Favorite Y U NO “Memes”

All of these “memes” tickle me. Though we will be discussing the use of that word.

Y U No narrow

Posted in Artists, Humor | Tagged ,

The Void Captain’s Tale by Norman Spinrad

Talking with an artist friend recently, we agreed that what we’re in it for is those peak creative times when everything flows and the ideas rush faster than we can capture them. The horrible problem, of course, is the brevity of those periods compared with the amount of time spent keeping body and soul together until the next one comes around.

So it is with the Void Pilot, a junkie with the strangest jones of all. Qualifications for the position: must be female, with an addictive personality profile, and willing to become a cyborg. Without her total cooperation the Dragon Zephyr doesn’t go anywhere. What the Pilot lives for is the moment that propels the starship through hyperspace. What’s in it for her is an incomparable transcendent brief union with the Great and Only, when “the universe of space and time is reduced to an unseemly intrusion.” All the rest of life is a mere shadow realm.

As for the Captain, his duties on this vessel, where the great majority of passengers sleep in electrocoma, are few. The worst thing that could go wrong is, the Pilot could die in mid-Jump, in which case the ship gets lost in the time-space discontinuity, never to reach its destination. The Captain’s job consists mainly of social and symbolic obligations to the small number who stay awake, the Honored Passengers for whom the journey is the equivalent of a Caribbean cruise.

The coldness of a high-tech environment, not to mention the sight of the naked stars, can lead through madness to death. For the sanity and entertainment of the passengers, the starship is a “floating cultura,” a mobile hybrid of Versailles-in-the-sky and Plato’s Retreat. In charge of their social, artistic, and libininal well-being is the Domo. This exceptionally beautiful woman completes the trio of major characters who fill archetypal roles. Captain and Domo and high priest and priestess of the cultura, as well as the parent figures for the passengers; that they should be partners in the tantric arts for the duration of the trip is not a written rule but an unexceptioned precedent.

The serpent in this Eden is the very atypical Pilot, Dominique Alia Wu, who violates protocol and decency to seduce the Captain in every possible sense, infecting him with a terrible malaise. As Dominque puts it, “Adam has indigestion cosmique,” which grows into an obsessive drive to experience not only the ultimate peak experience but the pain for which there is no balm. He can have what he wants from the Pilot, in return for what she wants: to get so far out she will never come back. The price is great: for technical reasons it will be necessary to take along more than 10,000 people into the Great and Lonely.

Aside from the writing, which very effectively creates a world, this story seizes my imagination because of the theme of forbidden love. Ever since I was a kid warned not to play with the boy next door, the idea that anyone should presume to tell me who I’m allowed to befriend or love ignites something like rage. It’s an imposition that simply won’t be borne. Furthermore, sexual obsession isn’t about pretty or nice, but involves much darker and more elemental forces. The other compelling thing is that the stakes are so high. It’s not only a spouse or two, and a few kids, or even the fatally attracted lovers, who will suffer if the pair succumb to their respective manias. 10,000 lives will be destroyed along with them. That is, as we used to say in the Sixties, heavy.

Norman Spinrad is definitely a poet whose opulent imagination adorns a strong foundation of knowledge in psychology, aesthetics, sociology, linguistics, and Eastern mysticism. We have become familiar with the generation of writers concerned with the transportation of humanistic values into space. The Void Captain’s Tale represents what might be called second generation new wave science fiction, in which the existence of sex is not only acknowledged, but the nuances of the phenomenon explored more comprehensively than in most mainstream fiction. The style of the work is unique, intense and mythic. The more the reader brings to it, the more s/he will find.

Posted in Books, Science Fiction / Speculative Fiction

Dr. Harry Hermon – Cannabis Pioneer and So Much More

WITCHES' CRADLE: Dr. Harry Hermon, masked and flanked by his colleagues Charles Honorton, left, and Dr. Stanley Krippner, prepares to take a spin in the witches' cradle, so called after a trance-inducing device used by witches of yore. These men are part of the research team at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn that explores telepathic dreams and sensory deprivation. (From Horizon magazine, Winter 1974)

(note: Hermon is pronounced with the accent on the second syllable.)


Let me cite the experience of Dr. Harry Hermon, who first became interested in this herb as a means to help his patients expedite their psychotherapy. A patient he had been treating without much success for some time came in one day, and the information Dr. Hermon had been seeking in vain to elicit for so long suddenly began to flow forth freely. Hermon was astonished. He asked what was different this time. His patient informed him that he had come in stoned. “Stoned?” said Dr. Hermon. “What is this ‘stoned’?” And thus Dr. Hermon came to realize how effectively this weed could unblock a person’s mind, an insight which launched him into an entirely new phase of his therapy and life.”
(Peter G. Stafford, from Psychedelics Encyclopedia)

An official secret of the town was Dr Hermon, a Viennese immigrant who the straight Austin medical establishment referred to as “Crazy Harry”. Hermon had a Federal licence to prescribe and administer LSD, marijuana and mescaline/peyote. The Austrian psychiatrist carried a jet set air about him and was into concepts like hypnotism, nude therapy and psychedelic evolutionary therapy. His eccentric image and non-conformist behavior put him in contact with the Austin music underground, which he supplied with psychedelic drugs for several years. Captain Gann and the narcotics squad were aware of this, but Dr Hermon’s medical licence made him difficult to bust. Hermon’s rapport with the rock musicians was such that he was appointed doctor for Roky Erickson when Roky was staying at Holy Cross Hospital in 1968, recovering from a nervous breakdown. Unsurprisingly, in this case Hermon made sure not to involve the patient with drugs. Gann and his narcs later managed to crack down on Hermon, who was forced to leave Austin in haste.
(Peter Stafford, “Austin’s Lost Psychedelic Visionaries”)

The strange case of Dr. Hermon’s plants began unfolding about midnight Friday when DPS and city officers raided his home office at 700W. 14th and walked away with scores of suspected marijuana plants while Dr. Hermon pointed to frames on his wall containing documents which he said allowed him to grow the forbidden weed for use in a research project. The 43-year-old Polish-born psychiatrist will go into 147th district court Tuesday at 2 p.m. with his lawyer Sam Houston Clinton to try to get his plants back and the search warrant under which is was seized thrown out. Dr. Hermon’s late night arrest came after about a week of surveillance by DPS narcotics agents. He made $1,000 bond shortly after his arrest. Dr. Hermon has special tax stamps issued by the Internal Revenue district office in Austin registering him as a researcher.
(Lynn Taylor, presumably an Austin journalist)

With the beard and the accent, Dr. Hermon was almost a caricature. Later on when R. Crumb’s comix became part of my life, Mr. Natural always brought back Dr. Hermon. When he lived in Buffalo, he worked in nearby Niagara Falls for the public health authorities. In those days of government funding for everything, there was a free group therapy that met in the basement of the County Building down by the river. Strangely, most of the members knew each other from outside the group – we were students at the local community college, and/or lived at the Lochiel Apartments, and/or hung out at the same club. But there were older people too, like the mother of one of my closest friends. This group was run by Harry Hermon and Richard Valinsky, and it saved my life.
One of Dr. Hermon’s frequent sayings was, “What would happen so bad if….?” He encouraged physical contact. If you wanted to, you could spend the whole session hugging somebody. As a therapist he was eclectic, using whatever he felt might be useful from any school.
Once, he asked what I wanted in a man. I enumerated several qualities I considered indispensable. He said, “Hmmm, sounds like you want a super man…. (beat) … To have the super man, you must be the super woman.” He didn’t mean it in the same way they do now, when talking about a “Superman complex,” or whatever. I think he meant, those qualities that you look for in someone else, are the very same ones it would be good to cultivate in yourself. And he was right.
The house he rented in Buffalo had previously been occupied by Hare Krishna members, or some group very like them, and Dr. Hermon reported finding a stash of porn in the attic. (Who knows whether it was theirs?) I wish I remembered more details. Probably somewhere in my files there’s a huge stash of notes about him.
(Pat Hartman)

…a psychiatrist and colleague, Harry Hermon, who opened the door to vistas of consciousness the existence of which I had never before suspected.
(Dr. Richard E. Valinsky, in “Perennial Psychology: the Healing Path of Unity Consciousness” 1997)

In Buffalo I intend to visit Harry Hermon, a psychiatrist and member of the Church who was driven out of Texas a few years ago for experimenting with marijuana.
(Art Kleps, from Boo Hoo, the New American Church Bible circa 1972)

…..Harry Hermon, a Manhattan psychiatrist who believes that the only case against the use of marijuana in psychotherapy is the current marijuana law. Hermon argues that cannabis “puts the patient in a more receptive and empathetic state” and maintains that perception, recall, and the ability to interact are all enhanced by smoking. He advocates its use for both sex therapy and couples therapy, explaining that “a couple who is fighting can smoke a joint together and will stop fighting on the spot. They get into a completely different flow, and are transcended to a different level of awareness.”
(William Novak, in “High Culture: Marijuana in the Lives of Americans”)

Harry Hermon, a psychiatrist practicing at Maimonides, lent us his cradle for our study (Honorton, Drucker, & Hermon, 1973). Thirty percipients participated in the study; they were told that a transmitter in a distant room would view an art print during the last 10 minutes of the session….
(Stanley Krippner, from The Journal of Parapsychology, March, 1993)

Our coaching method was developed from working with Martin Sage…..He was influenced by the work of several leading thinkers of the 20th century, including Dr. Harry Hermon…,
This is a unique learning system that consists of observing, then following, a participant’s curiosity with a skilled combination of attention, acknowledgement, feedback and, in its advanced applications, asking the right questions in a dialogue that takes years to master.
(The Sage Method, Paradox Productions)

Posted in Culture Heroes | Tagged , , ,

Hollywood Unlisted, by Kim Fahey

I totally adore Hollywood Unlisted. It’s one of the most interesting books I’ve run into in the past, say, ten years. Kim Fahey must be one of the most self-actualized human beings who ever strode the planet. A psychic once told him that his purpose in life is to see things no one usually sees, and say things no one usually says. And never be afraid of anything (which is good advice for anyone).

Fahey came from what would conventionally be thought of as a disadvantaged background, spending parts of his youth in a juvenile detention facility and a work camp. He learned some incredible non-violent survival skills, and later went on to become a philosopher, gigolo, artist, craftsperson, psychic’s assistant, and mainly, a phoneman.

As a technician he was constantly in the homes, studios, and workplaces of scores of show business luminaries. You know the movie What’s Love Got to Do With It? Part of it was filmed in Tina Turner’s actual house, and he installed some of the phones we see there. How many people do you know who can make that claim? No matter how big the celebrity, he always met them on a level playing field:

I never even thought about asking anyone for an autograph. First of all, it’s rude in someone’s private domain. Second, they’re just people. They’re no better than me. With the things a phoneman has to put up with, they should ask for mine, was the way I looked at it.

John Belushi would not have given an autograph anyway. Fahey’s sighting of him was as a large, sheet-covered corpse being removed from a Chateau Marmont bungalow. When Art Linkletter’s daughter committed suicide by exiting from a 6th-floor window, Fahey happened to be parked in his van catching up on paperwork. The scenes that a phoneman finds himself in the middle of can be mind-boggling, and he sees a lot of things from way up on those poles.

The tales in this book never cease to amaze. I want to say, “As a writer, I’d call him the new millennium’s successor to…” but I can’t think of who. Henry Miller? Or… there was a French guy… Never mind, the point is, you’ve heard of the MacArthur “genius grant”? If the recipients could be nominated, I’d nominate Fahey.

I mean, this guy taught John Cassavettes “how to cheat on Nintendo baseball so he could beat his kid.” He played chess with Orson Welles! Got stoned with such varied artists as Rodney Dangerfield and Little Esther Phillips, the difference being that the blues singer also cooked for him. Played Santa at one of Rock Hudson’s parties. Mae West invited him to come up and see her some time.

Bette Midler, on the other hand, was no kind of sweetheart. She liked to scream at people and fire them. Larry Flynt lived at the top of a long driveway, on which phone trucks were not allowed, so the technicians always had to take a long hot hike. In general, Fahey’s impression was, “The closer you edge towards Beverly Hills, the bigger the creeps you have to deal with.” He discusses the rumor that Beverly Hills was a great place to dump a dead body, because the city was so publicity-shy, the matter would probably be taken care of discreetly.

At least I’m telling the truth. It’s sort of like the book writes itself. I don’t care if I come off less than stellar… Why try and sugar coat it. I just want to relay what I’ve been shown, for good or bad. As one attorney once told me, “It’s libel or slander only if you’re lying!”

The fortune-teller was right. In the course of a hyper-interesting life, the author learned many things hidden from ordinary mortals.
— The amazing fate of Cheetah, who went on from movie stardom to become the world’s oldest living chimpanzee
— The inside scoop on Lucent Technologies
— From his uncle the animal trainer, the lowdown on exactly which animals do well in traveling animal shows, their strengths and weaknesses, needs and problems.
— Raymond Burr’s secret greenhouse with three giant plants, in a hidden room that only a phoneman tracing lines could find.
— How movies about private detectives always got their phone-tapping scenes wrong. In fact, even real investigators don’t rate too high:

I knew lots of street detectives. Most couldn’t find Joe Louis in a bowl of rice. To use a detective is the last straw. If you feel you need the services of a detective to square away some deficiency in your life, wake up and smell the coffee, pal. Save the detective’s fees and use the money for that attorney you didn’t want to call. A good attorney is your real savior. The voice of experience.

As a phoneman working in a gay bar, Fahey learned such skills as how to avoid being hit on without giving offense. He seems to have had a lot of fun at a drag bar called La Cage Aux Folles:

One of the few times I was ever beaten in a chop contest was by a Marie Antoinette look-alike in full regalia. She tore me apart like a pro. Even though I was the butt of all the retorts, I couldn’t stop laughing. My sides hurt for days the guy was so good. No matter how funny I was, he beat me out on his comebacks. Just the best.

Then there was the secret game he played for years with Joan Crawford. No, not what you’re thinking. And the sideline business he ran, thanks to his access to the laundry hampers of the stars. And the very useful relationship that arose from being the phone company’s special liaison to a former police chief turned private detective.

I made sure good ol’ Ed Davis would remember my name if it came up in some late night phone call awakening him. You never knew when your head might be dangled over the rim of some shit filled pit, one toe-hold away from getting a diarrhea bath. Once again, my gut feelings were right. Good ol’ Ed came in handy more than once. I’d say saving my life could be listed under “handy.”

One story amused me because I know a relative of the poet Robert Bly. Fahey was out on the street with his phone van, talking with a homeless man who spied a pile of books in the truck and asked for something to read.

I say sure, then hand him a book called Iron John. I add, “Hey, you might like this one!” He gave it right back. He then says, “No thanks. You were going to throw it away weren’t you? You decided to give it to me to hit two birds with one stone, right?” I admitted he was right. The book was a piece of shit.

Of course, being out on the street at all hours in every neighborhood of a major metropolis, you’re going to meet some people who are not so friendly. The author says,

I’ve been able to fake out the best sick nutcases by pure bullshit… I was usually scared half to death. Having been in the clutches of the sickest examples of the human species and walked away is one of the main reasons I wrote this book. I was never brave or did anything heroic. No way. If someone claims I did they’re lying.

You screw up in real life, with real psychos, you don’t make exciting escapes or knock out anyone in some ridiculous slugfest. You just end up in the hospital, or dead. When you’re someone like me, with your mouth “your only savior,” it’s a good idea to try and keep a size sixteen shoe out of it. Once the talking ends, I’ve had it. Call me a clown, a suck up, an ass kisser, anything you want, just remember to put “But he’s still alive!” after your comments.

As the phoneman grew older and saw more and more of the world, he developed into a social critic, appalled by the horrors of old-folks homes and every manifestation of inequality.

…you start to resent so much wasted lavishness, especially if you just drove to Beverly Hills from a free clinic in Watts – a free clinic packed ten deep with desperate people standing on the front steps, reading the notice taped on the front doors telling them they’re shut down from lack of funds.

One of my favorite parts:

If you gave me a druthers question as to which gang I could tolerate being in, I would have to choose an older Mexican/American gang. First of all, I love the food. Second, they have the most beautiful women…On the downside? Their music sucks and the macho thing is ridiculous.

Another favorite part, when the author was thinking about someone he had meant to help, but didn’t get around to:

For the first time in a long time I felt ashamed of myself. I realized, as a person, I sucked. I sucked big time. Revelations usually pass me by, that kind of crap is for pathetic losers. Realizing I too, was a loser, didn’t sit well. Now, for the first time in my life, I actually thought about how someone else felt. Maybe this sounds weird to you. You probably are a normal, caring sort of person. I’m not. It was hard to swallow.

There is an amazing story of being accosted in a lonely place at night by two crackheads, who obviously planned to jump him, and how he put them mentally off balance by asking if they had any hits for sale, then lit a joint and passed it. The perilous encounter eventually resulted in a very advantageous outcome.

When weird things happened my first thoughts were to get away, not to battle evil. It’s a losing situation. When you battle evil you most likely will become evil. It’s beyond me. All I know is I don’t want to be responsible for causing anyone harm physically. Mentally is a whole different ball game.


NOTE: This is something like a “conflict of interest” statement, which is expected from all conscientious journalists, but actually it’s a “congruence of interest” statement. A couple of years ago, on a very hot day, Kim Fahey pulled off a California highway to help strangers with car trouble. Those strangers were my daughter and her family, and he not only got them back on the road, but gave my daughter a copy of his book. Which is where I got it from. So before I opened the cover of Hollywood Unlisted, I was predisposed to like it. I expected a nice snack and got a banquet.

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Hunga Dunga: Confessions of an Unapologetic Hippie

It’s been said that if you remember the Sixties, you weren’t really there. Well, that’s nonsense. Phil Polizatto remembers, and that’s why we have this amazing, delicious fictionalized memoir to read. The narrator, Giacco Giordano, was an omnisexual youth in an era when young people proudly called themselves freaks. Like so many in that magical time, he looked for love and/or God, and often found both in the same place or person. His wanderings took him to Woodstock, various counterculture centers on the West Coast, and eventually, other parts of the world.

Giacco has a real way with words, and reading Hunga Dunga is actually almost like being there, which is a trite thing to say, but I don’t care. I constantly wondered what would happen next, and never wanted the book to end. I recognize these conversations, the kind we used to have (and some of us still have). I recognize the authentic quest for transcendence, and the goofiness. Parts of the book are very funny. Its title is the name of a commune, which in turn derived from a gag in a Marx Brothers film.

Other parts are very erotic. Giacco is, for instance, ecosexual before the term is even invented. It’s not all sparkly rainbows, of course. We get an eyewitness account of the 1969 Venice Beach police riot, which destroys a peaceful, beautiful anti-war gathering sponsored by the Free Press. One of the things worth looking at, about the Sixties, is why events like this radicalized some toward violence, while others were drawn even farther in the opposite direction, toward peace.

The descriptions of the physical world are wonderful and evocative, but here’s the thing: the very best part is being a tourist in Giacco’s head. There’s a basic, unquenchable sweetness to the guy, and crisply fresh insights, and an undertone of ironic wariness even in the midst of the most warm and fuzzy love-fests. Appreciating his worldview, seeing events through his particular eyes, listening in on his thoughts, and having the inside track on his responses to situations and people – these are the real rewards. I’m so happy to have met him.

So, studio at the beach having been wrecked in the police riot, Giacco is on the move again. He stays for a while with a couple who keep up a straight front for the neighbors while smuggling pot and hanging out with Timothy Leary. Then he joins up with Hunga Dunga.

Giacco is blessed with a personality uniquely suited for communal living. He’s both mystical and grounded, able to handle a spiritual crisis or run a farm. He has a willingness to roll with the punches that is sometimes literal, because longhairs both straight and gay attract a lot of harassment in some places. But that’s the outside world. In the context of the close-knit domestic group, the same inner resources provide the needed tolerance, and especially a gift for living in the moment. “I always tried to create a physical and emotional environment which left a window open for that rare breeze of opportunity.”

How did a Sixties commune actually work? How did a household of 12-16 members actually get along? Think it doesn’t sound like much of an accomplishment? Well, when was the last time you saw a family of even 4 or 6, that was able to create an ambiance where everyone could thrive, day to day? The Hunga Dungans may have worn mis-matched socks, but they figured out how to handle the finances. Being released from worry about food, clothing and shelter freed each person to do what he or she was best at, which is always a state to be desired.

Of course, a lot of these hippies lived on disability pay of one sort or another. This, Giacco says, “created in all of us, to varying degrees, a sense of obligation to justify the money we were getting from kindly Uncle Sam.” They joined up with a bunch of other communes to provide free services to the community. “We hoped we would become role models for the rest of society. When they saw how much sense it made, they would eventually ‘catch up.'” In other ways too, they did their best to model the kind of behavior they wished the larger society to imitate. “If there was any competitiveness at Hunga Dunga, it was to be a good example.”

We learn, intimately, what life was about in the big blue house. Lots of sex, for sure. Lots of drugs. Like the rest of the nation, they found that marijuana increased bonding, and so did the entheogens like psilocybin and LSD. Among other dangerous tendencies, this book could start a Peyote Cult revival. Also, like the rest of the nation, they found that when speed and cocaine came in the door, harmony flew out the window.

The recipe for harmony includes a whole constellation of customs and conventions and rituals that spontaneously develop to cope with ordinary human quirks. Thanks to Giacco, we eavesdrop on family meetings where issues are handled with a peculiar brand of non-handling. Differences are settled in non-traditional ways. “A Hunga Dungan might say at a family meeting that they did not enjoy living with so and so, but they would never feel they had the right to ask that person to leave. The hope was that the person would leave of his or her own accord. If not, we learned to live with it.”

Whether in the States or traveling in exotic lands, Giacco meets freak after freak, all with astonishing stories to tell. People turn up in odd corners of the world, whose karma is intertwined with his. One of the characters is a guy named Jon. Whatever comes to pass, his mantra is “This is much better.” And the optimal way to get through life with grace, is to walk toe-to-heel like a stalking Indian.

Some of the commune members start to hanker after land to farm, and wilderness to roam. Jon and Rosie get a farm, then sell it and take Giacco along with them for a round-the-world trip. Now, this is the kind of thing I mean, by a “you are there” feeling. “The floor was dirt and the only heat came from a small fire pit in the center of the room, which we fueled with small bundles of sticks, or sometimes pancakes of dung, sold by young boys whose sold job it was to deliver them to “subscribers” much like I delivered newspapers to my neighbors when I was a boy.”

The three of them go to a place that is a pilgrimage destination for Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Christians, where everybody gets along peaceably, and where, incidentally, the sun rises twice. They visit Sai Baba, my personal pick for the most intriguing of the holy men. They find the counterculture hot spots in Hawaii and Thailand. In Ceylon, they watch dead bodies float by in the river. In India, they buy ganga from children, and Giacco gets to know the deity Ganesh.

He visits Israel on his own, and spends time as a kibbutz’s unauthorized guest. There’s a horrendous boat ride on the Mediterranean, which is not all peaceful and sunny! He’s stoned in Turkey – literally, with rocks. He’s mistaken for a Turk by Greeks, and mistaken for a Greek by Turks, two of the most uncomfortable situations a person can be in. The locals don’t like waist-length hair on a male. In Samos, he visits a friend he made elsewhere, and it doesn’t work out too well, and he hears an amazing story. Amsterdam is “so damn civilized I could barely handle it,” and so much like San Francisco, he might as well have stayed home.

Back in the States, Giacco is reunited with the Hunga Dungans. He’s in the scouting party that goes to check out land. They find a great place, and have papers drawn up defining themselves as a church, so the contractual red tape will be less obstructive. They make friends with some of the locals. Just in time, they discover the Whole Earth Catalog. “We were determined to build a tasteful little Victorian dome that would blend in nicely with the neighboring farms.” In the city, they get demolition jobs and carefully take apart some houses, saving the building materials. A baby is born to the commune.

Still, Giacco is uneasy and feels that things are unraveling. People are a little too eager to envision how they will stake out a private section of the land. “Even though that was anathema, we knew deep down we all wanted someplace to go where we could be alone.” Like any sensible person, he acknowledges his ambivalence. Is this evolution, or devolution? And, much as he wants to keep the group spirit, ironically he winds up having the whole country place to himself for long periods of time.

The big new name in the spiritual realm is Guru Maharaj Ji, practically still a child. Giacco resists, figuring that anybody with that many followers can’t be authentic, an attitude borrowed from Jon. Then – one Hunga Dungan hitchhikes a long way to hear Maharaj Ji, and comes back converted. When another member decides to take off to find the Knowledge, Giacco spontaneously decides to go along. His motto is, “When in doubt, let the universe decide.” The first car that comes along is going to exactly the city they want, and the second ride takes them straight to the ashram.

There’s some weird stuff between Giacco and Maharaj Ji. Though he doesn’t capitulate right away, when three more Hunga Dungans announce they’re going to live at the Divine Light Mission in Hawaii, he goes along, carrying nothing but a wallet and a passport. It turns out to be not his kind of place at all, so he ditches the ashram after less than a day, and lives with a family. He holds down a regular job for a while, and visits the areas where the good weed grows, and a cave dwellers’ colony, and a cliff-dweller’s paradise.

Eventually, back at Hunga Dunga, he finds that his disloyalty is not popular. He’s not exactly shunned or ostracized, but he won’t be allowed all the way home, either. Instead, he’s deported to the country house.

It’s not total isolation, of course. People come up from the city, and they get close to some of the locals. Working naked in the garden, they distract pilots, who veer from their courses to ogle. Jon shows up for a while, then goes away again, and Giacco is alone at the Dome. On a hiking trip, he meets up with a ranger, and they have a three-day wilderness honeymoon. “We seek to satisfy our primitive and functional need for connection. Sometimes we do it in the least expected ways. There is a strange magic about it I like.”

In the country, after harvest, there’s the social season, of astonishing variety in such a remote place. More freaks are discovered holed up in different parts of the hills. The peculiar brand of morality and misplaced judgmentalness of some of the long-term residents is disturbing, and there is some friction with the Christians. One friend is scolded by his own collective: “You are spending too much time with Hunga Dunga. You are spending too much time with Giacco. You have fallen into their devil’s trap!”

And the snow comes. Lots of it. Cross-country skiing becomes the main occupation. Giacco is into and out of an affair with a confused man. A couple of Hunga Dungans arrive and he catches up on the haps. One member has become the first female master plumber in California. Another has bought the house in the city, and become their landlord. And one has a serious relationship with cocaine.

Then once again, Giacco is the only one at the Dome, which becomes the meeting place for the anti-ski resort activists. His life in the country is rich and satisfying, but it has very little to do with the other commune members any more. Reflecting on this, he wishes, “If Hunga Dunga is going to fall apart, let’s make it as graceful as possible, OK? Let’s make it end as beautifully as it started.”

Well, it does, and it doesn’t. Here’s the part I like. Giacco says the same thing about the commune as I’ve said about Venice, California. Not everyone who would like to live there, can. It’s not the same place it used to be, anyway. Living there is beside the point; it’s what you bring to the place and what you take away, that count. Here’s how Giacco says it: “So many have come and stayed for varying lengths of time in this big Blue House, and then left. When they were here, they were Hunga Dunga. And when they left, we can only hope they shared our vision and remained Hunga Dunga.”

The book at Amazon.com

Posted in Books, Culture Heroes | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Science Fiction: the Early Stage

old weird herald

This is all from memory, and includes only one stage of my career as an appreciator of science fiction. (The other stage was much later, and by then I’d learned to call it speculative fiction.) In the town where I grew up, the local library held, for some reason, a very generous selection of s.f. anthologies, and I must have checked out every one of them at least three times. This was when I was around 8-12 years old. Anyway, the stories are burned into my memory, whether accurately or not.

>>> Modern scientists visit a monastery in the Himalayas. The monks are reciting the nine billion names of God. They’ve been working their way through the list for millennia, and when they get done, the world is scheduled to end. The scientists scoff. I think the last line is, “One by one, the stars began to blink out.” Just calling it to mind still sends a shiver up and down my spine.

>>> A spaceman is marooned alone, and immobilized by a broken leg, on a strange planet where he may or may not be rescued by his compatriots. He plays a musical instrument (probably a flute or harmonica, it would have to be something pretty small.) To his amazement, another instrument joins him. The alien musician turns out to be incredibly hideous, but they play music together until the search party finds them and kills the ugly alien. The spaceship’s crewmen are astonished when the musician/spaceman does not thank them for saving his life. That was a heavy, heavy story, but the only way you’d ever know it is, if it happened to stick in your mind for, like, fifty years.

>>> I think this one’s called “By the Waters of Babylon,” and there’s a little girl named Sophie with six toes, which is bad news for her because of the pogram against mutants.

>>> The parents are both magicians, and they want their boy to grow up and take his place in the family business, but he’s a math geek, and of course he rebels against them. They summon up a terrible demon to scare their son into obedience, but an even more powerful supernatural entity appears, the Accountant, and he defeats the demon, and protects the boy’s autonomy.

>>> On this planet the sun shines only one day a year, and everybody looks forward to it. A mean boy locks up a girl in the school closet and she misses the brief appearance of the sun. I’m betting that it’s called “All Summer in a Day.”

>>> The kid is having a Halloween party. They play the game where everybody sits in a circle in the dark, passing around various raw fruits and vegetables, and other substances, while a story is narrated. For instance, peeled grapes – “These are his eyes…” and all the little girls go “eeewwwww.” Well, it turns out that one of the parents is a psychopath. I’m pretty sure the last line is, “Then some fool turned on the light.”

>>> A little boy named Anthony had the power to make anything happen, anything at all, just by wishing it. All the adults were his terrorized slaves, who had to always agree with him and pretend that everything was just fine. It was a reversal of usual power dynamic between parents and children in real life. But, viewed from another angle, it was an all too realistic picture of what some otherwise perfectly sane parents will do in order to keep the peace. A kid can just wear you down so much, you’ll do anything to placate him and stop the whining, or whatever kind of meltdown they threaten to subject you to. Also, it was an allegory on the relationship of people to God, who was, after all, the omnipotent Being that people were most concerned with, before Anthony came along. What a great story.

>>> A Canticle for Liebowitz is a novel, not a story, and I’m pretty sure I read it early on. I don’t even remember exactly why any more, only that I trust my earlier judgment enough that if I had to pick ten desert island s.f. books today, it would be on the list.

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Throat Singers of Tuva


(This was written many years ago, as pre-show publicity, and then my concert notes say, “Huun Huur Tu means Sun Propeller, the way the rays shoot out from a cloud – the visual effect that a friend once pointed to and said “Look, there’s God.” The harmonics are not what I expected. I’d been thinking in terms of the violin, where you touch the string lightly in a certain place and it makes a sound an octave higher – but for the throat singer, the lower voice is a drone, while upper voice moves around.”)

The brilliant physicist Richard Feynman was the youngest member of the team that invented the atomic bomb. He conceptualized the field of nanotechnology as far back as the 1950s, and many years later it was he who figured out and explained to Congress that the Challenger space shuttle exploded because of defective O-rings.

One of the most interesting things about Feynman was his burning ambition to visit Tannu Tuva. As a child, he had collected the country’s wonderful triangular and diamond-shaped stamps depicting feats of horsemanship, wrestling, archery, and hunting, along with foxes, sables, and many other animals. The bureaucratic red tape took years, and Feynman died before he could get to Tuva. He never even got to hear the unique music except on tape, but we have the opportunity to hear and see Huun-Huur-Tu, the Throat Singers of Tuva. They will be at the Boulder Theatre on February 6. A slide show begins at 7 pm and the concert itself at 8.

Tuva consists of a group of high valleys located in the basin of the Upper Yenisei, between Siberia, the Altai Mountains and the Gobi Desert. The forested zones support a reindeer herding and hunting economy; the high forest and meadow zones an economy based on cattle and horses. Dry upland steppes in the south and east pasture several different kinds of herds – sheep, goats, camels, cattle, horses, yaks and reindeer. A 1931 census revealed that 82% of the population were nomadic herders who followed set migratory routes, moving an average of four times a year.

The people of Tuva also engaged in farming, smithery, jewelry making, and stone and wood carving. Chonardash, or carvable stone, is the rare mineral pyrophillite, which is found only on the summit of one mountain, and has to be dug from a depth of several meters. When first excavated it is pliable, but soon afterward becomes hard as iron.

The people of Tuva are from an ethnic group called the Uriankhai, and historically lived in yurts, round felt-covered huts. Their language has thirteen different words to describe horses of various ages, appearance, function and behavior. Traditionally, the heads of small children of both sexes were shaved except for one lock of hair at the front. The most treasured delicacy of the cuisine is fat of lamb’s tail. Several thousand Tuvans live in Mongolia. The actor Maxim Munzuk, who starred in the cult movie Dersu Uzala, is a Tuvan.

The title Ulag Kham means Great Shaman. The shamans or traditional spiritual leaders would attire themselves in complicated, many-layered costumes, ornamented with iron, that weighed over fifty pounds. Inhaling the smoke of a local narcotic grass, they would play the drums until they entered a trance state.

Tuva is rich in such archeological finds as spectacular Scythian bronze and gold sculptures from between 800 BC to 200 BC, including jewelry for horses. In the Hunnic period, the first 500 years of the Christian era, the Tuvans made arrows with oddly shaped tips which caused them to whistle in flight. One of the wonders of Tuva is an eighth-century fortified palace which nearly covers an entire island in the middle of a lake, and no one knows to this day how the stone was transported there

An eccentric Englishman who made it his life’s work to reach the midpoint of each continent and erect monuments there, deemed Saldam, in Tuva, to be smack dab in the middle of Asia, and put up his monument to it in the late 19th century.

As late as 1943, Tannu Tuva was shown in atlases, but after that it disappeared, because in 1944 the nation allegedly asked to join the USSR. This had little to do with the desires of Tuva itself, and a lot to do with the discovery there of massive amounts of uranium, the first such deposits found in the Soviet sphere of influence. Kyzyl, the capital the newly-christened Tuvinskaya, became the Soviet Union’s “Atom City.”

Throat singing, or khoomei, is described as a “marvel of applied physics” in which the singer produces two or even three notes at once. The ancient style of vocalization has its dangers, and may cause a chronic inflammation of the throat that can lead to cancer. According to legend, khoomei began when a monk heard overtones in a waterfall in an acoustically unique canyon in Western Mongolia. A manual on folk arts said of a khoomei singer, “With his lower voice he sings the melody and accompanies it at the same time with a surprisingly pure and tender sound similar to that of the flute.” Other harmonic techniques produce the sounds of birds, flowing water, and the jingling stirrups of a galloping horse.

Richard Leighton wrote, “At first the higher ‘voice’ sounded like a flute, several octaves higher than the fundamental tone. Then came even stranger styles of khoomei, the most bizarre of which was the ‘rattling’ style, which sounded like a long-winded frog.” One explorer reported hearing a native sing in front of his yurt – “He sang in what seemed to be two voices at once, one reminiscent of the homus, a Tuvinian stringed instrument, and the other the mating call of the woodgrouse at dawn in spring.”

The singers of Huun-Huur-Tu accompany themselves with traditional instruments. Their stringed instruments, embellished with carved horse heads, include a vertical fiddle called the igil, a banjolike lute called the doshpulur, and a cello-like bowed instrument called the byzaanchi. They also employ the shaman’s drum and a rattle made from a bull’s scrotum.

For those who get hooked on the lore of this ancient land, more information is available from an organization founded by Richard Feynman.
Friends of Tuva
Box 70021
Pasadena CA 91117

photo courtesy of Ssppeeeeddyy , used under this Creative Commons license

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