Boingboing has been running some great pieces on Robert Anton Wilson in honor of the 5th anniversary of his death on 1/11/2007. It’s been fun reading the likes of Ken Goffman and Paul Krassner reflect on Wilson, explaining why he’s so important to them. It’s all made me uncomfortably nostalgic and forlorn.
My personal interaction with Bob was very limited, but very memorable. And, appropriately enough, confounding, absurd, educational, unforgettable, and wonderful. Much like his books.
It was 1998 and my girlfriend at the time and I drove up from Austin to go see Bob speak in the Masonic temple in downtown Dallas. There’s no word in the english language that can properly express the kind of fanboy emotion I was experiencing to be sitting in a fucking Masonic temple in the town that killed Kennedy with Robert Anton Wilson and only about 25 other people.
I sat about 30′ away from him, panting like a mutt, full of joy the whole time. I don’t remember his talk that night being necessarily great, he seemed to be in a bit of pain and slightly grouchier than normal.
The night was billed as a workshop with Robert Anton Wilson, but the extent of the exercises he taught us that night were limited to one. He asked us to shut our eyes and breathe, clearing our thoughts and settling down our minds. And then, when the inevitable inner voice would once again raise it’s borish head, we were told to shout at the top of our lungs at the persistent sod to “Shut the Fuck Up!” I’ve since applied this exercise to some fairly useful ends, it being an effective example of the old-world hucksterism cum mysticism that Wilson seemed to love. It was also a pretty great piece of performance art to get a room full of adults screaming at the voices in their head to “Shut the FUCK up!”
Driving home that night, my girlfriend and I talked about the evening. I’m not sure which one of us brought it up first, but we both seemed to notice that throughout the evening Bob seemed to keep turning into some kind of fish-headed creature. A green-skinned thing, his beard and hair extended and flowed, whiskers hovering out to the sides.
I’m not sure what the hell was going on there really. This was definitely an odd time in my life where events like that weren’t as surprising as they might be today. But even amongst all the circus lights and fireworks of my life at the time I remember us both thinking this was pretty startling.
About two weeks later my girlfriend and I were running some Saturday afternoon errands. She was thinking about trying to buy some kind of Volkswagon or something to replace a dying pickup truck, so we pulled into the VW dealership off 35. I was characteristically annoyed.
I walked through the lot looking at my chucks and thinking about anything but cars or my girlfriend. Maybe I was daydreaming about getting home to some freshly made GHB.
When I looked up from the ground there was a car salesman in front of me. He smiled and asked how we were doing and then proceeded through what I imagine was his usual song and dance used to engage potential customers.
Unfortunately, I was having a hard time responding to him, or saying anything at all, really. I was literally caught – for one of the few genuine times in my life – speechless trying to process what I was pretty sure I was seeing in front of me. As much as my brains wanted to protest, and as far as I could tell, the Volkswagon salesman standing right in front of me, sprawling some endless bullshit about the ’99 Passat’s power rating or some screaming deal he could get us on our APR, looked *exactly* like Robert Anton Wilson. The white hair, the droll mannerisms, the smile that reminded you with every verbal turn that he was indeed fucking with you. He even had Wilson’s Brooklyn accent.
I probably spooked the guy as I imagine it’s got to be more than a little unnerving to be stared at like a ghost or like you’ve just become the hand the universe is using to yank a young acid head’s dick. DoppleBob collected himself and slipped out of our presence as gracefully as was possible. But, before he walked off, he extended a hand to shake, encouraging us to let him know if we had any questions. I looked down to return the shake, as is customary in most human circles, and, on the ring finger of his right hand he had a ring of the same exact style - I shit you not - that Wilson had on the same finger of the same hand. The only difference between the two Bob’s rings was that inside the disc on Wilson’s ring was a chaos star. Inside the ring of the VW salesman was the VW logo.
I’ll let you come to your own conclusions on that one, you really need some time alone to unpack that origami octopus. I’m still rummaging through it myself after 14 years.
Standing outside the Masonic temple that night in Dallas I asked Bob about the specifics of the Sirius workings he mentions in Cosmic Trigger. He gave me what, at the time, was a frustratingly simple and, I thought, evasive answer.
He looked up and, blowing cigarette smoke at me, he said, “Art is Magick. It’s incredibly personal, you have to become it. Befriend it. Befriend it and it becomes you. William Blake would eat breakfast with his muse, talk to her over breakfast.”
I was too green at the time to see past my own insistence for specifics to be able to appreciate the exchange for what it was. I was also probably too arrogant.
But here I am now, a bit older, a little slower and in so many ways, even tonight, 14 years later, I’m still swimming around in that curmudgeonly bard’s very simple and mostly true words of wisdom that he dropped on an eager young toad that night in Dallas. And to me, that keeps Bob alive and still working hard in the world today when I need him most. And that is Magick.
Thanks for the laughs, Bob.