Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Adam Gorightly — neither gonzo nor crockpot

The Discordian historian answers our questions

Robert Newport and Adam Gorightly, right, examine the Discordian Archives at Robert Anton Wilson's apartment. Photo courtesy Adam Gorightly.

Self-described "crackpot historian" Adam Gorightly (as you can see, I got that wrong in my first question) has pursued various off-the-beaten track interests in at least eight books, including Happy Trails to High Weirdness, A Who's Who of the Manson Family and The Prankster and the Conspiracy, his biography of Kerry Thornley. 

He's now in the middle of a new burst of activity, inspired by his recovery of extensive Discordian archives, documents written by Thornley, Greg Hill, Robert Anton Wilson and other prominent Discordian figures.

Historia Discordia has just been released. Another new book, Caught in the Crossfire: Kerry Thornley, Oswald and Garrison's JFK Investigation, will be out soon, and more books are expected to follow.

Historia Discordia collects many of the best items in the Discordian Archive. Adam also posts about Discordianism at the Historia Discordia website.  He agreed to take a bunch of my questions and answered all of them. -- The Mgt.
Would you tell my readers a few things about yourself? How long have you called yourself a "gonzo historian"?

I’ve never referred to myself as a “gonzo historian” — you must be confusing that with “crackpot historian,” which I’ve used in my bios over the years,  mainly because I enjoy writing about colorful people, like Kerry Thornley, who some would deem crackpots — which of course doesn’t exempt me from being a crackpot, either!

I spoke at a UFO convention several years ago, and had a table set up to sell books with a little sign that said “Crackpot Historian” — and one fellow misread it and came up and started quizzing me about crockpots! BTW, I’m a strong advocate of crockpots and make one hell of a split pea soup in one.

As far as a few things about myself, well, when I’m not cooking split pea soup in my crockpot, I’m either playing with my cats or napping these days. I had a traditional 9-5 job for nearly 30 years but as of the beginning of 2012 I’m able to write full time now, and spend most mornings doing just that…until early afternoon. That’s when the nap comes in. But I’m a pretty regular guy….married almost 25 years now to the same lovely lady, live up in the mountains of the Sierra Nevadas in California, cut my own firewood, enjoy a nice hoppy beer or two in the evening…oh, and I never graduated from high school, so let that be a cautionary tale for the kids in your audience to stay in school and color inside the lines or you’ll become a card carrying Discordian just like me, Hail Eris!

"Illuminatus!" begins with an amusing quotation from "The Honest Book of Truth" by Kerry Thornley. Is your discovery and publication of this lost document one of the important components of "Historia Discordia"?

Well, yes, “The Honest Book of Truth” is indeed one key component of many strange components you’ll find in Historia Discordia. Who knows if it is the final version of “The Honest Book of Truth,” but it’s the only complete version I’ve ever seen, and like a lot of people who saw references to it in Illuminatus!,  I wasn’t sure it actually even existed — at least not as a complete work — but was just little snippets placed in the Illuminatus! narrative that pretended to be a real book.

Evidently  RAW had a copy of “The Honest Book of Truth” at some point, but I’ve heard that he wasn’t real good at saving stuff like this — let alone a lot of his own material. That’s why we’re missing, and will probably never see, all those lost pages of Illuminatus!, for instance, which is a tragedy…

Do you believe your new book will attract more scholarly attention than your previous books? You have assembled quite a collection of primary source materials, and Discordianism is getting more and more attention in serious books.

I hope it receives some scholarly attention, and I hope the website will, as well.  My work has been cited in a couple academic papers, as well as sourced in a number of books — but the fact is that so much of the history of The Discordian Society was still very much a mystery until the publication of The Prankster and the Conspiracy. RAW did write a little bit about Greg in Cosmic Trigger 1, but it was just a short passage, and nothing really biographical. So The Prankster was the first to provide any real background material on Greg. Yet, I still come across people on the web asking if Greg Hill really ever existed — but people are slowly becoming more aware of who he was, and his influence on Discordianism and Illuminatus!

While I’m not a professional scholar by any stretch — or have any real archivist training — I do my best to present the material in as historically accurate manner as possible, and try to put it into proper context … but I have to catch myself sometimes — when I make jokes or such related to material — sometimes people may not understand my humor. But still, it’s essential that the History of Discordianism is presented in a light hearted manner, because humor was such a large part of what it was all about.

When I reviewed your Kerry Thornley bio, I wrote, "Adam plays fair with the reader, often expressing his opinion on how much credence to put into an assertion. While the book is not heavily footnoted, he lists his sources in the back, so for the most part, it's easy to tell what the source of an assertion is. One of the more incredible claims — that Bob Dylan's 'Like a Rolling Stone' is about actress Grace Zabriskie, a friend of Thornley's, and that 'Napoleon in rags' is Thornley, is attributed to 'rumor has it,' which I took it to mean 'very possibly is not true but is a little too juicy to leave out completely.' Does this strike you as an accurate description of your technique?

Exactly — no way I could leave out that little tidbit about Grace being the model for “Like A Rolling Stone” — which was shared with me by a buddy of Kerry’s in Little Five Points, John Paccasassi. I interviewed Grace for The Prankster and the Conspiracy, and have even been in touch semi-recently, but somehow it never occurred to me to ask her about that (laughs).

“Like a Rolling Stone” appeared on Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited. Highway 61 — it so happens is the road that runs from Dylan’s boyhood home in Minnesota to New Orleans, which was part of the early musical course that Dylan charted — and he was no stranger to the New Orleans French Quarter scene — and in particular during the period when Kerry and Grace were fixtures there. Kerry and Grace were both aspiring poets, and hung out at various bohemian hangouts and music joints that you figure Dylan would have sought out. So I wouldn’t be at all surprised if all of their paths crossed during that period.

But the rumor that Grace was the inspiration for “Like A Rolling Stone” — and that Kerry was a character in the song, “Napoleon in rags”  might just have been Kerry’s own interpretation of events. He wouldn’t have been the first person to interpret a Dylan song to fit his own perception of reality!

When I read "The Prankster and the Conspiracy," your Kerry Thornley biography, one of the highlights was all the weirdness connecting Thornley to Lee Harvey Oswald and the JFK assassination theories. Will you have a lot of new material about that in your upcoming book, "Caught in the Crossfire"?

In the Discordian Archives I discovered a large box of material related to Thornley, Oswald, the JFK assassination and the Garrison investigation, including a lot of Thornley’s writings on the subject that had never been previously published — in addition to letters from the Garrison investigation period, and letters in the years to follow to and from the likes of RAW, Bob Shea, Greg Hill and others. In these letters and articles, Thornley continued to evolve his own theories as to what’d gone down in Dealey Plaza, as well as his alleged role in relation to the assassination. Greg Hill actually compiled a lot of this material into an early manuscript called Thornley/Oswald in 1975 that he helped put together in as cohesive a manner as possible to present Kerry’s JFK assassination related theories and experiences. And so all of this prompted me write this latest book, Caught in the Crossfire, which will be released in October. Had I not come across all this new material, I’d have never gone back down the rabbit hole. But here we are. And RAW was very much a part of this whole roller coaster ride; first as an early defender of Thornley and critic of the Garrison investigation, and then later as someone Thornley grew to believe was a part of some grand conspiracy to mess with his mind.

On your personal website, instead of a "Reviews" section consisting of testimonials to your genius, as many other author sites have, you have a "Critics" section consisting of very mean things people said about you. Why did you post that?

My warped sense of humor, I guess. I find it amusing when people go off like that, and I think in this age of immediate back and forth venting that can go on — with Twitter, Facebook, Internet forums and the like — I usually try to take a step back when people go into attack mode, mainly because that’s what they’re looking for, a reaction of some kind … it’s healthier just to chuckle and move on and not get caught up in a lot of the nonsense that goes on … and I guess one of my responses to that type of behavior is the “Critics” section.

Anyway, I’ll have a few more “Critics” testimonials to add, at some pointbut I’ll let the dust settle first.

Excepting the new book that we are publicizing with this interview, do you have a favorite among your previous books?

Probably Happy Trails To High Weirdness, which doesn’t necessarily mean it’s my best, as it’s hard to have a perspective some time about one’s own work. The Prankster and the Conspiracy had its moments, but with a book like that — as soon as you’ve finished it — you start discovering more things you could have added. That’s a big reason for, and the Historia Discordia book, as well as the forthcoming Caught In The Crossfire: Kerry Thornley, Oswald and the Garrison Investigation. Because there was more of the story to tell.

However, I’m best known for my Manson book, and that has been far and away the most successful of my titles, although it’s a subject I don’t have much interest in these days — but that’s the way it goes once you become identified with something.

You obtained the full Discordian Archives in 2009, and your new book consists of highlights from that archive, along with explanatory pieces that you wrote. You have also been posting portions of the archives at your website. How much is left? Will it help spawn additional books?
Well, there’s a lot left, is the short answer. And yes, I foresee additional books in the years to come. One project in the early stages is what we’re calling the Paste Up Discordiaor PUD for shortwhich is the original Paste-ups of the 4th edition The Principia Discordia. And these are exactly that: the original paste-ups that Greg Hill put together to create the 4th ed.  Principia, an example of which I’m sharing with you here exclusively at!

Another potential project on the back burner is a book of letters between the early Discordians, which I think will eventually happen — it’s just going to take a lot of time and coordination to pull it all together because we’re talking about several hundred letters over the course of a couple decades…And I expect that will have a long life, and will continue to post fresh (old) material well into the foreseeable future. So stay tuned!
The pieces reproduced in your book include a rarity, a reproduction of one of the only five complete copies made of the first edition of Principia Discordia. How does this early version differ from the later versions?
Well, it differs drastically — the 1st edition was really a whole different beast than subsequent editions of the PD and is in many ways like a formal tract that outlines the structure and inner workings of a religion dedicated to the Greek Goddess of Chaos and Discord. It’s basically a parody of similar documents — poking fun at organized religious structure and dogma (the Discordians have katma) — although at the same time creating this crazy structure for the early days of the Discordian Society, such as outlining how new popes would be ordained and other internal affairs of that sort.
As the Erisian Movement evolved, Greg Hill decided, at some point, that the religious structure outlined in the 1st edition — which granted he and Kerry sole authority to ordain Episkipos (or Popes) — was BS, and that every man and woman should be able to ordain themselves Popes or Momes as they see fit — simply by declaring themselves such. This shift in philosophic focus was first shared to the world in a letter Greg dictated in November of 1969, which we share here with you now exclusively at!

This shift in focus, in turn, caused a restructuring of The Principia Discordia. So, in a sense, Greg basically blew up the old Principia Discordia paradigm and started anew making it more of an art project of sorts, and a collaboration with other Discordians who had emerged on the scene such as RAW, Camden Benares, Bob McElroy. This new concept included a hodge podge of images, and excerpts from the Discordian holy tracts, along with other assorted witticisms and aphorisms that were ultimately intended to activate the human pineal gland and illuminate mankind.
I would encourage folks to check out this video I did some time back where I display the different versions of The Principia Discordia, which will give your readers a better idea of what they looked like and how it all evolved over the course of time.

My wife says she does not understand my Robert Anton Wilson blog, and she seldom reads it. One of the people I interviewed for my blog did not show it to his wife, because she would think it was "silly." Does "Mrs. Crackpot Historian" share your interests?

I wouldn’t bother showing this interview to my wife, although I think you’re doing a swell job, aside from calling me a “gonzo historian.”

I do a lot of interviews and so much posting to the web, and she doesn’t pay much attention to most of it … I spend more time sharing cute cat photos with her, that type of thing. However, she’s an avid reader, probably has read 30 books for every one I’ve read, and she likes some of my stuff, certainly the more humorous things. But I get into some very esoteric shit, and I can understand why it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, some of the arcane subjects I write about.

As today, July 23, is Robert Anton Wilson Day, can you tell us something amusing or interesting about him, something nobody would know simply from reading his writings?

Well, there’s been a lot written about Bob — and Goddess knows I haven’t read everything — so I don’t know how much of a scoop this is, but from what I’ve heard from some of those who knew Bob more intimately than me, was that he was deeply in love with Arlen—which should come as no surprise — but also that she was a tremendous influence on his thinking, and that she was as brilliant— or even more so — than Bob himself. I also get the impression that her passing left a great void in Bob that he was never able to fill—not that he necessarily wanted to. So I don’t think it was really evident in his writings — or in his public persona—how deeply her passing affected him; but that’s the impression I have, this based on one of the last phone conversations I had with him. But Bob being Bob he did his best to project a positive presence and attitude about life, even toward the end when things got a bit rough for him, with his health and all.

I also want to mention something his friend Scott Apel mentioned to me at The Robert Anton Wilson Cosmic Meme-Orial — and sorry if this sounds like a personal plug, but Scott’s comments meant a lot to me at the time — when he told me that Bob had handed him a copy of The Prankster and the Conspiracy and said, “If you want to know what really went on with the Discordian Society, read this book!”

I also told Scott what a great guy I thought Bob was and he gave me a wry look like: “He can have his moments.” It’s my understanding that Scott spent a good amount of time with Bob during his last days, and when Bob’s health started failing him, he could get a bit grumpy at times —which could be expected — and I think that’s what Scott was alluding to. So besides being the humorous and positive guy we all knew him to be, there were other sides that people normally never had the chance to see, such as the deep pain he felt from Arlen’s passing and the sometimes grumpy old man part, which was no doubt on account of the health problems he experienced towards the end.

1 comment:

Eric Wagner said...

Thank you for this rich interview and all your terrific work on your essential blog.