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Jeff McBride

 Jeff McBride

by David Jay Brown

Jeff McBride is recognized as one of the most talented and respected stage magicians in the world, as well as a foremost innovator in contemporary magic. He was awarded the title “Magician of the Year” by Hollywood’s famed Magic Castle for his remarkable sleight-of-hand abilities, and he was voted critics’ choice as “Best Magician in Las Vegas” in the Review-Journal annual poll at Caesars Magical Empire in Las Vegas. McBride performs regularly to standing ovations at some of the world’s most spectacular theaters–including Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, Radio City Music Hall in New York, and Her Majesty’s Theater in London. 

Before starting his solo career, McBride was the opening act of choice for Tina Turner, Diana Ross, and other top stars. His show “McBride-Magic!” was the featured attraction at the Monte Carlo Festival of Magic, and his show “Mask, Myth & Magic” won acclaim Off-Broadway and on national tour, as well as at arts festivals in Barcelona (for the 1992 Olympics), London, Hong Kong, China, and Bangkok. 

McBride has appeared in numerous television specials. His spectacular “Burned Alive!” escape was highlighted the ABC TV special “Champions of Magic.” He was featured on NBC’s “World’s Greatest Magic”, the PBS documentary, “The Art of Magic,” The Learning Channel’s “The Mysteries of Magic”, and the PAX series, “Masters of Illusion.” McBride also worked on the Discovery Channel’s “Mysteries of Magic”, where he served as a consultant on shamanism and ritual magic. The Fox television network even devoted a Star Trek Deep Space 9 episode to McBride’s mind-bending illusions, by having him guest star on the show as “Joran”, a role created especially for him.

McBride draws upon many traditions in his magic shows. He has traveled the world extensively, studying different magical traditions, which he incorporates into his performances. He is well-known for his use of masks, and he weaves myth, mime and dance together with comedy and theater, blending a myriad of cultural influences into his performance. His background in psychology, hermetic philosophy and alchemy, are also integrated into his acts. McBride has created a wizardly blend of multicultural entertainment spectacles that echo down the corridors of time to the shamanic origins of  performance magic. New York Times columnist Glenn Collins writes, “What Mr. McBride gives his audiences is a mesmerizing performance…a magic show that is at once a celebration of mystery and a struggle to understand powerful forces.”

In addition to his conventional magic shows, McBride also regularly leads ceremonial rituals at large outdoor gatherings, where he blends performance magic with alchemical “magick” and traditional shamanic rituals, sometimes for several consecutive days and nights. Each year, amongst the ancient redwood trees in the Santa Cruz mountains of California, he leads a five day ritual theater festival called Fire Dance, which combines magic with midnight fires, nonstop drumming, chanting, prayers and performances from many different traditions. The Fire circle festivals are now being done all over world–across the U.S., Hawaii, Amsterdam and Bali.

In addition to his work as a performer, McBride also lectures and runs workshops for such diverse groups as The Smithsonian, The Disney Institute, the International Brotherhood of Magicians, and the Center for Symbolic Studies. McBride also founded The Mystery School, an organization of magicians who are interested in exploring “the deeper sides of the art of magic”. This unique experiential retreat for magicians was the subject of an acclaimed 1994 CBC-TV documentary hosted by Arthur Kent. McBride is also the cofounder of the WorldMagicsTM Festivals–multi-cultural celebrations of the environment, or “enviro-magic”–and with Eugene Burger he teaches regular sessions of “McBride’s Master Class” at his home studio in Las Vegas, as well as semiannual retreats for the further exploration of the magical arts. 

McBride coauthored the book Mystery School: An Adventure into the Deeper Meaning of Magic. Although the book is written primarily for practicing magicians, I think that it would be of interest to anyone intrigued by alchemy, mysticism, and the transformation of consciousness.  His videotaped series teaching “The Art of Card Manipulation” is among the best selling magic teaching videos of all time. To find out more about McBride’s work his web site is: www.mcbridemagic.com

I met Jeff at a large pagan gathering in upstate New York called the Starwood Festival, where he was performing and I was lecturing. Before returning to California, I had lunch at he airport with him, writer R.U. Sirius and his fiancé graphic artist Eve Berni. When the checks arrived at the end of our meal, I quickly snatched up the four leather pouches that hid our checks, and without looking inside them, held them out like I was fanning a deck of cards. I asked everyone to pick a pouch, any pouch. Everyone took a pouch, and when each was opened–miraculously–we all had our own bill. “How did you do that?” Jeff asked. I just smiled.

Jeff currently lives in Las Vegas, Nevada, where he performs regularly with his wife Abbi Spinner. Earlier this year, McBride previewed his new theatrical show “The Forbidden Secret of Magic” with Abbi and Eugene Burger at Magicopolis magic theatre in Los Angeles, and presented his new grand illusion spectacular “Jeff McBride-Abracadazzle!” to standing ovations at the Claridge in Atlantic City. I interviewed Jeff on September 15, 2002, and again on February 18, 2004. Jeff speaks slowly and precisely. He puts a lot of thought into his words. Jeff has a strong sense of intuition, and a strange synchronicity seemed to guide our conversations. It was as each of his answers seemed to anticipate my next question. Among the many subjects touched upon in this interview, we discussed his background as a magician, the relationship between shamanism and stage magic, and how the placebo effect influences healing.

 

David: What were you like as a child?

Jeff: I was very hyperactive, always looking for a place to store my energy. I was into masks, horror movies, and drumming. I had a lot of energy that I needed to find a creative outlet for. I initially found it through drumming and martial arts. Then I eventually discovered dance and performance magic. These became ways for me to channel all of this energy. I’m still very blessed with this energy, and I found a way to channel the energy at a very early age. 

David: How did you become interested in stage magic?

Jeff: I grew up in upstate New York, and I was very isolated from other kids. There were no magicians in the area. I found a magic book next to the music book that I was studying in school, and that opened up a whole new world for me. I was taking books out from the library on music, and there was a book on magic next to them. I had never really seen magic performed anywhere, but I started reading about it.

David: How old were you at the time?

Jeff: Eight years old. I think every kid, when they’re about seven, eight years old is looking for sense of personal power, something to make them different or stand out. And I was the only magician, and that felt really good to me. There was nobody they could compare me to, as bad as I was.

David: How have your travels influenced your stage performance?

Jeff: My performance is drawn from the roots of many different world theater disciplines. When I was in Japan I studied Kabuki theater. When I was in Europe I studied classical mime at Comedia delle Arte. Wherever I go, I try to pick up some of the influence of the culture–especially by meeting magicians in the many different places that I travel, finding out the way people experience magic differently in the world, and by the way the performers create their magic and rituals.

David: Are there other people who have been integrating mime, dance, comedy, and theater into their magic performance, or is this combination pretty unique to you?

Jeff: I think the blend that I have is quite unique. However, comedy and magic–that’s been done since the very

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Paul Krassner

Paul Krassner

by David Jay Brown

Paul Krassner is a rare blend of satirist, comedian, prankster and political activist. Many comedians and writers–such as George Carlin, Lenny Bruce, Matt Groening, Robert Anton Wilson, and Kurt Vonnegut–have attributed some of their comedic inspiration to Krassner. 

Krassner is perhaps most well-known for publishing the satirical political magazine The Realist, which was the first adult satire magazine.The Realist blurred the distinction between actual news and fictitious humor, and it was often very difficult to tell the difference–which was precisely why the magazine was so much fun. The magazine ran between 1958 and 2001 (with a break between 1974 and 1985). With its irreverent mockery of authority, and its radical politics,The Realist not only paved the way for mainstream adult parody magazines, such asNational Lampoon and Spy, but it was also a large part of the inspiration for the underground press in the Sixties. 

Krassner was a child prodigy violinist. At the age of six, he was the youngest person to ever perform at Carnegie Hall. But his real passion was making people laugh. He wrote for Mad magazine in the Fifties, and he co-founded the Yippies (Youth International Party), with Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman in the Sixties. In fact, Krassner coined the term “Yippie”. The Yippies were a radical, left-wing, largely student-based political organization, that staged public pranks–such as running a pig for president and dropping money from the balcony of the New York Stock Exchange–in order to attract media attention, which they used to spread their political messages. They were pioneers in learning how to launch what Douglas Rushkoff would later call “media viruses”–a media story that carries a cultural message beyond the actual story.

Krassner edited Lenny Bruce’s autobiography, How to Talk Dirty and Influence People, and with Lenny’s encouragement, became a standup comedian himself, opening at the Village Gate in New York in 1961. During the Sixties Krassner often performed on college campuses and at antiwar rallies. When ABC newscaster Harry Reasoner wrote in his memoirs, “Krassner not only attacks establishment values; he attacks decency in general”, Krassner named his one-person show “Attacking Decency in General”, receiving awards from the L.A. Weekly andDramaLogue. Krassner has appeared on numerous television shows–including “Late Night” with Conan O’Brien, and “Politically Incorrect” with Bill Maher–and has written for HBO and Fox television shows, such as Ron Reagan’s late-night TV talk show.

Krassner’s comedy albums include, We Have Ways of Making You LaughBrain Damage ControlSex, Drugs and the AntichristCampaign in the Ass and Irony Lives!  He is also the author and co-author of numerous books, including The Winner of the Slow Bicycle RaceConfessions of a Raving Unconfined NutSex, Drugs and the Twinkie MurdersImpolite Interviews, Pot Stories For the Soul, Magic Mushrooms and Other Highs, and Murder At the Conspiracy Convention & Other American Absurdities.

I interviewed Paul on November 21, 2003. Paul and I have corresponded by email for years, and I was happy to be able to have this opportunity to talk with him at length. Paul has a thoughtful and generous manner about him. He’s very polite, and he can be hilariously funny without even trying, it seems–often taking you by surprise with his unique perspectives. He had me laughing out loud many times during the interview. We talked about how comedy can be used as a tool to help educate people and increase political awareness, why satire often becomes prophetic, what it was like to accompany Groucho Marx on his first acid trip, and why he thinks that the labels of fiction and nonfiction may no longer be permitted in the libraries of the future.

 

David: What were you like as a child?

Paul: I was mischievous. I was also a child-prodigy violinist, and turned out to be the youngest person ever to perform at Carnegie Hall.

David: How old were you?

Paul: I was six years old. But even as a kid violinist I was still mischievous. Somebody would be playing the piano on stage, and I would pull the curtain down on them. Or I would play the violin, and then bow to the audience with my rear end facing them. I just had this predilection for breaking frames.

David: How did you first become interested in politics and satire?

Paul: A year later, when I was seven, I was in elementary school, and one of the kids got in front of the class, pulled down his zipper and exposed himself. He got sent to reform school, and somehow, without having the vocabulary to express it, I felt that the punishment did not fit the crime. So the next day , after having done my self-imposed homework, I got in front of the class, pulled down my zipper, and exposed a drawing that I had made of my penis. And this was intuitive mischief, and even subversion. But the rules seemed to me to be arbitrary. So I did that, and the class laughed. In retrospect, I realize that it was an optimistic move. I thought that because I hadn’t shown my actual penis I wouldn’t be sent to reform school, and I was right about that.

Even before that, on the stage of Carnegie Hall, I woke up while I was playing Vivaldi Concerto in A Minor. I had practiced myself right out of my childhood. What started to wake me up was an itch in my left leg. I knew that I wasn’t supposed to follow the impulse of stopping playing the Volde Concerto, and scratching my leg with my bow, so I simply deferred to my underground laboratory of alternative solutions to a problem. What occurred to me–and I followed the impulse–was to just stand on my left leg, and scratch it with my right foot, without missing a note of the Volde. I did this and the audience laughed. And I woke up to that sound of laughter. I mean, that was my relation to the ultimate mystery of existence, without having any dogma to impose a metphor for the mystery.

But the thing is that I was not trying to make the audience laugh. I was just trying to solve my own problem. So thinking about that I realized–and I understood a lot of this in retrospect–that one person’s logic is another person’s humor. And that perception has served as my process for turning political logic into satire–because they all try to be logical up there. With every lie they tell, they think they’re being logical, and the American population has been dumbed down enough to accept a lot of that logic. So then, as I, as I got older it could apply specifically to social and political contradictions and injustices.

David: Why do you think it’s important to question authority?

Paul: Because authorities don’t necessarily have your interests at heart. They may rationalize–or even genuinely believe–that they have compassion and justice in mind, but too often their real goal is to perpetuate their own power.

David: What inspired you to start The Realist?

Paul: I had been working for a monthly anticensorship paper called The Independent. Lyle Stuart was the editor. I had also been doing some freelance stuff for Mad magazine. But Mad was only for teenagers, essentially, preteens even, and if I would give them a subject that seemed too adult, it would be turned down. I remember talking to the publisher, Bill Gaines about this. They had like a million and a quarter circulation, which was pretty big at the time, and still is. I said, I guess you don’t want to change horses when you’re in midstream. And his answer, which became like a mantra to me, was, “not when the horse has a rocket up it’s ass”. At that moment I understood the bottom line . 

There was no satirical magazine for grown-ups at the time. This was before SpyNational LampoonSaturday Night Live, and Doonsberry. So there was no humor in the things that I was concerned about–which was everything from anti-circumcision to antinuclear testing–because of all the taboos. So if  an anthropologist of the future watched the situation comedies on TV, they wouldn’t be able tell what was festering under the culture of piety. So the motivation for The Realist came from combining the First Amendment

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Simon Posford

Shpongle & Psychedelics:
An Interview with Simon Posford

By David Jay Brown

Simon Posford (a.k.a. Hallucinogen) is a British musician and producer, specializing in psychedelic electronic music, spanning many genres from psychedelic trance (psytrance), to rock, to electronica. 

Posford’s first studio album, Twisted, was released in 1995 under the artist name “Hallucinogen.” Twisted is considered one of the most influential albums in the genre of psytrance, and Posford’s connection with psychedelics was evident from the title of the very first track–“LSD,” which, to this day, remains the defining sound of a form of electronic music that originated during the late 1980s in Goa, India called “Goa trance.” 

In 1996 Posford and Australian musician Raja Ram created one of the most popular electronica music projects of all time–Shpongle. Arguably, not since The Grateful Dead has a brand of popular music been so lovingly associated with psychedelics as Shpongle has. Psychedelics have played a huge role in the creation, performance, and experience of Shpongle’s music, which is extremely popular among members of the psychedelic community.

Posford is generally responsible for coordinating the synthesizers, studio work, and live instrumentation, while Raja contributes broad musical concepts and flute arrangements. Shpongle’s unique style combines Eastern ethnic instruments, flute riffs and vocals, with contemporary Western synthesizer-based electronic music, hyperdimensional alien space acoustics, and sound clips from television shows and spoken words. Truly genre-defying, Shpongle contains elements of Jazz, Classical, Dub and Glitch, among others.

Shpongle performs live with different musicians, dancers and other performers, while Posford masterfully controls an electronic sound board, alchemically mixing and remixing the music, engineering, tweaking, and orchestrating the highly textured, multilayered music that emerges. Shpongle’s studio albums include: Are You Shpongled? (1998), Tales of the Inexpressible (2001), Nothing Lasts… But Nothing Is Lost (2005), and Ineffable Mysteries from Shpongleland (2009). Posford also frequently tours as Hallucinogen.

I interviewed Simon on July 26, 2011. Since Simon’s music has served as the soundtrack for numerous personal psychedelic experiences, this was a special interview for me. It was great fun to–as Simon put it–“intellectualize the abstract” and “muse over the ineffable” together. There’s a delightful eloquence to the way that Simon expresses himself, and a vibrant sense of creativity continually comes through his words. We spoke about how his psychedelic journeys have effected his creativity and his experience with music. 

David: What inspired your interest in music?

Simon: When I was just growing up there was always music around my house. My parents were very young. My mom was 19 and my dad was 21 when they had me, so there was always music on the stereo, and it obviously caught my ear. I have fond memories of the speakers booming late into the night, in spite of the fact they were playing the likes of Donna Summer, Queen, Elton John, and E.L.O. My grandfather was a composer in the Forties. He wrote for musicals featuring stars of that era such as Bing Crosby and Vera Lynn, but I never knew him, so I don’t know if there’s any genetic link, or even if there’s any validity to that idea. I would say that my interest was probably more just the result being constantly surrounded by music as I was growing up.

David: How did you become involved with creating Shpongle?

Simon: That was when I got together with Raja Ram in 1996. We went to the Glastonbury Festival, which is a huge festival in the U.K. In those days, they got up to around 300,000 people going, because they had a hard time keeping people outside the gates from sneaking in for free. Now it’s more regimented. They’ve got two double fences, and it’s really hard to get in without a ticket, so there’s only around 170,000 people going now. The festival takes place on a huge farm in the rolling hills of Avalon, and right at the top of site they have built a large stone circle, which normally hosts a variety of drummers, druids and lost souls trying to escape the general mayhem and seek some sort of refuge.

I remember clearly, Raj and I were sitting there, watching this Celtic harp player, and I think that we’d both taken some psychedelic substance. I’m not sure what it was, probably acid. We were listening to this beautiful music emanating from this faery goddess and her wooden harp – we were just fascinated by her. We became obsessed with her pulchritude and grace, falling in love with her, lured like Odysseus to the Sirens’ song. She was so exquisitely beautiful – we never even saw her face, we were sat behind her. But she sat so upright, and this music was divine. Raja and I had made only trance music together up to this point, but during that performance we thought it would be really nice to try to capture that particular moment. It wouldn’t have to be dancey, but just something that reproduced the energy of the stone circle, and tribal beauty of the bonfires, the smoke mingling with the mist rolling in through the valley and the honeyed tones of our Celtic muse.

David: What do you think makes Shpongle’s music unique?

Simon: That’s a tricky one for me to answer, because I’m obviously so involved in it. But I would say that what makes anyone’s music unique is that it comes from deep within the soul of the writers. The KLF wrote in their inspirational book, “The Manual”, that two artists could each make a track using only a single kick drum, the same sound, at the same tempo, yet undoubtedly one would STILL be better than the other. You could listen to both tracks and you would surely prefer one over the other. Maybe because no matter what you do, or whatever you write, the musician’s character and soul shines through, and some people you resonate with, and some people you don’t.

David: What inspired the name “Shpongle”?

Simon: The name “Shpongle” came from my partner Raj. One day he had taken some acid, and… (Laughter heard in the background.) My girlfriend is just laughing. (Explaining to girlfriend.) This is for a psychedelic site; it’s for MAPS. I guess all of these drug references are okay? My girlfriend is just laughing at me.

Girlfriend: Cause I’m on acid now!

Simon: She’s on acid now, driving the car. (laughter) – not really, don’t worry. Anyway, Raj was tripping one day, and he said, “Oh Si, I’m feeling really shpongled.” This word was a mixture of a lot of other words that we were using at the time–like “spangled,” “stoned,” “monged,” and “mashed”–and all of these came out as one word: “shpongled.” So I said, that’s a great word, maybe we should use that as a band name or track name–as it captured the essence of the message we were trying to get across, without a tired history of associations and expectations that existing words are weighed down by.

David: That’s so appropriate too, since your music blends so many different styles together. In general, with Shpongle, how would you describe your creative process?

Simon: Raj will turn up, sometimes with a load of samples or recordings. One time he went to Brazil and recorded some stuff there. Otherwise, he’ll record stuff off of TV shows, some spoken words, or bamboo forests creaking in the wind…something like that. So that might spawn an idea for a track. 

Raj is a very visual person, and he’s a fabulous painter, so he might come up with a visual image that, in time, I’ll translate into music. Over the years he’s come up with some inspiring imagery, such as a lake shimmering in the sky. Our most recent one was about CERN, the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland, and about the idea of particles colliding at high velocities, neutrinos protons and neutrons smashing into each other, creating black holes explosions and new universes. Stuff like that.

So we’ll have a visual image. Then, when I can finally get him to shut up, Raj will sit on the sofa and do a thousand drawings into his notebook, while I’ll sit at the computer and get about translating our images into sound. I generally do the programming, playing and production because Raj can’t work the computer or any of the equipment, but he’s the inspiration and the muse, and will play flute or jabber strange vocals into the mic (being the cunning linguist he is). We start with just a blank canvas, an empty computer screen, and just add more and more sounds–until it’s time to go home, I’m either sick of having him in my house, or he’s sick of sitting on my sofa, listening to me torture him with various obnoxious instruments. Then we stop, and later we mix it. Then we give it the acid test. He’ll take some LSD and put the headphones on when I’m ready to mix. Then I’ll play it to him at high volume, and–judging by the state of his eyeballs and his face afterwards–I’ll know whether we’ve got a good one or not. (laughter)

David: I love it! This leads right into my next question, which is– how have

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George Carlin

David Jay Brown

Interviews George Carlin

George Carlin is a writer, standup comedian, actor and proponent of free speech. His irreverent, controversial, and thought-provoking standup routines have gotten him arrested, earned him four Grammy Awards, and tested the limits of free speech in America.

Carlin grew up in uptown Manhattan, in west Harlem. He began his performance career as a disk jockey in Shreveport, Louisiana in 1956, not long after quitting high school at the age of sixteen. After a few broadcasting jobs, Carlin left for Hollywood, to pursue a career in comedy. There, with his partner Jack Burns, he began doing offbeat comedy team routines. In the early 60’s, the comedy team of “Burns and Carlin” was a huge success. They had a radio show, did night clubs, and had an album, Burns & Carlin at the Playboy Club Tonight. With the help of Lenny Bruce, they got an agent and began touring nightclubs around the country.

Carlin decided to go solo with his career in 1962. He appeared on The Tonight Show, and started playing nightclubs around the country. Although, by conventional standards, Carlin became a great success during the Sixties, by the end of the decade he began to question what he was doing as a comedian. He wasn’t content performing tame comedy routines to mainstream, conservative audiences. He wanted to begin to speak to his own generation, and the youth culture with which he identified.

Carlin risked his successful career, to break away from the traditional comedy routines, and do something entirely new. He completely re-created his approach and his material, and, in the process, helped to recreate standup comedy. Over a two-year period, Carlin went from being a clean-cut, suit-and-tie, mainstream entertainer, to being a bearded, long-haired, casually-dressed comedian who incorporated politics, philosophy, and material into his act that some people called “profanity”. Some of his old fans found his new material offensive.

Although he was fired from the Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas in 1969 for saying “ass”, and again in 1970 for saying “shit”, his risky gamble paid off. He soon found a new, much larger audience. During the early Seventies, Carlin’s riffs on sex, drugs, language and politics gained him an avid following among his own generation and the counterculture. His first album, FM & AM, went gold in 1972, the first of four that earned gold status and won a Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album. Carlin had numerous successful albums produced, such as Occupation Foole and Class Clown, which featured the recorded debut of the “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television” routine.

Carlin is probably most well-known for the “Filthy Words” routine, which was aired on WBAI in New York in 1973, and almost cost the radio station its broadcasting license. The legal battle that ensued went all the way to the Supreme Court, and although the Supreme Court ruled in the Federal Communication Commission’s favor–so it remained a crime to broadcast those seven naughty words over the air–this controversy, along with Carlin’s arrest after a Milwaukee concert appearance for violating local obscenity laws, only served to elevate his popularity. Carlin became a counterculture hero.

In 1975 Carlin hosted the debut episode of Saturday Night Live on NBC. Since then, he has written and performed in 13 HBO specials, and has appeared in many films, such as Car Wash, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Dogma, Prince of Tides, and Jersey Girl. In 1987 he received a Hollywood Walk of Fame star at the corner of Vine and Selma Streets. In the early 1990’s Carlin hosted the PBS children’s series Shining Time Station, and in 1994 he starred as a cab driver in the Fox television sitcom The George Carlin Show. Some of his other albums include A Place for My Stuff, Playin’ With Your Head, Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics, Back in Town, Jammin in New York, and You Are All Diseased. His newest album is Complaints and Grievances. He is also the author of several books that made The New York Times bestseller list, including Sometimes a Little Brain Damage Can Help, Brain Droppings, and Napalm & Silly Putty. His most recently published book is When Will Jesus Bring the Porkchops?

At the age of 67, Carlin continues to tour, doing ninety concerts a year, and turning out a new HBO show and CD every two years, and he continues to act in films. I’ve been a huge fan of Carlin’s work ever since I was a teenager, so it was quite a thrill for me to spend this time with him. I spoke with George on September 28, 2003. For someone who has such a sharp tongue during his performances, and who defines himself as an antiauthoritarian lawbreaker, George is a really nice guy, and his charisma simply shimmers. He has an extraordinary mastery of the English language, and he can be simply dazzling with his use of words. Although George can’t seem to help being funny at times, he took the questions in this interview quite seriously. He put a lot of thought into how he chose each of his words when he answered my questions. He also kept making me laugh. I spoke with George about the process of creativity, the relationship between shamanism, altered states of consciousness and comedy, the joys of language, politics in America, and why he thinks it’s important to destroy authority and shatter taboos.

David: What were you like as a child? 

George: I came from a family where my father was not present in the home. He could not metabolize ethanol effectively, so he was given his hat early on. My mother raised my brother and me in the 40’s–late 30’s, 40’s, 50’s–on a good job she had in advertising. So I was alone most of the day after school, except for some playmates I had. But I would have the house to myself. I listened to the radio. I was kind of sweet kid, according my mother, and my recollections. Thoughtful and good, but kind of alone–although I didn’t interpret it that way, as such. Children never interpret these things. They think they understand logically. 

So my father wasn’t there, and my mother had to work, and underneath I felt somewhat alone and unlooked out for. So I became very independent, and very self-sufficient. I did a lot of thinking, and used mental activity to relieve whatever feelings I had. I became very left-brained, and I was good in school. That is, I was a smart kid. I went to a very progressive Catholic school–not the kind we always hear about–where individuality was encouraged. I was good at class work, but I was a distraction. I was a class clown, of the classic term for it. I would get the work done easily, and then I would try to deprive other people of their educations. I developed skills for mimicry, and I was a good showoff. I knew how to get attention, and I knew how to do it in a positive funny way. 

David: How did you become interested in doing comedy?

George: Well, it became apparent to me that there was a reward in being like that. You get people’s attention and approval, most of the time. So I gravitated toward being a funny guy. I liked the radio comedians. I lived in the Golden Age of radio, and the Golden Age of television came along when I was still in my early teens. I listened to comedians on the radio. I watched comedians in the movies–Bob Hope, Danny Kaye, Red Skeleton. My friend Roger Hogan had an collection of Spike Jones record albums, and I thought they were fabulous. And I became a guy who wanted to be a comedian someday, or a comic actor. The way I put it was, I’ll be like Danny Kaye. He was kind of the model I had in mind.

I’d look at him in the movies, and I’d say, I can do that. I liked him because he had a verbal fluency, and he was fast. He could do accents, funny faces and body postures. So early in life I decided to be a comedian, with the goal of becoming–I called it–an actor. But comedian was really the dominant trait, the dominant part of this skill package that I had.

Then I quit school. In your teenage years, early adolescence, there’s a differentiation that has to go on between you and your parents, especially with the parent of the opposite sex. In adolescence you have to separate yourself and establish your identity. So, being very independent anyway, I took charge. My mother and I had a lot of distance between us emotionally, although, on the surface, most of the time, we appeared good and friendly, and all that. But I was a problem. I was a street kid. 

So I quit school in ninth grade, even though I was good at the studies. I knew I didn’t need school for what I wanted. I knew I had a command of English. I knew I could think well. I knew enough arithmetic so that I could balance a checkbook, as they say. So I just quit school in ninth grade, and worked for a year at Western Union at a desk job. Then I went in the Air Force at seventeen to launch myself. It was to get away from my mother a little bit too. 

I had run away from home three times. I had been kicked out of three different schools under different circumstances. I was kicked out of everything that I didn’t quit. Kicked out of schools. Kicked out of summer camp, the Boy Scouts, the alter boys, the choir, and something else that I can’t think of, that I’m proud of. Anyway, that was my pattern. I just began to invent myself early in life, and went out and did something about it.

David: What inspires your comedy writing? 

George: The impulse comes from within, from the need to express yourself, as with any artist. Now, I am an entertainer by definition. However, there’s a difference between entertainer and artist. Sometimes they go together, and sometimes they don’t. Some entertainers just do that. They sing songs that other people wrote, and they act in parts other people wrote. There’s a bit of creativity in their interpretation, but it’s not seminal. It doesn’t really come from them. 

Then there are the people who create their work–painters, composers, and, of course, writers. Originally I described myself as a comedian who wrote his own material, and it was true. That was a distinguishing feature among comedians. A lot of them didn’t do that, and a lot them weren’t very prolific. They didn’t have a constant flow of new things. So I stood out, certainly in my own mind, as someone who had something extra going on. 

I used to describe myself as a comedian who wrote his own material, but over the years I discovered that what I really was, was a writer who performed his own material. This was a key distinction for me to discover, because it gave me a kind of artistic confidence, that I had something special. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I had some special gift for expression and verbal fluency–whether the verbs and nouns are on a page, or whether they’re in a microphone. It’s all verbal, and my father and mother gave me that to me. They had very highly pronounced verbal traits–that is, a facility and ease with language–and they were funny. 

So I inherited that, really. I never take credit for anything, because it’s mostly genetic to my way of thinking. Even the need to work hard with some genetic talent you’re given–the need to go out and develop it, and push hard to bring it to people. That could be a genetic trait too–the trait to strive, and to be aggressive with your pursuits. So it’s very nice, all these achievements–but down deep I know this thing is heredity.

David: Can you talk a little bit about your creative process?

George: Here’s how my creative system works. I’m going to talk about my own case, although I sometimes think it applies to all of people who create, and it probably does. But I can best speak about my own situation, what happens over the years, if you’re curious, you read, and try to absorb and soak up information. I quit school when I was sixteen, yet I had a good mind, so I had the need to educate myself, and fill myself with just plain facts and information. I found it interesting to learn secondhand all about Shakespeare, and then some of the classics. Not that I know much about them, but I know the references when I see them.

When you quit school at an early age, I think you have a lifelong need to show the world–and maybe yourself–that you’re really smart after all. So there was this drive to interpret the world. Most art is an interpretation of the world around the artist, whether it’s in paint or in music. I’m not trying to sound grand here with this overuse of the word artist, but I think there’s no other good word for it. So I’ll use it, and risk sounding somewhat self-important. It’s an interpretation of the world around you. It’s the world through your filter. You recreate the world and say, here’s the world as it comes through me. 

Now I’m 66, and over the years I noticed that what occurs as you age is an accumulation of information, data, knowledge, and what I’m going to call the matrix of the mind. There’s just a rich, textured, field of information and impressions that have been all networked by the brain. The neurons are always working, creating new neural networks, and working out connections between things. You don’t even have to work on that. So a person who’s in his Sixties has a much richer interpretation of life as he sees it today, than he did when he was twenty, because at twenty he had less in his matrix. It just wasn’t there experientially. So that’s what happened to me over the years. I developed and matured as an individual/creative person, and my writing matured as well. First of all, my technique improved. For one thing, I got better at the actual writing. And secondly, the comparisons, the information that comes in now is compared against this richer field in my brain. So it has more life to it. There’s more discovery and reality in it for me than there was when it was a little more simplistic. 

Now, in terms of actually functioning day-to-day, here’s what I do. If you buy that brain hemisphere theory–and there’s some question about it now–then I’m right-brained, because I have this free-flowing, creative side. But I’m also extremely left-brained. I’m very organized. I have what you would call obsessive-compulsive tendencies. Now, I don’t have a problem with it. A shrink once taught me to use this to my benefit, not to my detriment. Because it can hurt a person’s life. It can interfere with life. But it can greatly benefit you if it’s channeled correctly. 

So what I’ve always done is try to channel my compulsive need to have order in my physical world and in my work. The more organized my files are (they’re now computer files, although they used to be hard pieces of paper), the more I have to draw from. Because you don’t remember–certainly not consciously–everything you ever heard. So you write things done. I write notes down all the time–anything I think of that has promise for me. Anything that I think fits into my world of what I want to comment on, or know about, I write it down. If I’m in a car, I’ll use a little hand recorder.

Then, regularly–every couple of weeks–I harvest these accumulated notes. Every two weeks or so I put them in the proper places in their files–whether it’s under “animals”, “colors”, “clothing”, “male/female”, “race”, “politics”, “driving”, or “cats and dogs”. These things go in their proper files, and as you put them in, you see the rest of the file, and it makes an impression on you–even if you’re not consciously trying for it. It goes through the system once again. It goes through the neural system, and so these things just become richer and richer.

Then files have a way of maturing on their own, to where I really love it. I look at the thing, and I say, this is good. I got to tell people this. Boy, wait’ll they hear this. That’s the impulse behind the showoff–wait’ll they hear this. So I get that feeling, and I know I’m ready, or sometimes not, because I don’t have enough time in my shows. I have an hour and twenty minutes that I do. I do an HBO show every two years, and that’s an hour’s worth. So if you start out with an hour’s worth of stuff, by the time you get finished with it in a couple of years, it’s an hour and a half, and you don’t get to do it all. 

So there’s this great surplus. And I just write all the time, in some form or another–whether it’s writing notes, harvesting the notes, or taking things from the files and actually doing the writing. That is what I do, and then I channel it on to the stage. The stage goes into HBO and CDs, and now I have this book outlet. I’ve done two books that have done very well, and I’m writing a third one now. It’s called When Will Jesus Bring the Porkchops?, and it’s another collection, but this the best one. I guess, unintentionally, I saved a lot of the best stuff from the first two books. I mean, I’m proud of those first two books, but I know I saved a lot of real gold, and now I’m going to get to use it in this book. So that’s the process.

David: In an interview with Larry Wilde you said that all comedians are motivated by a sense of justice. How has this motivated you? 

George: Comedy is grievances. It’s a recitation of grievances–whether they’re inconsequential, superficial–like “my wife shops too much”, or “kids today”, all those old-fashioned themes–or, if it’s deeper, and somewhat more thoughtful, about social imbalance and inequities, and the folly of human behavior. It’s usually a complaint. So I think inherent in some of that complaint is a sense of wanting more balance, more fairness, and I guess that can translate to justice. 

I’m sure there are examples in certain comedy we can find that would be specific to justice itself, in the broader sense of justice. Then there’s a lot, which is less defined, but leans in that direction–of things that look to redress imbalances and inequities. It’s all about dissatisfaction. My comedy is about being very dissatisfied with my fellow humans, and with the people in this country. I think, basically I think the human species is a failed species. 

I mean, we had a great opportunity, with great gifts. We had this wonderful intellect that raised us up, that gave us the ability to objectify and say, I am here. It is out there. It hasn’t been used for the wrong purposes, but the emphasis has gone in the wrong direction. We were given two great things that distinguished us from other animals, or made us special–and that was the ability to cooperate, but then we also had the natural lower brain need to compete. So competition and cooperation together are what made this species leap, leap, leap forward. But now, I think, competition far outweighs the ability to cooperate. 

There’s no real enlightened self-interest. There’s no foresight. There’s no planning. I mean, there’s a modicum of it you see. They’ll talk about this or that five years down time, but no one is sitting around making concrete plans for things that will happen. They wait for them to happen. They wait for emergencies. They wait for near-emergencies. Then it’s patchwork, and then there’s no money for it. Then some other group has a complaint. It’s just that the competing interests prevent a real, honest beneficent development of the species. I’m talking now partly about the culture, apart from the species, as I mention some of those things. 

There are two things in our culture, I think, that lead us astray. I think we turned everything over–mankind in general, not just our culture–to the high priests and the traders. Everything was turned over to those who wanted to control us through mysterious beliefs. And we had an impulse to connect to the universe. They knew that. The clergy, in general, were very, very devious and clever. They knew people had a need to connect to the “One” of some sort. They know there’s this longing to rejoin nature, because we now feel outside of nature. We objectify. We say, man against nature. Well, that’s absurd because man is obviously a part of nature. 

So when we distinguish ourselves, we set up this battle. And they knew we have underneath that a longing to correct that, to reunite. So they twisted and distorted that into these narrow, superstitious belief systems, where you have this invisible man in the sky who’s judging you, going to put you in fiery place. They manipulated people–some of whom were simply weaker, and some of whom were just easy to manipulate. The traders, the business people, the commercial, the merchant class, they turned everything into acquisition and ownership–and, to oversimplify, “having the latest thing”.

People have material needs, but you don’t need a deodorant for every different day of the week. You don’t need four hundred varieties of mustard. There are are over four hundred different varieties of mustard that some place in Menlo Park, I believe, has at some supermarket there. I counted 151 different choices in the cat food section alone, forgetting dogs. At the car wash I counted over 120 separate ways of changing the smell in your car, whether it was beads, or a little sashay thing, or oils, or sprays, or charms that you hang from the mirror. 120 of them, if you counted all the scents, and all these delivery systems. This is what I call too many choices. There are too many choices in America. 

These are the trivial things that we’re given. We’re given many choices to distract us from the fact that our real choices have been diminished in number. Two political parties. Maybe three or four large banks now. Credit card companies, just a couple, a handful. Newspapers, reduced. Ownership of media, reduced, down to five or six big companies now. Big stock brokerage firms, reduced in number. All of these important things we have less choice. Then we’re distracted with these frivolous choices. 21 flavors of ice cream. 35 flavors of popcorn. You see specialty shops with 35 flavors of popcorn, like chocolate-walnut popcorn. These are absurd distractions from what we are doing to ourselves, because we engage in this. It’s not really all imposed. So that’s my feeling.

David: Why do you think it’s important to question authority? 

George: I think it’s not only necessary to question authority, I say destroy authority–or at least attempt to. I think questioning is not enough, because first of all you have to get the right person to question it, and you have to question it in the proper setting. You have to be in a forum where questioning it will have some effect. Just sitting around saying this or that to yourself doesn’t seem to help. You have to act on those feelings. You have to live your life in an antiauthoritarian way, in a way that defies authority. I’m a rule-breaker. I’m a law breaker. I don’t respect any laws or rules unless there’s something that can get me in trouble. Self-interested, enlightened self-interest. 

I jaywalk, because I can do that skillfully, and I’m not disturbing anyone else’s pattern of life. If I think that jaywalking is going to make someone slow down or stop for me, then I don’t do it. I don’t want people doing that to me, and I don’t need help crossing the street. So, to me, authority is something that a freer spirit, a more independent mind, and a person who can handle the world, doesn’t need guidance from. I think it’s important to put your own situation in mind when you deal with authority. How does it effect me? How do I benefit or lose? Without hurting others, without imposing any inconvenience or hardship on another, can I get around this somehow? That’s just simple selfishness that I think has a good quality to it.

David: Why do you think people create taboos, and why do you think it’s important to break taboos–and find humor in many of the things that a lot of people wouldn’t dare joke about? 

George: I’m not well-read enough, but I’ve heard passing references to the effect that there are taboos in all societies, and in primitive societies. It sounds like it’s related to the superstitious impulse behind certain religious things–like there’s a need to have things that are out of reach, beyond, or, in this case, unmentionable. I think it’s important to break taboos for the same reason it’s important to break laws and rules–because either you’re a slave to them, or you’re taking matters into your hands.

No one has to come see my shows who doesn’t like me talking about white Christians. They are free not buy a ticket. They’re free to leave at any time. So I’m not imposing anything on anyone. Therefore I feel free to cross the line. I’ve found out most of these things about my own comedy in looking back–either a year, two years, five years, or ten years–and finding out what it is I do. I don’t set out with these things in mind that are now ways I have of analyzing, but I look for where the line is drawn on any subject. I look for where the line is drawn by these taboos, and I deliberately cross that line. I try to do it with wit and humor, and good rational and logical underpinning. 

I like good ideas. I don’t want just do something for it’s own sake to bother people, but if I can bother them with a logical argument about something they have agreed to in society simplistically–like children are sacred, the cult of the child, this cult of professional parenthood, and of course religion, and respect for policemen and the law, and all of these untouchable areas. I like attacking those beliefs, but in with good sound thinking, and an unusual approach. If I can find a new direction into an old subject, that’s what you’re up there for. 

Now, all of these socially critical aspects of the work are secondary to the main thing you’re up there for–that’s to entertain. And that means two things to me. Not just getting laughs, which I love. I love big jokes, and I try to have good big fat home-run jokes. All of them. All the time. Fast. Lots of them. But when you’re not joking, you can also still engage their imaginations with thought, and dazzle them verbally–by showing jazz riffs, and verbal flights and passages that have an entertainment value of their own, that people aren’t even fully aware of. So the job is entertaining and engaging imagination. Laughter is part of it. Thought is part of it–not making people think. I never set out to do that. Sometimes interviewers will ask me, do you like to make people think with your shows? I say, no, I like them to know I’m thinking. Then I like to show them that. And they take and do what they want. But, generally, I try to make it entertaining. 

Primitive societies, or social groupings, had shamans, and some of them even more recent in time. Shamans were tricksters. There was a tradition of the trickster, and the trickster was a clown, a humorous fellow. His task was to trick the gods, to humor the gods into laughing, so that there was access to the divine–because laughter is a moment when we are completely ourselves. It’s that disarming moment, or disarmed moment, when something strikes us, and we laugh without even knowing it, trying it, or being able to prevent it. It just happens. No one is more himself than the moment when he’s laughing at a joke. It’s at those moments that people’s defenses go down, and that’s when you can slip in a good idea. So if the good joke carries a good idea, the entrance is open at that moment. I learned that one time, and saw how it definitely applied. And I’ve always been kind of charmed by that notion.

David: You’ve said that America’s only public metaphor for problem-solving is declaring war. What is your perspective on the American government’s War on Drugs and War on Terrorism?

George: I’ve done some writing about the whole metaphor of war. I mean, they have a War on Trash, a War on Cancer. Some of them are absurd. I’ve kept track of them. I have about thirty of them, and I wish I could think of some of the more trivial ones. But let’s keep it with America for now. America is a kind of friendly aggressor. We’ve been very aggressive at taking over the world with our culture in order to impose our business structure on the world, for free market capitalism. Apparently, it’s one of the better systems, by the way, for getting more things to the most people. I can’t deny that. Some of these distortions have their own oddly beneficial aspects to them, and I don’t know enough about things to pull that that apart properly. 

But let me just say that the white Europeans have always exploited the dark, the black, the brown, tan people. The northern hemisphere has always plundered the southern hemisphere. And there are interesting, or sound, historical reasons why this happened. But it doesn’t gainsay the fact that I think there’s a highly developed ability, for want of a better word, to dominate others, and use them for our profit. We want to impose democracy where we can, and we want to impose market capitalism, because, basically, I think we want to sell refrigerators. 

I think we look at a place like Bosnia and we say, you know something, if these people all had fucking laptops, and cell phones, and microwaves, we could sell a lot of merchandise. I think that’s in there somewhere, this need to conquer and overcome other people in order to have them become part of the marketplace. I really don’t think there’s a lot of ideology to it. I really don’t think it has anything to do with “spreading democracy” and giving people “free choice”, because there are no free choices. The whole system is rigged. The whole system is rigged against The Little Man. There is an ownership class in America. I call them The People Who Own Everything. 

And people say, oh your conspiracy thing. Listen, don’t be making fun of the word conspiracy. It has meaning. Powerful people have convergent interests. They don’t always need a meeting to decide on something. They inhabit the same gentlemen’s clubs or golf clubs. They sit on the same boards of directors. They’re on the same board of trustees at the university. They all have this common ownership background of the American enterprise, and they are very few in number. They control everything, and they do whatever they want. They have a system called the two-party system that keeps the people at bay. They give them microwaves. They give them fannypacks. They give them sneakers with lights in the heals. They give them Dustbusters, and whoopee cushions, to keep them distracted, and keep them just calm enough that they’re not going to try something. 

Now, of course, the ownership class has all these fucking guns, and weapons, and helmets, and radios, and radars, and night vision and everything–so there’s never any hope anymore of a real revolution. They got that covered. But for a long time they just kept it all down by giving the people just what they needed, and then running things themselves. They give them this illusion of choice between liberals and conservatives. But you’ll notice that anyone who’s an extreme liberal, or an extreme conservative, is marginalized. They’re not on mainstream television. That’s why FOX has tried, I guess, so hard to push a very hard right-wing conservative line, and make it common place in America to be hearing those things. Right-wing radio does that. 

But essentially, the real freaks, on either side, are not heard from. They are marginalized. The Ralph Naders of the world, for instance. They give them a modicum of time to make it appear like he has a slight voice. But he’s ridiculed. They marginalize you by calling you a kook. Or it used to be a communist, or fanatic, or whatever the word is they use when you cross the line, and you really are radical. And radical just means root; it comes from the word root. So it’s root-thinking. If you’re a radical thinker they have no place for you. 

So they control this center, and they keep the people relatively quiet. Even a Clinton–I mean, you say, well, what about Clinton? He was very oriented toward people’s needs and everything. Yeah, but he was backed by the Bilderbergers. I mean, they have bend in them. The ownership class has a flexibility. People say, well, I say people have no voice. And they say, what about the antiwar movement and Vietnam? Yeah, how long did it take? And it didn’t happen until the ownership class decided it was no longer in their interest. Same thing with the civil rights movement. They decided this is no longer in our interest to maintain this system. Let’s bend a little. And they bend a little.

David: What is your perspective on our vanishing Constitutional rights in America? 

George: First of all, people are dreaming if they think they have rights. They’ve never had rights. There’s no such thing. They say God-given rights. If you ask them, where do these rights come from? They say well, they came from God. They’re God-given rights. And I say, well, let me tell you this. The American Bill of Rights has ten stipulations. The British has thirteen. The Dutch, the Germans, the Belgians–all of them have different numbers of rights in their constitutional guarantees, different numbers of rights. Why would God give different numbers, of different rights, to different people, in different places? Amusement? Oversight? What’s going on? 

So clearly these things have nothing to do with a God, if there even is one. These are privileges, which are temporarily granted to the people to keep them placated so that the market economies, and market constitutional systems–the parliamentary or president, whatever kind of democratic institutions they are, parliamentary or otherwise–so that they can function. And the people are happy. There’s a balance. And that’s the way things are handled, but rights can be taken away. So they’re not really rights, if they can be taken away by human beings. The Japanese-Americans who went to the camps in 1941 had rights, but suddenly someone says, well, not that one they don’t have. Lincoln suspended habeas corpus. 

It’s capricious and arbitrary, and people are wrong when they think they have rights. I say, if you think you has rights, you is wrong. I’ve written a thing on this; it’s going to be in the next book. In fact, it might even be in the next HBO show. It’s what I call the “Patriotic Suite”. I have this seven part thing, that’s all about red, white, and blue, swearing on The Bible, taking off your hat, saluting the flag, and all this stuff. And one of them is about rights. There has been a long progression of erosion of Americans’ stated rights–or the way they’re interpreted in the Bill of Rights in the Constitution–long time cutting away, cutting away, cutting away. 

Now, it has taken a huge leap with the Patriot Act. The Ashcrofts, the disciplinarian, authoritarian, strict, Calvinist, Christian mindset is in a position of power now, and they’re just shredding that Bill of Rights. Not that it wasn’t under attack before they came along, but they’ve really jumped on the bandwagon with this 9-11. I would not be surprised if 9-11, if that whole thing–and this will get all the anti-conspiracy people interested– were not staged by the Bush-Carlyle Group empire. The Bush empire, the dynasty, that whole, entire secret society sort of ownership. I don’t know. I ‘m clearly in over my head here, because it’s it’s a thing that I think about sometimes, but it would make a lot of sense for them. Here’s The New York Times. On the front page today, “United States Uses Terror Law”–that would be the Patriot Act–“To Pursue Crimes From Drugs to Swindling”. So they’re branching out now. 

You asked about the War on Drugs. Obviously, drugs represent a form of freedom and personal choice. So here’s one thing where you have no freedom of choice. You’re told you can do this, but you can’t do that. You can’t drink after 2:00 in this state. But you can drive across the border, and you can drink until 4:00 in that state. There are all these forms of control. People think they have freedom of choice in this country. Here’s your fucking choice–paper or plastic? That’s your choice. Will this be charge or cash? That’s your choice. Visa or Mastercard? Coke or Diet Coke? Smoking or Nonsmoking? Window or aisle. Those are your fucking choices America. You have no choices. They’re imposed.

David: Some of your humor stems from a playful deconstruction of language. Why do you think it’s important to reflect on our use of language, and how do you think our use of language effects our view of reality? 

George: Well, we think in language. We think in words. Language is the landscape of thought. It’s how thought is realized, and, obviously, how we communicate ideas. It’s how we individuate ourselves, how we are human individuals that are separate from others. And there’s some virtue to it, in separation, earlier I was saying. We’re completely at odds with nature, and that’s true. But it is important to understand your identity, and your place in the scheme of things, and in the universe even. So that all comes from having language available for thought and expression.

The language attraction in me came from the family. It’s very heredity. My mother’s father, Dennis Bearey, was a New York City policeman at the turn of the last turn of the century, the 1900’s coming in. He was self-educated. He had quit school, come to America, young, and taught himself. During his adult years, he wrote out most of the works of Shakespeare longhand, copying them from a book, because of the joy the language gave him. 

So that’s a pretty dramatic expression of appreciation for language. He was Irish, and the Irish have that gift, of perhaps, you know a little bit disproportionately to some other cultures–although there are great writers everywhere. But the Irish really have the gift of gab. The ratio of poets, playwrights, and authors to mechanics is much different in Ireland. So he had that. He gave that to my mother. She got it hereditarily, and it was reinforced at home, because at dinner time they would discuss–not all the time, I guess–but they would often discuss language, and Shakespeare’s use of it. 

My mother was very careful with me to point out good writing. She would call me into her room. I’d bring her her newspaper, and she was tired after work. She’d be reading, and she’d say, “George come here. Look at this. Look at this word. Look how this sentence cuts”–she was dramatic the way she spoke–”this sentence just cuts right through”. So I had the genetic marker for it, and then she encouraged it by pointing out the joy in savoring the graceful and incisive use of language. 

So, to me, language is just my instrument. I have the computer open here. I was working on the book, and I just have the greatest joyful feeling when I’m altering a sentence. When I’m fixing a paragraph, it’s just like some kind of union with something. I don’t understand it. I know there’s a joy. I have a woman in my life, Sally Wade, and we have a joyful wonderful life together. And that’s a separate form of joy, being with Sally, enjoying each other. But being at that computer, with the words, is just…I don’t know, somehow, it goes to my foundation.

David: I can relate well.

George: Yeah. Boy, when they came up with being able to highlight a whole paragraph, and move it somewhere else–holy shit did they change the world! I mean, you say, wait a minute, this goes at the end. I can’t imagine how people did that with yellow tablets, or dipping a pen or a quill. And these great things that came out of, what must have been such a long laborious process. Having to do something over, or delete something, and put an insert, and all; you know, it must have been a mess. I did it, and I don’t remember how messy it was. But, boy, my writing changed qualitatively, not just quantitatively, with my use of the word processor. I noticed that the thinking and the writing, as they are combined, became more complex and more interesting. And I’ll use that word textured again. It just really changed the quality of what it was, not just how fast I could do it, or how much I do. So I’m glad you know. Obviously you know that.

David: Yeah, it becomes more like sculpting.

George: Absolutely. Yeah, taking off things that don’t belong.

David: You said before that you’re not trying to get people to think in your comedy routines. However, I still wonder if you’re aren’t sometimes trying to educate people. Is this ever part of your intention? 

George: Well, let me cop to one thing that I’m aware of. Someone once said, if you scratch a cynic, and you’ll find a disappointed idealist. That really rang a bell with me–because I recognized that, within me, there is this flame, of wishing it were better, wishing people had better lives, that there was more of an authentic sharing and harmony with nature. So these complaints, this thing that sometimes reads as anger to people, is largely a discontent, a dissatisfaction, sometimes a disappointment in what we have allowed, passively or actively, to happen to us, as a species and as a culture. 

I know that I would have been a good teacher. Had I gone on and had a continuing formal education, I would have made a good teacher. I would have made a good trial lawyer, because I like persuasion. I like the art of forensics, of using language and thought to shape…I guess we’re talking about to shape other people’s thinking. Sure. I mean, it has such a potentially pretentious ring to it, to me, that I shrink from it. But words are words, and descriptions are descriptions. You have seen something that is true.

Someone recently–a woman at a dentist’s office–gave me, not quite a thesis, but a paper that her son wrote at Berkeley, comparing certain aspects of Kierkegaard to some things I said about religion and politics. And boy, I mean, I was a little flattered to be thrown into philosophical company like that, but the things he pointed out hit me, again, right on the button–because they were about the need to tell people that it’s up to them. It’s not up God. It’s your responsibility. 

Whether it’s citizenship, or whether it’s morality, things don’t come from God. Things come from you, and things that you want to change in the world have to start inside yourself. You can’t just acquiesce. You can’t be at the mall, with a fanny-pack on, scratching your nuts, buying sneakers with lights in them. You have to be thinking. You have to be resisting. You have to be talking. 

So these things are pointed out to me sometimes in passing, or directly, and, frankly, I’m impressed by them, and, naturally, I’ll use the word flattered here again. I think flattery is usually artificial, so I don’t like the word flattery. It usually suggests insincerity to me. But complimented, I mean, just really complimented by it. Because, to take myself seriously here for a moment, an artist, a creative person, I often don’t know the things that I’m doing. Not all artists are the same, but this is true in my case, and I’m sure it’s true in some other cases as well. They don’t know some of the underlying things that are happening. They just do it, because there’s a certain satisfaction, a certain joy. It fills some need.

And yet, another person can come along and point out things that they don’t see. I’ve seen this with people who wrote certain things about Lenny Bruce, that I’m sure Lenny didn’t sit around and think of. But they would interpret him, and they would say, do you see what he’s doing here? Do you see what this is? Do you see how this fits with that? So, to a person who’s looking carefully, it’s true that there are probably some things about my work that reveal idealism, and whatever the other qualities are that are more high flown, less concrete and earthy. Things that are more substantial.

David: How do you maintain a sense of wonder, and keep a fresh perspective on the world? 

George: Well, the world never stops surprising me. I mean, it’s a two sided coin. I always say, people complain because they wonder, did you hear about this? Did you hear what they did? And I say, tell me you’re surprised. Are you really surprised at this? In this culture, in this country, does this surprise you? Then, on the other hand, my brother has an expression. I’ll point out something to him that’s absurd, or he’ll tell me something absurd he heard or read about, and he says, you know George, they never let us down. They’re always in there working–meaning the society, the culture is always devising new ways to amaze us, my brother and me. The people who think we’re all cynics, and who, underneath, have some really idealistic candle lit. So it’s both. It’s, how can you be surprised anymore? And, on the other hand, how can you not be? As things build upon things, everything is almost an exponential leap from from wherever it springs.

It’s just a lot of fun. I call it the freak show. I say, if you’re born in America, you’re given a ticket to the freak show. Some people are in the freak show. Those are the freaks. Some people, most of us, are there to watch the show. So sit back, and enjoy the fucking freak show. Now, there are some people who try to change the freaks. These are so-called do-gooders, environmentalists, the social activists, ACLUs and all this. We’re going to fix the freak show. We’re going to fix the freaks. And some of us get to just review the freak show. We write reviews about it. And that’s what I do. I don’t take a position necessarily that is moral. It usually stems from logic–this doesn’t make sense. Now, there might be a moral underpinning to it, but, generally, I don’t retreat to that concept of morality, or right and wrong, except fair and unfair. I don’t like unfairness. So that’s kind of a moral thing. 

But anyway, I’m all over the joint. Ah, the freak show, American freak show. That’s what this is all about. So I just enjoy the show. The world, to me, is a big theater-in-the-round, literally, spinning, on a little insignificant rock, around a second-rate star, in a very poor part of the galactic neighborhood, by the way. And we’re just living out our time, and it’s here to be enjoyed. Some people have to feel differently from that. I don’t say everyone can feel that way. But, for me, that’s where I found my happiness.

David: How has marijuana and your use of psychedelics effected your comedy career and your perspective on life? 

George: What they did was effect my consciousness, obviously, and that effects everything about you. So, naturally, in this line of work it’s extremely important, extremely influential. Your consciousness influences the work. 

I was an early pot smoker. I was smoking pot when I was 13 in 1950. It was an unheard of act in an Irish-American neighborhood. People didn’t know anything about it, and considered it to be on a level with heroin. I mean, it was just… (George speaks in a scratchy, old geezer voice) marijuana–you smoke one of those things, and yeah, boy, you’re gone for life. So, we were kind of a daring little group of us. We were on a new generational cusp. 

We lived in West Harlem, white Harlem we called it, between Columbia University and all of the institutional establishments. Let me tell you what was in my neighborhood. Right across the street from my house, was the entrance to Teacher’s College, Columbia University. Barnard was there. Columbia University was there. St. John the Divine, the largest cathedral in America. Riverside Church, a 23 story gothic tower was at the end of my block, with the biggest carillon in the world. Union Theological Seminary, the largest multi-denominational protestant seminary. 

Literally around the corner from me, without crossing the street, was the Jewish Theological Seminary. Again, largest of its kind. Diagonally across the corner was Julliard School of Music, when it was still uptown. We played and fooled around at Grant’s Tomb. So we had this incredibly high-powered institutional neighborhood, full of learning and striving. Harry Emison Fasdigger was the Pasteur over at Riverside Church, and I know that it had an effect on me. But I choose to hang around the other direction. I went down the hill to Harlem, toward the latin, and black, and working-class Irish–because that’s were the fun was! There were good smells coming out of the windows. The music was great. And my peers were there.

So we were on the beginning of the generation. The kids who were a little older than us, my bigger brother’s guys–they were still street fighters and drinkers, and wore the big shoes. We had gravitated from the big shoes, and the peg pants, into conservative three-button charcoal suits, like the black dudes wore. We got into rhythm and blues. We got into pot smoking. We were a change. And that’s why that piece of material in one of my albums–Occupation Fool–is called “Grass Swept the Neighborhood”, because it changed us. 

I think that marijuana is a consciousness-altering drug which has a cumulative effect. I also think it is a self-limiting drug, if a person is paying attention. It is a drug that suggests it’s own disuse, eventually. Some people maintain a certain consumption, at a good level, and they’re not just half asleep all the time, and can’t think. They save it for night time, or the weekend, or whatever, and that’s different. 

But generally marijuana, and LSD, and they’re both, I think, essentially hallucinogenics. I’m not 100 percent sure of that. I wouldn’t be on record with that, but they’re certainly not in the narcotic classes, stimulants, or any of those things. They are separate. LSD–originally as unaltered by man–along with peyote, pot and those forms of hallucinogens, are all completely natural. They come from nature, and the only things that are done with them is they’re passed from one person to another. It’s these other drugs–where we get in the laboratory, or the garage, and we start altering their molecular structure–that are the deadly ones. The really deadly things have come from man’s altering of nature, of the parts he can manipulate.

Pot is an herb. It’s very natural, It obviously has some healing qualities and some palliative qualities. I think it changed my thinking. It fostered offbeat thinking, the kind of alternative thinking that was already an internal part of me–this disbelief in the received wisdom, and in the authority, as it was passed along. I think it fostered that. Then it changed my comedy. I was a straight, mainstream, suit-and-tie comic for ten years, from 1960-1969 or 70. I had a two tiered life going on, and I didn’t even know it. 

One of them was this law breaking, school quitting, pot-smoking person, with no respect for authority. The other one was a mainstream dream. I wanted to be in the movies. I wanted to be Danny Kaye. Well, you can’t be Danny Kaye if you’re going to be this other thing. So I lived two lives. My professional life was this straight path of pleasing the public. It wasn’t until the late 60’s that things changed, and this was because of the alternative culture–the people I could really identify with, what’s called the counterculture. This began to manifest itself through the youth culture, with it’s disrespect for authority, free love–and “let’s get high”, and “here’s how I feel”,  and “here’s what’s going on in my mind and my heart”. All those things had been suppressed in America–some voluntarily, some not–prior to that. The Fifties are notorious for that. But jazz and the beatniks were the exception. The bohemian world. But they were just starting. 

Anyway, I was attracted to this other thing in the late Sixties, because all my friends were musicians who had gone through the changes already. I was a big pot smoker. But slowly I used a little peyote, a little mescaline, and these tendencies in me to be myself, and not play a fake role as a people-pleasing, mainstream comedian came to the fore. I became more myself. The comedy became more personal, therefore more political, and therefore more successful. I think you can never be successful unless you are yourself, at least certainly not successful in the good, rich sense of the word. So, suddenly, I also became materially successful. People started buying albums. I had four Gold albums in a row. So the LSD, directly–in conjunction with it’s role in the counterculture, and my taking of it, those two things–definitely changed my life, because my creativity shifted into a very high gear.

David: What do you think happens to consciousness after the death of the body, and what is your perspective on God? 

George: I don’t know. It’s obviously one of the most fascinating things that we don’t know. I profess no belief in God, which by definition is true, especially if we take the accepted definition of God. But to be an atheist is to also have a belief, and have a system, and I don’t know that I like that either. And yet I shrink from the word agnostic, because it seems like a handy weigh station to park at. I don’t know. And I’m satisfied not knowing, because it allows me to be filled with speculation, and imagination, about all the possibilities. 

I find it interesting to read about, or listen, to people who have highly developed beliefs in an afterlife–forgetting now Christians, God and religion–and second chances, reincarnation, other planes of existence, other dimensions. Now, we get into the physical realm of the universes–which is interesting because universe means one, and here we are talking about multi-universes. 

David: I actually asked Stephen Hawking–the renown physicist–about that once. He often writes and lectures about multiple universes and baby universes. I asked him how there could be more than one universe, when, by definition, the word universe means everything that exists. He told me that “a universe is a set of related events”. Apparently, you can have many self-contained, “sets of related events”, that have no influence upon one another, and each one is considered its own universe.

George: Well, it’s just fascinating, and you get lost in the possibilities. There’s no way to hang your hat on any of these things. There’s just no way to say, ah, this a good one. I’ll go with this. Because they’re all titillating, and they’re tempting. And they’re all entertaining to the way I’ve developed my mind. I find it highly entertaining to consider wormholes, and alternate parallel universes, and all the things that Robert Anton Wilson sometimes writes about.

It’s just endlessly entertaining and fascinating. So I’m quite content in being in this position. I think there’s a certain arrogance of spirit that says, here’s the way it goes. Here’s what happens. Or to narrow it down to two things or so, maybe it’s okay. I don’t know. But for me, I can’t live that way. I have to keep all the doors open, just for the fun of it. 

I don’t care what happens to me after I die, but I know this. I know that if there’s some sort of moral reckoning, I know I’ll come out clean. I know I’ve never done a mean thing intentionally to anyone. I know I’ve only tried to make people feel better, and be more at ease. I don’t mean professionally. I mean in personal relationships. I try to put people at ease, make them feel good. And I know that if there’s some sort of reckoning by something, that says, well, let’s look at your record here, I’m clean. So I’m happy with that.

David: Do you think that the human species is going to survive the next hundred years, and if so, how do you envision the future evolution of the human race? 

George: I would guess that some cataclysm, man-made or nature-made might happen. Obviously not real original thinking here, but I’ll try and give a personal shape in a moment. Some sort of cataclysm will alter this thing. There are too many people. Let’s say that the American Dream–and they call it a dream because you have to be asleep to believe it–is spread everywhere, and everyone in India, and everyone in China, has a car. Actually China–everyone has a car, or two cars, and big cars. 

Okay, now, I’m a little bored by environmentalists. I’m a little bored with the whole, almost Christian fervor of these people. I do like vandalism, by the way. I like the big spikes in the trees. I like vandalizing the SUVs. That’s fun. But the idealistic sitting around–all that shit–it kind of bores me. I understand the importance of it, but it bores me. But I also understand the fact the earth is an organism, and that life is completely interdependent, everything upon everything. And if you alter one thing, in some minute fashion, you alter everything. And sometimes it’s not so minute. And there comes a tipping point. And if everyone has a car, and everyone is spewing out shit, think of the consequences. And even if they try to fix that, and then they go to the next thing, they’ll fuck it up. We will always overstep. We will always use our brains to our self-disadvantage, ultimately.

And they’ll be a tipping point. It’ll either be environmental, or one of these lovely germs will get loose. Let’s face it, if everybody, if all these countries in the world–and there’s a lot of them now–are playing around with all of these different lovely microbes. We don’t even need to list them, because we all know what they are. Ebola, Jesus. Plague. Smallpox. All these things for which there is no cure or prevention, at least not now. I’m sure the people in charge have gotten their shot. But, sooner or later, someone drops a vial. Sooner or later, somebody takes something home. Sooner or later, a window is left open in building. Something in the perfection of the system slips, and they’ll be, perhaps, that kind of a disaster. It could be locally contained. They might be able to put a ring around it, and say, well, this part of the world is unlivable for the next thousand years. 

But hey, we’re all going to eat, and we all get fucking hats, and we’re all in good shape. So things will go on. But then there might be something wide enough, whether its nuclear, or any of these lovely chemical things we have. Or nature, like just plain old volcanoes coming of age again, or some other huge geologic disturbance. Nature usually works very slowly. But suddenly, the slow process becomes a very rapid change. Volcanoes, and magma, and all that stuff build very slowly. But when they reach a threshold, they look–vvwoooom–and it’s happening instantly. A mountain range has come up.

But anyway, what I’m trying to say is, what might happen to the human species is that it is greatly reduced in numbers, greatly reduced in it’s ability to use technology to any benefit. I mean, people may sit around, and still have their laptops, but if there’s no internet, or if there’s no electricity, then you can’t charge whatever the fuck it is. 

I’m just saying, the systems will be compromised enough, and the numbers reduced, so that a–not a fresh start, because it won’t be that–but a re-gearing. Maybe they’ll be a hundred thousand people left. Maybe they’ll be ten million. Maybe they’ll be scattered. Maybe they’ll all be in one corner of the world. Maybe they’ll have a little technology. Maybe nobody will have anything. So, I mean, it’s just, again, one of those wonderful things to speculate on. I have no idea. But I hope it’s dramatic and funny. Please God, let it be violent, and let it be funny. That’s all I ask.

David: What are you currently working on? 

George: I’m working on my third book, When Will Jesus Bring the Porkchops? I’m doing 90 shows a year. I do about 80 or 90 concerts a year, in theaters and concert halls, and then I do about eight weeks in Las Vegas, because it’s a different scene there. I can sit in my condo for two weeks at time, and write all day. I don’t have to get in a little plane each night, although I don’t mind that. So it’s a little different down there, but it’s another eight weeks of working that I do. And every two years this stuff turns into an HBO show. So I’m currently between show #12 and show #13. Number 13 will be in the Fall of 05. 

The book will be in Fall of 04. Next Spring there’s a movie, Jersey Girl, where I play a kind of serious role. I play Ben Afleck’s father in the movie, which is about raising a little girl in New Jersey. People are starting to take me a little more seriously in acting now, so I get these extra little entertainment things. For me, going and doing some acting, collaborating, and interpreting some other part that other people have thought of, is like using different muscles. And that’s kind of fun to do. So those are things I’m currently working on. The movie is done, the book is in progress, and the show takes care of itself.

To find out more about George Carlin’s work, visit his Web site: www.georgecarlin.com 

Reverend Ivan Stang

David Jay Brown and Sherry Hall
Interview
Reverend Ivan Stang

Are we controlled by secret alien forces? When will the world end? How can we become more sexually attractive and make more money? These are some of the questions that Reverend Ivan Stang likes to consider. Stang Is one of the principal founders of the Church of the SubGenius, a brilliant and hilarious parody of the world’s organized religions and kooky cults. Actually, defining the church as simply a parody doesn’t quite do It justice, because It Is much more. It’s also a mind-bending art project–involving many extremely talented and creative individuals- and a genuine spiritual movement.

The Church’s doctrine centers around the notion that there are two types of

people- “normals” and superior “SubGenii”– and that everyone on this planet has been duped by a huge conspiracy that Is denying us our true birthright to “Slack”. But all Is not so bleak. On X-Day the world will end, and all dues-paying SubGenii will be carried off into escape vessels, piloted by the sex goddesses from Planet X., who will whisk them away to paradise. This has all been prophetized by J.R. “Bob” Dobbs– a smiling salesman with a pipe in his mouth, that was lifted from old Fifties magazine ads– who Is the divine messenger of the church. This fast-talking, sales-pitching hooligan promises “eternal salvation or triple your money back.”

But, hidden amongst all the bizarre ideology and satirical humor, there Is some truly valuable wisdom to be gained from the Church of the SubGenius: don’t take the world too seriously, don’t let the culture-at-large tell you how to feet, think for yourself, question authority, and have fun. The Church attracts many creative artists, and has been very successful. They have been having regular events for almost twenty years, and currently have over 5000 dues-paying members. They have also had a considerable Influence on popular culture. Many MTV-style music videos, as well as radio and television commercials, currently utilize the fleshing collage style pioneered by Stang and his cohorts. The smiling face of “Bob” has appeared everywhere from record album covers (such as Sublime’s 40 oz to Freedom) to blotter acid to graffiti on the Wailing Wall In Jerusalem.

Stang Is also the author and co-author of a number of popular books, Including High Weirdness By Mail, The Book of the SubGenius, Revelation X, and Three-Fisted Tales of “Bob”. He also produces the official SubGenius magazine The Stark Fist of Removal, a weekly radio show The Hour of Slack, many night club acts, and numerous “religious pamphlets”. Stang Is also an accomplished filmmaker, whose credits include the award-winning SubGenius video Arlsel, music videos for DEVO, a feature documentary China Run, and a series of PBS specials about Sioux art forms.

Ivan Stang currently lives In Cleveland, Ohio. I met the delightfully Irreverent Reverend at the Starwood Festival In upstate New York, where he gives annual midnight rants. My partner, Sherry Hall, and I Interviewed him a few weeks later on August 18, 1999. We spoke for over two hours on the telephone. Ivan is an extremely funny guy. He kept us laughing the entire time.

David: What was your religious environment like as a child?

Ivan: Mostly rational secular humanist– I guess you would say– with a touch of Methodist.

David: Did you ever go to church?

Ivan: Let me put It this way, when my mom and dad first got married, they went to the Methodist church my dad had grown up with. But as soon as they left,,South Carolina, where my grandparents lived, and moved to Texas, they quit going to church. Actually, they told me that they quit attending church after the preacher told them that they should stop drinking.

(laughter) In their case, the preacher may have been right.

But, at any rate, In answer to your real question– no, there weren’t any particular religions that burned my brain. I didn’t get my knuckles slapped repeatedly by nuns, and I have no real bone to pick with any particular religion at all. In fact, my general approach to religion has always been one of extreme Interest. I’m very Interested In the way these humans think about their gods.

David: What were you actually taught as a child about where the world came f rom?

Ivan: It was all left generally somewhat vague. I had a grasp of what evolution was supposed to be about when I was pretty young. My dad had a layman’s scientific grasp of things, and tried to do a little bit of educating when he could here and there. I did a lot of reading myself, as soon as I could read. Ha– I remember one time I asked my mom If there was really a God, and she said, “Yes! Of Course!”, as If It was a terrible thing to even ask such a question. Then another time I asked her, and she said, “No.” (laughter)

The Interesting thing Is my Dad now Is a part-time lay preacher. Even though he doesn’t believe all of that stuff, he knows a lot more about the Bible than most preachers do. He loves to go Into the church, or the Sunday school, In the little town where they live now, and he’ll bring up the most absurd, frightening sections of the Bible— the parts they usually don’t like to talk about. He’s kind of planting seeds of, If not doubt, at least thoughtfulness.

For Instance, he tells the Bible story about the children that teased the prophet Ezekiel over his bald pate, so God sent a She-bear to rend and tear the children. (laughter) Stuff like that; the really fun stuff. I really was not raised with very much religious input at all. I did think about It sometimes. I was surrounded by little Caucasian Southern Baptists In Fort Worth, Texas. So, very early, I did learn to feel like I was surrounded by religious nuts.

Sherry: Do your parents approve of the Church of the SubGenius? Are they members of the church?

Ivan: Oh yeah. My parents are both dues-paying SubGenius members, although you have to remember they were a little bit more open minded twenty years ago when I first started working for Bob. Since then, they’ve been a little bit dismayed at the curse words that pepper a lot of the SubGenius material. That really bothers them. But the basic philosophy– I think they understand where we’re coming from pretty well.

I wouldn’t say that they get all the jokes, but, on the other hand, my dad’s a lawyer by trade; we’ve discovered that doctors and lawyers see” be particularly attracted to the church. I think that’s because, like the church, It’s a priesthood based entirely on bullshit in both cases. They respect others who can come up with this Impenetrable, but yet, somehow slick-sounding, crap. There are a lot of doctors and lawyers who have our Divine Excuse on their wall. I mean, who forgives the lawyer?

Sherry: What’s your divine excuse?

Ivan: When you join the church and send in your thirty dollars, you’re ordained. You become an ordained minister, with all the rights that go with an ordained ministership-similar to the Universal Life Church. You also get a lot of fancy documents, such as the Divine, All-inclusive Excuse. Which Is, If you think about It, really what people need rather than forgiveness. And “Bob” Dobbs Is not highly placed enough to dole out forgiveness. He doesn’t really care about anybody’s sins anyway. (laughter) He’s here to rationalize and justify, and to excuse sins. Although there Is a list of 365 sins In Revelation X, personally I think there Is only one sin. I tend to agree with Ken Kesey, who said that the only true sin Is fretting. A little known Kesey quote.

Sherry: Can you describe yourself for us In a few carefully chosen words?

Ivan: (laughter) You’ll have to call me back on that one In about a hundred years. No, I am a bipedal primate of the planet earth, living on the northern American continent In the later twentieth century. All of those things as measured by people of that time and place.

David: How did you get Interested In unusual belief systems and fringe philosophies?

Ivan: Well, everything else was so boring. I’ve always been Interested In unusual things as far back as I can remember. People love to list their Influences and so forth, and they’re often very highfaluting. But I’d have to admit that, In honest truth, my main Influences In childhood were Warner Brothers cartoons and the Three Stooges– stuff that I saw on television when I was a kid. The surreal moments In those, and In monster movies, always held a tremendous fascination for me. I can remember the first two monster movies that I saw as a child on television when I was about three or four.

David: What were they?

Ivan: Mighty Joe Young was one, and The Ghost of Frankenstein was the other. It’s Ironic because I ended up later meeting the animator of Mighty Joe Young several times, Ray Harryhausen.

David: Oh, I remember loving Mighty Joe Young as a child.

Ivan: Yeah. Early In my career I was a stop-motion animator at first. Then I drifted Into film writing and editing. But I originally started off wanting to be one of those guys that animated the stop-motion monsters, which was the height of special effects technology In the middle-Sixtles. But I just was not mechanically Inclined enough for that.

David: It takes a lot of patience, I know, from making short animated films In college.

Ivan: Yeah, and also drugs came along. (laughter) I think, In the year 1969, when I was sixteen, somewhere along the line I suddenly lost my Interest In monster movies for several years. It did come back though.

David: The Interest In monster movies?

Ivan: Yeah, and some of the brain cells. (laughter)

David: What Inspired the creation of the Church of the SubGenius?

Ivan: The church, of course, Is based on the word of J.R. “Bob” Dobbs, who started throwing all this stuff together In the early fifties. My personal exposure to It was a direct result of my collecting crackpot and kook pamphlets. And my sister-in-law told me about a friend of hers, who had just moved to Dallas, who also collected crackpot and kook pamphlets, and was a comic book fan, and was -a Captain Beefheart fan.

Nowadays, that sounds like just the average SubGenius, doesn’t It? But, at the time, I was staggered that there was another being somewhere on the planet earth that had such a seemingly eclectic combination of Interests. That was Dr. Philo Drummond, the guy who really Is the co-subfounder of the church with me. Although he’s not very Involved now, he was Instrumental In getting the whole thing going. Heck, he Introduced me to “Bob”, and told me about the Conspiracy. I already knew there wasn’t enough slack.

David: Is there really a person named J.R. “Bob” Dobbs?

Ivan: (sharp Intake of breath) Wha? What? David! What , kind of a question Is that?l (laughter) That’s like asking a Christian, what? You mean there really was a Jesus?” Let me put It this way, would you go up to Hulk Hogan and say, “Hey, that wrestling stuff’s all fake, Isn’t It? You guys don’t really hurt anybody or get hurt do you? Ha ha ha 0 (laughter) Why don’t you do that, David? Go up and ask Hulk Hogan that question.

David: Gosh, I apologize. Are you surprised by the Church’s popularity?

Ivan: No, I’m terribly surprised that the world didn’t end like “Bob” predicted a year and a half ago. But, actually, I would not have been surprised either way. If It had become another Scientology, I would not be surprised. If we had simply petered out after a couple xeroxed ‘zines, that wouldn’t have been a surprise either. You just can’t predict what’s going to happen. In the prediction business, you just can’t predict things.

(laughter)

David: How many members does the Church currently have?

Ivan: I’d say roughly, over the almost twenty years that we’ve been around, we’ve had probably around 10,000 or more people sign up. The current mailing list Is, I think, around 5,000. At any given time we’ve lost half of them. We don’t know where they are. Some of them just join up on a whim. Others come and go over the years. And there are some that have been right In there from 1980 on.

Sherry: You had said that when you send In your thirty dollars, and get the ordination, that It’s a legitimate ordination. Are you then able to perform legally recognized marriage ceremonies?

Ivan: Well, we haven’t found any states where they’re not legally recognized… yet. If I’m not a real ordained minister then I guess that means all those couples are living In sin. (laughter)

Sherry: When they decide to breakup, do they have to really go through a divorce?

Ivan: They sure as hell do. I wish that we could offer short-duration divorces, since we offer the marriages. (laughter) No, seriously, all It takes In most states Is for the bride, or somebody, to go In and get the papers from the city, and then hand them to a preacher who signs them. They never even ask what denomination or what religion It Is In Texas, Louisiana or Illinois to my knowledge. People are always asking that question, “Can I really marry people?” And It’s like, hell yeah. Now If you’re worried about It, and you really want to be very sure, then you send a postcard to the Universal Life Church In Modesto, California and ask them for an ordination. They’re considerably more established as a religion than we are.

We’ve made deals with them. We tried to market our membership ordainments In a more mainstream way, and we checked with the Universal Life Church and said, “Hey, can we evoke your name and tell people to send for stuff from you, and still sell our membership for thirty bucks?” And they said, “Hell yeah. That’s the whole reason we’re here.”

I don’t know If you’re familiar with the Universal Life Church. It’s a group that was started probably thirty years ago by a guy named Hensley, I believe, In Modesto California, who basically felt (like “Bob” Dobbs does) that If all these other ridiculous yo-yos could write off their taxes with their silly superstitions, then why couldn’t everybody? And he has. They’ve steadfastly been ordaining people for the express purpose of writing It off on your taxes. You call yourself a minister, your house Is your church, and so forth. Sometimes It works. Ha.

The I.R.S. has been cracking down on that kind of thing for years now, but what Is It that makes a person a holy man? Let’s ask that question. Maybe the Wizard of Oz had It right– all that all you really need Is already there. I guess the Tin Woodsman, the Scarecrow, and the Lion— none of them were preachers. But If one of them had been, the wizard surely would have said, “What does Billy Graham have that you don’t have?” (laughter) Why, he’s got a doctorate of divinity from Billy Graham College (in a vacant lot next door to his house). So here’s your doctor of divinity. Now you’re as Holy as the next guy. (laughter)

We also do Short Duration Marriages, which are a joke. They’re kind of a riff on Sun Myung Moon’s mass marriages. I’ve been doing those for so long that I don’t even need my notes to perform the ceremony. But those are different from a real marriage.

Sherry: How long do the Short Duration Marriages last?

Ivan: Oh, however long you want them to. Usually twenty-four hours Is all anybody really wants. They’re handy In bars. (laughter) They’re a great Ice breaker.

David: What role do you see the Church of the SubGenius playing In the larger social sphere?

Ivan: “Bob” said that the real role of the church was to completely destroy the Conspiracy of the Normals, which would also Involve destroying the concept of money. Unfortunately, It’s going to take a hell of a lot of money to do that. So, In the big picture, we’re supposed to take over and control, or else destroy, the world. Simple. Like any other religion.

But, looking at the more Immediate prospects, I’m very proud that we seem to be one of those things that fills the same need for certain people that Frank Zappa, the Firesign Theater, and underground comics did for me when I was at the end of my rope as a young man, and thought I was completely Insane, or else everybody else was. I mean, I didn’t think there was anybody In the world who would even begin to think the kind of things that were going through my head.

When a person In the late Sixties, early Seventies, felt that way, hopefully they would stumble upon some of these eclectic artists, philosophers, writers, and so forth, and feel a little bit less alone. I’ve had quite a few people write to me, and come up to me, and It makes me feel a whole lot better about the hardship’s we’ve undergone when people say, “I probably would have killed myself If It hadn’t been for you guys. You guys happened to be there at just the right time to remind me that I was taking the wrong things too seriously.”

David: Do you think It gives misfits a sense of community?

Ivan: Not misfits necessarily, although that’s certainly, obviously, where we start. When you say misfits, that Includes everybody from brilliant wonderful, constructive geniuses, down to serial killers. And we tend to consider the serial killers not to be the kind of misfit that SubGenius defines.

David: What do you think It Is about the face of “Bob” Dobbs that gives him such a powerful allure and mystique?

Ivan: Simply because It’s a representation of “Bob”. There’s not just that one particular portrait of him. There’s a million pictures of “Bob”. Open up any old Better Homes and Gardens, Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, or whatever, from the Forties, Fifties, and early Sixties, and there’s these ubiquitous smiling pinks– Caucasian handsome guys, with short haircuts and these pipes. (laughter) Now, they’re not all the same person, but a lot of them must be– and that’s “Bob”. The classic portrait of “Bob” has an undeniable hypnotic hold over those who gaze upon It. I’ve been trying for twenty years to understand It, and I can’t quite put my finger on It. I know that his expression Is very difficult for even the very best artists to capture. He’s very difficult to model In three-dimensional graphics programs, although we’re getting close.

I think that grin, and the particular Insane gleam In Bob’s eye, Is a little bit like a skull. I mean, It’s a smiling man. It’s a happy man. Bottom line Is It’s a positive Image– a nice looking, healthy, happy guy. So what makes that any different from a smiley face? There’s something about that look In his eye by which you just know he knows something you don’t know. Or he just sold you a car. Or something (laughter) There’s some other thing… It’s not just an Innocent grin. So, of course, that causes people to ask what It Is In his pipe. They always assumed that he’s smoking some kind of high-grade marijuana. I think that’s as silly as assuming that UFO’s are from outer space.

Sherry: Isn’t It “frop” In his pipe?

Ivan: Well, “Bob” uses that under ceremonial conditions. We love the Tibetan herb habifropzipulop but even “Bob” has trouble getting hold of that. I think what “Bob” actually has In his pipe most of the time Is this cheap cherry blend stuff called Borkurn Riff that you get at drugstores.

David: What was that Tibetan herb you just mentioned?

Ivan: Habilropzipulops; Actually, the long name Is habifropzipulops mariphasa lupina. It’s a plant that grows in Tibet only In the moonlight. It blooms In moonlight. And It only gets you high If It’s the kind that’s grown on Yeti droppings, or the graves of Tibetan holy men, or both. To get the really good stuff you can get guys that were buried In Yeti droppings, and grow the frop on them– ho ho ho, ho… whoa! (laughter)

Yeah man, I mean, even toad licking doesn’t hold a candle to that.

(laughter) The problem Is the delivery mode; you have to pack It up In your exit wound to get off. That means you have to have an exit wound to begin with. It’s almost as difficult a way to get high as the use and abuse of face-fucking bat sperm antidote pudding-but I don’t think we want to go Into that. (laughter)

David: Have you ever received any threats from any religious fundamentalists?

Ivan: Oh no, not really. Not to speak of. When I was on the air live In Dallas over the ten year period that I was doing that, we only got two bomb threats. (laughter) We’d occasionally get a nasty e-mail from somebody. When I used to do radio talk shows occasionally there’ll be some misguided listener who calls In terribly upset that we’ve devoted our talents to mocking Jesus Instead of supporting Jesus. But my Idea of Jesus was that He probably didn’t really need our help, and could probably take a joke.

So, to tell the truth, I’ve been rather disappointed that we haven’t caused more of a stir. But they’re more concerned with real big evildoers– like Walt Disney and Proctor & Gamble. And on top of that, to them we’re just another cult. They don’t understand at all where we’re coming from. They take everything at face value. So, to them, we’re just like the Sclentologists, the Moonies, the Mormons, or any other bizarre tiny cult that they don’t understand.

Sherry: Have you suffered any other type of backlash from normals? Has anybody tried to squash your right to free speech, or tried to shut you down? Or anything like that?

Ivan: Well, needless to say, working In Dallas Texas, it Is a little tricky to find a printer at times. But luckily here In America there’s always somebody who’ll do anything for a buck. Our website has had to move from commercial server to commercial server. The excuse, or the reason they boot you off Is always, “Well, it’s not that we’re uptight about this stuff, It’s just that we’re afraid our other big customers will get upset.” So currently our website Is on a server that specializes In hardcore pornography. I figure we’re safe there. Same with banks. We have to use porno-friendly banks.

Sherry: Wasn’t there some performance that got shut down right after the Columbine shootings?

Ivan: Oh yeah, just recently we did have a peculiar problem. You know, of all things, we got shut down by some super liberal types on a politically correct basis– which Is kind of Ironic, because I’m more used to getting that kind of flak from ultraconservatives and religious fundamentalists types.

Sherry: What did they say? Why did they stop you?

Ivan: What happened was this rather earnest, well meaning, dumb-ass of a city councilman, who used to be the mayor of Cambridge, got some e-mail from some good citizen way down In Florida. Some friend of his who said, “I understand that there’s going to be a show In Cambridge by THIS GROUP! Look at this website!” And the url that he gave him wasn’t the official SubGenius website– It was for a website by one of our more, uh, mischievous and active preachers, who goes by the name of Papa Joe Mama.

Papa Joe Mama had created a splinter group off of the Church of the SubGenius, called the Holocaustals. He also had to Invent the more liberal arm, which was the Ivangelicals. It breaks down this way: the Ivangelicals are a bunch of sex fiends who really don’t want to kill anybody. They just want to make slaves of the normals after X-Day finally happens. And the Holocaustals, of course, as the name Implies, just want to kill everybody as soon as they get the power. So, this was all, of course, to be expected. You’re not a good SubGenius unless you schism and Rebel and so forth.

Sherry: What Is X-Day?

Ivan: Oh, X-Day Is the prophesied day that “Bob” had predicted for twenty years. He has said that on July 5th , 1998 at 7:00 In the morning, the men from Planet X- or we prefer to think of them as the sex goddesses from Planet X– will come down and rapture up the dues-paying SubGeniuses only, and take them away In the Escape Vessels to a never-ending paradise, while you’re still alive. Then you get more paradise after you’re dead, whenever that Is. Like any religion, we make a lot of big promises.

Now, the fact that the world didn’t end, and I’m not on my escape vessel since July 5th, 1998, Indicates either that: It’s not really the date that the Conspiracy has tricked us Into thinking It Is, and we’re In a false environment like that movie, “The Matrix” supposes or suggests. Or– and I know It’s hard to Imagine that a preacher, a religious man like “Bob” Dobbs, might lie or fuck up– but It’s possible that “Bob” fucked up. Or lied. I know that that’s a difficult thing for a religious person to swallow, that such a thing could ever even happen, (laughter)

But, apparently, that may be It. And hell, we were expecting It to happen In ’99. We had a great party out at that nudist campground again. But, damn! They still didn’t show up, so I guess now It’s going to be Triple X-Day 2000. (laughter) We’ll have to go back to Brushwood and do It all over again- with the the bodily fluid wrestling, the nude Bobtism, the crucifixions and tortures, and all the drugs and liquor.

David: Sounds like really tough work.

Ivan: Ah God, I mean, preparing for the end of the world– sure, It’s exciting, but It does take a lot out of you. Then I had to do the Starwood Festival too. Every year I have to do Starwood, two weeks after the X-Day drill.

David: Good God, how exhausting.

Ivan: So we really are one of the more experienced religions when It comes to dealing with the end of the world. I think the Jehovah’s Witnesses have predicted the end of the world five times, and have been kind of been embarrassed each time It didn’t happen. In our case, we’re not going to let the Jehovah’s Witnesses out-kook us. (laughter) We will happily sit there In total faith waiting every year. If it takes eight thousand years, we’ll be there at Brushwood waiting for those saucers. Or wherever.

You don’t have to be at Brushwood to get Ruptured, though. It’s a worldwide event. You know, it’s funny. There were actually two or three people who were disappointed when, for thirty dollars, In 1998, they didn’t get to destroy the planet. (laughter) And I just have to think It’s a damn good thing that we got to those people Instead of say, Heaven’s Gate. Because all we ever ask for Is thirty dollars, and Heaven’s Gate asks a lot more than that, especially from the men. (laughter)

David: What role have psychedelics played In the development of the Church of the SubGenius, and In your development?

Ivan: Well, I wish I could explain that. For some reason this whole thing seems to attract pot heads like crazy. Now, of course, I haven’t met everyone of these ten thousand people I’m talking about, but I’ve met a hell of a lot of them. And from what I can tell, about 85 percent of them are probably some kind of psychedelic drug users. Now, why that is, you got me. There’s nothing terribly overt about that In any of the books. In fact, It actually says that with “Bob”, you can throw away all your cheap conspiracy street drugs and never come down.

David: I picked up The Book of the SubGenius back In the mid-eighties, I think. I found It In a bookstore on 9th Street In Greenwich Village, and was Initially drawn to It because the book was crawling with psychedelic imagery. It just looked like a huge LSD trip to me. (laughter) When was It published?

Ivan: The first printing was In 1983. McGraw-Hill published It.

David: The book must have been, at least, partially Inspired by psychedelics. What role did psychedelics play In the Inspiration for the book and for the concept of the Church?

Ivan: It’s hard to put one’s finger on that exactly. I mean, somehow I can Imagine It all happening just fine without a lot of psychedelics Involved. Personally–speaking for myself– I actually did write a whole lot of that first book, and I was a very well behaved boy at that time. I wasn’t really touching anything except, well, about halfway through. (laughter)

I’d had a terrible freak-out on LSD when I was sixteen years old. It almost killed me. And when I was sixteen I had not even tried beer. I was very leery of alcohol, and I had not even been drunk. I had been stoned on pot I think a couple of times before I took my first hit of LSD In 1969. All my high school buddies were doing It. They could drop acid and go to football practice or take exams. Well, It didn’t really agree with me. I was a very Insecure kid, and It was a very close call.

If It hadn’t been for that nervous breakdown caused by LSD, and my own Insecurity, and a bunch of fucking Jack Webb anti-drug propaganda that helped fuel the panic of It all, I probably would just be a nameless special effects technician doing detailing on miniatures in Hollywood– which Is not bad. But when I had this terrible freak-out as a very young man, I didn’t want my parents to know this had happened, and I had to deal with It In my own way. My Interests changed quite a bit after that.

My entire approach to life completely changed. I was sort of schizoid and paranoid and terrified after that trip; for awhile, I thought that I would never be able to experience fun or slack or any kind of relaxation again. I thought I would always be on my guard against flashbacks for the rest of my life. I had two choices. I could either kill myself, or I could forget myself and remember that everybody else around me still had the capability of having fun and happiness and enjoying, and that I could help them do that.

As corny as this sounds, at the age of seventeen, thanks to a bad drug trip, I actually decided that maybe I better devote myself to serving others rather than myself. That all sounds real good, and I surely lapsed back Into normal self isness several months later when I discovered that alcohol was the perfect cure for LSD psychosis. Unfortunately, several years later, of course, I had to quit drinking alcohol, and by then I’d forgotten about being such a nice guy. But for awhile there I might as well have been like a wonderful little Catholic Jesuit monk, dedicated to service of others.

David: What do you think happens to consciousness after the death of the body?

Ivan: I’ll give you the most concrete answer you’ve perhaps ever gotten to that one: I don’t have the slightest Idea. And If I said that I did, I’d be, one lying motherfucker.

I saw your talk at the Starwood Festival David, and you discussed some of the responses that you’ve gotten to that question from the people that you’ve Interviewed. You mentioned Jerry Garcia’s believing that when you’re dead, you’re dead, which actually Is what the scientific literature would definitely lead one to believe for the most part. On the other hand, I noticed that Dr. Timothy Leary never would give you a straight answer to that one. I would have to throw my vote In with Dr. Tim.

That Is a very Interesting question. If we had a happy answer to It, about half of the world would probably commit suicide as soon as the bills came In. Except for there’s that one catch- If you kill yourself then you don’t go to heaven. But think about It evolutionarily. If we knew there was a life after death, that would not be a very handy thing. I would Imagine that the spirits, the angels, and the Gods would just as soon keep us guessing and paying lip service– which, obviously, most of them are.

I’ve noticed that a lot of the people who talk the most about heaven seem to me, behind It all, to be not at all that sure that that’s the way things are going to happen. They’re a lot more scared of death than I seem to be. I hate to see things wasted, but the last thing I’m scared of is death.

(laughter) In fact, I’ve already got my tombstone statement worked out. I’ve been telling this to people to years now.

David: What Is It going to say?

Ivan: It should say, Reverend Ivan Stang born 1953, died, blah blah. Quote: “I’ll get them for this.” (laughter) That’s about as wonderful a statement of futility as our war on God, which I now declare every time I do a sermon. I declare war on God– on the God that has to be defended from jerks like me by little Illiterate old ladles, the God you have to clap your hands to believe In, or he’ll dry up and blow away like Tinkerbell.

Sherry: What’s the strangest mystical experience you’ve had so far?

Ivan: They all had to do with failing In love with my sweetie. Those are the only real ones I can talk about. The other ones I’d rather not talk about because It would all just sound too– you wouldn’t even believe it. You wouldn’t believe It If I even started.

Sherry: Ah, now that’s not true.

Ivan: I’ll leave that one for some very far future autobiography. I’ve experienced synchronicity In vast waterfalls. But, on the other hand, I did discover very early in the Church of the SubGenlus that If you Ignore those coincidences, they stop happening. They only happen If you’re looking for them. When I first started working on the Church of the SubGenlus, for the first couple years, the level of sychronicities, apparent omens, and portents got so completely out of hand that I had to call a halt to It. I thought I was losing my mind. I thought, God damn It, I’m starting to make decisions based on superstitious omens and portents on something that I practically made up.

It got to where I realized, well hell, we’re starting to turn Into what we made fun of. Then It stopped. It starts up for every new SubGenlus though. It’s amazing when It happens. At some point In their lives they’ll spend time In a period where they’ll just be too many “Bobs'”, too many Instances of uncanny coincidences. They’ll turn on the radio and some ad will suddenly have five SubGenlus concepts thrown In all at once. And It somehow Is perfectly meaningful In the context of what had just happened an hour before with your boss. That kind of thing. It works just like any other self-validating philosophy.

Sherry: What are some of the most Interesting synchronicities that you’ve experienced?

Ivan. I’ll tell you the one that seems to be the most telling for me. This has to do with the fact that I seem to be unable to see UFO’s. When I was about twenty-one to twenty-three I lived on the Rosebud Sioux, or Lakota Indian reservation up In Mission, South Dakota. And, In those days, I actually was a kind of a believer In all kinds of stuff. It was before the Church of the SubGenius, and all my reading was about the paranormal, religion, UFO’s, and so forth. I was very Interested in all that.

I don’t know anything at all about UFO’s, but I actually know a whole lot about Urologists and Urology. Let me put It that way. But this one very cold night out In the middle of the prairie something happened. We lived In a trailer court In between two cities, or little tiny towns actually. We were about the only Anglos that lived there. Everybody else was Indian. I had been out getting firewood outside of my house. To make a long story short, there was this UFO, a blinding blue light hovering over the pond across the highway, and It was seen by damn near everybody else at the trailer court.

They said that It cast a BRIGHT blue light all over the whole trailer court. They watched It, and It suddenly vanished, or rather shot upwards so fast that It seemed to vanish without a sound. Classic UFO encounter of the First Kind. I had been outdoors when all this happened. I had gone out to get some firewood. Everybody saw me out there, too, while this saucer thing was going on. And they ran up to me as I brought my firewood In. I wasn’t thinking anything. There was a knock at the door, and there was Lorenz Black Lance and the other folks standing there going, “Whoa! Did you see that? God, what the hell was that?I11 I’m like, “Huh? What?” And then they kind of went, “uh … he … didn’t … see…It?” And then they didn’t even want to tell me. (laughter)

It could have been that I was just completely out of It, just absent minded-which Is possible. I’m the kind of person who could walk right by a dinosaur and not notice It If I’m thinking about something or worrying about bills. That was the beginning of when I started to think, well, maybe I’m the one who’s supposed to question these things. I’m personally horrified by the level of plain outright Dark Ages-like superstitions that I see around me. People will start lecturing me about ghosts, or how we never really landed on the moon, or how we’ve, got slave colonies on the moon, and whatnot. All kinds of things.

They’ll lecture with extreme knowledgeability about the most cosmic subjects-life after death, God, and so forth– and yet you find out they couldn’t tell you what the boiling point of water Is. They couldn’t tell you where China Is looking at a globe, and they wouldn’t know the difference between that country and Japan. As a practicing religious nut and mystic, I’ve told people for a long time, If the aliens had come In 1998 like “Bob” said, and given everybody everything they wanted for thirty bucks, then I would be standing on my escape vessel preaching the wonders of magic and religion. On the other hand, If I found myself still In nightclubs and bars after 1998, then you might find me singing the praises of rationalism and science.

So I’ve been fairly true to my word. I get a big kick out of speaking to pagan gatherings, New Agers and so forth, and basically working them up Into tears of concern and wonderment over the environment, and meanwhile sneaking In all this science and rationalist stuff. You might say we learned our lesson when those escape vessels didn’t show up. And although we still believe that everybody should send their thirty dollars to “Bob” to play It safe, also, maybe we should learn how to build our own ships.

And that’s actually been the thrust lately. It wasn’t really a planned thrust. It came along afterwards, and I’m glad It did. But It’s a great follow-up gimmick now. It’s like, yeah, well, for now we’ve learned all we can about the little grey men from outer space and so forth. For the time being UFOIogy does seem to be a dog chasing It’s own tall, and rife with buckets of self-delusion everywhere you look. Perhaps It might not be a bad Idea to maybe think about taking care of the spaceship that we’re on already, using something besides prayer. You know, It’s great for everybody to visualize world peace and pray and so forth, but when you talk about the hundredth monkey, you have to remember the hundredth Manson, or the hundredth Hitler. (laughter) All that other stuff.

Although all of that Is necessary and good for many people, I think that all too often these days we neglect the actual physical processes such as getting off your ass and doing things, that some of the other religions tend to leave out. They don’t stress knowledge very much, and we really are trying to encourage the dumb asses and the superstitious among our number to maybe stop listening to talk shows and read a book every now and then. But maybe read a book that they found In the library Instead of In the occult book store.

Sherry: That seems to be one of the most refreshing differences between your church and a lot of churches– that you encourage people to think for themselves and not just take the church’s dogma and obey.

Ivan: Are you kidding? We’ll chop their heads off If they take us seriously. (laughter) We’ve been deprogrammIng our own zombies for twenty years. Every now and then we’ll get somebody who really takes It all way too seriously, and does not understand In the slightest, “Bob’s” one law– the one law being, “Fuck them If they can’t take a joke.” Luckily, they usually don’t last very long, because If you really read our material, just when we got you believing, we pull the rug right out from under you. “God, can you believe we had you believing It? We almost had you there, didn’t we?” (laughter) Hell, we fooled you enough to get you to spend $16.00 on this book! Now, look how gullible you are. Maybe you better think twice next time.”

Sherry: Does the world seem like It’s getting noticeably weirder lately to you?

Ivan: No, not to me. But I’m forty-six years old.

Sherry: So, the world has always been weird?

Ivan: Yeah. It made a lot less sense when I was younger. I mean, it actually Is becoming dreadfully familiar. I feel like the more history I read, the more I’m seeing It repeat Itself. Seems like people never learn.

Sherry: What do you see as the biggest threats to life on the planet right now?

Ivan: “Bob”! (laughter) If we can get things our way It’ll be “BOB”! And If we can’t find “Bob” himself, we’ll make a 3-D computer graphic that looks and talks like him, and we’ll take over the world. Hey man, the antichrist Is due any minute now. The only thing that’s going to stop a One World Government Is going to be a One World Religion, or a One World Advertiser. So we’re trying to place ourselves. We’ve been trying to maneuver Into that position for the millennium for years now. We had twenty years to plan that 1998 party.

Sherry: Who are your heroes? Who helped you become who you are today?

Ivan: The Warner Brothers animators, and the Three Stooges. I was also very Influenced by the team of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, who did the bulk of Marvel comics In the Sixties when I was growing up. Jimi Hendrix Is a character that I’ve always been very fascinated by. He was evidently quite a SubGenlus, so to speak. He’s one of those people who could do one thing perfectly, or a couple of things perfectly– but that’s It. (laughter) Otherwise he was a complete space cadet.

I thought the writer Colin Wilson was a the most reasonable writer that I found In the field of paranormal, In that he didn’t seem to be particularly dogmatic. He had his own little theories about things but he wasn’t trying to explain everything exactly. I think that’s a real big mistake when you don’t have answers to pretend that you do. Federico Fellini did a couple of movies that really affected the way I worked. Oddly enough they were documentaries. Roma was one of them, and 8 112, which is autobiographical. I see that movie every year or so.

When I was a young man, my Ideal, what I really really wanted to be when I grew up was, well, I wanted to be Orson Welles. Early on I ‘had a pretty good dose of Hollywood. I was an award-winning teenage filmmaker, and I realized that I was not the kind of person that would be able to make Hollywood style feature films. I’m just not that kind of a person. I had a family then that was more Important to me, so that career move was out. But my big heroes, what I really would have been… I used to dream that someday I could do something as cool as the Firesign Theater had done with their albums, which I still consider to this day to be absolutely breakthrough In writing and media. And the underground cartoonists– Robert Crumb, Robert Williams, S. Clay Wilson, Justin Green, and several people who are not very famous. Bet the only one you recognized was Robert Crumb, right?

Sherry: And Robert Williams.

David: No, I know all of them. I’m very familiar with the underground cartoonists.

Ivan: Oh, really?

David: Yeah. I grew up with those guys. I started reading Zap comix when I was twelve, and collected them as a teenager. I used to have my mom buy them for me at the Postermat In Greenwich Village.

Ivan: They were pretty hard to find In Texas. Anyway, when I was twenty-five, I would have been absolutely flabbergasted If I’d known that two years later those guys would be calling me up and going, “Hey man, I got that pamphlet. It’s hilarious. Can we reprint It?” And so forth. So I actually got that particular dream fulfilled very very early on, as far as acceptance by the people that I wanted to be peers with. I felt real good about that.

David: I understand that feeling well– how Incredibly wonderful It Is to become friends with the heroes of your youth.

Ivan: The problem Is that there has never been any money or big mainstream kick to go along with all of this. It’s been a continuous struggle just to keep the post office box open.

Sherry: What about book and tape sales? Isn’t that sustaining you?

Ivan: No. I think the Book of the SubGenius has only sold about 50,000 copies, maybe 60,000 In all this time. Revelation X– pphh, they barely keep It In print. It sells just enough copies to stay In print. I think It’s probably only sold sixteen or seventeen thousand. It’s amazing how Influential we’ve been over the years, particularly with video and sound editing.

I started this radio show back In 1985– The Hour of Stock— and all I can say Is every damn radio commercial that I hear these days sounds like my editing. But not just me. It was me and a couple of other people who practiced this extremely choppy audio editing style that utilized a lot of clips from old movies. Like the way our books used to use a lot of clip art, we use clips from preachers, movies and other stuff. To tell the honest-to-God truth, we never heard anybody do that before we did. Now, every commercial on MTV looks that way. They look like our old video Arise! Have you ever seen It?

David: I have a copy of Arisel I’ve watched It a number of times tripping on acid. It’s wonderful.

Ivan: Well, that was done fifteen years ago, and think how many commercials you see now that look like that. Now, I’m not saying that we got ripped off In any way, shape, or form. But I do believe that we were very Influential to the kids who were exposed to Arlsel on that television show Night Flight, which used to show bits and pieces of It.

David: Night-Flight was a great show. Late night television designed specifically for stoners. I think It still airs In LA.

Sherry: Is Arisel available on video now?

Ivan: Yeah, It’s a Polygram video– although they pretty much sit on It, and pretend that It doesn’t exist. So it’s mostly just available from us through the website: www.SubGenius.com

Sherry: Ivan, do you have enough slack In your life?

Ivan: No, I don’t have enough slack. If I had enough slack I would Instantly be able to radiate SO much slack to you two on the phone right now, that It would become a chain reaction. It would spread all over the entire world. It’d be the hundredth “Bob”. Unfortunately, I’m afraid I may be the 99th monkey In that respect. I’m still holding that dirty apple and scratching my head wondering, ‘Why are all those other monkeys washing that fruit?” (laughter)

Yeah, I guess I have enough slack. I’ve got two grown kids that are wonderful, and I don’t have to worry about them. So for a parent, believe me man, In this day and age, that’s a lot of slack.

David: How do your kids react to the church?

Ivan: Oh, somewhat bored.

David: How old are your kids?

Ivan: My son’s twenty, and my daughter’s eighteen. They’ve both moved away from home, are In college, and they’re out on their own. My daughter came to Xday In 1998 and I’m really glad. It was wonderful, up until then she was still able to tell herself that her parents were completely uncool and out of It, and didn’t know what was going on. After they saw the kind of parties that we threw, compared to the kind of parties that her friends threw, she realized that we actually were pretty cool. (laughter)

Sherry: What suggestions do you have for people on how they can get more slack In their lives?

Ivan: Number one: buy The Book of the SubGenius and Revelation X. Number

two: send $30.00 to Post Office Box 140306, Dallas, TX 75214. Praise “Bob”! But really, we don’t tell people how to get slack, and we do not sell them slack. That Is a big misconception. What we do Is explain to them that they are owed slack by the conspiracy, but only they know what It Is. We can’t tell anybody what slack Is for them. The conspiracy does that all the time. Generally the conspiracy, more or less, lets you know what slack Is supposed to be to the average American. They’re constantly telling you that slack Is having lots of money, and your team just won the game, and life looks like a Miller Beer commercial. Everybody’s good looking by a certain standard.

Or other branches of the conspiracy would have you believe that slack Is sitting around smoking dope all day man, like Beavis and Butthead dude And slack may be those things for many SubGeniuses, but really It’s completely different for each person. And the day that anybody can bottle and sell slack, on that day, the conspiracy has won. As long as slack Is free, and the conspiracy can not define It for everybody, then It can’t win. So, like any religion really does, what we’re really doing Is providing Is a pep talk. Most people already know what we’re saying through common sense. They just need to be reminded. And If you can couch It In a new and non-corny way, some people really do benefit from those reminders.

Every now and then even I have to re-read that shit just to get my sense of humor back on certain things. So we try really hard to appear to be the kind of excellent fascists that our friends In Scientology, the Unification Church, the Southern Baptists and so forth are. We try to be like them, but we’re just SubGeniuses. We’re just not very dependable. Our trains don’t run on time. We blow things off. Most of the SubGeniuses are what some people would call lazy. We don’t care about your soul. So there are quite a few things that distinguish us from pretty much every other New Age and old age religion.

David: What are you currently working on?

Ivan: This week I’m trying like hell to finish editing the documentary video of XXday 1999. We have a wonderful two hour documentary about the main X-day In 1998 that I’m really happy with. It’s been shown In a couple of film festivals, and we sell It to SubGeniuses. It’s on the web site too.

Sherry: I think I saw your picture. You were wrapped In bubble wrap.

Ivan: That was during a certain part of It. We had a mock battle of Armageddon. Remember I mentioned that our friend Papa Joe Mama had Invented this split between the Holocaustals and Ivangelicals? Well, the day before the world was supposed to end out at Brushwood campground, there were 400 people there for that. And they divided up Into teams– whether .they were blood thirsty Holocaustals or sex-crazed Ivangelical cowards.

Most of the tough guys joined the Holocaustals. I knew that was going to happen. I’m like a bespectacled little wimp compared to most of the Holocaustals, but I thought, “Ah! There’s one thing I can do. I can get the gals on my side, the women, because they know I respect them. I’m not one of those macho brutes.” So I created this new motto for the Ivangelicals. It was designed to recruit body guards. Big, soft, full-chested body guards. (laughter) And the motto was, “When In doubt, run or eat pussy.”

Keep In mind, we were up against Holocaustals which were largely composed of ex-bikers. SubGeniuses are not all little bespectacled Star Trek fans. Some of them are ex-convicts. I mean, there are all kinds of people, and the great thing about this Is the fact that this Isn’t just a book, a record, cd, or just stage shows-It really does bleed over Into people’s lives. The active SubGeniuses really are what I’ve been lately calling ‘Human Cartoons’. I think a lot of us love to stage these kinds of things. We didn’t really know that we were doing this, but what we’re really doing Is staging these– I don’t know– like, encounter group things almost.

The real life aspects of a person’s personality that distinguishes them– makes them weird or eccentric– that’ll come to the forefront In SubGenius land, when your surrounded by your fellow SubGeniuses. These cartoons of real life just spontaneously develop. Very little of this Is ever planned. I try to take advantage of It using my editing skills. I’ll edit the footage down and continue to help promote these depictions of real people, as If they were legendary figures, larger than life. You’re probably not real familiar with our little cast of characters, but for instance we’ve got the Hooker With a Heart of Gold character, Sister Suzie the Floozy.

But the big tough biker, “The Cross and the Switchblade” type Of guy, Dr. Legume, who Is this hulking tough tough guy, Is actually a very talented artist and writer. And we’ve got the let-setting playboy SubGenius. We have these self-created stereotypes that, I guess In some ways, you might say was an escape from reality, because a lot of these people have boring jobs and so forth. But, actually, for the ones I’m thinking of, It’s not an escape from reality. It’s more like, “Oh, finally I get to do reality up the way It should be.” (laughter) It’s like how cross-dressers somehow feel a whole lot better when they can dress as they like. He may be a big fat guy with a mustache, but he feels a whole lot better If he’s wearing a little dress, and he’s with a bunch of other big fat guys wearing dresses. Well, there’s nothing wrong with that, and this Is the church for people who are so damned weird that no other church really particularly wants them.

I was having a conversation with this In-law of mine, who shall we charitably say Is not really an urban sophisticate. He’s a small town boy. I was telling him about some of our Interesting members, such as Popess Lillith, who at the mutant prom last year won both King and Queen, because Popess Lillith Is a transgendered person. You never know whether to say he or she. I was describing some of these characters, and my Baptist In-law said, “You know, I don’t think I’d like to meet those people In your church.”

And I said, “Well, maybe that’s why they don’t come to your church and come to mine Instead.” From what I understand their guru, that Jesus guy, the original Jesus, wasn’t quite so squeamish as his fan club Is. I thought that he said that you were supposed to at least tolerate the damn weirdos, Republicans, drunkards and so forth. I find It very Ironic that It takes a goddamn joke church to even think about doing that any more. Isn’t that sad?

Sherry: Yeah, It Is.

Ivan: Yeah! (laughter) I find I very very Ironic that for so many of those people, literally, the only church that will take them In, the only place where they won’t be mocked, and laughed at, and put down just because of the way they look or they way they are, Is a goddamn comic book joke church. What the hell does that say about the Catholics, the Baptists, the Moonies, the Scientologists and everybody else?

David; The Catholics probably wouldn’t even take Into Jesus to their church If he were alive today.

Ivan: That’s why He’s working for me now. (laughter) Actually, He’s not exactly working for me; He’s my younger partner. (laughter)

David: Those are pretty much the questions we had for you Ivan. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Ivan: I hope you guys see that, although people tend to want to, you simply can’t peg the Church of the SubGenius down as one thing or another. “Well, it’s just a takeoff on religion.” Usually misinformed people Insist on pinpointing It as being a takeoff on evangelists or evangelism. Whereas, actually we really do try to Insult EVERYBODY’S religion. We make fun of every religion, most of all our own. Others think that it really Is a true cult. Cult– hell, It’s Infinitely larger than Heaven’s Gate. I mean, It’s rather beyond the cult stage now; you’ve got to call It a religion, because there are so many people Involved.

And some people think that It’s somehow New Age. Others think that It’s got this terrible anti-New Age, totally scientific agenda, that’s designed to destroy everybody’s faith. Others think It’s an art project. (Which It Is.) And that’s the thing: It Is ALL of those things. Why can’t It be all those things? Why can’t It be a cheap joke? A serious support group? A very sophistlcated joke? A crappy support group? I mean, It depends. Even though I’m in the position of ringleading any mass media that’s done with it, or any commercial publications, I can’t even begin to control It.

I can only control our trademark. And, hopefully, I can keep Disney or ABC from stealing It from us and ruining It, making It the cheap joke that It first appears to be. Or even worse– making It Into the cheap mind-controlling cult that It can also appear to be. We wouldn’t want either one of those things to happen. It should always be all of those contradictory things. I think it’s more realistic that way. It’s more like real life. You’ll notice that we’re terribly ambiguous. That’s because we don’t want to tell people what to think. We’re not that confident ourselves. We might tell them how to think, We might tell them what to spend money on. (laughter) But one of the big slogans Is, “Bob’ Is not the answer. And neither Is anything else.” You must learn to think for yourself, but only J.R. “Bob” Dobbs can show you how.

David: Right, hidden In all the jokes Is actually, I think, some very valuable wisdom.

Sherry: Are you a fan of Bill Hicks?

Ivan: I worship Bill Hicks. I am ashamed of how lame my own act Is every time I hear Bill Hicks. Ironically enough, I never even heard of the guy until about two months before he died. A friend of mine showed me the HBO special about Hicks, and I just fell flat on my face.

Sherry: Me tool

Ivan: I was flabbergasted. I thought, my God I I thought I was the only person since Lenny Bruce who was even trying to do this, and this son-of-a-bitch Is succeeding beautifully. Then I got his address, and sent him a membership packet. A week later, after I sent that off, I learned he that he had died of pancreatic cancer at the age of thirty-four or thirty-six, something like that. God damn It.

Sherry: Yeah, that’s how I felt. I saw his special and then kept waiting to hear more. A year went by and I didn’t hear anything else. I finally asked somebody from Texas who knew about him, and he said, “Oh he died last year.” And I’m like, “Oh man!”

Ivan: Yeah. There’s still a following. But the Bill Hicks newsgroup has only got a hundred posts on It most of the time, as opposed to alt.slack, which has two thousand most of the time. It’s sick, because I really admire Bill Hicks. To me he Is the first one since Lenny Bruce to have both the balls and the talent to do what he does. It’s not exactly what I try to do, but It’s very close. I think somehow he managed to pack It all Into that short time that he had.

Sherry: Have you got all four of his C.D.’s?

Ivan: Yeah.

Sherry: Oh, good. Part of my mission Is to spread Bill Hicks’ humor. I send copies of the C.D.s to people.

Ivan: I do that too. I’ve duplicated a lot of those myself. I’ve been shocked at how few people know about him.

David: I had never even heard of him before Sherry Introduced me.

Ivan: Man, Bill Hicks Is God. And, like I say, I feel sort of abashed because I do a similar kind of thing. I’ve never ever performed In a comedy club. We’ve never once called what we do comedy, but I do perform essentially a similar kind of thing– stand there and talk about really REALLY untouchable subjects, In a very blunt way. And boy, I mean, I just must not ever try to Imitate him. But It Is quite an Inspiration every now and then to listen to the guy.

David: How many hits does the SubGenius web site get?

Ivan: On good months, It’s probably a couple thousand people a day. Check out the front page. But I think that that has dropped off considerably. I think It’s more like a thousand a day now. We’re trying to sell ads on the thing. I mean, It’s a commercial web site. It costs us $225 bucks minimum a month to keep It open.

David: I would think that with that number of hits you could easily sell ads.

Ivan: No. It’s a rare company that really wants to be associated with somebody that does what we do. I’ve never been on any national television. Well, except once– Jon Stewart had me on his show for about five minutes, when he had a show. Needless to say he was canceled shortly thereafter.

(laughter)

David: I’m surprised you haven’t done more television. Why Is that?

Ivan: Because It’s religion we make fun of. It’s that simple. David Letterman has known about us since the very early Eighties. We had Simon & Schuster behind us for awhile there, and McGraw Hill. I’ve always had a lot of friends In media. I’ve been right next to Howard Stern’s radio studio, with his producers and stuff, but It was like, “Well, no, there are some things that really are going to far, and you guys are It.”

Sherry: You’re too far for Howard Stern?

Ivan: Yeah.

Sherry: Oh my God.

Ivan: Well, you can degrade women and you can be a racist. You can do all kinds of stuff, but If you start poking fun at other people’s religion, that’s where everybody cope out. I mean, every now and then you see something done that bashes religion, but actually It’s usually In poor taste and rather crude.

David: Are there any Church of SubGenius members In the Middle East?

Ivan: There are some. God, as far as I know, It’s like we have one each In almost every country. Actually there are a lot In Israel. In fact, somebody sent me this photograph of the walling wall, where somebody had spray-painted a damn “Bob” on it. (laughter) It was In an Israeli magazine about graffiti on sacred site$. My agent noticed It. Yeah, so we do have some In Israel, but I can’t think of a single Islamic country where we have anything but English teachers.

We had a couple of addresses In Saudi Arabia, but they were Americans. A Japanese publisher bought the rights to the Book of the SubGenius, but nothing ever came of it. Of course, what we tell people, Is “The eighth translator just committed suicide. They’ve gone through eight translators now, they’ve all killed themselves.” (laughter) We have It translated Into Portuguese, Spanish, and French already, but no publisher. There’s one [one

SubGenius– and he’s gay too, on top of that- In Lisbon. God, boy, talk about a brave son-of-a-bitch. That’s a rough country to be gay or SubGenius In.

Sherry: Do you receive royalties when “Bob”‘s face Is used by other people? Did you collect any money when Sublime used the face of “Bob” on their 40 oz to Freedom C D?

Ivan: Yeah. We contacted MCA, or whichever record company It was, and said, “Hey! That’s our trademark and you ripped us off.” And they went, “Yeah, that’s true, you’re right. Okay, well, the band will pay you, such and such percent of each one.” And we went, “The band?1″ They went, “Hell yeah. We always rook everyone. We’re the record business. We shaft everybody. Of course the band has to pay for that.”

So we talked to the band, and the bass player said, “Our lead singer just died of an overdose man, we don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m sorry we didn’t pay you for that. How much would you have charged?” We said about two grand. And they said, “Can we just give you that? Because we’re actually kind of broke now.” So we let It go for two grand. I loved the album. I had never heard of that band, and I got to listening to It just because we were harassing them, and decided that they kicked ass! Just figures man. Every time I like a rock star, they O.D. on drugs, proving that they were SubGeniuses I guess. (laughter)

Now, one thing I should mention Is that a lot of times the focus Is on me, simply because “Bob” Is not available, and I’m the one running this office. But If you look at any of the SubGenius material, you’ll see that almost all of It has literally dozens of collaborators Involved. And that’s really been the key to the longevity of It. We’ve never had any kind of big mainstream success, but we’ve been around forever, and I think we probably will continue to be around forever just because of that collaborative aspect. Sure, some of the old-timers get bored with It and drift on to other things, or whatever. But there’s always new ones. So there’s this constant Influx of new Ideas. Occasionally somebody will describe It as a one joke Idea that just won’t stop, but that’ not true. It Is actually constantly full of a lot of new takes on life. I mean, because It takes the form of a religion, It can cover every aspect of life.

It’s a wonderful framework for people to jump Into If they suddenly have a wild hair. Say you work for the post off Ice, and most of the time you can barely lift your head. You get home, and you’re so tired you don’t want to do anything but watch T.V. But every now and then, you suddenly get this wild hair to do something creative. Well, If you do that one kick-ass thing a year, and It has “Bob” In It, then at least you know It’s going to get used somewhere. You may not get any pay for It. Or hardly any. I think when we did our role-playing game It had a hundred Illustrations In It, and each artist got thirteen dollars per Illustration. That’s the kind of pay scale we’re looking at. But, by the same token we’re a good place for people to get their first published thing. It’s like, I don’t know how many people can now say “Oh I’m a published graphic artist” because we used their stuff In our books, In our role-playing game or something.

David: Some of the most strangest, most bizarre Images I have ever seen In my life were In the SubGenius material. That’s what originally drew me to

It– the graphics. They were just quite astonishing. I couldn’t believe what I was looking at sometimes.

Ivan: Oh, they’ve only gotten even more astonishing now that everything’s on the Internet and we can use color. That was what was missing for the first fifteen years. My website has an art gallery that literally goes on forever, and It’s just gorgeous stuff. There are some Incredible artists. And some of them I don’t know personally. I don’t know how they can keep cranking this stuff out. There’s a newsgroup called alt.binarys.slack that’s just a repository for SubGenlus graphics and sound files. It’s one of the busiest graphics newsgroups, and It’s got some of the highest quality stuff.

I’ve looked at alt.computergraphics, and various other ones, and It’s generally less Imaginative, less technically accomplished, and less busy than the SubGenlus art newsgroup. On my website there’s a graphic section you can get right off the front page. Just click on the thing that says graphics, and It’ll go Into another subsection that covers both video clips and artwork. Paul Mavrides Is one of the key graphic artists whenever we do a big job. Revelation X Is designed by him. He really Is one of our most valuable artists. He’s also one of the best-known graphic artists that works with us. He’s a big part of the whole Church of the SubGenlus.

David: Didn’t Robert Williams contribute to the first book?

Ivan: He has mostly just thrown In one or two things when we were doing a book. That “Wings of Slack”– the emblem that we use a whole lot that’s got a winged clock with a dagger through It– was a detail from a Robert Williams comic book-Coochy Cootie. We asked him If we could use it and he said, “Yeah! Send me a bottle of Chivas Regal and fifteen bucks, and It’s yours.” (laughter) I really like that guy, because he talks sort of like me.

David: I did an Interview with him a couple years ago. It’s on my website. He’s a genius. His work has actually received a lot of serious attention over the past few years. He was part of a show at the L.A. County Museum.

Ivan: Well, It’s about time. He was bitching to me about how he still felt like he wasn’t getting anywhere near the money he should be getting.

David: When I Interviewed him, he told me that he was the only artist that completely sells out at every gallery opening In New York City.

Ivan: Wow. Well, I hope so. He’s another one of my heroes. I have a stop-motion film, kind of a claymation porno film, that’s dedicated to him.

Sherry: What’s that called?

Ivan: The short title Is “Reproduction Cycle-” The long title Is “Educational Series Number 17: Reproduction Cycle Among Lower Life Forms Underneath the Rocks of Mars.” It’s about the reproduction cycle of these microbes that live under the surface of the Martian rocks.

Sherry: Can that be ordered from your web site?

Ivan: Yeah, It’s in a collection called “Pre-Dobbs Stang Films”. I was an underground filmmaker before I was a pamphleteer. (laughter)

Sherry: So when’s the next Devival coming up?

Ivan: There’s something In Tampa Say, Florida In November, but I don’t think I’m going to be at that one. I don’t think they could afford me. That one’s going to have Papa Joe Mama and the Irreverend Friday Jones. The next

X-Day– Trlple-X Day– Is going to be the weekend just before July 5th, 2000 at Brushwood, a campground In rural far western New York, where the Starwood Festival Is held every year. Hell, I’m at that campground at least twice a year. I know about Brushwood because they Invited me to Starwood to speak at the festival In 1990. Whenever Leary or Wilson was too expensive or sick, then they’d call me. (laughter) Like I’m the poor man’s Robert Anton Wilson.

Anyway, Brushwood Is a wonderful place. I’m very good friends with the folks who own the land there, and I’ve been going to those Starwood things forever. I’m planning to move up there. I’ve had It with Texas. This place Is too hot. I’ve been here all these years mainly because my wife’s family was here. That’s honestly the main reason, for family purposes– my family and my wife’s family. I wasn’t especially ambitious to go off to Hollywood or New York, and that’s why I hung around.

David: I’d think that you would be Interested In moving out west, to join us here In California, where there are probably more SubGenii per capita than anywhere else In the world.

Ivan: Well, like I say, for twenty-five years I had family reasons to stick around. Those are no longer pertinent, and all I know Is I get treated great up north. I’m a “kook” here In Dallas, but In Cleveland I’m a respected satirist.

Sherry: Have you ever spent any time In Santa Cruz?

Ivan: Actually two years ago I did go to Santa Cruz and I desperately wanted to live there. There was some weird bunch of SubGeniuses throwing a party, some people I didn’t even know, something called “The Resort”. And a British television show wanted to do a report on the Church of the SubGenlus, and we weren’t doing anything. But these kids were throwing a party In Santa Cruz.

So they flew this British crew of absolute amateurs, and me, to that party. I rented a car and drove out to their party. Then I drove around the area and thought, “God! What a great place to live!” The trees, the ocean– I mean, I was just flabbergasted. I thought, this Is great. San Francisco’s cold and clammy and full of extremely pompous assholes. L.A. Is unthinkably nightmarish to me. But Santa Cruz seemed just wonderful. But It also struck me that It would be extremely expensive. (Sherry giggles)

David: I live In the Santa Cruz mountains, and I pay much less than I paid when I lived In L.A.

Sherry: It’s cheaper than L.A., but It’s more expensive than Colorado. That’s the one thing keeping me from living In Santa Cruz. I’d love to live there too. But the people out there are the real reason I’d want to move out there.

David; Santa Cruz is mutant city. We have the youngest population In the country. The average age here Is twenty-two. It’s just a whole town made up of misfits and outcasts, hippies and punks, artists and philosophers– the peak of Western alternative culture.

Sherry: But really cool misfits. Not the serial killer kind.

Ivan: Well, one of these days.

David: You certainly have a lot of fans here. You’d probably be respected as a deity by the kids If you moved out here.

Ivan: (sound of barfing, followed by laughter) Hey man, that’s what “Bob” Is there for. That’s the great thing about all of this, that you can always just point the finger at, “No, kiss his ass. Blame him.” No, actually on July 8th, at seven a.m. 1998, when the X-Ists (surprise, surprise) didn’t show up, and the prophesy failed, It wasn’t “Bob” that they wanted their money back from. It wasn’t “Bob” that got stripped down naked. It wasn’t “Bob” that had honey and pink feathers poured over him and thrown Into the pond. (laughter) It made for a wonderful ending to our video. It was like, how do you get out of this? How do we get out of this besides a few lame jokes? We’ve got to give this audience something to do. So we had a whole tarring and feathering- which I knew about. I even bought the pink feathers. (laughter) But I got to use all the comebacks that I had developed for a twenty year period.

Sherry: Comebacks?

Ivan: I mean, I knew what was going to happen. Or I had a fairly good Idea. And It was great. After the second or third countdown, and the aliens don’t arrive, there was a bunch of hemming and hawing. Then It’s, “String him up! He’s a charlatan!” I ended up, for about a half an hour, stark naked, covered with this honey and stuff, In this pond, with 400 people hollering basically funny shit at me. And me, getting to use all these comebacks, “what-ifs” and “here’s whys” and so forth-that we had come up with over a long period of time. And luckily the video cameras caught It all magnificently. So we had a wonderful ending for our little video. Plus now we get to throw a party for the end of the world every single year. You’ll have to come to one of our X-day things.

David: Cool. We will.

Ivan: That campground Is just a wonderful place anyway. I wouldn’t do It anywhere else.

Ivan: If I ever get out near Santa Cruz, I’ll give you a buzz.

David: Yeah, please do. I’d definitely love to show you around here and Introduce YOU to some Interesting people.

Ivan: I haven’t been to California really for a long visit, not since the church was cool.

David: Since the church was cool? What are you talking about? It’s still cool.

Ivan: Well, the church actually went through a super cool phase In San Francisco In the early Eighties. And then I think It became too old to be cool. And I think that we’re about to hit the twenty year nostalgia mark where we can then become cool again.

David: I think that the stamp of approval that you’re truly cool Is when you appear on blotter acid.

Ivan: That happened to “Bob” In 1982.

David: That’s an honor that “Bob” shares with Mr. Natural, Michael Gorbachev, and Bart Simpson.

Ivan: That’s why I say, we’ve already been there. It was shitty acid, unfortunately. (laughter) I did actually have In my hand, handed to me, blotter acid that was manufactured with “Bob’s” face. it wasn’t just stamped on after the fact.

David: Those are collector’s Items now.

Ivan: Unfortunately, the guy who handed It to me, the next time I heard from him he was In the federal penitentiary. Oh well. That’s what he gets for selling crappy acid. (laughter)

Fakir Musafar

Skin Deep

“Your body belongs to you. Play with it.”

with Fakir Musafar

 

By the age of four; Poland Laomis was regularly dreaming about his past lives; by six he was experiencing psychedelic visions while riding his bicycle; by twelve he was poking his mother’s sewing needles through his skin. By the age of thirteen he had pierced his foreskin in the coal cellar, by fourteen he was experimenting with his newly found psychokinetic powers; and by seventeen he had a full-blown mystical shake-up of the kind recounted by saints, sages, and madmen.

Gradually, the puzzling elements of Roland’s childhood began to slip into place, like the ribs beneath a whalebone corset. This odd and awkward boy from a strict Lutheran family in whitest South Dakota had been born again in the regal personage of Fakir Musafar: Fakir Musafar was a misunderstood shaman in thirteenth-century Persia who entered mystical states through manipulating his body and died of a broken heart after a lifetime of ridicule.

This could also have been the fate of Roland had he remained within the walls of his family cellar; where his experiments began. Instead, Fakir came out, and now, at sixty-three, he has not only been accepted by the tribe but has been granted something of the status of an elder statesman. He is undoubtedly America ‘s master guru of body ritual, offering wisdom and experience in a movement with more than its share of neophytes searching for identity.

Fakir’s role models are Hindu sadhus who sleep on beds of nails, African women with necks elongated by metal rings, and New Guinea tribesmen with belts that reduce their waists to a whisper. It was he who coined the terms “modern primitive, ” and “body play, ” terms that now, thanks to the information revolution, have become almost as familiar as “cyberpunk” or “generation X. ” The modern primitive movement is a tribal concoction of neopagans, lesbians, gays, artists, punks-creative misfits who have taken the term “queer” from the exclusive domain of homosexuality and applied it to all who find themselves trying to squeeze their round pegs into the square nipples of society.

His twenty-seven years as an advertising executive allowed Fakir piercing insight into the power of symbolism, a knowledge he exploits beautifully in his quarterly magazine, BodyPlay. He is also the founder and director of the School for Professional Body Piercing, the first in America.

I interviewed Fakir on October 17, 1992. Sitting in the garden of his suburban bungalow in Menlo Park, California, bespectacled with a button-down haircut, in sports shirt and slacks, Fakir could still be that executive. There is little to suggest what lies beneath, except that poking through his nose is a five-inch porcupine quill. Fakir is a misfit who, unable to find a mold to fit into, simply fashioned one for himself

RMN

Rebecca:. What first inspired you to start changing your body state?

Fakir: I always seemed to have that inclination. When I was growing up all the people around me lived under Judeo-Christian principles and rules, and the whole thing was operating under a very hard, patriarchal society. My biggest problem as a child was spacing out and I would literally go into trance states at the drop of a hat. It was very difficult for me because I thought I was going nuts. I would try and stay there but I couldn’t help it, I’d fade away. Bells would ring, I’d have audio and visual hallucinations. I remember riding a tricycle and having wonderful hallucinations like on acid.

I had a particular problem in social situations which still bothers me today. I guess it’s an escape, a coping mechanism. This family was so repressive and dysfunctional that it was natural for me to use this ability to space out, to cope with the boredom and abandonment.

Rebecca: What were you like as a child – apart from spacy? (laughter)

Fakir: I was very much alone, I was very thin, I didn’t do too well with other kids, I didn’t do too well in sports. I couldn’t catch a baseball because I was blind as a bat. But I was also very bright. I devoured books because that was my only escape from this very limited society. I started on Volume A of the best looking encyclopedia. I read the whole thing from cover to cover and then I started on Volume B and so on. When I got through that set of encyclopedias I went to another set and read that one. And I found out that I was really interested in how other cultures lived.

Rebecca: And when you first saw pictures of people with scarification, tattoos and piercings, did you suddenly go, aha! this is it?

Fakir: Oh yeah – instantly the light went on. Very often I could recognize that whatever they said about these people in the photo caption was not what was going on. I could look at them and feel how that person felt at the moment the photograph was taken. It was a mixture of fear, pain, intense sensation, awe, and I thought my God! they’ve got something! And I would secretly try to do these things, the Ibitoe of New Guinea which is the waist reducing belt.

One of the abilities I had when I was young was psychometry. We lived in an area that was heartland for Indians’ last stands and the last survival of Indian culture, so there was a lot of Indian atmosphere. The towny’s would just plow over Indian graves, but I would go out on my bicycle and find Indian campgrounds, burial spaces, places that were blessed and had a charge in them. At a very early age I could touch a tree and get a whole vision of what had happened there. I could take a stone from an Indian burial ground and it would speak to me. I still do this.

Rebecca: And you used to visit the Indians and hang out with them.

Fakir: Yes. They were treated very badly, worse than dogs. I found a kinship because I was a loner. I always felt I was on the edge, on the fringes of society. My search through life has always been to find the disenfranchised, I always had more in common with them. I had a very hard time with the establishment.

Rebecca: What kind of reactions do you get from Native American people to the things you do?

Fakir: I have a lot of friends who are Native Americans. I did some rituals at a place called Rancho Cicada and Hawk (could you describe briefly who Hawk is?) was one of them. He was quite taken with it, we exchanged presents and energies and he participated in some of the ceremony. In general I’ve had nothing but respect and awe from Indians.

Rebecca: You don’t ever come across people who think it’s just another example of the white man encroaching on Indian terrain?

Fakir: In Boston I was on a television program and they had Native Americans on there who were very un-native compared to the ones I grew up with on the Lakota reservations. They had always lived in cities and they were very Catholic or Lutheran. They didn’t seem to have much connection with Indian culture, but I had objections from them that I was ripping off Indian culture and exploiting it.

Rebecca: Going back to your childhood….

Fakir: I was the head of the class in the Lutheran confirmation. I knew all the dogma and all the theories and the doctrine of transubstantiation. We had a very aristocratic pastor who came from New York. He was quite a maverick because he didn’t preach hell and brimstone as much as he did love. He used to think the world of me.

One of my favorite meditation spots was church. I was in the choir and we sat in this separate space in front of the organ which had all of these beautiful vibrations coming out of it. And I had some of the most beautiful fantasies including erotic fantasies in that choir loft.

Rebecca: Was there anyone you could share your true urges and visions with?

Fakir: I couldn’t share what I was doing with anybody at all. It was so way out and bizarre compared to how everything was. In school I was an avid lucid daydreamer. I was near-sighted so I couldn’t see the board, it was so boring and the way they did everything was so rigid. They’d explain something and I’d jump twenty-eight steps before they’d even got to step three with the rest of the kids.

So I’d look out of the window, I’d look at a tree and I’d become sunlight falling on a leaf – I learned how to have visions. Some of them were alarming.

Rebecca: If your environment had been more interesting perhaps you wouldn’t have been encouraged to develop your inner world so much.

Fakir: Yes, that’s true. At home on Sunday afternoons you had to wear your Sunday best which was always very uncomfortable and you had to sit in an upright chair for hours while the family droned on and on about the crops and Aunt Tilly’s tumor – all this neat stuff. (laughter) I would sit in this room and stare at my Uncle Milton and all of a sudden I would start going into a trance state.

All the voices would go vzzzzzzzzz, like turning down the volume control, and everything would start to get dark except for Uncle Milton who’s head would get brighter and brighter. Then it would start to recede until it was a pinhead and then it would come back, but instead of Uncle Milton it would be an old Chinese man and he would be speaking Chinese! I was totally fascinated by this.

Up until I reached puberty I had some

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John Allen

Music of the Biospheres

“…it is in our capacity to be ther brain and the conscience of the biosphere, to be its self-reflective point.””

with John Allen

 

John Polk Allen was a driving force behind the development of the Biosphere 2 project in the Oracle, Arizona desert. Biosphere 2 is the largest self-sustaining ecosystem ever built, a masterpiece of human engineering that has been praised and condemned by a media that, for the most part, misinterpreted what it was all about. Both confusing it with a controlled scientific experiment or an entertainment spectacle missed the point. Inside the sealed 3. 15 acre biosphere are miniature replicas of all the earth ‘s environments, designed to function together as a single system.

Biosphere 2 was more than just a reductionistic scientific experiment. It was also bold visionary adventure, like going to the moon. As when the Wright brothers were building the first airplane, the biospherians were basically concerned with getting the thing to fly. Biosphere 2 has been a tremendous success; it broke and set many records. The relevance ofBiosphere 2 lies in the light it sheds an our understanding of the earth ‘s biosphere and its value as a prototype for permanent life-habitats on suitable locations in space.

John thinks in terms of whole systems, and he is an expert on ecological interrelatedness. Former vice-president of biospheric development for Space Biospheres Ventures, John wrote a classic article on closed life systems, which was published by NASA in Biological Life Support Technologies: Commercial Applications. He participated in the Jirst manned biosphere rest module experiment in September 1988, residing for three clays in the first fully closed ecological system that recycled all its wastes, setting a world record at the time. John is currently the chairman of CyberspheresTM, Inc., a private research and development firm that designs and builds advanced biospheric systems and semiclosed biomic systems.

In addition, he is cofounder and director of Eco Frontiers, Inc., which owns and manages several ecological research projects around the world, and Planetary Coral Reef Foundation, a nonprofit corporation devoted to studying the health and vitality of coral reefs. He has traveled extensively-very extensively–and this has contributed to his multicultural, whole-systems perspective. John has led expeditions studying ecology (particularly the ecology of early civilizations) to Nigeria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Ilzbekistan, Tibet, India, Belize, and the Altip Eano. As part of the researchfor Biosphere 2, John traveled in the ship Heraclitus to the Amazon and many other areas around the world to collect biological samples.

John is also an actor poet, film producer; and playwright. He has been a major force in the Theater of All Possibilities acting troupe far many years. He is a true global citizen who seems to he at home everywhere on the planet. He is also an accomplished author with more than two dozen publications to his credit, over half of which are scientific, while the rest comprise poetry, drama, prose, and film. John holds a degree in metallurgical-mining engineering from the Colorado School of Mines, an MBA from the Harvard Business School, from which he graduated with distinction as a Baker Scholar and a certificate in engineering physiology from the University of Michigan.

John is a swashbuckling frontiersman, an eccentric mix of scientist, artist, entrepreneur find adventurer He is warm and charismatic, filled with vision, and often appears larger than life. When he hugs you, he lifts you up off the ground. We interviewed John on April 16, 1994 in the living room of our mutual friend OscarJaniger (interviewed in our previous volume) in Santa Monica, California. Several weeks prior; trouble had been brewing at the biosphere, when its major financial investor Ed Bass, in his attempt to gain control of the biosphere, accused John and his associates of “mismanagement. ” Subsequently, Bass took over the experiment. The story of the corporate takeover of Biosphere 2 is the subject of a forthcoming book by Abigail Ailing and myself entitled Storming Eden. Even with all the uncertainty hovering about him at the time of the interview, John was radiantly cheerful and contagiously optimistic.

DJB

David: John, how have your travels around the planet influenced your desire to create a self-contained ecosystem?

John: The unity that is around the planet earth, that is the biosphere, has only very recently been recognized as a self-organizing entity. That was a hypothesis put forward in 1926 by Vladimir Vernadsky. Before that there was a `great nature’, a hypothesized `great being’, creation of God or a fortuitous collation of atoms which accidentally produced life.

But as soon as you have the idea of the biosphere and you really begin to travel around the planet earth, looking at things from that point of view, you see that the oceans, the winds, the mountain ranges, the deserts, the tropical forests are not occurring at random at all. You see that they are organized, that they have a tremendous resilience and that they’re evolutionary.

In science, the question becomes an experiment to test an hypothesis, so the idea of Biosphere 2 was to see whether a system modeled on Biosphere 1, self-organized or not. Many people in the press and many scientists predicted that the ocean in Biosphere 2 would die and that it would all turn to slime. In other words, they fundamentally followed the fortuitous collocation of atoms idea that life just happens on a planet the right distance from the sun. The wording in that kind of science, is that something is merely.

Rebecca So they didn’t think you could consciously design a system that wouldn’t just collapse into entropy.

John: Well, actually it’s modeling a system more than designing it. The thing about Biosphere 2 that very few people got was that what we did was create conditions that emulated the conditions of Biosphere 1: there is something to produce tides, something to produce water flows, pipes taking the place of rivers, things like that. But the live systems were very much modeled on Biosphere 1, that is the earth, although naturally on a highly reduced scale.

For example, the Biosphere 2 ocean is actually portions that came out of certain coral reefs, water from the Pacific and water from the Bahamas. The rainforest is designed by people who spent a lot of time there. The basic way I formulated that for them was to say, let’s create the quintessence of the rainforest, so that when you’re standing in the middle of it, you feel that you are in the Amazon.

These were not just ordinary people. They spent decades in the Amazon studied it intimately. So that’s how these terrestrial biomes went into making Biosphere 2.

Rebecca What culture that you came across in your travels had the greatest influence on you and your ideas?

John: There were a number of them. Ethnology was the first science I studied, so when I traveled around I used the idea of Ruth Benedict and Franz Boaz that there is an arc of human potential and that each culture is a part of that arc. So I didn’t go around looking for the specific culture, but rather cultures that had a bigger arc of human potential or a more incisive tranche than usual.

The Berber culture, the Sioux indian culture, Huichols, the Bora of the Amazon, the Polynesian culture, were all examples of this. The Hindu culture is exceedingly interesting because of the division of humans into castes in an old linear breeding and function program.

There is also what I call Globaltech which is the culture of the technicians of the West. It’s not officially recognized by anthropology, but I think it’s one of the most powerful cultures in the world today with probably about five million members. It includes people who can move from Moscow to Tokyo to Santa Monica to Biosphere 2, and never miss a beat; people who are basically inventing, innovating, maintaining and envisioning the next steps in the global technosphere.

David: Was there a particular culture that you encountered that forced you to reevaluate your entire belief system?

John: Yes. Actually it was a coming together of three cultures in Tangiers. There was the avant garde art culture with William Burroughs and the people around him, and then the Berber culture which is maybe 6,000 years old and has its roots in the ancient magical traditions, and also the imperial culture of the Spanish, French and British empires.

So the combination of the Western imperial culture, the native Berber culture and the Western avant garde forced a personal transformation of all values, not just on a mental and emotional level, but on a physiological and social level as well.

David: Physiological? How do you mean that?

John: Well, because the people from the avant garde were into all sorts

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Annie Sprinkle

The Pleasure Principle

“Let there be pleasure on earth and let it begin with me.”

with Annie Sprinkle

Annie Sprinkle is mostly known as the porn star/prostitute who became a performance artist/sex guru. She spent many years exploring a multitude of. sexual possibilities in Manhattan’s kinky sex clubs and through her roles in hundreds of hard-core XXX films, where she achieved legendary status and such earned titles as “the queen of Kink, ” “the Mother Teresa of Sex, ” “the Shirley MacLaine of Smut, ” and “the Renaissance Woman of Porn. ” As an exhibitionist who liked to do it all, she posed for every major, minor sex and fetish magazine there is, and she was a “Photo Funny Girl “for National Lampoon for two years. All along Annie has been a very creative individual, but recently she has emerged as what she describes as a “post-porn modernist, ” creating her own eclectic brand of feminist, sexually explicit media. Her latest one-woman show is part autobiography, part parody of the porn industry, part sex education, and part sex-magic ecstasy ritual. It is controversial, powerful, and popular

After twenty-two years of devoting her life to learning and experiencing all she could about sex and doing sex work, Annie has become a unique kind of expert. She has authored three hundred articles on the topic, as well as an autobiographical book entitled Annie Sprinkle: Post-Porn Modernist. She produced and directed several videos, including the lesbian classic The Sluts and Goddesses Video Workshop, or How To Be a Sex Goddess in 101 Easy Steps. She has been invited to teach and lecture at many museums, universities, and holistic: healing centers, including such prestigious institutions as Columbia University, the Museum of Modern Art, the Wise Woman ‘s Center New York University, and the New Museum of Contemporary Art. Some of the topics she ‘s presented are the “Pleasures, Profits, and Politics of Women’s- Sexualities in the ’90s, ” “Sacred Sex Technologies, ” “Cosmic Orgasm Awareness, ” and the “Secrets of Sacred Slutism. ” HBO ran two specials on her work. She ‘s such a “character” that someone has even created a comic-book series about her:

Midway through Annie’s career her views about sexuality changed radically when the AIDS crisis hit and Anni ‘s lover was infected (although Annie never was). Through having to practice totally safe sex, she learned that sex is not just about bodies coming together and the electric embrace of genitalia, but also about the exchange of energy. Consequently, her work merged with the long tradition of achieving health, well-being, and spiritual growth through meditative sexual union. Annie metamorphosed into the more multidimensional incarnation Anya, whose goal is to get a handle on the source of orgasmic energy, and who is inspired by the archetypes of the sacred prostitute and the Goddess.

At present, Annie is half-finished with a feature documentary about orgasm, Orgasm Scrapbook. She is also making a deck of “Pleasure Activist Playing Cards” from photographs of women she has taken over the years, and marketing her own designer dildo, the Sacred Sex Tool. She is experimenting with monogamy, “Zen sex, ” gender play, and training her girlfriend’s dog, Hillary, to give her cunnilingus.

Annie has a big, warm heart and a very sweet spirit. She seems to completely lack any inhibition or guilt regarding sexuality, yet she is actually kind of shy. She ‘s optimistic, funny, sensuous, and she appears to be a genuinely happy person, often hovering, it seems, on the verge of orgasm. Rebecca and / interviewed Annie on November 1, 1992 at her parent’s house in Granada Hills, the Southern California home in which she grew up and where she was visiting at the time. The house was quite ordinary, rather conservative, and nothing gave the slightest hint that this place would have produced an Annie Sprinkle. We conducted the interview in the back yard by the pool. When her mom walked by, Annie whispered “Sh … I don ‘t want her to hear us talking about my sex life. It makes me nervous, ” We interviewed her again in Maul, Hawaii, on July 26, 1993. Just as we began the interview, Annie said that she had to stop because she needed to orgasm. So I switched off the tape recorder; and she went into the other room and turned on her vibrator. She returned five minutes later with a smile on he rface. “Okay, ” she said, “now we can begin. “

DJB

David: Annie, how did you become interested you in sex and how did your early development influence your later career choices?

Annie: You’re at Granada Hills, the place where I grew up. This place is very white bred and straight and I wasn’t aware of any sexuality when I was young. The only thing that really turned me on was the swimming pool, but I wasn’t a sensual, sexual child because it was such a great mystery. I feel kind of sad that all that time was wasted. I could really have being enjoying myself. (laughter)

David: Can you see what it was that inspired your interest?

Annie: What clearly inspired my interest was the ignorance and fear. I used to wake up in the morning having to pee. I was having orgasms, I think. The full bladder pressed against my clitoris, or something, so I’ve connected peeing with eroticism a lot. (You know, the clitoris is much bigger now. According to the feminist view, the clitoris is a hugestructure – it’s almost as big as a penis) And then there was a big nothing period in my life. What I was more focused on was menstruation. That was the big, scary thing. All my questions were about that and I didn’t even know about sex. I heard a little bit in the playground at school, but that was it.

Rebecca: So there wasn’t any sex education to speak of?

Annie: There wasn’t, no. There was the egg and the ovum – the biology of sex, but nothing practical at all! When I discovered how great sex was that made me mad. I lost my virginity at seventeen and I thought, “this is great, everyone should know about this. How come nothing is being done about this?” (laughter)

I think that losing my virginity was one of the happiest days of my life up to that point.(laughter) A year later I moved into prostitution and that was another really happy transition for me. When I discovered sex, I thought, “I’ve got to learn more about this, this is the greatest thing.” And that’s really been my focus in life.

Rebecca: Why do you think sex has become so distorted? Do you think it’s just the effect of Christianity or are there other factors?

Annie: I think that had a lot to do with it. And also the idea that sex was dangerous for women and also a source of power. I think when women express their sexual power, it freaks men out a lot. So I think it was suppressed partly because of that. Also there’s disease – it’s a very dangerous thing. (laughter) It’s dangerous on the one hand, and it’s total liberation and freedom and joy and ecstasy on the other.

Rebecca: What do you think are some of the worst social consequences of a culture which denies the body and sexual freedom?

Annie: War, drug abuse, suicide, loneliness, skin diseases, cancers, violence, rape.

Rebecca: Zits.(laughter) So you regard sex as fundamental to a healthy life?

Annie: Yes. And suppressing it makes people crazy. All the fear and ignorance around it is amazing. But then, that’s part of the fun.

Rebecca: Part of the fun? (laughter)

Annie: It’s such a huge subject, you know. It’s really enormous.

Rebecca: It seems that sex was beginning to be viewed with more openness in the sixties. Then AIDS came along and alarm bells went off again with this whole fundamentalist exclusiveness against homosexuality. Do you think AIDS has polarized the issue of sexual freedom so much that there is little hope for constructive understanding between the two sides?

Annie: I think it’s normal. There’s this pendulum of freedom and repression that goes back and forth in relation to sex as well as to many other things. And now, because of AIDS, sex is considered dangerous again. But it’s not going away. Sex cannot be repressed. On the whole it’s spurring everyone on. I always look on the positive side of everything. Of course there are many sides, but there is a lot of great stuff happening in terms of sex. You have more freedom to be gay and lesbian than there ever were before. You go to high school and there are all these little baby dykes.

David: You see that in California quite a bit, but this doesn’t necessarily reflect what’s going on in the rest of the country.

Annie: Well, I have no idea.

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