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Peter Stampfel of The Holy Modal Rounders on peyote experience


     Before Christmas, I decided I wanted to try peyote. I had been told that under its influence I would discover my patterns of self-delusion. That really sounded interesting. I was also very curious about hallucinations. I wanted some of those. So Tom and I went to the Dollar Sign, where I got seven caps, the equivalent of seven peyote buttons.The buttons were green and squat, sort of pincushion shape and around two or three inches across, give or take. They were covered with white cotton-like things that looked like the end of Q-Tips. You were supposed to remove those first.
     Seven buttons were a pretty strong dose, five was more normal. People took bigger doses of hallucinogens back then. One hit was good for about eighteen hours. General wisdom was that, if it was your first time, take it with someone who had taken it before, but was staying straight this time, keeping you company. When it started coming on, all objects had a stronger presence, as well as a glowing-from inside-characteristic. Everything looked better, Everything looked like Good Art. Bear in mind I’m talking about peyote and mushrooms, AKA shrooms, not LSD. I’ve found LSD hallucinations to be on the cheesy side, and often sort of insectiod in a mildly unpleasant way. Not Good Art, unlike the eyes-closed visions of peyote and shrooms, which I found to be impeccable. So I searched for ways in which I was deluding myself, using the celebrated peyote insight. I pondered away, and had the following epiphany: Everything I had ever believed was true. High as I was becoming and on my way to higher, I instantly knew this was total bullshit. But I found myself thinking about Grandpa Stampfel, who had just died. I seemed to feel his presence, in the sky, to the East. That feeling didn’t feel like bullshit.
     My folks hadn’t been in California very long, and dad was still looking for work. He had to borrow money from Grandma Barnett to fly to the funeral. She was reluctant to lend him the money, which he would have paid back, no question. I have no idea why her heart was so closed, but I think it was a mean, wrong, and stupid thing for her to have done. But she finally did lend him the money, and he flew to Minneapolis. The only connecting flight to the Eveleth airport was on an old DC-3. That was the same airport where beloved Minnesota Senator Wellstone crashed almost exactly three years later.
     But the strangest characteristic of the peyote was how interesting it was. Everything was interesting! And beautiful! But Tom was getting tired, it was past midnight, and he went to bed. Our bedrooms were at opposite sides of our four-room railroad flat, which is to say, all the rooms were in a row, forming a big rectangle. So I lied down, and for the first time all evening, closed my eyes. That’s when things really got interesting. It’s impossible to describe what I was seeing with my eyes closed. Basically, it was colors and shapes that kept changing in a graceful flowing manner. My recollection is that the shapes were mainly abstract, but the colors were brighter, more intense, and more vivid than any I had previously experienced. I had never seen anything more beautiful and compelling in my life. I thought, I want to see blue and green. I’ve always loved those colors together. In grade school in the 40s we were not allowed to use those colors together, because, said the same teacher who said I threw myself around in a grotesque manner in dance class, they “clashed”, whatever that was supposed to mean. If I had been sharp beyond my years, I would have said, like the blue and green of our planet have been clashing away for four and a half billion years? But my mind’s eye obliged with flowing, merging visual symphony, seemingly of every shade of blue and green that could possibly be, always the perfect blue to match the perfect green, always changing, always perfect, but tending towards the brighter blues and greens. After I don’t know how long, the blue and green turned to purple and orange. Bright purple and bright orange. I had never thought about that combination, but the combinations were as various and glorious as the blue/greens had been.
     Fourteen tears later I was discussing  hallucegenic visions with a co-worker, and she said she never wanted to use them because an art instructor in college had warned his students: I took a hallucigen just one time, and the visions I saw were so far beyond anything I could ever accomplish. I was unable to do any art for years. Well, that’s one reaction.
     Tell you another one. Roommate Tom had previously, like many others around there, acted as a psychedelic guide. That’s old school for straight-but-has-been-there person who hangs with a first time tripper. His friend was an artist, and was having a great time. Until he wasn’t. Suddenly, a look of anguished terror came over his face, and he ran for the door and tore up the stairs, heading for the roof, with Tom in hot pursuit. When they got to the roof, it was obvious the artist intended to go over the edge, but Tom tackled him, just like a proper old school psychedelic guide should.
What the hell is going on?, Tom asked.
I know why I paint!, the guy said.
Well, why do you paint?
Because I can’t fuck all the time!
     So Tom convinced him, Of course you can fuck all the time! Fortunately, people on hallucigens tend to be very suggestible.
     So I spent a fabulous night with the best movie I ever saw, despite the fact that it was wordless. Oh to keep this, I kept thinking. Oh to return whenever I want. Oh to share this with the world.
     Then the sun came up, and I opened my eyes to our still radiant apartment. I wished Marlene would come over. I was desperately interested in having sex on hallucigens, something I had been wondering about for a while. As if I had been sending a telepathic message, Marlene showed up. She was game. We tried fucking, but I had two problems. One, my cock had no interest in being hard. Two, I was so fascinated by looking at her hair and the pores on her skin I was totally unable to think about sex.
     I remembered that I had promised Helen that I would go to CCNY to participate in psychology tests for her and other psychology students. Tom, Marlene, and I went up to the campus. Helen saw me coming, and from what seemed like a quarter block away, shouted, Looks like somebody took some peyote!
     The first test involved two spinning disks that could be adjusted to be any shade of grey. One was set, and you had to bring the other one from a darker or light shade to the same shade as the stationary one. That was easy. In fact I kept fine tuning it once I had reported a match. Stop, she kept saying, that’s close enough!

Peter Stampfel and Steve Weber of The Holy Modal Rounders.

     The next one was matching sizes. Couldn’t do that one at all. Many others wanted to test me, subjects were in short supply. All I remember was a religious one where I answered all the questions with, The White Goddess. There was also a fill in the blank one. “I found out I had six months to live, so I ________.” In the blank I wrote “lived.”

- Peter Stampfel
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