The past isn’t what it used to be. It happened about a month ago. I was sitting by an outside fire with my girlfriend and our musician friend Awna. She said something about the dissonance of memory in these times, how the future is hard to imagine because the past has been disturbed so intensely. The present moment is all there is. It sounds like a slogan, but having spent time recently with two or three working musicians, “Be Here Now” takes on new meaning when it’s a concrete situation having to do with not knowing when you’ll ever play music for a crowd of live humans again.
Right around the time Awna said this, I read an essay by Michelle Lhooq in her newsletter about the ethics of attending raves in NY during the pandemic. In a photo she’s sucking on candy near a bridge, and underneath the mossy arch, there’s disco lights and people dressed in “tactical gear, gas masks, elfen ears, hooded capes, alien makeup.” She had been trolling for parties all night and everything was bogus or shut down until, high on a psilocybin analog and 3meoPCP, amidst sage smoke, candles and “accelerationist techno,” she found herself in a vortex.
“That bridge party, what the heck was that?” I asked when I recently saw her in person. “It was clearly a portal.”
“Cool that you saw that from a picture. It was totally a portal,” she said. “I experienced the past being severed from the present moment under that bridge.”
I experienced the same thing, but quietly by a fire at home.
“It was one of the most demonic vibes I’ve ever experienced,” she said. “Not in a bad way.”
Since then, I’ve been holding the image of inner time as a pendulum. Old clocks run on the physics of a heavy thing swinging back and forth. Foucault’s pendulum marks the planets’ rotation. We mark time within our psyches in a way that is both idiosyncratic and collective. There are pendulums in my mind that mark seasons, growth and loss, ambition and the fruition of my dreams, the duration of my relationships, the inevitable cycles of birth, aging and decay.
The swing of the pendulum that killed my past is marked with the word Covid-19.
We all draw upon the past to provide a practical cognitive point of reference for the future. It’s like riding a wave. With the pre-pandemic past now a memory over six months gone, this mechanism of logical navigation is now broken. Covid-19 isn’t just a pendulum, it’s a Wrecking Ball. The pendulum went psychedelic and not in a happy way. America was knocked over by a feather, Eric Weinstein says, when speaking about the virus in America. It didn’t need to happen like this. The Wrecking Ball we are experiencing now is destroying structures and systems that go way back, for better or for worse, and it isn’t just about the virus. The Wrecking Ball is the result of what has collected and attached itself via an alchemy of identification – Coronavirus, the rise of AI, American Karma, Populism, and Climate Change.
My experience of late is that the past has lost all practical functionality and exists now only as medicine and meme. The past is psychedelic.
Not knowing what the fuck is going on gives rise to what Erik Davis calls High Weirdness. On an episode of Rebel Wisdom, Davis talks about the pandemic as a non-specific amplifier, similar to LSD. We can view this moment as a spiritual emergency. He brings up the concept of Chapel Perilous, a term from the grail myths, referring to a psychological state in which a person is uncertain whether some course of events was affected by a supernatural force, or was a product of their own imagination – think current conspiracy theories and the surreal extremes of our polarization. In Chapel Perilous, people tend to take one of two positions. They come out stone cold paranoid or they become a radical agnostic. To be the agnostic, we must employ humor, skepticism and ordinary reason to navigate our way through.
So what’s going on? In Chapel Perilous you’ll never find out. Grains of salt are your friend. Hold on loosely, child, loosely, to belief on all levels. This is the time to draw upon what the pre-Socratic Greeks called Metis – the talent for cunning and trickery.
When QAnon managed to kill my desire to watch YouTube conspiracy videos in the bath, a friend told me about “stairs in the woods.” I became obsessed.
“Numerous people have been coming forward with reports of isolated stairs in the woods and national parks. This phenomenon has also brought out some of the creepiest stories about otherworldly experiences when someone climbed a mysterious staircase that was sitting alone in the forest,” reports the Historic Mysteries website.
Which brings me to Miley Cyrus, who at this year’s virtual VMA Awards, CLIMBED UP THIS EXACT CREEPY GHOST STAIRCASE TO NOWHERE. Out of a monochrome void, waiting for her at the top, WAS HER WRECKING BALL.
Miley’s been doing live shows for MTV and IHeartRadio, singing cover songs like “Heart of Glass” and “Take it To the Limit,” but her song “Midnight Sky,” the one she sang at the VMA’s, is her ultimate nostalgia trick that shows us exactly how the past has gone psychedelic. It was written as a mash-up counterpart to Stevie Nick’s “Edge of Seventeen.” The two songs work together played at the same time. The song completes all possible outcomes regarding everything Nicksian – night witchery, hormonal girlhood in the most ancient pagan sense of the word, the energy of it being the same thing that inspired a guy named Dogface to fly in the street on his skateboard on Tik Tok and IG to the tune of “Dreams,” causing Rumours to hit the Billboard Top Ten, once again. When every single outcome born of a single idea moving forward has been realized, it’s as if a bomb’s gone off. To say Miley Cyrus “killed it” is an understatement. She annihilated the entire Stevie Nicks-ian realm by exhausting all its potentialities.
Where do you go when you’re already gone?
Apparently, you climb up a freestanding set of ghost stairs in a sequined dress throwing high Madonna/ Florence Henderson vibes and mount a Mirrored Wrecking Ball. You borrow medicine from the past like it’s a handful of shrooms. You sing, the midnight sky is the road I’m on. You sing, I don’t need to be loved by you. And then the stairs disappear into nothing, like they do.
Chapel Perilous option number 3: Ride the Wrecking Ball. Hop up and avoid the stone-cold paranoid. Even the radical agnostic perspective may not work because getting actually smashed is a real possibility. Hop on top of the Wrecking Ball, swing and watch the structures crumble from above. Don’t try to figure it out or cling to meaning; at this point your thoughts aren’t even your own anyway, and haven’t been for a while, in case you haven’t noticed. Swing and make a pass, maybe even two or three, then decide when it’s a good time to launch yourself into the void of the new unknown. In Miley’s original video, she rode the Wrecking Ball naked. You don’t get to keep much with you on that ball – not your clothes, not your dog, not even the past, unless it’s just a song or an image. Only medicine.
For the already gone like myself, The Wide Awakes provides a viable alternative for political action. On Oct 3, I watched them on my phone, marching in the streets of NY in psychedelic capes, psychedelic flags, gathering at a dramatically decked out stage to call for voter registration. The New York Times said a buffalo from Kansas was brought in for the event. I saw their eyeball motif and while this conjures illuminati symbology, these eyes didn’t throw that vibe. While the phrase “wide awake” insinuates an ever problematic “woke” trope, I didn’t get the sense this was what they were about.
Like Miley Cyrus’ “Heart of Glass” time travel witchcraft, The Wide Awakes also use the past as a portal, taking their cue from a group of young republican abolitionists by the same name, who organized in 1860 during the election of Abraham Lincoln. They distributed comic books and art, hoping to draw the attention of young voters to the cause of abolition and the reversal of other regressive southern policies. They carried torches, elegant tin cylinders containing lantern fluid. They wore capes to protect them from the whale oil that would leak from the torches.
Axel Ulrich, a tinsmith in Pennsylvania, fashioned a replica of the original torch in tandem with the new movement launched in January by artist Hank Willis Thomas who defines the Wide Awakes as “a network of liberation, artist sovereignty, and the evolution of society.” It aims to “Radically reimagine the future and enable self-emancipation.” Organizations they are directly in alliance with include The Incarceration Nations Network and The Art of Equal Pay, an initiative organized to combat the gender and racial pay gap for visual artists.
Aaron Huey of Amplifier describes it as:
A reminder that we can still find Joy even in the darkest times. When we collaborate, when we show up with and for each other, when we create in a way that is a compass pointing towards the future we want to live in! Anyone can be a Wide Awake! This is not an exclusive club! Search your social media for “wideawakes” and you will find new groups forming every day and if you don’t see one near you start one today. No one owns this. No one leads this. We march for justice, for healing, for listening, and for awakening. And today is Day One. Like every day after.
Aaron is reworking some of the original Wide Awakes marching songs from 1860 to carry in the streets in the lead-up to the election. As Miley knows, the power of cover songs can’t be underestimated right now.
My partner Beth and I rushed off to the printer to get magnets made from the downloadable poster art to stick on our van before heading west to Los Angeles. We are making capes with eyeballs on the back we plan on wearing when we go out and vote for Biden.
I just recently learned the death penalty in America was the result of southern politicians making lynching’s legal in the town square, so as to avoid the chaos of actual murder. I learned this by searching. It wasn’t something handed to me. How much don’t I know? How little becomes too late to try in an emergency? Are we technically in wartime now? When the past is nothing more than medicine and meme, what becomes of history? History needs coherent discourse and practice to be kept alive as fact and function. I’m not seeing that happening anywhere that counts right now.
What are words for? Miley Cyrus easily could have easily picked that song to cover, but she didn’t. It’s too annoyingly cerebral anyway, when we already know the answer, and it’s not good – when the midnight sky is the road you’re on and you’re swinging from a wrecking ball at the end of a whole-assed eon.
Image: Nicki Adams using adapted image by Sancho McCann