After landing and grabbing a quick lunch at an In-N-Out Burger near LAX, we drop off our bags at our Airbnb, a pretty little poolside cottage a short walk from the Huntington, and begin to tour the city. Everything near and far looks amazing here in Pasadena: the trees, the hills, the restaurants, the architecture. We spend our first evening admiring the flora while walking the grounds beside the Griffith Park Observatory, and peeking in at Skylight Books, where my eye lands upon a new book in the 33 1/3 series on Fugazi’s In on the Kill Taker and Rob Chapman’s Psychedelia and Other Colours. Most of this West Coast ground of being hasn’t yet been “languaged” for me, so it’s a bit like “seeing what Adam had seen on the morning of his creation” (as Huxley says of his experience with mescaline). On the morning of day two, we drive to Santa Monica, landing for brunch at a somewhat mediocre, overpriced crêperie. After just a few short hours here, one detects firsthand the city’s monstrous antinomies, ones Mike Davis evoked so powerfully more than a quarter of a century ago in his book City of Quartz. Walking through Tongva Park, for instance, I observe homeless men and women sleeping on benches beside lush beds of what I soon learn to identify thanks to an app on my cellphone as Lindheimer’s Beeblossom, American Century Plant, Birds-of-Paradise, Tree Aeonium. Out along the Santa Monica Pier, a middle-aged topless man with glistening skin performs a rendition of “People Are Strange” while photographing himself with a selfie stick. Upon our return to Pasadena, we allow ourselves time to swim in a pool and lay in the sun. The day concludes with a dusky stroll through Bungalow Heaven, our wandering met by twin cosmic giggles: an ostentation of peafowl and an outdoor performance by Top 40 rapper Bryce Vine.
I am fully alert and fully capable, I remind myself as I pass through security and board my flight. It isn’t long before I’ve achieved a speed of 520 MPH and an altitude of 37573 ft. Squares of land etched with the roots and branches of rivers and streams pass below me as I chew bits of a caramel-flavored Stroopwafel and read a chapter on Terence McKenna in Tao Lin’s new book Trip: Psychedelics, Alienation and Change. All that I normally encounter—what I on other days might call the “dimension of lived experience”—appears from this height abstracted into patterns that are at once simple, geometrical, and marvelously complex. I inhale deeply; clouds part to reveal circles cut into rectangles and squares of farmland. Further cuts into several of these circles reveal Land-Art Pacmans in tan and lavender and green. Up rise the Rockies, clouds casting shadows onto snow-covered peaks. Beyond that lie patches of brown desert, landscapes of a kind that, prior to this journey, I’ve never seen before. Ancient, intricate ridges and plateaus, like the surface of a rocky brain. Clouds again—and then before I know it, we descend, and holy asphalt, there they are: the gridded blocks of Los Angeles.
A midmorning conversation with a friend helps to enliven me. Magic seems to be in the air these days. When I mention to this friend of mine my upcoming trip to Los Angeles, he in no uncertain terms recommends I visit the Center for Land Use Interpretation (CLUI) and the Museum of Jurassic Technology. Along with research at major West Coast libraries and visits with old friends, several of whom we haven’t seen in more than a decade, Sarah and I hope to tour a number of locations of significance to us throughout the LA basin. This reminds me: I should track down a copy of David King Dunaway’s book, Huxley in Hollywood. Huxley has been on my mind of late. In preparation for my encounter with his papers, currently stored in special collections at UCLA, I’ve been reading his masterpiece on mysticism, The Perennial Philosophy—a book written, in fact, during WWII, when Huxley and his wife Maria were living at Pearblossom Ranch, a five-acre plot in the desert, overlooking the cemetery of LA’s short-lived socialist utopia, the Llano del Rio colony. This, too, is one of the locations I hope to visit in the next two weeks. Onward and upward!
Our journey north having reached its conclusion, on the books as a two-week endurance test, a struggle, self-realization limited, Sarah and I head home to our southern clime, stopping off for the night in a filthy roadhouse inn. The world everywhere lonely and desolate. Trucks pull in their wake as they speed past a fearsome howling void, air torn apart from itself as podcasts blather on, chewing at one’s ears about some dismal bit of capitalist reality. Cops flash constantly in and out of view along the highway in this wretched country. As common a sight as birds along telephone wires. Cultivated heads, beware. I wish to assemble in place of this reality a world where strangers can live amiably with one another, going so far even as to tolerate hitchhiking without fear of harm. And there is in fact some leeway. One can always transform the world as one finds it through guerrilla ontology. Devise new games involving roles for oneself and for others, and voilà: one can see patterns where before there were walls.
Smoke from a neighbor’s fire-pit filled the air. It was a crisp autumn night. I sipped a martini at a local bar, Clover’s references to the Commune reverberating unexpectedly, creating an updated sense of reality. A friend sitting across from me explained the work he does as the head of a local food consortium. When I asked him how I might plug myself in and make myself useful, he directed me to read up on a project called Cooperation Jackson. These are the first steps, I think, toward the creation of the Riot’s successor. Another friend, improving my head in a different way, recommended I watch We Bare Bears. A third friend recalled for me “Transcen-dune-talism,” a spontaneous, off-the-cuff coinage of Clover’s referring to the weedy metaphysics distilled via the famous Frank Herbert novel. Speaking of weedy metaphysics: I spent last night getting stoned in the woods beside a campfire. Owls came and spoke to me. Crickets, mosquitoes. At times, a kind of pressure from all sides. The universe inspires an awe laced with terror. A push back into an attentiveness toward matters of survival. A becoming-responsible again with regard to one’s daily self-reproduction. I sat in a lawn chair thinking, “I haven’t really challenged myself like this since Boy Scouts.” Hiking, collecting wood, assembling a fire on which to cook one’s dinner. All mixed with an ambient apocalypticism. Reality augmented via the nightmare of precarious employment. We’ve arrived at the dawn of the idea of global imperial civil war. How are we to navigate our way in this ever more paranoid environment? Heavy self-scrutiny: perhaps the problem is that I was raised as a second-generation American suburbanite. I lack social skills, street smarts, wilderness literacy. I survive on pizza, french fries, hot dogs, burritos. How do I prepare myself for the Commune? Where does one even begin if one’s hope is to lay the groundwork for collective extraction from the formal economy? I look upward in search of answers, but (for better or worse), what I encounter instead is a night sky filled with stars.
Heads need to spend more time exploring being “out of tune” together. We can begin by playing for one another Harry Partch’s Delusion of the Fury.
I listened as a wonderful time-lag unfurled between the sound of my voice and the act of my speaking. As I sat up from my reveries beside a fire-pit the other night during magic hour, the air rich with a choir of cicadas, something in the experience awakened in me a memory of the drunken interplay of voice and sampled sound in the virtual acoustic space of Blonde Redhead’s “In an Expression of the Inexpressible,” a track I hadn’t blasted in at least a decade.
“You have but one solution,” says the statue, as one’s hand whispers in one’s ear. “You must enter the looking glass — and once there, you must walk.” When the shadow of what looks like a telephone gets a pin in its ear, I wince and shudder. Through the process of identification, I become other. Through a keyhole, an angel captures me with a spinning Hypno Disk. The poet’s eye is pulled as if by gravity, whereas off to the side springs the Cartesian Ego. Cocteau advises, “Mirrors would do well to reflect more before sending back images.” Like in videogames, creation often requires repeating levels. Have I broken too many statues? I work by associative logic and montage. A small voice beside the pounding of my heart says, “I can’t think, I can’t think!” against the unsynced clapping of a crowd. René Gilson’s assessment captures the essentials: “That which reveals itself is a vision of the invisible.” One must “dream the film subjectively,” by identifying it with one’s own experiences. One may think of it as the equivalent of sensing invisible tapestries with one’s dead antennae. But sometimes one’s own experience is just one’s own experience, as when my head goes nuts to Mariah’s “Hana Ga Saitara.”