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‘The Flicker’: The legendary (and potentially) mind blowing underground film where nothing happens
05.15.2018
04:40 pm
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Since he was both a Harvard math major and a member (along with John Cale and Angus Maclise from the Velvet Underground) of La Monte Young’s drone ensemble the Theatre of Eternal Music (aka “The Dream Syndicate”) it makes sense that artist/musician Tony Conrad would produce a hypnotic film that combined his studies in mathematics and structure with his interest in the psychoactive effects of repetitive or prolonged intervals of pure sound.

The result is “The Flicker,” a film legendary from being mentioned in dozens upon dozens of books on underground film, “expanded cinema” and the Velvet Underground. Few have seen it since the 1960s.

It begins with a message:

WARNING. The producer, distributor, and exhibitors waive all liability for physical or mental injury possibly caused by the motion picture “The Flicker.” Since this film may induce epileptic seizures or produce mild symptoms of shock treatment in certain persons, you are cautioned to remain in the theatre only at your own risk. A physician should be in attendance.

A frame then reads “Tony Conrad Presents” followed by a stylized quasi-Fluxus looking title card. The screen goes white. The screen goes black. When it starts to speed up, the stroboscopic effects are not just similar to—but in my opinion far superior to—the internal visions created by Brion Gysin’s psychoactive kinetic sculpture, Dreamachine.
 

 
Conrad told Hyperreal:

When I made the film “The Flicker” in 1965-66 my principal motivation was to explore the possibilities for harmonic expression using a sensory mode other than sound. The experience of “flicker” - its peculiar entrapment of the central nervous system, by ocular driving - occurs over a frequency range of about 4 to 40 flashes per second (fps). I used film (at 24 fps) as a sort of “tonic,” and devised patterns of frames which would represent combinations of frequencies - heterodyned, or rather multiplexed together. I was interested to see whether there might be combination-frequency effects that would occur with flicker, analogous to the combination-tone effects that are responsible for consonance in musical sound.

I don’t think he was whistling “Dixie” when it came to that warning, btw. If a strobe light can set off an epileptic seizure, surely “The Flicker” could. If I haven’t already scared you off, sit with it long enough and you can get a high that’s similar to bed spins without the nausea (I mean that in a good way!)

Here’s an excerpt from “The Flicker” on YouTube. Although it’s a little ratty-looking, you can still more or less “get” the effect. There is a clean version (that compensates for film to video conversion) that you can find floating around on torrent trackers and various “artsy” film blogs. I highly recommend looking for it, it’s really neat.
 

Posted by Richard Metzger
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05.15.2018
04:40 pm
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Tricia Nixon’s wedding travestied by the Cockettes, 1971


via IMDb
 
Tricia’s Wedding, a 33-minute dramatization of the solemn rite that joined Patricia Nixon and Edward Cox in holy matrimony, was the first movie the Cockettes made. Per Kenneth Turan, it premiered at the Palace Theater in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco on the very day of the happy event, June 12, 1971. Not only is the Cockettes’ movie much livelier than the televised ceremony, it includes the all-too-brief screen debut of Tomata du Plenty, some five years before he formed the Screamers in Los Angeles.

Incredibly, the Cockettes’ movie was screened in the Nixon White House. In Blind Ambition, John Dean mentions watching it in the president’s bomb shelter underneath the East Wing, John Ehrlichman’s favorite spot for “monitoring” protests. There, Dean saw Tricia’s Wedding on the orders of H.R. “Bob” Haldeman:

I knew I wouldn’t use the shelter for monitoring demonstrations, although Haldeman had told me that that would be one of my responsibilities. The only time I ever returned there was for a secret screening of Tricia’s Wedding, a pornographic movie portraying Tricia Nixon’s wedding to Edward Cox, in drag. Haldeman wanted the movie killed, so a very small group of White House officials watched the cavorting transvestites in order to weigh the case for suppression. Official action proved unnecessary; the film died a natural death.

Continues after the jump…

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Posted by Oliver Hall
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05.10.2018
08:28 am
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Check out the (primitive) psychedelic visuals from this ‘trippy’ 1979 Betamax tape
04.09.2018
10:25 am
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VHS edition of “Electric Light Voyage”—the uploaded version is from a Betamax source.
 
Here’s an interesting find from the early days of home video.

This Betamax format tape, titled Ascent 1 from Astralvision, was released under the title Electric Light Voyage for its videocassette release from Media Home Entertainment. The tape consists of “trippy” computer-generated visuals set to experimental music. These visuals would have been STATE OF THE ART in 1979, but seem quite primitive by today’s standards—a lot of them look like old Windows screensavers.

Aside from some of the music sounding rather frightening, the lysergic visuals on this tape seem tailor-made as a late ‘70s “trip toy” to be enjoyed under the influence of one’s favorite hallucinogen. The liner notes on the box indicate that it’s “great for parties or individual contemplation” (emphasis added): 

“This 60-minute electronic fantasy featuring computer animation can control and change your moods of elation and tranquility. To change or enhance your mood, simply play a musical selection that accompanies your present feeling – its mesmerizing! The abstract colorized computer animated visuals are artfully paced with their complimentary soundtrack. Images explode with color while soothing with flowing shapes and rhythms, Great for parties or individual contemplation.”

 

 
Copies of Electric Light Voyage I’ve seen online are boxed in Media Home Entertainment packaging, but the logo at the beginning of this upload indicates “Meda”—which was the original name of Charles Band’s video company before the name was changed to “Media.” This was one of only a handful of titles available from Meda/Media at the time—a roster which included the first videocassette release of John Carpenter’s Halloween, which is, among collectors, one of the most sought-after and valuable videocassette releases of all-time.

As primitive as this seems today, it’s still really cool. The music, which varies from dark creepy soundscapes to proto-new age, is mostly pretty great and I imagine the visuals would still “work” under the influence of your favorite research chemical.
 

 

Posted by Christopher Bickel
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04.09.2018
10:25 am
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When Bowie got busted: Local news reports from his & Iggy’s 1976 arrest for nearly a pound of weed
04.03.2018
09:30 am
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On March 21, 1976, David Bowie was on his “Isolar” trek around America (aka “The Thin White Duke tour”) and “Golden Years” was high on the US pop singles charts. But when the tour pulled into Rochester, NY for a concert at the War Memorial Arena his golden years could have been derailed when the singer and Iggy Pop were arrested on marijuana charges for an impressive amount of herb, about half a pound. Under the harsh Rockefeller drug laws, that could have resulted in fifteen years in prison, but ultimately resulted in nothing other than a minor inconvenience for Bowie, and one of the very best celeb mug shots of all time.

John Stewart reporting in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle of March 26 1976:

After silently walking through a crush of fans, police and reporters, English rock star David Bowie pleaded innocent to a felony drug charge yesterday in Rochester City Court. Bowie, 28, entered the Public Safety Building through the Plymouth Avenue doorway at 9:25 a.m., just five minutes before court convened, with an entourage of about seven persons, including his attorneys and the three other persons charged with him.

He was ushered into a side corridor by police and was arraigned within 10 minutes, as a crowd of about 200 police, fans and reporters looked on. Bowie and his group ignored reporters’ shouted questions and fans’ yells as he walked in — except for one teenager who got his autograph as he stepped off the escalator.

His biggest greeting was the screams of about a half-dozen suspected prostitutes awaiting arraignment in the rear of the corridor outside the courtroom.

Asked for a plea by City Court Judge Alphonse Cassetti to the charge of fifth-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, Bowie said, “not guilty, sir.” The court used his real name — David Jones. He stood demurely in front of the bench with his attorneys. He wore a gray three-piece leisure suit and a pale brown shirt. He was holding a matching hat. His two companions were arraigned on the same charge. Bowie was represented by Rochester lawyer Anthony F. Leonardo, who also represented his companions, James J. Osterberg, 28 of Ypsilanti, Mich., and Dwain A. Vaughs, 22, of Brooklyn. Osterberg, described as a friend and Vaughs, described as a bodyguard, also pleaded innocent to the drug charge.

Osterberg also is a rock musician and performs under the name of Iggy Stooge. Bowie has produced at least one of Osterberg’s album in the past. Judge Cassetti set April 20 for he preliminary hearing for the three men. He also agreed to set the same date for the Rochester woman charged with the same offence, Chiwah Soo, 20, of 9 Owen St., who was also in the courtroom. Cassetti allowed Bowie to remain free on $2,000 bail, as well as continuing the $2,000 bond on the other three persons charged. Bowie and the other three were arrested by city vice squad detectives and state police Sunday in the Americana Rochester hotel, charged with possession of 182 grams, about half a pound, of marijuana in his room there. Bowie was in Rochester of a concert Saturday night.

 

 

Bowie’s arrangement was witnessed by his fans, some of whom had waited two hours to catch a glimpse of him. All remained quiet in the courtroom and scrambled after his arraignment to watch his exit from the building. But fans and reporters were disappointed as city uniformed and plain-clothes police slipped him out unnoticed. Using a maze of elevators and stairwells, police took Bowie and his entourage out a side exit, across the Civic Center Plaza and into Leonardo’s office on the Times Square building’s seventh floor.

Only about 30 fans were on had to yell goodbye as Bowe and his friends left from Leonardo’s office at 12.30pm. Bowie, for the first time, waved to the crowd as his limousine pulled out from a parking space on West Broad Street, made a U-turn and headed for the expressway and the drive back to New York City. The blue-and-black Lincoln Continental limousine had been ticketed for overtime parking, but a plainclothes policeman took the ticket, and put it in his pocket.

Bowie had remained silent throughout the morning but granted a five-minute interview to newspaper reporters in Leonardo’s office. Leonardo, however, wouldn’t allow any questions directly concerning the arrest, saying it was the first criminal charge he’d ever faced. He complimented city police, though, for the protection they provided him yesterday.

“They (city police) were very courteous and very gentle,” Bowie said. “They’ve been just super.” Quiet and reserved, Bowie answered most of the reporters’ questions with short answers, shaking hands with them when they entered and left. Asked if the arrest would sour him on returning to Rochester, Bowie said “certainly not, absolutely not.” He also said he was “very flattered” by the fans who turned out for this arraignment. “I felt very honored,” he said.

Bowie and his entourage arrived in Rochester about 4am after performing a concert in the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island Wednesday night, Leonardo said, he will appear tonight at Madison Square Garden, his final concert of his America tour, Pat Gibbons, said.

More after the jump…

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Posted by Richard Metzger
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04.03.2018
09:30 am
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William S. Burroughs on the cut-up technique and meeting Samuel Beckett & Bob Dylan
03.22.2018
09:35 am
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“It’s the stink of death, citizens!” (Photo by Peter Hujar)

This hour-long BBC Radio special opens with “Old Lady Sloan,” the Mortal Micronotz’ interpretation of a Burroughs lyric about a happy pedophage, a record the host, John Walters, borrowed from John Peel for the occasion. If the program starts out sounding like a clip-show tribute to Burroughs’ cultural influence, it’s more than that. Aside from a chat with future WSB biographer Barry Miles (identified only by his surname), a little music, and Burroughs’ performances of the now-classic routines “The Do-Rights” and “The Wild Fruits,” the broadcast is given over to Walters’ lengthy interview with the author, champion of apomorphine, and devotee of the Ancient Ones.

Burroughs tells Walters about his years in England, and meeting Samuel Beckett and Bob Dylan; he observes that certain American politicians boast of their ignorance and stupidity. His (camp, I think) misogyny has softened by ‘82. What really sets the interview apart, though, is Walters’ enthusiasm, his openness, his willingness to risk sounding uncool. Here he is grappling with the implications of the cut-up technique:

Walters: What always attracted me when I first heard about that—I suppose, a lot of students at the time—it seemed to introduce a random effect, a found work, do you know what I mean? I wonder if it was so random as all that.

Burroughs: Well, how random is random? Uh…

Walters: Well, let’s put it like this. I was in a pub in Charlotte Street, of all places, in Soho, and a mate of mine had read Nova Express—this was ‘64, ‘65—was talking about this, “You must buy this book,” and started to try and explain to me his interpretation of cut-up and fold-in techniques, which he probably got wrong. And I couldn’t remember the name of the book when I got outside, and then an Express Dairy van from the Express Dairies came by, and I thought, “Express, Nova Express!” And I thought, “That’s what he’s trying to tell us. Random events can have a hidden meaning. We can get messages.” But I don’t think that’s what you see in it, is it?

Burroughs: Oh, exactly. Exactly what I see in it. These juxtapositions between what you’re thinking, if you’re walking down the street, and what you see, that was exactly what I was introducing. You see, life is a cut-up. Every time you walk down the street or look out the window, your consciousness is cut by random factors, and then you begin to realize that they’re not so random, that this is saying something to you.

More after the jump…

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Posted by Oliver Hall
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03.22.2018
09:35 am
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This set of erotic Japanese vintage matchbox covers is charming af
03.09.2018
09:12 am
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Information on the charming set of matchbox covers featured in this post is hard to come by. I know they’re Japanese, any idiot can see that. And I know that their date of origin is almost certainly from before 1950. They stem from a collection of matchbox “labels” that is on Flickr and that has recently become one of my favorite places on the Internet. Vintage Japanese matchbox covers are incredible.

The person who runs that set of images, who uses the Flickr username maraid, explains that the collection had been the passion of the grandfather of a friend, and also that the images date from “1920s-1940s.”

All of the covers feature an image of an unaccompanied woman in a state of undress. There is more than one woman in the series. The images have a very consistent palette of a blue, red, green, and a cream color used mainly for the skin. Sometimes the model is outdoors, but mostly she is indoors. She is never shown doing anything particularly erotic, just hanging out or fooling around with her kitties, that’s was evidently erotic enough back in the day. Some of the images derive from an artist’s studio, as can be seen in the instances in which cans of paint brushes are included.

Before public health drives to reduce smoking, before the advent of vaping, before the advent of widely available lighters (not to mention those fancy windproof lighters), matchboxes were a widely familiar medium. I quit smoking five years ago, and I’ve scarcely lit a match since then, and I don’t carry matches with me anymore (even then I preferred lighters). You’d think that marijuana legalization would do wonders for the matchbox industry, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

These images are signed, which is unusual for matchbox covers from that era—surely an indication that the artist and maybe even the manufacturer recognized these as something special. Most matchbox labels are seen as “just advertising” so there’s seldom information about who did them. Even with the signed initials, I still have no idea who did these. Hats off, in any case.
 

 

 

 
Lots more after the jump…....

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Posted by Martin Schneider
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03.09.2018
09:12 am
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‘Time Machines’: When Coil interviewed Terence McKenna
03.08.2018
06:29 am
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Coil’s hallucinogenic drone album Time Machines is back in print (with Tattvic stickers!) 20 years after its initial release. (I guess, strictly speaking, Time Machines existed as a Coil side project—the credit on the live record is “Coil Presents Time Machines.”) The project, a collection of “4 tones to facilitate travel through time,” was inspired by Coil’s tryptamine friendship with arch-psychonaut Terence McKenna, as John Balance explained to Fortean Times in a 2001 interview:

FT: Psychedelics have become a more apparent theme in the more recent Coil material…

JB: And paradoxically we don’t do them any more! We were so busy doing them before that we didn’t get any records out! After Horse Rotorvator (1987) we were completely psychedelicised for about five years, and hooked up with Terence McKenna - “Coil rule!” he said in an email. It’s a great shame about his death, though I’m sure he wouldn’t see it in those terms, but as a transformation.

FT: He’s with the Machine Elves now.

JB: The self-transforming Machine Elves.

FT: Psychedelics must have transformed the way you approached sound. How do they relate to the Time Machines project?

JB: They did more than that. I was taking magic mushrooms from the age of 11 - a lot, until I was about 18, just at school. And they never did a bad thing, always taught me wonderful things. They taught me how to appreciate music and eventually told me to make music. As I’ve said before, I feel that I was brought up by mushrooms. They are teachers. Time Machines is explicitly to do with combining sounds with psychedelic tones. The Harmaline B molecule, like any other complex alkaloid, is represented as a ring, but when you take DMT, or Yage or Ayahuasca, there’s also a ringing tone, a psychic tone. And with DMT there’s a kind of crumpling sound. So Time Machines was inspired by Terence McKenna’s idea that Time Machines will only ever appear here once they have been made, and will come back to us.

McKenna, like William S. Burroughs, Taylor Mead, and John Giorno, was one of John and Sleazy’s interview subjects during the mid-Nineties; apparently, they were working on a never-realized project called Black Sun Magazine. During the 54-minute interview with Coil below, Terence plays his greatest hits—the alien consciousness encountered by psilocybin users, rave culture, Timewave Zero—but it is a pleasure to hear them as they sounded in the relaxed atmosphere of a Sunday rap with John and Sleazy.

Terence confesses (at 14:26) that he wouldn’t mind having his own Coil-type group:

The reason I like Coil is because it’s so weird. I mean without a doubt—I was talking to somebody yesterday about it who’d never heard of you, and I said “If I were making music, I would make music something like that,” that that’s my idea of what experimental music is supposed to sound like.

Guy could talk. Around the 41-minute mark, McKenna, contemplating the collapse of institutions, offers this hopeful message to the future:

There are many very dark scenarios of scarcity, fascism, disease, infrastructure collapse. But I think that the creativity that can be called upon once the old institutional structures begin to dissolve is going to create… as James Joyce said, “Man will be dirigible”!

I suppose a brave soul could use Time Machines to drop in on the transcendental object at the end of time and see if McKenna was right. Just pack your umbrella and galoshes for the end of the Mayan calendar in the incredible future year 2012. I hear tell it’s going to be a ripsnorter!
 

Posted by Oliver Hall
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03.08.2018
06:29 am
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Booze, tiny bongs & a doll-sized replica of Hunter S. Thompson’s ‘Fear and Loathing’ suitcase


A finger-tip-sized replica of author Hunter S. Thompson famous suitcase as described in the 1971 book, ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream.’ Suitcase by artist Faith G of Etsy store FaiithIcus.
 

“We had two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high powered blotter acid, a salt shaker half full of cocaine, and a whole galaxy of multi-colored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers… and also a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of Budweiser, a pint of raw ether and two dozen amyls. Not that we needed all that for the trip, but once you get locked into a serious drug collection, the tendency is to push it as far as you can.”

—Hunter S. Thompson describing his infamous suitcase full of party favors in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream

As someone who has become a bit of an accidental dollhouse expert over the past few years, even I was caught a bit off guard when I came across these truly unique dollhouse-sized items that will turn your tiny dream home into a proper drug den. Playing with your dolls just got fucking real.

Miniatures artists are always pushing the limits when it comes to how small their art can be. The work I’ve featured in this post includes tiny replicas of all kinds of vice such as 1:12th scale glass bongs (which are sadly not functional, perhaps break it to your dolls gently), pipes, joints, and a bag of coke which comes with a handy doll-sized pre-rolled 100 dollar bill. From a tiny bottle of Jack Daniels to mini-containers of morphine, if your dolls like to party as hard as you do, then this is their lucky day.

However, the award for the greatest dollhouse accessory of all time goes to a young woman by the name of Faith G of Mountain Home, Arkansas. Faith is the artist responsible for a minuscule, spot-on reproduction of author Hunter S. Thompson’s narcotic-filled suitcase famously described in his 1971 book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (the quote, as well as the little suitcase both appear at the top of this post). Below you can see images of the various doll-sized drugs, booze, and boxes full of teeny-tiny sex toys which will run you anywhere from $2.99 for a couple of joints (a bargain!) to $60 bucks for HST’s miniature suitcase. NSFW-ish.
 

Tiny Stoli and Smirnoff vodka bottles by Victoria Kova of Russia-based Etsy store Miniature Victoriya.
 

Little pill bottles by New Hampshire-based store Hales Haven.
 
More after the jump…

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Posted by Cherrybomb
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03.01.2018
10:37 am
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‘Bare-ass naked’: The KLF and the live stage production of Robert Anton Wilson’s ‘Illuminatus!’


Prunella Gee as Eris in ‘Illuminatus!’ (via Liverpool Confidential)

In 1976, the Science Fiction Theatre of Liverpool mounted a 12-hour stage production of Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson’s Illuminatus! Trilogy. It was a fateful event in the life of the show’s set designer, Bill Drummond, for reasons he’s detailed in the Guardian: for one thing, it was in connection with Illuminatus! and its director, Ken Campbell, that Drummond first heard about the eternal conflict between the Illuminati, who may secretly control the world, and the Justified Ancients of Mummu, or the JAMs, who may be agents of chaos disrupting the Illuminati’s plans. (Recall that in Illuminatus!, the MC5 record “Kick Out The Jams” at the behest of the Illuminati, as a way of taunting the Justified Ancients—or so John Dillinger says.)

Before they were known as the KLF, Drummond and Jimmy Cauty called themselves the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, appropriating the name for the eschaton-immanentizing hip-hop outfit they started in 1987. Over the next few years, they seized the pop charts and filled the airwaves with disorienting, Discordian hits, until a day came when you could flip on the TV and find Tammy Wynette singing “Stand By The JAMs,” or Martin Sheen narrating the KLF’s reenactment of the end of The Wicker Man.
 

Bill Drummond in Big in Japan, live at Eric’s (via @FromEricsToEvol)
 
After the Liverpool run of Illuminatus!, Drummond rebuilt his sets for the London production, but he suddenly bailed on the show, walking out hours before it was to open. I guess he missed the nude cameo appearance Robert Anton Wilson describes in Cosmic Trigger, Volume I:

On November 23, 1976—a sacred Discordian holy day, both because of the 23 and because it is Harpo Marx’s birthday—a most ingenious young Englishman named Ken Campbell premiered a ten-hour adaptation of Illuminatus at the Science-Fiction Theatre of Liverpool. It was something of a success (the Guardian reviewed it three times, each reviewer being wildly enthusiastic) and Campbell and his partner, actor Chris Langham, were invited to present it as the first production of the new Cottesloe extension of the National Theatre, under the patronage of Her Majesty the Queen.

This seemed to me the greatest Discordian joke ever, since Illuminatus, as I may not have mentioned before, is the most overtly anarchistic novel of this century. Shea and I quite seriously defined our purpose, when writing it, as trying to do to the State what Voltaire did to the Church—to reduce it to an object of contempt among all educated people. Ken Campbell’s adaptation was totally faithful to this nihilistic spirit and contained long unexpurgated speeches from the novel explaining at sometimes tedious length just why everything government does is always done wrong. The audiences didn’t mind this pedantic lecturing because it was well integrated into a kaleidoscope of humor, suspense, and plenty of sex (more simulated blow jobs than any drama in history, I believe). The thought of having this totally subversive ritual staged under the patronage of H.M. the Queen, Elizabeth II, was nectar and ambrosia to me.

The National Theatre flew Shea and me over to London for the premiere and I fell in love with the whole cast, especially Prunella Gee, who emphatically has my vote for Sexiest Actress since Marilyn Monroe. Some of us did a lot of drinking and hash-smoking together, and the cast told me a lot of synchronicities connected with the production. Five actors were injured during the Liverpool run, to fulfill the Law of Fives. Hitler had lived in Liverpool for five months when he was 23 years old. The section of Liverpool in which the play opened, indeed the very street, is described in a dream of Carl Jung’s recorded on page 23 of Jung’s Memories, Dreams, Reflections. The theatre in Liverpool opened the day Jung died. There is a yellow submarine in Illuminatus, and the Beatles first sang “Yellow Submarine” in that same Liverpool Theatre. The actor playing Padre Pederastia in the Black Mass scene had met Aleister Crowley on a train once.

The cast dared me to do a walk-on role during the National Theatre run. I agreed and became an extra in the Black Mass, where I was upstaged by the goat, who kept sneezing. Nonetheless, there I was, bare-ass naked, chanting “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law” under the patronage of Elizabeth II, Queen of England, and I will never stop wondering how much of that was programmed by Crowley before I was even born.

 

Robert Anton Wilson (via John Higgs)
 
In 2017, 23 years after they split up, Drummond and Cauty reunited as the JAMs. Instead of a new chart-burning house record, they released their first novel…

More after the jump…

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Posted by Oliver Hall
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02.27.2018
10:08 am
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‘Out There’: The Transcendent Life and Art of Burt Shonberg

01shonb.jpg
 
Scene: A medical facility in California, December 1960. Dr. Oscar Janiger, a research professor at the University of California-Irvine, carries out a series of investigations into the impact of Lysergic Acid Diethylamide 25, or LSD to you and me, on the creative processes. Janiger enlisted a variety of artists, writers, and actors as test patients, tasked with discovering the drug’s potency. Among those who signed-up for the trials was an artist named Burt Shonberg who had two sessions with Janiger. During his first session, Shonberg received an injection of 100ml of LSD. This led him to see a hidden structure to the universe where “Humanity is literally hypnotized by the Dream Reality of momentum caused by life (meaning external influences).”

There is an illusion of movement in life which is not the truth. This all relates to so-called time. Time is motion—is evolution. One might say that the Big Criminal in all this is identification. To be apart from the form is the answer to real vision—consciousness. To be awake is to be really alive—to really exist.

March 1961: Janiger carries out a second experiment with Shonberg upping the dose of LSD to 150ml. At first, the artist didn’t think the trip was working but suddenly he was propelled into an experience that led him to believe he had left the clinic and had witnessed an undiscovered world where giants danced in the sky. He quickly understood that this “psychedelic experience” could “possibly reach to actual magic and beyond.”

There are, of course, certain things that one experiences in the transcendental state that are not possible to communicate in the usual way, so new types of parables would have to be created to get the message through. These discoveries I refer to could be insights or revelations into various aspects of the world we live in, nature, the mind itself, the universe, reality, and God.

The experiments radically altered Shonberg and his approach to painting. He continued his own experiments with LSD which eventually led him to believe he was, in fact, a living embodiment of Baphomet—“a divine androgyne, a unification of light and darkness, male and female and the macro and microcosm,” or Aleister Crowley’s pagan, pre-Christian deity, or “the Devil in all his bestial majesty.”
 
06burtshonb.jpg
‘Waking State Consciousness’ (1965).
 
Burt Shonberg was born on March 30, 1933, in Revere, MA. He had a talent for art and started his artistic studies before enlisting in the U.S. Army. After his discharge in 1956, he continued his studies at the Art Center of Los Angeles. He had interest in the occult, UFOs, and horror movies, in particular, Frankenstein’s monster which was a suitable avatar for his life and work as a creature made from disparate elements with no understanding of his true significance. His paintings drew various admirers including Forrest J. Ackerman who signed him to his talent agency and introduced him to the film world. He gained respect and began painting murals for a selection of hip nightclubs and coffee houses including Theodor Bikel’s Unicorn Cafe, the Purple Onion, the Bastille, Cosmo Alley and Pandora’s Box, eventually opening his own venue Café Frankenstein in 1958 at Laguna Beach, CA, where he decorated the walls and windows with startling imagery of his favorite movie monster.

As his reputation grew, Shonberg started a relationship with Marjorie Cameron—widow of the notorious rocket pioneer, occultist, and Crowley-devotee Jack Parsons. Cameron believed she was Babalon incarnate and initiated Shonberg’s interest in magick and the occult. Together they started an artist’s colony called ERONBU—a name composed from “camERON+BUrt.” But Cameron was a “Lady Macbeth figure, with hooks in Burt that penetrated deep,” and their relationship was doomed to failure.

His mural work drew the attention of independent movie-maker Roger Corman who hired Shonberg to paint the family portraits for his film version of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher starring Vincent Price. Corman and Price (an avid art collector) were deeply enamored of Shonberg’s work, which led to more movie, magazine, and album cover commissions in the sixties and seventies.
 
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Vincent Price in front of two of Shonberg’s portraits for Roger Corman’s ‘The Fall of the House of Usher.’
 
Biographer Spencer Kansa was hipped to Burt Shonberg when writing his biography of Marjorie Cameron. Kansa is an acclaimed novelist, writer, and outsider maverick who is ideally positioned to write the first major biography of Shonberg, Out There: The Transcendent Life and Art of Burt Shonberg.

Spenser Kansa: I discovered Burt’s work while I was researching my biography of Marjorie Cameron, Wormwood Star, in Los Angeles in the mid-2000s. I knew they’d been lovers but I got to meet two of Burt’s chums who raved about him and showed me some examples of his incredible artwork. And the more I got to know about him, the more I realized I just had to chronicle his life story once the Cameron biography was completed.

DM: Why do you think Shonberg is important?

SK: Firstly, he’s the pre-eminent psychedelic artist of the 1960s. Plus he’s an intriguing figure who straddles a mid-century cultural nexus that encapsulates the rise of alternative religions, the UFO phenomenon, the Beat Movement, the popularity of monster movies, sixties counterculture and psychedelia. 

DM: How did he meet Marjorie Cameron?

SK: My educated guess would be that they probably met at the Unicorn, L.A.’s first beatnik-era coffeehouse, which stood next door to what became the Whisky a Go Go on the Sunset Strip. Burt designed its décor and menu and Cameron was known to frequent the place, as well as the bookshop upstairs.
 
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‘Self Portrait’ (1958).
 
DM: What was Shonberg’s relationship to drugs? How important were they to him?

SK: His mural work was often quite time-consuming and laborious, and amphetamines helped fuel the necessary energy he needed to complete such undertakings, without losing his concentration. He would stay up for days at a time working on pieces, and his speed usage helps explain why he was so industrious and prolific. His use of hallucinogens, firstly, peyote then LSD, sparked his inner visions, and on canvases like “Seated Figure and a Cosmic Train,” he captured his transcendent state in such a moving and powerful way that many of his contemporaries, who’d also experienced such altered states, instantly related to it. Also, it’s important not to forget that he was able to translate onto the canvas, not only the occult and Crowley-inspired themes he’d been exposed to by Cameron but some rather weighty metaphysical concepts, particularly those deriving from his deep interest in Gurdjieff’s Fourth Way system.
 
More from Spencer Kansa talking about Burt Shonberg, after the jump…

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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02.22.2018
12:40 pm
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