“…Anything that the human is capable of doing through the mind is duplicable pharmacologically..”
with Alexander and Ann Shulgin
Alexander (Sasha) and Ann Shulgin stand on the frontier of designer neurochemistry, developing a plethora of miraculous pharmacological keys that unlock different aspects of the brain is hidden potential. They are known to many as the authors of the underground best-seller PIHKAL: A Chemical Love Story, the title of which is an acronym for Phenethylamines I Have Known and Loved. Alexander is a long-standing, well-respected research chemist and professor of pharmacology at the University of California at Berkeley, where he earned his doctorate in biochemistry in 1954. He is the author of 150 scientific research papers, twenty patents, and three books. Although Alexander has been quite outspoken regarding his Opposition to the so-called war on drugs, he has been a scientific consultant for such state-run organizations as the National Institute on Drug Abuse, NASA, Lawrence Radiation Laboratory, and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
But in private, in his government-licensed research lab, he has spent the last thirty years discretely–yet legally-designing hundreds of new psychoactive compounds, particularly psychedelics. Along with his wife, Ann, and a small, brave, and dedicated research group, they sample each new drug as it is developed. Through the cautious escalation of dosage, they discover and map out the range of each new drug’s effects, experimenting with the various aspects of their psychological and spiritual potential. Most of Alexander ‘s psychoactive designer molecules are unknown to the public, but a few, such as 2CB (an MDMA analogue) and DOM (better known as STP), have received widespread distribution. Their research continues to this day, and a new book, TIHKAL (Tryptamines I Have Known and Loved) is on the way. Their previous book, PIHKAL, details their truly remarkable adventures and, for those with a solid background in chemistry, provides the esoteric recipes for recreating hundreds of Alexander’s finely crafted magic molecules.
Alexander and Ann make a very compatible research team: they complement on another; and their relationship reflects a deep commitment to inner exploration. They are extremely warm, and anxious to share what they’ve learned through their experimentation. We interviewed them at their home in Lafayette east of Berkeley in northern California on May 19, 1993. Ann is strong, solid and grounded very much connected to the earth. Before moving to northern California as a teenager she lived in four countries. She worked as a medical secretary at the UCSF Medical Center and has three children from a previous marriage, to Jungian analyst John Ferry. She is presently a psychotherapist.
A wild electrical current seems to buzz through Alexander’s nervous system, as evidenced by the white hair that seems to stand on end on his head and face, and the excited manner in which he explains everything. Alexander’s research laboratory, just a short walk from the main house, is filled by a complex of interlocking flasks, glass beakers, plastic tubes, heating coils, and countless bottles; it looks dramatic enough to be used as a Hollywood movie set. The only chemicals that we sample, however; are in the cheese sandwiches that we have for lunch before we begin the interview. Even so, we do feel ourselves to be in an altered state.
David: What was it that inspired you to write Pihkal?
Alexander: I was inspired partly by the history of Wilhelm Reich. I discovered that in his very last years he got into very unusual and not totally acceptable areas of hypotheses, such as making rains fall by means of electro-static guns and other such ventures.
The FDA filed a lawsuit against him for promoting radical equipment that had not been approved by them. They put him in jail and he died there. After his death the FDA took all his lab books and papers and burned them. One of the reasons I wrote Pihkal was because I could see the need to get a lot of information that had not been published into a form that just could not be destroyed.
Ann: And I couldn’t imagine him writing all that fun stuff without my help. (laughter) I’ve co-authored one paper with him before and discovered that it’s a great ego-boost to do good writing and I’ve never had anything published before. It became the most exciting thing in the world to do, especially because it was pushing against the establishment.
My model and my hero was Castaneda but what I wanted to do was bring in the personal which he failed to do – marriage, kids, love, soup – every day reality. Our feeling about psychedelics is that if you use them the right way, they enrich your everyday life. You learn to think a different way about the ordinary things you see.
Rebecca: What is a phenethylamine, why is it so special and what role has it played in your research?
Alexander: There are a collection of neurotransmitters in the brain and two of the largest families are the phenethylamines and the tryptamines.And it turned out that all the known psychedelics around the time I got curious in this area – back in the `50’s and 60’s – were either phenethylamines ortryptamines. It’s now been shown that this is a very good guide. Nature said, “here are the two basic building blocks and if you’re going to do something with the brain it’s going to be with one or the other.”
David: Why did the two of you use ficitonal names in the book when the story was obviously autobiographical?
Ann: Among the drugs we were writing about some, like LSD, are illegal. It was risky enough writing the book in the first place. We didn’t know what to expect from the establishment, if anything. Some people late at night with baseball bats smashing up the lab was a perfectly reasonable possibility. Using fictional names gave us a deniability.
The second reason was so that I could tell my children that the sex in the book wasn’t actually us. (laughter) Also, we didn’t want to jeopardize our next book. At this point, when not only has there been no fire from heaven descending on our heads but the DEA itself is one of our best customers, it’s easy to look back and ask why were we worried.
Alexander: One of the things I did was to send a score copy of the book to people within the DEA with covering phrases like, `Here’s a book that will provide you with a lot of information which may be useful to you.’
David: What was their response to it?
Ann: They loved it. One of the higher administrators of the DEA in Washington said, “My wife and I read your book and it’s great!”
David: Sasha, how did you become a chemist?
Alexander: My doctorate degree is in biochemistry, but I found that it didn’t have the magic and the music of chemistry. In my teaching class at Berkeley I would ask, “How many people are taking organic chemistry?” And you’d hear this groan. Why? Because the typical instruction would be, “Go and read pages 83-117 in the textbook and we’ll have a quiz on Monday.” People hated it! Chemistry, however, is an art, it’s music, it’s a style of thinking. Orbitals are for mathematicians, chemistry is for people who like to cook!
Some of my colleagues would often have a goal and if something went wrong they’d try and find out how else they could get it to go right. My argument has always been, if something went wrong, Oh wow! Out of this will come something unexpected. That led me into a very great curiosity about the mind process which was greatly amplified by my first mescaline experience.
Drugs do not do things, they are allowing you to do things. It’s not an imposition from the outside. People tend to say, “What did that drug do?” or, “How did the drug do what it did?” or, “I took a drug and it did such and such.” In each instance this is giving up your power to an inert white solid. The drug catalyzes and facilitates but it doesn’t do things. That puts it in perspective. You don’t have to give credit to a drug.
David: And it also encourages the person to take responsibility.
Alexander: Completely. You can’t live without that.
Rebecca: Do you ever find yourself making a judgment that what you’re experiencing is a quality of the drug rather than something inherent in your own psyche?
Alexander: If I do then that experience is sure to be a bummer!(laughter)
Tales of the Living Dead
“There is a human drive to celebrate, and we provide ritual celebration in a society that doesn’t have much of it.”
with Jerry Garcia
When you’ve had a street named after you, then you can congratulate yourself on a certain notoriety. But when you’ve had an ice cream named after you–well, that is the kind of recognition which dreams are made ~ After thirty years of playing with one of the most successful bands in rock and roll history, Jerry Garcia finds himself at the age of fifty-one, at the zenith of his popularity. The Grateful Dead the sixties-gone-nineties rock band hers recorded over a hundred albums and plays more live shows than almost anyone anywhere. And their concerts are always sold out.
With its own magazine, Internet status, and booming merchandising industry, the group is a musical phenomenon of mythical proportions. But Jerry Garcia shrugs his shoulders with genuine innocence in the face of it all. Is it the band that has spawned the semi-nomadic tribe whose members roam the country like medieval minstrels, living on veggie burgers, psychedelics, love, and of course, the promise of a ticket to the next show ? Or is it that the aspirations and values of the sixties just refuse to die, and the Grateful Dead is simply a conduit for their continued expression ?
Jerry Garcia began playing with the Warlocks in 1965, and in the same year the Grateful Dead was formed. He developed his improvisational style at the infamous “acid tests, ” where the Grateful Dead was often the house hand. The Jerry Garcia Band, formed in /975, is as popular as the Dead. It has a more blues-oriented, gritty sound, but maintains Jerry’s distinctive psychedelic edge.
Garcia is almost supernatural status got an extra boost when he journeyed into the jaws of Death and back, after falling into a diabetic coma. He has reached a point in his career where, if he were half-asleep and out of tune, the audience would still hang on every note with a reverent sigh. Who is this man who has catalyzed peak experiences in young and old for three decades. He describes himself as a “good ‘ol’ celebrity,” although at shows you’re likely to see at least one starry-eyed youth coddling a sign declaring that “Jerry is God. ” Many fans are convinced he is not from this planet.
The interview took place at the Grateful Dead’s homey headquarters in San Rafael, California With his full, white beard and wise-owl eyes, Jerry Garcia looks ready to pass out the clay tablets, yet when he smiles, the Old Testament prophet is transformed into a self-parodying garden gnome, who has walked the yellow-brick road of success simply by doing what he loves.
Jerry: I’ll take off my glasses. They don’t convey much humanity.
David: Jerry, how did you start playing music?
Jerry: My father was a professional musician, my mother was an amateur. I grew up in a musical household and took piano lessons as far back as I can remember. There was never a time in my life that music wasn’t a part of.
The first time I decided that music was something I wanted to do, apart from just being surrounded by it, was when I was about fifteen. I developed this deep craving to play the electric guitar. I fell in love with rock `n roll, I wanted to make that sound so badly. So I got a pawn shop electric guitar and a little amplifier and I started without the benefit of anybody else around me who played the guitar or any books.
My step-father put it in an open tuning of some kind and I taught myself how to play by ear. I did that for about a year until I ran into a kid at school who knew three chords on the guitar and also the correct way to tune it. That’s when I started to play around at it, then I picked things up. I never took lessons or anything.
David: Who particularly inspired you?
Jerry: Actually no particular musician inspired me, apart from maybe Chuck Berry. But all of the music from the fifties inspired me. I didn’t really start to get serious about music until I was eighteen and I heard my first bluegrass music. I heard Earl Scruggs play five-string banjo and I thought, that’s something I have to be able to do. I fell in love with the sound and I started earnestly trying to do exactly what I was hearing. That became the basis for everything else – that was my model.
Rebecca: Jumping ahead a few years. During the sixties you played a lot of acid-tests when you could fit all your equipment into a single truck. How do you compare those early days to now? Do you enjoy it as much?
Jerry: Well, in some ways it’s better and in some ways it’s not. The thing that was fun about those days was that nothing was expected of us. We didn’t have to play. (laughter)We weren’t required to perform. People came to acid-tests for the acid-test, not for us.
So there were times when we would play two or three tunes or even a couple of notes and just stop. We’d say, to hell with it, we don’t feel like playing! It was great to have that kind of freedom because before that we were playing five sets a night, fifty minutes on, ten minutes off every hour. We were doing that six nights a week and then usually we’d have another afternoon gig and another night-time gig on Sunday. So we were playing a lot!
So all of a sudden you’re at the acid-test and hey, you didn’t even have to play. Also we weren’t required to play anything even acceptable. We could play whatever we wanted. So it was a chance to be completely free-form on every level. As far as a way to break out from an intensely formal kind of experience it was just what we needed, because we were looking to break out.
Rebecca: And you’re still able to maintain that free-form style to a certain extent even though you’re now more restricted by scheduling and order?
Jerry: Well, also we’re required to be competent, but the sense of accomplishment has improved a lot. Now when we play, the worst playing we do isn’t too bad. So the lowest level has come way up, and statistically the odds have improved in our favor.
Rebecca: What do you think it is about the Grateful Dead that has allowed you such lasting popularity which has spanned generations?
Jerry: I wish I knew. (laughter)
Rebecca: Do you think you can define it?
Jerry: I don’t know whether I want to particularly. Part of it’s magic is that we’ve always avoided defining any part of it, and the effect seems to be that in not defining it, it becomes everything. I prefer that over anything that I might think of.
David: When you say everything, do you mean something different for everyone?
Jerry: Well, that’s one way of saying it, yeah. But the other way of looking at it, from a purely musical point of view, is that it becomes a full-range experience. There’s nothing that we won’t try. It means everything is available to us. It also works from an audience point of view too. We’re whatever the audience wants us to be, we’re whatever they think we are.
Rebecca: Do you think there is a timeless quality about your music that appeals to people?
Jerry: I’d like to believe there’s something like that, but I have no idea, really. There is a human drive to celebrate and we provide ritual celebration in a society that doesn’t have much of it. It really should be part of religion. It happens to work for us because people have learned to trust the environment that it occurs in.
Rebecca: Do you feel at all disillusioned at the rate of social evolution? In the sixties, many people thought that massive social change was just around the corner?
Jerry: I never was that optimistic. I never thought that things were going to get magically better. I thought that we were experiencing a lucky vacation from the rest of consensual reality to try stuff out. We were privileged in a sense. I didn’t have anything invested in the idea that the world was going to change. Our world certainly changed. (laughter)Our part of it did what it was supposed to do, and it’s continuing to do it, continuing to evolve. It’s a process. I believe that if you open the door to the process, it tells you how to do it and it works. It’s a life strategy that I think anyone can employ.
David: How do you feel about the fact that many people have interpreted your music as the inspiration for a whole lifestyle – the Deadhead culture?
Jerry: Well, a little silly! (laughter) You always feel about your own work that it’s never quite what it should be. There’s always a dissonance between what you wish was happening and what is actually happening. That’s the nature of creativity, that there’s a certain level of disappointment in there.
So, on one level it’s amusing that
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. “
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.