Martin Torgoff (martintorgoff) Thu 3 Jun 04 12:14
First, Kesey. One of the more interesting and significant Americans of the 20th Century. Gans's notion of him as Prometheus is perfeect, the myth being that he shared fire (ie psychedelics) with the people against the wishes of the Gods (ie the Lord God, the US government, just about any other authority aspect of our lives) and was punished for his sins. Of course, the punishment in this case is obviously going to jail for a while ('67-'68) for his two marijuana busts, which, for a man who loved freedom as much as Kesey, must have been excrutiating. But I think the punishment went deeper. Kesey was sent away at the zenith of his influence and power, right at the flowering of the whole psychedelic scene. He was taken out of the action at a critical moment, really. I always thought it was analagous to Ali being stripped of the heavyweight crown at his peak during the 60s.There's no telling what he might have accomplished and the way things might have come down. Other aspects of his punishment come to mind. Bob Stone always had this take on Kesey: that much of his life seemed an anticlimax after the Pranksters and the Acid Tests--that there was a kind of melancholia for him after all of those lights and colors. Not that he wasn't happy in Oregon with his family--just that it was a very hard comedown for him. And Stone also felt that Kesey lost momentum and focus with his writing. Kesey himself acknowledges that writing itself seemed an obsolete form after psychedelics and multi-media and the Great Prankster Movie. Not that he stopped writing or being creative, but it would be a very long time before another major novel. But if you asked Kesey I'm certain that he would have said none of this came even close to the death of his son. As for Garcia's quote about "Drugs was our Vietnam," wow, I'd never heard that one (if I had it would have been in the book). It's great, one of those observations that have so many possible meanings. Here's what comes to mind: Vietnam was a defining generational experience, first. Everyone was affected by it, whether you were there or not. It was a watershed for the country. It began idealistically, with the best of intentions, but eventually produced pain, devastation, folly, denial, deep regrets, and finally, wisdom about the limits and application of power. All of it apt and directly applicable to the story of drugs.
David Crosby (croz) Fri 4 Jun 04 07:18
that last paragraph there is especially fine ....and in my opinion absolutely true
Robin Russell (rrussell8) Fri 4 Jun 04 08:36
Except for the part about Vietnam beginning idealistically. Also, I know plenty of people whose lives did not feature "pain, devastation, folly, denial, deep regrets" as a necessary corrollary of drug use. I think that Garcia's line was about the intimate knowledge of death, both existentially through the use of psychedelics and viscerally through the ODs; the hide and seek game with the law; the camaraderie, the courage, the despair.
Martin Torgoff (martintorgoff) Fri 4 Jun 04 09:04
Robin. I agree with you that that there are plenty of people who did drugs and did not experience these negative things. It's statistically irrefutable that the overwhelming majority of people did not become addicts or even regular abusers, but in using the Vietnam corrollary, one is loath to think of postitives at all. I agree with you that cameraderie and courage are powerful dimension of this that I left out, and perhaps the only positives of Vietnam for those hwo fought it: the Band of Brothers aspect of the men who served, which turned out to be the only enduring and real part of the experience once the politcal machinations were exposed to them and the myths and follies clarified. In fact, for them, at least, Vietnam did begin idealistically. I have friends who were there in the early years and their motivations were no different from those depicted in Born on the Fourth of July: the purest kind of John Wayne patriotism in their desire to save the world from Communism. And I have friends who were there in the last years, when there was nothing left for them but to get high and survive. Your perception of "the intimate knowledge of death re: psychedelics and ODs" is certainly possible on Garcia's part; it's intersting to see it that way and a much less obvious read on it, but we're also leaving a few other things out that were also central to the Vietnam experience that Garcia may have had in mind: ambiguity and weirdness. In Vietnam, as in drugs, there was an aspect of things never quite being what they seem. And, man, it was weird. Just read (or reread) Michael Herr's Dispatches. Nobody rendered the ambiquities and the weirdness and how it all fused with the sheer drugginess of it all better. All of which, when you consider it, makes Garcia's perception all the more intresting to ponder. Of course, we're just conjecturing thoughts on his part. Wouldn't it be great to just be able to ask him what the fuck he meant? Alas.
Andrew Alden (alden) Fri 4 Jun 04 09:56
The other parallel is the complete disconnect between the official version of things and the experience in the field.
Robin Russell (rrussell8) Fri 4 Jun 04 10:35
Martin, you are right, I was not thinking of the fighting soldiers (who, after all, did not start the war). In the sixties I lived on a military base and watched many young men who were about to ship out to Vietnam, idealism mostly intact, if a bit battered about by the draft in the later years. By the seventies it was gone. I certainly agree with a multi-dimensional interpretation of Garcia's quip, and your further observation is also on the money, Andrew.
David Gans (tnf) Fri 4 Jun 04 11:17
This has been a great conversation, and although it's being replaced in the center ring by our next invterview, there is no reason why it should stop. Martin, you've written an important book here, and you've been a terrific inkwell guest. Gary, I knew you were the perfect guy to host this one :^) Thanks to all who have participated, and PLEASE DON'T STOP!
Berliner (captward) Fri 4 Jun 04 11:48
Yeah, I'm co-moderating the other one, but this is one of the best in a while, so keep going!
Robin Russell (rrussell8) Fri 4 Jun 04 12:16
I hope you will bear with us Martin. I only received the book this week and have a fair chunk to go yet.
Martin Torgoff (martintorgoff) Fri 4 Jun 04 13:00
Guys, I've really loved this. Thanks you so much. I'm here and I'm ready to sail on with it, so riff away as you please and I'll keep comin' bck at ya. And via condios.
Justin Hager (cubistpoet) Sat 5 Jun 04 20:35
Wrapping my way toward the end of _The Electric Acid Kool-Aid Test_, I am amazed to find how much Kesey's meanderings (or for that matter Kesey himself) and the acid culture of the Pranksters reflects Taoism. The sense of one-ness, the syncing, the Now, the being rather than thinking, the emphasis on the inability to explain the experience. It's even more facinating that Kesey's flight to Mexico cause all of this to fall apart rapidly, suggesting that it was never the acid itself that caused all the wonderful insanity of the Pranksters, but rather acid was a means to open people to Kesey's dream. A common theme that seems to creep up here again is the idea that drugs do not change people; they can simply lubricate the wheels of change. It seems like... some people are slightly broken. Perhaps most if not all of us are slightly broken. Held back by the hangups, fears, etc. that are present thoughout the book. Drugs can act as a quick fix, taking away the broken parts temporarily. The mistaken way of reading this is to assume that you need to be on drugs constantly, to patch the broken spots. The real power of this is in simply seeing that fixing these broken spots is possible. That a you can exist that is not broken.
Gary Greenberg (gberg) Sun 6 Jun 04 05:08
Sorry to have disappeared from here this week. The good news--besides that this conversation went on fine without me--is that my phone lines are working again and once again, through no fault of the phone company, the lightning only blew up the phone interface box on the outside of the house, and not the house itself. I have, however, informed the phone company that if I die because of their antiquated and poorly grounded infrastructure (they claim, no kidding, that the problem is that the local earth is a poor conductor), I will sue the living shit out of them. But I digress. Revelatory regarding this book and the mixture of heady relief and hopelessness that it (and this conversation) inspires is today's review in the NY Times. The nut graf, here reprinted without permission: In Can't Find My Way Home, [Tofrgoff's[ audaciou, overstuffed cultural history of illegal drug use and abuse, Martine Torgoff wants to stake out a middle ground between those who are "dogmatically anitti-drug" and proponents of "personal" or "recreational" drug use. He ultimately fails, in part bvecause his heart clearly belongs to the freedom-of-choice side--this despite ihs willingness to depict the searing horrors and tragedies of drug abuse, not to mention his own struggle with addiction--and in part because he lacks the facility and range to reconcile the contradictions of his ambition. His deepest affinity is not for tangled arguments about morality and public policy, but for the sensational entertainment falue of Armerca's half-participatory, half-voyeruistic romance with illegal drugs. It may not change minds, but Torgoff's bok is an exuberant chronicle of ecstatic inbebriation, delusional utopianism, wretched excess and chastened nostalgia for lost highs. So there's two counts against the book here. ONe is that it is entertaining instead of boring, that it peoples the policy landscape with actual drama, with the true, if salacious, facts of drug use in America, that it tries to revivify a discussion that long ago turned into abstractions about wrong messages and vulnerable kids. Having read nearly every tome about morality and public policy that's come out in the last ten years, I can only thank Martin for having written a book that turns its own pages. Since when is being exuberant and vivid in nonfiction grounds for criticism? Does one have to strut one's anhedonia in order to write about everyone else's revelry? Which brings us to the second of the reviewer's complaints: That the book is pro-drug. Now, if I'd written this review (which I will admit I not only wished I had but I asked to do a mere two days after the Times assigned it to Hal Espen, editor of OUtside Magazine, a well-known expert in the field of drugs an drug policy), I would have probably criticized it for the opposite reason: Not that it is anti-drug, but that its pro-sobriety message is, unlike the rest of the book, a little lacking in self-reflective critique and not sufficiently tempered by accounts of people who have incorporated drugs into their productive everyday lives. I hold this opinioin, I supopse, becaues I have taken too many drugs and have crippled not only my intellect but my moral faculties, making me unable to see that saying that drugs aren't the best thing in the world but they're not the worst either, that they've led to some important cultural achievements as well as to some horrific flameouts, that it's pointless to try to judge something so protean, so heterogeneous, such a blank check, and that it is in any event a travesty, if not a scandal, thta the way this government deals with drugs is to lock up millions of people--that saying all that is failure of objectivity. To me, this criticism reflects precisely the problem--that the drug war is based on prejudices that are only tangentially related to the actual effects--good and bad--of drugs and that it functions to suppress all critique by confusing dissent with pathology, if not outright depravity. Espen also seems to regret that Martin's advocacy of drug policy reform is anticlimactic. "The bok winds up with a sympathetic acocunt of the decriminalization movement, whose key insight--'the vast majority of American illegal drug users do so responsiblyt"--is a far cry from the revolutionary claims and pirate swagger of the long-gone drug culture." So which way do you want it, Hal? Here's a whole chapter more or less devoted to Ethan Nadlemann, policy wonk par excellence, all about "public policy", advancing a reasoned approach to drugs, and all you can say is that it lacks swagger? And the endpoint that Espen wishes for? Better knowledge about the neurochemistry of drug addiction: "Until we know more, our excperiments with illicty drugs will contine on the margins and crazy compenidums like Torgoff'w will hold us in their sway." IN other words, when we turn this problem over the the proper experts--the drug companies--then it will go away. Until then, all attempts to understand drug taking in its pscuychological and political context are just so much drug-fueled ranting. I'd say that it's disturbing that this review made it past an editor, what with all its internal contradictions and obvious polemics. But I've bneen around too long not to know that most people won't even recognize them.
Gary Greenberg (gberg) Sun 6 Jun 04 05:34
Just a clarification...By mentioning what my own criticism would be, I didn't mean to pile on. I just got lostr in my own thought (more drug-addledlness?) and forgot my point, which was that if Espen thinks that Martin is too pro-drug and I think he's too pro-sobriety, then he's probably got it just about right.
David Gans (tnf) Sun 6 Jun 04 09:34
> (they claim, no kidding, that the problem is that the local earth is a > poor conductor) Those people have a future in the second Bush adminstration, god help us.
David Gans (tnf) Sun 6 Jun 04 09:41
Here's the lyric to a song by Dan Bern, posted without permission but I think Dan would be okay with it. It's from THE SWASTIKA EP, which also contains a great Dylanesque piece called "Talkin' Al Kida Blues." JAIL I wish you well on your travels My friends I wish you well along the way This is the story of how I came to be In jail for a night and a day Well I'm driving my '88 Olds Cutlass It's raining and it's dark My wipers are beating slow and steady Like the thump, thump, thumping of my heart I'm rolling down from southern Colorado Stella Blue in ABQ tonight When my rear view flashes red, white and blue My license plate's missing a light The cop smells sweet green Colorado Hidden in the lining 'bove my head Next thing I know there's four cop cars flashing And around my wrists are bracelets of lead Well, take my license, take my fingerprints Take my wallet that I'll no longer need Take my belt so I can't hang myself For a nickel bag of weed Then put me in a cell on an old mattress pad To measure out in minutes this night One cup of water in styrofoam Four walls and one fluorescent light And this is my one phone call And baby I'm calling you You tell me, "stay strong boy" I say "well, I'll do the best I do" And I wish you well on your travels My friends I wish you well along the way This is the story of how I came to be In jail for a night and a day Now at first I'm thinking, man, I'm such a fuck-up My head is lonesome and bowed Figure I'll join some program, get religious My abstinence will make my mother proud And I stare at the stone cold floor I guess that's what you do in the pen Then I get to thinking what I'd really like to do Is to come back here and fight this to the end Your honor, think of Johnny Cash And Elvis and Hank Williams too Whatever it took to go get those songs Those good old boys would do It's illegal, so throw out Blonde on Blonde And every Beatles song since Hard Day's Night Go ahead and burn Walt Whitman Unpaint Starry Night Coltrane, Louis Armstrong, let 'em burn Kerouac, Thelonious Monk Alice in Wonderland, Picasso Burroughs, Blake, Ginsberg, throw it out, it's junk Then throw out all your favorite records Throw your books of poetry away Close the museums, burn the paintings Send us back to Galileo's Day Then to the drug store we will go For Vicodin and Chloraseptic spray Scarf a couple Darvocets and Xanax And then we'll go floating away Dear Governor, dear Governor, dear Governor The ultimate enforcer of my fate Did I interrupt your three-martini lunch, sir? Are you jonesing for a cigarette break? Well, I wish you well on your travels My friends I wish you well along the way This is the story of how I came to be In jail for a night and a day Next day, my buddies bail me out Toward late afternoon And the grass, it never smelled greener Sun drips honey like from a golden spoon I jump in the car and drive on out of there Soon I'm a hundred miles away And I get to thinking what awaits me When I come back some not-so-distant day Will I stand before the judge And say, "Your Honor, this law, it is wrong" Or do I just do the time and pay my fine Shake this town from my boots and be gone I wish you well on your travels My friends I wish you well along the way This is the story of how I came to be In jail for a night and a day
Seastones: safe at any speed (unkljohn) Sun 6 Jun 04 16:16
nice. it speaks to me for sure.
Martin Torgoff (martintorgoff) Mon 7 Jun 04 01:20
This Dan Bern song is wonderful; so witty, so true. Reminds me of one of my other favorites of his: "The Day They Found a Cure For AIDS." I've had experiences of being on the insides of police stations because of drugs, though nothing ever ended up on my record. But for some reason it makes me flash back to my freshman year at Cortland State, 1970. My best friend and I wanted to hitch up to Syracuse to see a double bill of Seals & Croft and John Sebastian, and the Rockefeller Laws were just going into effect, which at the time were the most Draconian drug laws in the US--terrifying, but they never stopped us for a second from getting high in any way shape or form. But they sure as hell made us paranoid enough to want to take extra measures to hide the pot, especially as we were going to be hitch hiking and were a couple of conspicuously long haired young men (see photo on my website). But where to hide them? In our shoes? No, that'd be the firstplace they'd look, right? The rectal canals? No, much too uncomfottable, along with other reasons. So we ended up wrapping our joints in Saran Wrap and putting them in our tuna sandwiches. Brilliant! We get up there, get great seats, blow the joints, and the concert is magical: Sebastian, alone on a little stage with his baby Fender amp, entertaining 10,000 people in this field house as only he could, and we get a ride back in the back of this pick up down Route 81, and I'm laying in that thing stoned with the cold wind and the stars beaming down, huddled with a bunch of my brothers and sisters. It was so wonderful and fun and innocent and really quite harmless and I wouldn;t trade the memory for anything. But if we'd been stopped and a New York State Highway Patrolmen would have searched those two tuna sandwiches on kaiser rolls, my college years would have been very different. Gary, welcome back. Yes, the Times review was...weird. But what the hell. It's such a strange subject; everybody just reads into the book what they want to see; and what they don't see, they invent. I knew this was going to happen. People have accused me of romanticizing drugs, playing them for their entertainment value; and then, on the other hand, trying to promote some message of sobriety or whatever. I mean, the publisher is happy with the reviews because the book is being taken seriously and they make it at least seem interesting to read to have your own experience of it and make up your own mind, and there are plenty of lines to pluck out and plaster on the back of the paperback when it comes out, but you're right, they don't get it: mainly that I did the book to promote an honesty about drugs in the national discourse. Ultimately, the NY Times and the Washington Post didn;t get it anymore than Bill Bennett would have had be reviewed the book, which is pretty sad. Book reviewing in general is getting up on soapboxes to shout about things that have little or nothing to do with the book, but this subject brings that tendency out even more. My editor, Bob Bender had called me with the advance of the review. "It's mixed, but much more favorable than unfavorable." He was very pleased with its placement (on the third page) and that it was full page. I told him I was happy with it if he was, and then I went into a riff about how writers are always dreaming of that perfect rave in the Times, much like an adolescent dreaming of that perfect pair of tits and ass (forgive the crassness of this analogy, ladies, but I see life in metaphors of baseball and sex). As young men, we think about this vision of prurient perfection, and often spend a lot of time chasing it, but more often than not it eludes us, and if we're lucky we end up being satisfied with the pussy we actually end up getting. There was a pause on the phone, after which Bob said, drily, "Well put, Martin," and we had a good laugh. And then a review arrived from the May 28 edition of the Rocky Mountain News. The Perfect Lay! Spent the rest of the day in post-orgasmic glow from it... Stay tuned for Rolling Stone on June 14th, the summer double issue.
Robin Russell (rrussell8) Mon 7 Jun 04 07:47
Finished the book last night. I found it enjoyable and well written (though the 12 steps stuff was a slow section). It is a useful contribution to what should be but is not a debate in the public arena. The best bit? McKenna saying something along the lines of having explored every aspect of the planet that he could and concluding that the most interesting thing was DMT. What I would like to have seen more of? A more detailed exploration of just why McKenna might say that. In Food of the Gods, he says: "What we experience in the presence of DMT is real news. It is a nearby dimension -- frightening, transformative, and beyond our powers to imagine, and yet to be explored in the usual way. We must send fearless experts, whatever that may come to mean, to explore and to report on what they find." To quote the Mary Jane Hot-Cha, "Mary Jane's a little homely, but she's safer than DMT." When the book goes to the cocaine sections there is some discussion of the background history of the drug which goes some way to setting the US experience 1945 to 2000 in context. However, this is not done to quite the same extent elsewhere. As a result, it is difficult to frame the material in the book. Was any given situation peculiar to the US? Did it develop in the US and spread elsewhere? For example, in a different thread on Richie Unterberger's Eight Miles High we were discussing the Australian High Times magazine, published by Phillip Frazer, which was first on the scene about 1971, several years before the US version debuted.
Runcible Spoonerism (bryan) Mon 21 Jun 04 12:26
I'm about halfway through this book. It's really good; I'm sorry to have missed the author here.
Berliner (captward) Tue 22 Jun 04 02:54
Not positive, but I think my review will be in the next issue of Harp.
David Gans (tnf) Tue 22 Jun 04 10:09
Is the review positive?
Berliner (captward) Tue 22 Jun 04 11:46
Oh, yeah, I was impressed.
Berliner (captward) Tue 22 Jun 04 11:47
Duhh. I see what you mean. That's what happens early in the morning when the coffee hasn't hit. It's *me* who's not positive when the review will run.
David Gans (tnf) Tue 22 Jun 04 11:51
I figgered, but I wanted to be sure.
Bryan Higgins (bryan) Fri 2 Jul 04 15:17
<scribbled by bryan Sat 3 Jul 04 00:12>
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