Alan Watts is coming at me from all directions. The "Shrapnel" chapter in Coincidance (the second one) quotes Watts (about how the Roman Empire never fell.) The work-in-progress Daisy Eris Campbell play about RAW dramatizes the influence Watts had on Wilson.
There's a new film about Watts. The creators of "South Park" have animated some of his lectures.
Michael Johnson, the Overweening Generalist guy, wrote to me this week to talk about the impact Watts had on RAW.
"In RAW's online Tale of the Tribe course, he credits Watts with turning him on to zen, Leary and Crowley.
I think maybe this makes Watts the most influential living mentor in
RAW's life, or at least in the Top 3," Michael wrote.
"RAW was introduced to Watts by Arlen. RAW introduced Watts to one of his
later wives, Jano. And the two visited in Yellow Springs. Jano had a
notion about synchronicities or what Lilly called Cosmic Coincidence
Control Center, but Jano called it The Net. This was around 1962.
Watts's riffs on the Roman Empire never falling had an impact on RAW.
Watts told RAW he'd read a new book on Crowley by Israel Regardie and he
thought it was amazing. RAW said any time Watts recommended a book it
was something like a Sure Thing," Michael wrote.
(From RAW's intro to Eye In The Triangle: "It was recommended to me by
Alan Watts, who said, 'It's the best book on mysticism that I've read in
ten years or more.' I had been reading Alan's books for a decade and
had known Alan for almost as long, and my Hemingway bullshit-detector
had not yet found a sentence anywhere in his books containing BOVINE
EXCRETA. If he recommended a book, I immediately trotted off to buy a
copy. He knew what good writing was, even in the area of mysticism,
where the author is, by definition, trying to unscrew the inscrutable
and eff the ineffable.' (p.x)")
Michael explained that in those pre-Internet days, when "find the others" meant face to face relationships, Watts was a catalyst for intellectuals such as Robert Anton Wilson because Watts knew so many interesting people. Michael gave me some examples:
"Watts owned a houseboat in Sausalito, just north of San Francisco, and
it was there that the gurus of the New Left, Gary Snyder, Leary,
Ginsberg, Kesey, et.al...met to figure out if they should be activists
or to drop out ala Leary. In Markoff's What The Dormouse Said, he writes
that est 'was most closely derived from the version of zen taught by
Alan Watts from a Sausalito houseboat during the 1960s.' (p.209)
Ginsberg confronted Leary over his sloganeering for LSD there, on the
houseboat. If you read Conners's The White Hand Society, it's basically
Leary and Ginsberg spending most of their free time on the East Coast
going around turning poets, painters, musicians and big-money-types onto
LSD. So, within five years, there was some sort of schism between Tim
"Watts was part of psychedelic inspired intellectual sessions in the
mid-1950s with Oscar Janiger, the LSD psychotherapist who turned Cary
Grant's life around, and who was a cousin to Ginsberg. In Sex Drugs and
Magick RAW considers Watts, Aldous and WSB as the psychedelic
sophisticates. All three had problems with Leary's media advocacy for
LSD. All three were captured in artwork at Millbrook.
"When Watts traveled south to LA, he was in the matrix with Aldous,
Isherwood, Gerald Heard, and Swami Prahavananda: big influence on
Hollywood types. (see Don Lattin's Distilled Spirits, pp.131-135)."
Here is a Zen Pencils adaptation of Watts. You can also visit the official Alan Watts website, maintained by his son.
Shrapnel from Michael: "RAW thought Watts's biggest influence on others was 'mystical christianity.' Watts championed Bucky Fuller and McLuhan in
1967. I think Watts has been given short schrift by Aldous Huxley-ites:
their infl has been complementary. The LaRouchites have long been
paranoid about Watts and Huxley as Brit agents sent to the US to weaken
its children through mysticism and drugs. Throw in Beatles there too...
"Tom Robbins said Watts was an influence on his first book, Another
Roadside Attraction, and later quotes Watts within the context of the
post-9/11 world: "When you become truly convinced the human condition is
hopeless, you enter the Zen state." (Conversations With Tom Robbins,
p.38 and p.125)
"By 1959 Watts was not smoking pot. Around then he started calling
himself a 'philosophical entertainer,' 'in show biz,' "a genuine fake,'
and 'an irreducible rascal.' When he took off with Jano he left former
wife Dorothy and four kids. He was always hustling for money to pay his
debts. He drank a LOT. Why did he quit psychedelics? He said (I
paraphrase from memory): 'Because when one has picked up the telephone
and gotten the message, one hangs up.' "