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Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Review: Beyond Chaos and Beyond

Back in the day, when what is now called “classic rock” was just “rock,” I bought an album by The Who called Odds and Sods.

It was not a new studio album, or a live album, but a patched-together collection of Who songs that, for one reason or another, had been left off of previous albums.

I don’t think anyone considers Odds and Sods the equal of Who albums such as Tommy and Who’s Next.

But here’s the thing. Odds and Sods is a pretty darn good Who album. I like it better than some of the official studio releases, such as Face Dances.

Beyond Chaos and Beyond, the new Robert Anton Wilson book issued earlier this year by D. Scott Apel, takes a similar place in the RAW canon. You won’t put it ahead of books such as Cosmic Trigger: The Final Secret of the Illuminati, but it’s a good collection of RAW material. I like it better than TSOG: The Thing That Ate the Constitution and Chaos and Beyond.

Like Chaos and Beyond, to which Beyond Chaos and Beyond serves as a kind of sequel, the new book is drawn largely from material originally published by Trajectories, the newsletter Wilson and Apel put out for RAW fans.

Beyond Chaos and Beyond begins with a good interview with Wilson, conducted by Apel and his friend Kevin Briggs, reprinted from Apel’s Science Fiction: An Oral History.

The book also includes Apel’s essay on the history of Trajectories, articles reprinted from Trajectories, transcripts of Wilson videos and audio recordings sent to Trajectories subscribers, a collection of Wilson’s writings on movies, another collection of Wilson’s writings on Philip K. Dick, a few other short pieces, and a long biographical essay by Apel, “BOB AND ME: A Record of a 30 Year Friendship.”

There are some real gems in the book, comparable in quality to what you’ll find in Email to the Universe and other compilations. I particularly liked “Fearful Symmetries: Reflections on The Silence of the Lambs.” And while some of the transcriptions seem a bit flabby, not as concise and well expressed as Wilson’s writings or discussing something covered better elsewhere, the transcription of his talk, “12 Eggs in a Box: Myth, Ritual and the Jury System” is as good as any of his essays.

I was never bored. And I appreciated having “Mandatory Movies” and “Brain Books” collected in the book so that I could refer to Wilson’s book and movie recommendations.

“Bob and Me,” the memoir, is quite candid and interesting and will be a big resource for Wilson’s biographers. Apel offers an extended look at what Wilson was like in person and offers many fascinating anecdotes, such as the time when Apel was booted out of a Wilson-Timothy Leary seminar that his girlfriend was allowed to attend. You also learn what Wilson liked to eat (a section apparently inspired by a question from me), TV shows he liked, how he dealt with people who contradicted him and more about his bitter feelings toward publishers and editors. I was only sorry the discussion of Wilson’s taste in classical music wasn’t a bit more detailed.

You can’t help noticing how hard Apel worked to help Wilson, particularly in Wilson’s later years when Wilson needed it. There’s a much more complete portrait of Arlen Wilson than you’ll find anywhere else. And I was interested in the fact that Apel’s partner read The Egyptian Book of the Dead to both Arlen and Bob as they were dying.

The book is mostly text, but some photographs are included.

“Beyond Chaos and Beyond” currently is available as a $4.99 Kindle ebook, but a paper edition will be issued soon. When the paperback is released, I’ll note the news in this blog.


supergee said...

When Wilson visited us, he insisted on going to a place that served meat, rather than a "fern bar."

Oz Fritz said...

Great review, thank-you!

Rarebit Fiend said...

Wilson did seem pretty anti-vegetarian. This is a great review Tom- I enjoyed Beyond Chaos and Beyond a lot and this just made me want to go reread it.