Tag Archives: John Lennon

True Childhood Friends

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three young friends on the beach

three young friends on the beach (Photo credit: deflam)

While riding the high of the Middle School Talent show, Percy and I began to plan our big push for adolescent fame.  We played a couple of parties at our friends houses, and I even sang a bad rendition of “Paranoid” by Black Sabbath.  I didn’t know how to sing and I remember everyone looking at me funny, as I turned purple trying to sing it.  I didn’t know how to breathe correctly when singing back then.

The summer of 1994 was filled with careless freedom.  Groups of friends would get together and watch horror movies all night.  We’d sneak into the local parks at dusk and smoke cigarettes.

I even remember being with a huge group of friends at what was then called “Geauga Lake”- a little amusement park that smelled like urine and had cheesy roller coasters.  Even at the age of 12, I had never ridden a roller coaster in my life.  I made up a tough image to make all my friends think I just thought roller coasters were stupid.  Percy made me aware during this trip that Alicia, who was one of the hottest girls in our grade, actually liked me.  At one point a big group of people went to ride “The Raging Wolf Bobs”, which was the biggest roller coaster there.  Percy convinced Alicia to stay behind and hang out with me.  I just sat sheepishly on that amusement park bench with her as the others rode the coaster.  She asked me; “Why aren’t you riding with everyone?”  And I replied with an air of toughness; “Roller coasters are just stupid”.

And as Middle School crushes go, Alicia fell in love with someone else about a week later.  I kicked myself for not making the move with her earlier, but the whole world of girls was new to me.

One time, Percy and I were invited to a pool party with all of the popular kids in our grade.  This was a truly self-conscious experience for me because no matter how much I rollerbladed I couldn’t shed the large quantities of Cheetos and Dr. Pepper off of my miniature man breasts and oblique side flappers.  I again came up with a great ploy to hide my chunkiness.  I decided to jump into the pool with all of my clothes on, Chuck Taylor shoes included.  Percy had a way of sympathizing with me and jumped in with all of his clothes on too.  We even dragged another buddy, Drake, into the mayhem.  We all had chuck taylor shoes on and were jumping in the pool with all of our clothes, until the kid’s parents who owned the pool warned us to stop.  That was Percy’s way of looking out for me.  He knew I felt like a fat kid and wanted to back me up.  Either that, or he just liked the idea of causing a ruckus at the pool party.  It was probably a combination of both!

At one point I remember Percy being over at my house, and the cops showed up at my door!  I’ll never forget when they were there and they grabbed a hold of him and took him away as he cried out to my Mom; “Don’t let them take me away, Mrs. White!”  We found out that he had gotten into someone’s house with some other vandals and lit their drapes on fire.  Obviously, I could have been incarcerated for many such antics…

Once when I was hanging with some friends and lighting off little rolled up balls of gun powder, I had the brilliant idea to lean down with a cigarette in my mouth and suck on it to light some black powder off that had spilled on a ledge.  I was blown backwards like Yosemite Sam in a Warner Brothers cartoon.  It had blown a huge chunk of my hair off, singed off my eyebrows and eyelashes, and scarred me with second degree burns.  Fortunately I didn’t have third degree burns.  I remember when my Mom saw me, she cried out of relief that I wasn’t scarred for life.

Later that summer a dark cloud seemed to be cast over the little town of Hudson, Ohio as I heard some rough news.  Percy was going to move to Connecticut.  His Dad had gotten some job as a dean at a prep school, and they were going to send Percy to boarding school.

In the Middle of Percy and I’s quest for Middle School rock stardom my G.P.A. for 7th grade year had fallen to a 1.9 average, which was a D+.  Percy’s had fallen to about a 0.5, which was an F.  Only in talking with him later did I realize that his parents thought that rock and roll was ruining his life.  He once was one of the best football and lacrosse players in our grade, and he’d dropped out of sports, let his grades sink and gotten into a lot of trouble since we had started the band.  I guess they thought that shipping him to boarding school would do him right, though I’m not sure what it really did for him.

I had no religious obligations as a kid.  Sunday was a day where we slept in and ate a late breakfast.  I never understood why Percy would have to leave so early in the mornings when he slept over on Saturday nights.  His parents would make him go to the Catholic Church in town every Sunday.  I think he began to hate it.  He was caught in a rock in a hard place, a rebel personality and really intelligent, but bored.  He felt that all the constructs put on him were stifling him, and I think he was dying to have his own version of creative expression.  Within the highly religious world of the Catholic Church and the pressure of being expected to play sports and be a good student, Percy fell through the cracks.

Percy wouldn’t get to have his creative expression yet.  He was leaving town.  There was nothing I could do about it.  Though I made sure to have him over to spend the night about 3 times a week as the time for him to leave drew near.  He was my best friend, my band-mate, and as John Lennon would say “my song brother”.

And then came the day when he was leaving.  It was a mild and sunny summer day.  I rolled my butt out of bed and on my bike that morning earlier than I ever would have on a summer day, at about 9am.  I rode the 5 miles to his house and knocked on the door.  His family was putting together the last of their stuff, and the moving van was outside.  I still remember him coming outside and yelling, “Benjamin!” and giving me a hug.  I didn’t know what to say except that I would miss him, and I hoped that maybe we’d keep in touch.  Maybe I could even visit him out there sometime.  We said our goodbyes.  He had to get going anyways.

As I rode my bike home I do remember feeling the wind in my face on that mild sunny day.  I thought of all the good memories Percy and I had, and mourned the thought of keeping the band going without him.  Tears began to stream down my face.  I had said goodbye to him in person, and on my own I was saying goodbye to him in my heart as well.

There is something about the naïve and innocent love that a young kid can have for a dear friend that understands him. Within it may even lurk a divine whisper of the unconditional.

When Percy left town, somehow the gap had to be filled for a new lead singer of our band “Joker’s Wild”.  I had enough experience writing songs with the help of my Dad from age 10 until 13, and nobody else in our group sang often, except our bass player, Jaden.  Since I was the one who sang the most and I was the most assertive about it they let me be the new lead singer.

This is when the creative process really began for me.  All of a sudden I realized that I was going to be the front man for the band, so I began to write songs like I never had before.  My first songs were as cheesy as you could imagine.  We had a Casio keyboard and I would play the pre-packaged drum beats into my Fostex 4-Track Cassette recorder on track one, and then track 2 would have the guitar, track 3 would have the bass, and track 4 would have my vocals.

Songs began to dump out of me like sweat out of my pores.  I wrote songs about my experiences travelling with my parents to various cities, I wrote songs about girls I was digging at the time, and I wrote songs about my juvenile philosophies of life.

I also wrote songs criticizing my peers.  I had a big mouth and couldn’t keep it shut about what the true meaning of them was, so I began to become a bit of a social misfit.  Some kind of anger continued to brew in me, and I didn’t understand it.  All I knew is that my parents were fighting more than usual in the midst of their busy work lives, and I always felt put in the middle of their fights.  I continued to get chubbier and meaner during my 8th grade year from 1994 to 1995.

I’ll never forget the moment when I marginalized myself early on in 8th grade.  Jokers Wild was playing at a party, and all the popular kids were there.  We played a set of tunes and people were into it, but during our break a bunch of people started to mess around with our equipment.  I got all ticked off and told them off, yelling loudly in the microphone for everyone to hear.  That was the beginning of a downfall away from popularity for me.

A period of self-examination followed where I realized that people can be hollow and flighty, but there are true friends that never seem to leave you behind.  One friend like that to me was Kaden.  He was one of the few people that didn’t seem to care what the majority of people thought about my controversial reputation in Middle School.

But with this self exploration came a more inwardly focused life.  I wrote music often, and isolated myself from what appeared to be the mainstream of people around me more and more.  During this period of time I really moved away from habits I had developed before like smoking cigarettes and drinking.  Though I would occasionally partake of things like that.  My hunger for partying during this time was sparse.  If the company I was with were smoking or drinking I would join them, but I didn’t have any deep personal aspirations to develop any addictions.

The First Time I Got High on Marijuana

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Red Eyes 12-2012

Red Eyes 12-2012 (Photo credit: daver6sf@yahoo.com)

By the time I had entered into my 9th grade year, the first year of high school, I was more into music than ever.  This was 1995, and it was officially becoming the “post-grunge” era.  Hootie and the Blowfish were popular, though me and my ever growing band of marauders were anti-pop and therefore anti-Hootie.  Silverchair, Greenday and Alanis Morrisette were big during this time.  And bands like “Bush” were making it truly official that “grunge rock” had met it’s end in commercialism.

At the beginning of the school year a TV series came on that changed the way I would look at music forever.  The 3 remaining Beatles who were alive at the time- Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and George Harrison, came out with a series of shows about their music career called “Anthology”.  My parents and I watched these shows as they came on religiously.  I was drawn in to the story and life of the Beatles, and most of all their later era of music.  It wasn’t long before I snatched up albums like “Rubber Soul”, “Revolver”, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band“, and “Abbey Road”.

In the story of the life of the Beatles, one of their most creative periods of songwriting began around 1965 when they released “Rubber Soul”.  There was a move away from the pop sound they had before and into a stranger, more speculative approach to songwriting.  This was the era where they began using marijuana regularly.

I remember the time in the Anthology series where they talked of marijuana as something that seemed to enlighten them spiritually, making them more creative and philosophical.  My Dad at the time seemed to agree with what they were saying, and I didn’t know why.  I didn’t talk to my parents about it either, but a deep curiosity was birthed in me as I learned of the Beatles’ creative crutch.

During this time I was making close friendships with a few friends, one named Mitchell and the other Duane.  Mitchell played guitar often, but was beginning to become a virtuoso on bass- getting into prog rock by Rush and Frank Zappa, and Duane played drums and was heavily into Mitch Mitchell from the Jimi Hendrix experience and Jimmy Chamberlain from the Smashing Pumpkins.  I played guitar and sang, and we formed a band that we named “Mulberry Tree” to reflect the mixture of classic and grunge rock that made up our sound.

Because we wanted so much to be like the people we looked up to, the next step for us was to smoke marijuana.  Duane was into it before all of us, because he had older friends than we did, and we were ready and willing to join him.

In the Fall of 1995, we had a group of friends over (a band they called “Aftermath”) to play music at my house.  My parents were out of town, and Duane had filled a Black and Mild Cigar with dope.  These guys were not a part of the “popular crowd” by any means, but because of my 8th grade downfall from popularity I was making the effort to befriend people no matter what their social status was.  We set up all of our equipment, including drums, and amps and guitars in my parent’s garage.

Before we could finish setting up or even play one song, Duane pulled out the Black and Mild and convinced us we should light it up.  I was beginning to become less careful and encouraged him to go for it.  This was the 3rd time I had tried pot, and it hadn’t really intoxicated me yet.  Duane encouraged me to inhale it deep and hold it in.  I did just that and coughed and coughed until I felt like my lungs were going to pop out of my mouth.  I tried a few more hits just like that and then quit, letting Duane finish the rest.  I think Mitchell may have tried one hit, but backed off.

So we had finished smoking, and I went back to setting up equipment.  The last thing I remembered was being in my basement grabbing speakers and not being able to lift them.  I began to freak out as numbness filled my body and clouded my mind.

The next thing I remember is laying on the ground, with all the boys from Aftermath laughing at me and mocking me, though one named Antony was actually pretty concerned for me.  I was flipping out at this point, thinking that I was about to die.  I kept repeating that over and over to everyone around me, “I’m gonna die!”  And Duane once hovered over me as he made serpent rhythms with his hands and quoted Jim Morrison, saying “Don’t worry man!  Just ride the snake man, ride the snake!”  Duane was as high as me but had been there before.  At one point he sang the words of “Tomorrow Never Knows” by John Lennon and the Beatles, “Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream… it is not dying, it is not dying…”

My next memory was playing music with my boys in Mulberry Tree.  I probably didn’t hit one correctly timed note on the guitar, and I was beside myself laughing and stumbling all about.

Later in the day I entered my first experience of “coming down”.  The high began to wear off and I was grateful to have felt such fear and yet survive it. Something within the experience in my mind became akin to why people ride rollercoasters, or bungee jump, or skydive, or steal something, or lie, or break in to someone’s house, or have sex with someone they’re not committed to.  The thrill of the adrenaline…  Knowing it was wrong but doing it anyways, and being afraid it would kill me, yet making it out on the other end, made me obsessed with the experience.

And somehow this feeling of “riding the edge”- something that felt like hanging over the edge of a cliff and then being pulled back- became an addiction.  Also, all the anger I felt towards my parents, the terrible grades I was getting in school, and the social pressures just seemed to fade away for 4 hours.  Later that night all those feelings magnified though.  I slipped into a more depressive state, clinging to the sounds of Beatles records, playing the guitar, and writing down poetry to comfort myself.

After that experience, the school week passed by in an anti-climactic fashion.  I talked to friends like Kaden about the experience, and it seemed to scare him.  Other pot-head kids which I had once viewed as crazy with a higher level of juvenile mania.  All of a sudden they became close acquaintances.  I longed to get high again and ride the edge of the cliff once more.

The heart of him who has understanding seeks knowledge, but the mouths of fools feed on folly. (Prov. 15:14)

Prescribed Darvocet for a Broken Wrist

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death by darvocet

death by darvocet (Photo credit: chotda)

To be sure, being grounded for a month after being busted with weed was a drag.  But the hair that my parents cut off began to grow back, as did my hunger for the adrenal reality of post-adolescent mischief.

The song, “Champagne Supernova” by Oasis was high on the charts throughout April of 1996.  Oasis was a band that rode on the back of what could have been the twentieth consecutive wave of Beatlemania that happened after the Fab Four hit the charts.  I liked what they were doing, but then heard that lead man Noel Gallagher thought that “his band’s first album was better than the first put out by music legends THE BEATLES, THE WHO and THE ROLLING STONES.” (http://www.contactmusic.com/news/gallagher-my-debut-was-better-than-the-beatles_1013583)  I felt this statement to be so deeply offensive, that I decided to boycott Oasis.  I wrote their name on a piece of paper and taped it to my bedroom wall with a circle around it and a line through it.

My room was becoming quite the rock n’ roll shrine.  It contained pictures of Jimi Hendrix playing at Woodstock, it had myriad photographs of John Lennon and the Beatles, it had a poster of the Who from the 1980’s that contained an ad for “Schlitz Beer”.  These posters replaced all my half naked photographs of women.  Looking back I still can’t believe some of the things my parents let me get away with.  But making moral, ethical decisions wasn’t something on my radar until years later.  And it’s still not natural for me to make those decisions, but rather the Spirit of God that compels me towards them.

I may not have been able to leave my house regularly since being grounded for a month when caught with dope, but I did find creative ways to keep my marijuana habits regular.  I had kept acquaintances with one of Percy’s good friends, Damien.  He was regularly into the use of dope and was starting to dip into the world of psychadelics.  My parents thought they were monitoring me well, and I convinced them to drop me off early for school so I could get caught up on homework.  Really, I was meeting with Damien and smoking pot behind a set of canoes that were not far away from Hudson High School in Ohio.  We would meet on these cool spring mornings, with a layer of dew kissing the blades of grass on the ground.  We’d smoke pot through a pop can, poking holes in the center and crushing the middle of it, and sucking the smoke through the open drinking hole.  He would bring cigarettes filled with marijuana also.  He managed to get me high before school on a good number of days.

I would buy marijuana in small amounts from Damien, and take it home.  My parents didn’t get home from work until 5pm and I’d be home off of the bus by 3:30pm.  I’d always have an hour or so to smoke weed on my own, through pop cans or whatever I could find.  Sometimes drug buddies would come home with me for an hour and leave before my “rents” got back.

I learned the trick of using eye drops as well.  I would put them into my beet-red eyes, which would always be the side effect of smoking pot, and they would turn my eyes white.  I would spray cologne on before my parents’ got home.  As far as they knew, I was making quite the turn-around.  But I was pretty sure I had them fooled.

One day I was stoned at school, and it was gym class time.  At this point I still had shaggy, long hair and was becoming as skinny as a rail from continued use of cigarettes, dope and a steady diet of strong black coffee.  I would normally skip lunch and use substances to stave off my hunger.  The gym teacher “Mr. Norman” used to call Duane, Mitchell and I “Rock n’ Rollies”.  Especially me, because the only sport I was engaging in at the time was running sprints from school authorities and testing my lung capacity with various types of toxic smoke.  Mr. Norman always made fun of me for my inability to run more than one lap around a track without getting winded, and my knack for only performing 3 push-ups before collapsing to the ground.

We were playing “Broomball” a fun gym class game this day, and I was high enough to be making quite a spectacle of myself.  I began running backwards and cracking jokes, mocking the foolishness of the game.  Kurt Bartmann was a short kid who happened to be tying his shoes on his knees behind me as I was running backwards.  I ran backwards right into him and tripped over him like modern version of Donald Duck in the old Disney cartoons.  But this was no cartoon- I landed straight on my wrist and heard a loud “SNAP”!!

The next thing I knew I was in Mr. Norman’s office.  “Hey Joe, you see this Rock n’ Rollie’s wrist?  Twisted up like a pretzel eh?  You ever seen an injury like that Joe, huh?”  Mr. Norman was commenting, making a spectacle of my severe injury to his jockey, meat-lovers pizza eating friends. Mr. Norman had a killer tanning bed tan.  He ran 5 miles every morning at 4:30 am.  He was 53 years old and could beat up most 20 year olds.  All I knew is I was in severe pain.

I was taken to the emergency room by my Mom.  After 2 hours of waiting in the emergency room for the deeply competent hospital to see to my wrist- which looked as if it was slanted in an unnatural 45 degree angle, they treated my ailment.  They put an x-ray on my wrist and put my fingers into 5 metal Chinese-fingertraps that made up an iron claw.  They pricked my wrist with a shot, numbing it with some sort of anesthesia.  They then strapped my upper arm down and cranked the iron claw up, blasting my bones back into place.  I was still coming off of the high, and was numb from that as well, so my Mom was surprised that I reacted so calmly to the seriously painful situation (though I did let out a little yell when they snapped my wrist).

They then sent me home with another big mistake for a kid of my addictive nature.  They gave me a big bottle of pink pills labeled “Darvocet”, and told me to take them for my pain.

The next week I was off school, with a glow in the dark cast on, recovering from my pain.  My parents were lenient with my grounding and allowed friends over to see me as I was laying around.  I entered into the haze of these little pink Darvocet pills.  They were tremendously strong and gave me a doped up feeling that I looked forward to.  I learned from someone that crushing them up and snorting them would have a more impactful effect, so I did that a few times.  Occasionally I would get a bit of weed from a friend and combine it with the Darvocet, putting me into a whole new high I hadn’t experienced before.

As I recovered from my broken wrist and floated on in a haze of Dextropropoxyphene (the active ingredient in Darvocet), nicotine and THC (the active ingredient in marijuana), I was being set up for release from school.  It would be the summer of my 9th Grade year.

As “Pretty Noose” by Soundgarden, and “Counting Blue Cars” by Dishwalla blasted on the radio waves and audio tracks behind vivid images on MTV, I was heading into my first 3 months of total wreckless abandonment as a young party-hungry miscreant.  I didn’t even catch the lyrical message of the Cranberries anthem “Salvation”, which foreshadowed brighter days to come.

To all those people doin’ lines,
Don’t do it, don’t do it.
Inject your soul with liberty,
It’s free, it’s free.

To all the kids with heroin eyes,
Don’t do it, don’t do it.
Because it’s not not what it seems,
No no it’s not not what it seems.

Salvation, salvation, salvation is free.
Salvation, salvation, salvation is free.

The First Time I Did LSD

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pupil  of doooooom

pupil of doooooom (Photo credit: Aero Racer E)

The humiliation of being a flagrant drug addict gets old, and brings one to myriad crossroads.  On the freeway of addiction one road sign reads; “It’s time to cut back”.  Another sign reads; “It’s time to quit altogether”.  Yet these signs are small and seem to speed by in an incoherent blur.  They unnoticeably lurk in small font on the side of the road while the vehicle of life is travelling at seventy-two miles per hour.  Then, a large, green exit sign with huge white letters states what has seemed obvious all along; “Try new drugs” it exclaims in your face.  It seems to beckon to you like a side road hotel after a 10-hour road trip.  You slow down and prepare to exit, to a new freeway, and a new wild ride where you do not know the destination at the journey’s end.

John Lennon tried LSD almost by mistake with George Harrison in 1966.  They were spending time with a friend that they would later call “Dr. Robert” in a song on the album “Revolver”.  The lyrics lilt in a melody laden with psychedelic oblivion;

Well, well, well you’re feeling fine

Well, well, well he’ll make you

John and George’s friend convinced them to try this new drug, “lysergic acid-diethylamide” and put some in their tea, and said it was all the rage among young swingers and hipsters of the time.  An hour later Lennon described his experience, that they were going up a “lift” (British for “elevator”) and swore that the building was on fire and were in a frenzy, and then minutes later, the fear abated and everything went to normal.  This was the way of the mysterious acid trip…  a game of Russian roulette in the mind.  Would insanity strike?  Insane joy?  Fear?  Reckless abandonment?  Power?  Violence?  Harmony with the universe?

In the second semester of my Junior year of High School in Hudson, Ohio, I joined the Orchestra to play percussion.  I had heard it was an easy gig and we had a sweet-hearted teacher named Mrs. Bush.  Mrs. Bush made music fun and easy, and didn’t have incredibly high requirements for our excellence.  Also, if one joined the orchestra, they could be in the steel drum band with Mrs. Bush’s son, Mark.  This was a larger motivator for me to join, because my friend Mitchell played bass in that group, and aside from all my personal creative pursuits I longed to be busy playing music again.

In the group were a great collection of misfits, including one David Wilt.  David Wilt was six foot two inches tall.  He had long hair that he pulled behind his ears.  He wore tie-dyed shirts and smoked the best weed in town.  He also sold acid.

David Wilt didn’t only find acid to distribute, he actually made it at home.  He had a conversation with me one day about it.  “Hey Benny, I know that you dig smoking dope.  Have you tried acid yet?”  I answered in haste, “Ummm… no man.”

I had a pensiveness about LSD.  I knew that the Beatles and Hendrix did it.  But didn’t this stuff put people in the Looney-bin?  I talked further with David Wilt about it.

“Look man…”  I said, “Isn’t that stuff kind of crazy?”

“No bro,”  David replied, “This stuff is killer man.  You just have to be in the right state of mind to take it.”

“Right state of mind?”

“Yeah man.  If you like have a bad thought, or are in a bad place with weird people when you take it or something, then your trip will go bad.  But if you surround yourself with the right situation and the right people, you’ll have like the best time of your life bro.  I’ve done it a bunch of times, and never had a bad trip!  It’s 10 times better than getting high or drunk, and it lasts like 8 hours!  It’s also cheap man, 5 bucks for a hit, or take two hits if you wanna really trip your brains out.”

The reasoning made sense to me.  In fact, it seemed like taking this drug would even guarantee a good situation!  Just remove any bummer from your surroundings, and it would go well.

I didn’t know then that David meant that you couldn’t have a notion of conscience or awareness of mortality while you were on an acid trip.  I didn’t know then that you couldn’t have a friend around that really cared about your health and well-being, because they would bum your trip.  I only knew that I wanted to get higher than I was before.  And hey man, if this drug helped produce songs like “I am the Walrus” by John Lennon and “Axis:  Bold as Love” by Jimi Hendrix, then I was in.  I wanted to make heavier, deeper, more colorful music like that too.

My theological framework was one that adopted the religious and spiritual views of my heroes.  John Lennon sang “All You need is love”, so I wanted to follow him.  My room was actually a John Lennon shrine.  There were times when I actually believed I was praying to his spirit, and asking him for guidance.  I know it sounds wild, but these were some of the many wild religious thoughts that crossed my mind in the middle of my pursuit of “higher consciousness” or “enlightenment”.  I didn’t have any specific belief about God or gods that may have existed beyond me, just a plethora of ideas that came and went in and out of my mind.

I wanted to write songs like the Beatles did, so the next step of risk seemed to be taking the plunge into heavier drugs.  “So Dave…”  I said to my tall, new hippie friend, “Can I score some of this stuff off of you?”

I also convinced my bass player friend Mitchell to take this stuff with me.  I told him how we’d probably make music like the Beatles in their Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band era.  I told him it would open up our minds more.  I tried to convince my drummer friend Duane to do it with us.  He just agreed to be there with us and get stoned with us while we were tripping.

I bought the weirdest dose of LSD that I would ever buy from there on out off of David.  It was homemade, and not cut into regular doses.  It looked like a bunch of purple, dried-up, crooked jello-glass.  David explained to me that he didn’t divvy it out correctly, and just to try little pieces of it at a time, and eat more if it wasn’t kicking in after an hour.

The moment of this monumental risk came like an adrenaline flood of chaotic fear and excitement.  It was the feeling one would have before going on a rollercoaster or bungee jumping.  Would we make it to the other side without losing ourselves, or would we understand what Jim Morrison meant when he sang “Break on through to the other side”?

Mitchell and I got Duane to drive us to the Acme Plaza where we always hung out on a Friday after school.  I had all this strange purple acid in a little baggie, which I had paid $20 for.  I also had a $40 bag of mid-grade Mary-Jane, a lighter, and a new blue and purple glass pipe I had recently purchased to cement my constant pot habit, and I also had my trusty pack of Camel Lights.

Mitchell and I each ate a small shard of what looked like purple jello glass.  We were totally freaking out.  “Oh man!  We’re going to trip, we’re going to trip!”  Many colorful expletives were used to exclaim our excitement and fear.

We lit up a pipe of dope and passed it around in Duane’s car.  The stoned feeling began to kick in and I don’t remember much of what happened after.  Though I do remember when the acid kicked in.

We were walking towards a large water tower in the town of Hudson, Ohio, and the water tower began to vibrate and pulse.  A body buzz kicked in that seemed to overtake me with total numbness.  I think I turned to Mitchell and said, “Man, are you high right now?” And he said with a euphoric foolery, “Oh yeah man!”  I honestly don’t remember the rest of that day.  But I do remember more of the next time we took it.

Mitchell and I had a history exam to study for.  It was a good front to convince his parents to let us have an overnight study session at his house during the week.  Mitchell and I shared one thing- a crazy streak.  We had a hunger for adventure and wildness, and loved to break rules.  I brought my study stuff over on a Wednesday night the next week, and we faked like we were studying from 8pm to 10pm.  His Dad came in and told us we should go to bed.  I had a sleeping bag on the floor and Mitchell was in his bed.  We ate more of that weird purple LSD that I had.  We actually split up the bag and finished the rest of it- what was probably the equivalent of 2 hits each, because it was certainly a mild batch (something I would discover later).

Mitchell and I were into prog-rock and were listening to an album by Steve Hackett- the former guitarist for the original Genesis (with Peter Gabriel- pre-Phil Collins corniness).  We played his album “Voyage of the Acolyte” – a wild, instrumental, medieval, psychedelic masterpiece.  The acid kicked in, and the song from the album called “A Tower Struck Down” was played about 10 times consecutively throughout the evening.  The song made us laugh like little children with all it’s dissonance and maniacal melodies.  Click on this link to hear it:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jxl6RLlKkHI  (Listening to it now I laugh, because I realize how ridiculous it was- yet at that point we literally thought the music was going to make the ceiling cave in!)  We stared at Mitchell’s ceiling fan and watched it rotate, which he had put a blue, red and black lightbulb in.  We began to explain that it was “The Wheel of Fire”, because the fan blades would catch trails of each other and look like a vortex.  The guitar of Steve Hackett wailed through the night, and we got no shut-eye, all the way up until 3 am, when Mitchell’s Dad busted in with grave anger, likely because he heard our hysterics and brain-fried laughter.  “What in the world are you boys doing?”  He exclaimed…  well… he used more expletives than that.  “Uhhh…  nothing Dad!”  Mitchell exclaimed, his eyes dilated and wide open.  “We were just about to go to sleep!”

Of course we got absolutely no sleep, and the sun came up.  We went to school that next day, sleeping in class and telling all our friends about our wild experience.  The Beatles albums like “Revolver” and “Magical Mystery Tour” seemed to make more sense to me, as did Pink Floyd’s “Piper at the Gates of Dawn”.  It would be our own version of the year 1967 soon, and the trip was about to get wilder than ever.

My grades plummeted to D’s and F’s, my relationship with my parents grew more strained.  As for my girlfriend, Harmony, I told her about this first trip and encouraged her to take it with me.  It freaked her out really bad and she wanted nothing to do with it.  She made me promise I would never take acid again, and I agreed.  I decided that I would keep taking it, and not ever tell her.

My Near Death Experience on Psilocybin Mushrooms

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Dried Psilocybe cubensis magic mushrooms.

Dried Psilocybe cubensis magic mushrooms. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One would have thought that one bad trip would have deterred me forever from the dark, uncontrollable mystic realm of the psychedelic trip world.  Because I had survived without slipping into insanity, I would jump and fall down the rabbit hole again.  The next time would be more severe than ever…  the most intense trip I had ever had.

“Intergalactic” by the Beastie Boys slammed the billboard charts of August of 1998, as the summer of my Junior Year came to a psychedelic dénouement.  Don’t get me wrong, I was into the Beastie Boys.  But I had an entirely different soundtrack playing behind the hazy, multi-colored, chaotic mind-trip of that summer.

There were songs I listened to then that seemed to make perfect sense to me at the time.  I read the lyrics and listen to the melodies now, and can remember this revelatory feeling I felt then.  However, they seem to be strange, nonsensical riddles to me today.

I loved songs like:

Matilda Mother, a lilting nursery rhyme rocker by Syd Barrett and the Pink Floyd:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YFgYdFkRA3I

A Day in the Life, a view of the newspaper headlines through the lens of psychedelic eyes by John Lennon and the Beatles:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4xljFT44Y1Y

I Am the Walrus, a nonsense song that gives a window into the madness of tripping by John Lennon and the Beatles:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rDfXo_jRFbI&feature=related

and Burning of the Midnight Lamp, a song which I always took to describe the insomnia that came with an intense drug experience by the Jimi Hendrix Experience:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8rEBz–bWVY&feature=related

One song was “Mountains of the Moon” off of the Grateful Dead’s palindrome sprinkled 1969 album, “Aoxomoxoa”, which can be heard here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-MiOKj84cOk.  Some of the lyrics state:

Cold mountain water, the jade merchants daughter,

Mountains of the moon, electra bow and bend to me.

Hi ho the carrion crow fol de rol de riddle

Hi ho the carrion crow bow and bend to me.

Today, I know that there are a great variety of influences in these lyrics, and they are a strewn together array of poetic suggestions.  The line about “Mountains of the Moon” may have reffered to Edgar Allan Poe, and “Electra” may have referred to the Greek goddess.

But as I listened to these words sung by the late Jerry Garcia in August of 1998, especially after the bad trip I had on LSD, they would make me weep.  My drug exploits were described in the words.  I wanted the “Mountains of the moon” to bow and bend to me.  I wanted to control the universe, or at least my universe.  I didn’t want to be controlled by any authority, no higher power, no institution, no parental figure, and no teacher.  I wanted to be my own authority, and create my own reality, my own sphere of belief and understanding.  I only realize now how misdirected my pursuit was.  If I could step into a time machine and speed into the past I would yell into the ears of the young, broken 17 year-old that I was.  I would exclaim, “Stop it man!  You don’t need to go any further!”  But you see, I had no idea the depths of insanity and despair that I was headed towards.  There was, however, a merciful omniscient One beyond the clouds who knew of where my journey would end.  He was about to give me the greatest glimpse of beauty and freedom that I had ever seen, and right at the moment when I least deserved it.

For some reason, I was able to deceive myself into thinking that the chemical nature of LSD was the reason why I had a bad experience.  I was persuaded that more natural substances were safer, because they grew from the earth.  One of these substances was the chemical “psilocybin”, which is found in magic mushrooms.

These mushrooms normally grow on cow dung, but are also grown by dedicated individuals that desire to cultivate a more potent species.

We had hippie friends, a couple named “Adam” and his girlfriend “Zen” who grew these mushrooms in their home and sold them.  I had bought a batch of mushrooms from them earlier in the summer, which had grey caps and faded white stems.  They weren’t a potent batch, and I decided to eat about an eighth of an ounce of them right away.  What ensued was a wild body buzz and a case of the unstoppable giggles that I couldn’t control.  I would stare at myself in the mirror for fifteen minutes at a time, puffing out my cheeks and watching my face inflate like a balloon, and then laughing and falling about myself.

I had convinced myself that mushrooms were the cleanest, safest trip.  I had danced with LSD and the demonic for awhile, probably about twenty trips or more, and the last one had been a view into hell itself.  In my mind, mushrooms were different.  I was convinced that they were a positive drug, more natural, and only gave one colorful, cheery hallucinations.  I had no idea of the deep, Lewis Carroll vortex that I was about to plummet into.

Not long after my bad LSD trip, a week after to be exact, I scored a quarter ounce of mushrooms from Adam and Zen.  They had home grown this batch using hydroponic growing methods, and Adam warned me, “Look man, don’t take a lot of these at once, alright?  They’re a lot stronger than normal!”  They certainly looked different than the other grey mushrooms I had bought from them, they had red caps, and the stems were bright white, and gooey.  The mushrooms were moist to the point of almost being slimy.  I assured Adam, “yeah man, no worries.  I’ll take a low dose.”

The next day, I woke up in the morning with this large bag of dangerous shrooms in my nightstand drawer.  My parents had left early to visit a mall somewhere in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio.  I had the day free and the overwhelming urge to trip on these psilocybin fungi.  Something dark, oppressive and heavy possessed me to eat a large amount of these red-capped mushrooms, mostly small ones, which had a more concentrated amount of psilocybin than the larger caps.  By the time I was done eating them I had made it through about sixty-six percent of the quarter ounce bag.  I had shunned the advice of Adam to eat a lower dose.  On top of that, I hadn’t eaten breakfast yet!  The realization of this alarmed me and I quickly ate sixteen saltine crackers, then I licked my fingers, and drank a glass of water.

I would often do impulsive things like this without a plan for my day.  I only knew that I was about to trip completely out of my mind, and that was my only agenda for the day.  I quickly phoned up my friend, Riley, who had acquired an interest in psychedelic experiences like me.  “Hey Riley, how’s it going man?”  I said on the phone.  “Good Benny, what’s up buddy?”  Riley vibrantly answered.  Riley had an intense personality, and could quickly go from being a vibrant, positive person to being angry and throwing things across the room.  “Dude…”  I said, “I just ate a butt-load of these red-capped mushrooms that Adam and Zen sold me, and am about to trip my brains out.  C’mon over and let’s hang out bro!  You can call up Adam and Zen…  and maybe take some too and we could trip together?”  Riley was always up for a chaotic experience, and replied, “Sure Benny, call em’ up and set up a time to meet, I’ll be by to pick ya’ up in 10 minutes man!”

I got a hold of Adam and Zen, and they agreed to meet us in Cuyahoga Falls at the Best Buy Department Store parking lot with a bag of these mystic, red-capped shrooms for Riley to take.  I even offered Riley some of mine, but Riley wanted some for himself, so we set up the deal and were on our way.

As we entered the Freeway ramp onto Route 8 South going towards Akron, Ohio, I began to start tripping.  The funny thing was, it had only taken Riley 7 minutes to pick me up, and maybe another 10 minutes to get to the freeway ramp.  I had eaten the mushrooms about 25 minutes before, and I was already tripping, and getting uncontrollably high.  I don’t remember anything that I said to Riley on the drive, just that he was amused by my crazy comments.

We arrived at the Best Buy in Cuyahoga Falls, and Riley bought an eighth of these cursed mushrooms from Adam and Zen.  We decided to go in and look around at Best Buy for a bit.  This was 1998, and Best Buy stores had signs depicting the music artists, bands and movie stars who topped the charts of popularity.  These apparatuses hung in the air from the ceiling.  I looked at these signs, and the skin from the faces of these people, which looked like demonic aliens from another world, began to melt off of the signs and drip into the aisles below.  I turned my head slowly towards Riley, and said, “I don’t feel so good man.  Do I look ok to you?”  Riley laughed, and it sounded like Dracula’s laugh to me.  He responded, “It’s funny man, but right when you said that, your face turned completely green!”

I don’t remember the car ride to Riley’s place. I do know that we got to his house and he immediately ate some of these red-capped psilocybin mind-destroyers.  He ate about half the amount that I did.  By this point I was in total hysterics.  I couldn’t walk without losing motor control and falling on the ground.  I would go from uncontrollably laughing to manic crying and sorrow.  Riley was becoming afraid of what these mushrooms were about to do to him!

I talked to Riley’s cat, Oscar, for awhile, and thought that he could see inside of my soul.  I looked at Riley’s carpet and saw what appeared to be life-size bacteria swarming around and multiplying.  The magnifying glass on the world below was getting larger than I could take.  I went into the bathroom and saw a swirling carousel of angry little fairies swarming around my head.

Fast forward a mind-time-lapse into an hour later…

We were outside.  The sun was shining with myriad clouds in the sky.  I began to have my “peak” experience on this horrible, intractable mind explosion.  I went to a realm of every color.  I went to the land of purple, where Riley looked like some sort of indigo monster from hell, and creatures of a violet tint scattered all around the grass around me.  I also experienced orange, yellow, red and blue realms.  I looked out into the grass and saw a silhouette shadow of a tormented man’s soul reach up from under the ground into the sky, seemingly longing to touch the edge of heaven’s gate or some form of luminescent light, a relief from torture.  But he was just as quickly sucked back underground to continue in his vexation.  I didn’t have any beliefs at the time, but I somehow knew that this man’s soul, and this affliction, was eternal.

I picked up the phone to call my girlfriend Harmony.  Our relationship had become so estranged.  I had to make things right.  I spoke out loud to Riley, in as intoxicated an accent as I’ve ever had, “Dude, if she doesn’t answer the phone I’m going to die!”

The phone rang once…  I paced facing the southeast, and murmuring statements of hope and promise.  “I love this girl, I know she’ll answer, I know she’ll be there!”  I looked like I belonged in a mental ward.  The phone rang the second time…  I paced towards the northwest, becoming the manic opposite of the contra-positive direction, I yelled out, “I know she won’t answer, I’ll die, I know I will!  I’m doomed!”

I paced back and forth four times as the phone rang in what seemed to be synchronicity.  Harmony’s answering machine picked up.  I yelled out to Riley and the universe, “That’s it.  I’m dead…”

I literally dropped to the ground with my arms folded across my chest like a corpse.  Riley told me about it later.  He said that my face went completely pale and he thought I was dead for good.

When I hit the ground, I lapsed out of time and space.  I saw the sky fold up like a book and there was a black abyss beyond it.  I felt my soul leave my body and was sucked up beyond the clouds.  I had no concept of the duration of this, and everything felt eternal, like a dream.  Visions of the end of my life also flashed before my eyes like a 24-hour movie in seconds of time.  I saw Harmony and my family crying as I was carried out of Riley’s yard in a stretcher towards an ambulance.  The entire scene of my death was played out before my very eyes. I do then recall seeing a man in a robe, holding a staff.  He met me in the air, and he waved his hand and sent me back down.  I actually saw my body lying there, as cold as a cadaver, as I sped back towards it as if I was falling from a skyscraper directly back into it.

I took a deep breath of life giving air and gasped.  I immediately sat up cross legged, and I desperately began to pray to whoever was out there.  This all happened right in front of Riley’s eyes, and he told me about it later.  I looked up into the sky and began to cry.  “Is there a purpose for me?”  I yelled up.  “If there is, give me a sign, please!”  As I said this the wind blew across my face.  I looked into the clouds, and they parted.  A glimmer of sunlight shone on me, and I could’ve sworn that I saw a vague outline of a face behind the clouds.  I felt this wave of comfort come over me, and cried more.  I had long hair pulled behind my ears and my tie-died shirt on, sitting cross-legged in a field and crying.  I couldn’t hear any audible voice, but I could hear this phrase in my heart, that I needed to “play music, and love people…”  The omnipotent force left me and I knew what I had to do.  I had to turn my life around and make everything right.  I had just encountered the God of the Universe.

Years later, I would read passages like Psalm 139:7-12, which would describe this experience:

I can never escape from your Spirit!
I can never get away from your presence!
If I go up to heaven, you are there;
if I go down to the grave, you are there.
If I ride the wings of the morning,
if I dwell by the farthest oceans,
even there your hand will guide me,
and your strength will support me.
I could ask the darkness to hide me
and the light around me to become night—
but even in darkness I cannot hide from you.
To you the night shines as bright as day.
Darkness and light are the same to you.

Even at my lowest moment of fear, degradation and ignorance, the Lord of the Universe desired to show Himself to me.  I can’t describe this any other way, except to say that He is completely, totally loving.  It’s amazing that He just wants Himself to be known.  He won’t force Himself on anyone, but His beauty is breathtaking, life-changing and filled with wonder.

After this encounter, I ran into Riley’s house, and found anything in his fridge that could purge this poison out of me.  I chugged a half-finished 2-Liter bottle of root beer.  I took two slices of leftover pizza and scarfed them down.  Riley followed me inside, trying to calm me down.  He was beginning to trip himself as well, and after the experience I had a fear began to overtake him.  “Benny, calm down man!”  He said.

An hour and a half later, Riley would call the ambulance on himself, because he was afraid that he was dying.  He actually told me that for one moment of about 7 seconds, he had flatlined in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.

“I need to call my parents and have them pick me up man!”  I yelled out at him.  “Where is your phone?!”  It’s as if an insane bout of conscience had overtaken me, and all of a sudden I wanted to change everything in my life.  Riley reluctantly gave me his phone.  I called my parents and my mom answered.

“Ma!”  I exclaimed.

“Ben!  Where are you?  Are you ok?”  My Mom instinctively answered.

“No I’m not ok Mom.  I need you to pick me up at Riley’s house!  I’m freaking out on drugs Mom, I need you to come and get me!”  I babbled on.

“Ben!  Oh my God!  Where are you?”

“At Riley’s house!  Uhhhh…  Dude, Riley!  Where is your house!”  I yelled.

“What’s the address of the house?”  My Mom emphatically asked.

“Dude, Riley!  What is the address of your house?”  I yelled at Riley.

“I don’t know!”  Riley responded.  The mushrooms had started to invade his mind.

“You don’t know the address to your house man?!”  I yelled back.

“Ummmm…  It’s ummm…  ‘Callender Drive’!”  Riley responded in inebriated confusion.

“Callender Drive Mom!”  I said on the phone.

“What’s the house number?”  My Mom urgently asked.

“Dude, Riley, what’s the house number?”  I asked Riley.

“I don’t know man!”  Riley yelled back, laughing an unstable cackle as he said it.

I don’t remember much after that, though I know that Riley began to freak out and go into the worst trip of his life.  I looked out the window and saw my parents with their grey 1991 Cadillac coming down Callender drive slowly, and looking for me.  I ran out of the house barefoot into the street.  I got in the backseat of the car with my Mom and fell into her arms.  I felt as if I was two years old again.  I began to cry and ask my Dad if everything would be ok.  He assured me as if he was the father I had as a youth again, “Ben, everything’s going to be ok.  You’re just freaking out.  It’s the drugs…”  We had a conversation about the mushrooms I had ingested, and they took me to the hospital.

At the hospital, a female Asian doctor had a conversation with me.  “Are you still hallucinating?”  She asked, as hair seemingly grew out of every orifice of her face.  “Uhhh…  yes…”  I replied back with fear.

We ended up back at the house that night.  After a good hearty meal of beef and vegetable soup and bread, I passed out for hours.  I just couldn’t stop crying and mourning over all the terrible things I had done to myself and to others.  I swore that I would get sober.  No more pot, no more booze, no more psychedelics.  I would turn over a new leaf.  The overwhelming realization that there was a God out there who was looking down on me entered my mind, and would never leave me again.  I had no idea who this God was.  What did He want from me?  Was it just a figment of my imagination?  He seemed so real, and yet I didn’t know if I could reach out to Him again.  I would not forget that feeling I had sitting cross-legged in the grass and talking to Him.  It was a memory that would haunt me in the months to come, as things spiraled further down…