gets to test it out, coming to the rescue of a pretty, blue-eyed and potentially Quaaluded out damsel at a swanky restaurant. After he manages to shake one (fantastically) drunk harasser from her table, and then sweet talks her into coming home with him. As he swoops in for the seductive kill, the lovely Ellen (Elizabeth Lee) transforms into the Witch, who finds the whole thing hilarious, laughing even as she beckons him to fulfill his end of the bargain, which he does.
Meanwhile, there is a killer still on the loose, getting his next victim by murdering her with a primitive but effective flame thrower. (All in that same ugly, bombed out looking cement alley.) The police, with nary a lead in sight, get both Mitchell and Dr. Jordan (William Brooker), a Federal agent, on the case. Everyone is skeptical of Mitch, whose psychic prowess has now gained him national TV exposure. A small demonstration at the station, however, quells all but Jordan, prompting the Chief to invite Mitch and his companion/secretary, Ellen, to a shindig he is throwing at his house. The party’s a hit, with a skeptical Jordan zeroing in on Ellen, while Mitch starts to make some friendly talk with the Chief’s raven haired wife.
It’s only a matter of time that the party goers want to see a display of Mitch’s powers. In lieu of the usual psychic parlor tricks, the crowd, and the Chief’s wife in particular, request that he communes with the dead. (Yeah, that always seems like a good idea for a party!) Needless to say, it doesn’t go well, with Mitch levitating and then momentarily passing out. Turns out, his powers are a little too good, with the session unleashing a ghost, a serene looking bride, who is nevertheless scaring the parishioners at a local church. After being begged by the Reverend to at least check it out, Mitch agrees, purely on the grounds that no one mentions it to Ellen.
The ghost indeed shows up, grabbing his hand as they smile at each other before she completely disappears. Potential foreshadowing? You will soon be the judge and jury.
While Mitch is helping the living and the dead, Dr. Jordan continues his wooing of Ellen, with semi-results in that he is able to meet her for drinks and even defend the both of them from some local (and suspiciously clean-cut) thugs, best utilizing his chop-suey skills. Jordan, however, loses major points for coming about * this * close to sexually assaulting Ellen. At this point Mitch is canoodling with the Chief’s wife but psychically senses that his secret Hag is needing him. All of this results in one of the silliest bordering on surreal scenes in the whole film, with Jordan being attacked by his very own blanket! Whatever image is running in your head right at this very second is undoubtedly and eerily close to the reality. For better or worse, though, Jordan wins the fight of man versus textile fabric.
It’s only going to get even more strange, as Mitch decides to test out some government grade LSD that Jordan had given him earlier in the film. His red-soaked vision at first takes him through a desolate landscape, chasing Ellen who transforms into the cackling witch. He is able to track down the killer, in the same cement hell-alley that the women had been slaughtered in. The murderer bellows “I cannot be stopped!” before shooting Mitch in the head and our hero collapses to the ground, with the look of sad loss and defeat in his waning eyes. Believing the killer to be Detective Maddox after his vision, Mitch calls the department, putting the officers and Jordan on alert.
It’s a sunny afternoon and Mitchell is walking down the street. Before he can even finish ogling a curvy redhead, he gets hit with a sniper bullet, to the head, and our protagonist, our hero, is murdered before us. Jordan, taking his sweet time, finally catches up to Maddox, whom we’re never a 100% sure is the real killer, and murders him before the police can catch him. He is questioned on why he didn’t get to Mitchell sooner and potentially save his life. Jordan hollowly defends himself, only to break down later in the evening to Ellen, claiming that he loves her and wanted her all to himself. This prompts a delighted Ellen to reveal her true self, forcing the la ronde effect to come into play, with Jordan becoming disfigured with the Hag behind him, laughing knowingly.
Something Weird is truly something else, marking a truly layered note in the career of Herschell Gordon Lewis. For your cult film lovers, undoubtedly you’re nodding your head with recognition, perhaps even admiration, at the name of one HG Lewis. Rightfully dubbed “The Godfather of Gore,” Lewis helped usher in a new age of gooey horror, starting way back in the early 1960’s. A lot of his films, ranging from the game changer Blood Feast to The Gore Gore Girls, often played out like Grand Guignol on amphetamines. Despite the fact that the man also made biker films (the incredible She Devils on Wheels), kids films (Jimmy, The Boy Wonder) and sexploitation films (Suburban Roulette), the gore factor to this day is often the first thing that people in the know think of when they hear the name of HG Lewis.
But everything you think you know goes out the door with Something Weird. There is little to no gore, it is more sadly bleak, with our hero killed, a serial killer potentially still loose and the same old strange cycle of life just going on and on. But on top of all that, is an absolutely solid performance from Tony McCabe as Mitch. McCabe, who passed away under unknown circumstances only a year after “Something Weird” came out, is genuinely nuanced and likable. Mitch is no saint but that is part of his charm. He’s a bit of a ladies man whose basic core is good. It’s a damn shame that McCabe’s career was cut so short, since he shows incredible potential and charisma here.
Part of the beauty of Something Weird is that this is a film that clamps its fists down and refuses to be categorized. The closest one could come would be to call it a “nihilistic fairy tale,” which would be halfway honest to the spirit of the fairy tale genre pre-Disney. But even that only paints the broadest of pictures. Some will automatically detest it for not being what they expect but the best art is often the type that defies expectations. Boxes are meant to not only be opened but then ripped apart and burned.
Something Weird is available at Amazon and also from the legendary video company that took its name from the film, Something Weird Video.
The Oyster Princess directed by the great silent-era pioneer Ernst Lubitsch, is the 1919 tale of the marriage of a spoiled millionaire’s daughter and a case of mistaken identity. It contains some of the most ridiculous images of obscene wealth and silly rich people ever committed to celluloid. It’s no wonder that the members of Austin’s avant garde quintet, Bee vs. Moth chose this film to re-score when the SXSW FIlm Festival commissioned them to perform a new work at the fest: In many ways it’s the perfect film for the new gilded age of 2012 and kudos to Bee vs. Moth for resurrecting and renewing this nearly 100-year-old classic for modern audiences.
Bee vs. Moth debuted their original score to The Oyster Princess at the 2012 SXSW festival with a live performance to accompany the film. The members of this eclectic ensemble are Sarah Norris (drums, percussion) Philip Moody (electric & upright bass), Aaryn Russell (guitar), Ivo Gruner (trumpet), and Thomas van der Brook (saxophone). Each of the members play in several other Austin bands as well as working together as Bee vs. Moth.
In the clip below, Austin’s Bee vs. Moth offer a taste of what makes them one of the standout groups in a city positively teaming with musicians. Additional performances of Bee vs. Moth’s original score for The Oyster Princess are scheduled for Dallas and Houston in the near future.
Here’s the extended trailer for Prometheus, Ridley Scott’s highly-anticipated prequel (of sorts) to his masterpiece Alien. It looks like Scott’s playing to his strengths on this one: epic, beautifully designed by Arthur Max and with stunning cinematography by Dariusz Wolski.
The film will focus on a mythology within the Alien universe. Set in the late-21st century, Prometheus will explore the advanced civilization of an extraterrestrial race responsible for the origins of modern humans on Earth, as well as the background of the Alien creature which made its first appearance in the 1979 film.
Starring Charlize Theron, Noomi Rapace and Michael Fassbender. Released date June 2012.
Sometimes there comes along a director, whose talent is so apparent that you wonder why they’re not more famous. Glenn McQuaid is such a director, and his first feature, I Sell the Dead, in 2008, offered everything I want from a horror film.
It was my brother who tapped me in to Mr. McQuaid’s work. My brother and I had grown-up under the spell of the horror films produced by Universal in the 1930s and 1940s (with Karloff and Lugosi, and Lon Chaney jnr.), and Hammer films (with Cushing and Lee) from the fifties and sixties. Of course there were also the Vincent Price and Roger Corman collaborations, as well as the Milton Subotsky and Max J Rosenberg anthology films of the 1960s and ‘70s.
We also had a love of stories by Dennis Wheatley (in particular his series of classic horror novels published under his Library of the Occult - Stoker, Shelley, ”Carnaki, the Ghost Finder”, and Guy Endore), and the tales of terror penned by Poe, Blackwood and Bloch.
My brother raved about I Sell the Dead, and when I saw it I had to agree. Written and directed by McQuaid, it stars Larry Fessenden, Dominic Monaghan, Ron Perlman and Angus (Phantasm) Scrimm, and is near perfect - a witty, clever and engaging story, presented in the style of the best, classic horror film. I was smitten, the same way I was when Boris Karloff as the Monster first walked backwards into the laboratory; or by Oliver Reed when he turned into a werewolf. McQuaid knows his genre and its cinematic traditions.
For his next film, McQuaid is one of the directors (alongside David Bruckner, Radio Silence, Joe Swanberg, Ti West, and Adam Wingard ) of the soon to be released anthology film, V/H/S, for which he wrote an directed the “unconventional killer-in-the-woods chiller Tuesday The 17th”. When V/H/S previewed at the Sundance Film Festival, it received the kind of exposure of which publicists dream.
At its screening two audience members fled in terror – one fainted, one puked. The last time I recall such a response was for The Exorcist in 1973, where there were reports of fainting, vomiting, and even an alleged possession.
When was shown at SXSW, V/H/S was described as ”an incredibly entertaining film that succeeds in being humorous, sexy, gross and scary as fuck.” While Dead Central gave it 5/5.
Though all the directors have been praised for the quality of their films, the reviews have singled out McQuaid for the excellence and originality of his contribution.
Before all this kicked off, I contacted Glenn McQuaid to organize an interview. Over the following weeks emails went back-and-forth, until the following arrived. The interview covers Mr McQuaid’s background, his influences, early work, The Resurrection Apprentice, working with Larry Fessenden, Ron Perlman and Dominic Monaghan on I Sell the Dead, to V/H/S.
The full interview with Glenn McQuaid, after the jump….