Marty Wombacher's Fishwrap Is Worth Looking For; Wake Up Down There! Compiles Gregory Bishop's The Excluded Middle;
"It's a bad time for satire," Marty Wombacher sighs, and he must be right, because his satirical zine Fishwrap, despite being consistently wicked and funny, is getting harder and harder to find. In fact, you wouldn't have seen his two most recent projects unless he made a point of mailing them to you. And they're only 12 pages each. n Yet they're both a hoot. One's a parody of The New Yorker, the other a parody Vanity Fair. On The New Yorker's contributors page we find "Adam Gopnik is the author of 'Paris to the Moon,' a book normal people with actual lives have never heard of," "Edward Sorel must have contributed something because his name is on the list, but gosh darn it all if we can remember" and "Alex Ross is the New Yorker's fluffer." An ad for Bombay Sapphire notes that "A Day Without Gin Is Like a Night Without Vicodin."
In the Vanity Fair, Graying Farter's "Editor's Letter" is headlined "That Thing I Do!" to go with his flippy hairdo. It's the music issue, and includes an interview with Phil Spector with this introduction:
"Considered by many to be the greatest rock 'n' roll producer ever; in reality Phil Spector is nuttier than a 377 pound Snickers bar. Crazy, cuckoo, off his rocker, not playing with a full deck, riding the two wheeled tricycle, shoveling snow in July, topping a triscuit with motor oil, playing the stringless ukulele, frying the teflon terrier, barking at spiders, tipping the tarryman, wilding Rosie O'Donnell?these are the words that describe Phil Spector best."
Wombacher's been short on funds lately, so just about the only people who've seen these parodies are, in fact, Graydon Carter, Adam Gopnik, Edward Sorel, et al.?he makes a point of mailing copies to those he parodies. So far, he says, he hasn't heard back from a single one of them. To borrow a term from George Tabb: pussies.
In a better age, Wombacher would have the backing to turn Fishwrap into a proper 21st-century MAD. In the meantime, he'll mail you copies of these if you send $2 postage each to Fishwrap, 18 W. 16th St., #2R, NYC 10011.
Make Light Solid
As a kid growing up in Southern California, Gregory Bishop devoured everything his local public libraries offered in books on UFOs, psychic research, strange phenomena?everything we've come to know now as fodder for entertainment like The X-Files. Back in those days, though?he's 37?this was strictly of geek fringe interest. Curiously, he says he never liked science fiction, and reads little fiction of any kind?though he admits that many people might question whether the types of books he reads can really be labeled "nonfiction."
Bishop doesn't mind that the fringe became so mainstream in the 90s. For one thing, he never thought his interest in topics like alien encounters, the chupacabra and Nikola Tesla made him "cool"?just as well, since nobody else would have thought so, either. For another, he's done his part to keep up the old kook-culture allure of all this material through his zine, The Excluded Middle. Begun with like-minded friends Robert Larson and Peter Stenshoel in 1994, The Excluded Middle has gone through nine issues, lately averaging 64 pages. The first issue was 500 copies, cranked out at the local photocopy shop. Bishop (who currently maintains it as a solo effort) says it sells between 5000 and 8000 copies now, very respectable for a zine.
Those first nine issues have now been compiled in a fat workbook-size softcover, Wake Up Down There! (435 pages, $24.95), put out by David Hatcher Childress' Adventures Unlimited . Childress publishes a large catalog of fringe-topic books?not a few by himself?with titles like The Time Travel Handbook, Anti-Gravity & the World Grid, The Christ Conspiracy, Man-Made UFOs 1944-1994 and Mind Control, Oswald & JFK.
Wake Up Down There!?the title comes from a passage in John Keel's cryptozoic classic The Mothman Prophecies?is a veritable supermarket of ufology, conspiratology, forteana and weird science. Eschewing both the true believers and the complete skeptics, Bishop et al. favor a frame of mind that embraces "the excluded middle"?open-minded, non-dogmatic, curious and fairly sure that if the truth is out there, it's too "mercurial" (Bishop's term) to be grasped by anyone whose mind has already been made up?whether that person is a mainstream scientist or a solitary crackpot. It's a way, Bishop writes in his foreword to the book, "to entertain opposing points of view or cognitively dissonant concepts and still be entertained."
Like Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone, Bishop freely admits that half the reason for starting his zine was so that he could get to meet his heroes. Just about everyone who's anyone in the "anomalous phenomena" field turns up in Wake Up Down There!, either as a contributor or an interviewee. Robert Anton Wilson makes a few appearances and is his usual witty self, as in this interview exchange with Bishop:
Q: ...I don't sense you have as much hope in the future as you once did. Is this incorrect? And do you agree with Israel Regardie's statement that things will get worse before they get any better?
WILSON: I think I'm as optimistic as I ever was in the long-run evolutionary perspective. This idea that we have to go through some horror before we're cured, if that were true, we'd have been cured long ago. We've been through enough horrors, especially in this century. After Hitler's death camps and Hiroshima and Viet Nam, how many horrors do we have to go through before we're ready to be happy? I think we're ready to be happy right now. I'm not going to let Regardie stop me.
Q: Well he can't object now. Do you think all this is "millennium jitters" or is the shit really going to hit the fan?
WILSON: I regard myself and my friends as the power elite. That way I don't have to worry if someone else is manipulating me. They're trying, but we're outsmarting them every step of the way. Most people want to believe somebody else is in charge. Then they don't have to take responsibility. Then they have the supreme pleasure of perpetually complaining that somebody else is in charge, and it would be better if only they were in charge. As long as I think I'm in charge, I've got nothing to complain about. I've got to take the responsibility for all of it. How can I go on? (laughs) Well, some of us have more balls than others. I'm sixty years old. In any traditional society I would have been hanged long ago.
Bishop got a rare interview, via e-mail, with Ira Einhorn, back when Einhorn was still a fugitive in France. It begins with the classically Einhornian statement, "I did not kill Holly Maddux, and am still not sure who did, though I am involved in on-going research on the matter that will eventually be a large book." Bishop says the e-mails had to go back and forth a while before Einhorn would let the interview be published. "Strangely enough," he jokes, "he's kind of a control freak."
Other names that appear in Wake Up Down There! include the SubGenius' Ivan Stang, Carlos Castaneda, Kooks author Donna Kossy, Clay Shaw, Wilhelm Reich, legendary ufologist Jim Moseley, Sun Ra, Philip K. Dick, conspiratologist Jim Keith, Paranoia's Joan D'Arc, remote viewing expert Joe McMoneagle and one of my favorite psychic/psychedelic researchers from the 50s and 60s, Andrija Puharich.
There's a fascinating interview with a clinical psychologist (he ran the bad acid trip tent at the original Woodstock) attempting to "translate" the symbols and markings?including a form of "alien writing"?done by (or channeled through) mental patients. While he admits that 90 percent of his attempts produce gibberish, they do sometimes yield lines of accidental poetry like this instruction from aliens: "If you want to make light solid, show it to the moon."
The pseudonymous John Carter, who wrote the Feral House Sex and Rockets: The Occult World of Jack Parsons, contributes a really interesting piece tracing some of the Nazis' occult preoccupations back through the Thule Society all the way to Shabbetai Sevi (1626-1676), who rose up out of the Jewish quarter of Smyrna to proclaim himself the Messiah. Also in the way of obscure history, there's a piece on Aleister Crowley's contacts in the 1910s with an entity called Lam, whose portrait, as drawn by Crowley, bizarrely foreshadows the classic eggheaded space alien of 50 years later. And there's a transcript of a phone call Jackie Gleason (a big amateur ufologist) made to a radio show, wherein he rudely taunts a fellow flying saucer nut.
The Gleason transcript is in a piece by Bishop in which he discusses the difference between the UFO "contactees" of the 50s with the UFO "abductees" who came to dominate the scene later. Earlier contact with aliens was generally positive and peaceful, whereas the abduction scenarios are all about fear and paranoia, rape and invasive surgery. Bishop tells me that he wonders if the shift in attitude is "a reflection of the times these people were interacting with whatever it was they were interacting with." As our society in general has grown more paranoid, and "people feel like they're under a microscope all the time anyway," stories of alien encounters have grown similarly more dark and frightening.
Along with the zine and the book, Bishop deals with arcane topics on a show called Radio Mysterioso that's netcast Sunday afternoons on killradio.org.
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