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Name: Dr. Rak Rollerskate Razam
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He Has Ridden ( 14th Jan, 2006 )
Winterland ( 14th Jan, 2006 )
Liftoff ( 14th Jan, 2006 )
Stumbling into the Basel Backpackers is much like any hostel in the world, with a subtle difference.
"Ah, you are here for the LSD, nein?" says Christoph, the South Afrikkan Swiss National who manages the place. "That Dr. Hofmann, he is still going at 100, eh? Amazing."
Yes, I am here for the LSD.
And I'm not alone.
A curious thing, this hostel full of "Heads", to use the 60s vernacular. Drug-taking explorers of the innerspaces, well-versed psychonauts who have broken open their heads and had a good look around the infinite spaces found there.
The hostel is literally loaded with Heads at all the tables, lounging on the couches and sitting at the bar. They look pretty much like normal young travellers with a fair measure of middle aged and elder psychedelic statesmen thrown in to the mix. The real distinguishing feature is their frankness: the conversation around the hostel common
room is awash with Head talk, LSD this and DMT that, 2CB, 5-MEO-DMT, DXY, a babble of drug speak stripped back to the essential amino acid chain combinations for those in the know, a glossonalia of alchemical slang.
Word up, true believers.
The grey haired old woman chain-smoking in the corner, I find out much later, was a nurse in the 50s who trained with Dr. Hofmann.
"He was lovely, such a gentleman," she confides in broken English over peppermint tea one morning.
Our motley crew of independent media makers has two Nowegian doco makers - Einar and Raine, Maria, a Portugese photo-journalist, Francis, a Cambridge (Crowley went to Cambridge) educated literary type who would like to do a doco for BB4 - that's the intellectual channel you know, Paul, the owner of Polyster Books in Melbourne, the leading counter-cultural outlet, and ye humble gonzo journalist. A half dozen other crew from Finland and America and South America and god knows where at the other tables, all of us brought together here in Basel by the strange attractor of LSD and the man who discovered it.
It's like all the Heads ever turned on, synapses of the evolving Cosmic Mind, all in one room and connecting up. Sparks fly, ideas transform, deep neo-theologic pathways open to the Word and lock on. Some crazy meme making spreads itself through the night, joints are rolled, beers
are drunk. The group mind comes together.
Maria is a street-wise Portuguese beauty with a Cockney accent, here to write and photograph the LSD conference for an arts magazine in London. After being psychically read by a multi-media Ayahuasca facilitator from Amsterdam she is told her liver is weak and she should stay away from the synthesised drugs.
"Datura is what you need" the man in the know says, dowsing her spiritual needs with a silver heart pendant on a chain.
"Fuck that, lets roll a joint," she suggests, and we all retire to the outside courtyard with its salubrious - five degrees centigrade ambiance. Maria, it turns out, is best friends with one of the two Boom Festival organisers, childhood buddies who have recently had a falling out that could endanger the international Trance festival. She knows crew I know in the Trance scene - it's a small world, and an even smaller community.
I first meet Einar at the bar buying a beer. He and Raine are working on a documentary on LSD and the consciousness movement for Norwegian television, but the real thing. All they want to do is get good information out there and sustain themselves while doing it. Four days later Einar would be high on acid in the belly of a boat, deep in the gonzo reporting space and starting to go all 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas', but without the fear or the loathing. Higher consciousnes and love, man - you had to be there and sometimes words just don't cut it.
Rainer is a beautiful man. He's about six foot three, long dark brown hair fading to grey, a big open face like Gerard Depardieu. He's got a long and colourful history and as we drink beers way into the winter night, he tells his trippers tales mixed with a heartfelt wisdom and sincerity.
"Those that know have a duty to pass on what they know," Raine says, as we all get deep and meaningful heading towards the midnight hour.
"My mother, she was once very against this whole drug culture, but she didn't know what it was really about, she was just repeating what she had heard, what the media told her and the habits they passed on, with their vested interests. She loves me, you know, and she thought she was looking out for me."
"By this time, of course, I had been in Goa for six months and was heavily into the scene there. I had been experimenting with acid, with ketamine, with the trance dancing and we smoked chillums all the time. After a few months she began getting worried, and one day on the phone she says to me - Raine, I am worried about you. I am coming to see if you are okay. I will be there in two days."
"I hestitate, you know, because I am looking after lots of people at my place, there are DJs everywhere, people having chillums in the kitchen, LSD is flowing like wine, yeah, and the whole place is like a party that has been going on for weeks and it never stops. But I say to her - of course, you come here to Goa, and I show you what it is really like."
"So she comes out and the first thing is she is very very shocked with India, you know, with the poverty and the begging and the death right in your face, the real deal. But I think this is a good thing, because she sees this other culture, and she is a wonderful woman but she was still so naive, she believed the world was what the tv told her."
"So she sees the world a bit differently, and by the time we get to Goa and meet my friends there she is still worried, but she has more perspective to take it all in. And for the first few days all the Heads leave and it is just me and my mother and the native Indians who live and work with us, and she meets the wives and sees me play with the kids and it's good."
"And then a few days in I take her to a trance party on the beach, and like, her jaw drops but she has a little dance on the edge of the dancefloor, and all of these people are coming up trying to give me liquid acid and offering me chillums and she's like, what is going on, Raine? Are those DRUGS? I say "this is a Trance party, mama, this is what we do. And I show her - I smoke a chillum right there in front of her, and I get high."
"And you know, after that, well, she had nowhere else to go but to accept it. And she did. And now, years later, she will just say to me to be careful and have fun, and she knows, you know, she can understand that it is just a different culture, because she has had the connection."
I love the mom stories.
I tell Rainer of how I told my mum I was going to a conciousness Symposium in Switzerland, and when she pressed
further I said it was celebrating LSD and Dr. Hofmann, and how her face had writhed in a mental paroxysm as she processed the words until finally she said, dazed:
"But isn't that... a DRUG?"
We need to tell the mums of the world our stories, to bring them into the fold. And the dads and the kids and our families if there is ever to be a unified tribe again, a psychedelic tribe ready to inhabit the global village.
And as the wisdom of the Tribe fades under the weight of beer and cigarettes, I bid adieu to the Heads from around the world and stumble into my bed. But, like mushrooms after a fresh rain, the Heads continue to sprout, even here in my dorm room.
Two older guys, late 40s or early 50s are in their underwear shooting the breeze about the mysteries of life. Gentle, soft spoken - it's like i've walked into a confessional .
"When you start anew there's a sense of not remembering what came before. When I was 25 I could actively remember past lives. I was in a Buddhist monastery and I saw a thousand things I didn't want to see. You start not wanting to accept this reality, but you have to accept this, it is real."
"Oh, do you think we are more conscious because we remember we have died? Do we... bring something back, some rememberance that changes us here and now?"
"I remember being dead, you know, for me those are clear feelings. I was hit by a bus and the energy was gone, it was like I was invisible, watching my body die. "
"What do you classify as being alive? "
"When you watch a good movie you become the character you watch, that becomes your life, your consciousness. And when the movie ends? You move on, to the next movie." the midnight stoners are saying from the next bunk cluster in the dorm room.
Middle-aged French and English accents expounding on the eternal questions with a grace and intimacy. As gentle as lovers, these two men, chatting by lamplight in the Blue Room dorm, all of us drawn like moths to the flame of the 100 year old man and his chemical key.
LSD - three letters that changed the world the Symposium brochures say. And sitting here in the wee hours in a Basel backpackers, listening to soul talk and meeting the Heads that dream the dream, I totally agree.
We have all of us, been touched by this experience, changed on the inside, and now it guides our external actions and provides a lodestone for our journey between worlds.
But enough of today.
Tomorrow is a new day.
Time for the good Doctor Hofmann.
The Alchemist himself.
Droger/ Einar Storesund_bigbay69@yahoo.no
Father & Son LSD heads/ Einar Storesund_bigbay69@yahoo.no
Heads: Space Frog Mistress/ Einar Storesund_bigbay69@yahoo.no
Heads: Psychedelic Media Cowboy - Einar / by Maria email@example.com
Heads: Psychedelic Media Cowboy - Nils/ by Maria firstname.lastname@example.org
Heads: Psychedelic Media Cowboy - Raine / by Maria email@example.com
I've come to Switzerland to meet a 100 year old man. That might be cause enough in some circles, but this is no ordinary centenarian. Dr. Albert Hofmann is the Swiss chemist, ex-Nobel Prize committee member who discovered the unique properties of d-lysergic acid diethylamide, known as LSD (or ‘acid’ on the street) in his lab at Sandoz pharmaceuticals in April, 1943.
Basel, the city where all this occurred, is proud of it's prize chemist and is hosting an international Symposium on “LSD - Problem Child and Wonder Drug". On Wednesday 11th Jan the local paper is awash with respect for Dr. Hofmann and his discovery in a way that no other Western newspaper would. An eight page spread documents his discovery, quotes excerpts from his book, "My Problem Child" and charts the take-up of LSD by the Hippies in the 60s and it's effect on music, culture and consciousness. Bloody great.
Later I'm talking about the cultural conceits with a group of 'Heads', to use the 60s term - switched on crew that are all here for the LSD conference, too. The classic media formula when talking about 'drug' issues is rise and fall. Apart from a select few archetypes - like Kate Moss or Robbie Williams, for instance, who are allowed to get away with their indulgences, the usual route for people who indulge in drugs is that they must always come to a bad end.
Basel, however, will have none of this manichean dualism. The city has hundreds of years of balanced thought and philosophy hanging in their culture milieu. Posters for psychoanalysis sessions adorn the local bus stops. Picasso, Freud and Mozart exhibitions are on permanent display. The European mind has a long history examining itself, and the use of a chemical like LSD to navigate the labyrinth of the unconscious seems de rigeur in this place. Not that it's legal - but for medical and psychotherapy uses the culture seems totally comfortable with it's potential and proud of its native discoverer.
To celebrate Dr. Hofmann's 100th birthday today I decide to put myself in his shoes and recreate the famous bike ride he took that fateful day, April 19, 1943 - sans the acid.
I hire a bike and ride to Basel St Johann, on the edge of the Rhine, where Sandoz labs used to be. Sandoz merged with Ciba-Novartis in the 1990s, and is now one of the largest pharmaceutical giants in the world. The old labs where LSD was synthesised are gone and a giant, thirty story tower stands over the river, dominating the Basel cityscape. This is the heavy industrial side of town and the docks area where ships unload their goods for all the factories spotted along the river.
As I walk along in the late afternoon a light mist takes hold, catching the rays of sun and the pollution let off by the two giant industrial chimneys in
the distance. They look like colossal salt and pepper shakers spewing out clouds of gas day and night into the Basel sky. Curious and curiouser this town and the price it pays for it’s libertarian consciousness.
I walk past a huge block of commission flats about a hundred metres long and eight stories high, home to the immigrants Basel has accepted in the last few decades. Kids play football in a nearby park, laughing happily and rugged up against the cold.
Passing under the bridge I notice a plush black armchair, empty water bottles and litter, syringe caps. Drugs have come to Basel, too - just like everywhere else in the world. The ironic thing is that this is also the pharmaceutical capital of the country, where legal drugs are manufactured and shipped out to the waiting world.
Ironic, then, that LSD is still banned, grouped with all the other street drugs when it originally came from the research labs and doctors offices. In its heyday it was used to treat personality disorders, alcoholism and a raft of mental issues for the elites.
Writers like Aldous Huxley, Professors like Timothy Leary, then a respected Harvard professor, scientists like Francis Crick, co-discoverer of DNA, actors like Carey Grant - the rumour mill even extended it's use to Marilyn Munroe and JFK. If one understands the set and setting of those times, the late 50s and early 60s, before all the drug hysteria, one could quite reasonably believe everyone was doing it. The intelligentsia of the world was being switched on and dosing one another in a chemical network from Europe to America.
Over 40,000 people were treated successfully worldwide with LSD as a psychotherapy and consciousness raising tool by the time it was finally banned in 1966 amongst threats of cultural revolution.
I wonder what Basel would have looked like over sixty years ago, back in the middle of the Second World War when Dr. Hofmann made his momentous discovery. There are enough grand old buildings still around with their gothic architecture to carry the European charm into the 21st century, but they are surrounded by skyscrapers and traffic intersections hosting trams, buses and cars. And of course, bicycles everywhere.
The Swiss love their bikes, it seems. The Novartis tower has a giant bike shed opposite the Rhine for its employees, with at least a hundred bikes all secured under cover.Which seems appropriate, as in 1943 the good Doctor was forced to travel home by bicycle (cars being limited due to war-time shortages) after his first deliberate dosing with LSD.
At about twenty minutes past four in the afternoon, Dr. Hofmann dissolved 250 mg of LSD-25 in water, what he thought would be a small dose, and drank it.
By 4:50 pm he had noticed no effects. By 5:00 pm, he noted the following symptoms in his journal: "beginning dizziness, feeling of anxiety, unrest, difficulty in concentration, visual disturbances, desire to laugh." His last written words
were barely legible.
"I requested my laboratory technician to accompany me home; we went by
bicycle. My field of vision swayed before me, and objects appeared distorted like images in curved mirrors. I had the impression of being unable to move from the spot, although my assistant told me afterwards that we had cycled at a good pace.
I noticed with dismay that my environment was undergoing progressive changes. Space and time became more and more disorganized and I was overcome by a fear that I was going out of my mind. The worst part of it being that I was clearly aware of my condition. I was not, however, capable by any act of will, of preventing the breakdown of the world around me."
I'm standing on the Drelrosenbrucke bridge, the same one Dr. Hofmann rode over all those years ago, when a nearby clock strikes 5:00 pm. The sun is setting in streaks of pink and grey as dozens of cyclists cross the bridge in front of Sandoz -Novartis in both directions.
I picture Albert, stoned out of his gourd on LSD, pedaling away into hyperspace and the history books. Oh, those days of chemical innocence, before the war on drugs, before we knew as a culture what these things do, the places they take us to and the deep connection they can make to ourselves and the higher planes.
And as the psychedelic bicyclist in my mind's eye crests the bridge and rides off towards his home in Bottmingen, down near the zoo, a strange presentiment comes over me, a connection with the good Doctor and his legion of tripper children and grand-children down through the ages.
The trip began in earnest that Monday afternoon in 1943, right here in Basel. But if truth be told, it never ended. For once the door of perception is open, it's mighty hard to close.
He Has Ridden
Basel Bike Tripper
Alchemist @ 100
Long Strange Trip/ by David Normal/ firstname.lastname@example.org/ for full animation visit < http://www.normal-design.com/bicycle-ride.html >