Originally published in Arthur No. 34 (April 2013)….
DIAGRAMMING THE DIVINE SPARK Is there a way to examine the nature of existence at its very foundation? Esoteric mapmaker DAVID CHAIM SMITH say yes—but there’s a price. by Jay Babcock
I first encountered David Chaim Smith’s remarkable, bewildering work through Pam Grossman’s Phantasmaphile newsletter, a daily email bulletin spotlighting a contemporary or historic personage up to something witchy and beautiful, usually in the visual arts. Smith’s work was particularly striking in its unusual combination of diagrammatic composition, simple media (pencil!?!) and unapologetically rarefied Kabbalistic-Gnostic content. Generally that would be more than enough to warrant further investigation, but it was the work’s difficult-to-grok provenance that intrigued me the most: these pieces looked like plates that could have been included in Alexander Roob’s Taschen compendium of dazzling Medieval alchemical artwork, The Hermetic Museum (alternative title, courtesy of Adam Egypt Mortimer: The Original Face Melter Times A Thousand). They seemed like the kind of work that’s usually brought to light by accident, decades after the a recluse’s death or disappearance (or committal to a mental ward): strange, highly charged devotional work rescued from a trashbin, the details of its artist’s life and practice gone to dust, Iain Sinclair on the case.
And yet, the author of these stupefying drawings is alive and well—David Chaim Smith [above] is a contemporary New York artist with an MFA, a publisher and (until recently) a gallery. Despite living a semi-monastic life, Smith seems eager to engage with a curious public. He has a website. He’s on Facebook. Dig a little and you’ll find a few occultist-oriented podcast interviews and accounts of public talks he’s given in the last few years around the publication of his two books—2010’s esoteric exegesis The Kabbalistic Mirror of Genesis: Commentary on Genesis 1-3 (Daat Press) and 2012’s massive art/text collection The Sacrificial Universe (Fulgur)—and a 2010 gallery show. And now, here he is on the other end of the telephone line in late January, just days after completing his new book, Blazing Dew of Stars, set for publication this springOctober 23, 2013 by Fulgur. A surprisingly garrulous fellow, Smith spoke frankly about who he is, where he comes from and how his day-to-day life and spiritual practice generates such artwork. What follows is a condensed version of our conversation.
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.
OUT, DEMONS, OUT!
On October 21, 1967, the Pentagon came under a most unconventional assault.
An oral history by Larry “Ratso” Sloman, Michael Simmons and Jay Babcock
* * *
INTRODUCTION BY MICHAEL SIMMONS 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’m fascinated by Kenneth Anger’s use of color and his ability to transform a film into a three-dimensional texture, a fabric of images in movement,” explained Angela Missoni. This is how she introduced her decision to entrust the Missoni F/W 2011 campaign to one of America’s most famous authors and directors of avant-garde cinema.
Anger — a hyperactive octogenarian who loves working in the wee hours of the night and at dawn using sophisticated instruments such as the RED digital camera that has the characteristics of a classic 35 mm camera – flew in from Los Angeles to film the campaign in Sumirago that involved all the members of the great Missoni family. They are the stars of this campaign that was conceived as a series of superimposed and overlapping portraits. Vogue.it presents a preview of this film: a vibrant and impalpable evocation of unique patterns, patchwork motifs, stitches, knits, and styles, it is a symbolic weave as ephemeral as a dream.
“The images of Juergen Teller for the S/S 2010 campaign reflected and portrayed our everyday family life,” said Angela. “Kenneth Anger’s experimental approach and his narrative style, on the other hand, transformed the new campaign into a sublimation of our world.” The style of this ad campaign that verges on art clearly reveals the taste of this Californian filmmaker, who directed the films “Fireworks”, “Puce Moment” and “Scorpio Rising”, wrote successful books such as “Hollywood Babylon” dedicated to the secrets, manias, perversions and scandals of early Hollywood film stars, and is a favorite of young fans. Included in the 2006 edition of the Whitney Biennial of New York, he currently works with some of the most important international galleries of contemporary art and enjoys much popularity today.
A man of few words, this fascinating former actor who still takes care of his appearance first filmed the settings for his film “Missoni”: mostly locations near bodies of water in the Sumirago countryside and part of Rosita and Ottavio’s garden. For the indoor sequences, he built a set in the Council Room of the Sumirago Town Hall, a basement room with a vaulted ceiling. The mood of the film and the poses and movements of Margherita, Jennifer, Angela, Rosita, Ottavio, Ottavio Jr. and all other family members are reminiscent of Sergei Parajanov’s “The Color of Pomegranates”, a 1968 film that inspired Anger to create his Chinese box-style storyboard.
The intertwining and blending of moods, micro-plots, and situations make his “Missoni” a dream of a film within a film, a surreal dreamy interaction of spaces, faces, gestures, clothes, and costumes with different ages and narrative tempos. “Before he left,” said Angela, “he gave my mother, with whom he became fast friends, a film award he recently received.” To the question, “What did he leave you?” she answered with her usual humor, “Twenty-five wigs!” In Anger’s film, the wigs appear in a minimum part and are worn by Margherita, the protagonist with Jennifer of a project that will enchant, document, but not illustrate fashion.
The film expresses Missoni’s sophisticated choice and desire to amplify the role of images, making them a communication means and not an end, instruments for personal forms of appropriation and interpretation.
Sound Methods and Weird Channels
How producer and Masters of Reality main man Chris Goss got his groove
by Jay Babcock
Originally published August 26, 2004 in the LAWeekly
Over a recent leisurely afternoon lunch at Silver Lake’s Astro Family restaurant, musician/producer Chris Goss is in muse-aloud mode.
“Music usually makes its way into the hands that want it,” he says quietly. “Eventually, if you’re meant to have it, it’ll get to you, through weird channels that you’d never expect.”
I’m catching up with Goss at an interesting point in his career. The night before, he was in Studio City, contributing work to the new Queens of the Stone Age album at the request of longtime friend Joshua Homme, with whom Goss has collaborated since taking Homme’s desert-rock teenagers Kyuss under his producer’s protective wing in 1992. (Goss was featured on last year’s Homme-supervised The Desert Sessions Volume 9 & 10 in a duet with PJ Harvey on the desolate “There Will Never Be a Better Time.”) QOTSA co-vocalist Mark Lanegan’s new solo album, Bubblegum, which Goss co-produced and performs on, is finally out. Goss just finished producing the new album from buzzed-up Britfreaks the Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster, and is itching to start writing songs in a new project called Sno-Balls [eventually renamed Goon Moon—Ed.], with ex–Marilyn Manson bassist Twiggy Ramirez and Hella drummer Zach Hill. And his old band, Masters of Reality, has a new album out.
Well, in Europe, anyway. Like the last three Masters albums, Give Us Barabbas has no American distribution and is available only as an import at specialty stores on- and offline. And Barabbas, technically credited to “Masters of Reality/Chris Goss,” is not really a “new” album, it’s a collection of Goss-penned songs from the last 20 years that have gone previously unreleased in studio form. Why many of these songs are only appearing now is a long, serendipitous story involving Rick Rubin, band turnover, a grunge-choked ’90s marketplace inhospitable to the Masters’ varied classic rock sound and non-pretty-boy look, an impasse with a major record label, a “lost” album and Goss’ busy career as a producer. Cautionary and instructional as that tale may be, it is ultimately less important than the songs themselves: gems like the windswept, string-laden “The Ballad of Jody Frosty,” the campfire sing-along “I Walk Beside Your Love,” the majestic chorale “Still on the Hill,” the country-blues chantey “Bela Alef Rose,” the gorgeous epic “Jindalee Jindalie.” Any collection spanning two decades inevitably carries with it the air of biography, and Barabbas is certainly that; but it also feels like a secret monograph—a collection of timeless scrolls from a legendary Master that will be passed among acolytes and disseminated to those who are meant to hear it.
“Whatever will be, will be,” says Goss, with a smile.
Special Live Event –“Return to the Pleasure Dome”, a benefit concert event for Anthology Film Archives with a Life Achievement Honor for Kenneth Anger. Featuring Technicolor Skull (Kenneth Anger and Brian Butler), Lou Reed, Sonic Youth, The Virgins, Moby & other special guests, Wednesday, May 19 at the Hiro Ballroom, NYC
Benefit Ticket Options:
$99 – Mezzanine tickets available through Ticketweb!!!
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For further questions, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 646-450-3247.
From Technicolor Skull’s mySpace page: “Technicolor Skull is Kenneth Anger (pictured above) and Brian Butler’s magick ritual of light and sound in the context of a live performance. Along with Brian Butler on guitar and electronic instruments, Anger performs on the Theremin while his psychedelic Technicolor Skull images are projected.”
The following is a brief excerpt from “Out! Demons Out!: An Oral History of the 1967 Exorcism of the Pentagon and the Birth of Yippie!,” a 16,500-word piece in Arthur No. 13 (cover by John Coulthart above—that’s Ken’s face in red), available for $6 postpaid from the Arthur Store…
PAUL KRASSNER: 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.
ROZ PAYNE: 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.
KENNETH ANGER: There were a bunch of idiots there. I didn’t consider myself an idiot, but maybe other people would. [laughs] 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.
ALLEN GINSBERG: 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.
ED SANDERS: 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.
KENNETH ANGER: 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.
ED SANDERS: 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 Anger 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.
KENNETH ANGER: 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.
Another freeform blast set off from a location hidden deep inside the Newtown Radio labyrinth…sit back and allow the soundwaves to reverberate over you as the Arthur Radio team busies itself with scooping musical gems out of the debris.
Arthur is proud to present scans of essential documents produced by and about the San Francisco Diggers, who were in many ways the epicentral actors in the Haight-Ashbury during the epic, wildly imaginative period from late ’66 through ’67. The Diggers’ ideas and activities are essential counter-cultural history, sure, but they are also especially relevant to the current era, for reasons that should be obvious to the gentle Arthur reader.
Most of the documents that we are presenting are broadsides originally published on a Gestetner machine owned and operated in the Haight by the novelist/poet Chester Anderson and his protege/sidekick Claude Hayward, who used the name “Communication Company,” or more commonly, “Com/Co.” According to Claude, these broadsides were then “handed out on the street, page by page, super hot media, because the reader trusted the source, which was another freaky looking hippie who had handed it to him/her.”
This particular Com/Co document is a flyer/poster/broadside by a pre-fame Robert Crumb advertising BEDROCK ONE, a March 5, 1967 event organized by Anderson himself. Check out that lineup, a real who’s who of the contemporary Haight-Ashbury arts/life scene: the Steve Miller Band, the Orkustra (the band led by guitarist Bobby Beausoleil, who would later be associated with both Kenneth Anger and Charles Manson), poet Richard Brautigan, the infamous street agitators San Francisco Mime Troupe, the San Francisco League for Sexual Freedom, the Lysergic Power & Light Company, and more.
And, courtesy photojournalist R.A. Pleuger, here are a few scenes from the Hollywood Forever cemetery last Sunday night during Cinespia’s screening of vintage Kenneth Anger films. This first pic is of a huge, magnificently lit tomb, through which you can see a bit of the projection of “Rabbit’s Moon”…