Next Stop – Goa, India – A New Generation of Pilgrims Hits India’s Hippie Trail – NYTimes.com

In case you missed it… here’s a terrific piece from the New York Times back in 2006.  I know that I was only dimly aware (if at all) with Goa’s hippie history when I was becoming of age. Certainly, if I had been more aware of Goa’s role in the formation of the culture I claim as my own, I would have made sure to do more than touch down there en route to somewhere else when I was “in country.”  If you ever wondered why Goa, India has such a hold on the more Bohemian-minded among us, this article has it all.  It even references a DVD documentary I own called, “Last Hippie Standing,” which dates from about the same time period. If you ever wondered why India in general and Goa in particular hold such power among the more “artistically” (raver) inclined folks, this is why.  I may still write more about this or my experiences  at a later date, but I did want to pass this link along now.
Anyway, check it out if you like:

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/09/travel/09goa.html?pagewanted=all
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In Case You Missed It… Sasha Shulgin Has Left The Building

Although I am always sad to hear when a culture warrior has passed on, I am also secretly thrilled to see the New York Times obituary because it’s exciting to me to see my  counter-cultural heroes celebrated in the mainstream press, even when that exposure is post-mortem. In this instance, I heard a few days ago of the death of Alexander Shulgin, a psychedelic researcher, chemist, “neuronaut” of the psychoactive frontier, and synthesizer of more than 200 psychoactive substances, including MDMA and many related compounds.  (MDMA was originally produced by Merck pharmaceuticals in 1914, but when the company failed to find a way to monetize the substance, they allowed their patent to lapse, thus allowing Shulgin to re-synthesize the substance about half a century later.) Although I would not describe myself as a drug user per se, I have been long fascinated by the effects of psychoactive plants and chemicals on the human (and animal) psyche, by the variety of the chemicals and plant substances that have been traditionally used to alter reality, and by the lengths to which humans and even other animals have gone for eons to chemically enhance or alter their  reality, whether for spiritual, therapeutic, recreational, or other reasons.  (Among the more unique small books in my collection is the aptly titled, Animals and Psychedelicswhich anecdotally explores “the natural world and the instinct to alter consciousness,” according to its subtitle.) Most people who know me at all, even superficially, know of my fascination with herbs, supplements, and other natural substances, both with the rainbow of available options and the effects of these substances on the healthy functioning of our brains and bodies. What is less well-known — and really, this is partly by design because of the stigma that usually surrounds such subjects — is how I came to the study of herbs and medicinal substances at all.  I never set foot in a health food store, that I can remember, until the day I went into one to apply for a job.  As a child I was a student of the outdoors, and I always enjoyed learning about wild things.  In summer camp, I had a healthy fascination with outdoor crafts and learning survival skills, but really none of those experiences properly prepared me for my later encounters with wild foods, foraging, or the immense power of some innocuous-looking flowers, trees, etc. to heal or harm when used correctly or incorrectly.  At camp, we pressed flowers and butterflies, learned how to start a fire without matches, how to shoot a bow and arrow, how to make rudimentary shelters, even how to make crafty things out of plants, rocks, etc., but I don’t remember a single syllable being uttered about how I should feed myself or give first aid if I found myself in the wild without food or a first aid kit.  Truthfully, our instructors geared any early preparedness training  more toward what we should bring from home to properly protect ourselves from the elements until help could get to us, not how we should feed ourselves if we became separated from our food supply or first aid kit. So how did I  come to the study of medicinal and edible wild plants?  Partly as a function of all the reading I did in high school about cultural upheaval in America in the 1960’s, I fell down a number of literary rabbit holes, digressing to dig deeper into various subjects and into the lives and literary works of  culture warriors and iconoclasts.  I read extensively about the lives and lively interactions of the Beat poets, spending a lot of quality time on Allen Ginsberg (an early gay hero of mine), William Burroughs, and Jack Kerouac.   Kerouac led me to Neal Cassady, who led me to Ken Kesey and the Acid Tests.  Ginsberg led me to the gay counterculture and to Bob Dylan.  I was already listening to the Grateful Dead, the Doors, and other bands, and it was thrilling to me to read about how Ginsberg, Cassady, Kesey, Dylan, and the Dead collided in psychedelic space and helped to catalyze one sphere in an already chaotic countercultural universe.  Reading a biography of The Doors’ Jim Morrison, I learned about Baudelaire, Verlaine, Rimbaud, and the French literary counterculture that swirled around them.  Everywhere woven  through these literary conversations was the creative use of plants, absinthe, alcohol, or other substances.  In many cases, as early as high school English, I learned how substances like these influenced the life and creative output of artists, writers, and other cultural icons.  (Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s use of opium springs to mind; reputedly, “Kubla Khan” was reputedly written under its influence .) Throughout my early forays into these controversial subjects there was always the background chatter from  Nancy Reagan’s Just Say No campaign.  The chatter suggested that no matter how many writers and artists produced great works while under the influence, their success was almost accidental, and their work was of dubious value because of how they created it. Imagine my surprise when I had my first psychedelic experiences in college and realized that not only do a lot of these substances “work”, but they work well and there is not necessarily anymore likelihood that you will die the first time you try them than if you over-consume alcoholic beverages, which are legal.  In some cases (weed, for example), there is even less chance that you will overdose than with alcohol.  True, they aren’t for everyone, and there is a chance of psychological damage or physical injury if one is too casual or doesn’t pay proper attention to what is known in the psychedelic world as “set and setting.” (1) In any case, I was sad to hear that Alexander “Sasha” Shulgin had passed on but glad to see The Times give his life and work a nice review and give him a final send-off.

(1) Note: [Set is short for mindset.  In other words, how is your attitude?  How are you feeling?  Are you mentally prepared to ingest the substance you are about to consume?  Are you ready to face whatever personal demons you might stir up?  If you can’t face these questions, proceed cautiously, if at all.  Then, there is the other part of the equation, setting.  Are you going it alone or hanging out with friends?  Would you prefer sitting on a quiet starry hillside, playing frisbee on a sunny day in the park, or dancing all night at a banging dance party in a crowded, high energy club?  Not every altered experience is micro-manageable to this level, but learning that your preferences or safety needs are different from what you expected or planned for has consequences, ranging from seriously inconvenient to even downright dangerous under some circumstances.]

Smithsonian Folkways has reissued Mickey Hart’s Dafos, an out of print classic

Smithsonian Folkways has reissued an out of print classic

This looks like it would be well-worth hearing.  I have always been a fan of Mickey Hart’s world music forays, and this album is supposed to be a classic.  Featuring Mickey Hart (the Grateful Dead’s percussionist), Airto Moreira (“Brazilian sound master and Miles Davis alumnus), and Flora Purim (exceptional vocalist), this album featured a very ingenious sound-capturing technique that preserved the intimacy of closely miked recordings while capturing the expanse of a performance hall live recording.

To get a copy for yourself, you might try here: http://www.cduniverse.com/productinfo.asp?pid=8601975

In Case You Missed It… Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Sent Off By Salman Rushdie

So as some of my regular readers may have gathered, I have a fairly active mind and a lot of reading interests, many of which overlap somewhere between thirty years of personal journals and my regular reading of the New York Times.

I had just read the cover story of the “Book Review” insert in The Times from a couple of weeks back.  There was a lovely and generous send off of Gabriel Garcia Marquez by another master of “magical realism,” Salman Rushdie.  I got excited because I remembered an essay I wrote when I was applying to college.  In my memory, the essay was about how I related to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and so would have made great fodder for my take on Salman Rushdie’s send off of Marquez.

Only thing is, when I tracked down that essay (which I do still have, archivist that I am, in my “high school essay” folder), I was somewhat mortified to discover that it wasn’t about how I related to Gabriel Garcia Marquez at all but how I related to Mario Vargas Llosa.  Three names, from an older generation, from the Americas, and an author but not a lot of similarity beyond that.  According to Wikipedia, Vargas Llosa “writes prolifically across an array of literary genres, including literary criticism and journalism. His novels include comedies, murder mysteries, historical novels, and political thrillers.”  Garcia Marquez, however, started off as a journalist but was most well-known for popularizing a writing style known as “magic realism.”

Oh, well, such are the vicissitudes of memory and time.

In any case, the article is well worth reading.  Go here to check it out.

Leee Black Childers has left the building

Leee Black Childers (yes, there are three ‘e’s) was a portrait photographer who escaped my notice successfully, right up until the day that he died.  Just this morning, I read his obit in last sunday’s New York Times.  It seems like he lead a rich, full life.

One of the take-home messages for me, upon reading his obit, is that it is crucial to stake your claim to your own life.  How do you want to be remembered?  Who are you?  Claim your dreams, and they are yours.

One of my favorite anecdotes from Mr. Childers life comes from a conversation that he had with Andy Warhol at the Factory, Warhol’s New York studio, in the late 1960’s.  Childers, who was all of twenty-two then, confessed to Warhol that he “aspired to be a photographer; in that case, Warhol told him, he should just call himself one.”

“[Warhol] said, ‘Say you’re a photographer, and you’re a photographer,’ Mr. Childers recalled in an online interview. “And he pointed across the Factory to Candy Darling, who was one of the great drag queens, and he said, ‘Look at her.  She says she’s a woman.  She is.’  So from that moment on, I was a photographer.

Anyway, I found Leee Black Childer’s  obituary a great read and oddly inspirational when it comes to the claiming of my own life story.

You can check it out here.