By all rights a “gonzo journalist” before he’d ever read Hunter S. Thompson or become aware there was such a term, Fahey’s fondness for illicit substances wouldn’t be enough to distinguish him from thousands of other would-be “writers on drugs” — if it weren’t for his talent.
And, oh what a talent it is. Fahey has an admirable grasp of details for a man who’s consumed so much cough syrup. He tips his hand: “There is a nasty symmetry operative in the human psyche, in that the clearest memories we own are those which we most desperately desire to shake,” he tells us.
The sheer heft of Fahey’s writing chops — evident throughout his new collection, Dogshit Park and Other Atrocities (available in a $5.99 e-book format from Amazon and other outlets), pretty quickly bulldozes away any initial skepticism one might have about anyone besides Dr. Thompson himself engaging in this sort of “participatory journalism.” Todd actually pulls it off, through sheer chutzpah and talent.
As Fahey correctly points out, the synthesis of psychedelic drugs and the internet hasn’t been properly covered by the mainstream media — and he’s willing to take up their slack.
Although Fahey is keenly aware of the inevitable comparisons — and the inevitable influence, now that he’s aware of Thompson’s body of work — at no point does Fahey’s work feel like an imitation of the good Doctor. Todd has a distinct voice of his own. Even so, he acknowledges their commonality.
“Hunter likes to say that he’s ‘a road man, for the lords of karma.’ With that, I can identify,” Fahey writes. Todd’s lusty appetites for weed, psychedelics, cough syrup — and women — are on prominent display throughout the book.
Those who are easily offended will be able to find instances of apparent sexism, homophobia and even a few racially sensitive passages, but Fahey never comes off as offensive or hateful, just shoot-from-the-hip. It’s also helpful to remember that these stories were written two decades ago.
The book is rounded out with profiles of Hunter S. Thompson and Alfred M. Hubbard, and interviews with psychedelic icons Ken Kesey and Timothy Leary.
Wisdom’s Maw and BeyondFahey in the early 90s authored Wisdom’s Maw: The Acid Novel, using an interesting method. Before starting the book, he procured a sheet of acid, and had in place a basic outline of the plot. Each morning as his wife left for work from their Salt Lake City home, he’d take a big dose of LSD, and spend the next eight hours or so working on the novel.
The book that resulted garnered a cult following and rave reviews, but at the end of writing it, Fahey still had 60 hits of LSD left. Still on a buzz from writing the book, he wrote the stories which form the core of Dogshit Park during a few months of intense creativity.
“I was on fire,” Fahey writes. “Those four months stand as the most sustained stretch of creativity I have ever come into. A pleasant change of pace from the byzantine construction into which I had wrenched myself with Wisdom’s Maw, the stories came as almost a cut-and-paste from the Beyond–fat slabs of dialogue and narrative would simply come to me, and the days were that of joy.”
I would rise with my then-wife in the mornings of that (for me) winter vacation, cook and eat breakfast together, and — as soon as I heard the car start up in the driveway — implant between 500 and 1,000 micrograms of Sandoz’ finest between my cheek’n’gum, say, why don’t we? There would be no more than one phone call to the house during my Writing Day; she would enjoy lunches downtown with office colleagues or church members, and, by 5:15pm — to a heavy awareness of the sliding of the tumblers on our deadbolt lock — I would have completed between four and 13 pages of a story of which I am still very proud and have come back to Consensus Reality (or, as close to it as I ever am).
Often coming off like “have you been experienced” psychedelic version of the hard-drinking, two-fisted writers of the 1940s and ’50s, Fahey’s essential good nature makes his snappy prose a joy to read.
Finishing off my second pitcher at Grandma Gertie’s — a lunch/beer joint in the hollow of Isla Vista, in the rich white student ghetto of UC Santa Barbara — I was feeling on the creeping side of wild, which experience has revealed to me is a good time to head home and load in a favorite CD…mebbe call it an early evening. But I was not afforded the luxury. Instead, I was beholden to score a goodly batch of psychedelics for a group of old friends promising to set me up with a brunette who knew of my needs.
What can I say? I’m a weak man, and the bone separating the space between my ears is abnormally thick and somehow fails to prevent me from bringing unnecessary harm into my life.
So I traipsed into Dogshit Park…
Making It Pay
A major and recurring theme of Fahey’s — at least in the 1990s when he wrote this material — is to make his substance-loving lifestyle (after quitting booze, his favorites are LSD, weed, and cough syrup, in that order) a paying proposition.
[T]here is a world in which writers are paid to experience things that could very well involve the bringing upon themselves heavy penal sentences. & once in a rare moon, there is a writer who, for whatever reason — & they are all good and weighty — has essentially “had it” with mainstream America: that vapid land of sitcoms and commercials & infomercials & talk shows & visionless, primarily materialistic subsistants & whatnot — a writer who, again in the words of the great Hunter S., “has found out a way to live out there where the real winds blow.”
In the not-to-be-missed, absolutely hilarious story “Down on the Farm,” our protagonist finds himself on a quixotic cab ride with a young Iranian immigrant driving.
After Hamza, the cognac-besotted, hashish-loving driver, starts behaving erratically in a backwater Western town and abandons his cab, the writer abandons him:
With the Main Square distracted, I drove past the action and stopped the car at a curb and calmly retrieved my suitcase from the back seat and walked away, leaving the engine running and just enough black hash laying on the front seat to keep Hamza, a known drug-felon, safely contained for the better part of my natural life. By leaving the scene, I figured I would probably hasten his parole by five years. The defense would recall a life filled with sorrow and broken dreams, but no one would care: he was dangerous, and I would only compound his troubles by testifying.
‘The Times Would Never Have Taken You’
Todd shows some bracing self awareness in the same story (did I mention you don’t want to miss it?), through a conversation with Massey, an aging, alcoholic reporter for The Times of London.
“The Times would never have taken you,” Massey chuckled. “And it’s sad, because your kind always makes the best writers; but you can be counted on to be egregiously bad reporters. A glaring excess of talent, no patience, defies authority…you are a natural editor — better, in fact, than the copy chief; you can invent your own headlines if left mercifully alone; you will be awarded in a year’s time the honors and acclaim of your peers, and you’ll quit it all with a petulant note chronicling how badly you have been neglected the instant you tear open a check for sixty quid on your first short story.”
I shrugged. “Let’s have that beer.”
Fahey, as I mentioned, is keenly aware of the Thompson comparisons, and of the difference in their commercial success.
Late June, Lafayette, Louisiana/boiling sweat and adrenaline… “How long, O Lord?… How long… ?” Hunter Thompson sed that; and I find it one of the most salient and applicable queries uttered of the 20th century. Hunter is a wise man. Bog knows, I owe him much. But there are times like these — “Days of Whine and Neuroses,” as my friend R.U. Sirius likes to call them — when I think to myself: Bugger Hunter Thompson. By age 32, he was nursing reliably on Jann Wenner’s sugar-tit, while the good publisher of Name That ‘Zine is paying me $25.00 for this piece…
But Todd doesn’t have to worry about pissing off Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner — he already managed to do that, years ago.
I think my bridge to Rolling Stone was torched about the time I caught Timothy Leary on tape, saying, “You know, I’ve never liked Jann. Nobody likes him. But I’ve got to admire his insipidity: He’s so self-centered and narcissistic…the essence baby-boomer.” Actually, the last smoldering pylon probably dropped into the sea when I posted that interview online, in my massive Web site.
Fahey openly acknowledges that the plan with Wisdom’s Maw (which, of course, led to Dogshit Park) was to lift himself up by the bootstraps, and that eventually led to his self-publishing the novel after unsatisfactory experiences with the straight publishing world.
In Wisdom’s Maw: The Acid Novel, in this one piece of sustained fiction, a work that — as I have said elsewhere — has caused me maladies physical, psychological, marital, familial and financial…in this first novel of mine, I truly hoped and desired for to lift mySelf UP by the proverbial bootstraps. That is, having died many an ego-death in the five years that it took to research the Source material and to align my neurotransmitters to the 600 hits of LSD that I convinced myself was necessary for to complete this dark and deranged mother of all conspiracy thrillers, and after finally kissing off the notion of ever seeing this creature of mine in print under cover of any of America’s respectable publishing houses, I told myself that, by abnegating the prestige of a, say, Alfred A. Knopf, and in hiring out a printer and a graphic designer, and by establishing a pretty far gone space on the World Wide Web (if I do say so myself), and then in taking out seven (7) large color ads in many of mine and America’s favorite counter-cultural periodicals, I was, in essence, acceding to that American chestnut: “Build it & they will come.” Yes, “Birth this black pearl of yours yrself,” and They of the Underground — all who have grown up on the wrong side of the fence…who, after really digesting On the Road, have vowed never again (or, as rarely as is practicably feasible) to allow themselves to be suckered into the shitstream that is Mainstream American Consumer Culture…that mine true Kindred would acknowledge those many lysergic days of hard learning and sacrifice, and wd reward me bounteously via vast sales of Wisdom’s Maw.
But I was wrong.
O, was I wrong.
There are moments of incredible gentleness and insight throughout this seemingly macho collection. One of the most tender moments of all comes in the story “Room 55, The Hotel van Onna, Amsterdam,” in which Fahey relates a transcendent psychedelic experience he had alone in his room at 2 a.m. one morning.
Something nagged at me, as does an unremembered face. I walked to the front door and stared at myself in the other mirror, and again the room, all physical confines, fell away, and I saw myself in all stages of physical, emotional and intellectual development — the All of me now, exposed and apparent to me and understood by me — and was given license to ask questions, cast them into the Void, anything I desired, and spontaneously I did, asked one and only one question, wch was:
“Who am I?”
The answer which came back to Todd — from somewhere — was…