A pop art RAW portrait by Bobby Campbell
An essay that I wrote about Robert Anton Wilson has been posted as part of Boing Boing’s special “Robert Anton Wilson Week,” joining pieces by Douglas Rushkoff, Erik Davis, Antero Alli, Ivan Stang, Gareth Branwyn. Paul Krassner, R.U. Sirius and others:
As “outsider” teenage readers of Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea’s classicIlluminatus! trilogy in the early 1980s, it seemed to some of my friends at the time (all big Kurt Vonnegut, Richard Brautigan and Philip K Dick fans, too) that the novel’s authors were trying to communicate something “in code” to their readers, like it was a message about “the conspiracy” that was coming from an underground resistance group. I thought that was bunk and fanciful nonsense, but it goes to show how strong of an effect that book had on kids’ imaginations back then.
Illuminatus! was a touchstone for freethinking weirdos of that era, one of the rare books that even attempted to make sense of being born into an ever increasingly surreal world still reeling from things like the JFK/MLK/RFK assassinations, Watergate and the Vietnam war and where Ronald Reagan, a bad actor who once worked with a chimpanzee, had just become President.
It was also an interesting experiment in mass occult initiation—sold at shopping malls across America—that satirically tore away the veils of the modern world and (actively, not passively) imprinted a skeptical worldview on the reader. Read those books from cover to cover and there was virtually not a chance in hell that you’d be a normal person ever again. The Illuminatus! trilogy really made quite an impression, let’s just say.
Wilson’s non-fiction work, Cosmic Trigger, was of even greater interest to me with its cheerful speculations on Timothy Leary’s channeled communications from “holy guardian angels,” psychedelic drugs and Aleister Crowley. The so-called “23 enigma,” I was familiar with already because of The Third Mind by William Burroughs and Brion Gysin, but it was explained in greater depth in Cosmic Trigger. It was the first place I’d read of Robert K. Temple’s book The Sirius Mystery and it was also the first time I heard the name Terence McKenna. I can’t tell you how many weird and wonderful things that book exposed me to.
It was instrumental in forming my worldview. Simply put, it’s in my DNA. Cosmic Trigger is one of the UR-documents of my life (and career!).
The first time I met up with Bob Wilson, in the flesh, was at a day-long event called “Millennial Madness” that took place in the Scottish Rites Masonic Temple on Wilshire Blvd. in Los Angeles. It must have been around 1993. He was speaking at the event on a bill with Timothy Leary, medical marijuana guru Jack Herer and Paul Krassner. RAW was outside having a cigarette and I nervously offered him some of the spliff I was smoking, which he happily accepted and we chatted for a moment.
Read the rest at Boing Boing:
Wilson and I
Below, Robert Anton Wilson at the DisinfoCon, February 19, 2000, at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York: