OUT, DEMONS, OUT!: The 1967 Exorcism of the Pentagon and the Birth of Yippie! [Arthur No. 13/Nov. 2004]

This piece was originally published in Arthur No. 13 (Nov. 2004), with cover artwork by John Coulthart and design by William T. Nelson, pictured above (click image to view at larger size). A correction involving Cosmic Charlie published in a later issue has been embedded in the text here at the most natural point. I’m sorry that I’ve been unable to include the many fantastic photographs from the print article here. However, I have added a still from the film “Will the Real Norman Mailer Please Stand Up” by Dick Fontaine, which we did not have access to at the time of print publication into the text, and there are more stills from various films appended. —Jay Babcock

Clip from Arthur No. 13’s Table of Contents page, featuring photo by Robert A. Altman.


On October 21, 1967, the Pentagon came under a most unconventional assault.

An oral history by Larry “Ratso” Sloman, Michael Simmons and Jay Babcock

* * *

By Autumn of 1967, the “police action” in Vietnam had escalated. The United States of America waged War—that hideous manifestation of the human race’s worst instincts—against the small, distant, sovereign land. 485,600 American troops were then stationed in Nam; 9,353 would die in ’67 alone. We were there under false pretenses (the “attack’ at the Gulf of Tonkin that never happened), operating under a paranoid doctrine (the Domino Theory, fretting that Vietnamese Communists fighting a civil war in their own country with popular support would envelop all of Southeast Asia and end up invading Dubuque, Iowa). Seven million tons of bombs would eventually be dropped, as opposed to two million during World War II. Indiscriminate use of gruesome weaponry was deployed, most infamously napalm, a jelly that sticks to—and burns through—human skin. Saturation bombings, free-fire zones, massive defoliation with the carcinogen Agent Orange. “Destroying the village to save it,” as one American military man put it.

For a generation that remembered the Nuremberg Trials of Nazi war criminals after WW II, something had to be done. Genocidal fugitive Adolf Eichmann’s “I was just following orders” excuse would not fly. The draft was sending 18-year-olds off to die. A domestic anti-war movement emerged, as had a counterculture of hairy young people who rejected the militarism, greed, sexual repression, and stunted consciousness of their parents and leaders to pursue Joy and Sharing as well as Dope, Rock and Roll, and Fucking in the Streets. Pundits spoke of The Generation Gap. A quaking chasm had split the nation.

San Francisco painter Michael Bowen had a dream of people coming together to celebrate his city’s burgeoning hippie subculture, and so he and his wife Martine initiated the Great Human Be-In on Sunday, January 14, 1967. Sub-billed as A Gathering of the Tribes, 10,000 hippies, radicals and free spirits convened in Golden Gate Park. Beat poets emceed (Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, Michael McClure, Lenore Kandel), rock bands rocked (Grateful Dead, Big Brother & the Holding Company, Quicksilver Messenger Service, the Charlatans), Hell’s Angels returned lost kids to their mommies – and the cops busted no one, despite rampant open marijuana use. For many, the realization that there were other Martians was transcendental. Berkeley anti-war activist Jerry Rubin gave a speech, but his narrow political rap was dubbed “too histrionic” by Ginsberg and many in the crowd. It fortuitously forked Rubin’s direction. “It was the first time I did see a new society,” he said later. “I saw there was no need for a political statement. I didn’t understand that until then, either.”

Events ending with the suffix “In” became the rage. Bob Fass hosted the hippest radio show in the country, “Radio Unnameable” on New York’s WBAI. The all-night gab-and-music fest was Freak Centra, functioning as a pre-internet audio website. Regular guests included Realist editor Paul Krassner (dubbed “Father of the Underground Press”), underground film director Robert Downey Sr. (father and namesake of…), actor/writer Marshall Efron (arguably the funniest man on the planet), and a manic activist-gone-psychedelic named Abbie Hoffman—all rapping madly, verbally riffing and improvising like musicians. One night after participating in a UsCo avant-garde multi-media show of projections, movies, music, etc., at an airplane hangar, Fass stopped by nearby JFK International Airport and noticed a group of three dozen young people—clearly ripped to the tits—communally entranced by a giant mobile centerpiecing a terminal. The vast open spaces of an airport, with jet planes and stars in the sky, were the stage for dreams to come to life. Fass flashed on the infinite possibilities.

He conceived a Fly-In at JFK and announced it on Radio Unnameable. Though Saturday night, February 11, was freezing cold, 3,000 of the underground’s finest came to sing Beatles songs, torch reefers, dance the body electric, and groove with their sisters and brothers. “One of the things that happened,” Fass observed, “was that there was such a colossal amount of human connection that there was something akin to feedback that happened, and people really began to experience not ‘happiness,’ but Ecstasy and Joy. We’re planning another one at your house.”

New York responded to San Francisco’s Be-In with its own. Key to its success was Jim Fouratt, a young actor who’d become one of the most effective hippie organizers on the Lower East Side. Promotion for the event cost $250, which paid for posters and leaflets. On Easter Sunday, March 27, 10,000 full and part-time hippies came together—some in the carnal definition—at Central Park’s Sheep Meadow. It was a glistening, no bad vibes, lysergic day. Fouratt was central to virtually every NYC hip community event, including the infamous Soot-In at Consolidated Edison, where he, Abbie Hoffman, and others dumped bags of nasty black soot at the coal burning, energy company’s offices, in a protest that prefigured and influenced the birth of the environmental movement.

Emmett Grogan was a brilliant and enigmatic prankster/con man at the heart of San Francisco’s do-goodnik anarcho-rogues the Diggers. He suggested to his friend Bob Fass that a Sweep-In would strengthen the momentum the Fly-In had sparked. The idea was to “clean up the Lower East Side” area of NYC where the hippies dwelled. Fass conspired with Krassner and Abbie and listeners on his radio show, and they chose Seventh Street, where Krassner lived. The buzz grew louder and one day an inquiring bureaucrat from the Sanitation Department called Radio Unnameable. The potentates of garbage at City Hall were nervous about these beatniks with brooms taking their gig. While appearing cooperative on the phone and in a later meeting, the city pranked the pranksters on the day of the Sweep-In, April 8. When thousands of mop-wielding longhairs appeared at 11 a.m., they beheld a garbage-free, sparkling fresh, squeaky clean street of slums—courtesy of the Sanitation Department. Fass and Krassner were amused that they’d actually forced the city to do its job. Unfazed, they moved the Sweep-In to Third Street. When a city garbage truck turned the corner, the street peeps leaped on it and cleaned it as well.

No single human—other than Tribal Elder Allen Ginsberg—was as influential on this emerging culture than Ed Sanders. He led the satirical-protest-smut-folk-rock band The Fugs with East Village legend Tuli Kupferberg, ran the Peace Eye Bookstore (and community center) on 10th Street, published Fuck You: A Magazine of the Arts, made films like Mongolian Clusterfuck, wrote poetry, rabble roused for myriad peacenik causes and cannabis legalization. Sanders—one of the first public figures to live seamlessly within realms of Politics, Art, and Fun—was a first cousin to Che Guevara’s paradigmatic New Man—albeit thoroughly American and anti-authoritarian.

But the Life Actor who embodies the Revolutionary Prankster in 20th-century history books is Abbie Hoffman. And he is where our story begins…

I met Abbie Hoffman through Marty Carey in 1967. I was only like 17. One of the first conversations I ever had with him, he said the hippies were fucked. And proof to him of the corrupt nature of what he kept calling hippie capitalism was that the Jefferson Airplane at that time had a radio commercial for Levi’s. And Abbie said “Don’t they know that the Levi’s workers are on strike in North Carolina?” And he had completely, at that point, written off the whole hippie world as being a diversion of energy from more traditional leftist directions. Literally the next time I saw him, which was about a month later, he was stoned on acid, his hair was up to the ceiling, he was listening to the Grateful Dead and completely had gone the other way. He had, in fact, seen something in this culture that both attracted him and seduced him and which he saw as political. He saw it as a culture that he could move in and use in some way as a power base.

When we are Liberty House still, Abbie used to see these kids parading through the Village in these costumes or with face paint and all weirdness. And he said, “I think there’s something there.” I can remember him actually saying he wanted to combine the hippie with the political.

The Lower East Side felt like an eternal spring. Felt like the flowers would never stop opening and becoming more magnificent all the time, in every field. Everything was fresh, everything was exciting, everything felt like the first time. People trusted each other, there was great kindness among people, great sharing, violence felt unknown, it was not a factor. Paranoia, if it existed, was an ego-related thing but was not a street or violence-related thing. Everything was possible, no boundaries, just how early you got up in the morning and how late you worked and what ideas you had and if you had an idea Monday you could make it happen by Wednesday. It was a time of collaboration of people, and fusion of idea and cultures and wonderful experiences with LSD that just seemed to open up more and more channels.

In an odd way, Timothy Leary and acid actually played a very important role in the alteration of the American pysche, in catalyzing a lot of the anti-war movement in the sense of altering the basic social conditioning and the semiotics and the terminology and the take. Gary Snyder and I both think that acid was one of the main catalysts of the anti-war movement, to the activation of it on a grand scale, not only of Abbie but the whole college generation. It was the de-conditioning agent that got people into another world, into the flower power, the psychedelic thing that was connected with the anti-war movement.

We would be sitting there in Marty Carey’s apartment tripping on acid. Somewhere in the back Moby Grape would be playing, Maybe I was saying “dig what the bass is doing” but Abbie was ignoring me because he was talking about Mao and Che and whether violence should or shouldn’t be used in the revolution. He could be at the absolute end of the known world, seeing mandalas and hands coming out of the walls, but it never distracted him from talking about what he wanted to talk about. His focus was so intense that he could maintain it in the face of any chemical, political, police action, it didn’t matter what was happening around him when he was pursuing an angle of insight.

Everyone should try acid once, I guess. Did it change my life? Yeah. It’s the whole chicken and the egg thing. The whole thing is overcoming all that fear. In other words, the acid taking is more important than the experience itself. The whole secret is to overcome the fear of death. All the rest is easy.

Blacks were saying to white organizers, go organize for social change in your own communities. That white America was the problem, not black America. You’re the ones who can reach white America–go do it. And Abbie took the injunction seriously. But what he began to see was that the community was not bounded by a few blocks, even though in the East Village at that time, you could feel like that was a liberated zone—but that the community was all young Americans; that the conflict in America was not just a class conflict but a generational conflict, and that the contradictions in America caused by the war was that young people didn’t want to go fight in Vietnam. The baby boom was bursting and there was a tremendous number of young kids who, because of the relative affluence of America, had some money in their pockets and could afford to leave home, or were dropping out of colleges, dissatisfied by the educational system. We had read books like Growing Up Absurd by Paul Goodman, and were identifying with each other. And rock and roll became the soundtrack for that identification, that sense of generational solidarity, that sense of America is in trouble, war is wrong. Abbie saw that there was potential constituency for change among the white youth culture. And so he made it his mission. Don’t forget Abbie was in Berkeley in 1960, he had experienced the first sort of spasm of student power and student demonstrations way before it had begun. Now it’s 1967, Abbie’s years older than most of these kids, and knew a lot more and had more experiences and was still operating in the kind of the mode of the full-time political activist.

We consciously played fads and fashion. It has to do with action and analysis. Let’s say I come to New York, I’m down in the Lower East Side. I’m letting my hair grow long. I’d already taken acid before. I feel like a hippie now. Part of a new nation. As you are engaged in the action, you almost have no theory. But on the one hand, there is a part of you that is aware that if you can run an end-around… The country politically is very locked. Having tried loads and loads of ways and having developed an understanding of the political process in America, it’s very hard to create a revolution, in the classical political sense. But certain things can be used to communicate ideas and then you get into the whole cultural level. So you notice this thing, like people growing their hair long. What if I attach political significance to that? Then at the same time you’re doing that, it happens. Your reality is made up of myths and that’s what it is when you do propaganda.
I’d say letting my hair grow long was a very radical act. That started when I moved to New York. There was no way of going back to my hometown, getting the same job that I had. It was like you had jumped a class barrier. So defining myself as a hippie, defined me as a radical. Ideas were always something you could pull out or pull back. For me, moving to New York, letting my hair grow long, that meant [I was] full-time.

Being in the Be-In at Central Park must have done something to impress Abbie because it sure as hell impressed me. Being a political activist I’m sure he sensed there was a formless thing out there. And being an actor it provided a good cast and a good scene. So he got more and more into it. Everything Abbie did was because he was really concerned with people and he had to use himself as the scapegoat or the target or the martyr.

More and more people on the New Left started to do drugs, and more and more the hippies started to go to demonstrations. It wasn’t a total coalition, “everybody must get stoned.” But to have the smoke-in was a political act—to just go with a bunch of other people and smoke pot in the park as a demonstration of their right to do it. Abbie saw that was definitely political. He saw that people who could be organized to go to a smoke-in, could be organized to go to an anti-war rally.

Abbie was an action poet in a way that many people would like to claim to be but he actually was in the sense that some of his political gestures were very similar to happenings. Happenings were a form that started in the late ‘50s, though it comes all the way from Dada. It descends from the protests against World War I in Zurich at the Cabaret Voltaire when an international group of artists got together and put on happenings that were of a humorous and absurdist and aesthetically penetrant and from a hyper-rational point of view, irrational, but were signals in the middle of the chaos created by the “rational” governments of another plane of understanding and awareness that was beyond the mass murder of the war and the carnage and the breakdown of western civilization. So by the late ‘50s, people like Red Grooms and Allen Kaprow were doing happenings on Delancey Street.

Happenings were these Apollonian stitched-together vignettes conducted in a climate of cool. So they were very much up for grabs, the components of a happening. The happening movement was kicked off by Alfred Jarry, the guy that wrote “Ubu Roi,” by lettering the word “shit” in 1896 and shocking the French…caused a riot, basically. And you’ve got progressions of futurists and then Dadaists in Zurich and then the Surrealists, and you have John Cage and Merce Cunningham and others doing Black Mountain College, keeping the happening movement alive through the ‘50s, and then you have Oldenberg’s store in ’61, you have Kaprow in the early-mid’60s doing that series of happenings and many others. Charlotte Moorman. And so the tradition was kept alive from 1896 through 1965 or ’66, when it met with the concept of guerrilla theater and Chinese direct action political street theater, and more importantly, the Bread and Puppet Theatre and the Living Theater. All that percolated around, all those images were up for grabs, and Abbie was very smart, a quick reader, read voraciously and had a very retentive memory, and he sucked it all in.

I wrote a thing called “Demonstration as March as Spectacle as Theatre” which is more or less in the same line as Abbie.

We have to use our imagination. A spectacle can be made, an unmistakable statement OUTSIDE the war psychology which is leading nowhere. Such statement would be heard around the world with relief.

The following are specific suggestions for organizing marches and turning marchers on to their roles in the Demonstration.

• Masses of flowers – a visual spectacle – especially concentrated in the front lines. Can be used to set up barricades, to present to Hell’s Angles, police, politicians and press and spectactors whenever needed.
• Marchers should bring CROSSES, to be held in front in case of violence; like in the movies dealing with Dracula.
• Marchers who use American Flags should bring those.
• Marchers should bring harmonicas, flutes, recorders, guitars, banjoes and violins. Bongoes and tambourines.
• Marchers should bring certain children’s toys which can be used for distracting attackers, such as sparklers, toy rubber swords, especially the little whirling carbon wheels which make red-white-blue sparkles.
• In case of threat of attack, marchers could intone en masse the following mantras
o The Lord’s Prayer
o Three Blind Mice (sung)
o OM (AUM) long breath in unison
o Star-Spangled Banner
o Mary Had a Little Lamb (spoken in unison)
o Small floats or replicas in front:
• Christ with sacred Heart and cross
• Buddha in meditiation
• Thoreau behind bars
• Dixieland Band float dressed as Hitler Stalin Mussolini Napoleon & Caesar

In San Francisco, we had a Yellow Submarine march. And that was picked up in New York in ’66 and ’67 by Keith Lampe and the Vietnam Veterans of America who organized a Yellow Submarine march to change the tone of the march from important protest and anger to humor, theatre, communication. To communicate with the media but realizing that the whole point was what were the images broadcast of our behavior.

The Beatles were in the air. [“Yellow Submarine” was released on Revolver, out Aug 5, 1966. Sgt Pepper was released on June 1, 1967.] A group called WIN–Workshop In Nonviolence—marched across New York carrying a six-foot yellow submarine and launched it in the Hudson River with balloons. A lot of young people were with that. I think that was really the initiation of a kind of joyful aspect to demonstrations instead of just the old somber “look at how terrible things are” approach.

Fouratt and Abbie upped the ante on August 24, 1967 when a group of hippies entered the visitor’s gallery at the New York Stock Exchange and showered the stockbrokers below with hundreds of dollar bills.The greedheads went grabby ga-ga for the green and trading screeched to a stop. The media lapped up the story and America got its first taste of The Politics of Ecstasy. Among the psychedelic cash clowns were Abbie, Jerry, Fouratt, Albert and Lampe. Albert was “joyous.” He’d found “a new way to demonstrate, a theatrical turn of politics that invaded sacrosanct places and turned them into a stage set full of props for our use.” These long-haired, cannabinoided shit-stirrers saw no contradick twixt Consciousness and Conscience. Same lobe, bay-bee.

In that period before he was famous, Abbie manifested lots and lots of hope. It was like Brigham Young creating a new world. With Abbie it was “Fuck, this isn’t a crashpad, this is a new world being born.”

I saw Abbie moving among the various political sub-groups in New York, and it seemed like he won a lot of confrontations simply by being the one who was willing to do whatever it took. He was the Vince Lombardi of leftism in that way. Winning was important to him. He was very physical and that was such a welcome relief. If it hadn’t been for the model of tough, aggressive streetfighting that Abbie presented, I for one could never have related to hippie culture. It was too weak-kneed without somebody like Abbie there to go in the face of the cops, in the face of anybody who was the oppressor at the moment. Abbie gave the hippie a sort of street dignity. And so did the San Francisco Diggers.

The events that we [the Diggers] threw were pretty impeccable. They were wild and hairy but everything worked. People don’t know that all the big free parties with the Grateful Dead and the rock bands playing in the Haight-Ashbury were all thrown by the Diggers. The trucks, the sound systems, the park permits, all the people there—and it’s no accident that there was never any violence at these events. They were planned that way, to happen without violence, they were planned by being included in a frame of reference, like the solstice or the equinox, that made everyone equal. There were fabulous events that took place and they were all promulgated by somebody having a vision. And enlisting his friends to go along with it. Like truckfuls of naked belly dancers going down Montgomery Street at 5:00 in the afternoon with black conga players playing, with bottles of wine and dope, and inviting people to climb on. The invitation was there, if you had the courage to snatch it.

Abbie and others began to figure out how to execute something that came to be called guerilla media. How to create visual images and dramatic confrontations that became wildly interesting from a news standpoint. And that began to tell the kids in America that there wasn’t just a movement against the war, there was a different way of looking at the world, there was an ability to call things absurd that they could understand and relate to and that disengaged them from the reward structure that controlled them and kept them from opposing the war and it was very critical to the development of the movement that the reward structure be debunked, [to say] that you could sacrifice your career, you could sacrifice material wealth, you could sacrifice stability and have more fun!

As far as I could tell, Abbie’s political program was just a hastily thrown together amalgamation of some things he had read, certain life lessons that he had picked up in pool halls and on the street, all mixed together with an incredible instinctive understanding of American media. We would watch the nightly news together a lot and he would say, “See you gotta look at the news. See, like at 7:26, after they’ve done all the heavy stuff, they gotta have like a sign-off piece, they gotta have something cute and weird and wacky and whimsical. So I know we can’t get on at 7:03. That’s Johnson’s time. But we can get on at 7:26.” He knew enough about surrealism to know that surrealism would play well at 7:26 on the nightly news. And that it could be dismissed with a chuckle by the commentator, just sort of zany and far out. But the kids would see it and never remember what the commentator’s sardonic put-down encapsulization of it was—they would always remember the vivid image of the bills cascading down the stock exchange. Nobody was that hip to the media at that time. He was the only one. He was millions of miles ahead of everybody else.

From the Open Press street handout regarding the September 7, 1967 New York Provocation at Con Edison:
“When the Man advances, we retreat; when the Man digs in, we blow his mind; when the Man retreats, we follow after.”

Antiwar activist Dave Dellinger asked activist Jerry Rubin to be project director of the October 1967 demonstration in Washington, DC. Jerry moved from Berkeley to New York. Keith Lampe introduced Jerry to Abbie Hoffman.

Jerry and I became increasingly alienated from all these people in the Mobe [short for Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam]. Jerry was hanging out with Abbie and smoking dope and so forth, and the hard nuts and bolts work of being the project director of the demonstration became very unappealing.

The Mobe was planning to march on Congress, not on the Pentagon. I told Dave Dellinger that’s a big mistake because the Pentagon would be seen as the enemy, whereas the Congress is kind of neutral. It would be the wrong message to march on Congress. That was my contribution. So that weekend we all flew to Washington to scout out the Pentagon and we all became convinced. But then what happened is I was becoming closer and closer to Abbie. It was my idea to confront the Pentagon. It was Abbie’s to do the whole exorcism. I didn’t even know what an exorcism was.

When LSD became illegal in October 1966, the psychedelic Oracle became politicized, and the radical Berkeley Barb began to treat the drug subculture as fellow outlaws. The idea for an exorcism originated with Allen Cohen, editor of the Oracle, and painter Michael Bowen, after they read in The City in History by Lewis Mumford, about the Pentagon being a baroque symbol of evil and oppression.

One afternoon a wandering holy man, Charlie Brown, came by and explained to Michael Bowen and some friends the interesting relationship of the Pentagon Building in Washington to the wartime condition of the country from the point of view of a magical diagram. A magical diagram is an occult drawing put on the floor by a magician, who steps into it or concentrates on it. A pentagon encloses the design of a five-pointed star, which is the alchemical symbol for inverted power. That symbol, said Charlie Brown, is associated with war, murder and apocalypse. It also happens to be, Bowen pointed out, the shape of the United States Army Medal of Honor, which is an inverted star. It was also noted by Charlie Brown that the Pentagon was built outside the mandala of Washington itself, on a swamp known as Hell’s Bottom, and surrounded by five areas of pollution—a sewage treatment, two freeways, the polluted Potomac River, and a cemetery full of fallen war heroes. So it was decided on the spot by Michael Bowen that someone had to do something; someone had to put positive energy into his country’s defense…

Jerry Rubin had taken the magical idea to exorcise the Pentagon that Michael Bowen and I had suggested during our meetings before the Human Be-In and incorporated it into the offical program for the March on the Pentagon.

It was Gary Snyder who had conceived the notion of the levitation of the Pentagon. [Gary Snyder’s controversial poem “A Curse on the Men in Washington, Pentagon” was published in the June, 1967 issue of the Oracle.—Ed.]

It could very well have been Gary Snyder’s idea. I don’t know. All I know is Abbie was the PR man for it. As far as I’m concerned, who created McDonald’s? A guy named McDonald? Roy Kroc created McDonald’s. Dave Dellinger’s and the Mobe were trying to have an orderly, peaceful, middle class protest and I brought Abbie. It was a perfect partnership because Abbie added the theatre, the humor, the sparkle and I added the purpose. I directed Abbie. Abbie was just doing these wild things in the streets of New York, which was a lot of fun, but I took the Abbie windup doll, I wound him up and pointed him toward the Pentagon.

Rubin teamed up with Abbie Hoffman and then Ed Sanders, which brought in the Fugs, and then there was the West Coast contingent that originally had the idea of using the symbolism of the Pentagon. The idea got a lot of pre-publicity. There was to be an event in the nation’s capitol that would publicly cross-fertilize political protesters with hippie mystics.

Page from The Oracle. Click to view at larger size.

The Oracle, along with all other underground papers, supported and announced the March and the Exorcism. The back page of Oracle #10 was the poster by Peter Legeria announcing the March. The text with it is the same text I read to Jerry Rubin at that fateful meeting in Berkeley.

The Pentagon action showed the real brilliance of Abbie, to be able to take the hippie element and weld it together with the hard line political reality. It acknowledged where the war was being fought, where it had to be stopped, the physical space. The Pentagon was a mythic thing. Most people didn’t know what the Pentagon looked like. And then you bring in Allen Ginsberg, and you bring in American Indians, and you bring in shamans, and you burn yarrow around the whole fucking place. You think Abbie believed in a lot of that stuff? I don’t think so. But he’s smart. He knew that anything that would disrupt the mind-set of middle Americans, anything that attacked their value system, Abbie thought was good.

We got the idea we’re gonna exorcise the Pentagon, which meant that we’re going to hold hands and circle the Pentagon, and chant. That’s the way you exorcise it and levitate it. Traditional ritual. So Abbie and I decided we have to figure out how many people does it take to circle the Pentagon. One thing I liked about Abbie was that everything was very concrete. So we went down by train, and we had these little leaflets. We get to the parking lot of the Pentagon and we put all of these leaflets on the windshield wipers of the cars there. Then we go to one side and we just hold hands one, two, and then we switch and alternate. We were just starting to count, and some security people come out and arrest us and bring us inside the Pentagon, which was pretty eerie. There’s big huge hallways and messengers are roller skating down them. It was like Dr. Strangelove. They take us down to this little room and this black security guy says we were arrested. So Abbie says, “What’s the charge?” “Littering.” Great. The guard starts to ask us what we’re doing here and I tell him that we were a theatre group from New York and we were gonna exorcise the Pentagon. Then Abbie starts talking to this black guard. “How can you be black and work for these guys?” Now I’m scared shitless. Finally they say they’re gonna let us go but Abbie doesn’t want to be let go, because if we’re not let go then somebody can say, “they’re arrested for littering” and it becomes a drama and a story and publicity.

The two meetings I know of, one was in New York and one was in Washington, were probably the best example I know of Ab’s brilliance. There were some Washington representatives and there were two military representatives. It started out initially that no way in the world was there gonna be any kind of activity anywhere around the Pentagon, which was the fucking basilica of Peter of the United States, there was no fucking way. Somebody made that statement and right away Ab says, “Well fuck you, we’ll levitate the fucking thing high enough you won’t be able to get in the fucking stairs. Then what’re you gonna do with your fucking Pentagon?” And that was a serious statement the way it was presented. Somebody responded to it in some way, but they actually responded. Ab said to me later that that was the first inkling he had that he might be able to suck them into this, even though it wasn’t conscious.

After that, the levitation became THE cause celebre. The other meeting I was at, it was Ab who threw it on the table, right for openers. “Okay, about the levitation.” Ab was adamant that the building was gonna go up 22 feet – because somebody had told him except for fire ladders, you can’t run and get a ladder that’s 22 feet. So 22 feet was it and he was willing to negotiate. There was serious consideration of that because if the building went up 22 feet the foundations were gonna crack and there was discussion about foundations and cracks and how much you could levitate. It was unbelievable. That meeting was like 2 1/2 hours or so and probably 20% of that meeting was devoted to this serious talk about levitating the Pentagon. And this is our military, right? I swear to you, the military finally came around, Ab came down from 22 feet to three feet, they agreed to three feet and sealed it with a handshake. That’s how bad Ab was, he could capture you in that fucking bizarreness. Oh, it was joyful!

We applied for a permit, then told the media that the government would allow us to raise the Pentagon no more than three feet off the ground, and the media accurately reported that quote.

I was working on the Pentagon Papers that fall in a room which happened to be right next to MacNamara’s office. I’d come back from Vietnam very anxious to see the war end and to do whatever I could to help that. So I was very sympathetic to the anti-war movement, what I knew of it. The idea of levitating the Pentagon struck me as a great idea because the idea of removing deference from any of these institutions is very, very important, and this is of course the kind of thing that Abbie understood very instinctively. It was not just a matter of clowning and a way to get the attention of the media, or to make people smile. And the idea that you would jointly piss on the Pentagon as part of a pagan ceremony raises so many associations. One might think of the Pentagon as pagan in itself, but that’s a slander of pagan religion. The truth is that this kind of preparation for mass murder is not particularly quote “barbarian” or pagan or primitive. It’s civilized, western Judeo-Christian. And so the idea of confronting it with a witchcraft pagan ceremony, was very appropriate almost to point that out. So they have a press conference, and they’re talking about their plans for this and that, in a very straight and mesaured and reserved way. And when it gets to be Abbie’s turn to speak, he says, “We’re gonna raise the building six feet in the air.” I think that really changed the terms of discussion. In the Pentagon it became, “Can he really do that? And six feet!?!”

All through the history of the Fugs in the ’60s, the war in Vietnam throbbed like an ever-seething soul sore. However much we partied, shouted our poetry and strutted around like images of Bacchus, we could never quite get it out of our mind. It was like that Dada poetry reading that Tristan Tzara gave in 1922 in Paris, with an alarm clock constantly ringing during the reading. The war was THE alarm clock of the late ’60s.

I didn’t really get into Abbie until they came up with the idea of the exorcism of the Pentagon, which I jumped into with both feet. I agreed to write and create the actual Exorcism.

[Occultist/animator/archivist] Harry Smith had produced the first Fugs album and was an old friend of mine who used to hang out at my bookstore Peace Eye all through the ‘60s. So I went to Harry and asked him what happened in an exorcism and he gave me some advice. So he filled me in on what his view was. He told me about consecrating the four directions, surrounding it, circling it, using elements of earth, air, fire and water, alchemical symbols to purify the place, to invoke certain deities, and so on. So I sing-songed a whole retinue of deities past and present, imaginary and real, to summon the strength to exorcise this place. It was part real, part symbolic, part wolf ticket, part spiritual, part secular, part wishful thinking and part anger. And it had humor. You gotta have the universal humor. And, since I knew Indo-European languages, I learned this Hittite exorcism ritual. I actually put together a decent exorcism.


Above: Scan of Ed Sanders’ handbill for the exorcism.


Michael Bowen had journeyed to northwestern Mexico to consult with shamans about levitation. Then he dropped in during one of our preparation meetings in New York. What a charming moment: all of us “radicals” there suddenly became “moderates” because Michael really expected to levitate it whereas the rest of us were into it merely as a witty media-project.

There was a tremendous amount of energy and work put in by lots of people on this. We had a press conference at the Village Theatre where we built a miniature replica of the Pentagon on strings which then levitated in the midst of chanting. And we had an American Indian shaman throwing cornmeal down.

I was at the Fillmore auditorium a couple of days before the event. We made a series of tapes of improvised incantations along with songs. Ed said, “We may not be able to actually get up on the flatbed truck because they may not let us through. And we’ll be swarmed if we stand on the ground and try to play. So if we can’t get the truck up, we’ll play the tape.”

In order to build up further public interest in the event, we staged preliminary pranks that were bound to get media coverage. Abbie invented an imaginary new drug, a sexual equivalent to the police tear gas, Mace. It was christened Lace—supposedly a combination of LSD and DMSO—which when appplied to the skin would be absorbed into the bloodstream and act as an instantaneous aphrodisiac. Lace was actually Shapiro’s Disappear-o from Taiwan. When sprayed, it left a purple stain, then disappeared.

A press conference was called at Abbie’s apartment where Lace could be observed in action. I was supposed to be there as a reporter who would get accidentally sprayed with Lace from a squirt gun. To my surprise, I would put down my notebook, take off my clothes and start making love with a beautiful redhead who had also been accidentally sprayed, along with another deliberately sprayed couple, right there on two small mattresses in the living room, while the journalists diligently took notes.

I was really looking forward to this combination media event and blind date. Even though the sexual revolution was at its height, there was something exciting about knowing in advance that I was guaranteed to get laid–although I felt slightly guilty about attempting to trick fellow reporters.
But there was a scheduling conflict. I was already committed to speak at a literary conference at the University of Iowa on that same day. So, instead of being being accidentally sprayed with Lace, I was reassigned by Abbie to purchase cornmeal in Iowa, which would be used to encircle the Pentagon as a pre-levitation rite. I was supposed to be a rationalist, but it was hard to say no to Abbie.

In Iowa, novelist Robert Stone [author of Dog Soldiers, thee great Vietnam novel—Ed.] drove me to a farm.
“I’d like to buy some cornmeal to go, please.”
“Coarse or fine?” the farmer asked. I glanced at Stone for guidance.
“Since it’s a magic ritual,” he said, “I would definitely recommend coarse.”
And so I flew back to New York with a 13-pound sack of coarse cornmeal properly stored in the overhead bin.

Meanwhile, there were articles about Lace in the New York Post and Time magazine, including the promise that three gallons of Lace would be brought to Washington, along with a large supply of plastic water pistols, so that Lace could be sprayed at police and the National Guard at the Pentagon demonstration.

The guy who substituted for me in that “accidental” sexual encounter at the Lace press conference ended up living with her. Somehow I felt cheated.

We used water guns to spray the Lace. Shapiro’s Disappearo was a red liquid that disappeared when you sprayed it on. So we sprayed the Lace and everybody was fucking. I was very embarrassed because half of me couldn’t believe this was actually happening in my own living room. I just shyly snuck away and I waited it out.

I was at the precinct talking to some cops and Abbie comes in. He has his bottle of Lace and he says, “Look at this stuff. If I spray it on any one of you guys, you’re going to fuck each other.” The lieutenant is behind his desk, and the sergeant was doing his paperwork. The sergeant had short sleeves, one of those big, hairy muscular guys. And the sergeant says, “Get out of here!” And Abbie says you’re going to fuck the lieutenant and the sergeant says, “ Noooo, nooooo!” They chased Abbie out of the precinct.

October of ’67. October 8 and 9, they killed Che Guevara. Right after that, the Freedom Summer killers, some of them were found guilty on the 20th. Then there was a huge draft card turn-in on the 20th, which led to the famous indictment of Dr. Benjamin Spock and others. October 21 was OUT DEMONS OUT. It was right around that point that the CIA was beginning its Phoenix program where they killed or assassinated all those people in Vietnam. So it’s an interesting flow of history.

The Pentagon was my favorite demonstration, because it had everything. It was the perfect sort of flower-power, hippie event. I was wearing the Sgt. Pepper jacket. And we had Mr. And Mrs. America paper Uncle Sam hats. It had all moods. The Spocks and the MacDonalds were there, the New York intellectuals, and Norman Mailer was there doing his thing.

I was personally frustrated and irritated that this thing was being held on a Saturday, because as somebody who worked around the Pentagon for a decade, I knew that in those days it was really quite easy to get into the Pentagon during the week. Any slight reconaissance in the building would have revealed to them that they could just walk in. And that should have suggested right away that you could infiltrate. Put literally thousands of people in it, and then on an appropriate moment, sit down in the corridors, put stickers all over the place, and to a considerable degree really shut it down on a work day, which I thought would be very impressive. So I was kind of frustrated to realize that they would be demonstrating in front of what I knew was an essentially empty building.

We got there earlier enough in the day. The buses of demonstrators hadn’t arrived. We went up on a hill where we could see the Pentagon across the river and I took four or five photographs from different points of view close to each other so that later, I could create an illusion of the Pentagon actually lifting off its foundation with a slide projector. We had enough time to fool around. I was wearing a painted tie-dye one-piece painters’ suits, tie dye was very fashionable at the time, after Kesey and the bus. Krassner had on a flag tie. Mountain Girl was there, she’d been on the cover of Trout Fishing in America, or one of Brautigan’s other books, and had gone with Paul to buy the corn that was to be used to levitate the Pentagon. It had to be organic. The guy said, “What’s it for?” And Paul said, “We’re gonna levitate the Pentagon.” “Oh, okay, that’ll be two dollars please.”
We broke off from the crowd; we had something that we had to do, but we didn’t know what it was. It was an inspiration of the moment. What do we do with the corn? Why don’t we try it out on the Washington Monument? There’s nobody up there now. There were these two or three guards standing around, looking at the other crowd. So we went up and circled the Washington Monument, this long phallic thing sticking up in the air. We knew that Washington had grown hemp, so it had to have some good vibes there. We got about a quarter of the way around it and some guy in a Smokey Bear costume came out, stood there scratching his head and said, “Pardon me sir, what the fuck are you doing?” “We’re doing a practice exorcism that will be carried out later at the Pentagon.” He said, Oh. Then he pulled out a walkie-talkie and said, “I have some people here, they tell me it’s a religious ceremony.” “Well take ‘em inside and investigate.” I said, “Are we under arrest?” “You just better come with me. Do you want me to call somebody with cuffs?” I said, “Alright we’ll go with you.” He took us down a winding staircase into a basement and he asked us some questions there. Finally they let us go, but they took the corn.

So I see the Careys, they’re out there like hippies. They got a blanket spread, they’re smoking grass, they’re having a picnic. They’re singing songs, playing guitar, they’re having like a great time. I’m with Abbie, we gotta fucking confront the troops. Abbie is like, “Me and my girl.” He’s got me by the hand and he’s not going where the crowds are going. He’s going where they put up these temporary fences and they have these soldiers way out in these fields where if you got beat up nobody would ever know, there’s no media or anything. He has me running across fields, jumping barricades. I was shitting inside. I’m not saying a word to him. I probably looked white as a sheet, and I’m putting up this good front. I thought of the Careys with such jealous hatred. Why can’t we be hippies, why can’t we just be like them?

Before the march to the Pentagon, we were up on the stage where the speeches were made by Dr. Spock and the others and we could look out at the crowd and they were our base, all the people we operated with. And there was no representation of that on the stage. The stage was all a representatives of this union, a representative of that. But no one representing the people themselves.

There were a lot of young people and old protesting vets. Viet Nam was much more in people’s minds by then. It was also at the end of the Summer of Love. So, the march was part of an intensification and expansion of what was already going on. It was one of the first, biggest, non-linear, non-traditional, non-Old Left demonstrations. I think in that sense it was seminal.

After all the speeches that went on in front of the Lincoln Memorial and the music, then the people went to march on the Pentagon. The kids were at the demonstration anyway and anything that looks more interesting than listening to speakers is gonna attract people, and so a large group of people followed the march. On one of the overpasses there was this young Black guy who has a sign that said No Vietcong Ever Called Me a Nigger. There was a river there, and there were people on boats there who had signs. It was almost like a new type of thing we had never encountered. Usually you went to a demonstration, you heard speeches and you left; this time, you followed the group. People went through this break through bushes, climbed up some rocks, cleared a pathway and you ended up at the Pentagon, which is really exciting. And here are all these…there were just thousands and thousands of people there, soldiers surrounding the Pentagon, people sitting on the ground OMMMing. The exorcism of the Pentagon was a sideshow. It was brought up that they were going to be doing this but that wasn’t the main thing.

There were a bunch of idiots there. I didn’t consider myself an idiot, but maybe other people would! There were these hothead lefties, who, their idea was they would take over and kill the capitalists. Well, that’s not very practical. Then there were Hare Krishnas, peacenik idiots, saying peace peace, or something like that. I didn’t go for anything like that. It was so annoying.

I had been pissing on the Department of Justice building just at the time we were getting teargassed, so after that I was just sorta wandering around trying to get rid of the pain and discomfort from the tear gas. A fella named Jerome Washington, he was the first black Yippie, was with me. We were both pissing. I remember him helping me up the hill to the Pentagon—it was a great bonding experience. [laughs]

In the parking lot there was a flatbed truck. Ed Sanders was really the Spike Jonze of that, he was leading. I think Ed and Tuli were in costumes, but it’s nothing I could swear to in court. I still believe I snorted cocaine with the Pope—you tell the story enough times and it becomes real to you.

I had on a red-and-yellow coat. It was very bright and psychedelic, it was a satire on camouflage; it was a yellow coat with blobs of orange and red. It’s quite vivid. I was touring a lot with it during those days. It was psychedelic garb. It was just after the end of the Summer of Love, so love was…happening.

The Fugs were playing this Ambassador theatre in DC, a psychedelic club. We had that $2,000 gig, so we had a lot of cash. Tuli and I used our share of the Fugs money to rent a flatbed truck with a sound system with Marshall Bloom of Liberation News Service. We had this big day-glo painting made at the School of Visual Arts of the back of the dollar bill stretched out, the Novus Ordo Cyclorum paranoid pyramid, which we wanted to beam at the Pentagon.

In talking it over with Harry Smith, it seemed wise to have a cow on hand, as the symbol of the ancient Egyptian goddess Hathor. The cow was going to be brought in from a farm in Virginia, painted with occult emblems, but the cow got stopped by the police. At the same time, Tuli and I bought oodles of daisies with the East Village Other people, which were to be taken to a small plane in Virginia that would fly above the Pentagon and throw the daisies down. But that also got stopped, so we had all these daisies with us.

So, in the late morning, we got on our truck. There was the San Francisco Diggers, Michael Bowen and Peter Coyote and a couple others, and all the Fugs, Ken Pine, Ken Weaver, Tuli Kupferberg, myself.

There was a huge march—a couple hundred thousand people that had gathered near the Lincoln Memorial, then walked across the Memorial bridge. We started out and Abbie jumped aboard. Abbie viewed this flatbed truck with the poster with the back of the dollar bill on it and the sound system and “Out demons, out” to be the vanguard of the main Mobe march. He wanted us to slow down and cut off the crowd and become the head of this march. I didn’t see it like that at all. I just wanted to get across the bridge without getting arrested and get to the Pentagon early, before they shut things down. He wanted us to sort of lead people to a place where we would conduct the levitation or the exorcism. So my first discussion with Abbie was about tactics, but basically I just told the driver to get the hell over there.

We got to a Pentagon parking lot to set up. Then we noticed this right-wing minister holding a bible in a cherrypicker coming toward us. I figured he was superstitious so I raved out a chant of mumbo-jumbo at him to try to make him feel that he shouldn’t actually come too close. Finally we started out our chanting…

We had envisioned thousands of dancing and chanting Hippies joining hands in a gigantic circle around the Pentagon invoking gods and spirits to exorcise the demons within the Pentagon, and make it rise 300 feet, vibrate and turn orange. When the General Services Administration finally granted the permit for the March, the one thing they refused to allow was the Hippies’ encirclement of the Pentagon.

From Armies of the Night: Of course, exorcism without encirclement was like culinary art without a fire—no one could properly expect a meal. Nonetheless the exorcism would proceed, and the Fugs were to serve as a theatrical medium and would play their music on the rear bed of the truck they had driven in here at the end of the parking lot nearest to the Pentagon some hundreds of yards from the speaker’s stand where the rally was to take place. Now, while an Indian triangle was repeatedly struck, and a cymbal was clanged, a mimeographed paper was passed around to the Marchers watching. It had a legend which went something like this:

October 21, 1967, Washington, D.C., U.S.A., Planet Earth
We Freemen, of all colors of the spectrum, in the name of God, Ra, Jehovah, Anubis, Osiris, Tlaloc, Quetzalcoatl, Thoth, Ptah, Allah, Krishna, Chango, Chimeke, Chukwu, Olisa-Bulu-Uwa, Imales, Orisasu, Odudua, Kali, Shiva-Shakra, Great Spirit, Dionysus, Yahweh, Thor, Bacchus, Isis, Jesus Christ, Maitreya, Buddha, Rama do exorcise and cast out the EVIL which has walled and captured the pentacle of power and perverted its use to the need of the total machine and its child the hydrogen bomb and has suffered the people of the planet earth, the American people and creatures of the mountains, woods, streams and oceans grievous mental and physical torture and the constant torment of the imminent threat of utter destruction.

We are demanding that the pentacle of power once again be used to serve the interests of GOD manifest in the world as man. We are embarking on a motion which is millennial in scope. Let this day, October 21, 1967, mark the beginning of suprapolitics.

By the act of reading this paper you are engaged in the Holy Ritual of Exorcism. To further participate focus your thought on the casting out of evil through the grace of GOD which is all (ours). A billion stars in a billion galaxies of space and time is the form of your power, and limitless is your name.

“In the name of the amulets of touching, seeing, groping, hearing and loving, we call upon the powers of the cosmos to protect our ceremonies in the name of Zeus, in the name of Anubis, god of the dead, in the name of all those killed because they do not comprehend, in the name of the lives of the soldiers in Vietnam who were killed because of a bad karma, in the name of sea-born Aphrodite, in the name of Magna Mater, in the name of Dionysus, Zagreus, Jesus, Yahweh, the unnamable, the quintessent finality of the Zoroastrian fire, in the name of Hermes, in the name of the Beak of Sok, in the name of scarab, in the name, in the name, in the name of the Tyrone Power Pound Cake Society in the Sky, in the name of Ra, Osiris, Horus, Nepta, Isis, in the name of the flowing living universe, in the name of the mouth of the river, we call upon the spirit…to raise the Pentagon from its destiny and preserve it.”
“In the name, and all the names, it is you.”
“Out, demons out—back to darkness, ye servants of Satan—out, demons, out! Out, demons, out!”
“For the first time in the history of the Pentagon there will be a grope-in within a hundred feet of this place, within two hundred feet. Seminal culmination in the spirit of peace and brotherhood, a real grope for peace. All of you who want to protect this rite of love may form a circle of protection around the lovers. These are the magic eyes of victory. Victory, victory for peace. Money made the Pentagon—melt it. Money made the Pentagon, melt it for love. In the name of the generative power of Priapus, in the name of the totality, we call upon the demons of the Pentagon to rid themselves of the cancerous tumors of the war generals, all the secretaries and soldiers who don’t know what they’re doing, all the intrigue, bureaucracy and hatred, all the spewing, coupled with prostate cancer in the deathbed. Every Pentagon general lying alone at night with a tortured psyche and an image of death in his brain, every general, every general lying alone, every general lying alone. In the name of the most sacred of sacred names, Xabrax Phresxner. End the fire and war, and war, end the plague of death.”

Ed Sanders carried the levitation out. But not in a Buddhist way but in a Western magical way which was maybe not such a good idea. While Ed was trying to un-hex the Pentagon, Kenneth Anger was underneath his wagon trying to hex him.

Kenneth Anger was burning something down there and making snake sounds at whomever should try to come near. He told me that he had been inside the Pentagon weeks ago to bury something.

I just walked right in. I had studied how the Pentagon staff were dressed, and I was just like them. I wore a dark blue conservative suit. I even had a small American flag on my lapel.

I was attacking Mars, the god of War. He’s still our ruling god—if you think Mars is an extinct thing from the antique past that we can just laugh at now, forget it. Mars is still here. That is not my opinion, but my knowledge. Mars is a terrifying but sobering vision. I have had this vision of Mars—you have to do all the things at certain times of the year, and then he does come through. And he’s about 500 feet tall, he’s NOT very handsome, he’s very strong, he’s armored, he’s bearded in a scraggly way, he’s got the fiercest eyes of any of the gods. He makes Jupiter—Jove—look benign and effete in comparison. But Mars is kind of childish—that’s why it’s so hard to get to him. He just loves bloodbaths. This is his thing. He does it very well. And he’s always thinking up new ways to do hideous things to the human race. This is his FUN. He’s the god of War. And he’s been alive since there were humans in tribes. War is the most consistent activity of the human animal. For whatever reason, some good, and a lot bad, we’ve been doing it as a race since the cave days. Of course, some wars are justified, like World War II, fighting the Nazis, I can’t think of a better cause. But Mars has nothing to do with being fair. Mars loves bloodshed, and he is a force that’s still operating in the world—it’s a force that according to modern thinking is irrational, but nevertheless there. Freud would have called it the unconscious or something but I believe that these are actual living entities. Not ‘living’ in the way like humans living and breathing, [but] living in a way that are much beyond our capacity, because they’ll never die.

In a personal sense, men more than women have a big problem with Mars. Most soldiers from the beginning of time have been men, and still are. And the Pentagon is controlled by men. The Pentagon itself is sort of an occult shape—like a five-sided collapsed star. [In the Crowley tradition, Mars’ number is five and its color is red.—Ed.] I’m a pagan. Mars doesn’t terrify me because I’ve come to understand him as a living entity. But just because Mars is so powerful doesn’t mean you always have to give in to him. You have to [put him in his place]: ‘Alright buster, calm down. You’re not the only star in the firmament. Enough already.’ That sort of thing. And [so I attacked Mars] in an abstract way.

I had a map of the Pentagon. I went into every single men’s room and left—in a place where it was bound to be discovered, usually on the seat where anyone using that stall would have to see it, not on the floor, of course! —a talisman which was written on parchment paper, drawn in india ink. Each one was drawn individually using one of Crowley’s talismans as my guide. I’m sure no one in the Pentagon could figure out what this thing meant. There was nothing like “War is bad” on it. There weren’t even English words. They probably could figure out it was something occult…they know about those things, and they have a reference library.

I went from one Men’s Room to the next, I didn’t stop until I had scattered all 93 of my talismans—because 93 is a sacred number for Crowley. Then I walked out, it was all very inconspicuous. The security guard looked at me and gave me a nice look, like we’re all looking after each other. If I’d been stopped and put in handcuffs that would’ve been unpleasant. That isn’t the way I want to spend my time in Washington—I had a ticket to the opera for later that week.

I remember after we’d done “Out, Demons, Out,” I went down under the truck and there was this guy from Newsweek trying to hold a microphone close to Anger. It looked like he was burning a pentagon with a Tarot card or a picture of the devil or something in the middle of it. In other words the thing we were doing above him, he viewed that as the exoteric thing and he was doing the esoteric, serious, zero-bullshit exorcism. So I went along with that.

I don’t burn Tarot cards, I respect them too much. [What I was doing] was saying Ed Sanders and the Fugs are a bunch of crap, this isn’t the way to fight a war. After all, I was there to protest the war. I knew what I was doing. It was a Crowley-type ritual.

They’d brought in a truck, decorated in flowers, making it like a float in the Rose Parade. They were just showoffs, they were putting their own agenda on this other thing. I found that offensive too because it wasn’t the point. Naturally flowers are nice and peace is nice and all that, but that’s not quite the point of what’s happening. And they were doing their omni hare krishna chant chant, peace peace, whatever, the kind of crap that Lennon and Yoko used to chant. People could say they were harmless and meant well, well I’m sorry they may have meant well [but] it didn’t do any good. In my view, there’s ways to [demonstrate] that are correct and there are ways to do it that are not correct. All the singing and flowers and chanting and all that crap was not the right way.
The focus should on the objective of the march, not on Hey! Me! I’m here! Since it was close to Halloween, some people came dressed in costume, or carrying inappropriate signs, and I found that totally inappropriate, because it’s saying Look at me, don’t think about what we’re here for. The kind of energy that can be generated by a march can be dissipated by just turning it into a sideshow. And I see this happen over and over with American marches. Like people who try to protest in the nude: this is NOT appropriate for anything. Because public nudity happens to be against the law—and it probably should be, because most people are ugly! [laughs] The few Adonises and Venuses around, I’d love if they would parade in the nude. But most people could use a little concealment.

Part of the action around the Pentagon, under the heading of the whole exorcism thing, was supposed to be all these couples making love. Abbie took it upon himself to be a kind of matchmaker, because people were not pairing off quite as quickly as he would’ve liked. So when they came to the moment, Abbie was grabbing people and saying, “No you’re with her, and him and her… No you go with her, and him, he should be with her and get that other guy out of there, and lie down now. Lie down, come on, do it!” I remember it really well because he made a match with me and some girl that turned out absolutely delightfully. So I was part of that sort of communal love thing that was happening, as Ed Sanders was chanting “Out, demons, out!” There weren’t really very many people making love – it was too scary for that. I remember arriving on the lawn with this young woman and Abbie, on the microphone in the distance, saying that all these couples were gonna make love and then I was tapped on the should by an extremely polite Washington policeman, and I looked up over my shoulder and he said, “Excuse me, but I have to ask you, are you planning to consummate this?” I said, “Yeah, why?” And he said, “Because if you do consummate, I’m going to have to arrest you.” I said, “How will you know?” He said, “We’re watching you.” But he was so polite, he had a lot of couples to watch and he was doing a really good job. Then Ed Sanders was chanting the ritual invocations and I was up and the passion was over and I wasn’t arrested for consummating, and suddenly we were all moving towards the Pentagon itself.

As we approached the Pentagon the older people are kind of going whooooa, wait a second, the place is ringed by Airborne assholes, right? Me, I just thought hey great, these guys want to face off, we’re here. So as we’re walking up there there were these trash cans that are on the grounds of the Pentagon. And on top of this pile of trash there’s this bunch of flowers, daisies, right. I grabbed them. I saw these soldiers, and they’re all standing there and they were my age. So I just took the flowers and one by one, boom boom boom, put ‘em in the gun barrels. Cause we had done this flower power crap in Berkeley you know, already. One by one, in the barrel of their guns. Then that guy Rosenthal, who took the Iwo Jima picture, took that famous picture of me.

I was carrying a lot of daisies, I was handing them out to people. It was a gift to the counterculture from the Fugs. So some people put daisies into the rifle butts. I did one. There was a line of soldiers with fixed bayonets. They looked very nervous. They were young. When you put the white daisy inside the barrel, it was, ‘take it easy, it’s okay, it’s just a flower, let me put it in there.” A few people did this. Not many. Cuz it takes guts to put a flower inside a rifle barrel, kay? Because if they’d have tried that in Chicago in August of 1968, the person with the flower would probably have been shot. So, this was a different era. It was the year of the Summer of Love. There was still enough of a climate of love to get away with putting daisies in rifle barrels. But that period ended very soon.

There was always those moments in these demonstrations where suddenly, as if from some underlying rhythm, what was a kind of gentle movement of people became a surge, and was met with a counter surge and suddenly like a crazy weather front, there were just all these masses of energy in conflict. I remember being scared that this was gonna get really out of control, because people were trying to get to the Pentagon and the joke was over, the love-making was over, the chanting was all over. Suddenly, it would just turn like that, from a kind of cultural carnival to a really terrifying nightmare time. And then I remember getting the first thing of teargas and groping for the hand of the girl that I was with and both of us just being too blinded and overwhelmed by both the teargas and the cops and the people running away from the Pentagon now to even hold on to each other. And just getting swept up in a real stampede.

Their policy was not to let you get anywhere near the fucking place. So we managed to sit down in the driveway for 30 seconds. I saw some of the action in front of the Pentagon, kids climbing up ropes. Really trying to get in. What amazed me was when I was being arraigned, there were people there with three-button suits getting arrested, professional people. This had gone up one scale. You could see Middle America was now against the war and that was amazing to me and I think McNamara and those “Pentagon intellectuals” must’ve noticed that too. This was not just a bunch of crazy kids, this was the country saying, yeah, this is it. Scared the shit out of ‘em.

A few people tried to breach the line, get into the building and they were arrested, but everybody else sort of sat down and those were the scenes when people were putting flower stems into rifle barrels. Abbie and his people got all the press, but they didn’t represent everybody that was out there. There were religious groups that were out there and labor leaders and all kinds of people. And the exorcism was put out as the purpose of the demonstration but the demonstration had much greater significance in terms of the history of the anti-war movement because it was the first time that that many people showed up someplace to do something that they weren’t supposed to do. There had been demonstrations and 5th Avenue Parade Committee actions that involved people in as large a number as came to the Pentagon but the Pentagon was civil disobedience and it was the first time that such a massive number of people had experience in civil disobedience. It was a mind-blowing event to confront massive numbers of police, backed up by massive numbers of uniformed armed military. And we overran them. They tried to stop us from crossing the 14th Street Bridge, and they couldn’t. Then they formed a skirmish line on the outside of the parking lot around the Pentagon and we just pushed through them, and they fell back then to the inside border of the parking lot, between the parking lot and the building, and it looked like a very firm skirmish line that they had established there. They were shoulder-to-shoulder, billy clubs, bayonets, they weren’t gonna let anybody through, but people started getting through. They started climbing trees and climbing over walls and getting behind them and when a bunch of people got behind them, they’d move their line back to cover them. And we got the feeling as we kept pushing against the line that we had power. And we didn’t know up until that point that we had physical power. We thought we had moral power, we thought we had righteousness on our side, but we began to see that with sufficient numbers we had a kind of physical power. It was enormously energizing and it took the movement to a different stage of development. To me, that was the significance of the Pentagon march. It wasn’t the exorcism and the humor and the absurdity around that, which also played a positive role, but it was the demonstration that we could have more power than any number of police they could deploy.

People really got up into the Pentagon, really close. Part of the wall of the pentagon had an alcove, and there was a guy sitting there meditating inside. And there was somebody else on top of the walls. You saw people that were so close into the Pentagon that you almost thought—of course in those days we thought of a lot of things—that Something Was Going to Happen. That was the real importance of it, that there was that Possibility of something.

When I looked up and saw machine guns pointed at you from the Pentagon, there was a lovely little thought process I went through which is let’s see, there’s machine guns, they’re pointed at the enemy, and they’re pointed at me! Wheeeew! I guess I am the enemy, and it was like a little A plus B, B equals C, A equals C, sort of thing that went on there. I got teargassed pretty badly that fucking time. The government had set up medical huts, which was so wonderful. If you went to the medical huts they treated you so nicely in there. So they gassed me, and because I had hay fever plus teargas, I was near dying. Then I went to the medical hut and the nice old nurses fixed me up. I said this is a pretty hot little government.

You’re walking around a geography that you’re not familiar with, people are pushing and shoving, people were crying, people were going through the crowd saying that we didn’t know this would happen, they led us into a trap, other people were saying, This is how they are, it shouldn’t have been this way. Nothing would happen. Every time they would move toward the crowd and shake their clubs, the crowd would retreat. You know that film where Chaplin goes into a neighborhood and subdues a big bully? Every time the big bully raises an eyebrow, the crowd runs back! And if he shakes his shoulders the whole street is cleaned off, everybody goes into their houses. They kept shaking their clubs at us, to move us back. Gradually people were not intimidated, or crept around them, crept through them. Then they backed off. And then there’d be some little incident on the edge where someone was separated from their friends, or someone attacked the biggest kid in the crowd, to scare all the others then. Some big unassuming bulky person would be brutalized, right? And people would be unable to retreat from seeing it.

Each hour that you stayed, as it became darker it got scarier and scarier. There was real bonding. That’s the first time in my life that I ever felt the idea of being like a small part of something that’s much larger and all-inclusive, and it’s very beautiful. It’s like being one cell in an organism. There was that kind of real unity, because we were all scared I guess, and we were sitting there because we had to, and we shared those moments and we knew we were right.

Ben Morea and the Motherfuckers were the only ones who said, “Well, if people are talking about storming the Pentagon, we’re gonna storm the Pentagon” and actually managed to get into the Pentagon. They were in the corridors of the Pentagon having pitched battle with the security guards there while everybody else was out levitating the Pentagon.

Apparently they’d imported marshals from the South, the kind that they’d seen do such good work in Birmingham. Real redneck tough guys. They were beating some of the demonstrators on the ground and when you see that, it inevitably makes your blood boil, it’s amazing how quickly that evokes violence to see people doing that. There wasn’t counter-violence but I was very conscious of the point that that’s unbearable. Up til that moment I would have said the mood was too picnic-like, it was too much of a day off, a nice Saturday, very beautiful weather. Again, I didn’t think it was as powerful an effect as it could be having. But then things got serious.

So after watching that for a while, I decided to go inside and see what was happening inside. The building seemed virtually deserted although I read later that troops were down in the basement and on the roof—they had troops dispersed to various places, fearing a revolution. I went up to our office and then decided that I could get a better look at what was happening at the river entrance, from McNamara’s office, which was next door, so I just went through the door, and after a minute, I realized that McNamara was actually in there. There was a secretary in for a minute, she went out, and then McNamara had his back to me and he was looking out the window. Well, the natural thing to do would be to get out since I did not have an informal relationship with him. But on the other hand, I did know him and had written speeches for him. So I decided just to go over to the window and have a look. So he was at one window and I was at another, we were looking down at this thing. Neither of us said anything. He just stood there. It’s odd looking back on it. I wanted to see the expression on his face when they succeeded in levitating the building. But that didn’t happen. My own actual feeling was, looking down on them, it was too much of a kind of football rally kind of crowd, too gala. I was afraid that it wasn’t having the impact on McNamara that I wanted it to have. It remains an interesting question, actually, how McNamara was reacting to it. I knew, at the time, that he wanted the war to end and so I assumed that he had a basic sympathy, at least with the goals.

The US marshals were the scariest people I’ve ever seen in my life, they were worse than anybody else. They had these long sticks and they were really beating the shit out of people. They were really cracking up on the heads. But people didn’t leave! We spent all the night there and all day there. People stayed there and they used their posters as little campfires. And people had draft card burnings in certain areas.

Getting busted was kind of a relief because I can remember nothing in my life with almost as much concentrated terror as I experienced that night, prior to that point. It was my baptism of fire.

When it got dark, later that night, that’s when they started arresting people and taking them away and the arrests were quite brutal and sudden and things would quiet down again. As the situation stabilized, somebody set up a microphone to serve as a command post on the protest side. My recollection is that Abbie took over that role toward the morning of the second day and tried to keep the energy going. The revolutionary emcee.

When we were finally arrested it was peaceful. The men and women were separated. Abbie and I gave out names as Mr. and Mrs. Digger.

I fell in love with Abbie in that compound. Such an up spirit. There were impromptu workshops and debates. It was a real education for me. All I knew was smoking dope and feeling good. I remember at one point Abbie put this sheet over his head as if he’s a Ku Klux Klan guy and he goes up to the front of the bars and says, “Hey, let me out of here. I’m in here with all these Jews and Commies.”

I remember when bail was made for him, the cop came in and just shouted “Digger!” And Abbie went out.

It was the perfect theatrical event because my goal was to have thousands of people sieging the Pentagon. The Pentagon had to bring troops back from Vietnam and Detroit to attack the crowd, not to have blood spilled but just to theatrically attack the crowd. We were trying to create the myth of millions of people being against the war. And by the myth create the reality of it. It happened perfectly. Abbie brought the humor and the good times, the SDS came with the militancy that you needed because you need a little militancy otherwise the police would all laugh at you and say, “Fine.” It’s all working out perfectly. And there’s the headlines in the Washington Post the next day. Thousands arrested. Pentagon splattered with paint, 82nd airborne moved in, da da da da… Then we got that perfect picture of the hippie, who was Superjoel, putting the flower in the gun barrel. So if you say that all life’s reduced to photographs, my goal was to have thousands of people besieging the Pentagon and for the whole world to hear that the youth of America are opposed to the American war machine and they must stop. Total success. That’s what happened. As a matter of fact, probably because of that event Johnson saw his power slipping and decided not to run again.

We drove back from the Pentagon demonstration with Abbie and Anita. He was thrilled. He had insisted that they had levitated the Pentagon. Hadn’t I seen it? I said, “ I don’t think so, Abbie.” But I began to appreciate Abbie’s style and politics. Before this I couldn’t get a handle on this cultural revolution that he was talking about. Revolution for the hell of it? I appreciated it, I instinctively understood what he meant. On the other hand I was straighter, more orthodox. I considered drugs to be counter-revolutionary. I hadn’t opened all my pores the same way Abbie did. I was, in Tom Neumann’s words, a well-intentioned politico to Abbie’s eyes and Abbie was a crazed nut in my eyes and we resolved a lot of that during that trip back from Washington.

All I have is a grainy picture of the Pentagon risen maybe 36 inches off the ground…I know Abbie had one that was higher, just don’t know what happened to it.

It was Bob Ockene who made the really important recognitions about what had happened at the Pentagon march. He said the main injustice among the demonstrators had been the way the “straight shorthaired New Left leadership” (he was referring to Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis and several others) with its bullhorns had totally controlled the rhetoric ‘till the vicious federal marshals arrived—at which time they fled, leaving the psychedelic community (referred to in the media as hippies or freaks) to take the tear gas, skull-bash and jail time. Thus, he said the psychedelic community should have a vehicle allowing its rhetoric to reach the media despite the New Left. He said the organization should be egalitarian, decentralized, informal and above all have a sense of humor as a relief from the paranoia taking hold as a result of police brutality. (At the Pentagon the federal marshals in general acted as though they were taking orders from the Fourth Reich.)
So Bob and I made a list of 16 names and each of made eight phone calls to get a meeting on this. Kate Coleman (who at that time was working at Newsweek), Allen Ginsberg, Abbie Hoffman, Nancy Kurshan, Paul Krassner, Tuli Kupferberg, Judy and Keith Lampe, Ann and Bob Ockene, Jerry Rubin, Ed Sanders.
That was in December of ’67.

The birth took place at Abbie and Anita’s apartment on the afternoon of December 31st, 1967. And there were a lot of people gathered there. Everybody was stoned on Columbian marijuana. We were just kind of making plans about what we were gonna do. Although I invented the name, it was just a label for a phenomenon that already existed. You could already see this organic coalition in process of the hippies and new lefties. But I knew that reporters needed a hook to get a first paragraph. I don’t think there was much thinking of a name for the group, but I knew that the mythologizing process needs a name. Zeus! Something! So I went into the other room, sometimes you feel there’s some kind of brainstorm coming on. I just knew, a name, a name, a name. I went through the alphabet, to see what name would be appropriate to demonstrate the radicalization of hippies. I’m going through ippy, bippy, dippy, hippy, I’m ready to give up, wippy, yippie. Yippie! It was so perfect I stopped there and didn’t even get to zippie!

So I sat there, I was up in their bed! That’s perfect! Then I’m working backwards. Okay. Yippies would derive organically, just as working backwards like running a film, from the intitials Y I P. It was acronym time. I thought what could the words be? And Youth, it was a youth movement, no question about that. I, international, it was an international movement, too, it was not just happening in America. And P, P, P, P. Party! It was so perfect, it was like a religious epiphany for me. I was like, “Listen to this! I got a name! We can call ourselves the Yippies!” I’m telling everybody and they’re looking at me. Abbie liked it right away. Jerry didn’t like it right away. … So after a little discussion they realized how appropriate it would be, because yippie is a shout of joy, it had all the elements. By the time the meeting was over we were the Yippies. We were the Youth International Party.

Judy made a strong Yippie! button for us. In January, Timothy Leary made a $500 donation and we were on our waaaaaay.

We were sitting in Abbie’s St. Marks apartment and we said we gotta have a slogan. Ed said “Rise up and crush the creeping meatball.” The following week Ray Mungo and Marshall Bloom of the Liberation News Service sent out our news release all around the country. It said that the Yippies were coming.

This is how the thinking goes. There’s all these longhairs out there, they’re a community. We had been through the civil rights movement, we’d been through a left that is increasingly estranged from how ordinary people live, we walk down the street, the evidence of our eyes is that in every large city and frankly in every small town, there are these new kinds of people, these freaks. And because we care about changing this country and also because we can see that they’re the ones with the energy, and also because we don’t want to be irrelevant, how can we reach these people? And they’re not in one place, they’re everywhere. We are everywhere. How do you reach them? Well you reach them through the artists, the rock and roll people, you reach em by having events that are McLuhan-esque, you reach ‘em by certain iconic images: smoke a joint, the love drug, dancing by the Pentagon, levitating the Pentagon. That’s how you reach ‘em. But how do you let them know? The Republican Party can buy billboards. Hubert Humphrey can buy billboards. We can’t afford time, we’re not a political party except we called ourselves that on New Year’s Day. We’re not organized, we don’t have the reputation, we’re a fringe group. We’re like the vegetarians or the Santa Claus party. How do we get publicity? And so because both Abbie and Jerry, and Paul are clever they began to really engage in this kind of media battleground of essentially forcing their way to media attention.

So, if you’re a reporter in the late ‘60s, a straight reporter, what are they? They’re good copy, they’re those wacky hippies. You can sell the story to your editor. Actually half the time, the editor wants you to go cover the story. They’re gonna do something weird, that Jerry guy, he’s pretty outrageous, he’s kind of clever. And that Abbie guy, he’s funny and he’s kind of clever and then whoever else they’re bringing along. And they’re gonna run a pig for president and they’re gonna do this. …Someone once criticized it by saying there were ten Yippies, as if to say there’s a problem. If you’re a movement aestheticist that’s certainly a problem. On the other hand, isn’t that an accomplishment, cause there’s just a handful of you?

We were probably more into print media. Print in a way is just as powerful because that story about burning money at the stock exchange was the feature story in every paper in the country. That’s where the power was. With TV it just hits and it’s gone! But the newspaper just hangs around and then it comes out a week later in Newsweek. You get a second hit.

You can’t overestimate the effect of acid on the scene. People really were in a surrealistic, absurd sort of way. And you did need a politics that catered to those moods and the outlook that acid was creating. Yippie was definitely a physical manifestation of it. Political people started taking acid and didn’t think that acid was a substitute for politics, but thought that acid had something to say to politics. If you combined politics with the right combination of acid and grass and doing wild stunts and getting involved in the surrealistic edge, it was a marvelous way to live! The civil rights movement, the peace movement, they appealed to idealism and guilt. We appealed to idealism. But we also appealed to fucking off, decadence, taking dope and getting laid and doing weird drawings on your body, and the stuff that’s usually identified with the decline of civilization. And yet we somehow got it all packaged into some kind of romantic, idealist, revolutionary mode. Wow, this is very appealing stuff. And we got it out there, and it had its impact.

I think the Yippies were correct on an abstract level. But my feeling always has been that you don’t overcome real right-wing conservatism by just mocking it; you deepen it, and that you’re playing a very dangerous game which can end in fascism if you go too far without knowing what you’re doing. That finally what you want to do is reach conservatives with arguments rather than just try to blow ‘em out. And so that was always my fundamental argument with Abbie from the word go.

The levitation of the Pentagon was a happening that demystified the authority of the military. The Pentagon was symbolically levitated in people’s minds in the sense that it lost its authority which had been unquestioned and unchallenged until then. But once that notion was circulated in the air and once the kid put his flower in the barrel of the kid looking just like himself but tense and nervous, the authority of the Pentagon psychologically was dissolved.

“No Game,” a 17-minute film about the march on the Pentagon, is the first Newsreel film. Five camera people decided to make a film together, everybody shot whatever they shot during the entire day and then they came back and put a film together. They had 16mm cameras. This is pre-video. They got ends of stock, overdated stock. It’s a short film but it really took a long time, a lot of work was done on it.

The media had covered it enough that people knew about it. It was a really big event, it went into the next day, people were getting beaten up…And the levitation of the Pentagon wasn’t something that happened every day. It wasn’t just another peace demonstration where you went to Washington and returned to your thing.

But the only propaganda that people saw was what was on TV. That was it. And so with Newsreel, we created our own propaganda to try to be in contrast, to support a whole other opinion. We had a real market for films in those days. We had the anti-draft groups and the Black Panthers and SDS and church groups and Another Mother for Peace and Women Against the War—every group you could imagine wanted to have a film to show to their people. Every college. We couldn’t even get enough of the things made. We must have done 50 films in that period of time. The Newsreel films made you feel like you weren’t alone, that there were other people that share your opinion. This was important, especially if you didn’t live in a big city where these things happened.

The military was somewhat stunned by the size and the vehemence of the crowd. The concept of going right to the gates of power and holding such a demonstration was troubling to Army intelligence. It was a symbolic event. It’s sort of like the first simultaneous poem at the Cabaret Voltaire in 1916 that the Dadaists put on in Zurich: it was a symbolic event that had more meaning than the actual event itself. It had a kind of life. And then when we put it on the Fugs record (“Exorcising the Evil Spirits From the Pentagon Oct. 21, 1967” sixth track off 1968 Fugs release Tenderness Junction), a lot of people heard it, it got a lot of radio play. It was a famous thing we did, and people praised us for our audacity, yet the Vietnam War went on for another seven years. So much for “Out, Demons, Out!”

Well, you have to put the first nail in. We were having 800 to 1,000 die every week during the Vietnam war. The human race just becomes numb to atrocity after a while. So, I think these things, crude or exhibitionistic or whatever they may be considered, maybe even bad magic, they did eventually bear fruit. The war eventually ended. I encountered McNamara many many years later—it was just one of those things that he happened to be in the same city, and was approachable. He’s written a book that’s like a softcore apology. I didn’t say my name or anything to him. I just said, “Mr. McNamara, I think it’s very noble of you to have made that concession.”

We did so many things in those days that we never would be able to do now. You wouldn’t even be able to get near the Pentagon today because there’s big gates, the landscaping is all totally different and you can only get to some street where they turn you away.

To do something so symbolic today, you’d have to send 25,000 people to ring the US compound in Baghdad and chant OUT DEMONS OUT.

What happened on that day could never happen now, not in an evolving police state in the guise of national security. It’s never been as dangerous as it’s been now. In all the elections in my lifetime…. The propaganda and the brainwashed American public are very symbiotic, and that’s very scary. You know, the people STILL believe, even though it’s been denied, that Saddam and Osama were lovers. And adopted a Chinese baby. How EASILY they pick up on simple soundbites. You ask people and they just mimic what they’ve heard over and over and over again. “flip-flop, flip-flop, flip-flop.” It’s kind of frightening. I had to fight for the swastika on Bush’s nipple for my album cover. I don’t understand all these people who are undecided. The only ones I know who are undecided are undecided about whether to vote at all, or if Bush wins whether they would stay in the country. I’m too old to emigrate to Canada. They have rules there. If Bush wins, I would stay just to see the guerrilla theater that develops.

There was a lot of creative stuff at the NYC RNC. I watched four hours on C-SPAN of that first Sunday march. It was inspiring. One guy had a poster, it was my favorite, it said, “Let’s Evolve Already” which seemed to cover everything. The first Sunday got a lot of media play but then, it was almost as if the media felt, Oh we’ve covered the demonstrations, now let’s concentrate on Zell Miller.

We little mammals happen to have run into some big dinosaurs. They’re desperate because they know they’re on their way out. So I keep optimistic, because to despair means you’re not going to be as creative, and as inventive, and as resourceful, and as much of a Yippie. You gotta keep showing up, and doing what you do.

How bad does it have to get before you leave? Well Brecht has a poem about that. He says there are some people who are so busy with what they’re doing that even though you come in and tell them that the roof is on fire they won’t even stop. He says it half in despair, because he got out.

I think we had a big influence on what happened during the Republican Convention. I’m sorry that people are feeling despair because I think just the opposite is called for right now. I think George Bush is just as stupid as he was before. I think if there’s one more bad election that the world condemns then we do have a Hitlerian situation. I grew up in New York in the cast of the Threepenny Opera. And I read all about that Weimar period, so it’s always in my mind. That’s who the enemy is. They’re fucking fascists! What do you expect? [laughs] It matters not whether you fight them on your doorstep or around the world, you have to expose them, mock them, irritate them. People are not dumb—they just don’t want to know anymore, they know too much already. But that was going on in the Vietnam war too. People didn’t want to know about it, it was halfway around the world. “Oh, they’ll take care of it, they know more than we do.” But you can’t hide those bodybags forever. After a while you smell the body behind your ass, and it’ll begin to stink.


Some parts of this article were previously published in Steal This Dream by Larry Ratso Sloman (Doubleday), and appear courtesy of the author. For more information on obtaining signed copies of that book, email: abbiehoffmanbook@yahoo.com

The Newsreel collective’s Pentagon March film No Game, and other Newsreel films, are available for purchase from the Roz Payne Archives at newsreel.us

“A Magic Rite…” appears courtesy of Ed Sanders. Ed’s book, America: A History in Verse, Vol. 3, 1962-1970, features his account of the Pentagon March. It is available for $19.95 from thefugs.com

Excerpts from the San Francisco Oracle appear courtesy of Regent Press.

Special thanks to Rani Singh, Peter Relic, Susan Montford & Don Murphy, Gavin Brownrigg, John Leland, Dana Beal, Lane Sarasohn, Jennifer Ballantyne and Peter Hale at the Ginsberg Trust.



Go here to view “No Game,” by the Newsreel collective: https://www.cctv.org/watch-tv/programs/no-game-pentagon-demo-1st-newsreel-film

Below: More stills from the film “Will the Real Norman Mailer Please Stand Up” by Dick Fontaine

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Below: Stills from The Sixth Side of the Pentagon, directed by Chris Marker and François Reichenbach.

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PRESENCE: Lift to Experience's Josh T. Pearson talks about the Passion [Arthur No. 1/Oct 2002]

Originally published in Arthur No. 1 (October 2002)

One Texan Band, Under God
Lift to Experience, the greatest art-rock band since Sigur Ros, talk about the Passion with Jay Babcock

Josh Pearson, the 28-year-old singer-guitarist-songwriter for the extraordinary Denton, Texas-based art-rock band Lift to Experience, works in a world positively drenched in Judeo-Christian allusion and metaphor. So of course he’s conducting a mid-tour interview on a cel phone from a Manhattan pub called The Slaughtered Lamb.

“Yeah, it’s perfect,” he says, with a chuckle. “It’s like, ‘Where do we go? Oh, there’s a spot.’”

Lift to Experience are in New York City on their first-ever extended tour of America. It’s a tour that’s been a long time coming, in support of a debut album—the audacious, double-CD concept record The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads—that itself was a long time in gestation. The songs that made it onto the album were originally composed in 1998, after Pearson had moved out to a ranch to work as a farmhand.

“It wasn’t a career move,” he says. “I just needed a place to be alone and not have to talk to anyone, to have enough time where the good ideas could become great ideas. I was alone and isolated and living in this little barn. It wasn’t glamorous, it was just mindless work: shoveling up the shit and taking the horses out to pasture and feeding them hay. It’s real therapeutic working with horses…”

Soon, the songs came. And with them, the concept for the album. No brief summary of The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads can do it justice, Texas-style or otherwise. The album’s opening, spoken announcement is: “This is the story of three Texas boys busy minding their own business when the Angel of the Lord appeared unto them saying, ‘When the Winston Churchills start firin’ their Winston rifles into the sky form the Lone Star State, drinkin’ their Lone Star beer and smokin’ their Winston cigarettes, know the time is drawin’ nigh when the son shall be lifted on high.’”

Pearson says Texas-Jerusalem is “a concept album about the end of the world, where Texas is the Promised Land—the final battleground in the war between good and evil.” But it’s about more than that. The double-album’s lyrics are full to bustling with freight trains and incoming storms, strange prophets and fallen feathered angels, blood and fool‘s gold. Its protagonists are an ambitious Texas rock band desperate for a smash hit, ready, metaphorically at least, to deal their souls to the devil at Robert Johnson’s crossroads in exchange for material success. But Satan doesn’t show. Instead it’s the Angel of the Lord, announcing “just as was told/Justice will unfold.”

“Don‘t you boys know nothin’?” the angel asks the band, puzzled by the news of imminent holy conflict on Texas soil. “The USA is the center of JerUSAlem.”

Then, the music volcanoes. The rhythm is muscular, spacious, dynamic; the guitar is meditative, gossamer drone parted by noise mass and riff shapes; and the vocals are uniquely full and rich—triumphant yet resigned—sung in a beautiful voice of steady comfort. The lyrics—the metaphors, the literary and contemporary allusions—are relentless and poetic: the simple word ’star’ means, at once, the Lone Star state, the Jewish Star of David, the Christian Star of Bethlehem and, of course, Rock Star. A lot of work was put into this album, obviously. Taking it all in is a dizzying, overwhelming experience.

“It worked out real well with what I wanted to do with the metaphors,” says Pearson. “Texas being the place of last stands, from the Alamo. And Texas being an individual nation in its own, with freedoms that it celebrates that the other states don’t have—it can secede at any time, the only flag allowed to fly the same height as the American flag, that sort of thing, cuz it was a nation before it merged with the States.

“I started writing songs and they were all pointing to a place and then one night, I realized where it was headed. It made itself known. It’s one of those things where your body is just sorta following intuitively. I wouldn’t say you’re channeling it, but you’re trusting in your intuition that it’s headed in the right direction. Sometimes you never know why you’re headed that way, but it works out. All the pieces fall into place.”

* * *

Incredibly, Lift to Experience does the album one better in a live setting.

The first time I saw them was at 7:15 on a Saturday night in a small bar on Sunset Boulevard in Silver Lake. A stained and horned bullskull sat at stage-center; a Texas flag draped over a bass amp. Behind and above them was the bar’s neon-lit sign that read (of course) “Salvation.” As the sun dipped into the smog horizon outside, Lift to Experience began playing to an audience of no more than 100, most of whom were unfamiliar with the band‘s music.

They began suddenly, with almost notice. And they began with a no-vocal, power trio cover of—I shit you not—“Kashmir.” It was intense, immediate, absolutely massive. There was Josh (The Bear) Browning—a bass throbber of burly frame, serious beardage and eyes-closed close concentration; there was Andy Young, a drummer with the build of the sturdiest steakhouse either side of the Rio Grande, leaning forward off the stool Keith Moon-like, switching between mallets, drumsticks and handclaps, his cymbals in perpetual perpendicularity; and there was Josh T. Pearson, a gangly lanky framed, scraggly-haired guitar-vocalist in biker Nudiewear and bracelets, his beaten cowboy hat ringed by thorns.

They seamed straight from “Kashmir” into an instrumental version of their own majestic “Just As Was Told,” without breaking. It was that rare kind of performance that dapples your skin with goosebumps. All the stuff on the album was there: the long builds and graceful a cappella interludes, the churning muscularity and psychedelic overload. We’re talking presence. Continue reading

PEEKING INTO HEAVEN: A conversation with Jason Spaceman (2008)

Peeking Into Heaven

How a brush with death, a haunted guitar and filmmaker Harmony Korine helped Spiritualized’s Jason Spaceman wrestle a new album of narcotic gospel music into being.

Text: Jay Babcock
Photography: Stacy Kranitz

Originally published in Arthur No. 30 (July 2008)

There are some humans who seem specially equipped to not just interact with consciousness-altering drugs, but to thrive from their persistent use. For two decades, English musician Jason Pierce, aka J. Spaceman, seemed to be one of these special specimens. His first band, the succinctly named Spacemen 3, was a triumph of drugs, sound and stubborness—”Taking drugs to make music to take drugs to,” “Fucked up inside,” and “For all the fucked up children of the world,” were bandied-about slogans/mottos; Playing With Fire and The Perfect Prescription were album titles; and a serious, incandescent reconciliation of drone, blues, rock n roll, junkie metaphor and primitive psychedelic sound effects was what they achieved. Formed in 1982 with Pete Kember aka Sonic Boom, with whom, astonishingly, Jason shared a birthdate and birthplace hospital, Spacemen 3 burned both ends brightly (if distantly—they never made it to America, and relatively few people saw them in England) before disintegrating in 1991 after a series of truly despicable actions by Kember.

As Spacemen 3 fell to earth, Pierce launched Spiritualized, releasing a series of studio albums in the ’90s combining an ever-broadening musical palate with an audiophile’s attention to detail and a continuing lyrical preoccupation with the idea of Need—need for companionship, for drugs, for hope, for relief from suffering. 1997’s woozy Ladies and gentlemen we are floating in space, a breakup/lament album of epic musical scope incorporating gospel, noise and sublime bliss-outs, caught the public’s attention unlike any other album Pierce has made before or since, but it should be understood that ALL OF THEM ARE GREAT. Pierce has stuck to his themes, to his minimalist-maximalist vision, and each album—from the coldstar beauty of 1995’s Pure Phase to the orchestral grandeur of 2001’s Let It Come Down to the raw, stoic ache of 2003’s Amazing Grace—offers a variation on that single approach, or to use his metaphor, a single mainline. Live, Spiritualized tend toward the overwhelming; I’ve seen people black out, weep openly, mount each other in joy at shows through the years—if that isn’t evidence of being in the presence of transcendence, I don’t know what is.

When word leaked out in July 2005 that Pierce was in hospital nearing death, most of us assumed that the OD catastrophe (to quote an early Spacemen 3 song) had finally happened. The truth was in some ways scarier—Pierce was down to 110 pounds and taking half-second breaths, with his wife undergoing grief counseling in preparation for the seeming imminent departure—because he had contracted double pneumonia, and a doctor had somehow failed to detect it in an earlier visit.

Almost three years later, on the eve of the release of the new Spiritualized album (punningly titled Songs in A & E—“A & E” is British shorthand for the “Accidents & Emergency” department of a hospital), Arthur meets up with Jason in Williamsburg. Wearing white pants, a white Roky Erickson t-shirt and silver sneakers, Pierce is in good spirits, and with the sunglasses and hair, he seems ageless: it could be 1988, 1998 or 2008. It’s all the same, and yet things have changed. It’s not yet dusk, so Jason insists on Coca-Cola rather than something harder. As we head through the bar to the backyard pebble garden, we pass a large medical poster displaying two human lungs. I gasp. Jason laughs. He’s lived to play with fire another day. Continue reading

"Preserve That Beauty": talking with CHRIS GOSS of MASTERS OF REALITY

Two endangered species, photographed by Stephanie Smith

Chris Goss, a godfather of desert rock, on the return of Masters of Reality
By Jay Babcock

Originally published November 11, 2010 in LAWeekly

Chris Goss, the 52-year-old leader of Masters of Reality, is near tears. A mountain of a baldheaded man, part Aleister Crowley, part Admiral Kurtz, Goss has been involved in some of the most vital rock ‘n’ roll music made in the last two and a half decades. Masters of Reality’s 1988 debut, a masterwork of concise songwriting and classic rock riffage, was produced by Rick Rubin; their second, the lovely Sunrise on the Sufferbus, featured an actual classic rocker, the formidable Cream drummer/crankyman Ginger Baker.

Around that time, Goss discovered a group of teenagers from the California Low Desert called Kyuss, who played a heavy, trippy mix of Black Sabbath and the Misfits. Goss produced Kyuss’ best work, inaugurating a relationship with guitarist Joshua Homme that would continue into the latter’s subsequent Desert Sessions and Queens of the Stone Age projects.

And while there would be other Masters of Reality albums, other production gigs of varying profile and quality — my favorite is Mark Lanegan’s Bubblegum — and an album-and-a-half as Goon Moon, a bizarro-rock collaboration with Marilyn Manson guitarist Twiggy Ramirez (and, on the first EP, underground free-rock drummer Zach Hill), generally speaking, Goss has slipped into legend: one of those musician’s musicians, a guy who knows the occult secrets of the creative process and can get a great drum sound, who somehow, in this devolved age, still feels it.

Which, I think, is why he’s near tears, as we sit on a patio outside his Joshua Tree home. Masters of Reality have a new album out — a beautiful, musically adventurous, warm affair with double-name Pine/Cross Dover — and are about to play a set of West Coast dates. It’s the first time in years that Goss has been able to line everything up: a great album, a happening band, U.S. gigs. But who is there to hear anymore?

“Hard time for art right now,” he says. “Socially, politically, economically — this is awful right now for everyone, this confusion. We’re in the new Dark Ages. It’s very hard and depressing, and you get angry because just so much attention is paid to so much shit. It’s a shit storm. But there’s no reason to stop making music. The market is down? Fuck the market. If you love what you’re doing, you gotta keep doing it.”

Even making record albums, when record stores are going out of business and everything is available for free on the Internet? Isn’t that tactile experience over?

“I love the album format. I’ll never lose that. Never. I don’t want to lose it. I mean, why can’t we keep experiencing it? It’s easy, it’s palatable. I’m so used to buying music in my hand and I can’t get over it. Packaging matters. The visual album-cover connection to the music matters. Remember the gatefolds with the storybooks in them and the pop-up photos and stuff? This kind of thing is a boutique, elitist origami item now, but when I was a kid it was a five-and-dime item. I remember how it felt when I had Jethro Tull’s Passion Play in my hands as a kid, from a poncy Shakespearean Renaissance Faire English hippie guy, knowing that, like, another million kids also were reading this storybook. There was this feeling that so many other people were experiencing what I was experiencing, at the same time. It was like combining that Harry Potter intrigue with the music for the kid of the time. That’s empowering. Those records connected us. …”

The music experience is more than what meets the ear — is it about actual physical contact?

“This is about warmth, and beauty,” Goss says. “Now vocal tuning is everywhere. What a horrid tone. The chipmunk-robot people are here! Great. Lovely. Did you see Shania Twain live at the CMAs this year, maybe last year, with a vocal tuner on her voice when she was singing live? “And! I! Love! YouuuuUUUU!” It puts that thing on the tone at the end, an artificial lengthening of when you land on the note. So the person’s natural phrasing is gone. Why? When Lennon was flat, it was wonderful. When Keith Richards is flat, it’s wonderful. Because it sounds like the guy is sitting right next to you. He hasn’t been chopped to spam before he gets to you.”

People don’t even know what they’re missing.

“I remember going to see Yes in the ’70s, back when people knew the lost art of properly mic-ing an acoustic guitar live. It has to have a low end, so that if you bump the guitar with an elbow, the PA goes boomf. You need that full spectrum of sound — you gotta feel the chest, and the belly, that part of the sound spectrum. Music should come through your chest, your eyes, your belly, that part of the sound spectrum. I think that’s my favorite part.

“There’s some great Israel Regardie Golden Dawn meditation tapes,” he says, describing one of Crowley’s disciples and his mystical society, “where he talks about getting into a state where your body is made out of spiderweb, like mesh. Continue reading


Peppermint Twist: The White Stripes’ blues in the red zone

by Jay Babcock

Originally published December 28, 2000 in LAWeekly

“I don’t want to talk about that. It’s kind of a personal thing.”

Jack White of the White Stripes is on the phone from Detroit, and he’s not giving up the secret. I’ve got a lot of questions for him about the astonishing things I saw him do at Spaceland last week. Things like Dolly Parton’s “Jolene,” done straight-up, gritty and desperate. Slide runs on a weird semi-acoustic guitar during an “In My Time of Dying”-esque number that would make Jimmy Page swoon. Sweet, almost Kinks-y pop-tinged songs with titles like “You’re Pretty Good Looking” and “Apple Blossom.” A monumental cover of the country-blues standard “Death Letter” that was full of spit ’n’ bitterness. Vintage Cramps-like menace riffs slowed down to two-player bombastic blues, topped by gasp-worthy field hollers. This was honest, open-hearted music by someone with preternatural skills and an ambitious range — music that not once lapsed into strutting licksmanship or bonehead cave-stomp. Music as much evocation as invocation, a congeries of train whistles and assembly-line clangor, of the scent of buttercups and bacon grease.

It was a performance so good that I witnessed an act that’s usually beneath members of L.A.’s infamous bet-you-can’t-impress-me audiences: After the show, a dude stood at the foot of the deserted stage, thought for a few seconds, then furtively pocketed one of Jack’s spent guitar picks.

At Spaceland that night, something mighty powerful happened. The kind of thing that can get you thinking that deeper, potent forces are at play. I don’t know if this is the devil’s music, but I do know it’s something well beyond what a red guitar pick can reveal.

The White Stripes are Jack White, 25, on guitar, vocals and piano, and Pippi-tailed sister Meg, 26, on drums. They were born and raised in southwest Detroit in a Catholic family in a Catholic neighborhood. They are the youngest of 10 children. Jack is the seventh son.

Their latest album, De Stijl, was recorded on 8-track in the living room of the house Jack owns — he bought it from his parents when they moved out.

“It’s a wooden house, three floors,” says Jack. “I think it was built in 1911 — my whole life I grew up here. I was a drummer for a long time, from 11 on. About 15 or 16 I picked up the guitar — I used to play guitar with my friends after school. We’d record Bob Dylan songs on 4-tracks. When my parents moved out, they left a piano and I taught myself how to play it. I don’t really know what it is I’m doing. I’ve got this thumb-and-pinky technique and I just base things off of that. I know how I want it to sound.”

When did you start listening to blues music?

“Since I was 18. I’ve always loved blues, especially Son House. A few years ago, I didn’t have a lot of money to go out and buy records, so I only had, like, the major things — Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters. But some friends in Detroit started working at record stores where I could get discounts! So now I have a pretty nice collection. Blind Willie McTell I only got listening to last year. I fell in love with him immediately.”

The records a musician hears can change everything. Robert Johnson listened to phonographs by Leroy Carr and Lonnie Johnson. Son House listened to Charley Patton’s records, he once said, “before I ever started to play or think about trying to play.” House also learned from a Clarksdale musician named Lemon, who had in turn listened to [Dallas] Blind Lemon 78s. Dylan checked out records by “Bukka” White — who had learned from Patton’s records. It doesn’t sound like the White Stripes have been spending much time listening to the wheedle-ee beer-commercial boogie stuff that’s passed for mainstream blues in this country for the last 30 years.

“I’m not too big a fan of electric blues. I don’t like Buddy Guy, Stevie Ray Vaughan and all those guys. I like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, that’s the only electrics that I think are any good. It’s a difficult line to walk, though, being white, and having had the influence of the Yardbirds and Cream and other bands in the ’60s that already did this kind of electric blues in a hard style. At least they knew they wanted to go where the dirt was, and go where that real feeling of soul was.”

White people have been doing blues in the last five years in “alternative” circles, but it always seems to be done with smarmy, ironic cool.

“An easier way for white people to be involved in the blues is to make it like it’s a parody of wild, bluesy antics. All this stuff with raunchiness and swearing and talking about naked girls and all that, I’m really turned off by that kind of stuff. Lyrics are real important to me. I wish music could be more like Cole Porter and different Broadway writers from back in the ’30s and ’40s — more melody and idea instead of just chords and lamenting about girls and cars or drugs. That’s really getting old.”

The album artwork for De Stijl — as well as for the White Stripes’ first album, in fact the band’s whole visual aesthetic — uses the red-white-black color scheme, which is the strongest color combination in alchemy and most of the West’s magical systems, as well as in voodoo.

“I’ve never heard about that one. I’ve heard of red, white and black being the most powerful combination. That peppermint candy, that’s where we got the band name from. I thought we’d call the album De Stijl because [the early 20th-century Dutch De Stijl art movement] broke the art form down to the simplest parts, and they had to abandon it because they couldn’t get it any simpler than it was. It was a question of how simple should the White Stripes be, what’s out of bounds for us, and what are we supposed to be doing with this band?”

The White Stripes do a lot of covers — Son House, Blind Willie McTell, Robert Johnson, Dylan, Joe Primrose’s “St. James Infirmary Blues” — and the new Sub Pop single is all choogle-n-yelp Captain Beefheart. Beefheart did the theme song (“Hard-Working Man”) for the Schrader brothers’ 1978 film Blue Collar, starring Richard Pryor, Yaphet Kotto and Harvey Keitel as beat-down workers at one of Blake’s “dark Satanic mills” — a Detroit auto plant. It’s a lost classic.

“I’ve heard the song from that movie, yeah. For the single we did ‘China Pig’ from Trout Mask Replica as an acoustic blues song, and on ‘Ashtray Heart’ and ‘Party of Special Things To Do’ we used different recording techniques, going straight into the board, with fuzz guitar and bass. That was the first time we’ve ever done that. When a song feels like it needs something, I just wanna have it there.

“We want to start working on our new album, I think it’s gonna be called White Blood Cells. We’d like it to be a double album, ’cause there’s enough material. I’m thinking about doing one disc at a real studio and one disc here at home. Just a bunch of country songs and a lot of piano songs that I’ve written.”

All of which are helpful answers. But the main question. It’s something like what people asked Robert Johnson when he came back from his trip to Arkansas, or what Pete Townshend wondered after he first saw Hendrix: How did Jack White get those sounds onstage?

“There’s a technique I have where I can put my pick in the palm of my hand and pluck with my free fingers. And I can pull it out whenever I want to switch it back to the pick to play loud again. It just came naturally, I dunno . . . ”

And what about those two guitars: the snazzy red-and-white electric one, and that acoustic guitar that looked like it was made out of paper?

“The red one is an Airline, a guitar that Montgomery Ward sold in the ’60s. And the other one is, yeah, it’s . . . um . . . Actually, I don’t want to talk about that. It’s kind of a personal thing.”

God is in the details, said architect Mies van der Rohe. And sometimes something else lurks there too.

BEN CHASNY cover feature interview from Arthur No. 15 (March 2005)

A close encounter with enigmatic folk adventurer BEN CHASNY of Six Organs of Admittance

By Jay Babcock, with photography by Allison Watkins

Originally published in Arthur No. 15 (March 2005), available from The Arthur Store for $5

Last summer Ben Chasny told me about his plans for the next record he would be making under his Six Organs of Admittance monniker. The upcoming album would be a turning point for him: it’d be the first Six Organs recordings done in a studio and his first album for his new label (Chicago indie perennial Drag City), sure, but he also wanted the record to be a creative step forward.
“I told them I want to go in there and have some folky stuff, but I also want to attempt something more freaked-out and free,” he said.

School of the Flower, recorded during those August 2004 sessions with drummer Chris Corsano and released last month, is more freaked out and free than previous Six Organs albums. It’s a front-to-end lovely, beguiling work that alternates simple, emotionally reassuring campfire folk songs with expansive, occasionally ominous instrumental tracks: long, quickly fingerpicked acoustic guitar lines repeat and interlink into infinity, electric guitars toll and squall, drums skitter and bubble underneath. The record is like an owl—it sees and knows all, but is willing to communicate to others only some of what it knows. We are lucky—privileged, really–to hear its voice at all.

The following conversation was constructed from a long phone interview in early January and some follow-up elaboratory emails. Chasny and I had been in touch off and on for the previous year or so by email, mostly hipping each other to recent discoveries: books, records, films. To be honest, Chasny was doing most of the hipping, and I was struck by both his strong passion for other artists’ work and ideas, and the degree of erudition in his reading. His impulse may be towards hermithood and withdrawal, to living alone in the woods, but the reality of his life was more complex: he’s a part of a web of consciousness very much of his own making, one that stretches around the globe and involves many of the planet’s most idiosyncratic, hermetic artists. I soon realized that, just as Timothy Leary had instructed, Chasny had gone and found the others—the Japanese psych-folk group Ghost, the bizarre English goth-folk of Current 93’s David Tibet, the utterly indescribable Sun City Girls, and many more I’d never heard of. And then, in the past whirlwind year, he’d actually toured or recorded with many of them, while, at the same time, continuing to be a full-fledged member of Bay Area combo Comets On Fire, whose 2004 album Blue Cathedral was some kind of acid rock knockout masterpiece.

Here’s how it all happened, in Ben Chasny’s own voice.

Arthur: People often wonder if you’re a practicing Buddhist, because of your band’s name.

Ben Chasny: When I did the first record, I wrote “Six Organs of Admittance” on it because I had just read Road to Heaven by Bill Porter. He goes and explores a mountain range in China, encountering for Buddhist and Taoist hermits. One hermit was such a damn hermit that during the conversation with the author, he stopped and asked, Who’s this Chairman Mao you keep referring to? That’s amazing. And in that book I came across the “six organs” phrase—the five senses and the soul make up the six organs of admittance—and it struck me. I thought it’d look really good on the record cover. I put it out, without saying who was on the record or anything. Later, when I decided to put out more records, I figured I’d just take that name.

Talk a little about where you grew up.

I was born in L.A. My dad was sick of the city, so he moved us way up in the middle of nowhere with redwood trees and chickens and bunnies. It was me, my mom and my sister. I grew up in Elk River Valley, a little south of McKinleyville. My dad was always playing shit on the stereo, pretty good popular stuff from the ‘60s. A lot of good folk too, Nick Drake and stuff, and even some weird experimental records like Tonto’s Expanding Head Band. That was how I lived until I was 13 or 14. Then we moved into the city—well, Eureka’s not really a city, it’s just a little dirty town, or a dirty old town, to give it a Pogues description. After school, there was only ever one other kid around, and I had to hike over a hill and go find him to make tree forts. That’s probably why I’m interested in hermits, because I lived that way for a while. Hermits seem to appear in a lot of the literature that I read; when I come across them, it really sticks out in my head. Like Gaston Bachelard says: “The Hermit’s hut is a theme that needs no variation, for at the slightest mention of it, phenomenological reverberations obliterate all mediocre resonance.”

You talk a lot about writers, quoting them on CD sleeves and such. I know you dig the writing of Peter Lamborn Wilson, aka Hakim Bey.

Yeah. His ideas are not 100% original, but he makes such a beautiful synthesis out of anarchism, surrealism, chaos theory, Sufism and such. He has this essay about how in certain societies, musicians are the scum of the earth. They’re there to serve a purpose, to do music, to give that, sure, but they’re not elevated like stars. And when you think about it, in that situation, only somebody who really believes in the art itself–not about becoming cool or popular or making money–will actually want to make music. So he talks about the importance of art as art, not as buying, not as putting into museums—not that art can’t be sold, but that art in itself is very, very important, just on the basis of giving to somebody else as a gift. It’s not about selling your paintings for $300 at the coffeeshop: it’s for creating this subversive community – that is the way to start looking at this stuff, as subversion.

What did you study in college?

I didn’t go to college. I’m not really that well read or learned—certain books just really grab me, and I become obsessed with certain authors. I have a few people who I like to read who inform my world. And almost everything I listen to or read translates into music in some way, or a reason to not do music. When I play music, that’s just what comes out: it’s the shit of all the books that are the food.

So you’ve been playing acoustic guitar for a long time, since the mid-‘90s. Why not electric guitar? How did you get started down this acid-folk path?

The first three notes of the first Nick Drake record hit pretty heavy, and made me think I should really think about acoustic guitar and put down the electric bass guitar I’d been playing. That opened me up to Leo Kottke, and later, John Fahey. The music just meant more than getting up there and being silly. At the same time I started to get into Fushitusha and Rudolph Grey and KK Null: really noisy electric guitar bands.

Who’s Rudolph Grey?

Rudolph Grey developed action guitar, which is pure extreme playing. It’s not free jazz. I mean, he’s played with free jazz drummers before, and jazz musicians, but I think his music is more accurately described as action guitar. It stems from no-wave and free jazz. HE is the guy who blew my mind. I got this Rudolph Grey record called Mask of Light and I’m thinking I know stuff about music, I’ve heard experimental music, whatever, and I put that on and he just CLEANED the slate. Anything’s possible. It cleared my mind of everything. Then I could listen to folk music, NEW. Any kind of music. Suddenly, Keiji Haino made sense to me. And Leo Kottke as well. Rudolph Grey: no note is more important than any other note. It has a correlation with a lot of kinds of music, but it’s ACTION GUITAR. Now, Keiji Haino is one of my favorite musicans of all time. Pure sound. Pure emotion. Kan Mikami is an absolute hero of mine: he once said that the only true musician is the musician who has been forsaken by God.

Anyways, I didn’t really know how to put together the rock n roll aspect I liked with folk music. So I started listening to acid folk music, which melts the two together: Ghost were a really huge inspiration to me to start playing folk music, and there’s that one Amon Duul record that’s heavily acoustic. Through the Forced Exposure catalog, I found out that PSF [a Japanese record label] had these compilations called Tokyo Flashback, and on the third one, there’s a picture of the guy sitting in what I guessed were the PSF offices, and there’s records stacked to the ceiling, a total mess, with this box in the front that’s labelled “acid folk.” I remember thinking, I don’t know what’s in that box, and I don’t exactly know what it would sound like, but whatever it is, it’s probably really great. I want to make music that you could put in that box.

So I just made what I was looking for. I’m trying to shed it lately, though, trying to go for the folk thing, a more natural song thing. There’s too many traps in trying to do ‘acid folk.’

So it’s more about songwriting at this point?

Kind of. But I’m not even that good of a songwriter. I figure that I’m kind of good at a bunch of stuff. I’m not really that amazing at one thing. I’m kind of good. That’s enough for me. The first step in overcoming one’s mediocrity is to be aware of it. Hopefully at some point I can overcome it. Artists like Tomokawa Kazuki and Kan Mikami play folk music like it is a beautiful knife (and not coincidentally were part of their own political resistance!). I always return to those two when I am in doubt about music. They are fire and a thousand hurricanes and the beautiful mist and the blooming garden. Folk is not some trend for them, but then again, their brand of folk is more volatile than any rock band I can think of. That is something to aspire to: to find the dirt in a melody and a flower in the chaos. I think I am about a million miles away from that. But I hope I can get closer, everyday, to be that strong.

Judging from your facility with the acoustic guitar, I assume you practice a lot…

Not anymore. Ten years ago, when I started getting into acoustic guitar, I was really studying the guitar, learning things about it. I
was only working two days a week. That went on for like three years. Then I realized if I studied any more, this is gonna be bullshit. I’m going to make music that’s not interesting to anybody but guitarists. That’s when I realized I better start working on actually communicating—writing songs and all that. At that time I was playing with this violinist who’d been playing since she was four. We’d duet, that’s where I learned a lot of finger picking techniques. (Finger picking is using your right hand to play the strings and usually using your thumb to play the bass strings in different patterns.) But after that, it wasn’t very interesting to me at all. There are other people out there who are really good guitarists and are doing really good things with guitar, pushing it out. But it just doesn’t interest me. I’d rather become good at playing rocks. I’d like to be a fucking virtuoso of stone playing; knowing the right stones that resonate, how big, where to play them, things like that. That’s much more interesting than guitar. I don’t respect the guitar the way guitarists do. You can ask Ethan. [laughs] Even my new acoustic that I just bought now has a big crack in it from me putting my fist into it.

You know, I was talking with Stephen O’Malley [guitarist in SUNNO))) and Khanate] a few months ago about how there was a time when the acoustic guitar was an instrument of resistance. I don’t mean in the naive ‘60s, when to most people resistance meant putting up a picture of a Hindu god, smoking some grass and singing about getting it together. That wasn’t the real musical resistance of the ‘60s (though the folks singing about getting it together really were resistant to a fucked war. I’m talking about a resistance of culture rather than a resistance of political stupidity and death). The resistance was in feedback and a wall of destruction from rock ‘n’ roll, the very simulacrum of resistance today. But sometime in the late ‘90s, for me anyway, the acoustic guitar was a part of the culture of resistance, even against a resistant culture. Tomokawa Kazuki, Kan Mikami, and Ghost were right up there as my heroes. At the time, everyone was making noise records and noise from Masonna, Solmania, Hijokaidan ruled the underground. A lot of them were great, like the aforementioned and Michael Morley and Rudolph Grey and A.N.P. But like any trend, there became more and more derivative versions of it all. And so even though I loved Bob Banister and the Noggin records, I didn’t want to join the pack, and I knew that my version would just be a derivative of a copy of a notion of wanting acceptance. To resist, I picked up the acoustic guitar. And that’s it! That’s the origin of it all. Now, years later, everything is flowing the other way. It makes me want to make that noise guitar record I always wanted to make, and I will.

And that’s what I love about John Fahey. He was a man of resistance, even against himself. I could give a fuck about his finger picking or melody. I love his writing more than his playing. If you can’t understand that his world was one of absolute hurt and resistance you will never understand any part of how beautiful his music was. He would burn it all, in his memory, again and again. That is a personal resistance.

You seem simultaneously attracted to these resistant individuals, who are almost like modern hermits, and also to the idea of a community, which necessarily involves others.

I’d like to have a place to live where I lived all by myself somewhere, but…I’ve realized I need friends. Hanging out, community, is really good. I don’t think I couldn’t live all by myself, I’d get pretty depressed. All we have is our friends, and giving, and making things as our hope. I may be making records for a few people to listen to, but you better know that there are things going on that are much more important. Like dinners and gatherings against all the bullshit of the world. Like a letter for one. If it doesn’t hold a trace of possibility, it is worthless. That is how I judge what is made, whether for the public or private. Because it is all worthless when it comes down to it. There is only inspiration—which is our analogue for the WANT TO LIVE in Eastern thinking—and there is Nothing, which we will all be faced with at some point. So hold on to your friends and laughter and family and hope. Nothing else exists.

You’ve told me before that you considered your records to be dark records but that you always tried to put a hint of light in there. The new record, though, doesn’t seem as dark to me, overall.

The new one isn’t dark in that way, and that’s why—I think—I was able to explore musical ideas on School of the Flower that I wasn’t able to explore before. Because before I was dealing with emotional ideas and emotions, trying to wrestle with this or that.
When I did Dark Noontide, I was really inspired by Current 93. I was listening to Thunder Perfect Mind pretty religiously for a while. They’re always pegged as gothic, especially cuz [Current 93’s] David Tibet’s earlier life is influenced by Crowley, which he has totally renounced since then… Thunder Perfect Mind is the record where he started talking about more personal things. When I first heard it, I was really disappointed. His delivery was a little too dramatic for me at the time. I didn’t get into it for a full year. Then I went through a super bad space where I quit my job, because I really couldn’t communicate, I had this really bad bout of depression, and Thunder Perfect Mind was pretty much the only kind of music I could listen to for some reason…I kind of just suddenly got it. It was as if his vocals where a veil to keep the listener away, and once the veil was lifted, his vocals became AMAZING to me. To me, it’s not about magic or the gothic side or anything that a lot of people peg him as, but like, inside of all of that, inside of the darkest time, he’s always looking for some little fraction of light. So when I started listening to it I felt pretty close to that.

About the same time I started getting into Current 93, I made the pinnacle of the crazy, emotional records that I’ve done is Nightly Trembling. It’s called that because that’s what was happening. Originally it came out in an edition of 33, just on lathe cut. (It was recently reissued on Time-Lag Records. We only did 500 of them. Eventually it’ll be available.) The reasoning was… You know how when you have to take a piss really bad while driving a car, your consciousness focuses on one point, and you’re not aware of much else? It’s the same thing when you’re depressed: your consciousness focuses on one point and it becomes a feedback loop, and it’s really hard to get out of that. Which is really similar to what Bruce Kapferer talks about in Feast of the Sorcerer, which is about Sri Lankan Buddhist sorcery and anti-sorcery. When you’re under a sorcery attack, you get this feedback loop that you can’t get out of. So, they have these anti-sorcery rites that allow people to break out in certain ways. The ritual is called a Suniyama and it encompasses theater and music as well as the destruction and exhaustion of wealth, much like a potlatch. I thought that was what I needed to do. So I made this record. It was based on that book, and also on Marcel Mauss’ The Gift, which is about potlatches: you know how certain cultures in the South Pacific islands, instead of warring, they give gifts! That idea—the power of the gift—and Hakim Bey is always talking about that—this project was totally based on all that. I made 33 of these records and I handpainted all of them. I got this beautiful paper from China. Every one had handwritten liner notes. The same liner notes, but on a whole page. Wrote out all the liner notes, painted them, and then just gave every single one of them away to different points that I knew where people were: one in Australia, Germany, London, New Zealand. If I had had friends at the poles I would have sent them there! The idea was to set up this web of consciousness around the world in order to reverse my own consciousness loop. And that’s a kind of reverse—well, Anthony Braxton talks about creating webs of consciousness around the world. For good, not for your own personal bullshit like I was doing. He talks about doing particular concerts at particular places to create a web of consciousness. So I did sort of a reverse Anthony Braxton-style thing. But what happened was, it helped!

There’s a certain person that kind of triggered all of this. I wasn’t talking to them at the time—now we’re best friends—but years later, they told me that they’d figured out that at that exact same time that record was released, they’d actually suffered a pretty bad, pretty weird breakdown: they’d started suffering from all the same things I was suffering from—couldn’t go out of the house, couldn’t talk to anybody, bed-ridden, they had to go into therapy for a while. Maybe that’s coincidence, I don’t know. [laughs] It was pretty weird shit. I’m never gonna do that again. That’s one of the reasons I reissued it was to make those records a lot less powerful – reverse a lot of the power. That project was definitely the pinnacle of the depression.

But I’ve been feeling really good lately. Between that and going into a studio, I was able to do stuff that I’ve always wanted to do on the new album. Like that long song.

Still, some things stay the same for Six Organs, live: you always play solo acoustic guitar…

That’s going to change. The new record has more elecric guitar. Live, I want to loop the acoustic guitar and then pick up the electric guitar.

And you’ve always sat down.

That might change too! Cuz my girlfriend just got me a strap for my acoustic guitar…

Next thing you’ll have a harmonica set-up like Dylan…

The strap and the acoustic guitar is a tricky thing, because you could end up looking like Ani di Franco—or you could end up looking like Neil Young. It’s tricky. I usually prefer to sit so people can’t see me at all.

Live it seems like you’re on a tightrope… I can never tell what you’re going to do next.

I rarely go up with a setlist. I just don’t want it to get boring. I come up with setlists if I know there’s going to be a lot of people out there, and I want a safety net, you know? But I think things are gonna change a little bit. I want it to be interesting for me, too—I’ve always been looking at performance from an improvisor’s point of view. It could fail, but when it’s great, it’s amazing—you really break through something, you really feel something you wouldn’t’ve done if you knew exactly what was happening. Mark Twain, when he had to go out on the lecture circuit, he just hated it. He only did it to make money. He was still great, just because his natural stuff was good, but he wasn’t trying to improvise, to search inside of himself. The time for that was sitting at the table, writing something. I don’t know. I’m not the most emotionally stable person, so I can get really bummed out onstage. Somewhere down South I just broke down and had this attack. That was my most shameful show, ever. Sometimes weird things happen when I play. I stopped playing and I told the audience that what they’d heard was NOTHING, it was NO GOOD. Just preaching nihilism and death. It was just horrible. Sometimes things get ahold of me. This year I’ve realized that there are shadows. Sometimes the shadows are really intense, they can take up a lot of space. Sometimes I’m fighting shadows… Sometimes the room is filled with shadows. I can’t describe it, really. Once when I played in L.A., I don’t mean to be all hocus pocus, but really, I was playing and there was only a few people there and I swear to God there were weird shadow entities, non-friendly shadows there, and I started to get super-freaked out.

Are you able to meditate at all?

I don’t meditate — I drink. [laughs] But, by the time I was playing in San Francisco, on that tour last year with Ghost, I wasn’t agitated at all. Everything was so peaceful and quiet. I wasn’t stomping. Ghost have this internal peace within them. I would talk to Batoh after shows and he would ask me why I was so agitated on stage [laughs], he’d tell me that I should try and calm down. He taught me a lot about being peaceful onstage. Then of course a week after that I played with Sun City Girls and they just destroyed all of that. I’d see them just TAKE it. It was THEIR stage. You’re gonna have a good time, and if not, man, you’re gonna get fucked with. They taught me that it’s war on stage. Which I knew it was. [laughs] Once Ghost left the country, I felt like my parents had gone and I could party it up. But of course Sun City Girls have a kind of self-confidence that I’m lacking.

How’s it going playing with Comets On Fire? That allows you to do something different.

It’s hard to divide my time between Six Organs and Comets. If I had my way I’d just tour with both of them, non-stop. We’re all strong personalities, we don’t write a whole lot of music. We’d rather jam out bar band songs and drink beers.

You were working on a free-noise thing with Noel Harmonson thing the other day.

It’s fun to do that. It’s really important. It’s important to be aware of sound as music, rather than music as a nominal and deterministic exercise or science. For me anyway. All things must be possible, at all times. Otherwise, what magic could music even hold? If I want a bunch of laws and rules, I’ll go stand in line at the Oakland DMV! But…I think we should have some sort of disclaimer here to let the folks know that I don’t think anything I say has really much of an importance to anyone. It’s just bullshit. But at least I recognize that. During the day I like to listen to Sun Ra, drink coffee and read about chaos linguistics. And at night I get drunk, and start raging and getting pissed off. And listen to Tomokawa Kazuki or Townes Van Zandt. For the last couple of years, Townes Van Zandt, he’s just my buddy. He feels like my brother. I don’t have a brother, but… I mean, he got really depressed. You listen to his studio records—they’re super-happy! But he was dealing with a lot of stuff. On a music level I like him because, even today, I’ve listened to this one song for years, and just today I figured out these two lines and how fucking brilliant they were “mother was a golden girl, slit her throat just to get her pearls, cast myself into a world, before a bunch of swine” from “Dollar Bill Blues”—and they’d just passed me by because he speaks this language that isn’t flowery. He’s speaking everyday language but then a couple years later, you go, Holy fuck I get it, I can’t believe he put those two words together. He’s absolutely brilliant—anyone can listen to him and get more and more into him. Anytime I hear any music, I’m thinking about it in terms of, Oh that’s a good idea, that’s a bad idea, how does this relate to anything I do. Townes is the only person where I never, ever do that. He’s the only musician I just listen to.

It’s like listening to my brother talk.

Attention: current Arthur Magazine subscribers

It’s been almost 20 months since Arthur went on print hiatus, and I’m still without the necessary $$$ to bring the magazine back in print. At the same time, I’m not putting Arthur/me into bankruptcy, and am actively working to resolve my/Arthur’s outstanding debts. Which includes subscriptions. If you are owed issues of Arthur as a subscriber, please be in touch with me directly via jay at arthurmag dot com. I am settling balances with credit at the Arthur Store, or cash back, as quickly as I can. Thanks for your patience as I work through Arthur’s debts, which remain serious. (If you wish to help, tax-deductible donations may be made via Arthur’s fiscal sponsor, Fractured Atlas. Click here.)

All best,

Jay Babcock
Arthur Magazine