Constellations of thought rotate around like the cover of Led Zeppelin III or the wheel of a rotary telephone, an object common to domestic space during the era of my childhood, replaced over time by cellphones. Thinking of the Led Zeppelin album, I kneel beside my unalphabetized, unsystematized wall of vinyl whispering, “Come out, come out, wherever you are!”
There it is, a psychedelic thing of beauty. “Visual Creations by Zacron,” reads the circular stamp beside the credits on the inner sleeve. I guess this device I’m imagining is a volvelle, a wheel chart featuring concentric circles with pointers. Volvelles were used in medieval Europe to calculate the phases of the sun and moon. “While at the Royal Academy Schools,” I learn, “Zacron produced a rotating book” called One Line and a Box.
Users could ask the book “questions about their interaction with the environment,” as they might using devices like the Tarot or the I Ching. From this earlier work, Zacron derived the idea for the design of Led Zeppelin III. My courses begin to shape up into elaborate nested allegories.
I listen to recordings from several weeks ago of friends and I jamming with guitars, laptops, effects pedals, and modular synths. Amazing how it all comes together into a synchronous spontaneous composition. Noise band as groupuscule, noise band as psychedelic assemblage. Isn’t that what John Sinclair had in mind? “A rock & roll band,” he wrote, “is a working model of the post-revolutionary production unit. The members of a rock & roll family or tribe are totally interdependent and totally committed to the same end — they produce their music collectively, sharing both the responsibility and the benefits of their work equally. […]. It’s time to turn on tune in and take over! Up against the ceiling, motherfucker!” Will Alexander helps in this regard, reminding me of exercises for “turning on,” like the ones specified in Edward de Bono’s book Lateral Thinking. Most importantly, he reminds me, “Leaps can be made.” Alexander calls the technique “flexible ambulation through one’s mental catacombs” (Singing in Magnetic Hoofbeat, p. 13). Through him I learn about the Cuban painter Wilfredo Lam, influenced by his godmother, Matonica Wilson, a Santeria priestess, healer, and sorceress who performed rites dedicated to African orishas. One drifts a bit, breathing, open to new experience. Voices respond by firmly chanting, “Aye!” as they do in the Supergrass song, “Coffee in the Pot.”
Let us try to see as others see. Try, try! Unforeseen outlooks, hidden powers, power on. Let us become creative in our capacity to heal. Bruce Mau’s advice also seems applicable here: “Take field trips. The bandwidth of the world is greater than that of your TV set, or the Internet, or even a totally immersive, interactive, dynamically rendered, object-oriented, real-time, computer graphic-simulated environment.”
An ant explores the surface of a sunlit outdoor table. I sit across from it observing and writing on my in-laws’ back patio. A neighbor waters a garden next door as I read Erik Davis’s review of the “Hippie Modernism” exhibition for Frieze magazine, written two years ago, when the show was up at BAMPFA. This is the show that inspired the course I taught this past spring. There’s an elegance to the review’s list of the show’s achievements. My eyes dwell for a time on an image included in the review, a digital reproduction of a 1965 painting by Isaac Abrams called Hello Dali.
I see echoes of the painting as I look over at flowers in my in-laws’ garden. I let this work motivate me to complete my project. I watch videos, like the radical Italian design group Superstudio’s “Supersurface: An Alternative Model for Life on the Earth,” a film of theirs from 1972.
Balm applied, the goad to work kicks in. I note down books I need to order, like Art Boericke and Barry Shapiro’s Handmade Houses: A Guide to the Woodbutcher’s Art. After a breakfast of homemade waffles and orange juice, I burrow away and watch Davis’s recent talk, “A Brief History of Queer Psychedelia,” where I learn about Gerald Heard’s involvement with the Mattachine Society, one of the earliest gay rights organizations in the United States.
Isocrates was the pseudonym that Heard used for the articles he published in the society’s magazine, the Mattachine Review. He also wrote articles for ONE, another early gay publication, under the pseudonym D.B. Vest. Davis also unveils a weird book of Heard’s written in the late 1960s called AE: The Open Persuader published under the pseudonym Auctor Ignotus (or maybe W Dorr Legg). Tartarus Press published a collection called Dromenon: The Best Weird Stories of Gerald Heard in the early 2000s. That, too, is a book worth tracking down. By midafternoon, elements have clustered together to cause me to wonder at the overlapping histories of psychedelics and ritual magic. The famous LSD chemist Augustus Owsley Stanley III noted that his early experiences with acid coincided, for instance, with his reading of The Kybalion. Most of the first-generation Western psychedelic crowd took up at points with Eastern tantric currents. Some folks also explored Western pagan and esoteric traditions. This outburst of spiritual yearning and experimentation remains for me in its utter mysteriousness a source of fascination. In my state of unknowing about it, the topic seems rich with narrative potential, like there’s a story there waiting to be told. Like the fate of Pedro Salvadores in the Borges story of that name, it strikes me as a symbol of something I am about to understand, but never quite do.
Clouds appear puffy and white with shades of gray the way they do in the paintings of Turner and Constable above the stack of three-level Victorians at the corner of Cowcross and St. John. To sit at a table under an awning at a café here in London is basically to resign oneself to inhalation of secondhand smoke. I see little evidence of Glastonbury and Windsor and the other acid-fueled free festivals of the 1970s remaining here in England’s cultural DNA. The same goes for Madchester and late-80s / early-90s rave culture. The neoliberal counter-reformation has wiped clear near about every last trace of these consciousness-expanding influences, allowing Her Majesty’s loyal subjects to throw themselves whole-hog again into their old habit of killing one another with cigarettes and drink.
Sunlight reflected off passing cars on the street below travels in a ghostly manner across the ceiling of the flat, short fleeting flashes matched with sounds of engines as I lie on a couch beside the window. Sarah and J. type at their laptops. Air releases as one of them twists the cap from a carbonated beverage. I try to open myself to these sounds. I try to welcome them as aspects of experience. Before long, conditions change: J. rinses a dish in the sink, Sarah leafs through a catalogue, the sun passes behind some clouds, and suddenly I’m up on my feet, I’m stretching, trying to release tension from my neck and shoulders. What is the source of this tension? Blocked kundalini energy — energy I’ve awakened, trapped along its journey up my spine? Perhaps it’s just pain related to the shitty mattresses on which I’ve been sleeping these past few weeks. Rather than dwell on the discomfort, I hop over to the Tate Britain, where I wander around listening to Third Ear Band’s Alchemy while viewing works by Ithell Colquhoun and William Blake. Beautiful carved objects greet me by day’s end — ornate wooden chessboards, masks, figures, and statues at a West African restaurant near the British Museum. Dining alone in close proximity to neighboring tables creates a slight sense of awkwardness, as I know not where to direct my gaze, other than at the art on the walls.
Sarah and I rode up to Camden Town last night to see Soweto Kinch perform one of my favorite albums, Pharaoh Sanders’s Karma, at the Jazz Cafe, in honor of the album’s fiftieth anniversary. It was a stunning night, the music heady enough to generate “eyeball movies” all on its own — eidetic glyphs and pulsing pyramids — without need of any chemical assistance. Yet the show’s good vibes didn’t last long. I slept poorly throughout the night, waking several times from panic-filled dreams, one involving an angry giant pushing a cabin off its foundations, causing the structure to tumble down a ravine. Within a few hours of this dream, Facebook announced its plan to launch a new global currency called Libra. In the hours of the morning before the key fit the lock, however, I wandered out by bus and by train into the suburbs of South London to view an exhibition called “Brilliant Visions: Mescaline, Art, Psychiatry” at Bethlem Museum of Mind.
Breakfast at a café near the Farringdon Station, an egg sandwich with fatty bacon and cheese on a panini. Trudging through Jason Louv’s deeply uneven John Dee and the Empire of Angels, I find myself wondering whether Enochian magic isn’t just a viper’s nest full of power-tripping Christofascists. Before I become too entrenched in this opinion, though, my flatmates intervene, commandeering my person for a group trip to the Kathy Acker exhibition at the ICA.