Thursday, March 25, 2010

Lucifer Rising - Kenneth Anger (1973)

The Puharich Nexus Part 1: transmitter/reciever

A lot of strange things happened in the year of 1947. On June 21st, seaman Harold A. Dahl allegedly witnessed six "doughnut shaped" objects flying in formation near Maury Island. Three days later, business man and pilot Kenneth Arnold saw nine crescent-shaped objects flying in a chain near Mount Rainer, Washington. One genius stroke of journalistic short-hand later, and the flying saucer had successfully invaded the collective unconscious. Whatever its ultimate nature, the saucer was frenetically busy in America that summer, as though scattering in fast-forward the fragments of a guerrilla mythology for future generations to re-assemble. On or about July 8, whatever crashed down at Roswell, crashed down at Roswell. One thing is particularly intriguing about the UFO mythology: all its significant elements emerged together in a condensed time frame of roughly 20 days. Maury Island would come to be regarded as the first appearance of Men in Black; the Arnold sighting inadvertently cast the UFO's iconic image in the populuxe architectural forms of the Atomic Age; and the Roswell Incident bestowed to distant futurity the narrative of crashed saucer retrieval and government cover-up. In the post-Watergate era, this splicing of alien DNA with terrestrial conspiracy theory would explode into a cottage industry of alleged insiders, whistle-blowers, and Disclosure lobby groups/cults.

Also in 1947: on July 24, Harry S. Truman signs the National Security Act, radically overhauling the National Security Apparatus, and giving birth to the CIA. (That this should occur within weeks of Roswell is almost certainly coincidental, but a fun fact to conjure with nevertheless. The UFO as a mythical object emerges coeval with two cultural forces: the technological, futurist wunderlust of the postwar period, and the birth of the National Security State in its fully compartmentalised, bureaucratic modern form. Perhaps that is why the Men in Black where there from the get-go.) In the spring of that year, two Bedouin goat-herds who went searching the cliffs along the Dead Sea for a lost goat (or for hidden treasure, depending on which story you believe) chance upon a cave containing jars filled with manuscripts. Fragments of a much older guerrilla mythology: over the next 9 nine years, some 900 manuscripts will be found in eleven caves, including the oldest known surviving Biblical texts. (The history of the Dead Sea scrolls is long and tangled, but interestingly they were advertised for sale in the Wall Street Journal of June 1, 1954. The copy reads dryly that the scrolls would be "an ideal gift for a educational or religious institution by an individual or group".) On December 1, 1947, the notorious British occultist Aleister Crowley passes away in Netherwood, a boarding house in Hastings, apparently of a respiratory infection. Many years previously, Crowley's doctor prescribed morphine for his asthma, and the Great Beast had been addicted to heroin every since. Interestingly, he and his doctor died within 24 hours of each other. Newspapers suggest a lurid, albeit admirably logical hypothesis: the doctor refused to continue Crowley's opium prescription, and the indignant Magus put a curse on him. Alleged last words include Sometimes I hate myself and I'm perplexed, both suggesting a certain degree of self-absorption.

Crowley: My Work Here is Done.

Also in 1947: two future science fiction authors, both with K as a middle initial, graduate from the same high school. They are Philip K. Dick and Ursula K. Le Guin. Also graduating in '47, this time from the Northwestern University School of Medicine, is Andrija Puharich, the man Ira Einhorn would later call "the great psychic circus master of the century." In the subterranean history of the 20th century, Puharich is an elusive prodigy. Before his death in 1995, he would attain the status of a master hypnotist, reach the level of a full "kahuna" in the practise of Hawaiian shamanism, and establish 50 technological patents, mostly in the area of hearing aids. Like all gurus, he would lead an apparently charmed life, facilitated at all times by a shadowy network of benefactors and financiers. A year after graduating, he established the Round Table Foundation, a laboratory to study the physio-chemical basis of paranormal phenomenon. The lab was situated in a barn in Glen Cove, Maine. (This image reminds me, for some reason, of Walter Bishop's basement laboratory in Fringe.)

Puharich's interests in electroacoustic technology and parapsychology were inextricably connected. While in college he developed a theory of nerve conduction; according to Terry Milner, it stated that "the neuron units radiate and receive waves of energy which he calculated to be in the ultrashortwave bands below infrared and above the radar spectrum. Therefore the basic nerve units - neurons - are a certain type of radio receiver-transmitter.” This work brought Puharich to the attention of a variety of scientists, most notably a notorious Spanish professor of physiology named Jose Manuel Rodriguez Delgado.

(Here we must make a slight digression. Jose Delgado's primary research interests lay in the degree to which electrical signals could be used to provoke specific responses in the brain. To this end, he invented the stimoceiver, a miniature depth electrode which could receive and transmit electronic signals over the FM range, as well as stimulating brain waves and monitoring EEG. Disturbingly, an implanted stimoceiver could stimulate emotions and control behaviour in animal and human brains. The good doctor carried out his experiments on cats, monkeys, chimpanzees, gibbons, and latterly human beings. Of one experiment involving mental patients, he observed: "Radio stimulation of different points in the amygdala and hippocampus in the four patients produced a variety of effects, including pleasant sensations, elation, deep, thoughtful concentration, odd feelings, super relaxation, colored visions, and other responses." In one extraordinary feat of showmanship in the Spanish city of Cordoba, Delgado got into the ring with a raging bull which had been surgically implanted with the stimoceiver. Using a remote control in his right hand, he was able to subdue the bull, and stop it its tracks. Delgado's experiments seem to have been inspired by a utopian/dystopian desire to make the world a better place. In his own words, “The individual may think that the most important reality is his own existence, but this is only his personal point of view. This lacks historical perspective. Man does not have the right to develop his own mind. This kind of liberal orientation has great appeal. We must electronically control the brain. Someday armies and generals will be controlled by electric stimulation of the brain.” In 1970, the New York Times Magazine hailed him as "the impassioned prophet of a new psychocivilized society whose members would influence and alter their own brain functions." Like virtually everybody else you will encounter in the Puharich Nexus, Delgado may or may not have been involved in covert CIA mind control experiments.)

Man versus Brute Nature, in the Psychocivilized Age.

Puharich's primary interest as a college student lay in medicine. In this capacity he carried out research into digatoid drugs, an endeavour which was sponsored, almost inevitably, by Sandoz Chemical Works. (Sandoz has always struck me as a particularly evocative name for the world's first mass producer of LSD; it brings to mind The Wizard of Oz, to say nothing of John Boorman's no doubt lysergically channeled sci-fi opus Zardoz.) In reality, however, Puharich's real passion lay in an exotic extension of his theory of nerve conduction: in the notion of the brain itself as something akin to a radio transmitter-receiver. This was what fuelled the hothouse experimental atmosphere of the Round Table Foundation, and ultimately lead Pucharich to pioneer and pre-empt many of the most significant esoteric preoccupations of the sixties counter-culture and subsequent New Age Movement: ancient Egypt, psychedelic mushrooms, and channelled extraterrestrial communication. In roughly that order. It all seemed to come together in June 1954, when Harry Stone, one of the Foundation's star psychics, went into a deep trance, and began to draw hieroglyphics, and talk excitedly about an underground chamber where a statue of a dog-headed man came to life. He also spoke of a ritualistic drug that separated consciousness from the body, and allowed it to sojourn briefly in the realm of spirits and gods. By '54, the Round Table was already a deeply strange place: various psychics, generals, and even Aldous Huxley had passed through its doors. The sacred mushroom was already a pet obsession of Puharich, and perhaps more remarkably, the gods of ancient Egypt had already been in touch, via a different psychic....

More from the Puharich Nexus shortly.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Buck Rogers in the Notional 25th Centuries of the Thirties and the Seventies.

Actor Gil Gerard, Jumpsuit, Raygun. As ever, the future leaves little to the anatomical imagination.

Buck Rogers was born in a 1928 novella published by Amazing Stories, and starred in many comic strip and radio serial adventures throughout the 30s and 40s. His first celluloid outing came in 1933, in the prodigious oddity An Interplanetary Battle with the Tiger Men of Mars. Premiered at the Chicago World Fair of 33/34, this short adventure's stilted performances and lo-fi space battle evoke more of the ambiance of Eraserhead than Stars Wars. Dr. Huer, billed as the "greatest scientist and inventor of the 25th Century", displays an extraordinary naivety in his admission "I never expected those fierce Tiger Men of Mars to attack Earth", as though any other course of action were realistically available to fierce Tiger Men emanating from Mars. The logic of the War Arrow remains a mystery for the ages.

Meanwhile, in 1979, a peculiar clash of 50's jukebox bravado, 80's space disco, and notional 25th Century aesthetics informs this indescribably wonderful scene from the pilot of the television series most of us remember. I can't embed this one, but youtube has it here, and it's well worth a look.

Buck Rogers seems to have been far more subversive than I remember; check out this almost Burning Man-like guest appearance by space disco pioneers Andromeda:

Finally, in one last subversive clip, Buck, like a latter day Lenny Bruce, playfully pushes the boundaries of linguistic propriety:

Monday, March 8, 2010

I Am the Eggman: The Geller/Lennon UFO Connection.

I've always tended to regard Uri Geller as little more than a tacky anachronism - a long tarnished icon from the dusty attic of 1970's paranormal fads and obsessions. While that judgement stands for the moment, I have to admit that Uri's story is a strange kettle of fish indeed. Whatever the true nature of his relationship to metal - whether or not some form of congress was really attained betwixt his mind and the internal constitution of watches and spoons - there is no doubt that Uri had his psychokinetic fingers in more than a few celebrity/paranormal pies down through the years, right down to his more recent friendship with the most puzzling archetype of all: the Prince of Pop. However, perhaps the most intriguing of these tales of celebrity surrealism involves John Lennon and alien abduction.

In the early seventies, John Lennon's head was no doubt in a strange place. The Beatles, like the decade with which they are indelibly associated, were a long, strange trip into unfamiliar territories: a prolonged experiment in beat music, global mass media, and psychedelic boundary-pushing. Once dubbed "evolutionary mutants" by Timothy Leary, the Beatles had simultaneously steered, and been swept away by the cultural stream that carried a generation from monochrome to colour, and from colour into the absurdist hyperspace animations of Yellow Submarine. Fittingly, the Beatles endured an acrimonious split in 1970; with the mercurial bloom of their youth departing, the supermen of the Fab Era came crashing down to earth. A harsher era loomed ahead, a hang-over decade in which the adventurous hedonism of the sixties would be stripped of all its idealistic and ideological trimming, and reduced to the mechanical pursuit of sensation, with the space men of the Golden Age lost in a funk of middle-aged torpor and sleaze. This is a decade best evoked by the amphetamine horrors of PKD's A Scanner Darkly, by Lester Bang's melancholy ruminations on the death of affect that lay at the end of all tomorrow's parties, and by what is perhaps the greatest betrayal of noble aspiration since the Terror that followed the French Revolution: the emergence of the Eagles. "Don't let me down" the Beatles had sang poignantly on the rooftop of the Apple building in January 1969, but everybody knew the fix was already in. All the gurus were settling into the clownish nightclub routines that would see them through the next decade, into a nostalgic performance piece of what they had once represented.

As the most intelligent, acerbic, and deeply neurotic member of the Beatles, Lennon's progress into the seventies was particularly rocky. Following the split in '70, Lennon and Yoko Ono underwent Primal Therapy under Professor Arthur Janov in Los Angeles. (Primal therapy has been derided as New Age pseudo-science by the psychiatric mainstream for years. Nevertheless, it has its advocates; Darth Vader actor James Earl Jones claimed that it cured him both of smoking and haemorrhoids. The actress Dyan Cannon was so impressed with her experience of PT that she had a special scream room built into her house in West Hollywood.)

Many of Lennon's songs from this period, including the portentously titled Isolation, God, and Mother, reflect Lennon's struggle to come to grips with his identity. Along with the soul-searching, there was also a deep fog of paranoia, some of which was related to the toxic headspace of intense celebrity and drug use, and some that had a firmer basis in reality. In 1971, Lennon moved to New York, and commenced a long struggle to secure a Green Card. The move had been duly noted by American Beatle fans, and by somebody who almost certainly wasn't a fan of the Fab Four: Mr J Edgar Hoover. In 1971, the FBI opened a file on Lennon, and began questioning M15 about his possible affiliation to radical underground groups. Obviously, singing songs like All You Need is Love and Give Peace a Chance was no way to endear yourself to the Nixon Administration.

Lennon, Leary, Ono: Enemies of the Silent Majority.

Wherever we witness the machinations of the US National Security State at work, we can be certain that its enigmatic companion/antagonist the UFO is not far away. On the 23rd of August, 1974, John Lennon was relaxing in his New York apartment with his assistant/lover May Pang. (The significance of the date need scarcely be pointed out to anybody which has gotten thus far in this narrative.) They had ordered pizza; Pang was in the bathroom, and Lennon went out on the terrace. Suddenly, Lennon started screaming at his companion to come outside immediately. According to Pang, "As I walked out onto the terrace, my eye caught this large, circular object coming towards us. It was shaped like a flattened cone, and on top was a large, brilliant red light, not pulsating as on any of the aircraft we'd see heading for a landing at Newark airport. When it came a little closer, we could make out a row or circle of white lights that ran around the rim of the craft - these were also flashing on and off."

Lennon was obviously deeply impressed by his UFO sighting. He spoke about it on various radio interviews, and referred to it in the lyrics of Nobody Told Me ("There's UFOs over New York, and I ain't too surprised..") and Out of the Blue ("Like a UFO you came to me, and blew away life's misery"......well, I didn't promise eloquence.). It wouldn't be the only time that Lennon claimed to see a UFO over New York, and some have suggested that the singer would later believe he was being stalked by one, along with various shadowy agents from the disparate branches of the National Security apparatus. Thus far is what is widely known about Lennon's encounters with the unknown. What if, however, there was something far stranger, far deeper to Lennon's involvement with the UFO Enigma? Enter Uri Geller.
John and Uri met once a week in the Sherry Netherlands restaurant to discuss UFOs and the Paranormal.

Geller was born in Tel Aviv in 1946, to Hungarian Jewish parents. (He claims a distant relationship to Sigmund Freud on his mother's side.) He had been both a paratrooper in the Israeli army and a fashion model before he started preforming in Tel Aviv nightclubs in 1969. From the beginning, there seems to have been something peculiarly mesmeric about the lean, long-haired paranormalist. By the mid-seventies, he was well-established in America and Europe. Trailed by curious scientists and academics, Geller began to move in the super-stratosphere of rock stars and Hollywood actors. In fact, he plugged himself quite early on into that weird matrix of fame and wealth where virtually anything seems possible. The surreal outer-limits of human possibility, best exemplified by the mansion/prisons of Graceland and Neverland, seemed to be Geller's natural environ. (An advertisement for motivational speaking engagements on his website features the following testimonials: "Absolutely amazing" Mick Jagger, "The world needs your amazing talents....I need them" Michael Jackson, "Truly incredible" Sir Elton John, "Astonishing" Gillian Anderson.....yep, he even vowed Agent Scully, of all people.)

In December 2004, Geller is being interviewed by the London Telegraph. He has a weird, egglike object in his pocket. When asked where it came from, the following narrative emerges. At some point back in the seventies, Geller was having dinner in a New York restaurant with John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Yoko is pregnant with Sean, her first child by John. At first, Lennon talks excitedly about watching the child grow up. Abruptly, however, the conversation turns to the subject of UFOs. Taking Geller to a quieter table, Lennon insisted that life from other planets had visited us, and was observing us right now. "You believe this stuff, right? Well, you ain't gonna fuckin' believe this!" (The following quotes are attributed to Lennon by Geller.)

"About six months ago, I was asleep in my bed, with Yoko, at home, in the Dakota building. And suddenly I wasn't asleep. Because there was this blazing light around the door. It was shining through the cracks and the keyhole like somebody was out there with searchlights, or the apartment was on fire".
"That's what I thought - intruders or fire. I leapt out of bed, and Yoko wasn't awake at all, she was lying there like a stone, and I pulled open the door. There were four people there."
Fans? Geller asked.
"Well, they didn't want my fuckin' autograph! They were, like, little. Bug like. Big bug eyes and little bug mouths and they were scuttling at me like roaches. I've told this to two other people, right. One was Yoko, and she believes me. She says she doesn't understand, but she knows I wouldn't lie to her. I told one other person, and she didn't believe me."
"She laughed it off, and then she said I must have been high. Well, I've been high, I mean right out of it, a lot of times, and I never saw anything on acid as weird as those fuckin' bugs. I was straight that night. I wasn't dreaming and I wasn't tripping. There were these creatures, like people but not like people, in my apartment."
What did they do to you? Geller asked.
"What did they do to you? How do you know they did anything to me, man? You're right, they did something, but I don't know what it was. I tried to throw them out, but, when I took a step towards them, they kind of pushed me back. I mean, they didn't touch me. It was like they just willed me. Pushed me with willpower and telepathy."
And then what?
"I don't know. Something happened. Don't ask me what. Either I've forgotten, blocked it out, or they won't let me remember. But after awhile they weren't there and I was just lying on the bed, next to Yoko, only I was on the covers. And she woke up and looked at me and asked what was wrong. I couldn't tell her at first. But I had this thing in my hands. They gave it to me." Lennon produced the small metallic egg, and gave it to Geller, saying "It's too weird for me. If it's my ticket to another planet, I don't wanna go there."

Asked while still a Beatle how he thought he might die, Lennon responded "I'll probably be popped off by some loony." In December 1980, Lennon joined the pantheon both of dead rock stars and of sixties icons who were gunned down by lone assassins. Uri Geller's strange tale raises a significant question: was one of the most famous and influential singers of the twentieth century an abductee?

There is no doubt that the testimony of a spoon-bending psychic (or "mystifier" as he now labels himself) regarding what was related to him by a heavily drug-experienced rock superstar in the seventies hardly constitutes the gold standard of hard evidence in anybody's book. Nevertheless, there are many intriguing aspects to the story. If it was an invention on Geller's part, then we would have to question his motive. He clearly had very little to gain, in 2004, from spinning outlandish tales about his famous friends of yesteryear. Similarly, while his recollection of the conversation at first seems suspiciously detailed, many of those details lend a certain plausibility to the story. Geller captures Lennon's cadence very well, and Well, they didn't want my fuckin' autograph! sounds exactly like something Lennon would say about alien entities.

If the story did initially come from Lennon himself, one might be tempted to write if off as a hallucinatory by-product of Lennon's hard-living and unconventional world-view. But Lennon's account is a quintessential abduction narrative - including intense light, Greys, lost time, and a partner who remains asleep, peculiarly oblivious to the abduction as it progresses. This pattern wasn't established, even in ufological circles, until the eighties. Bud Hopkins' book Lost Time, crucial in establishing the template, was only published in 1981.
Another element which makes the story intriguing is the location: New York city. In the late seventies and throughout the eighties, the greater New York area witnessed a pattern of unusual activity which was often very difficult to dismiss. The volume of strange events in this period has always suggested to me that something - probably military rather extraterrestrial - was really afoot in New York in this period. Hopkins himself, who started studying abduction seriously in the mid-seventies, had lived in New York since 1953. In 1981 in the Hudson Valley, witnesses in their hundreds started to see massive boomerang and triangle shaped crafts hovering silently over highways. According to local journalist Stephanie Ramp: "It was seventeen years ago this month when the phenomenon known as the Hudson Valley UFO commenced its high-profile tour through the Northwest. Particularly fond of Westchester county, it was nicknamed the "Westchester Boomerang", though it spent a great deal of time in Connecticut as well."

"Hundreds of local citizens reported sightings to the police and numerous police officers witnessed the spectacle first hand. According to Philip Imbrogno, a UFO investigator and co-author of Night Siege: The Hudson Valley UFO Sightings, more than 5,000 people have reported seeing a triangular- or boomerang-shaped object larger than a football field hovering in our skies." Popular horror author Whitley Streiber owned a secluded cabin in the woods of upstate New York. In December 1985, in the midst of the Hudson Valley sightings, he began to have a series of encounters, remarkably similar to that attributed to Lennon in '75, which would form the basis of abduction classic Communion. Certainly New York seems to play an usually prominent role in the emergence of both black triangles and the alien abduction mythos. As to whether John Lennon constitutes yet another vector in this strange grid, I will leave further conclusions to the reader.

Monday, March 1, 2010

RetroFuturism: Magic Highway.

From the 1964 New York World Fair, the future according to Frigidaire:

Two divergent visions of the twenieth century's magic highway, via Disney in 1958, and JG Ballard in 1971: