Reprising the Sixties
By Gene Wilburn
I dropped some acid a few days ago and took my first LSD trip since my early twenties. This was primarily an experiment in treating my clinical depression — there have been some studies recently indicating that some depression patients have experienced relief from their depression after taking small doses of LSD or psilocybin (magic mushrooms). A few reported that they no longer had any depression at all.
To be honest, though, there was a secondary reason: a curiosity to see what an acid trip would be like as a senior sailing through his seventies. So when I was offered some not-too-strong, and clean (i.e., already tested by someone I trust), blotter acid, I decided to accept what fate had put before me and see if I could reprise the 60s.
I started early in the day because I knew from experience that an acid trip lasts a long time and I didn’t want to be tripping in the wee hours after midnight. That was my first concession to age. I wanted to retire close to my normal bedtime, which is midnight.
My second concession to age was to have some tranquillizers handy in case I needed to take some of the edge off the trip, knowing I don’t have the stamina of a twenty-something any longer.
Because of the clinical aspect of the trip — seeing if it would help my depression, I decided to keep notes and write out freeform thoughts while tripping, to see if this might result in any interesting information or insights. To this end I parked my Macbook Air on my lap, kicked back my half of the reclining love seat, and let the blotter paper dissolve on my tongue as long as possible before swallowing the sodden leftovers.
It didn’t take long to feel the acid coming on but I won’t try to describe the feelings other than it was pleasant (if you like this sort of thing) and even more intense than I remembered. It was more a mental trip than a visual one and I’ll share bits of it from my journal — selected passages and lightly edited for clarity.
Trip Advisory and Journey. 17 Sep 2017 Sun 10:00a. TV Nook, Planet Earth
Do I have any expectations? There are some academic curiosities, like, will this trip help with my depression? There have been some clinical studies indicating that controlled amounts of hallucinogens, either in the form of LSD or Psylocibin (magic mushrooms) to be effective. I’ve heard it both ways.
So, in part, this is a science experiment. Also, it’s a need. I feel a need to probe deeper into things, to get under the surface and then to look at both the surface and what’s underneath with new appreciation. I won’t say understanding, because that implies a cognitive bias I don’t know that I could earn. I’m not a wise man. I’m a curious man.
So, how do I spend the part of my day here when I have my initial rushes, all on my own. Well, I planned it that way because I’m always most comfortable being alone. Weird, when I like others so much. But, as they used to say back in the day, “he’s comfortable in his own skin.” I no longer have a need to be more than I am. I no longer have the need to project a persona on the world I greet. I’m done with most of that. One key aspect of my public persona though is that I keep it clean. I’m old school and not a little marm’ish at times but I’m not comfortable saying “fuck” in public and even have to force myself into a “shit” unless the humour demands it.
Ah, that’s my starting point of life: humour. Maybe I got some of this from my dear mom because, lord, we used to laugh at things when I was growing up. She was a dear woman. Not an intellectual, but very deep, and wise as far as her wisdom could take her. And as genuine as the earth itself. There was no deception in that woman. She was sheer honesty. It caused her her own depression. I’m certain of that now. I couldn’t have been easy to raise such a big family in such a changing, active, confusing world. She and Urs [my step-dad] were both country people by nature and never adapted totally to “city” life, which could be but a small town anywhere else.
So today, this appointed day that is random, naturally enough, is the day for tripping. I’ll never catch all my thoughts as they stream by, but when I’m writing I can lure some of the more interesting ones. I gotta say, I’m enjoying this trip. It feels like a homecoming.
Once I get going, I blend with the machine [camera body] and the optics [lenses] and let my analytical mind mix with my creative mind to see what they can relate to the rest of the world as an image. This is the best part of photography. The pure visual exploring combined with technology. Art and science meeting, and creating their own kind of magic. Not as magical as painting or drawing, I’m afraid, but my talent doesn’t lie in those areas so I can’t draw on that side of me. Photography, though, resonates.
The other “new” camera is a Sony RX100 Model IV, replacing my honourable and battle-tried Model II. It’s a camera for exploring a different side of things. Low light things, and city things, and patterns, reflections, textures, and shadows I notice around the house. It’s better suited to that than the DSLR, which intrudes more into the immediate experience of the image. DSLRs are at their best for nature, sports, portraits, closeups, nearly everything really, but they’re not as intimate. They can be, but you have to be cautious when you bring them to the party or they dominate in ways native to their design. Better a smaller, lighter, more tactful, camera, at times. And that’s where the Sony comes in. It’s not inconspicuous, but it’s a small intrusion into reality that can yield precious insights and glimpses of this whatever-it-is that is us, and the universe, and everything, to put it into Douglas Adams terminology. It’s hard to go wrong with Adams.
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
[Douglas Adams] is one of those zany people I wish I had known, if only from a distance. I suspect he could have had a big influence on me if I’d met him earlier than I did. But I did, like many Canadians, meet him on the radio. The CBC, just before or just after the news, I can’t recall. Probably before, because the radio alarm was set to come on radio prior to the news, to give us a chance to try to come to before hearing the worst. There was that little banjo piece — that was lost in the TV series and the movies. Oh they kept it in as an artifact from the radio series, but on radio that banjo sent out a message of its own. Come here, children, and I’ll tell you a tale. It’s a little strange, as you know only too well. Because it’s you I’m aiming it to. You know, and you respond. How could you not? It was like the Pied Piper from Space.
So in amongst all your colleagues and friends you reverted to “normal” and talked about normal things and news, but in the background of your mind, that little banjo tune lingered, reminding you that “normal” was a point of view, like any other, and really, who could say what is reality?
Then, occasionally, you’d bump into someone besides your lovely Marion, who got it in one, who also got it. Also got Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in the same way you did. That the two of you weren’t alone. There were others.
With its extraordinary subsequent success, it’s hard to remember how personal it felt, at the beginning. How it was known to only a few. Well, those who listen to CBC anyway, and that alone put you into the right mix of minds. The CBC couldn’t be the BBC, obviously, because there can only be one BBC (which it has to forever live up to), but I digress. Suffice it to say that the CBC was cultural, sensitive, and sly. They knew who was listening, and they made the most of it at a time when wags could connect at a conversational level. Not at all like today’s Facebooking and friending and openness. There was a shy, sly reserve, and a pride in Canada that peeked out through everything they did, at one point in the 60s and 70s.
Politics and Bosses
None of this [the specialness of the CBC] has survived the Barbarians at the Gates, of course who never saw the shy, sly side of it at all. It was just a fucking spreadsheet to them. This brings in advertisers, will have more the same, thank you. Bosses everywhere. But a few of those early bosses also had a sense of humour and community, a sense now lost among the Trumpians of the world, may they have joy of their 3%. Or is it 1%? I can’t keep these political divisions straight.
No, I was never wired well for politics. I get into my hates and my loathings, the same as anyone who gives a fuck about the world and its people and embraces the earth mother: how shall I take care of all my precious children? All of them. The little ones whose homes are of the forest or the oceans. As Malvina said, so poignantly, “What have they done to the rain?”
I can’t believe we’re still facing the same bullshit as always. But there, as Marion often cautions me, I must tread carefully, because history tells this story over and over and it never ends well for the likes of us. And yet we dream. Oh, don’t we dream. We are the dreamers, those who dream of equality and “my soul acknowledges your soul” and we’re all part of this, each of us, in some way, and the worst is we know it, and so do they. They just don’t care. They’re in it for the ride, the high, all that money, fame, and fortune can bring. And, glimpsing this world, who wouldn’t be tempted, at least, by a quick glance at least, at the golden ring.
One ring to find us and into darkness bind us. That becomes the way to privilege, to be admired and be seen to be admired. It’s the easy way. Can we condemn those who have succumbed to its fantasies?
Not that we feel the slam of hard reality. Well, there’s that too, but in addition to that, there’s the optimism. Whence does it spring? Nothing pleases us more than its genuine expression in nature, in the way of flowers. That’s not the way the scientists see it, is it darling, but that’s an aside and quite aside from the totality of reality.
I need to take a pee break.
Guitar and the Blues
On the way back [from the bathroom], I saw my guitar and when my guitar truly beckons, I must needs answer her. I went through some of my favourite finger picking tunes — including the one that Rick Fielding taught me from the work of Doc and Merle Watson, “South Wind.” In that way I am humanly linked back to their work and absolutely love it.
Then I broke into folk song. And wouldn’t you know it, “Who Knows Where the Time Goes?” — that throbbing, achingly beautiful set of lyrics by Sandy Denny, that only she could ever truly know, but we all do too now that she taught us the melody and the exquisite chording. And you sing it, and I sing it, and we all sing it together because that’s how the magic works, you know?
But then to break into all that mushy stuff, in came the blues. Me I’m not a blues player. Let no one in their every-loving right minds ever associate me in any way with a real blues player. But. As soon as my hand forms that E chord followed by that E7 and some twangy bits, rolling over to A7, then barrelhousing into that mighty B7 and, look out everyone, it’s coming home to E! It’s the blues, the real thing, the real thing you can’t fake and you can’t shake because each and every one of youse started life in Africa, at the new dawning. Some folk prefer not to remember. Some even deny it could be true, but you know, baby, down deep, don’t’cha babe, that at the very bottom there is, and always has been, the blues. It’s at the heart of you.
And even those who live in the glitter, and look down on those who live in the gutter, you feel it too, don’t ya babe? At the very deepest bottom. There’s. just. the. blues.
I just blinked up for a moment. Yes, there’s me the writer on an acid trip jotting down things that catch my fancy, but the blues don’t catch your fancy. They catch you by the balls. And they say, hey baby, get real. But you also know that reality is too far. You could never make it that far. So what the blues do, they bring in that reality, and they show it up close. And you scream and you yell and you sing from the bottom of your soul, baby, because underneath it all, we all sing the blues.
And now I make the conscious decision to allow the blues to drift into the background, yet again, and become softer in memory than it was in reality because human kind cannot bear too much reality. Who said that? Eliot? Sounds like the kind of thing that if he didn’t say it, he should have. But when you bear reality and then meet bare reality, you have the starting point, not the stopping point. And that’s part of what the blues is all about too.
On Tripping as a Senior
You know, for adventurous seniors, a good acid trip near the end of your life is pretty insightful. It’ll leave you no verbally wiser than before but you’ve ‘seen’ and others who have ‘seen’ have ‘seen’ your ‘scene’ and you have ‘seen’ theirs and the ‘scene’ where we’re all together in is a really pretty sight to be … well … ‘seen.’ Are you digging this scene? Maybe not.
But as I was saying, for adventurous seniors who are willing to tread the edge even in their dotage, we’re weaving together a story. Who knows who has what part in it? And we’re all the heroes (heroines? — excuse the age gap) of our own narratives. We have to be. And we have to shine for others to see as well. Beacons of hope. Lighthouses in the dark. For our children’s children’s children’s children to still see and with the same clarity we sometimes see, as we explore reality.
It’s not a trip to be feared, though it may be tripper than you expected — but didn’t you kind of hope that would happen anyway? — and you will harvest much grace time while it glows upon you and within you. I’m not religious so it’s hard for me to explain it in different words, but it’s something akin to holiness, the most, perhaps, that you can ever expect to experience in one brief lifetime. But we gather our lights, and our stories, and our words, and our musics, and we keep pouring them back into the universe as if we expect she could hear. And in that gathering mess of metaphoric electricity, if she doesn’t exist, and she doesn’t hear, you’ll make her exist, you’ll make her hear. All her children. From all time, now and past. A pageant of life perhaps unlike any other life that has existed, or will ever exist. Into this empty void, we sing our songs of hope.
I don’t know if all this is going to make sense to me later, but I almost feel, mentally, like I did when I discovered the Unix operating system. What a digital threshold where the stars awaited. But will they [the stars] still want us when we get there? Will we still want them? Or is it just yesterday’s garbage in the bin to be picked up by someone — I don’t want to think about them really because what if they turned out to be real people, just like you, or me. No, you’ll find no refuge among the garbage or the flowers unless you bring it with you. Thanks for that, Leonard.
Sometimes trips to the washroom, at my advancing age, feel like an odyssey and, to be truthful, not all my sailors make it safely to shore. Remember this too, if you’re an aging hippie and want to do another LSD for the memories. It’s hard on the system. I just took a tranquillizer and I’m only two hours into my trip? Needed a little coddling, to be sure. Not so cocky? No, I wouldn’t say that! I’m just getting old is all. But if you’re tripping alone, have your backup plans at the ready. For me all it takes, usually, is a bit of tranq. I don’t use it often so when I do need it, it comes to the rescue. Don’t abuse your meds. Be a good boy or girl, and take your damned pills just like everyone else your age. Just remember what Big Nurse said to you in hospital as you were coming out of your first heart attack: “Lipitor for life, Baby!” I can still see her wonderful Jamaican smile and bless her, she was totally joyous. So just remember that, old timers.
Now, I need a break from writing. I’m about to visit Netflix and I’ll be damned if I have any idea what I’m about to watch. I’ll potter around for a bit and get back to you.
Back to the narrative. I watched the remainder of an episode I was watching of season two of 24. I had a vague memory that this is the season in which my favourite 24 cast member, Chole O’Brian, makes her appearance into the series, but a fact check via Wikipedia quickly leads me to believe she started in season three. Which is all beside the point. I got entranced with watching how the directors and writers and photographers worked their magic on the show creating little tensions amid huge tensions, and small, delicate trusts when there is a lot of mistrust going around, and everything that pulls on maternal instincts, paternal instincts, a sense of the bad guys winning, the good guys in desperate states. What totally brilliant cliff hangers, with usually at least four stories dangling. Who could not want to see what happened next? The show lost its brilliance after the third or fourth season, depending on how generous you are, but it was something in its prime.
And that [“something in its prime”], when all is said and done, is about the best you could say of any of us oldsters at this time — they were something in their prime — but some of us refuse to throw off the Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. We’re still kickin. Just ain’t no one to hear. It’s all lost in a digital wash that never makes you feel quite clean.
Okay, another concession to old age. I took another half-tranq. That’s one and a half. I’ve never ever gone beyond two, and that’s when I was having a nervous system meltdown — something that sometimes happened to me in my younger days. I’d get the shakes out of nowhere and chatter my teeth and Marion would sooth me back into “normal.” I quite like normal, normally, but it’s kinda tiresome as a long-time gig. You end up playing the same old favourites to the same old fans and what do you do for you? I think this haunted Joni Mitchell. Dylan never gave a shit — he just was wherever he was — and thank god for that, at least.
No, I’m starting to come off my peaks now and just enjoying the cruise. It’s quite nice once you take a little off the edge off it. The edge was better when you were younger. Taking things a bit more deliberately now is not bad advice for an old geezer or gal who wants to go tripping again. The body tires more quickly. But the magic. Um, um. The magic is still there, baby! If you’re strong, let it take you for a ride. If you have doubts, give them their due. Tripping when you’re into your seventies is not unheard of, but let’s assume it’s not common. Yet. Unless we experience some kind of renaissance amongst oldsters, not trying to be hip like youngsters, just being hip elders. We are rickety, for sure, and hips are a sore point, but we still rock.
But that’s just it. Everybody rocks. We just forget. We get too serious, too ‘normal’ and we spent fortunes trying to keep up with ‘normality’. But let me tell you once and for all, ‘normal’ is a myth. You already know that, but how much have you already invested in the myth? Ain’t karma a bitch?
The Intellectual Life
As my trip begins levelling out, I’m finding the literary side of me coming into play and I think of so many great books of fact and fiction that have played an enormous role in making us who we are, who I am.
For me everything starts at one point: Charles Darwin. One can never find the real beginnings of most things but this was the age of the beginnings of science. Now, I’ll admit that I’m partial to 19th Century England and rather lived there vicariously through the literatures of the time, and the eye witness accounts of observers like Engels. My poetic heroes were the Romantics, and in more sober clothing, Tennyson. Tennyson may have been the last great English poet in the sense of having an unsurpassed ear for the language. Others come close. Emily Dickinson always comes to mind, but her entire manner was subdued and uniquely American. Not to mention the Brownings. And of course the outlandishly large characters in Dickens, who himself had an extraordinary ear for the language. And then came the moderns, whom I also love. Virginia Woolf. Agatha Christie. T.S. Eliot. And on the American side, T.S. Eliot (he was both), the uncanny ear of Wallace Stevens, and the exotic, often erotic, playfulness of e.e. cummings.
But, it all comes back to Darwin, and his adventure aboard her Majesty’s surveillance ship, The Beagle. New mappings to be made, better naval maps than those previously made from journeys before them. And on board, more as a gentleman’s companion to ship’s captain Fitzroy, and the ship’s real naturalist. Darwin was coming into his own as knowledge was building about geology in particular. How was it that fossilized sea shells could be found in the high alps? Surely Noah’s flood couldn’t have accounted for all that. Now old venerable Bishop Usher had calculated the earth to be some six thousand years and spare change old, based on the genealogy of the Hebrews that Christians at the time held to be chronologically accurate.
But, there were these surveys the land surveyor — extraordinary fellow really — named William Smith was drawing, with help from his contacts from the local regions, the miners who knew every inch of the earth around them. There were these stratigraphic layers of rock that seemed piled one on top of the other in a long chain of descent. How long, exactly, was that descent? And what were those curious, even monstrous, skeletons and impressions of creatures you and I couldn’t imagine even in nightmares. What the deuce were they? And how old was this old world really? Things were looking a bit bleak for the Hebrew genealogical history of the earth.
That there were creatures that preceded us, that seemed not to have emanated from some Eden in the Middle East but from a distant past unfathomable.
This is why Darwin, for me, is always the real starting point. Oh my yes, and praise be to Newton, and all the others who discovered light and colour and force and gravity — all good stuff — but nothing as momentous as realizing that the earth was old. Really old.
And as much as poets and essayists and courtiers were magnificent in their own ways, they paled in comparison to the new question nagging the sciences: how old is all this anyway? It’s not a question that can be dodged or whisked away under the religious carpet. It kept demanding an answer.
Then other things happened nearly simultaneously. The industrial revolution started in England’s north and the factories took hold. The peasants were thrown off the land. The old feudal system was gone. Kaput. People were hungry, starved for food and would do anything they could to keep family going, even submitting to work as coal miners, builders, hired labour in the textile mills. Capitalism was being invented. It had a stranglehold on the population, and to this day, still does, though when I look at you in your tailored business suit and perfect tie, who would guess you’re still just a hired hand.
And I suppose this is where it all gets political too, with the Marxist jobbies who were just pointing out the obvious. If the people revolted, the system could not run. Marx thought it was the inevitable outcome of Capitalism, that it would be overturned in a revolution. He failed to understand how clever the Capitalists would be. They invited you in: if you played ball the right way, you just might get a grab at the brass ring.
The ring is brass now, debased.
And so on, and now my good wife is home beside me and we’ve settled into being comfortable in our love seat, occasionally rubbing each other’s backs as Marion applies herself to her genealogical DNA studies and I pursue my Geminian whims committing occasional damage to the English language in the form of bad puns and insouciant observations. It’s encouraging to know there are bands of others roaming around doing the same. We literally roam the Internet looking for quirks and premises that need smacking, as well as those that need a good laughing at. Or with.
I’m coming down from on high now and am experiencing nothing worse than unbelievably potent pot. It’s very calming.
And this is where, I’m afraid, this narrative must come to a close. There are certainly more observations to be made, but they can wait. “I do not fear the time,” sang Sandy, so true. Nor do I Sandy. Nor do I.