"The best of this kind are but shadows..." -(Midsummer Night's Dream)

Friday, May 15, 2020

Acid Goes Legit: HAVE A GOOD TRIP: ADVENTURES IN PSYCHEDELICS (2020)



"Drugs can be dangerous," notes Nick Offerman, dressed as a scientist in this cautious documentary, playing off all the anti-drug 'educational' films they used to show us in school. "But they can also be... hilarious."

The new Netflix documentary, full of animated renditions of famous comedians' flashbacks, is more than just an LSD documentary or an extended episode of Party Legends. With the presence of pro-therapeutic model doctors like Deepak Chopra on hand (who points out the impossibility of objective reality), it's both a hilarious trip story montage and a medical vindication (with psychiatrists like Charles Grob who use it in clinical trials to help terminal cancer patients let go of their fear of death, etc.) with a final putting to bed of the demonizing double talk. All those phony DNA-warping trials that went into making it illegal during the Vietnam war are finally booed out of the room.

That's not to say it's not full of sound advice on the dangers of dosing. They put cautious stress on set and setting--but it's really an attempt to ease off the stigma that has too long associated good drugs like mushrooms and LSD with 'bad' drugs like cocaine and heroin. Non-addictive, not always 'fun' but nearly always insightful about one's own psychological make-up (even a bad trip can provide ten years of normal psychotherapy in a single night), as long as you don't do nothin' stupid, like dose when you're already drunk and its 5 AM, or try to drive. (Not that I haven't done both).


While it made me very glad to see HAVE A GOOD TRIP, and it gave me a tang on my tongue and sweaty palms, that burning sensation in the third eye (lodged above/between/behind the eyes like a blazing solar bullet), that excited feeling I used to get when my psyche could sense an imminent drug trip even before I maybe had decided to have one. During my own acid/shrooms heyday, approximately 1986-1998 (did you know I invented 'micro-dosing'? You're welcome!) there was something much cooler and more political about drugs because of the war on drugs was at its nadir. Even spoiled white college kids could go to jail for life just for having a few shrooms in their pockets at a Dead show. The danger made it all so sexy and intimate, we were outlaws! Narcs would show up at college asking for larger amounts of course, trying to sweet-talk dumbass freshmen into big enough deals that could send them away for life; the trick with cops was always to act nonchalant, no matter how thuggish they may get and how many drugs you had stashed in your car. Narcs would show up at our parties with all the subtlety of Jack Lemmon in Glengary Glen Ross talking about their friend Joe, or whomever was dumb enough to mention one of us could hook them up. Narcs like Johnny Depp in that show 21 Jump Street were supposed to be cool! (It wasn't until Ed Wood that we were ready to forgive him.) Nancy's "Just Say No" campaign made it mandatory for insurance rates that companies gave urine tests to their employees, like it was some kind of 1984 gulag. Maybe some still do, I don't want to know.

All of which I mean to say, well, man. A documentary like this, right out in the open on Netflix. I would never have thunk this thing possible. Today, it's only the older talking head celebs they have on this show, like Sting, who really understand just how bad things used to be. For us older folks the very idea of an acid documentary seems like, in order for it to have funding, it would have to lean on the down side more than the up. As Sting puts it, stressing his initial reluctance, "I wouldn't want to be an exercise in the Just Say No campaign." I'm not a fan of his music but I fell in love with him here, especially talking about assisting in the birth of a calf while tripping on peyote, and his clear-eyed admission of having plenty of bad trips, noting: "Sometimes it kicks your ass, sometimes you need to have your ego kicked down a rung or two." Indeed, a bad trip is just a sample of the Buddhist idea of Hell, where the burning flames are the demons devouring the shreds of ego still clinging to your soul like crusty flesh moths around a burning lightbulb until at last its full wattage may shine forth. Try to telling that to yourself when you're writhing around on the floor moaning pitifully as little carpet gnomes shred your eyeballs, though. It doesn't help.

Unsurprisingly for his general uptight persona, Ben Stiller didn't jibe with his acid. Stiller talks about the one time he did it and wigged out ("fear and anxiety just being amplified"), walking past the half-inflated animals late at night on the UWS the night before the Thanksgiving Day parade, etc. Incidentally, I had that same experience in the mid-90s, but I loved it! Tripping to a half-inflated Snoopy at 4 AM = pure weird bliss, but Jerry got so wigged he ended up calling his parents! They were off somewhere shooting an episode of The Love Boat! Great details though, gotta love him for that. Elsewhere are those two knuckleheads at the left, enacting an Anthony Bourdain story of a narcoleptic stripper dying on them in a hotel room where they're doing massive amounts of shrooms and cocaine. Noice! She snaps back to life, but they really bring home the full dose of paranoia that can result when you can all but smell the naugahyde in the back seat of the cop car just from thinking about the trouble you might now be in. (The presence of the late Bourdain and Carrie Fisher lets you know--if the startling young age of some of these talking heads didn't give it away beforehand--that this film is many years in the making. Since it's presented as a new documentary, the effect is unintentionally (I presume) quite jarring. Was the film so long in the making because the director was all stoned and whatnot? Bro, I don't even want to tell you what a mess Max and my acid documentary for America in the 60s class was. (We got an F!) In the words of Otto, man, people who party hearty show up tardy, man.

Since his dad is Jerry Stiller, I guess it's OK, and I do like Zoolander, but still, Ben proves my hunch was right, and that he's the type of guy we called a wally, i.e. they don't want to trip but they also want to hang out with you while you do, dragging you down with their banal straight insights. And if they do trip, an hour or two in, they want someone to drive them to the ER as they think they're dying (or worse, they want to give themselves up to the cops). Other comedians in the doc talk about the idiot "friends" it's good to avoid --the ones who find out you are tripping and give you a hard time going "Woo! Woo! You're going down a tunnel!" and all this other moronic townie dirtbag shit. We get a sampling of the wrong crowd too in an a hilariously over-the-top Afterschool special re-enactment that again, only those of us of a certain generation X will be able to relate to (the afterschool special being a thing purely from the 70s, when shows like Go Ask Alice gave us such confusing demonizations of high school drug use we were left as misled as if we read a Judy Blume book for a guide to human sexuality.)

Along the way there is plenty of groovy candy-colored animation ala the other big trippy Netflix animated show, Midnight Gospel. Among other treats, we get a groovy sound mix of how voices and music sounds when your hearing is slipping in and out of the space-time continuum, animated "trees are waving kind of musically at me" There's a bit about wigging out at the Van Gogh Museum as one of the fields of rippling wheat paintings in while scared tourist families gawk (I've been there, but at the Met). We get Nick Kroll remembering being covered in seaweed down at the beach and running around being the seaweed monster. We get Bill Kreutzmann (drummer for the Dead, left) talking about being so high his cymbals were melting. (I've seen his cymbals melt too! I've also seen his tongue hanging out down to his socks with his head rolled back like he's a bloated corpse!) Ae$op Rocky mentions having great sex and when he cam "a rainbow shot out of my penis." (Never saw that one myself, but I've never been much for sex while tripping, it's too intense already.)

As Rocky points out, acid is "not for everybody. I'm an artiste. It's my lifestyle." Man, I totally agree. One of the reasons I stopped trying to be such a keen promoter, was the realization people weren't using it the way I did, originally, as an artistic/spiritual quest device (with overcoming paralyzing depression being a nice side effect) but to get fucked up.  Sure, I've done that too. But it's wrong, man. Still, if you take it to get fucked up but then see God, that's way cooler than taking it to see God and just seeing yourself, fucked-up.

Too many funny bits to name, but you can tell this is assembled by someone 'in the know' and they took their time to get all the details right. I love how the first half of the documentary stresses the danger of looking in a mirror while tripping (which I don't agree wit!). The second half stresses how cool it is to look in the mirror while tripping (I was right!). With a little kid dressed as a machine elf pointing out helpful dos and don'ts that sometimes contradict. Watching this I felt my self nodding excitedly, my palms getting clammy with flashback sensations. I got a little misty remembering my mindset back in the late 80s, the total political drug war making a documentary like this all but impossible except on the DL. (I was long afraid to put our acid doc on youtube, for just this reason).

As one of the talking heads notes, tripping visuals have never been captured very well on film except for the carpet patterns in Terry Gilliam's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. 
Donovan gives us a natural history. Zach Leary (Tim's son) notes DMT "is the express train to the ooze." Reggie Watts gives us a sage bit of bad trip-avoiding advice: "When it doubt, zoom out."

Evie Oddly - Drag Race winner,
a sign o' the trippy times
As usual, however, it's Deepak Chopra who makes 'reality' seems suddenly to have never been a dangerous or confusing place: "In reality there is no such thing as colors and sounds, just a fluctuation of energy in an infinite void." Right on.

As one who's long stuck up for psychedelics as a viable therapeutic and creative tool, even in the un-PC 80s or in AA groups, this documentary made me feel as vindicated as the movie Ed Wood did back in the glorious early 90s. I set this blog up back in 2006, the way Claudia Cardinale's fake-Irish husband Mr. McBain started setting up his station in the middle of nowhere, knowing the train was headed his way... little did I suspect that I too would be more or less killed by Henry Fonda by the time the train got here! I mean, here we are, in the age of Midnight Gospel, Climax, Mandy, Midsommar, The Beach Bum, Evie Oddly, and now this. And I am alive... but at what cost? I can't even do a hit of cough medicine without having an anxiety attack.  What's important though is that I have made peace with that, too. Is no longer needing to be hip more important than being so? Is having tripped 100+ times 20 years ago as important as wanting to trip once tomorrow?

It depends!

I no longer don't fear death they way I used to, if that makes sense. But isn't that the province of the young, to face death through some scary gauntlet and come out a better, calmer person? Now the thought of just going to the hospital terrifies me so I keep myself constantly distracted. It's not the same, but sobriety makes a clear-eyed stare into the void rather hard to do, which is why AA stresses prayer so much. Drunk, I could look down the barrel of a gun without flinching. Tripping, I could feel death's cold hands on my just seeing a picture of a gun in a magazine. Sober, I can't even sneeze without having a COVID panic attack. I believe in God, but only because I've had so many religious experiences I'd be a fool not to, like giving back a lifetime of Christmas presents because I refuse to "believe" in Santa.

Ultimately that's the big issue Have a Good Trip skirts around in favor of funny stories; the nature of reality and the link to a higher power. Of course, whether or not there is a God is irrelevant to faith. There is no this, so how can it not be that? Once duality is transcended, the game, the seeking, is over. Once one goes back down from the mountain, knowing what lies beyond, what can one do but pick up their burden again, and continue on, participating joyfully in the sorrows of the universe, so as not to spoil the surprise for everyone else? Knowing this, as the Upanishads say, the rest is known. This is the trick Luke could never figure out when fighting Darth Vader in the awful Return of the Jedi. To fight with love in your heart is not violence. When someone tells you to just say NO, tell them to KNOW is better, but be sure and name check John Lennon in The Yellow Submarine who does that to the Blue Meanies' big marching NO font-monster.


When I saw John do that the last time I was in a mystical experience (during the 2012 galactic alignment). I suddenly, in that satori moment, understood how true love transcends duality. But what does that give you in the end? Lockjaw from too much smiling, a high fever, and... when you see some long... long in the making documentary like this... a kind of pleasant tang in the parasympathetic nervous system, tinged with the regrets of blown, flown youth, and tainted by the realization that, in this life, and maybe even the next, the amount of positive energy it takes to vibrate at a higher frequency is never going last.

Still, if the wave ever comes my way again, and the set and setting is just right, I'm ready to surf. All you got to do is roll right past my house. When the tide is that high, swear to god I'll surf it, like Desolation Williams and Lt. Melanie Ballard at the end of Ghosts of Mars!  Momma, I shall surf again!

Further:

June 17, 2012:
Tripumentaries: MAGIC TRIP, DMT: THE SPIRIT MOLECULE, 2012: Mayan Prophecy and Shift of the Ages, and ROBERT THURMAN ON BUDDHISM

June 25, 2015:
Summer of my Netflix Streaming I: A Psychedelic Odyssey- Though all these films are long gone from Netflix streaming, woe is us. You can still program a nice 12 hours of dosed post-whatever viewing from them if you can track 'em down. 

And of course, the films of THE PSYCHEDELIC CANON in yonder right hand sidebar (top) and my other 'weirder' sites, like Medsitation and Divinrorum Psychonuauticus + Surrealist Collage Exercises!

2 comments:

  1. I didn't grow up in the scary 'war against drugs' battleground. All I know are corporations recuperating and defanging every subversive thing I know. Seeing this announced on Netflix scared me!
    Thank god your Psychedelic Canon has so many great old films, and that the lessons still translate even after Mom and Dad(tm) say its okay to 'go there!'

    ReplyDelete
  2. Anonymous18 May, 2020

    Classic write-up Eric! Sorry you dislike "Jedi", as its clearly the best of the trilogy. Also, what made Ed Wood so vindicating to you?

    ReplyDelete

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