One Version of ‘One Version of Terence McKenna’s Life,’ by Tao Lin
The public story of Terence McKenna’s life—in my view, and by my estimates—is a ~450-page book, which could be titled One Version of Terence McKenna’s Life. It’s composed of Terence’s memoir, True Hallucinations (1993), his essays “I Understand Philip K. Dick” and “Among Ayahuasqueros,” certain sentences and anecdotes in dozens of his interviews and talks, and ~15% of The Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss - My Life with Terence McKenna (2012) by Dennis McKenna, Terence’s younger brother by four years.
In a lecture called “Surfing Finnegan’s Wake,” Terence referred to a book of literary criticism that told James Joyce’s 656-page novel, Finnegans Wake (1939), in a one-page version, a ten-page version, and a 200-page version. The following biography (which to some degree presupposes knowledge of Terence McKenna’s Memes) is my eight-page, fractal-inflected, short-story-esque version of One Version of Terence McKenna’s Life.
The world which we perceive is a tiny fraction of the world which we canperceive, which is a tiny fraction of the perceivable world. – Terence McKenna, 1987. [“Understanding and Imagination in the Light of Nature”]
1. Paonia, Colorado (1946-1962)
Terence Kemp McKenna was born on November 16, 1946, in “a Colorado cattle and coal-mining town of 1,500 people named Paonia,” he said in an interview in 1993. He elaborated:
They wanted to name it Peony but didn’t know how to spell it. In your last year of high school, you got your girlfriend pregnant, married her, and went to work in the coalmines. An intellectual was someone who read TIME.
David Shapiro Isn’t Much Use to Anyone
David Shapiro and his Tumblr Pitchfork Reviews Reviews once felt “big on the internet.” Roughly five years ago, Shapiro—then fresh out of college with a shitty job and some self-esteem issues—started writing meta-reviews of the music reviews published on Pitchfork each morning. As he commuted to a conservative clerical gig, he’d frantically type out ranting but sharp essays on his Blackberry memo pad (sans-capitalizations and with few paragraph breaks), deconstructing the music critics’ arguments and logic, and even commending certain reviews a “Best New Review” tag—a play on Pitchfork’s “Best New Music” symbol of indie gold status. From his office bathroom, he’d often write colloquial personal essays in the afternoon about his relationship with music, which are the only remaining fossils of his site today.
The website got very popular, earning Shapiro over 100,000 followers, writing gigs at The Wall Street Journal, Interview Magazine, and The New Yorker, as well as a profile of his Tumblr in The New York Times. Shortly after he stopped posting on Pitchfork Reviews Reviews, he wrote a screenplay and a novel, both which sold and made it out of production limbo. Despite the success, Shapiro has sworn off writing (save the occasional New Yorker piece), and has since finished most of law school and now works at a white-collar firm in Manhattan.
His new book, You’re Not Much Use To Anyone, which comes out later this month, is a semi-autobiographical account of Shapiro’s life right out of college. It details the creation of Pitchfork Reviews Reviews and what was going on in his life at a time when he was especially insecure and looking for a form of authority and influence.
The book’s main character, David, is both anxious and hyper-analytical—fanatical with trifling metrics of success like how many Internet followers he has, or ways his life doesn’t compare to the lives of Pitchfork writers he both idealizes and envies. So even though his Tumblr is just a Tumblr, he feels validated and important when people he was once infatuated with start paying attention to his thoughts and ideas.
On a surface level, You’re Not Much Use To Anyone, sounds nominal: a physical book about a Tumblr about a music reviews website. But the story is a punchy and sometimes poignant read for any young person trying to figure out how he can become significant or simply noticeable to the people he/she admires. Over the course of a boozy, four-hour interview, we talked about his book being “almost desperate” to get you to finish it, feeling guilty about writing a semi-factual story about friends who didn’t sign up for being characters, and on his relationship with Pitchfork today.
VICE: The inspiration for your Tumblr and writing came from an unlikely source, but can you tell me about the actual inspiration for this book?
David Shapiro: I was seeing this girl who was working on a novel and she wouldn’t tell me anything about it. I felt a little resentful that she wouldn’t share it. Later, she broke up with me. And I thought, what better way to get back at her then to write a book myself? It was months after I stopped posting on Pitchfork Reviews Reviews. I refilled my prescription for anti-anxiety medication prescription and wrote a draft in a week.
This must have been insane to pitch to a publisher. It’s a physical book about a meta-Tumblr. How would you describe it to someone with zero context?
[Laughs] I still don’t even know how to describe it. I don’t know how to talk about it. I don’t have an elevator pitch. It’s a book about a blog about a popular music reviews website—after a certain point of shopping it around to publishers, I realized it was better to stay quiet during meetings and let my agent talk.
To me, I mean, if you read the book, in many ways, Pitchfork is not the focus.
Definitely. You could say Pitchfork is incidental. In another time, it would have been… I don’t know, like a car a magazine? It could have been written about any fountain of authority.
That’s what I found really interesting. In a lot of ways, your book details the rise of social media as a platform for anyone to assert their opinion and influence.
Yeah, or throw rocks at the throne.
Read the whole interview
Watch Michael Shannon Fuck a Corpse in James Franco’s Short Film ‘Herbert White’
Because my film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s book, Child of God, will be released this August, I thought I would share one of my previous attempts at transforming literature into film. When I was at NYU, I made a short based on Frank Bidart’s poem ”Herbert White,” which you can watch here.
Why Do So Many Soft Drinks Taste Like Teletubby Blood?
I don’t drink soda very often. It’s not that I don’t like it; it’s just that after age 12 I never felt like having more than a shot of it every now and then. Soft drinks are designed for children with tiny, discerning pallets, unimpressed with the flavors provided by actual food. That said, some of the tastes in these beverages exist only inside of their cans and cannot be found anywhere else in the whole world. It’s like a Willy Wonka land of weird water, and who would be such a fool as to not sometimes dunk their tongue in the chemical concoctions and see what’s good?
I decided to veer away from the recognizable labels and see what life is like on the wild side of the soda pop biz.
15 calories per 12 fl oz/12 g sugar
Kill Cliff calls itself a “Recovery Drink,” or, rather, “THE Recovery Drink,” being conceptually healthy in that it is “naturally sweetened” and only 15 calories a can. I found it over with the Boar’s Head meats and cheeses, like maybe it’s strategically placed next to the high-end shit to make you think it’s good, a can of cola all on its own. The text on the side of the can claims that the drink was “developed by a former US Navy Seal” to “improve endurance and speed recovery.” It’s unclear who the Seal was, and why he thought “Kill Cliff” would be a good name for a revitalization beverage. They also employ the tagline “Test Positive for Awesome,” which is maybe closer to an AIDS joke than should be on a can of soda.
The first sip reminds me of if Sweet Tarts were a liquid and strained through a pair of men’s briefs after a short doubles’ tennis match in a domed arena. It’s all puckery and buzzing around the edges, and when it hits the back of the throat it immediately provides the feeling of having recently barfed. This post-barf expression kind of kneads its way back and forth across the tongue and palate like electricity. I take a second sip to cover up the first, and the buzzing strain appears again, redoubled. I kind of already have a headache.
As I get deeper into the can, my brain becomes warm. It feels like my head is flooding with acid, and I can only tolerate the sensation by drinking so fast I can’t taste anything. When I stop my head is spinning, and I feel full of gasoline.
I might recommend Kill Cliff to remove paint or to dissolve the bars on a prison cell, but as far as liquid designed to go inside my body is concerned, no.
Marley’s Mellow Mood (Berry Flavor)
165 calories per 12 fl oz/29 g sugar
Sniffing the edge of the can’s mouth before I take a swig, I get the full bouquet of chemical fruit fun, suggesting what I’m about to drink is again going to come from the “Sick Fake Candy” food group. So I’m shocked when the liquid hits my lips and the first thing I think is actually, Hey, this IS smooth! Maybe it’s the dead rock icon on the can with the marijuana colors that brainwashed me into this feeling, though more likely it’s how, compared to Kill Cliff, this shit is like white sturgeon caviar. More watered-down Hawaiian Punch than actual soda, there is also a delicate flavor similar to the air in a bong shop lurking just behind the first curve of berry. The mixture is confusing, hairy, seemingly as unsure of itself as I am of it, but at least I don’t want to do an immediate spit-take.
The Tao of Terence: Beyond “Existentialism”
I learned of Terence McKenna (1946-2000) on September 14, 2012, when I was 29 years old. It was the day after I had completed the main final draft of Taipei, my first book to include psychedelics and which ends with a scene in which a character wonders if he has died after eating psilocybin mushrooms. I was in my room, zombielike and depressed after a period of time embodying a “whatever it takes” attitude regarding amphetamine use and completing my book. I had somewhat randomly clicked a YouTube video in which Joe Rogan (whom I was vaguely aware of as the host of Fear Factor, the TV show, a long time ago) was aggressively, excitedly talking about DMT, a neurotransmitter-like, illegal, psychedelic compound found in human (and other animal) brains and in at least ~50 species of plants worldwide. I did not have firsthand experience with DMT at the time, and had only read about it online.
At one point Joe Rogan began referencing someone in a “if you think I sound crazy, listen to this other guy” manner. He was talking about Terence McKenna, a person who would smoke DMT and, after ~15 seconds, without fail, find himself in an “unanticipated dimension” infested with “self-transforming machine elves”—also called “fractal elves,” “self-dribbling jeweled basketballs,” or “little self-transforming tykes”—that spoke English and a kind of visible language while jumping into and out of his body, “running around chirping and singing.” These entities, which McKenna described in a word as “zany,” were maybe either “dead people” in “an ecology of souls,” “human beings from the distant future,” or things with their own hopes, fears, problems that inhabit a parallel universe.
The Ransom of Samantha – by Merrill Markoe
Photos by Levi Mandel
This story originally appeared in our June 2014 fiction issue.
Samantha went to YouTube and clicked Make a Video Response.
“Hi,” she said after the countdown, making sure her copy of Masters of Despair: The Big Book of Philosophy was open to the quote by Schopenhauer about how ending your own life “can be compared to waking up after a horrible nightmare.”
“It’s me… I dissolved 40 Ambien into this bottle of Jack Daniel’s. In a few minutes I’m walking into the ocean. Don’t bother looking for me. It’s high tide. Fourteen-foot waves… Like anyone gives a fuck about me anyway.”
Then she clicked Upload.
She was still debating whether to wear her amazing vintage peacoat, because San Francisco nights were freezing cold, when she heard a noise and felt something wet over her nose and mouth.
“What the fuck?” she was saying, as everything went dark. How had she managed to drown without going to the beach?
The detective who showed up at 5 AM was not much older-looking than Samantha’s friends. (Not that Samantha ever hung out with clean-cut guys like this. Why should she when there were still heroin addicts in bands who needed a doormat?)
“Policy is to wait 24 hours,” Officer Stratton said. “A lot of times a kid’ll show up. Did you check her computer history? Her Facebook status?”
“No,” said Jen, feeling stupid about how she hadn’t wanted to violate her daughter’s privacy.
“Mind if I have a look?” said Officer Stratton, opening Samantha’s laptop. The first thing he saw was a YouTube announcement that a video had been successfully uploaded.
It’s easy to write a novel: Just keep typing until you have something that is very long and mostly lies. But getting that mess published is another beast entirely—unless you are famous, in which case your every utterance is assumed to be worth printing. As a result, there are a ton of embarrassing books with famous names attached to them. We sampled a few to see whether they were really that bad and found that yes, they were.
THE JUSTICE RIDERS
Chuck Norris, Ken Abraham, Aaron Norris, and Tim Grayem
B&H Fiction, 2006
Who knew that Walker, Texas Ranger, would be the best ridiculous-name-giver since Stan Lee? If you want to read about “Ezra Justice” as he teams up with English sharpshooter “Reginald Bonesteel” to fight “Slate Mordecai” and teach the Wild West about the Bible, The Justice Riders is the grocery-store paperback for you! The book wraps up with Justice sharing the gospel with Mordecai, then shooting him dead after the bad guy rejects Jesus—which is sort of Norris’s worldview in a nutshell.
The plot of Paradise Alley is a predictable yawn about three brothers in 1940s Hell’s Kitchen who get involved in underground wrestling in search of a quick buck and learn heartwarming lessons, but Stallone’s prose makes what could have been a merely mediocre novel memorably awful. He was likely aiming for a Dashiell Hammett–esque hard-boiled style but winds up sounding both simplistic and overly fond of the stalest stereotypes of New York City tenement life. When your fight scenes include lines like “Patty McLade dropped to the floor like a whore’s nightgown,” it’s time to go back to writing movies that are mostly inspirational jogging scenes and anguished grunts.
Nicolas and Weston Cage
Virgin Comics, 2007
One time, Nic Cage and his black-metal crooner son, Weston, came up with an idea for a comic book about the child of a slave who was killed in the 1860s and gets resurrected by black magic to clean up the streets of post-Katrina New Orleans. Then they got an artist and a writer to make their dreams into reality, because the Cages are not like you or me. This book is like if Spawn impregnated the Candyman with his demon seed on the set of Treme while a cuckolded Todd McFarlane masturbated in a corner. In other words, it’s fantastic.