27 January 2009

I been Holy Modalled, I been Quetzlcoatl'd

8 Bahman - Year 1387

I wanted to like this book a lot, I really did. I enjoyed Pinchbeck's first book, Breaking Open The Head, aside from the couple of tedious Burning Man chapters. It seemed to be an honest exploration of psychedelic states of being by a confused, if well-meaning, Manhattan literary party-boy.

I was excited when I first heard that "2012" was being published. I thought it would be a fresh perspective on the whole "end-of-the-Mayan-calendar"/"herald-of-a-new-age" scenario that was first brought to my attention by Terence McKenna and his TimeWave Zero theory. It seemed as if Pinchbeck were stepping up to the plate and was going to pick up where McKenna left off, after McKenna's passing in 2000.

I skimmed some reviews of "2012 - The Return Of Quetzlcoatl" (as the first edition was called)...and many were middling. Undaunted, I thought it was just the cynical contingent of the mainstream press. I checked some reviews over at GoodReads and it seemed to be the same. Hmmm.... Now I realise that anything with "prophecy" in the title (as stated in the edition I have) has the fundamentalist materialists and dogmatic rationalists reaching for their revolvers, but I thought there would be a lot more praise for the book. I decided to finally give it a go.

In "2012", Pinchbeck has devoted his energies to studying the prophecy that a new age will emerge in December 2012, which the Mayan calendar shows as the end of the world, or just the end of the current age, depending on your view. He jets off to Oregon to hang out with Jose Arguelles, who's created a new calendar based on the original Mayan dates. He visits England several times, specifically the Glastonbury area, to study the crop circle phenomenon. Mexico becomes a destination, so Dan can view the Mayan architecture. He goes to Burning Man again (urgh!), but this time the festival isn't so groovy, man--and finally he journeys to the Amazon rain forest, to learn about Santo Daime, a local religion which grafts the disparate strains of old tribal customs and Romish Catholicism into a peculiar ritual. The participants swallow cupfuls of ayahuasca, then sing and do a two-step dance for up to 6 hours.

All the while, he's having relationship problems with his 'partner'. She's never given a name, she's just his partner--though she is described as 'beautiful and svelte' (Pinchbeck wants you to know he's no chubby-chaser). The couple have a child together, which seems ill-advised, as he relates that their union was a bit unstable from the outset. These bits were really where Pinchbeck lost me. In an afterword to the paperback edition, he states how he included all this personal detail to 'invoke a deep enough response in readers that if might incite a shift in perspective'. Erm..that didn't happen for me, mate. It just seemed a bit voyeuristic to me, his tendency to let his audience in on his somewhat private soap-opera, involving his 'partner', another woman he meets at a psychedelic retreat in Hawaii, whom he insists on referring to as "first priestess" (she doesn't have a name either, apparently) and his little girl (again, no name). One chapter is devoted to the partner's father, for no other apparent reason than to compare him to Pinchbeck's own father. He also can't seem to stop exploiting his connection to the Beats (his mother dated Jack Kerouac at the height of his fame), as if that somehow lends him some extra credibility.

In spite of the more frustrating aspects of Pinchbeck's narrative, I did enjoy parts of the book. I really liked the crop circle bits, though I've never really given much thought to the phenomenon, putting down most (if not all) of the designs down to hoaxers. I found myself looking up the various formations Pinchbeck discusses to get a better idea of what he is describing. He didn't convince me with his various theories, but I did think that maybe hoaxers weren't responsible for all of the circles. Some of the Arguelles chapters had interesting segments - but then Pinchbeck inserts some caustic New Yawk intellectual screed, completely dismissing Aleister Crowley, but he buys most of Arguelles' Mayan reincarnation schtick. His visit to the Hopi reservation seems a bit of an anti-climax, but the words of the tribal chief almost redeem the plodding structure of the chapter. The book ends with an eco-warrior message about humanity's destruction of the environment and a possible redemption in the next 6 years (well, it's down to 3 now). Pinchbeck doesn't seem concerned that all of his jetting about might've added to all that pollution....'cos it was like, for the book, man.

So, for all that, you get a somewhat middling book about 2012 and what may happen. For me, it seems a bit of a wasted opportunity--too much about the author, not enough about the actual phenomenon. When he's not talking about his own foibles, he's borrowing ideas from McKenna, Arguelles, Robert Anton Wilson, crop circle devotees and a host of others. It seems that maybe Pinchbeck started believing his own press and yeah, that Rolling Stone article didn't really help things. It appears that he wants to join the psychedelic pantheon and have his name amongst the greats (Wilson, Leary, Huxley, McKenna, Kesey, etc.)--but I just don't know if he makes the cut. Going by "2012", I think he's got a ways to go.

19 January 2009

Out, Demon, Out!

30 Dey - Year 1387

It's finally time for the T.S.O.G. to step down and hand over the keys to President Obama. Despite all of the mud-slinging and 'Fox-ifying', Barack triumphed over the McCain/Palin ticket. If Bush supporters are wondering why that happened...it seems fairly obvious to me.

~ The 2000 election was decided under quite sketchy circumstances--lots of voting discrepancies and Bush's brother 'Jeb' presiding over the whole thing.

~ He vetoed the proposal for stem-cell research, in August 2001, raising the ire of many, including Nancy Ray-gun, who said it could have been used to help Ronnie's Alzheimer's condition.

~ Bush squandered all of the global goodwill toward the U.S. in the wake of the September 11th attacks with the illegal war on Iraq, started in 2003 and rattling the sabres at North Korea and Iran. Not to mention Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghirab and the "rendition" policies. Torture tactics codified into the 'law'.

~ The economic meltdown happened on his watch. Maybe it wasn't entirely his fault, but it didn't put a lot of hope into Republican economic ideas.

~ His contempt for ecological policies, especially his snubbing of the Tokyo Agreement and denial of possible global warming caused by greenhouse gases. He finally admitted in 2007 that he may have been wrong in his denial--but too little, too late.

~ Osama bin Laden, who was declared "Public Enemy No. 1" after September 11th, still hasn't been caught. Bush announced he would 'find bin Laden and bring him to justice'. Where's the beef, George? Instead, he targeted Saddam Hussein. Admittedly, Hussein's dictatorship was appalling, but it was also secular and not tied in with bin Laden's Islamic fundies. That didn't stop Bush, though. The one time I've ever agreed with Pat Robertson was when Robertson suggested assassination of Hussein instead of an all-out war, to avoid the slaughter of civilians and damage to infrastructure that followed. Of course, the reason Bush gave for the invasion was for "freedom and democracy". Hmmm, last time I checked, Robert Mugabe is still in power and the Darfur crisis continues. Where are the forces for freedom and democracy in Zimbabwe and Sudan? I'll admit, though, the last thing the citizens of either country need is the kind of "freedom and democracy" that follows in Bush's wake.

~ The pitiful response by Bush's administration to Hurricane Katrina's destruction of New Orleans. The television news was filled with images of hundreds of people crammed into school gymnasiums and sports arena grounds, many of them African-Americans. Those images weren't forgotten by the public. The city still hasn't been completely rebuilt yet--in the richest nation on the planet.

~ The thinning line between church and state that he wanted to make even thinner, by overt support for 'faith-based' organizations and his 'god-talk' in speeches. His AIDS-initiative in Africa reportedly favoured preaching abstinance over providing condoms and sex education.

The list goes on and on and on. I reckon he'll be remembered as one of the worst, if not the worst, presidents in American history. With that sort of albatross hanging around his neck, it's no wonder John McCain had no chance. Not that McCain seems like a wholly virtuous character to me either. He's shot himself in the foot plenty of times and there's no need to even extrapolate on why Sarah Palin shouldn't be allowed near a nuclear arsenal.

I agree with the optimism surrounding Obama, but I'm not sure how much he'll accomplish in his term--he's got a lot of work cut out for him. I don't like his continuing of the Afghanistan quagmire, committing more troops and resources to a silly conquest. He has intimated that he will close Guantanamo Bay--but will it just be re-located within the continental U.S.? I remember when Clinton ran as a progressive in '92--against King George I's 80s style conservatism and the bonkers Ross Perot campaign. As soon as Billy-Boy made it in, he did a 180-degree turn on most of his pledges. I'm hoping Obama doesn't do the same and it turns into "meet the new boss, same as the old boss" scenario. It'll be an interesting ride. At least Bush's foul stench will be removed from the White House.

Here's the Edgar Broughton Band to perform the exorcism--take it away, lads:

06 January 2009

BBC4 Goes Prog-Rock! (Mayan Long Count)

My first post of the new Gregorian calendar year. I hope you all enjoyed your holiday season. I've got lots of stuff to get to. First, though, my mate Singing Bear hipped me to the scene over on BBC4. Seems there's a week-long celebration of UK progressive rock, which started last Friday night.

The main docu, called Prog Rock Britannia - An Observation In Three Parts (how's that for a title?!), runs about an hour and a half and contains some great footage and interviews. My only (slight) complaints would be that the focus was too much on 'The Big 4' (Yes, Genesis, ELP & King Crimson) and the last section, which purports to cover from 1978 through to 2008, just peters out after the punk explosion. There's a bit of footage of 80s Yes and some mentions of Genesis' transformation into chart-toppers, but that's it. As far as prog's 70s heyday, Henry Cow and the 'RIO' scene don't get a look-in, neither does the medieval-folk prog of Gryphon, nor Third Ear Band's acoustic drone-prog. Perhaps the latter two didn't 'rock' enough for the docu-maker's tastes..but the Cow definitely did a bit of rockin', i.m.h.o. The 80s prog-rock scene of Marillion, IQ, It Bites, Twelfth Night & Pendragon aren't given any air time and the 90s are equally ignored (leaving out Ultramarine's prog-rock techno experiments with Robert Wyatt & Kevin Ayers seems a shame). Wyatt features in some of the most entertaining interviews, though Richard Coughlan, drummer of Caravan, has a great moment lamenting that Caravan's audience were "all chaps". Robert Fripp is once again conspicuous in his absence, but he's never made any secret of his disdain for the term 'progressive rock' and never liked seeing Crimso lumped in with the other prog-rock bands. Despite the 'skimming the surface' nature of "Prog Rock Britannia", it's still worth checking out. You can watch it here, but only for the next three days (unless the BBC release a DVD version, or you've got a DVD recorder).

There was also a one-hour prog special on Time Shift (unfortunately not available to view on the iPlayer). It covers a lot of the same ground as "Prog Rock Britannia", only it has interviews with members of Gentle Giant and Steve Hackett (of Genesis)..along with 'music-journo-talking-head-for-rent' Charles Shaar Murray and 'Whispering' Bob Harris, host of The Old Grey Whistle Test. Decent viewing, but not really essential, especially when Murray trotted out the tired story about Greg Lake's Persian carpet as an example of prog's excess...oh yeah, that and Rick Wakeman's "King Arthur On Ice" show. I'm surprised no-one ever mentions Mike Oldfield's decision to employ 30 nubile young women as a choir on his 1979 tour, but I guess that reeks of sex and so doesn't fit in with the media's image of progressive rock. Stuart Maconie, host of the excellent Freak Zone radio show on BBC6 Music, was also on-hand to half-heartedly defend prog's virtues--as a sort-of counter-balance to Murray's smarmy commentary. The night I tuned in, the 'Time Shift' episode was followed by an 'Old Grey Whistle Test' programme from 1973, showing a film of ELP's European tour of that year.

BBC4 are broadcasting one-off specials during the week as well. They've showed a docu about Genesis' 2007 reunion tour and an interview with Phil Collins (I skipped those), a docu about Pink Floyd called Which One's Pink? (available for the next week on the iPlayer) and a collection of live clips entitled Prog On The BBC. I've watched a bit of "Prog On The BBC" and it looks pretty good--I've seen The Nice playing America (a black and white clip from 1968) and The Moody Blues playing Question (in colour from 1970). Just tonight was a 1974 film of Oldfield's Tubular Bells being played live in the studio. Hopefully that will be made available as well.

There you have it--soak it up while you may. I'm not sure when this will happen again. I hope this doesn't mean prog is becoming fashionable. I doubt it, though I did read that one of the characters on the deplorable Sex & The City was wearing a Yes T-shirt in one of the episodes. For the love of all that is good...