Saturday, 3 November 2012

Dead Man Talking # 5 - Bill Booker

 Strachan McQuade (deceased) interviews Bill Booker

Having experimented with various mind altering substances in my youth (Aspirin & Coca-Cola, toasted banana skins, Ear drops, Evostick, and then straight to Heroin) Bill Booker's excellent cult novel Trippers seemed right up my street. Not only did it give me vivid flash-backs to my own dalliance with tie-dye shirts and platform shoes while looking at the world through dilated pupils, it also had me scurrying to the attic to dig out some long forgotten vinyl gems like The Groundhogs, King Crimson, Syd Barrett, and Lieutenant Pigeon. Only problem with reading a book dealing with drugs is that you soon need to read another one, then yet one more. Only after booking myself into a rehab centre for psychedelic literature addicts and suffering through two weeks of cold turkey did I finally get my life back on track. The thing is - I now crave fresh cold turkey and don't even bother thawing out the horrible stuff before eating it. I thought Bill Booker would be an intriguing guest to share a spliff with but Strachan was streets ahead of me, this time pulling on a cheesecloth shirt made from actual Cheddar cheese and stuffing his pipe full of mixed spice. Peace and love, brother.

Strachan McQuade R.I.P
Bill Booker RIPPED

McQuade: Must apologise, Booker. I was intending asking to you to sign my copy of your novel, Trippers, but it seems someone has dropped a fried egg on the cover and it's now stuck fast. I tried soaking the book in hot soapy water for an hour then placing it on a hot radiator to dry out. But now the book is twice the size and all the pages are stuck together. Have any other of your readers suffered a similar problem with regard to unwanted fried eggs on the cover? 

Booker: Yours is the first report I've heard. There was a rumour going around in the Trippers Marketing Department that some wag had the idea to glue actual fried eggs to the covers of a select few units for promotional purposes. Needless to say this plan was scotched – or was it? The reply to my memo states that all concerned were too stoned to remember if one such combination had prematurely slipped out. As compensation I've asked for a freshly fried egg to be signed (by the Trippers Signing Department) and popped in the post to you almost kind of immediately. But maybe it's a jape from closer to home? Of course, it's possible you simply mistook the printed smiley egg on the cover for the real thing, in which case perhaps you should check the batteries in your varifocals?

At this point I would remind you that the 'fried egg and chips' motif symbolises the greasy caff where we grounded ourselves and contemplated stuff, e.g.: 'We felt we were part of a wider community that must surely exist “out there”, that we had something special between ourselves. We were all brothers and sisters of a chosen generation, free in mind and body. We were The Semi-Secret Fellowship of Freaks.' And 'Benighted minds control the media, spreading those fucking negative thoughts. Forecasting apocalypse, disseminating self-fulfilling prophesies.'

McQuade: Who’d have thought fried eggs could attain such deep and mystical symbolic status? Not me, that’s for sure. Now, as a man of the cloth it goes without saying that I am opposed to any sort of mind-altering experiences, possibly with the exception of self induced religious rapture where sometimes I’ve been known to speak in tongues and handle large snakes. The Moderator of the Church of Scotland was rather irate at this experiment in charismatic chicanery and stormed into my church demanding an explanation and left just as quickly when a snake bit him on the foot. Poor fellow couldn’t play golf for weeks after that. Your novel, Trippers, however does seem to encourage people to lark around with dangerous psychedelic substances - as well as promoting food cooked in lard. Was this anarchistic credo of ‘Turn On/Get Fat & Spotty’ your motivation for writing this book? 

Booker: The first thing I'll say is that all religions have, at some time or another (usually at the inspirational stage), used psychoactive substances, commonly called entheogens these days (look it up in the back of Trippers), in order to experience altered consciousness and they have been the source of many religious visions and mystical philosophies (see Food Of The Gods: The Search for the Original Tree of Knowledge: A Radical History of Plants, Drugs and Human Evolution by Terence McKenna and The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross by John M Allegro). 

McQuade: We don’t encourage long winded acknowledgements to source material here, Booker. Get on with it.

Booker: The second thing I'd like to point out is that in Trippers I make it very clear that psychoactive substances can be dangerous. Acid can give you a brain full of rats. Any chemical can give you mental dry rot: speed, booze, paint fumes... However, Trippers is mainly an account of the positive qualities of LSD; the popular press have always excelled at sensationalising the odd negative to the extent that ordinary god-fearing folk are so terrified they're afeared to even whisper its name, hence a balance is in order. Even so, this is by no means a tale of relentless drug taking, Trippers is also about friendship, self discovery and throwing up...

McQuade: I do hope there’s not a third part to this.

Booker: Thirdly, may I pick you up on your opposition to 'mind altering experiences'? The Christian concept of salvation is thought to be a state of altered consciousness, as is the stress-free state achieved in daily meditation... I refer you to the US-based Centre for Cognitive Liberty and Ethics which regards altering consciousness as a human right and is fighting any repression of this freedom on the Civil Liberties ticket.

A young Booker with disinterested woman
In view of what I perceive as your typically dogmatic attitude, may I suggest, Reverend McQuade, and I mean no disrespect to your innate selfhood or your eminent sanctity as an ordained cleric, that you indulge in a little introspective stocktaking, using the following statements as a springboard? (Editor – How I wish he would)

Automata are usually complex mechanisms operating on very simple principles. You are a simple mechanism operating on decidedly Cartesian Dualistic lines where the 'deus ex machina' in your case is a malevolent hypocrite presenting itself as a golem. Would you argue that you are more than a construction of coat hangers or old bones and parchment due to the 'living' spirit that indwells – or is it the draught blowing through your bent wires or osseous matter that gives you a semblance of life? (Editor – Got McQuade down to a tee there, Bill)

Incidentally, the old 'physical and non-physical' or 'matter and spirit' debate is irrelevant here, so don't take on about it, Rev, it's just for ease of communication. It all boils down to energy (or in your case, glue), whichever way you cut it, possibly infused with intelligence or possibly not.

So what if ‘Turn On/Get Fat & Spotty’ was my motivation for writing the book?

Lastly, I apologise for giving the impression that I was promoting food cooked in lard, that was completely unintended. Maybe I should've made it clear that we only consumed that greasy muck because it was cheap and we liked it.

McQuade: (Rustling of newspaper) Sorry, wasn't really listening. Too busy reading an interesting item about faith healing chiropodists in the Congo. Verrucas vanquished using Voodoo. So where were we? Ah, couldn’t help noticing on your website that the video trailer for Trippers includes a track called Trippers Blues provided by that rip-off merchant Watson. You do realise that he simply taped a song off ‘The Shadows 20 Golden Greats’ and then re-recorded the tape backwards before passing it off as his own work. Hopefully you can still stop the cheque. There does also seem to be a great deal of emphasis placed upon music in Trippers. Why did you feel it was so important to mention so many bands of the era in which the book is set. Was it a case of simply drying up and needing to pad out the book?

Booker: That's a relief! After 600ug of pure Sandoz it sounds exactly like the Shadows. A wonderful composition! Shame on Watson all the same... The cheque's in the bin.

Music was (and is) inseparable from all parts of life. In those days we only had vinyl to play and buying an album was always quite an occasion. I didn't own many albums as there was no need since I spent more time in other people's houses and flats than I did at home. If someone had Led Zep I and II but not III, I would buy that album. I would often leave a couple of LPs at someones place and borrow a couple of theirs – collections were more like lending libraries. There was so much listening enjoyment as well as studying the sleeves in minute detail... You have to remember also that apart from the music press, a patchy affair compared to today, and John Peel on the radio, there were few sources of information about bands and albums. Sometimes a record would have been released months before we heard about it. We would regularly go to Leicester Uni to see live music; it was cheap to get in and some great bands played there: just drop a tab and float away.

McQuade: Ahem…….. (looks pointedly at his watch)

Booker: There are many bands and songs featured in Trippers because the music infused that period with its own peculiar flavours and not to include them would be to leave out an important and essential aspect of the experience I wanted to communicate to the reader.

The mid-1960s to early 1970s was a time when some of the best music was made and recorded but back then we didn't know it, just took it for granted that those sublime standards of creativity and musicianship were eternal. Little did we know that the great fat arse of big business was about to sit on it...

McQuade: Just reading some of your promotional material and it says that you were highly influenced by Jacques Cousteau's ground breaking novel On the Road. Hmmm. Wouldn't have thought it comfortable walking for any distance wearing flippers and carrying a heavy tank full of oxygen. And if memory serves me right, I think both Bob Hope and Bing Crosby did that whole On the Road thing first. While you ponder this conundrum would you like a pickled walnut? 

Booker: Thank you, Reverend, I certainly would. If you could just toss it over... Got it! Oh, is this really a pickled walnut? It's furry...eight leg stumps...??? Erm, it may be those varifocals again. 

The novel you're alluding to was actually written by Jack Kerouac, one of the 'Beat Generation' and known for his 'stream of consciousness' prose. 'Highly influenced' is a bit strong, but I enjoyed the poetic aspects of his work. On the Road is about driving across America and, as the blurb says, Trippers is 'a very English Kerouac set to a 'Withnail & I' scale'. Really, apart from both novels featuring roads, there are few points of comparison. You're entirely correct, it might be said that Kerouac was influenced by the Road movies starring Bob and Bing: all but one were released several years before On the Road was published. Now I think about it, Trippers has as much in common with them as it does with Kerouac, that's to say again: very little.  

McQuade: I’m nipping out to the shops for some pipe tobacco, so why don’t you waffle on at great length about how much fun drugs can be for the intellectual classes. Back in a few minutes.

Booker, possibly on drugs
Booker: Briefly, an important element of psychedelic experience is the intensifying of sensual input and possibly a strong outreaching in order to grasp everything 'out there'; colours become ultra vivid, sounds acquire hitherto unheard clarity and fullness, the sense of smell expands and is able to analyse and appreciate previously unknown subtleties, touch is hyper-sensitised. Equally, this enhancement applies within the mind, super-psychic voyages are experienced in HD surround. One's cognitive faculty, the ability to 'connect the dots', can be so intensified that all thoughts run to infinity. The sum of this 'enlightening' cannot help do other than imbue the micro- and macrocosm with meaning, intrinsic meaning, the implication of special significance. An event, something spoken, a sight, a thought, the evening light, the sound of wind rustling leaves, a piece of music, all become snapshots of a greater whole, all encapsulated as moving scenes or tableaux or concepts inherent with meaning. If one is fortunate, there comes a ZAP! and all is known and understood - for a nanosecond – and after this has ebbed, its echoes remain forever. 

McQuade: That’s me back. Keep talking while I get my pipe lit.

Booker: In contrast with alcoholic beverages the differences are of scale and levels of consciousness, but not necessarily of quality – it depends on motivation and intention. What do you want to experience? 'In vino veritas'? The refreshing (or warming) glow of a pint or two of good ale? And George Bernard Shaw said, 'Whisky is liquid sunshine.' As for speed: 'Amphetamines: These are extremely dangerous drugs.' John Lilly, MD. It all hangs on what you want, but to really understand what you want you first need to know yourself.

Ah, er, Reverend, would you consider it ungentlemanly of me if I asked for another 'pickled walnut'? 

McQuade: Certainly. Here, have the whole jar. Much healthier for you than larking around with illegal substances and fried eggs. Thank you so much for your attendance. Please accept this tattered old Trilby hat I picked up in Cancer Research for 70p yesterday. I was going to keep it for myself but it seems to be infested with head lice. Now if you don't mind leaving, it's time for my nap. My man-servant Watson will see you out. And do be careful with the door handle. Sometimes due to magnetic induction it becomes linked to the... (loud zapping noise and painful scream)...... electricty mains. Erm... love the new hair style, Booker. 

Buy Trippers by William J Booker

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