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Charles Fort: The original Art Bell

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You could call Charles Fort (1874 – 1932) the “first Ufologist”—and many do—but that’s already, um, damning the quirky author of The Book of the Damned with feint praise. Fort was more of a scientist (or scientific researcher), but not in any sort of traditional sense most people would recognize as science. A better description of his interests would be to say that what fascinated Fort were the things which were intellectually excluded by science. Rains of frogs, alien spacecraft, meat falling from the sky and spontaneous human combustion were the grist for his mill and this is what he spent his life meticulously cataloging.

Fort was also a bit of a comedian, a Swiftian satirist of science. He hated the idea of experts and thumbed his nose at scientific authority. Fort was a sworn enemy of orthodox rationality. His prose is a delight and is a part of his strong attraction for many readers. His style is “circular,” I guess you might say. Repetitive, but this is kind of the point, to be bludgeoned by the sheer force of the number of examples he’d throw at readers, into accepting the simple fact that something awfully strange is going on here.

Fort, who invented words like “teleporter” kept his notes, his Forteana, if you will, on notecards. Although from time to time, the eccentric author would burn his research, tens of thousands of his cards survive and can be viewed at the New York Library’s Rare Book Room (I’ve looked at some of them myself). In his day, Fort had his share of detracters (his friend H.L. Mencken said his head was filled with “Bohemian mush”!) but also many prominent admirers such as Ben Hecht, Theodore Drieser and Oliver Wendell Homes.

The influence of Charles Fort’s work is subtle but pervasive throughout popular culture. No Fort, no X-Files, for instance. No Art Bell or George Noory, either. Although Fort was in life and after his death, a relatively obscure writer, his work still holds a strong fascination for many people who consider him an intellectual giant. And of course there is a magazine, The Fortean Times, which keeps the flame alive as well as regional organizations of Fortean enthusiasts and a yearly convention.

Dangerous Minds pal Skylaire Alfvegren organizes The League of Western Fortean Intermediatists (or L.O.W.F.I) and she’s got a great short biographical essay of Charles Fort at the Fortean West website:

There is a man, largely undiscovered by the modern world, whom I, and many others, believe made one of the most significant contributions to the world of science. Had it not been that he vehemently opposed modern scientists and their methods, his work might be enjoying a greater popularity than it does. Had this man decided to write about completely different topics, he would be hailed as a fabulous literary character. Here was a peculiar fellow. Charles Fort devoted 26 years of his life to compiling documented reports of scientific anomalies from journals and newspapers from all around the world. He lived in dire poverty so that truth could prevail. His life’s work may one day be of great scientific worth, should the established scientific community ever muster the courage to approach it.

Anomalies. This is what Fort trafficked in. Reports of prehistoric beasts frolicking in the world’s oceans. (Loch Ness, Champ, Storsjon Animal). Ancient artifacts found in improbable places (Roman coins in the deserts of Arizona, Chinese seals found buried deep in the forests of Ireland, small statues of horses discovered in pre-Columbian Venezuela). Falls of things other than rain from the sky (red rains in 1571 England, 1744 Genoa; a rain of “73 organic formations, particular to South America” in France in 1846). Unidentified aerial phenomena (excluding Ezekiel’s Biblical description. Fort’s list contains the first known report of a so-called “UFO”, dating from 1779). These are but a few of the subjects Fort spent his lifetime collecting reports of. This anomalous data are roped together under the banner of “Forteana”, a term which probably does not exist in any dictionary, because that which it pertains to isn’t supposed to exist at all.

He who championed underdogs, has been and will likely continue to be, one of the greatest underdogs of all time. For he has not a baseball team or brooding thespians to compete with, but the entire history of the scientific world. His work spat in the face of conventional scientists. There is much going on around us that defies explanation. Fort amassed reports of events seen by humans around the world countless times, which, none the less, have been dismissed. The data he collected were excommunicated by science, which acts like a religion. “The monks of science” he wrote, “dwell on smuggeries that are walled away from event-jungles- Science has done its utmost to prevent whatever science has done” (the Book of the Damned, p. 245). His legacy, his collection of data lies before us. It is indisputable, and yet still ignored. The reports he gathered could make any enemy of science acquire a renewed enthusiasm for the subject. In his four published works, the Book of the Damned (1919). New Lands (1923) Lo! (1931) and Wild Talents (1932) we find over 1,200 documented reports of occurrences which orthodox science refuses to attempt to explain. Explanation was not Fort’s purpose. He merely presented the data, sometimes with his own speculations, sometimes with tongue in cheek. While anomalies can be entertaining, they can also be deeply disturbing, for they undermine the foundations of science, the idea that every thing in this world is rational and under control. Articles like those collected in Fortean Times and the INFO Journal (International Fortean Organization), two publications which continue Fort’s work, prove that things are not under our control, nor will they ever be. Many people, including scientists, find this discomforting and so ignore that which they cannot explain.

The Life, Work and Influence of Charles Fort (Fortean West)

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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The Green Manalishi with the two prong crown
06.11.2010
04:53 pm

Topics:
Heroes
Music

Tags:
Fleetwood Mac
Peter Green

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The final volley from Peter Green before leaving the band he formed, this dark and turbulent 1970 masterpiece is the sound of an acid fried young genius being torn apart psychologically by the evil god of money. Indeed as this was being recorded Green was actively trying to convince his bandmates to begin giving away all of their then considerable wealth.

Green has explained that he wrote the song after experiencing a drug-induced dream, in which he was visited by a green dog which barked at him. He understood that the dog represented money. “It scared me because I knew the dog had been dead a long time. It was a stray and I was looking after it. But I was dead and had to fight to get back into my body, which I eventually did. When I woke up, the room was really black and I found myself writing the song.

In any case this is a hell of a guitar workout with amazing chord progressions and has been covered by everyone from Judas Priest to The Melvins, but none matches the vibe of the original.
 

 

Posted by Brad Laner | Discussion
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Charlotte Moorman’s answering machine message tape
06.11.2010
11:51 am

Topics:
Art
Heroes

Tags:
Yoko Ono
John Lennon
Fluxus
Charlotte Moorman

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A voyeuristic and mesmerizing tribute to key Fluxus player and muse to Nam June Paik and Joseph Beuys, the experimental cellist Charlotte Moorman. Listen to personal phone messages to Moorman from the likes of John and Yoko, John Cage, Paik and others and drink in that good old-timey analog tape phone machine atmosphere.

 
A Trove of Archival Performances by Charlotte Moorman (UBUWEB)

Posted by Brad Laner | Discussion
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William Burroughs: Words Of Advice For Young People

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School’s out, or almost out, for summer, and it just occurred to me that some of our Dangerous Minds readers might be graduating this weekend.  If so, congratulations!  And what better way to brace yourself for the ennui of sudden adulthood than icing some words of advice from William Burroughs?

This bit, set to music, shows up on Burroughs’ spoken-word, Disposable Heroes Of Hiphoprisy-accompanied, Spare Ass Annie album, but this is the first time I’ve seen the author himself performing it—a chunk of it, anyway.  For a slightly different, text version of the speech, click here.

Posted by Bradley Novicoff | Discussion
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Phil Proctor: Forward into the Past with The Firesign Theatre

Beginning June 15, vintage Firesign Theatre radio shows, dating from 1970-72 will be rebroadcast for the first time since their original air dates on WFMU radio. This is comparable to being a James Joyce fanatic and finding not just one notebook where he’s working out the themes that would become fully developed in Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, but an entire crate of ‘em. Some of the most mind-bending, thought-provoking and hilarious material of their career and unheard for the past 40 years. A counter cultural treasure of the highest order. Firesign Theatre LIVE in Portland and Eugene, Oregon this weekend!

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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In Praise of Edith Massey

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What with John Waters seemingly everywhere these days (Salon, the NYT, Fresh Air) as he promotes his new book, Role Models, I thought it’d be a fine time to revisit one of his former film muses, Edith Massey.

Along with Divine, Mink Stole, David Lochary and Mary Vivian Pearce, Massey was a stock player in the Dreamlander universe, and a key contributer to that trilogy of Waters films I and many others consider particularly essential: Pink Flamingos, Female Trouble, and Desperate Living.

Watching those three films growing up (and watching them, and watching them), Massey always struck me as being infinitely stranger than larger-than-life drag queen, Divine.  Maybe it was because I somehow grasped that “drag” was, by definition, “performative,” and thus safer than the whacked-out maternalism that Massey so artlessly channeled.  In fact, whereas Divine’s acting method might be described as quotation-marks-within-quotation-marks, Massey seemingly acted without the cushion of any marks whatsoever—quotation or otherwise.

Massey’s life after Waters was perhaps no odder than her life before it, and its trajectory has an arc straight out of Dickens: from orphanage to reform school, from freight train rider to brothel madam, and then, as these things sometimes go, to Hollywood.

Some of this ground is covered in the ‘74 documentary on her life: Love Letter To Edie (you can watch a clip from that film here).  The below interview from the early 80’s is also amusing:

 
Of course, no Massey entry would be complete without the infamous “Egg Man” moment from Pink Flamingos.  That follows below:

 
After a battle with cancer and diabetes, Massey passed away in Venice, California, in 1984.  That was 2 years after Massey and her band, called, naturally, Edie and the Eggs, released the below Rodney on the Roq staple, Punks, Get Off The Grass:

 

Posted by Bradley Novicoff | Discussion
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Art Clokey’s psychedelic masterpiece: Mandala
06.07.2010
09:31 am

Topics:
Art
Heroes
Movies

Tags:
Art Clokey
Mandala

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Looking every bit like a Jodorowsky film made out of clay, well known psychedelics enthusiast and Gumby creator, the late Art Clokey’s little seen 1964 psychedelic masterpiece Mandala is a truly wonderous thing to behold.
 
Via Gumbyworld:

“Well, we shot that in our basement in Topanga. We had an 1100 square foot basement in a A-frame on a hillside. It was perfect for our needs. My whole family worked on it, my daughter and Gloria’s daughter. That was our second marriage for both of us. She had a daughter and I had a daughter. They were both artistic, and my son and Gloria worked with the camera. So it was a family effort all in clay.”
Art explained that the goal of Mandala was to communicate “the idea of evolving our consciousness from primordial forms to human form, and then beyond the human to the spiritual and eternal. The theme was the evolution of consciousness: we begin in the mud and we just go out and up.”
The film shows lots of masks and tribal images. “The masks were symbols of the condition that we live in where we are all behind the masks and the whole process of life is to discover who it is behind that mask,” Art told us. “Who are we? Who is that guy behind the mask we’re holding up there? That ‘s the purpose of all religion. You just have to find out who that guy is behind the mask.”

 
bonus goodness: Clokey’s title sequence for the 1965 cheese epic Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine with theme song by the Supremes !

 
previously on DM: Viva Art Clokey !
 
thx Carmel Conlin !

Posted by Brad Laner | Discussion
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Why Paul McCartney Still Matters
06.05.2010
01:09 pm

Topics:
Heroes
Music
Politics

Tags:
Paul McCartney
George W. Bush
Posted by Brad Laner | Discussion
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Brion Gysin: Dream Machine at the New Museum
06.03.2010
02:46 pm

Topics:
Art
Heroes
History

Tags:
William S. Burroughs
Brion Gysin

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Some artists, like Picasso and Dali, were discovered when they were young and their talents grew to maturity before the public eye. Sometimes, however it takes,,, well, dying before the art world sits up and takes notice of you, This has certainly been the case with Brion Gysin, the Canadian/British painter and author who has long stood in the shadows, figuratively speaking, of William S. Burroughs, his lifelong friend and collaborator. Burroughs once said that Brion Gysin, the inventor of the Cut-Ups literary technique was the only man he ever truly respected.

Gysin is an artist whose work must be seen in person to be truly appreciated. This is said about every artist’s work, but it’s particularly true with Brion Gysin. What might appear to be random chicken scratch calligraphy when reproduced in a book, becomes ALIVE when seen in person. Seemingly careless hash marks become scenes of hundreds of people around a bonfire or a crowded Arab marketplace when you’re staring right at it.

The man was a master. And he left an awful lot of work behind. Although there were various Gysin gallery exhibits in New York while he was still alive—I recall being astonished by some large works on paper in a great 1985 show at the Tower Gallery—there has never been a museum level retrospective of Gysin’s work in the United States until now:

Brion Gysin: Dream Machine” will be the first US survey of the work of Brion Gysin (b. 1916, Taplow, UK; d. 1986, Paris), an irrepressible innovator, serial collaborator, and subversive spirit who continues to inspire artists today. The exhibition will include over 250 drawings, books, paintings, photo-collages, films, slide projections, and sound works, as well as the Dreamachine—a kinetic light sculpture that utilizes the flicker effect to induce visions.

In 1959, Gysin created the Cut-Up Method, wherein words and phrases were randomly collaged to unlock unknown meanings, culminating in The Third Mind, a book-length collage created with his lifelong collaborator William S. Burroughs. Transferring the idea of the Cut-Up to magnetic tape, Gysin became the father of sound poetry. Throughout his life, Gysin was a collaborator and an inspiration to artists, poets, and musicians, such as John Giorno, Brian Jones, David Bowie, Patti Smith, Genesis-P-Orridge, and Keith Haring.

More than two decades after his death, his work continues to attract the interest of a new generation of artists drawn to Gysin’s radical inderdisciplinarity, including Rirkrit Tiravanija, Cerith Wyn Evans, Trisha Donnelly, and Scott Treleaven. The exhibition is curated by Laura Hoptman, Kraus Family Senior Curator, and will be on view in the New Museum’s second-floor gallery. It will be accompanied by an illustrated catalogue co-published with Hugh Merrell, Ltd. which will include scholarly essays and appreciations by contemporary artists, musicians, and poets.

Video below, a trailer for FLicKer a Canadian documentary about Gysin directed by Nik Sheehan, in which I make a brief appearance.
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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Kevin Ayers: May I ?
06.02.2010
10:53 am

Topics:
Heroes
Music

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Kevin Ayers

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Seeing as how I name-checked the man in my Rick Grossman post yesterday I thought I’d share this lovely 1972 clip by Soft Machine founder Kevin Ayers. He’s surrounded here by a rogues gallery of prog luminaries : Mike Oldfield on bass, Lol Coxhill on soprano sax, Mike Bedford on accordion, etc. This song, from his Shooting at the Moon LP, seems to sum up his breezily casual, pleasantly stoned approach rather nicely. Goes down smooth.

Posted by Brad Laner | Discussion
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