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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

PropAnon, the man behind the new RAW bio


Gabriel Kennedy, also known as musician and rocker Propaganda Anonymous.  He explains, "That wall behind me is the outside engravings at New Grange — the prehistoric Neolithic monument located in County Meath, Ireland. Bob wrote about visiting this site with Arlen when they were living in Ireland in his Cosmic Trigger 2. Like most things Bob it's a fun story."

A few weeks ago, TarcherPenguin announced that Gabriel Kennedy, also known as the musical artist Propaganda Anonymous, had received a book contract to write the first biography of Robert Anton Wilson.

I didn't really know him, although I had seen him over at Maybe Logic Academy, so I contacted him via Twitter and asked if he would be willing to let me interview him to publicize the book. He was game, and as you can see was generous in answering my questions.

Mr. Kennedy, a rapper, musician and multi-media artist, says on his Facebook profile that he also is a writer, "in the vein of Robert Anton Wilson, Norman Mailer, Jimmy Breslin, and Jane Jacobs." Some of his work has appeared in Boing Boing, Reality Sandwich and the Maybe Logic Quarterly. His 2010 EP, SQUAT THE CONDOS, is considered a precursor to the Occupy movement. His stoner rock band, HAIL ERIS!, has just released its first EP, Fuck Satan, HAIL ERIS! Chapel Perilous: The Life and Thought Crimes of Robert Anton Wilson is his first book.

RAWILLUMINATION: The title that's been announced for your book is "Chapel Perilous: The Life and Thought Crimes of Robert Anton Wilson." So you are planning to both write his biography and explore his ideas, correct? Is there a particular "angle" you want to take? 

PROPANON: Yes, I am exploring most of RAW's bigger ideas in the book through a biographical context. As for angles, I suppose one angle I am presently working with is that of "everyday heroism.'" Bob loved the work of Joyce,  Joyce's Ulysses praises the mythic quality to the most banal of days, and myths always need heroes. I am applying this principle to Bob's life, and presenting the heroic journey of Robert Anton Wilson. Within this framework, I pay special attention to Bob's family life, especially the love he and his wife Arlen shared. There are a lot of great stories here, and I will share them in Chapel Perilous: The Life and Thought Crimes of Robert Anton Wilson.

Within the book there will be a critical presentation of Bob's ideas. I'd like to show the development of his thoughts over his forty year writing career. Bob knew very earlier on what he wanted to say, and over the years he kept unpacking and further clarifying his perspective. He had a unique philosophical method, which sought to synthesize so many interesting thinkers. This is worthy of intense scrutiny. Chapel Perilous will lay out RAW's major "thought crimes,"  breaking them down in my own language.

RAWILLUMINATION: How did you get interested in RAW? What are some of your favorite books of his?

PROPANON:  I first became interested in RAW my senior year of high school when classmate, and future Bizzaro fiction writer, Bradley Sands, showed me his copy of Illuminatus! Trilogy during math class one day. I read the back cover, immediately got my own copy, and spent the summer of that year deeply immersed within its pages. Roughly a year later, I read Prometheus Rising and Cosmic Trigger Vol 1 and was blown away again. I spent years collecting nearly all his books, and studied them. I read them, re-read them, scrawled on index cards long hand notes in all night writing fits fueled by coffee, cannabis, & inspiration. Then after that I would read RAW's books again. Twenty years after Sands showed me Illuminatus!'I can say that I have spent more time studying the work of Robert Anton Wilson than any other writer. I am still reading his books. I can't shake the guy.  Bob loved art that he found inexhaustible, this is one thing he loved so much about James Joyce and Ezra Pound. He too was able to create inexhaustible art, and that's not easy. I consider him a kindred spirit, like George Carlin, and I am always finding new aspects to appreciate in his writing.

Bradley Sands 

A few of my favorite of RAW's books, off the top of my head, are Cosmic Trigger 1, Illuminatus!, Prometheus Rising, The New Inquisition, Quantum Psychology, TSOG, The Widow's Son, and Everything Is Under Control.

RAWILLUMINATION: I've noticed that quite a few rappers and techno musicians are interested in RAW. What do you think are the qualities that attract musicians to his work?

PROPANON:  I have not encountered many rappers or emcees interested in the work of Robert Anton Wilson. The only emcee who comes to mind who appears to have read any Bob is NOAH23. I've seen a lot of rappers reading William Cooper or even David Icke more than Robert Anton Wilson. There are lots of psychedelically inspired emcees who are into Terrence McKenna, it seems. LXOR the Explorer, is one Hip-Hop Artist who creates shamanic soundscapes, but has probably read more McKenna than Wilson. Who knows? Maybe that will change.

For Electronic Music and Techno there seem to be a number of artists who are into RAW's work. The techno scene of the 90s was directly inspired by RAW, Timothy Leary, John C Lilly, Terrence McKenna. Those four guys were literally on the scene in some of those Bay Area warehouse parties. They talked so much about technological innovations to liberate your brain, to me that was a major part of the 90s techno scene. However, they never spoke at a NWA, Public Enemy, or Beastie Boys concert.  Bill Drummond was directly influenced by RAW. The same with Matt Black from Coldcut. Also too today's Techno scene seems receptive to RAW. Fly and Chu with are keeping the torch of RAW Science within techno alive.

 I think there is a Dionysian quality to RAW's work, especially Illuminatus!, and musicians or people who become musicians pick up on that. Bob has a rock n roll spirit, reading his work is like listening to great music.

The official video for "Kallisti" by the band HAIL ERIS!

RAWILLUMINATION: Tell me a little bit about your band, Hail Eris. Who are the other musicians? How did you hook up with Oz Fritz for the new recording?

PROPANON: Hail Eris! is a Stoner Rock project that I am currently involved with and we just released our first EP, HAIL ERIS! on bandcamp.

The music on this EP is Heavy, Strong, Groove oriented. The other musicians on the record are: Scott Yacovina on Drums, Gabe Saladino on guitar, and Jeff To on Bass. Other absolutely vital musicians involved were Mason Lucas, as well as Joe Mulvanerty and Ham from Black47. These guys helped get the ball rolling, and now the present line up is myself and Laura Kang, aka Thee Semiotic Alchemyst. Working on HAIL ERIS! has allowed another level of freedom in performance, and I think the EP is pretty damn good too. Oz Fritz is a major reason for that.

Oz is a master sound engineer. Having him on board with HAIL ERIS! makes complete sense. We first started building over at the Maybe Logic Academy in 2004. For a couple of years, I didn't even know that he was a legendary studio engineer whose worked with some of my favorite musicians, I just knew him as a super smart guy who knew a lot about Crowley, Float Tanks, among other things. MLA was like that. So many talented people who were able to congregate in cyberspace and really dig into things that I have not seen at any other social network or webzine since. Over the years, Oz and I stayed in touch, and then when HAIL ERIS! finished recording the songs for the EP, Oz entered the picture at the absolute perfect time. Oz brought the strength of his sonic wizardry to the EP and I know Eris is pleased.

PropAnon performs his rap song, "Ayahuasca Metropolis." 

RAWILLUMINATION: I know you met Robert Anton Wilson at least once, because you did a good interview with him that I linked to on my blog. What was it like for you, getting to talk to him in person?

PROPANON:  Meeting Bob. I met Bob on three different occasions from 2000 to 2003, and also was in frequent contact with him at the Maybe Logic Academy from 2004 until he logged off a few months before he died in 2007. 

The first time I met Bob was at the conference in 2000. This two day conference, held at the Hammerstein Ballroom in Manhattan, was probably the coolest conference I've ever attended. Though the speakers and artists that hit the stage were nearly all saying some amazingly dense things, the atmosphere of the event itself was like a party. Bob was the headline speaker, and was the closing performer on the second night. Before he got on stage Joe Coleman had already blown himself up with fireworks, and Kembra Pfahler's band the Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black performed their "Wall of Vaginas." Bob entered the stage dumbstruck and dumbfounded, he wondered aloud how he could possibly follow a wall of vaginas.

The theme of the event was something Timothy Leary once said about what  you do after you've turned on, tuned in, and dropped out. After you do all this you should, "Find the Others", and I was surrounded by them. I met Douglas Rushkoff, Greg Bishop, Grant Morrison, Joe Coleman, Genesis P-Orridge, RU Sirius, & Robert Anton Wilson all during that event. 

I spoke with Bob in the green room.  It was fairly packed, and there was a of talking going on. I saw Bob seated on a couch near the entrance smoking a cigarette. I went up to him, introduced myself, and asked him if he would sign my copy of Illuminatus! I was never big on autographs. I've never asked a celebrity for one, but for writers and artists I have. As I was about to hand the book to Bob, some grizzled old New York City photographer guy asked to look at it. He gave the book a long once over, front cover......back cover...... eyes squinting and very serious, he asked, "What's this book about?" Now, how in the holy fuck can one explain Illuminatus! in a ten second soundbite to someone who's never heard of it? I've gotten better at it over the years, but the 20 year old me at that conference could not. "It's about 800 pages," was my response as I took the book back from the guy and handed it to RAW. Bob laughed and said, "Aha, very good." We spoke for about 20 minutes, and that was pretty amazing at the time. He signed the book, scrawling, "Dear Gabriel. Hail Eris! Robert Anton Wilson" What was cool about the way he signed 'Hail Eris!' was that his cursive stye made that phrase also look like "Dear Gabriel. Have Fun!" 

The second time I met Bob was on December 4, 2001. Me and a buddy went to see him speak at the Renaissance Hotel in San Franscico, situated a few blocks from Market street in the Tenderloin section. I'm not sure if Tenderloin is totally gentrified now or what, but in late 2001, there were still people smoking crack in the broad daylight there. I've been through my share of 'hood' zones, but I never had nor have I since, seen people lighting up crack rock at two in the afternoon next to the Bart station. Nonetheless, The Renaissance was a nice hotel, and Bob was giving a lecture there. Just before the event started I ate a weed cookie, and was feeling a bit spacey by the time he was wheeled into the small lecture hall. This was a bit shocking as the last time I'd seen Bob he was walking up and down long flights of stairs at the Hammerstein. He was wearing a shirt with the face of Moshe Horowitz--Moe from the Three Stooges--superimposed upon a picture of the moon, so it looked like the man in the moon has the face of Moe from the Three Stooges. Sounds True had just released 'Robert Anton Wilson explains Everything, or Old Bob Exposes his Ignorance" just three days before this lecture. I bought the eight cassette set at City Lights Bookstore about an half hour before eating that weed cookie, so between the lecture and the tapes, many fun hours of study lay ahead of me.

The third, and final time, I saw Bob was on July 24 2003. It was the day after 'Maybe Logic: the Lives and Ideas of Robert Anton Wilson" premiered at the Rio Theatre in Santa Cruz, CA. My mission was to get an interview with Bob, and I was lucky enough to get it. I met David Jay Brown there, and I got to tell him that I liked his books Brainchild and Mavericks of the Mind. He was real cool and nice, and so I asked him if he could help me land an interview with RAW. He said, "No Problem," and the next day I got an email from Bob. 

When I got to Bob's apartment door, the man who I had seen the night before in a wheelchair, greeted me standing up. He invited me in and walked on two very shaky legs back to his wheelchair in the sitting room. Bob's Post-Polio Sequelae had already kicked in by this time, but I was not aware why he needed a wheelchair. He told me he had it, but  it didn't register. He told me that he challenged his body everyday by getting up from his wheelchair and walking around his apartment before he'd have to collapse in his chair. Hearing this, I was convinced that Bob was a badass motherfucker.

As far as the interview itself, I didn't have any set questions. I just had questions. Questions that had been swirling around my mind for years. In reality, the "interview" was just a formal excuse to hang out and talk with Robert Anton Wilson for an hour or two. The result of the interview came out well enough, and it eventually was published, I was told by Mart Kalvet, as an introduction to an Estonian language edition of Illuminatus! Toby Philpot has referred to Bob as a "Senex" — an archetypically wise old man--and he was, but he was also super laid back and funny as hell.  Bob had a lot of hilaritas and a whole hell of a lot of truth. 
When the interview wrapped, out on the balcony, we were talking literary heroes, and he told me about the time he met Ernest Hemingway. Bob was working at a bookstore in his youth when Hemingway walked in one day and bought a book. While Bob was ringing him up he told him that he was a great admirer of his work. 

Leaving Bob's apartment left me with the feeling that I have no reason to ever feel starstruck, insecure, or nervous around anyone. I met the wise old man, and he was cool. Mission accomplished. 
RAWILLUMINATION: Can  you expand a bit on what you mean by a "critical presentation of Bob's ideas"? Do you plan, for example, to discuss which ideas have held up well over the years, and which seem dated? And do you plan to look at the evolution of his politics?

PROPANON: Yes, I will discuss Bob's ideas that have held up over time, and also where he was ahead of the curve. To borrow from Marshall McLuhan's metaphor --who borrowed and added on to Pound's metaphor--Bob's writing was an 'early warning system.' His art was more than self-expression. He was working within deep realms of human consciousness and was able to make some profound connections worthy of more attention. Bob, ever the Non-Aristotelian, has been hard for most theoreticians to pin down.  I will also point out where Bob got it wrong, like his predictions of life extension pills by the 90s. All of the critical presentation of his ideas will be contextualized in the events of his life at the time he was writing each book. The goal here is to present the balanced view of the artist and the man. 'Chapel Perilous' will present a fuller view of Robert Anton Wilson than even he described in his autobiographical Cosmic Trigger series. There is a lot he did not put in those books.

Yes, Bob's unique political philosophy, and its development  will be a large part of 'Chapel Perilous.' Bob arrived at such philosophical positions as Trotskyism, Objectivism, American born Anarchism, Libertarianism, Minarchism, just to name a few, and the book will have many pages dedicated to his 'Non-Euclidean Politics."


Oz Fritz said...

Great interview! Looking forward to the bio.

Unknown said...

Great! Looking forward to the biography, I never had the opportunity to meet the man himself. And like you said, he didn't put everything into his books.

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