Audiobooks: Part 1 – How it all started…

As everyone should know by now, I am something of a reader. At least I try to be. It’s not always easy to find the time, and I am admittedly a slow reader, but the important thing is to somehow schedule enough freedom to carry on the exploration of enough of the world’s fascinating books… and thus certain strategies have evolved with which I can make the most of my limited lifespan and still absorb as much as possible…

Well, on this blog I have thoroughly gone over my love of comics, and occasionally I like to share various reviews. Now the time has come to express my love of yet another literary medium: Audiobooks!

I currently have a special love for the audio format of storytelling, and it’s only been a few years since I have gotten into it. The brilliant thing about it is that you can listen while waiting in line at customs, or squished on a subway car, or jogging, or any number of transit platforms for a life ever on the go.

Personally, I have a rather low attention span and it is still something of a surprise that I have become so into audiobooks. I don’t recommend it for everyone. But if you do grow out of listening to the same songs on your shuffle endlessly, it’s a good method to mix it up and keep the mind active on boring commutes.

My best advice is to simply download a favorite book that you’ve already read–and only the best books are worth rereading–and experience it anew via a talented actor reading you a story.

Besides, isn’t that the purest form of storytelling? Oral traditions are how it all started for humanity, long before the invention of writing. Right?

 

Anyway, a cursory glance at my Goodreads audio shelf shows that I have apparently listened to about 80 separate works. Some shortened, some lengthy—

https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/765636?shelf=audio

 

Not bad, or so I should hope. But, you may ask, how did I start upon this path?

I believe it was in that 2012/2013 era, when I thought I had grown up and established all the hobbies I would have in my adult life. Fortunately there was still more to learn, new habits still yet unfounded.

Now, before I even got into the more book-length audio format (after a brief interest in talk radio) I used to listen to a variety of fascinating psychedelic lectures. This was during my mid-to-late twenties, back in California. I was especially interested in Terence McKenna and his take on psilocybin mushrooms as per extraterrestrial intelligence and the like. That sort of thing.

(Somehow I did miss the boat on podcasts. From time to time some good ones are recommended and I listen, such as Hardcore History or a good NPR story, but for the most part I am an audiobooks boy)

So there I was, and I had in my possession a digital library of the complete series by noted author Robert Anton Wilson. I enjoyed listening to his “maybe logic” philosophy, his take on reality tunnels and the mystical secrets of the mind, but eventually I had run out. However, there on the entirety of the set, I noticed that the great Illuminatus! Trilogy was included. Unabridged.

Hmmmm.

Back then, the only audiobook I had ever finished to was a CD of Neil Gaiman’s youthful tale Coraline, which I listened to on a cross-country train trip in my youth. It didn’t work at all; I was constantly distracted and had to rewind. Didn’t seem to be for me.

But surely the legendary epic that is the Illuminatus! Trilogy would be different? The classic conspiratorial farce is a series that I revisit from time to time in my life, gaining new wisdom, and I was about ready for another reread.

And reread, or rather first-listen, I did. The whole thing. And it was awesome. The first installment of the trilogy was best, even after they changed narrators for the final two thirds. The grand appendix was just like a psychedelic lecture anyhow, and from that day on to today I carry with me the memories of productively learning much secret knowledge of the universe while walking around the neighborhood.

 

 

It gave me such an interesting perspective to hear fresh voices which had previously existed only been in my head . The timing, the intonation, such a different interpretation compared to what had come before. I really loved it. My mind was sharp on many a long otherwise boring bicycle ride back in those months. I retained the whole info-space in a new way, and I dare say–at least temporarily–I was as much an expert on RAW as anyone.

Here, you don’t have to listen to the entire piece but a random skim may give an idea here:

 

 

I had discovered a whole new time-consuming hobby. The next step was to I had to figure out what to listen to next. There were a few options. Abridged books or short novels, poetry or radio dramas, so much to choose from.

I decided to go big, and the next major listen was the crucial postcyberpunk novel Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson. At 17 hours I still contend that this is the greatest audiobook of all time, as read by actor Jonathan Davis. Hilarious, entertaining, exciting, and simulteneously shockingly intelligent.

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Politics and conspiracy theories, a personal note

The world keeps getting crazier, and I keep having to blog about it.

I give in. I am now officially a political blogger. Sorry about that.

While I am not qualified to be a proper journalist or columnist, I hope I do have something of an interesting point of view. As an American abroad who just likes to read and has a bit of an international background, I’ll share. It’s my perspective, after all, and while I’m hardly the most knowledgeable person in the world I still may have something interesting to say on occasion.

For this week’s post I’d like to talk about the current prevalence of conspiracy theories—or as some would prefer the term conspiracy fables—in the current national dialogue. This issue is in fact near and dear to me, as I have been a fan of such mythology for many years. Honestly, I am shocked that the fringe stuff me and my friends researched back in the early 2000s, which I always thought should be taken with a grain of salt, is now taken very seriously by the mainstream. Yes, the mainstream; if you won the election then you are officially the mainstream.

I feel like my favorite underground band sold out, and sold out bad.

So here’s my story. I happen have the privilege of being able to claim conspiracy theory subculture even before 9/11. I have been fascinated by all kinds of things since I was young, and perhaps it was even a bit gothy to have an interest in the occult. Certainly nerdy. Oft times I lurked the metaphysical section of my local bookstores, and absorbed much.

Honestly, look up my old conspiracy bookshelf on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/765636-ray?shelf=conspiracy

One crucial book that comes to mind is The Biggest Secret by noted crackpot David Icke. Yes his whole reptilian thing is a joke and the British in particular like to mock him. But his books are interesting as a sort of thought experiment in combining every New World Order/Illuminati theory into one arch crazed mindset. All those UFO ancient astronaut theories, mixed with the extreme far right and “law of attraction”-eque New Age. It’s certainly… something.

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It was in those books that I first heard of the child abuse allegations that are now so big on reddit. Basically, I thought the idea that world leaders where all pedophile Satanists to be a highly improbable worst-case scenario and not worth taking too seriously.

What I still really appreciate about my reading at the time was discovering Robert Anton Wilson, who co-wrote the epic conspiracy satire novel(s) The Illuminatus! Trilogy. RAW, in a valid mix of philosophy and psychology and science, taught that everything is subjective on some level. That there are many optional reality tunnels, and the only rational way to make it through the paranoia of conspiracy theory subculture is by way of the radical agonistic.

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And then in the autumn of 2001 it happened. 9/11 changed America and changed the world, as we all know. At the time it seemed to actually confirm some suspicions that global government and authoritarian martial law really was just around the corner. I don’t know, perhaps the weirdness bubbling under the surface in the late 90s wasn’t so much predicting the future but rather Jungian collective unconscious. Who knows.

The Bush years gave a lot to be paranoid about. First there was the stolen election, then the mandatory patriotism right after the attack, and eventually an anti-war movement which never gained enough steam as the neocons invaded Iraq. There was much to protest, even if the protesters stayed in the fringes. Eventually history proved that the WMDs were a lie and it was a tremendous mistake to nation build in the Middle East. You’d think the main antiwar movement from the time would now get more credit since then instead of the new far right.

As a thoroughly self-righteous collegiate, I ranted on Myspace about the evil government. And, while hopefully maintaining a healthy dose of skepticism, I posted links Infowars articles and watched Alex Jones documentaries about how 9/11 was an inside job…

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During the Bush years, any alternate media source was appreciated. The thing about conspiracy theories though, is that we’ll never know for sure. If something is truly covered up, one can speculate but claiming to know for sure is dangerous. Still, I was a media junkie and wanted to consider as many sides as possible. I also listened to talk radio and watched Fox News and read heavily-cited books by liberal journalists. In trying to be an independent, I was no democrat and often took up the libertarian viewpoint.

There was a lot of overlap between libertarians and conspiracy theorists in those days. The Ron Paul candidacy in 2008 even seemed hopeful. Alex Jones, while obviously nuts for the most part, did seem to be one of many sources worth at least slightly considering. He was supposed to be against all government, smashing the false left-right paradigm, an interesting character if nothing else. Now it’s all gone to hell and it turns out the worst elements of the so-called movement, like complaining about feminists, was the only side that stuck. Infowars is currently a partisan hack website that only cares about one side of the aisle, becoming even less of a viable alternative media source.

I guess it was because I moved to China during the Obama years that I didn’t realize how extreme America was getting. Although I tried not to be partisan, I certainly had to eventually conclude that the democrats are the lesser evil (if one must get into lesser and worser evils). Criticizing Obama was fine by me, on for example issues of Wall Street. But being a racist asshole saying he’s secretly an illegal immigrant was not fine by me.

I grew out of the need for fringe conspiracy theory information, choosing to instead indulge in more evidence-based reading material. I have gleamed some valuable information about the Bilderberg Group of Bohemian Grove or the Federal Reserve or what have you, but it was time for me to take that and move on. I had gotten enough out of it, I questioned the system and all that, and then I was to learn about the world in a more realistic light. Little did I know how bad it was getting in the meantime.

An article about how many of the online libertarian scene completely sold out (or lied all along) to become the alt-right: http://www.salon.com/2016/12/09/how-the-alt-right-became-racist-part-2-long-before-trump-white-nationalists-flocked-to-ron-paul/

Well, here we are in the horrifying political year of 2016, and I may have been premature in considering conspiracy theory websites to be irrelevant.

It’s still hard for me to wrap my mind around it. Fine, they always leaned right, but this has gotten ridiculously hypocritical. Logically, if someone believes that 9/11 was perpetrated by the government then isn’t that a bigger deal than where Obama was secretly born or Hillary’s emails? I do not understand the priorities of conspiracy theorists anymore. I suppose most of them were bigots the entire time, easily switching from the old Birch Society days with the ‘Jews run the world’ narrative to contemporary fears of Muslim infiltration; the fact that they were anti-Bush for a while was the aberration.

 

Here we are now in the middle of the second decade of the 21st Century, and I have found myself arguing with grown adults about Pizzagate. Here in Shenzhen. Can you believe it?

I’m called a sheeple, and weird counterculture types support the tyrant monster that is Trump, because of Pizzagate.

That’s how bad it has gotten.

I’m loathe to even get into it, but here’s the Snopes if you don’t know already: http://www.snopes.com/pizzagate-conspiracy

Mostly I find it unbelievable that artist Marina Abramovic is a cannibal member of the Illuminati. Seriously, it is a dark theory and must be a red herring even if one does believe that the government is filled with pedophiles. A deep-level misinformation campaign perhaps. All in all come on, that’s just not a rational reason to support fucking Trump.

But the Internet has spoken and reddit can’t stop it and humanity is officially doomed.

 

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Grant Morrison, the Grand

I was so young then…

 

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In 2005 or 2006 I met comic book writer Grant Morrison at a music festival in Los Angeles. It was an odd event in Echo Park, with many experimental bands playing at various stages, and at the same they had a workshop on the occult. Sadly, most people weren’t concerned about the workshop part.

I was ecstatic to hear that Grant Morrison would be there. He gave a fascinating interview. Seriously, you must youtube some videos of him immediately. Low-key event that it was, we got to chat personally for a few and he was nice enough to take a picture with me. I met his wife too.

I met him at Comic Con the following year as well, at events far more crowded, and he was still very nice. I won’t inundate with more pictures, however, I’m not that much of a fanboy.

 

For more here’s an particularly awesome video from 2000’s DisinfoCon introducing the tenants of chaos magic and how to do a masturbation sigil:

 

Note he’s Scottish.

 

And now my blog begins. Presenting the master of the Postmodern Superhero. The punk rock star of comics. My personal all-time favorite.

Goodreads Grant Morrison

 

First things first, comparisons with Alan Moore are inevitable. They are both absolutely brilliant. They are both magicians. They both deconstruct the nature of the superhero like no other.

Yet, one is a mess of hair and the other is bald. One seems to be a misanthropic old man, and the other apparently has lot of fun as a writer. One hates all things mainstream, and the other is just fine with utilizing corporate characters as tools to tell the important stories.

Unfortunately, if you’re a Grant Morrison fan then you must be an Alan Moore fan as well but the reverse isn’t necessarily true. There’s a lot of overlap in themes, yet if you want to be an anti-mainstream purist you can skip Morrison. I think you would be missing out if you did that.

Anyhows, I am a great fan of both so what’s wrong with that?

 

As for me, I personally first came across Grant Morrison in my teens (though the story gets more interesting in my twenties), because of the huge phenomena that was JLA in the 90s. I was marginally interested, being that I followed everything important that was DC at the time, and the first volume was okay. Superman with a mullet notwithstanding. When I got to the Rock of Ages graphic novel, I was astounded. Then the following arc about the 5th dimensional beings left me well and truly mindfucked.

To me, the peak was the One Million crossover about time travel to 853rd Century. Great high-concept science fiction.

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Grant Morrison has since further written Superman in such titles as All-Star Superman, Action Comics, which you can see my opinion thereof by following that link .

 

One of the random things I was into seeking back in the day was Flex Mentallo, a strange Vertigo piece about a corny superhero. I found issue 3 at discount, and spent years hunting down the full story.

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It had everything: deconstructionism, metafiction, with groundbreaking art by frequent Morrison collaborator Frank Quitely.

I contend that Flex Mentallo is superior to Watchmen. It takes a dissection of the superhero genre even further. And it’s funnier, wittier, with treatises on childhood trauma and cosmic abduction, and contains the classic line “Fredric Wertham was fucking right!”

It was so hard to get all four issues. The problem was that Flex Mentallo was a satire of the ‘hero of the beach’ and with republication risked getting sued by those old strongman ads. DC wouldn’t reprint a graphic novel for years. Back then, I bit the bullet and paid high prices on ebay and it was well worth it. Now, of course, there’s a trade.

 

Let’s go a bit more backwards, with Animal Man. The saga of Buddy Baker was one of Grant Morrison’s first forays into DC during the 80s British Invasion. This obscure hero was given a modern reboot, that quickly went from an essay on animal rights to some weird routes onto the nature of fiction. Combining Wile E. Coyote with Native American mythology, by the end it went full on metafiction. Most haunting of all was when Animal Man broke the fourth wall and looked directly at the audience, shouting “I can see you!”

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Concurrently, Doom Patrol was a very interesting take on outcast heroics. The patrol were always a bit odd, a tad off, and Grant Morrison knew how to play to the strengths of that. Robotman as eunich, transgendered street characters, and most of all were the villains based off art history. Brotherhood of Dada anyone?

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Not to mention Flex Mentallo first appeared in Doom Patrol.

 

These were all well and very, very good. However, Grant Morrison’s true opus came in the 90s with the Invisibles. By the time I got caught on, well after it was completed, I was generally getting into more esoteric subject matter. I was reading P.K. Dick and Robert Anton Wilson. I was collecting Disinfo books. I was coming across these strange interviews with one Grant Morrison comic writer, on the subjects of chaos magic and higher consciousness. It was time to read more.

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I ordered the entire set, and read on. Then I read them again, and a few more times at differing stages of my life. I’m about ready for a reread again.

The Invisibles is an epic take on Gnosticism and conspiracy theories, through the lens of an action comic, published by Vertigo. About a team of anarchists fighting the good fight against the forces of control in this world. It incorporated all kinds of references to psychedelic mythologies. All came to a head in that Singularity futuristic year of 2012.

It felt somewhat cathartic that my burgeoning spiritual path was overlapping with my love of comics and superheroes. I was doing it right all along. Much can truly be learned about human growth via the metaphor of the Superman. Thanks, Grant Morrison.

And, I may share that reading interviews on how Grant Morrison took LSD and other various chemicals for the sake spiritual experiences, that had an impact. Helped to encourage me with my own experiments utilizing psilocybin and dimethyltryptamine, legal or otherwise, rewiring some synapses within my nervous system in some arguably positive ways.

As always, reading books (and comics) can be such a bad influence!

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Tattoos

I have six tattoos. It’s a hobby of mine, albeit it’s an expensive hobby that I don’t get to indulge in often enough.

Each one is meaningful to me. I put a lot of thought into them and I have no regrets.

For a while, I was doing one per year. Then I stopped for several years. In anticipation of my big travel plans coming up, I want to get some new ink! What to choose, what to choose…

Let’s discuss. But first, the background on my present state.

I got my first tattoo when I was 21. It was the Disinformation logo:

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A little out of order, keep in mind

That’s Disinformation Press, the counter-cultural alternative media publishers. I was very into them at the time. Read all their books, such as EVERYTHING YOU KNOW IS WRONG and YOU ARE BEING LIED TO among others. See the website Disinfo.com, which is unfortunately not what it used to be. The logo is supposed to be red on white, but I was told black is better and I do think that works.

The only disappointing part was that people would always ask my why I tattooed the Napster logo. So annoying. Thankfully nobody says that anymore, because Napster is no longer a thing. These days, occasionally someone says it looks like a cat not a devil’s head, but I’m still for it.

Next, I got a simple Icthys, otherwise known as the Jesus Fish. Why would I get this, you ask? Well there’s more to this fish than you know. One theory I enjoyed purports that it is a map of three-dimensional holographic reality by superimposing two flat circles which are Gnostic meta-universes (perhaps Heaven and Hell). Thank Grant Morrison’s the Invisibles graphic comics series for that. However, that interesting theory doesn’t hold up to further research. In truth, historical records show that various ancient pre-Christian civilizations used this symbol as a female fertility symbol. Turn it sideways, clockwise. Get it? It’s the most graphic of female parts, right there!

I decided to keep going with that pattern, I wanted to cover my body with various occultic logos from all over. Next stop, that most meditative of endocrine system metaphors, the chakras.

You might think I regret it how it turned out, but I don’t. Yes I’ve been accused of having a tramp stamp.

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Damn I was so thin back then

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