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.
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.
Blasting Off with Dr. DMT
Between 1990 and 1995 Dr. Strassman helped 60 patients enter the void and then documented their experiences at the University of New Mexico’s School of Medicine. I contacted him to talk about DMT and the legalization of psychedelics in the United States.
Should everyone take acid?
No because you have to ask the right question to take it. Do you want a one-on-one with your maker?
And what if the answer is yes, even if you’ve got a mental illness?
Well there’s a correlation between acid and curing mental illness. I realized after my beautiful accidental rebirth that what we usually call psychology is actually just art.
You use a lot of complicated metaphors.
No, I just use the truth.
—Mark McCloud, the San Francisco man who has 30,000 tabs of LSD in his house, sounds exactly like you’d expect
Getting High on HIV Medication
In 1998, the antiretroviral drug efavirenz was approved for treatment of HIV infection. Though the drug was highly effective, patients soon began to report bizarre dreams, hallucinations, and feelings of unreality. When South African tabloids started to run stories of efavirenz-motivated rapes and robberies, scientists began to seriously study how efavirenz might produce these unexpected hallucinogenic effects.
Hamilton Morris travels to South Africa to interview efavirenz users and dealers and study how the life-saving medicine became part of a dangerous cocktail called “nyaope.”
Watch Part 1
Angry French Bigots… On Acid!
In early January, a bunch of bigoted French people gathered in Paris’s Bastille Square to celebrate their rage with a “Day of Anger.” About 20,000 of them turned up in the rain to complain about various things. Some were mad at the country’s President, François Hollande, for being too much of a liberal. Some were mad about abortion. A whole bunch of them were mad about gays. And the Jews. Quite a few people were mad about the Jews.
Anyway, our friend Félix dropped a tab, walked around, and talked to all the pissed off people. We hope you enjoy it at least as much as he did.
Kitty Litter: Mephedrone Might Look Like MDMA, but It’s Not
It started in my limbs and made its way up my ribcage, until everything tingled. I was at Electric Zoo and had just popped a molly. My teeth ached from smiling. I chewed my gum into mush. The bass made my bones vibrate.
And all of a sudden things got weird.
I started to feel anxious. I thought, Maybe I need some more? But was too paranoid to make a move. As sweaty bros and raver girls peaked to Above and Beyond, I clammed up. What is this shit? I didn’t have that fuzzy warm feeling you get with MDMA. I didn’t even want to be touched. It felt like I was trapped in a ziplock bag, watching everything happen outside myself and feeling dizzy from the recycled air.
Later I found out what I thought was MDMA was actually a drug called mephedrone, also known as MCAT or meow meow. It looks like MDMA, but it’s a cathinone, a compound found in the khat plant (or qat), a leafy seminarcotic used in the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula as a social lubricant. But cathinone concentrated can be used to achieve a stimulated high. Mephedrone’s synthesis was first reported in 1929, but the drug resurfaced in 2003, when an underground chemist publicized it on a drug website called the Hive.
It’s a member of the “bath salts” family with MDPV and methylone, and was placed under emergency scheduling by the DEA in October 2011. It’s one of many so-called designer drugs, which means it’s produced in bulk in China like knockoff purses. In two years, it’ll be old news.
The Kentucky Derby… on Acid!
This is my good friend Caitlin (whose name isn’t really Caitlin). That is a hit of acid on her tongue. She did acid once, four years ago, and she’s doing it again now, just before we head out to the Kentucky Derby, because the only way to attend the most famous horse race in the world—an event that features thousands of drunken gamblers, straight-up drunks, and a roiling, seersuckered mess of Southern gentry—is to trip your head off for the whole thing.
An hour later, we arrived at Churchill Downs, which was pretty miserable in the rain. As with every major public gathering in America, tons of cops and security guards were on hand at the entrance to direct foot traffic and remind us all that we live in a post-9/11 security state. I knew the acid was starting to kick in when she compared this routine checkpoint to being a Jew in Hitler’s Germany: “I swear we are in a concentration camp. Look at how they are herding everyone.” Is this how Alex Jones fans are made?
Our tickets were for the infield, the area surrounded by the racetrack that turns into a big muddy party for the duration—sort of like a music festival without music but worse, if you can picture that. This area is designated for those who don’t want to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for a ticket, belligerent drunks, and 40-something divorcees trying to get freaky. It’s cheap because you can’t really tell what’s going on, horse-racing wise.
…But in order to reach the infield, we first had to fight our way through a tunnel that smelled like a rotting asshole—the air was filled with cigar and cigarette smoke, vomit, and bourbon. Caitlin asked me if we were in hell.