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inkwell.vue.214 : Martin Torgoff: "Can't Find My Way Home"
permalink #0 of 160: David Gans (tnf) Wed 19 May 04 15:47
    


Can't Find My Way Home: America in the Great Stoned Age, 1945-2000 is an epic
work about the American experience of illicit drugs that combines
autobiography, oral history, journalism, and narrative cultural history.  We
are pleased to welcome the author, Martin Torgoff, to the inkwell!

Born in New York and raised on the north shore of Long Island, Martin Torgoff
became an Associate Editor at Grosset & Dunlap Publishers in New York in
1975, where he specialized in illustrated books about the arts,
entertainment, and American popular culture.  In 1980, he published a best-
selling book about Elvis Presley and his family, Elvis: We Love You Tender
(Delacorte/Dell, 1980). Torgoff began writing for many national magazines;
his stories on such diverse personalities as Jack Nicholson, Yoko Ono, Mel
Gibson, Jeremy Irons, Joan Didion, and Don King began appearing on the cover
of Andy Warhol's Interview, where he became a Contributing Editor.  In the
early 1980s, Torgoff's interests turned to film and television, and he began
writing, directing and producing long-form pieces about musical and pop
cultural subjects that have appeared on CBS, HBO/Cinemax, public television,
and other cable channels.  In 1986, Torgoff published American Fool: The
Roots and Improbable Rise of John Cougar Mellencamp (St. Martin's Press),
which was awarded the Deems Taylor Prize by the American Society of
Composers, Authors and Publishers.  In 1987, he wrote "Elvis '56," a
critically acclaimed hour-long film about that single meteoric year in
Presley's life.  From 1999 to 2001 he worked as a producer in New York for
CNN Worldbeat, which covered the international music scene.

In 1992, Torgoff began Can't Find My Way Home: America in the Great Stoned
Age, 1945-2000, a work of nonfiction about the American experience with
illicit substances during the entire postwar era that consumed the next
twelve years of his life.  The book began as Torgoff's attempt to understand
his own and his generation's journey through the experience of drugs, and
expanded into the epic tale of how drugs went from being the province of the
avant-garde/underground/ criminal fringe to being a mainstream experience
that one in four Americans have come to know, and how drugs have profoundly
altered the cultural landscape of America.

*

The interview is being conducted by Gary Greenberg, who characterizes himself
as "a psychotherapist and recreational journalist."  Gary lives in
Connecticut with his wife and son and a shifting population of domesticated
animals, which until last night numbered seventeen. But when he got home from
a hard day of headshrinking he was greeted by six-year-old Joel bearing news
of a dead chicken.  And not just news.  Joel was bearing the chicken itself,
on a trash can lid, not unlike the head of John the Baptist, only without the
blood and the apocalyptic overtones.  In the last bit of daylight, Gary dug a
hole while Joel held the hen and examined it thoroughly for wounds.  They
committed it to the earth together, and then Joel placed three rocks -- well,
actually two rocks and a cinderblock -- on the grave, "so the animals won't
dig it up," Joel said.

Gary writes on drugs whenever he can.  His articles and essays, which are
also about science and bioethics, and occasionally about popular culture,
have appeared in Harper's, Mother Jones, Rolling Stone, The New Yorker,
Discover, and Tin House, among others.  His work has been anthologized in
Best American Science and Nature Writing, but the piece he likes the best is
the first one he had published: "In the Kingdom of the Unabomber," a memoir
of his two-year-long correspondence with Ted Kaczynski, which appeared in
McSweeney's in Fall 1999.
  
inkwell.vue.214 : Martin Torgoff: "Can't Find My Way Home"
permalink #1 of 160: Gary Greenberg (gberg) Wed 19 May 04 19:09
    
OK> I'll make this quick and easy. Everyone who cares about drugs should 
read this book. Its singular virtue, aside from the fact that it tells a 
huge chunk of the American Century story from a unique angle, is that it 
dares to start with the preimse that drug use exists and that while it can 
be dangerous and even deadly, it's part of our everday lives-maybe as 
consumersof drugs but definitely as consumers of culture. You don't, in 
other words, have to have ever smoked a joint or dropped a tab or snorted 
up a line to have partaken of drug consciousness. This book tells us not 
only how that consciousness has become sedimented in our society and 
embedded in each of us, but also goes some way to explaining why this has 
happened in the strange and often perverse way that it has, i.e., why 
there is a drug war. 

When you read that last sentence, you'll see why it's a good thing that 
Martin, and not I, wrote "Can't Find My Way Home." 

THere's a nice piece at www.martintorgoff.com/book-1.html that tells a 
little of the 14-year saga that writing this book was. But boil it down, 
Martin. What in the world possessed you to undertake this job?
  
inkwell.vue.214 : Martin Torgoff: "Can't Find My Way Home"
permalink #2 of 160: Martin Torgoff (martintorgoff) Wed 19 May 04 20:16
    
At the age of thirty seven, I was coming to the end of a long run on
drugs that spanned some twenty years, beginning wit the first time I
ever smoked pot as a sixteen year old high school junior, turned on by
my sister in the basement of my parents suburban Long Island home on
November 4, 1968 (I remember the date very well because Nixon was
elected president and I could hear the election returns filtering down
from the den upstairs as I was getting high). My early years using
marijuana and experimenting with LSD and mescaline were blissful,
transcendental, truly mind-expanding--psychedelic in every sense of the
word. When it ended 20 years later, I was caught in the throes of
addiction and alcoholism. My universe had gone completely dark and it
had become obvious that if I didn't completely change my life, it
wasn't going to be worth living. 

Sometime after the first year of my sobriety, I began to take a hard
look at my transit through drugs, from substances that had opened me in
new ways and expanded my life, to drugs like cocaine and alcohol that
shut me down, isolated me, and shrunk my world smaller and smaller. It
seemed that I had lived through something very significant, and the
more I thought about it, the more I realized that in many ways my story
was really a typical one. While the majority of my generation
certainly never became full-bore alcoholics or addicts, we had all
passed the same drugs in a demographic wave, in the process changing
the country.  So the book began as an attempt to come to grips, first,
with my own story, but set against the backdrop of my generation, and
the place where I wanted to begin was to come to an understanding of
how the marijuana that had so changed my life had gotten to that
suburban basement in 1968. And so I began to delve into the whole
American experience of illicit drugs, but as seen from a cultural
vantage point. It was like diving off a cliff...  
  
inkwell.vue.214 : Martin Torgoff: "Can't Find My Way Home"
permalink #3 of 160: Gary Greenberg (gberg) Thu 20 May 04 02:51
    
But you could have written a memoir of addiction and recovery; or you 
could have stayed focused on pot and answered your question about how it 
came to be in your basement more directly and without the difficulties you 
took on by doing a social history; or you could have done nothing at all. 
So why the historical approach? What is it in your expereience that made 
you say to yourself that the way to answer that question was to get into 
the way back machine? 
  
inkwell.vue.214 : Martin Torgoff: "Can't Find My Way Home"
permalink #4 of 160: Martin Torgoff (martintorgoff) Thu 20 May 04 07:32
    
It was the whole cultural package around getting high at the time that
seemed so critical to the experience. Just thinking back to that
virgin pot moment in the basement, there was so much more embroidery
involved that just the substance itself. At the time, fall of '68, the
"counterculture," as it came to be known, was only a few years old--it
was still pre-Woodstock, only a couple of years past events like the
Acid Tests and the Be In. My sister had brought it all down there to
the basement, where she'd created her own little world. Batik and
macrame. Incense. An old Persian rug. Posters and black lights. A
hookah. Mandalas. Her all-important little stereo with its tiny
speakers and FM hook up.

Of course, it was the music that launched me. I don't think I've ever
really recovered from that first Beatles song, "Blue Jay Way." What
became instantaneously obvious was that the Beatles were creating music
for the edification of the stoned mind (my stoned mind!) and I had
entered the santctm sanctorum merely by being high and listening to it.
Then she put on Sgt. Peppers from beginning to end and each song
exploded inside my head. It was so beautiful and it made me so happy I
remember having to fight back tears. And then the onset of munchies,
which she expertly slaked with Ritz crackers and ice cream--scrumptious
beyond description. And finally wandering upstairs tto the den, where
my father was watching the election returns, a scowl spread out over
his face at the prospect of Nixon's ascencion (my dad was Kennedy
Democrat). The feeling of that room was very different--the panelling,
my mother's needlepoint. He looked at me and said, "Where have you
been?" "Downstairs, doing my homework," I told him--the first of many
lies. From the beginning I knew I had to write about my father and his
place in this story--that somehow the challenge was chart how the use
of drugs had evolved from his time to my time, which was primarily a
tale of cultural change which would entail a historical approach: what
had happened from the time he'd come home from the Second Waorld War to
create what was going on in that basement. The answer was in a book
that was also downstairs, Kerouac's On the Road. There it all was, laid
out poetically...
  
inkwell.vue.214 : Martin Torgoff: "Can't Find My Way Home"
permalink #5 of 160: Gary Greenberg (gberg) Thu 20 May 04 10:07
    
>"Downstairs, doing my homework,"

Well, in a sense I suppose you were doing just that. 

Teh way that you frame your boook as a response to your father, and here 
I'll quote the book
        "You try and tell me how it all happened and what it all meant. Go 
        ahead becaues I don't understand any of it, and I don't think I 
        ever will. Go ahead and tell me: What did *any* of it really 
        mean?"
is wry and touching, but it also gets to the same question. One of the 
chief complaints about drugs is that they are antisocial, that they are a 
withdrawal of attention from the outer world to the inner. You write about 
the way that Tim Leary thought that his "Turn on, tune in, drop out" had 
been misconstrued as a call to this kind of withdrawal into Gnosis. But it 
seems that it was all there for you at once--the inseparability of the 
inner and outer worlds. Which is sort of impressive for a 
twelve-year-old, no matter how precocious he is. I think that to insist, 
sa you do, that drug use be seen in its full context, that indeed there is 
a full context in which to see it,  in itself goes a long way to answering 
your father. But I wonder. What answer do you think this book gives him? 
ARe you satisfied with that?
  
inkwell.vue.214 : Martin Torgoff: "Can't Find My Way Home"
permalink #6 of 160: Martin Torgoff (martintorgoff) Thu 20 May 04 11:29
    
Some of the elements that makes drugs so challenging to write about
from any point of view are the many paradoxes and contradictions. There
are patterns, but for every trend there's always a counter-trend, and
one man's heaven easily turns out to be another's hell. The observation
that drugs draws attention from the outer to inner world is a grteat
example: it's true and/or not. The heroin that the beboppers used
certainly allowed them to withdraw and turned them inside, but it also
turned them toward each other; there was powerful social and cultural
bonding in their isolation: us against the world. The marijuana that we
smoked, the psychedelics we used, turned us inward and opened up whole
new worlds, seperated us from the rest of the world, and also created
bonding within our community. It served many needs and purposes.
However, I think that as drugs became a mass consumer culture somewhere
in the 70s and the drugs began to change to things like cocaine and
ludes and booze, all of the cultural contexts of drugs began to change
as well. It became much less about US and much more about ME (that's
what happens when lawyers and accountants and stockbrokers are getting
high, I guess). I suppose if I could boil the whole book down to a
single line in answer to the father's question, it would be, Drugs
changed this country as certainly as they alter an individual's
consciousness, and the country changed in as many ways, positive and
negative, as there are drugs and individuals combusting in drug scenes
at any given time or place. That's why I believe the subject is worthy
of such attention. If any of that comes across in the book, I'm
satisfied with it and feel that if I haven't fully answered his
question, at least I've given it my best whack...
  
inkwell.vue.214 : Martin Torgoff: "Can't Find My Way Home"
permalink #7 of 160: Gary Greenberg (gberg) Thu 20 May 04 11:56
    <scribbled by gberg Thu 20 May 04 14:20>
  
inkwell.vue.214 : Martin Torgoff: "Can't Find My Way Home"
permalink #8 of 160: Gary Greenberg (gberg) Thu 20 May 04 14:20
    

 Too bad your father didn't live to see his question answered with such
 care. Even if he didn't agree or even get it, he;'d have had to be
 impressed with the attempt.


 This idea that drugs and drug use is a variegated experience is another
 one of those truths that ought to be truisms, that a guy as smart as
 Martin Torgoff shouldn't even have to spend time saying. But as it
 sstands, we need exactly this, someone to say that heroin is really
 different from marijuana and tht heroin for one guy is differnt from
 heroin for another guy.

 Much of your book is dedicated to elucidating these differences, and one
 area where you really succeed is in talkibng about music. I found the
 discussion of heroin and bebop fascinating,a nd I was talking with a 
music
 professor about this part of your book. He said, "Well, sometimes I think 
that
 heroin was to jazz musicians what steroids are to athletes. No drug is
 going to make me into Barry Bonds or John Coltrane, but there's no 
telling
 whatthey'll do for someone like that." What do you think of this idea? 
And another question: Is it possible that bebop is somehow structurrally 
related to heroin, that the musical form is an expression of the drug's 
effect?
  
inkwell.vue.214 : Martin Torgoff: "Can't Find My Way Home"
permalink #9 of 160: Martin Torgoff (martintorgoff) Thu 20 May 04 16:38
    
Yeah, it is really too bad my dad didn't live to see the book
finished. He died in '94, just as I was first getting into the writing,
and his death really knocked me off the rails for the better part of a
year. But who's to say; if it's true that we carry around the people
we love in our hearts forever, he's here right now as I type this.

The bebop and heroin topic is endlessly fascinating. Although the part
in my book about jazz is decocted down to the story of Bird and Jackie
MacLean, one of his proteges, and does not get too deeply into it, I
discussed this very question about the drug and its relation to the
music itself with many people, from critics like Gary Giddins and Ira
Gitler, to guys who were producers working with heroin addicted
musicians like Orin Keepnews (in his case Bill Evans). And I read all
the memoirs by the jazzers and the books about them, of course, in
addition to getting into it with musicians like Jackie. Not
surprisingly, very few of them agree about it. My own analysis is that
the relationship was powerful, but not in ways that are obvious. You
simply can not have a situation, wherein a large majority of the
significant artists from 1948-1958 were using drugs together, and it
not have a huge impact. It was truly a golden era that produced a large
and rich body of classic jazz--how could a bunch of guys have
accomplished that when they were always strung out or on the nod or in
some state of crisis? Well, they didn't actually play much music when
they were nodding, of course--they couldn't have. They played it after
taking a shot and getting "straight," with enough of the drug in their
system, and at the right time, so that they were quite functional (they
tried their best to time it that way). I don't believe that dope ever
gave any jazz musician better chops (although many who followed Charlie
Parker might have until they learned otherwise); what it did do,
however, was relax them, allow them to detach completely from all cares
in the world and concentrate, whether it was on practicing, gigging,
writing, arranging and recording. Most people wouldn't understand
that--heroin as a working tool?--but  it was insulation and armor, and
in that lifestyle, at that time, it worked very well as such (until
they hit bottom). Can you hear it in the music itself? I think it comes
through the most in the ballads. Just listen to Miles' cover of Monk's
"Round Midnight" that he did with the famous quintet in '56. Miles was
newly clean and had just passed through four years of hard addiction
and every player on the stand with him was strung out at the time.
There's an aching, desolate, lonely poignancy to that music--a dark
outlaw quality, seductive and subterranean, of people walking that
jagged edge of night. To me it's a set piece about dope.      
  
inkwell.vue.214 : Martin Torgoff: "Can't Find My Way Home"
permalink #10 of 160: Gary Greenberg (gberg) Fri 21 May 04 05:27
    
Another quote from Can't Find My Way Home:
"Perhaps it was fitting that when Charlie "Bird" Parker arrived at JP 
McGregor STudio in Hollywood on Monday July 29, 194346, to record his 
version of Lover Man... he was so strung out he was barely able to stand."

I remember when Garcia was like that, only of course it was not in the 
privacy of a studio. I think it was the Well's own 
Richard Gehr who called him "palpably smacked" and the "leaning tower of 
Garcia," and as usual for Gehr, the description was right on the money. 
That was at the point that whatever clarity the drug had given him had 
been compromised--maybe by something as mundane as poor oxygenation of his 
brain, maybe by something even worse, like a mini-stroke, maybe just by 
his sheer weariness of being Jerry GArcia, who knows?--and to follow him 
on one of those excursions was to run into one blind alley after another, 
the monotony of failure. One night at Oakland Coliseum, must have been in 
'94, he turned the first break in Fire on the MOuntain into a 5 or 6 
minute ordeal of tangled rifflets. It was heartbreaking and chilling.

And yet--another quote:
"The myth of "Lover Man" whould therefore always ential at its core the 
image of a righteous dope fiend and the romantic notoin that somehow 
heroin and all the pain and melancholy and self-obliteration it involved 
might fuel and authenticate and ensure the creative growth of the music 
called bebop. It was a peculiar and compelling muth that would provide 
heroin with a dark glamour, along with an irresistible mystique of 
creativity and freedom."

I am very curious abour your use of the word "myth" here. Myth has this 
double meaning--on the one hand a folly, on the other a powerful narrative 
that without delivering the scinetific truth still delivers meaning. What 
exactly do you intend here? To debunk this story? To validate it? Both? 
Neither? 
  
inkwell.vue.214 : Martin Torgoff: "Can't Find My Way Home"
permalink #11 of 160: Gary Greenberg (gberg) Fri 21 May 04 05:28
    
And would somebody see if they can get Gary Lambert here before we stop 
talking about jazz?
  
inkwell.vue.214 : Martin Torgoff: "Can't Find My Way Home"
permalink #12 of 160: Martin Torgoff (martintorgoff) Fri 21 May 04 08:01
    
This image of Garcia is so sad; is there anything more heartbreaking
in the world that a junkie spiraling inexorably downward?  It reminds
me very much of a scene that Nat Hentoff described about a particular
night at a club in '55 when he went to see Charlie Parker jam with
Mingus and Bud Powell, and Bird and Bud were in such bad shape and
playing such bad music that they began insulting each other onstage.
Mingus stormed off, followed by Bud, leaving Bird there by himself--a
lost soul in the stagelights, "disappearing irredeemably into himself."
These moments are like epiphanies of addiction, in which affliction is
ultimately revealed as a thief, first and foremost: of promise,
resources, time, relationships, health, and in some cases, life itself.
I wrote about Bird to illustrate the Myth of the Righteous Dopefiend
because to me, as the prototypical polydrug abuser/addict/genius artist
of the American Century, he founded it. What's truly astounding is how
faithfully the paradigm replicates in successive generations of the
rock era. Were Lennon, Clapton, Garcia, the Allmans, Janis (need I
continue to enumerate?) consciously following the path trod by Bird
when they became junkies? Was there romance to it? You bet, albeit of a
perverse kind. I could have just as easily called the phenomenon the
Romance of Self-Destruction. Your definitions of "myth" apply
perfectly: folly but also a powerful narrative that delivers meaning
without scientific truth. If nothing else, addiction provides tales of
epic proportions (perhaps the one thing left in the end that has
meaning, which is precisely why addicts tell their stories in recovery:
its their basic truth). And so, yes, I sought to both validate and
debunk the myth. As Huncke once told me, "If there wasn't romance
there, none of us would have started fucking with it in the first
place." 

By the way, just a strange footnote: Garcia once watched me pass out.
I guess it was an od of sorts. Having ingested a large quantity of
hashish along with various and sundry other substances, I went to see
the Dead play the Nassau Coliseum (must have been '72 or thereabouts)
and was up front, right against the stage, when I went out like a
light. When I came to I was laying flat on my back. The crowd had made
a circle around me, and when I looked up, he was staring directing down
at me, with this expression that said, "Oh, Jeez. There goes another
one."    
  
inkwell.vue.214 : Martin Torgoff: "Can't Find My Way Home"
permalink #13 of 160: Gary Greenberg (gberg) Fri 21 May 04 09:08
    
But of course romance has two meanings also: emptyheaded love and awed 
awareness of the sublime. The hard thing to elucidate here is the role of 
the drug consciousness in the creative endeavor, something people have 
been working at understanding at elast since deQuincey wrote his 
confessions, which are, of course, both a denunciation of and a paean to 
opium. One of the great benefits of making distinctions between drugs, and 
also of acknoweldgin the significance of set and setting, is that it can 
help untangle this dialectic between drug-assisted creation and 
destruction. In your book, you shift nicely back and forth between events 
that were related in time, like hte psychedelic scene in SF and the 
ampthetamine/proto-punk scene in NYC, giving a sense of how drugs were 
working very differnet kinds of transformations and distortions in the 
same country at he same time. 

I wonder, though. Do you think that drugs have a signature form of  
creativity that is inherent to them? Do you think, in other words, that he 
aesthetic difference between the Grateful Dead and the Velvet Underground 
is related to the difference between acid and speed? Can there be an 
aesthetics of drug-assisted creativity?
  
inkwell.vue.214 : Martin Torgoff: "Can't Find My Way Home"
permalink #14 of 160: Gary Greenberg (gberg) Fri 21 May 04 09:09
    <scribbled by gberg Fri 21 May 04 13:27>
  
inkwell.vue.214 : Martin Torgoff: "Can't Find My Way Home"
permalink #15 of 160: Martin Torgoff (martintorgoff) Fri 21 May 04 11:54
    
Someone once said (I think it was Marianne Williamson and I'm sure she
got it from somewhere else) that the definition of a miracle is a
change in perception. Sounds trite, but contained within it is the
spiritual awakening, and it also really explains those
miraculous-seeming aspects of drugs that can make them so attractive,
especially for creative people. The ability to see/experience something
differently is fundamental to artistic breakthrough, and if nothing
else, some substances can allow that, if only for the time we're under
their effects. Allen Ginsberg always come back to Blake when he talked
about this--"The eye altering alters all"--the notion that if you
change consciousness, everything can change with it. The whole
drugs-creativity issue is something that I've thought about alot, pro
and con, and it can go on forever with so many different twists and
turns. But when you come down to specific drugs and specific sets and
settings, personal and cultural, then it gets really interesting and
much more viable to analyze, which is why I tried to tell the story of
drugs in American culture by organizing the narrative around specific
drug scenes through the decades. The question of speed vs acid in the
Dead vs. Velvets dichotomy is a great one. The Dead certainly took
speed at one time or another, just as the Velvets did acid, but never
as drug of choice, and I don't think there's a more clear example of
how the different drugs shaped the different aesthetics of the music
and the over-all sensibility than "Dark Star" vs. "White Light, White
Heat," one song a classic of psychedelic transcendentalism and the
other the ultimate musical rendition of intravenous methedrine.
Psychedelics vs the cold hard drug of the Nazi blitzkreig. One of my
favorite quotes in the book is Mary Waronov, the underground actress
who danced with the Velvets, talking about the culture clash and
contempt when the Velvets went out to play the Fillmore in '66:

“We spoke two completely different languages because we were on
amphetamine and they were on acid. They were so slow to speak with
these wide eyes—‘oh, wow!’—so into their ‘vibrations’; we spoke in
rapid machine gun fire about books and paintings and movies. They were
into ‘free’ and the American Indian and going ‘back to the land’ and
trying to be some kind of ‘true, authentic’ person; we could not have
cared less about that. They were homophobic; we were homosexual. Their
women, they were these big round-titted girls, you would say hello to
them and they would just flop on the bed and fuck you; we liked sexual
tension, S&M, not fucking. They were barefoot; we had platform boots.
They were eating bread they had baked themselves—and we never ate at
all!”    

Of course, in the end, it was speed that really scorched the
psychedelic culture, in the East Village and the Haight. It was speed
that was taken the night Manson sent his minions out to do his evil
bidding, not LSD. 

 
  
inkwell.vue.214 : Martin Torgoff: "Can't Find My Way Home"
permalink #16 of 160: Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Fri 21 May 04 12:02
    
(note: offsite readers who have comments or questions can send them to
inkwell-hosts@well.com and we will add them to the conversational thread)
  
inkwell.vue.214 : Martin Torgoff: "Can't Find My Way Home"
permalink #17 of 160: RUSirius (rusirius) Fri 21 May 04 12:41
    


This is an incredible book!  Not just an interesting subject, but
maybe the best writing I've seen in a book about the subject.  

Anyway, no question...  just congratulations. I meant to contact
Martin personally and then I noticed you were here...
  
inkwell.vue.214 : Martin Torgoff: "Can't Find My Way Home"
permalink #18 of 160: (bratwood) Fri 21 May 04 13:03
    
Yes, it is indeed a great book. Thanks for writing it. The historical
approach is perfect. And I especially enjoy seeing how the various
players were interrelated. In the seventies, I did my college English
paper on LSD and behavior modification. It's been fun to revisit the
topic.
  
inkwell.vue.214 : Martin Torgoff: "Can't Find My Way Home"
permalink #19 of 160: Gary Greenberg (gberg) Fri 21 May 04 13:33
    
The quote from Mary Woronov reminds me of another reason that the book was 
so much fun to read: So many interesting voices, some of them not often 
heard, like trumpeter Howard McGhee , some heard in other contexts, like 
Woronov, but not usually about drugs, and some famously interested in 
drugs but still saying new things, like Ginsberg. (Oneo f the great things 
about his book unfolding over so long a period of time is that we have 
fresh quotes from dead people.) So as long as I'm gushing about the book 
itself, let's talk for a second about the making of it. Youve made 
documentary films, and it shows in this book, what with all the strong 
voices. Did you ever think of doing this in film? Why is this a book 
rather than a movie?
  
inkwell.vue.214 : Martin Torgoff: "Can't Find My Way Home"
permalink #20 of 160: Andrew Alden (alden) Fri 21 May 04 16:18
    
Why we're waiting, I wanted to say how eye-opening it is to go over the last
half-century's history along the axis of drugs rather than the succession of
presidents, wars, generation XYZs and technology. Sure it introduces its own
set of distortions, but it unmasks distortions in all the other conventional
narratives. And I loved getting a better perspective on some of the eras and
"scenes" that I lived through myself.
  
inkwell.vue.214 : Martin Torgoff: "Can't Find My Way Home"
permalink #21 of 160: Martin Torgoff (martintorgoff) Fri 21 May 04 16:25
    
Wow, thank you, R.U.--that's a wonderful compliment coming from
someone who once edited a mag called High Frontiers! How great that
you're a part of our discussion. I enjoyed meeting and interviewing you
so much. It was really cool to come into that cyberpunk-rave scene
going on out there in the early 90s, even though by that time I was
almost two years in recovery and the strongest substance that ever made
it into my mouth was a cup of coffee, a piece of chocolate, or a
certain part of my then-girlfriend's anatomy (all very powerful
psychoactive substances, I can assure you). Like so many of the people
I interviewed who so graciously gave of their time and shared
significant life experiences with drugs, you helped make this the book
that it is. I only wish I could have quoted you more extensively.

And thank you as well, Donna. That's amazing that you did your college
paper on LSD and behavior modification. Goodness knows you had lots of
subjects to write about in those days. Myself, my college years were
one lengthy exersize in this particular subject.

Gary, I've dreamed of doing this as a doc, and as I write this I'm
putting the finishing a treatment that breaks the whole thing down to
7-8 hours, a la a Ken Burns-style series. I'm just about to sally forth
with it onto the blood-stained fields of doc funding. . Nothing like
it has ever been done in the history of television, and I agree that it
could be incredible, but the problem is (of course) the subject. The
ideal scenario would be to cobble together the funding from private
sources and do it for PBS, but it's very sticky in an environment where
conservatives are controlling the money that funds these kinds of
things from the NEA and NEH. There could be real editorial pressure as
a result. There are other more commercial venues, like HBO, but then
the agenda becomes to make it more HBO-commercial. These were the very
reasons it had to be done as a book first: no influence, nobody telling
me jack-shit about how it should look or play (except for my editor
telling me it couldn't be so damn long). I wanted people to know
exactly where I was coming from with the book before I tried to do the
film. Your point about "fresh voices from dead people" makes me realize
how sorry I am that I didn't videotape so many of these people who are
no longer with us when I had the opportunity--Ginsberg, Huncke, Leary,
Paul Rothschild, Michael O'Donoghue, Terry Southern, Jerry Rubin,
Claude Brown, Kesey--major voices in this story. So it ain't gonna be
easy, but I intend to give it my best shot.
  
inkwell.vue.214 : Martin Torgoff: "Can't Find My Way Home"
permalink #22 of 160: (rosebud) Fri 21 May 04 16:33
    
This is an excellent book and has jogged several events, during my
youth, that I had forgotten all about.  I apologize that I am in the
middle of the book and haven't finished.  Trying to savor it all.  

In post #4:

>>My sister had brought it all down there to
the basement, where she'd created her own little world. Batik and
macrame. Incense. An old Persian rug. Posters and black lights. A
hookah. Mandalas. Her all-important little stereo with its tiny
speakers and FM hook up.

That immediately brought back an old, but very fond memory. We had a
basement bedroom that the oldest child residing at home had the
privilege of taking over.  My older brother inhabited the basement
bedroom most of my childhood until he left for the service.  Inside the
cedar closet he left behind his collection "Rat Fink" comics by Ed
"Big Daddy" Ross, model cars of hot rods that he built, Beach Boy
albums (I remember looking at their clean cut image on the albums and
thinking "I bet they would never do drugs.") and a letterman jacket.  
While my brother was in Viet Nam I took his room over. He was sent home
from Nam with an serious eye infection and thank goodness he never had
to go back.  While my brother was home taking a break he helped me
decorate my new bedroom.  We visited several "head" shops and bought
black light posters and incense.  I took up macrame and bought an old
rug from India.  We spend most of our day in an old Ford Pinto driving
around and shopping.  He told me of the drug culture going on with the
soldiers in Viet Nam.  I wish now that I had written it all down.  I
suppose at the time I never thought it would be so significant.  
  
inkwell.vue.214 : Martin Torgoff: "Can't Find My Way Home"
permalink #23 of 160: Martin Torgoff (martintorgoff) Fri 21 May 04 18:04
    
It's such a paradox to me. We share so many of these
experiences--getting high in basements, always some secretive place
like out in the woods, or some desolate parking lot--always
"outside"--and yet for so many of us since the 60s it began right in
our families: brothers and sisters. In other words, "inside" and the
same time it was "outside."
  
inkwell.vue.214 : Martin Torgoff: "Can't Find My Way Home"
permalink #24 of 160: (rosebud) Fri 21 May 04 18:32
    
I am still sharing it. One of my younger sisters is a landlord on a
two house plot.  She has chosen the basement of one of the homes to
live.  I told her that she chose to live in the basement apartment
because she spent too many years in our old basement bedroom and that
seems to be her comfort level.  She probably wouldn't know how to live
above ground.  

Two weeks ago she threw a dinner party.  I stuck to the wonderful
vintaged wines while she smoked dope and drank a bit of the  wonderful
vintaged wines.  Things don't really change that much when she comes to
my house for a family gathering or party.  She and whoever of my
guests will go out to my lanai and smoke.  Of course with a family
dinner party my mother will often be in attendance.  Sometimes she will
ask what my sister(s) are doing outside in the cold.  Then she will
catch herself and say, "Oh. Never mind."  
  
inkwell.vue.214 : Martin Torgoff: "Can't Find My Way Home"
permalink #25 of 160: Marcy Sheiner (mmarquest) Fri 21 May 04 21:39
    
Fascinating discussion. 

Martin: Having gone thru a period of immersion in drugs and then doing
the withdrawal/recovery dance, what's your perspective on how your own
response to drugs changed over the years? Do you still feel positive
about your early experimentation?

I ask this because when I began using pot and then LSD and mescalin, I
shared the Leary philosophy that this was an enlightening experience,
that true "reality" was the drug experience not the everyday mundane.
Now when I look back on the five or so years when I was in a perpetual
stoned state and at my behavior and the decisions I made during that
time, I feel very differently and wonder just how much the drug
experience screwed up my life. I don't strongly disavow my
explorations; I just wonder if they were more damaging than I
acknowledge.
  

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