Saturday, December 22, 2012

Happy Day after the Apocolypse


"Apocalypse does not point to a fiery Armageddon but to the fact that our ignorance and our complacency are coming to an end. Our divided, schizophrenic worldview, with no mythology adequate to coordinate our conscious and unconscious -- that is what is coming to an end. The exclusivism of there being only one way in which we can be saved, the idea that there is a single religious group that is in sole possession of the truth -- that is the world as we know it that must pass away. What is the kingdom? It lies in our realization of the ubiquity of the divine presence in our neighbors, in our enemies, in all of us". — Joseph Campbell, Thou Art That, p. 107 

Friday, December 21, 2012

Psychedelic Giant of Eternity

Augustus Owsley Stanley III


 Overall some cliched VH1 60's hippie footage, but including this as it shows some of the only video of the great LSD chemist, Bear. A few telling comments about his personality as well. 
Bear didn't like to be photographed, reportedly because the images stole a person's soul. But who knows if that was just cover for a cautious drug manufacturer. Certainly helped build the legend.

I Know You Rider of the Moment

Grateful Dead - MSG NYC - 9-20-90 

This whole show is a doozy, as were all the shows Hornsby sat in on following Brent's passing. Bruce really sparked something in Garcia, and pushed him to dig a little deeper. After the darkness of the 80's, for both the band and the culture, Bruce seemed to breathe some new life into this next, final era.  Watch the whole show here:

Or just skip ahead to the Rider at 1:12.

This final show of a 6 night run at MSG was released as Road Trips Vol. #2 No. 1, so it has it's bonafides in order. Jerry songs in the first set are Althea, Ramble on Rose, Brown Eyed Women, each standouts for the era, and he closes it off with US Blues. Ain't nothing wrong with that. In addition to the China>Rider, the second set includes a jam in and out of Dark Star and Playin', and closes things out with Throwin>Touch of Grey, which was a nice but too rare pairing from the era, as NFA usually followed Throwin. The two most triumphant tunes from the comeback played on the biggest stage, this was surely a moment to celebrate. They cap things off with a Lovelight encore. In addition to way Hornsby impacted the band's playing, he also had caused the setlists to be shaken up, something that was sorely lacking in the following years. Buckle up kiddies.

1: Stranger, Althea, All Over Now, Ramble On, El Paso, B. E. Women, Greatest, U. S. Blues
2: Truckin> China Cat> I Know You Rider> Woman Smarter> Drumz> Dark Star> Playin Reprise> Dark Star> Throwing Stones> Touch E: Lovelight
last "El Paso": 04-03-89 [113] - last "Playin Reprise": 07-04-89 [92]


Giant of the Week

Santa Fucking Claus

This Christmas, like many before it and many yet to come, the story of Santa and his flying reindeer will be told, including how the "jolly old elf" flies on his sleigh throughout the entire world in one night, giving gifts to all the good children.

But according to one theory, the story of Santa and his flying reindeer can be traced to an unlikely source: hallucinogenic or "magic" mushrooms.

"Santa is a modern counterpart of a shaman, who consumed mind-altering plants and fungi to commune with the spirit world," said John Rush, an anthropologist and instructor at Sierra College in Rocklin, Calif.
According to the theory, the legend of Santa derives from shamans in the Siberian and Arctic regions who dropped into locals' teepeelike homes with a bag full of hallucinatory mushrooms as presents in late December, Rush said.

"As the story goes, up until a few hundred years ago these practicing shamans or priests connected to the older traditions would collect Amanita muscaria (the Holy Mushroom), dry them, and then give them as gifts on the winter solstice," Rush told LiveScience. "Because snow is usually blocking doors, there was an opening in the roof through which people entered and exited, thus the chimney story."

But that's just the beginning of the symbolic connections between the Amanita muscaria mushroom and the iconography of Christmas, according to several historians and ethnomycologists, or people who study the influence fungi has had on human societies. Of course, not all scientists agree that the Santa story is tied to a hallucinogen. [Tales of Magic Mushrooms & Other Hallucinogens]

Presents under the tree

In his book "Mushrooms and Mankind" (The Book Tree, 2003) the late author James Arthur points out that Amanita muscaria, also known as fly agaric, lives throughout the Northern Hemisphere under conifers and birch trees, with which the fungi —which is deep red with white flecks — has a symbiotic relationship. This partially explains the practice of the Christmas tree, and the placement of bright red-and-white presents underneath, which look like Amanita mushrooms, he wrote.

"Why do people bring pine trees into their houses at the Winter Solstice, placing brightly colored (red and white) packages under their boughs, as gifts to show their love for each other … ?" he wrote. "It is because, underneath the pine bough is the exact location where one would find this 'Most Sacred' substance, the Amanita muscaria, in the wild."

Reindeer are common in Siberia, and seek out these hallucinogenic fungi, as the area's human inhabitants have been known to do. Donald Pfister, a biologist who studies fungi at Harvard University, suggests that Siberian tribesmen who ingested fly agaric may have hallucinated into thinking that reindeer were flying.

"Flying" reindeer

"At first glance, one thinks it's ridiculous, but it's not," said Carl Ruck, a professor of classics at Boston University. "Whoever heard of reindeer flying? I think it's becoming general knowledge that Santa is taking a 'trip' with his reindeer," Ruck said. [6 Surprising Facts About Reindeer]

"Amongst the Siberian shamans, you have an animal spirit you can journey with in your vision quest," Ruck continued. " And reindeer are common and familiar to people in eastern Siberia. They also have a tradition of dressing up like the [mushroom] … they dress up in red suits with white spots."

Ornaments shaped like Amanita mushrooms and other depictions of the fungi are also prevalent in Christmas decorations throughout the world, particularly in Scandinavia and northern Europe, Pfister points out. That said, Pfister made it clear that the connection between modern-day Christmas and the ancestral practice of eating mushrooms is a coincidence, and he doesn't know about any direct link.

Many of these traditions were merged or projected upon Saint Nicholas, a fourth-century saint who was known for his generosity, as the story goes.

The Santa connection

There is little debate about the consumption of mushrooms by Arctic and Siberian tribes' people and shamans, but the connection to Christmas traditions is more tenuous, or "mysterious," as Ruck put it.
Many of the modern details of the modern-day American Santa Claus come from "A Visit from St. Nicholas" (which later became famous as "'Twas the Night Before Christmas"), an 1823 poem credited to Clement Clarke Moore, an aristocratic academic who lived in New York City.

The origins of Moore's vision are unclear, although Arthur, Rush and Ruck all think he probably drew from northern Europe motifs that derive from Siberian or Arctic shamanic traditions. At the very least, Arthur wrote, Santa's sleigh and reindeer are references back to various related Northern European mythology. For example, the Norse god Thor (known in German as "Donner") flew in a chariot drawn by two goats, which have been replaced in the modern retelling by Santa's reindeer, Arthur wrote.

Ruck points to Rudolf as another example of the mushroom imagery resurfacing: his nose looks exactly like a red mushroom, he said.  "It's amazing that a reindeer with a red-mushroom nose is at the head, leading the others."

Some doubt

Other historians were unaware of a connection between Santa and shamans or magic mushrooms, including Stephen Nissenbaum, who wrote a book about the origins of Christmas traditions, and Penne Restad, at the University of Texas.

One historian, Ronald Hutton, told NPR that the theory of a mushroom-Santa connection is off-base. "If you look at the evidence of Siberian shamanism, which I've done," Hutton said, "you find that shamans didn't travel by sleigh, didn't usually deal with reindeer spirits, very rarely took the mushrooms to get trances, didn't have red-and-white clothes." But Rush and Ruck say these statements are incorrect; shamans did deal with reindeer spirits, and the depiction of their clothes' coloring has more to do with the colors of the mushroom than the shamans' actual garb. As for sleighs, the point isn't the exact mode of travel, but that the "trip" involves transportation to a different, celestial realm, Rush said.

"People who know about shamanism accept this story," Ruck said. "Is there any other reason that Santa lives in the North Pole? It is a tradition that can be traced back to Siberia."

Saturday, December 15, 2012


For the Turnstiles Vol. 1

Here's a review of a book/art exhibit I wrote a few years back:

ECSTASY: In and About Altered States
The MIT Press, 2005, 252 pp.,
$26.37, ISBN 0-914357-91-3.

This full-color, oversized book is a companion piece to an exhibit of the same name held at the Museum of Contemporary Arts (MOCA) in Los Angeles in late 2005 through early 2006. Ecstasy serves as both a description of the exhibit, and a discussion of art, ecstasy, and the relationship between the two through recent history.

Within it are a series of new essays exploring these topics, comments on the artists and their works created for the exhibit, pictures of the exhibit and related pieces, along with a literary supplement containing an essay, a poem on cocaine, a fictional story, and personal accounts of drug use. All told, 11 authors contribute to the 12 pieces in the book, and the works of 30 artists are displayed in the exhibit.

The book starts out promisingly, with an excellent introductory essay by MOCA’s Chief Curator Paul Schimmel. Conceived and developed by him, the exhibit is meant to review the ancient tradition of depicting ecstatic states in art as reasserted by artists in recent years. He describes the experience of creating art as an altered state itself, and how the goal of the exhibit was not merely to include works depicting such states. On its own, that assertion casts quite a large net, qualifying any and all art to be included in the exhibit. Schimmel goes a step further though, clarifying that the wide range of media included in the exhibit falls into two categories:

1. Representations of altered states and visions experienced by the artists;

2. Installments that involve the viewer and are intended to simulate or induce altered states.

Particularly in the latter case, pieces implementing multisensory stimulation alter perception just enough to turn reality on its nose. Schimmel feels that altering reality through art creates a type of transcendence in which communication occurs between artist and viewer. This hallmark of the ecstasy subculture, a communication of mutual understandings, allows for the possibility of rising above feelings of alienation and confusion.

I found Schimmel’s historical exploration of the relationship between art and altered states to be quite revelatory. Although he claims this relationship began in ancient Greece with the cult of Dionysus (a metaphor for artists who explore altered states), he focuses on the last two hundred or so years.

It could be argued that this relationship long predates the Greeks, as evidenced by early cave drawings and religious iconography, which in some cases has continued into the modern day. But I suppose Schimmel’s focus is on art that at some point made its way into a gallery. That point aside, Schimmel’s historical discussion details how the evolution of consciousness and culture was reflected in the art of the time. Beginning with Romanticism (laudanum, opium, hash, altering the rational mind), through the mid-nineteenth century avant-garde era (absinthe, transcending rationality), on to the Surrealists (Freud, dreams, exploring the unconscious, mescaline), the New York School abstractionists (Jung, the collective unconscious, peyote), the 1960s (Leary, LSD, rebellion, etc.), and up to the present (MDMA, unity, utopia).

I particularly appreciated Schimmel’s comments on the drug ecstasy (MDMA), its subculture, and societal implications. He shows he’s done his homework as he classifies ecstasy as an empathogen (empathygenerating) rather than psychedelic (mind-manifesting) drug. He even touches briefly on its therapeutic potential, and on research with it. Schimmel asserts that the feeling of empathy and connectedness brought on creates a “utopian impulse” in the otherwise flat, alienated landscape of the normal waking state of consciousness.

This impulse is reflected in the art in the exhibit, as the artists attempt to communicate to the viewer that reality is not quite as it seems, and that there is something greater, some connection between us.

Unfortunately, the book stumbles after this introduction, as descriptions of the pieces in the exhibit, along with the new essays, fail to convey the feeling of ecstasy found in art today. The essays by multiple authors often cover the same ground in their pursuit of a definition of ecstasy and related topics, leading to debatable and contradictory assertions. Art historians or artists may find them to be of value, but from my perspective as a Psy. D. graduate student interested in altered states, they are of little use.

The actual exhibit, on the other hand, was wonderful. Steve Martin is often attributed with saying “Talking about music is like dancing about architecture,” and possibly a similar problem occurred throughout the book by those attempting to describe the art. I fully appreciate the irony as I now attempt to do the same.

My reaction to the actual exhibit was one of pure joy. Many of the pieces in the exhibit are playful, fun, and engaging. Although there are wonderful pictures of the exhibit contained in the book, they fail to convey the interactive experience, as well as both the grandeur and detail of the pieces. A strobe light flashing on falling water droplets, which appeared as colored crystals frozen in space, creates a feeling of awe in Your strange certainty still kept by Olafur Eliasson. The self-explanatory entitled Upside-down mushroom room by Carsten Holler may sound clichéd, but produces a giddy reaction upon entering it, evoking memories of Alice in Wonderland. Fred Tomaselli’s mosaics are sure to stir up a déjà vu experience for the initiated. At first glance, the psychedelic cornucopia appears painted, but upon closer inspection reveals itself to be three-dimensional, containing pills, cutout pictures, paint, and other objects suspended in a glossy resin set against a black backdrop. Paul Noble’s gigantic, intricate, fluid drawings also pull the viewer into a bizarre world where weirdness meditates in every corner. The LED lights suspended in rows in Erwin Redl’s Matrix II distort size and depth, and create a floating sensation in the viewer, as their eyes continuously adjust to the changing patterns. There are also several video pieces in the exhibit, of which I found Chiho Aoshima’s City Glow most enticing, in which an alternate world gradually reveals itself across five adjacent video screens. Altered states can have a profound effect on an individual, as they realize that the impossible is possible, reality is not quite as it seems, there is order in chaos, and the whole world is contained within a grain of sand. Many of the pieces in this exhibit have the same effect.

“Ecstasy—and not merely the drug—never was intended to be intellectualized” (p. 237). This sentence appears in the final essay, Confessions of a middle-aged ecstasy eater, by Anonymous, and I must confess my reaction upon reading this simple statement was mildly ecstatic, if that’s possible. The reason being that much of what was written on the previous 236 pages was nothing but intellectualizations, and tedious ones at that. I’ll concede that all the essays were well-researched, exploratory, and informative, but most were a chore to get through. (And this comes from someone who uses his free time to browse Jung’s Collected Works.) Where was the joy, transcendence, and sublimity? Where was the ecstasy?

Confessions, on the other hand, is a delight to read. I found it to be profoundly moving and somewhat reminiscent of the recent drugwar movie Traffic, considering the social, political, therapeutic, moral, interpersonal, and, most important, personal perspectives involved in ecstasy use. Even better, the author nailed the feeling on the head. Like all great art, this essay, much like Traffic and many pieces in the exhibit, asks more potent questions than it gives answers to. Of the many questions, one stood out for me: Is ecstasy use a response to an alienated flatland, or a reflection of a Peter Pan world?

This concluding essay and the introduction by Schimmel serve as wonderful bookends around a largely uneven work. Interesting bits of information are contained throughout, but they largely fail to convey the true nature of the relationship between art and ecstasy, as well as the wonder of the exhibit. Some may enjoy the book more than others, but for me, it will be the coffee table book I put out when my hip friends are coming over, and put away when my mom’s in town. As they say in the art world, one man’s treasure is another man’s trash.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Dead Boots

Grateful Dead Live at Fillmore East on 1970-09-20


First set acoustic, with David Grisman on mando and possibly David Nelson on acoustic guitar. 

Second set is electric with plenty of choice nuggets.

09-20-70 Fillmore East, New York, N.Y. (Sun)
Acoustic: Uncle John, Deep Elem, FOTD, Big RxR Blues, Dark Hollow, Ripple, To Lay Me Down, Truckin, Rosalie McFall, Cumberland, New Speedway, Brokedown
Electric: Casey Jones, China Cat> I Know You Rider, Candyman, Top Of The World, Good Lovin, Big Boy Pete, Me & My Uncle, Easy Wind, Sugar Magnolia, Attics, Mama Tried, NFA> Caution> Feedback> We Bid You Goodnight
acoustic set with David Grisman and David Nelson on mandolin - "GDTRFB" jam druing "NFA" - billing: GD; NRPS



Future Old Timey Prospector of the Week

Bob Mutherfucking Weir

Triumphant Jam of the Year

Phish, Light, Dick's

The Phish had quite the triumphant year. After leaving a bitter taste in fans' mouths due to last years New Year's run, they really tore it up this summer. Their tours had a bit of something for everyone: extended jams, rarities, and overall tight, dynamic playing. They capped it all off with probably their best 3 night stand since their return (UIC in 2011 and Hampton in 2009 also come to mind), and one that ranks with the greats of all time. Evidence of this is the standout jam from the run, if not the year, during the song Light. While this relatively new song is for the most part cornball, with cheesy lyrics and and a forced, unoriginal composition, it has undoubtedly been one of the best jam "vehicles" (kill me now god!) of the past few years.

Take your pants off and strap on your helmets:

Here's to looking forward to what the New Year's run and webcasts have in store.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Kind Tune of the Moment

New Madrid, Jeff Tweedy/Uncle Tupelo 

A song I've been enjoying a lot lately is New Madrid, written by Jeff Tweedy while in Uncle Tupelo, Wilco's predecessor. I've been listening to the Uncle Tupelo anthology a bit lately, and this is clearly the standout song. Then I stumbled across a recording of Jeff doing this with his partner in crime/nemesis Jay Bennett back in 1999. One of those songs you just put on repeat and listen to over and over. It's got that end of the world, aw fuck it, bittersweet morning after feel to it. I'm a sucker for that shit. You know what I mean!

My interpretation was really just based on the feel of the song, without trying to make too much sense of the lyrics. Turns out I wasn't too far off the mark, according to our friends at Wikipedia: "Tweedy was also the author of "New Madrid", a song about Iben Browning's erroneous prediction of an apocalyptic earthquake in New Madrid, Missouri."

Here's the original Uncle Tupelo version:
A Jeff Tweedy solo version:
An early Wilco version complete with banjo:

And here's a link to audio of the aforementioned Tweedy/Bennett show:

Tweedy & Bennett 7.25.99

An excellent recording, I'd also point out great versions of Auld Triangle, Another Man's Done Gone, Via Chicago, I Got You, Forget the Flowers, and the Lonely One, among other excellent tunes.

Kind Youtube of the Week

The Phishheads seem to be freaking out about this pro-shot version of Scents and Subtle Sounds from 2003:

Old Timey Prospector of the Week

Bob Motherfucking Weir:


Giant of the Week

This weeks award goes to the great neurologist  amongst many other things, Oliver Sacks.  He has accomplished too much in his life to detail here, just go to Wikipedia for his biography (link below). He gets the nod this week for his clear and simple explanation of how the brain creates out-of-body experiences and religious epiphanies.  Check it here:

Friday, December 7, 2012

The Quintet 12/6/2012

The triumphant return of the Phil Lesh Quintet! 12/6/2012 First set: Set 2: Setlist: Set One: Jam > Passenger, Doin’ That Rag, China Cat Sunflower > Midnight Rider > China Cat Sunflower, Just Like Tom Thumbs Blues, Althea, Viola Lee Blues Set Two: Playing In The Band > Jam > Shakedown Street > Can’t Find My Way Home > Caution > Southern Cross > Terrapin Station > I Know You Rider, Donor Rap Encore: US Blues

Cosmic Country Cowboys

Saw the Chris Robinson Brotherhood last night at the Belly Up in beautiful Solana Beach, CA. I thought it would be a good show, but it exceeded my expectations. Great band, great jams, great vocals, great lights and atmosphere. It felt like a big rock show. At times, it seemed like we had taken a Quaalude time machine back to the 70's. This was some serious stoner rock, reminded me of the band Stillwater in Almost Famous. They looked and sounded the part, particularly the bass player. I bet that dude gets paid shrooms. Highlights of the night were covers of Dylan's Crash on the Levee, with some nice funk inflections, and a locked in and groovin version of the Dead's West LA Fadeaway. I was hoping to hear that one, and the crowd went bonkers throughout. They also had a driving psychedelic jam during an original song that was pretty much identical to the Dead's The Other One. That brought back some memories of how wild and exhilarating it can be to see that tune live, and how you can get lost in the songs. As my friend Tim said, 'I had a moment of clarity there, where everything made sense.' There's the feeling we forgot, the transedence that we chase at rock shows. Overall, their originals were weak, and like the Crowes seemed derivative of other classic rock. I heard hints of Loose Lucy, LA Woman, Shine on You Crazy Diamond, Little Wing, Hey Jude, and other tunes throughout. And the covers were definitely the highlight. Despite, or perhaps because of, their lack of originality, this is a great band to see live. Overall, the vibe and sound was 70's Jerry Garcia Band. The guitar had his cosmic country twang, and the songs were funked up versions of roots rock. Chirs Robinson is a rock star, a bit too much at times, but his charisma and vocal prowess are undeniable. Good times. The psychedelic cowboy rides again!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Grateful Dead at the Fillmore East, 2/14/70

This is video from one of the most beloved shows of all time, audio released as Dick's Picks #4, and some of the earliest video of the band out there. Certainly worth a watch:

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Giant of the Week

For the first edition of this weekly award, I'm happy to recognize Michael Mithoefer, Rick Doblin, the Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies ( and their associates for the remarkable progress made in researching the use of MDMA (ecstasy) to treat Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

In the 1960's, psychedelic substances like MDMA showed incredible ability to treat a wide variety of mental illness, but cultural hysteria unfortunately outlawed their use, be it for recreation or research. After several decades of silence, patient but steady and significant progress is being made. Each week we see a new article highlighting this research. Recent features have been done by CNN and the New York Times (see below for links).

In Mithoefer's original study, more than two-thirds showed a significant improvement three years later; "meaningful sustained reductions." Those numbers are astonishing. With further refinements of the treatment, drugs, and research, it is hard to imagine what the future potential of these drugs are, but it sure seems like the sky is the limit.