Thursday, May 17, 2012

Be Not Content

Be Not Content--the eBook
For most people the book that best describes the colorful chaos of the sixties is Tom Wolfe's Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, a witty third-person account of Ken Kesey's prankster antics in La Honda and San Francisco. Ironically, Kesey himself, justly celebrated for his fiction, wrote little or nothing about his own drug experiences and the scenes he created around him. Tim Leary, the person most associated with publicizing LSD, wrote dozens of books (my favorite is High Priest) but no matter how high he got, Tim always remained a Harvard professor so that even his most ecstatic books reflect an academic perspective. And then there is Terence McKenna, one of the most thoughtful and inspiring speakers on the psychedelic experience whose talks have been lovingly collected by Lorenzo Hagerty at Psychedelic Salon.

Kesey, Leary, McKenna--plus Ram Das, Stan Grof and the Shulgins--were the literary superstars of chemical mysticism. But what of the little guy, the man in the street--who just happens to drop LSD and see God. Who speaks for him?

William J. Craddock, for one.

Bill Craddock was an outlaw motorcycle rider from San Jose with a talent for words, the discipline to produce several unpublished novels and the good luck to score a contract with Doubleday for a book about dropping LSD and seeing God at a time when such experiences were brand new. Doubleday published Craddock's book Be Not Content (a quote from Jesus) in 1970, winning high praise from a small circle of discerning readers many of whom (myself included) passed out copies to their friends and never got them back. Then Be Not Content vanished from sight--a few copies available today for $100+ on Amazon.

Be Not Content is an under-appreciated little masterpiece. It's a first-person account of what it felt like to be one of the first people (later to include millions) to take LSD and see God. LSD does not merely produce hallucinations. At high doses it can attack the very core of your being, alter what it means to be "you"--placing your very existence at risk--confront you directly with deep philosophical paradoxes and in extreme cases induce the celebrated "ego death". Perhaps the most astonishing fact about LSD--a tribute to the evolutionary robustness of the brain--is that, no matter how many weird organizational variations the drug allows your self to experience, with very few exceptions, you almost always return to "ordinary you."

When, in my youth, I was exploring psychedelics (as a scientist not as an outlaw biker), I asked a doctor friend: "Bob, what does LSD do?" He answered: "You tell me what ordinary consciousness does, Nick, and I'll tell you how LSD changes that." Nobody knows what LSD does--except of course at the level of single synapses. Politicians responded to the emergence of this powerful mind-altering substance by making it illegal--even for scientists. They trusted Nick with Plutonium--so why not LSD?

In my opinion, LSD, despite its profound effects on subjective reality, is a relatively safe window into the mysteries of human consciousness--a kind of Large Hadron Collider of the mind--and to pass laws that make outlaws of scientists for using this instrument is an ignorant and short-sighted rejection of a lucky gift from Nature and the laboratory. The so-called scientists--better-named "servants of ignorance"--who advised the US government to criminalize research on LSD and other mind-altering drugs should be publicly flogged and stripped of their PhDs.

Craddock describes his first LSD experience--plus many more--and his joyful discovery that he was not alone--that there were others who were daring to warp the very structures of their beings with the same magic substance. He had found his tribe--the others who shared the same secret. I can testify to a similar joy in discovering a small band of others with whom I could speak about the unspeakable and compare notes about Ultimate Reality.

Be Not Content is full of sillyness, stupidity and clumsy communication, including one of the most joyless one-night stands in print. One of the virtues of this book is that Craddock does not whitewash his experiences and those of his friends. He attempts to be a fair witness both to LSD insights and to LSD follies--and there were a lot of follies. Which is only to be expected. Most people in our culture are less ready for an LSD experience than people in a bow-and-arrow culture are ready for the iPhone.

Be Not Content gained a small but enthusiastic following which includes science-fiction writer Rudy Rucker (The Ware Tetralogy). Rudy has recently emerged as a sort of cyberspace Lawrence Ferlinghetti, promoting and publishing not only his own but other "beatnik science-fiction writers" most notably in his wacky webzine Flurb. As a professional writer, Rucker is learning to surf the new electronic media waves and has published a small eBooklet on how to write eBooks. One of his first eBook projects was to bring Be Not Content out of oblivion via Rudy's own Transreal Books imprint, publishing it first as an eBook and expecting to publish later as a paperback.

Rudy prefaces his eEdition of BNC with a long Craddock bio and book review which is available in its entirety on his blog. For those interested in altered states, this preface will stand as the definitive tribute to a serious psychedelic pioneer whose work deserves to be better known.

On the day that Rudy published BNC, I was invited to a music rehearsal in Soquel and stopped by Craddock's grave (which I had discovered by accident a few years back) to play him a tune and inform his ghost that his words had now been set adrift upon the internet.

On other literary fronts, my flagship book Quantum Reality has recently been transcribed to eBook and can now be read on Kindles and other hand-held devices. Also, thru the magic of print-on-demand publishing, in a few days I will release a second collection of quantum-tantra-inspired verse called Harlot Nature. A check for 15 dollars to Nick Herbert at Box 261 Boulder Creek, CA 95006 will reserve your place at the head of the stampede for this unusual work, which contains text in three languages: English, German and Dirac notation.

Jig (Out on the Ocean) for W. J. Craddock (1946-2004)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I just got this from RR a few days back and am around halfway through it. I don't have a Kindle, so I read it on my laptop. Kind of hurts my eyes, so it's a slow-going process but, as I remarked in a Tweet to RR, it's living up to and surpassing its legendary rep. Singular coming-of-age novel here. Definitely take some time out to visit Rucker's site and get a copy. Well worth it.