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