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The Strange Days of the Mid-1970s

It was fortuitous that publisher Trevor Denyer happened to see my trippy photomontage ‘Man of Letters’ from my time at art college on my Facebook page The Mad Artist, publicising the memoir that details those years. He came to use it for the cover of his Strange Days – Midnight Street Anthology 4, featuring stories by many writer friends, including Simon Clark, Allen Ashley, Rhys Hughes, Gary Couzens and Terry Grimwood.

The image – reflecting a very ‘strange’ period in my life, as an art student in my early twenties – obviously resonated with Trevor and evoked the strangeness of more contemporary life, as reflected in the stories; and indeed as the year 2020 has progressed an even greater Strangeness has enveloped us all, so there is some prescience all round in words and images…

In looking at the montage again, plus the other associated photographs from that era, memories have been brought back – and it was a highly crazy, turbulent period.

I was sharing a flat at the time with Vince, a fellow photography student, and we had many wild drunken times (see The Mad Artist Chapters 15-17). We partied on the Isle of Wight, picked up girls together, and once attended a college party where I almost started up a train, and I ended the night having a ‘friendly fight’ with Vince where I sustained some mild facial damage. The hangover was far worse! I was absolutely ‘mad’ in those days, hence the title of the memoir.

Our flat had the capacity for four people, and Vince and I had constant trouble filling the other spaces – and we had to endure interference from our puritan Irish landlord, who thought it was ‘immoral’ that boys and girls should share together.

One of our flatmates was the ditsy Zoe, who was escaping a troubled home life with her parents. A crisis was precipitated when she later stole a selection of albums from everyone in the flats, the police came around to investigate, and the landlord evicted Zoe and her suicidal boyfriend on the grounds of their multiple sins.

Vince went back to the Isle of Wight for the weekend, I was left on my own in the flat, and I decided to drop some LSD, as you do…It was a weird trip, involving boa constrictors on the ceiling, and looking in the mirror to see my Syd Barrett-like appearance transform into Neanderthal Man and many other things (full details in Chapter 17). But a lasting outcome was a resurgence of my letters-of-the-alphabet textural hallucination encountered on other trips (see Chapter 3).

Vince was a very talented photographic artist and his speciality was photomontage – I liked his work and wanted to somehow emulate it. Bearing this in mind, I decided to produce the photomontage based on the trip ideas.

At my previous art college, I’d already fashioned the letters out of plywood, each around four inches high, and now I positioned them on a colorama in the studio and photographed them with a wide-angle lens to give the impression of a landscape. Then I got Vince to photograph me in a phone box, a faraway look in my eyes as I held the receiver to my head, an action inspired by the strangeness of having to phone my parents during my first ever acid trip, also recorded in the Psychedelic Press XXIX Journal (sold out, unfortunately).

With the addition of a dramatic afternoon sky, shot in the New Forest, the elements were ready, and I composited them together using a scalpel, scissors and glue, as this was eons before the Age of the Computer. Vince was sceptical at first, but when he saw the finished result he gave it his seal of approval, and it was my best picture at the end-of-year show. Now it lives again in the equally – if not more! – Strange Days of the 2020s, thanks to Trevor.

More details about Midnight Street Anthology 4

More details about The Mad Artist

Recent Psychedelic Writings

February 14, 2020 Leave a comment

The latest Psychedelic Press Journal, Issue XXIX, contains an account of ‘My First Trip’ – another in the long-running series initiated by editor Nikki Wyrd.

For me this is the latest of many iterations in writing about this formative experience, which took place in December 1975, over forty-four years ago now. The longest version, of course, is the seventeen-thousand-word account at the start of my memoir, The Mad Artist, but here was an opportunity to boil it down and make it more concise for magazine purposes.

Processing the experience once again, I was reminded of the hair-raising aspects of the trip, which was both extremely strong – due to the LSD itself: Operation Julie Vintage in double dose – and was rendered more hazardous still by the poor choice of setting – country woods and roadways, involving passing cars, on a cold unforgiving winter’s night. In a way it’s a cautionary tale about how not to conduct a first trip!

Nikki Wyrd sets these factors in context in her Editorial and comes up with the delightful phrase ‘retroactive enchantment’, in order to describe how a subject’s view of an event can mature and transform over time as the various factors are processed and its true value comes to the fore. Nikki has said she sees these ‘First Trips’ as watersheds in peoples’ lives, a significant rite of passage, and she hopes the collection will provide a resource for historians of the future, with a range of times and places featured. A worthy project indeed!

Also the excellent cover of Issue XXIX, designed by Tom Andrews of Done London, was inspired by my ‘First Trip’ account, with the woodland setting featuring awesomely in the mandala-based imagery.

Other pieces include a wry trip poem by Kerry Rowberry, written in Birmingham dialect, which evokes Irvine Welsh’s use of dialect in Trainspotting; there’s a very vivid account of an epoch-making DMT trip from Anthony Pellegrino, with great existential resonance like my own; Mike Fioroto provides a psychedelic short story, and there are articles from Daniel Kelley, Mark Juhan and a review of Andy Roberts’ Divine Rascal from Rob Dickins. Another superb knowledge-packed issue!

More information: Psychedelic Press

SPECIAL OFFER FROM VALENTINE’S DAY FOR ONE WEEK: KINDLE EDITION OF THE MAD ARTIST AT HALF PRICE ON AMAZON.COM & AMAZON.CO.UK – LINKS HERE Read more…

Ginger Nuts of Horror Interview with Roger Keen

November 22, 2018 Leave a comment

In conjunction with other Literary Stalker-related material on the Ginger Nuts site, this author interview deals with early influences, my views on horror literature, writing technique, social media and the process of being reviewed by peers. It contains thoughts about the semi-autobiographical and metafictional strands in The Mad Artist and Literary Stalker, and other things, such as the importance of character naming.

Could you tell the readers a little bit about yourself?

I went to art college in the 1970s and was very involved in the counter-culture scene of that era. I particularly loved the Beat writers, Burroughs and Kerouac, and surrealist painters such as Dali and Magritte. I painted for a while and then took up photography and filmmaking, and after college I worked in TV, including the drama series Robin of Sherwood in the ’80s. I’ve always liked Gothic fiction and movies, and in the ’90s I started writing horror stories and got into the scene, as it was then. More recently I’ve been reviving those associations because Literary Stalker is a return to the horror/crime genre and also it’s ‘about’ the horror-writing world.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Watching films and TV and reading, naturally. I try to root out more obscure films and novels I’ve always meant to watch and read – and also classics – and when I finally get around to experiencing them it’s always rewarding. Also I like walking, sometimes in wild country such as the Lake District and the Alps, and occasionally I play golf and ski in winter. I’m a big fan of Indian food and West Country cider, usually in that order.

Read more on: The Ginger Nuts of Horror

Literary Stalker: Model Villages, Metacrime & Möbius Strips

Roger ponders the infinite tunnel of models within models – a black hole in village life

In this fourteen-minute film, I visit the model village at Bourton-on-the-Water in the Cotswolds and use it to talk about the metafictional elements in Literary Stalker and other books and films. This model village is a particularly fine example of the art, completed in 1937 after five years of work. It is most interesting because – as the model stands within the actual village – it has a model of itself, which in turn has a model, and so on, creating an infinite regression. This has been a source of awe to me, ever since I first visited the model at the age of twelve or thirteen in the 1960s.

I refer to the model to illustrate the infinite regression of novels-within-novels in Literary Stalker, comparing it to the movie Synecdoche, New York, which does a similar thing. I also look at the Möbius strip narrative devices in Literary Stalker together with my previous book The Mad Artist, again making comparisons to books and films, such Finnegans Wake, Mulholland Drive and Lost Highway – and the rabbit-hole reality bending of The Matrix. The third element of the talk touches on the genre of ‘metacrime’ and Literary Stalker, and I mention other simpatico works by writers including Jorge Luis Borges, Vladimir Nabokov, Paul Auster, Martin Amis, Flann O’Brien, Cameron McCabe, Joe Hill and Dennis Potter.

The Gospel According to Andy, Leaf, Roger and Bill

Semi-Secret Fellowship of Freaks Banner

When I had the mushroom-inspired vision of The Cult of the Novel way back in 1979 – written about at the finale of The Mad Artist – I knew that although it was highly organised it was also fanciful and solipsistic and I could only hope that somehow it would filter into the outside world and connect with like-minded individuals. It didn’t much at the time and history was against me, with hippydom and psychedelia on the wane and Thatcherite values about to engulf most everything. Cut to thirty-plus years later and people are talking about a psychedelic renaissance, with the old and new coming together and the golden era of 1960s-’70s psychedelia being re-evaluated.

I’ve often asked myself why it took so long for me to finally formulate and write The Mad Artist, and perhaps it was because I wasn’t ready before or perhaps the world wasn’t ready. When I did publish it in 2010, I looked around for similar contemporary books and couldn’t find any; though Albion Dreaming by Andy Roberts, a history of LSD use in Britain, was on a most similar wavelength. Then shortly afterwards along came Bill Booker, whose Trippers, a personal memoir of LSD and the ’70s scene, is very like The Mad Artist and also had a long gestation period. And then Leaf Fielding leaped into the frame with his To Live Outside the Law, a much more wide-reaching and influential memoir about the same zeitgeist, with the added spice of the inside story of the Operation Julie bust.

The four of us liaised and chatted extensively about our shared literary involvement, and it was Bill’s idea to form the Facebook page The Semi-Secret Fellowship of Freaks, named after the original fellowship in Trippers. We were joined by Rob Dickins, a Freak of a newer generation, not even born in 1979, but very much tuned to the same vibes, as demonstrated by his site PsypressUK and subsequently his recently published novella Erin. The page provided one of several focuses for interaction, discussion and more speculation about this psychedelic renaissance we are undergoing. Something of a ‘novel cult’ was getting together. Read more…

Tripped in the Woods

This seven-minute film is the first in a projected series of ‘trippy’ films, which in various ways will celebrate aspects of the psychedelic experience. Actually it came about as a happy accident, an afterthought. The footage was shot as part of a more extensive project—an illustration of a reading of the first trip sequence in The Mad Artist—which would also involve some night shooting in other locations. I was unable to complete the night shooting in my available window, and now the trees have come into leaf, so it might all have to wait till next winter, as the trip takes place in December. 

However, in playing about with the shot footage, I experimented with various visual effects and an idea sparked: to make a trippy film in its own right, independent of the text of the book, though guided by the experiences it describes. So ‘Tripped in the Woods’ evolved as a notional, subjective point-of-view trip film, involving no people and no words, only the wood itself, progressively metamorphosing by means of trippy visual effects and complementary sound design. 

Trippy videos abound on YouTube, and in the main they feature randomly generated wormhole and fractal patterning, fast cutting of anything and everything weird, strobe and flash effects, and tend to be light on original content. The better ones are impressive, but this type of video can get boring and when compared to the fabulous, polymorphous sophistication of the actual trippy inscape, they come nowhere near. With ‘Tripped in the Woods’ I eschewed the oversubscribed inner world of tripping and concentrated instead on the outer dimension—how acid transforms the look, feel and sound of one’s environment, which is especially relevant if that setting is already ‘pretty’, as the Plymbridge Woods undoubtedly is. And that area has a special significance in being the real setting for my first acid trip, described at length in the opening chapters of The Mad Artist

Solarized Nude 1976 by Roger KeenAs a big fan of the surrealist photographer Man Ray, master of the solarization, I’ve been dabbling in creating such effects since college days. Back then it all had to be done in the darkroom, with the results hard to predict in advance, and little did we dream that one day computers would take over the task. With Final Cut Pro, I used many different solarization effects, including double and sandwiched solarizations, alongside other image manipulations and stylisations, such as saturation, motion blurring and posterization, to gradually rack up the impression of consolidating trippiness. In Final Cut Pro one can apply posterization to the red, green and blue channels independently, so the range of combination effects is almost endless. Soundtrack Pro also has an extensive library of effects and atmosphere/musical beds, and again used in combination the sometimes melodic, sometimes eerie and sometimes frenetic moods of a trip can be evoked. 

More info about my first acid trip as described in The Mad Artist: ‘The Alphabet Wood’

‘A Session at Ebury Lodge’: Mad Artist Sample Chapter

Still by prenza420 on Flickr, courtesy of Creative Commons Licensing

In 1977 I moved into Ebury Lodge student hall of residence in Bournemouth and lived there for more than two years, till I left the art college. That period encompasses the majority of the ‘psychonautic adventures’ described in The Mad Artist; and Ebury itself, as a community of wayward, madcap art student dopers, came to exist for me as almost a separate reality, hermetically sealed from regular life, complete with its own dream logic.

This sample chapter depicts the events of an afternoon and evening at Ebury—a marathon start-of-term dope session that set the tone for the remainder of the autumn! It introduces many of the colourful characters who appear throughout The Mad Artist, and also gives a good flavour of the approach and style of the book, concentrating on detail, atmosphere and in-depth subjective psychodrama regarding drug effect.

At the prescribed hour, I knocked on Sam’s door, and it was opened very cautiously by Big Jim, who gave a big chuckle when he saw it was me. Inside the whole gang were assembled, bright and eager like animals about to be fed. Sam was sat on the sofa, unwrapping the gear on a black lacquered coffee table. Next to him was Eric, a smoking mate from outside the house, who was busy assembling a set of collapsible brass scales that came in an indigo velvet-lined box. Race, Fiona and Sonya were languishing on a pile of cushions and beanbags over by the bay window, looking very decadent and bohemian. Gordon was sat cross-legged on the floor on the other side of the coffee table, a meditative expression on his face. Jim returned to his armchair on the right-hand side of the room, and I picked up a spare big cushion and sat next to him.

Jim and I chatted about our new rooms, with him especially pleased by the coup he’d pulled off in securing the big one next door. Meanwhile Sam was halving the slim oblong ounce of Leb with a serrated knife. He put a half in each pan of the scales, found one slightly heavier, so he broke off a corner, transferred it and found they matched. Then he split one of the halves into two quarters, which matched exactly at the first attempt. Sam was obviously a real expert at this trade. The two quarters became four eighths, two of which were passed to Race and Gordon respectively, and the other two further divided into sixteenths for Fiona, Sonya and Jim. The other half ounce was split into a quarter for Eric, an eighth for me, and the rest went into Sam’s tin.

Read the full chapter as a PDF on Slideshare.

To read another extract of The Mad Artist see previous post.

Read ‘The Alphabet Wood’: Roger and Henry’s First Acid Trip

August 16, 2010 2 comments

devotes its five opening chapters, 16,400 words, to that life-changing event that triggered the ‘psychonautic adventures’—the quest for metaphysical answers and spiritual truth which makes up the book. Underwent on a winter’s night, in the rural setting of the Plym Woods and neighbouring villages, the trip was poorly planned, chaotic, crazy—an object lesson in how to get it completely wrong regarding set and setting. But precisely because of the ensuing chaos, the adrenalin rush powered the trip into extreme realms, giving rise to the geometric progression effect that became a motif for the future…

Suddenly the trip jumped in intensity, and the visual effects burst through a quantum barrier into something totally unprecedented. The whole wood around me was reborn in another form: it was no longer a wood composed of trees, branches and leaves, but one composed of…letters. Letters of the alphabet. They were wrought in diamond-encrusted platinum and silver, and interconnected with their own vascular system of luminous, throbbing primary coloured energy. All the various geometric permutations of leaf cluster, twig and branch were resolved into letters in a crystalline fractal method — letters within letters down to the limits of vision, perfectly mirroring the scale and detail of what was being transformed according to the terms of some higher surreal logic. I watched as the wood pulsed, light and dark, light and dark — later, I would realise, in sync with my own heartbeat — each time breaking out into new symbolic foliage of impossible intricacy. It was utterly transcendentally fabulous, but I was too scared to derive any enjoyment.

Now the full five chapters can be read as a Book Preview on Lulu. Click on ‘Preview’ below the book cover image.

The same section can also be read as a free sample Kindle download from the Amazon Kindle Stores.

The Mad Artist on Kindle for $2.99! (£2.21 on Amazon.co.uk Kindle)

The Mad Artist is now available from the Amazon Kindle store, for $2.99, or £2.21 including VAT from Amazon.co.uk Kindle. The first five chapters—covering the epic first acid trip—can be sampled for free, and the Kindle app is now available free for many devices, including PC, iPhone, iPad and BlackBerry. 

E-book sales are soaring and the ease with which they can be obtained is increasing; like it or not, the paper-free revolution is gaining momentum. Just by downloading the PC app and going to the Kindle store, you can now read many literary classics absolutely free. Some contemporary titles are also offered free, as part of promotional campaigns, and others are priced very competitively.

The facility to price competitively is a great boon to authors of print-on-demand books, such as The Mad Artist. One of the great drawbacks of POD is the high cost of production, leading to the handicap of a higher retail price than regular books. For a relatively long book such as The Mad Artist (170,000 words), the handicap is greater still, as more paper adds up to more cost. But in the e-book world this disadvantage vanishes at a stroke, and the e-version is actually considerably cheaper than most. For struggling independent authors, this has to be the way to go! 

The Mad Artist on Kindle

Amazon.co.uk Kindle

Still: Roger Keen playing the drums ‘…imitating the style and technique of Mogadon Sammy.’ (as described in Chapter 12 of The Mad Artist)

Interview: Roger Keen (via Psychedelic Press UK)

Covers the writing of The Mad Artist, my thoughts on favourite psy-lit and views on the psychedelic and publishing scenes.

Interview: Roger Keen Roger Keen is an English film-maker and writer. He spent nearly 30 years working for companies like the BBC and ITV making television dramas, documentaries, news and consumer programmes. Since 2006 he has concentrated on his writing and his novelistic memoir ‘The Mad Artist – Psychonautic Adventures from the 1970s’ was published in 2010. Set between 1975 and 1979, The Mad Artist explores Roger’s experiences of psychedelic awakenings – the trials … Read More

via Psychedelic Press UK

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