March 2019

Back to Issue 5

Weird Scenes inside the Brainstem

By Bill Marshall

1983 and dope and smoking endless rounds of bongs with Janet in that cluttered house in Princess Street Richmond.  I’d imbibe the fumes of the marijuana or hash that we’d buy from Janet’s friend Gemma in South Yarra.  And I’d play my Leonard Cohen LPs – they would be the inspiration for my fantasies, the soundtrack of my stone.  I’d never been a “successful” dope smoker.  It used to aggravate my anxiety till I was twitching with paranoia. Sometimes I’d blow a neural fuse and flip out into a dreamscape created by the raw psychic energy of my unconscious mind.  Despite all this, some misguided desire prodded me into wanting to prove that I could “handle” dope.  I so wanted to be cool.  It never occurred to me to simply say that dope wasn’t a suitable drug to subject my nervous system to.  But I was a child of the psychedelic sixties and the likes of Timothy Leary, Don Juan, The Beatles, Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs, who proselytised the use of drugs for the purposes of mind expansion, were powerful influences on me. Jethro and Vernon, the two “role models” from my teens and early twenties, could not only handle dope, they also spoke glowingly of its delightful hedonistic effects.  I suppose I wanted to prove to the image in my head of Jethro and Vernon that I wasn’t some sort of cowering, neurological wimp, too fearful of my own inner self to risk the fearsome effects of a joint on my ego. During the time that I shared a house with Vernon from 1974 to 1976, he in particular was a promoter of dope and its magical properties.  I have a photo of Vernon at one of our many fancy dress parties, as Doctor Dope – academic gown, mortarboard balanced on his head and with a glass bong in his hand, eyes bright, grinning with self-satisfaction.   The truth of my dope smoking…can I really attribute its cause to Jethro and Vernon? It was my choice. 

         When I lived in the bungalow at the back of Shane’s house, before I moved in with Janet, I’d get stoned and what I saw…what I saw – multiple Bill Marshalls reflected in a mystical mirror; patterns emerging with geometric beauty from the bricks of the houses, at night under the yellow streetlamps; the “Aleph” as described by Jorge Luis Borges, a point in time and space that opened like an eye to another, alternate dimension; the Maproom where all realities and possibilities existed in an experiential smorgasbord; and Leonard Cohen’s “Recent Songs” LP with its mystical poetry that references “the cloud of unknowing” and “the new Jerusalem”.  I’d have visions of the secret knowledge vouchsafed to me, and me alone, via an astral umbilical cord of golden light, direct from Cohen the master magician to my hungry soul.  It was madness, a delicious, heady brew of delusion, wish fulfilment and dream, a crazy cocktail of dopamine, endorphins and adrenaline.  Oh and what angels and demons my chemical lover, THC, conjured up along the crystal pathways of light, magnifying simple words into cinematic visions. I saw myself, a giant looming over the tram tracks in Church Street Richmond, as persistent whispers said, “You were a God in a previous life, a powerful God.”  And in my bubbleheaded brain I would experience my Godhood as undeniable fact. Ego undid me.  And recklessness.  Unmindful of the hazards of over-indulging in dope, I lost my molecular marbles in 1983.  Janet would lie, sprawled out insensible on the couch from one too many bongs, a zombie from the Zombie Grass, while I danced and gibbered like an ape from “2001: A Space Odyssey” acting out phantom realities. I touched the monolith and felt the electric energy of alien civilisations surge through my nervous system.

         And the Cohen songs that highlighted my high times: he sang in “The Gypsy’s Wife” about “the tired old café,” and it came to me in a zap of understanding that the “tired old café” was where astral travellers gathered throughout their innumerable incarnations, repeatedly throughout eternity, enacting the same worn out rituals.  When I smoked I entered the multiple realms of the Maproom, which also contained the “tired old café.”  I connected with other illuminated beings from all over the universe who gathered there to refresh themselves, to gossip and trade stories but especially to be entertained.  I was being watched by an audience of aliens on Galactic T.V.  Sometimes I was the viewer and at other times the viewed. 

          The astral travellers enjoyed hearing of my affair with Ayfer, being partial to love stories.  In the depths of my delusions, I encountered Ayfer as an archetypal female, a divinity whom I worshipped at the altar of her sexuality and I experienced Ayfer’s presence as a fiery angel burning like white gold in the furnace of my heart.  I was moved to tears by the beauty of these visions.  Once Janet asked me why I was crying and I stupidly told her the truth: that I yearned for Ayfer with a Wagnerian passion.  Of course this merely ignited Janet’s anger and jealousy, “That Ayfer! You love her more than me!  Why can’t you just forget about that bitch?!” As I swooned deeper into my fantasies, Ayfer would possess me, body and soul.  I’d see her as a black cat and my flesh would assume the silky texture of her sensual feline fur.  It was an intensely erotic sensation, like liquid sex, and into its depths I plunged ecstatically.

          Every night was showtime.  I glimpsed the true nature of reality: earth is a stage or a movie set upon which human beings act out their destinies and unbeknownst to them they are watched by an audience of alien spirits from all over the galaxy.  Earth was a waystation, a theatre, a tavern, an arena.  God was the Galactic Overmind, the producer of the show.  Every individual consciousness, no matter how tiny and seemingly insignificant was a manifestation of the universal awareness that constitutes God – an infinite series of pinholes into reality, the universe looking at itself.  God entertains Himself (Itself?) by dispersing His energy into isolated, individual consciousnesses.  These units of detached awareness forget that they are manifestations of God and in their struggles to regain wholeness are a source of amusement to Him.  Essentially God plays hide and seek with Himself.  This was the basis of The Book on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Really Areby Alan Watts (a thesis much-influenced by Hindu cosmology) which informed much of my stoned experience at the time.

          The astral travellers, the illuminated ones, journeyed through the universe via dimensional portals or “windows” of which Cohen also sang.  In my deep-fried consciousness, I understood that I was a Christ figure, hesitating on the edge of a “window” and on towards my destiny.  Now as I contemplate all this mystical gobbledegook, I find it hard to conceive that I really believed it, let alone took it seriously.  But cannabis is a drug of seduction and delusion – of pipedreams – imbibed with each pull on the bong.  Night after night I returned to the shimmering promise of a false enlightenment, a fool to his folly, a dog to its vomit, as my brain spewed out all manner of fitful inanities.  But the promise of wisdom that accompanied the sparking of my synapses was addictive – I wanted to know more and more.  It was like reading a best-selling paperback.  I was compelled to keep delving further and further into the mystery as with each stoned session I discovered new and mind-blowing information. As the plot thickened and the more I learnt, the deeper under the spell of a spurious revelation I succumbed.

          I was fascinated by the idea of time travel and “cross-time” travel into the perplexing territory of parallel universes.  I drew up plans to build a time machine which involved using the tramways network as a model or metaphor for time travel.  This whole endeavour was an exercise in wishful thinking – I had no background in or understanding of science or quantum physics, yet I was convinced that my dabblings possessed a reality of their own, merely because I had desired it to be so.  Janet was infuriated by my “research” which she saw rightfully as a symptom of mental illness, rather than a rigorous enquiry into the nature of temporal phenomena, as I believed it was.  On a yellowing slip of paper from back then is a note addressed to Janet:

Sorry honey, I love you.  I’m experimenting with the concept of time – it requires my non-verbal participation i.e. I must be silent.

         I stuck a label on my forehead with “E=MC2” written backwards and wandered around Richmond – and that was the extent of my experiment.  Somehow I imagined that I was delving deep into the mysteries of the fourth dimension, but actually I was falling apart.  Much of the information and raw materials that formed the basis of my studies were gleaned from comic books.  In particular, Jim Starlin’s Warlockand Captain Marvel, with their acid-inspired storylines, influenced my thinking.  One vicious little narrative by Howard Chaykin was to recur with ugly consequences.  It told of a society in the near future in which cross-time travel between parallel worlds had been perfected.  Travellers explored realities where the Nazis had won World War II; a Confederate United States; where the Russians were first to the moon; and so on. Meanwhile a detective is investigating a series of motiveless murders which were seemingly triggered by the fact that parallel universes were now an undeniable reality – if everything was equally possible, why not commit a random killing, as it was just one of an infinity of happenings? There was no meaning anymore.  The story ended with the detective contemplating suicide and then blowing his brains out.  This comic contaminated my soul with its cynical, nihilistic view of the world.

         One stoned night I experienced the quantum realm, or so I believed.  As I stared at the lounge room wall, blocks of colour emerged.  I named the blocks.  “Sequence Blue,” I said and the blocks turned blue.  “Sequence Red”; “Sequence Green”; “Sequence Orange”; and so on – the blocks became whatever colour I named them.  I was convinced that these blocks were packets of quanta and somehow I was in a nano-universe where reality was composed of pure thought – whatever I believed became reality.

        I was peeling back the layers that kept the monsters from the id safely in their place. I started playing a game in the Maproom – I called it “Archetypes of the Eighties”.  I took on the vibe of these archetypes as if I was possessed by them. The first one was The Agent, an anonymous undercover operative straight out of a James Bond movie.  The Addict was a lowlife junkie from William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch.  Finally I was possessed by The Mechanic, a brain-damaged killer who tortured his victims with a pair of pliers.  I felt the pliers in my hand.  Stooped like a deranged chimpanzee, I advanced on Janet with murder in my heart.  Suddenly I recoiled in fear – I had almost crossed the line between play and violent intent.  I was scorched by the fiery core of my ape ancestry, which had erupted like a volcano. Momentarily I feared for my sanity. But did this encounter with a hateful madness deter me from continuing with my self-destructive dope smoking? Not on your nelly.

         My consumption of media, mostly books and records but also movies and T.V. would irrupt into my consciousness and influence the content of my marijuana experiences.  One book in particular was to have a frightful impact on my thinking.  This was The Cosmic Conspiracy, which I rediscovered (it formed the basis of the U.F.O. plot thread in The Day of the Angry Wombat) on the shelves of the Mystical Bookshop in the Mid-City Arcade.

         The cover was just up my alley – it depicted a flying saucer hovering above a transparent pyramid, which had an eye staring out of its apex.  I took it home and read it in one sitting.  It was written by Stan Deyo, a Christian, but not like any Christian I’d ever encountered before.  The plot was complex, but basically it was about how God was a race of super-evolved beings called the Elohim.  The human race were actually the offspring of the Elohim, who had left us eons ago to return to their own planet in the Sirius System.  The Cosmic Conspiracystated that the Elohim were returning to Earth in a space ark. They would reward the faithful Christians by beaming them up to the space ark and transporting them to the paradise planet of the Elohim that orbited Sirius.  All was not rosy however.  Satan, with the help of his minions the Masons and the Illuminati, planned to enslave the human race.  This would be done by the Evil Ones building fake flying saucers at Pine Gap and then staging a close encounter with the human race of “aliens” from another planet. The people of Earth would be conned into handing over their military and political power to the Evil Ones.  The Masons and the Illuminati would then brand the people of Earth on the forehead with the Number of the Beast – 666.  Somehow the Evil Ones were going to enact the Book of Revelation from the Bible, complete with the Tribulation and the battle of Armageddon.  Stan Deyo stressed that only true Christians would escape these horrors.  To ensure a place on the space ark with the Elohim, the reader was urged to sign a pledge at the back of the book stating that Christ was the Lord and Savior of mankind.  Even though I more or less tookThe Cosmic Conspiracyto be fact, I didn’t sign the pledge.  I believed that the Elohim would surely be beyond the limitations of Christian Fundamentalism and would encompass all the world religions. Moslems, Jews, Buddhists, Taoists and Hindus should all be welcome on the Mother Ship.  The book concluded with the grim finale of the Earth being consumed in flames and all the Unholy Ones left behind by the space ark consigned to the Lake of Fire for all eternity.

          The Cosmic Conspiracypermeated my consciousness.  I heard the voice of the Elohim.  It was a whisper that insinuated itself into my mind – a sibilant, insistent undertone.  I saw the world through a new pair of eyes.  When I looked at people I thought, “Will you be saved by the Elohim? Will you be beamed up too?”  Because I was certain that I would be beamed up.  It was only a matter of time.  My nightly inhalations with Janet now took on a new dimension.  I sensed the distant Mother Ship as it approached the Earth.  I was in telepathic contact with the Elohim.  As the intoxicating fumes of the bong infiltrated my brain and wafted me upward to strange heights of seeing and thinking, I sensed the presence of the other Holy Ones, connected to them by an umbilical cord of light that joined us all by our astral navels.  We were one with the Elohim.  Through further listening to Cohen’s song “Last Year’s Man,” it became obvious to me that the “wilderness” he mentioned was the planet of the Elohim.  It was a paradise of unspoiled beauty and the Holy Ones were all children.  Didn’t Christ say, “Suffer the little children to come unto me?”  Yes, I knew, it all linked up in the Maproom!