I myself was a latecomer, fresh on the scene thanks to a Craigslist ad posted once upon a morning in the spring of 2013, says the Narrator. Sarah had taken a job at a university in town, and we needed a place to rent. By then, Shady had lost some of its fame. Much had changed. The garage behind the Easter house had already been torn down years before our arrival. All that remained was its stone foundation. And Mitch himself had moved away to nearby Kernersville. In all likelihood, then, the story of Drive-In Studio might have gone undetected, might have remained part of Shady’s secret history, hidden away, occulted by the passage of time, had it not been for Frank, our landlord: a goateed documentarian with a film degree from UNC School of the Arts, fixture of sorts in the local music scene, and amateur collector of fossils. Frank and some fellow students at UNCSA had been part of an artists’ collective that had squatted an old, deactivated meat-packing plant in the late 1990s, on what was then the edge of downtown. Through legal and financial machinations that, I admit, were never entirely clear to me, Frank and his fellow squatters had achieved the impossible. Despite the odds, they’d gained control of the building; they’d transformed it into some other kind of thing. There it stood, suddenly, teeth and claws gleaming: an art space and show venue called The Werehouse.
Among the more fearsome of the precursors to what follows is John Dee, the great Renaissance spymaster, court magician and inventor of the British Empire. Filmmaker Derek Jarman is just one of several artists to have made much of Dee in recent decades. In fact, Dee appears repeatedly throughout Jarman’s oeuvre. We first meet Dee, for instance, in Jarman’s 1978 film Jubilee, where he operates as a kind of early-modern Doc Brown. At Her Majesty’s behest, the Dee of that film works up a spell that sends Queen Elizabeth I 400 years into the future–i.e., to London in the age of punk. And what begins in Jubilee continues in the films that follow, with Dee cropping up again the very next year by way of Shakespeare’s famous magician character Prospero. The latter wields a wand modeled upon Dee’s Monas Hieroglyphica in Jarman’s adaptation of The Tempest (1979). Nor is this the last of Dee’s appearances in Jarman’s catalog. He also turns up as muse, for example, in a film named after Dee and Kelley’s famous scrying experiments, The Angelic Conversation (1987). Nor was Jarman alone in thinking highly of Dee. The latter captured the imaginations of several of Jarman’s contemporaries. To mention just two examples: Dee appears as a character in Michael Moorcock’s Gloriana, or The Unfulfill’d Queen; and comics artist Alan Moore wrote a libretto about him. For Jarman’s own reflections on his interest in Dee and in related topics like alchemy, see his memoir Dancing Ledge.
I eat fresh whipped cream off the tip of a ripe strawberry. I lick the chocolate shell of a vanilla popsicle. The subject who writes is a series of appetites, while also being one who breathes, listens, senses, and perceives. There is an erotic charge to the text; the latter is an extension of love’s body. Whispered amid the frequencies of the official narrative: the secret history.
Secret history: like the one Greil Marcus tracks in Lipstick Traces. That’s what a friend sees me working toward in these trance-scripts. The “Gnostic” in me is drawn to the detective role entailed by such a tale: the “postmodern sleuth” who explores the maze of the contemporary, ever-skeptical of the machinations of the simulation, the Spectacle, the construct. The Gnostic responds to History with cosmic paranoia. History is a Text upon which one exercises an hermeneutic of suspicion. Or in the best versions of Gnosticism, as in the work of philosopher Ernst Bloch, an hermeneutic of hope, with dream or Imagination the absent Messiah deconcealing itself across time. The conservative philosopher Eric Voegelin warns that hope of this sort prompts a reckless utopianism, a desire to “immanentize the eschaton.” For a Christian like Voegelin, the eschaton is a day of judgment, whereas for the Gnostic, it’s the resurrection into joy and the dawn of a New Age. The Catholic trembles while the Gnostic revolts. I think of Allen Ginsberg on the back cover of his book Kaddish, asserting the “triumphancy of Self over the mind-illusion mechano-universe of un-feeling Time.” By “Self,” Ginsberg means the defenseless, open, original self we all share in common, not the mere individual of liberal ideology, the monad disaggregated from the whole. Time is revealed as mind-illusion as we conduct our secret history. Events share affinities and those affinities arrange themselves into stories. The best Gnostics are the ones who become bricoleurs.
My, my, hey, hey — what a difference a difference makes! My intuiting self longs like a shadow toward Rob Young’s book Electric Eden, at the top of my list of summer reads. Like Greil Marcus’s Lipstick Traces, Young’s book tracks and reveals a “secret history” spoken across the ages by musicians and poets, transmitters of an occult folk wisdom tradition. Nature, Earth, the ground of being transubstantiated into song and verse. As Peter Murphy wrote, the book “constructs a new mythography out of old threads, making antiquity glow with an eerie hue.” All I can do for now, however, is anticipate what lies ahead. My mind scans its environment searching for a clue. Somewhere amid these texts and artifacts, I think to myself, lies a key to unlock growth or expansion of the gameworld, and thus an altered state of being. Clouds that open and show riches. Before I read further, however, I need acclimate myself to the indecision of the moment. Existential indirection. Toward who, what, when, and where should I orient myself, and why? Toward love, toward counterculture through the ages, toward reconciliation of self and world — love everywhere. Another task of mine this summer is to read and write about Antonin Artaud as translated by Black Mountain potter and poet M.C. Richards. My hope is that this will lead me to a theory of happenings and participatory theater of the kind practiced by groups like the Merry Pranksters and the Diggers. (Charles Perry, by the way, provides an insightful account of psychedelic experience — one of the better “general theories” in the style of Huxley. For Perry, “LSD and mescaline suppress the mind’s ability to discriminate according to levels of importance…and to form persisting notions about reality based on them” [The Haight-Ashbury, p. 253]. Perry’s take on the Diggers informs my ongoing study of psychedelic utopianism, another of the projects I’m working on this summer. Among the Diggers themselves, the ones to research are Emmett Grogan, Peter Coyote, and Peter Berg.)