News and Notes
I want the Burning Shore to be many things, perhaps too many—especially given what I am wired to see as my unsatisfying rate of production. That said, one of the goals of the publication is, paradoxically, to step aside from the usual goals, and especially from the hustle, punditry, and desire-to-please (or outrage) that dominates so much contemporary discourse. I want to rediscover the excitement of writing and thinking, to go off-road with the wayward muse, to respond to present passions (and terrors), and, as my pal Jacob puts it, to get out of my own way.
This is the kind of independent writing career that Substack is designed to support. You help me do this by reading these posts, and especially by signing up for a paid subscription. One of the most helpful things, of course, is to pass on my stuff if you like it, since I am relying on word-of-mouth to grow this list and to get to a place where I can devote most of my energies to it.
This month I only got off one heavily-researched piece about the history of my family in San Francisco, as well as an audio recording of the same piece, which is one of the goodies I will be offering to paid subscribers. I am trying to find the balance between frequency, length, depth, and topicality, and it may be some time before I find a true groove. I also accept that it may take many months for a larger pattern to emerge from the various threads I am pursuing, but I can already sense its presence, guiding my hand. Hopefully you do too.
• In June I spoke with David Fuller of Rebel Wisdom about “Our Pandemic Psychedelic Trip.” Starting off with Grof’s notion of psychedelics as “non-specific amplifiers,” David dropped us into the deep end of the pool: how does our contemporary reality resemble tripping? Others have written wonderfully about this curiously pressing topic (at least for heads), and our conversation here just scratched the surface, even as we wrestled with conspiracies, paranoia, not-knowing, viruses, and the strange wonder of it all.
• In July, I spoke again with Michael Taft for his wonderful Deconstructing Yourself podcast. Picking up on some of the themes in my Rebel Wisdom conversation, we followed a more twisted path into “Paranoia, Conspiracy, and Covid.” We touch on the religion of QAnon, Gnostic psychology, narrative warfare, the “disenchanted paranormal,” and the challenge of taking responsibility for your own processing of reality. To treat ourselves, we bucked caution and recorded the dialogue in (socially distanced) person, and I hope the now rare pleasure of just hanging out and shooting the shit comes through.
• On Saturday, August 1, I will once again convene the San Francisco Psychedelic Sangha at 6pm PT. After a half-hour meditation, I will offer a short talk before opening it up for discussion. Though I prefer to meet in person, Zoom gatherings have allowed dharmanauts from all over to gather, and the feeling of liminal community has grown. This month I want to explore the tricks and traps of visions—and particularly visual visions. Sign up here; dana can be tossed into the SF Dharma Collective bucket.
• In last month’s Blast, I talked about the psychedelic art of the Houston “expanded collage” artist Patrick Turk. On Thursday, August 6th, I will be participating in a Facebook Live conversation with the artist hosted by the Art Museum of Southeast Texas. The conversation will take place at 5pm Central time / 3pm Pacific. More info on this free event here.
• The Blazing Star Oasis, the Oakland body of the Ordo Templi Orientis, has kindly invited me to address their group, and the public is invited as well. At 2 pm PT, on Saturday, August 29, I will be talking about “As-If Magick for Highly Weird Times.” I will try and further unfold the esoteric implications of my High Weirdness work on the relationship of fiction, reality, belief and media. Tickets, available here, are $15; for a discount of $4, you are welcome to use the code WEIRDNESS418 when you check out.
I had the great good fortune to first attend Burning Man back in 1994, and wound up writing one of the first national essays about the festival. When lecture spaces opened on playa, I gave many strange talks; later I even penned the libretto for the (criminally ignored!) Burning Man rock opera How to Survive the Apocalypse. As the popularity and “significance” of that Thing in the Desert has exploded, I have correspondingly lost interest in both the event and—with a few colleagues excepted—the discourse around it. Besides, reading or talking about Burning Man has always seemed paradoxical to the point of pointlessness, like nattering on about orgasms, or Zen. Probably my greatest Burning Man statement was mute:
So consider me extra impressed that Tony “Coyote” Perez’s new book Built to Burn: Tales of the Desert Carnies of Burning Man (Burning Man Project) went down so good, like a frothy margarita guzzled from a cracked Tiki mug in the middle of a long hot dusty day. As folks who have read his occasional posts on the Burning Man Journal know, Perez writes with just the right blend of poetry, grit, spunk, and self-effacing humor to pull off a thrilling early playa memoir at this jaded late date. His opening chapters on the matchless chaos of the 1996 gathering—the legendary Hellco year—weave his own lone-wolf wanderings and newbie acid fuck-ups into an expansive and valuable portrait of a particularly special crinkle in spacetime, pungent with detail. (Yhali Ilan’s Steadmanian line drawings help a lot.) Whenever Perez described people I knew or stuff I witnessed, he hit the rebar on the head, stirring the embers of memory.
Perez co-founded Burning Man’s Department of Public Works and has been building and striking Black Rock City for decades. I always appreciated the feral exuberance and alcoholic rigor of these mad carny folk, who fully embody one of the most singular features of the Burn: its grueling, almost absurdist culture of labor. Perez captures this culture, and also displays a charming mode of playa “masculinity” (embodied by plenty of ladies and off-the-gender-gridders as well): a combination of the roughneck’s can-do skills with the marginal artist’s more wayward proclivities. Dodging the braggadocio that damns so many countercultural memoirs, Perez just tugs us onboard, hands us a cigar, and takes off on a vivid and hilarious ride down drive-by shooting range lane.
There is a lambent glow lurking in the British mysteries, a peculiar shine that, when the time is right, lights up the more visible marvels of megalith and tor and copse, and slips open the gates of dawn. This shimmer is more ominous than whimsical delight, but more buoyant than the inky gloom of the eldritch. It’s the twinkle in the eye of that otherbeing peeking through the heather, the one you are not sure you are ready to meet.
Maybe you know what I mean, maybe you don’t, but I can sense this glow pervading To Kiss Earth Goodbye (House of Mythology), the uncanny new full-length release from Teleplasmiste, a British duo whose music is devoted to “exploring nature and electricity.” (Full disclosure: one half of the group is Mr. Mark Pilkington, founder of Strange Attractor Press and my collaborator, traveling chum, and sometimes publisher for the last twenty years.) The album opens with “Come! Vehicles of Light,” whose title suggests a lost M.R . James tale, and whose organic clusters of chimes and underwater echoes let us know from the get-go how far we have come from the drive and density of urban electronica. Tracks like “Possessors of the Orb” instead stage an archaic revival of the Drone, melding bagpipe moans with cosmic plasmas. Most of the album unfolds in a lush but unsettling liminal zone between ambient drift and pulse. The playful, almost sing-song melodies of “A Goodly Company” similarly twist in and out of tune, like the moment of coming up on drugs where the initial charm starts to go warpy and strange. You don’t need the gorgeous cover art (by the 20th century spirit painter Ethel Le Rossignol) or the long vocal sample of British witch Alex Sanders to recognize what we are lucky to have here: a magical thing, full stop.
I don’t listen to podcasts much, but I have tons of respect for what Marc Maron has been up to forever now with WTF, which explores the dialogic space between funny and frank with all manner of interlocutors. But I had never seen him actually do comedy until I watched End Times Fun, his new 70-minute show on Netflix. It might sound weird to say, but the show isn’t that funny, and that’s part of what’s good about it. Taking advantage of the truth-telling privileges afforded to comedians, Maron uses the stage not so much to wield “the power of laughter” but to anxiously wrestle in public with the powerlessness of our apocalyptic condition—political impotence, environmental collapse, Trump terror, the groundlessness of most of our beliefs. Sure, there are plenty of chuckles about anti-vaxxers, yoga narcissists, and the stupidity of superhero movies (and the now oppressive nerd culture they represent). But Maron doesn’t hide his anxieties behind the punch lines, instead inviting us into the origins of his riffs: a fundamental confusion about wtf is going on.
I hope you enjoyed this monthly Blast from The Burning Shore. Please consider a paid subscription if you can. Or pass this post along to someone who might dig it. Thanks!