Posts Tagged ‘Pauite’

THE TERRIFYING CRACK AND ECHO

November 3, 2008

Black Rock, Nevada, 1860. In the bleached and cracked playas and buttes of what was once Lake Lahontan, the Pauite Indians are under attack from Kit Carson and a buckskin battalion of pale faces. Carson and his troops are armed with 50 caliber round, lead balls that fire with a velocity at the muzzle of 1200 feet per second. The Pauite’s armament is mostly sticks and stones; they are terrified of the white man’s weaponry and the sounds whizzing by their heads. They fear the sound as much as they fear the imminent tearing of flesh.

Vienna, 1887. Logician and physicist Ernst Mach is attempting to isolate the psychoacoustical source and rationale for the psychological terror associated with gunfire. He tries to understand why soldiers engaged in battle with firearms are so emotionally volatile.

Mach endeavors to explain the how of what the Pauites already know: The sound of the air ripped asunder is an immediate reminder of one’s own mortality. At any given millisecond, something as precious as life can be snuffed. Shell shock. Faster than sound. Instantly. A crack and an echo.

Advertisements

THE ROAD TO BURNING MAN (Black Rock, 1996)

November 3, 2008

“For my next act, I will set myself a-fire,”Craig Breedlove, moments after nearly drowning in a brine pond in Bonneville while becoming the first man to travel 500 mph.

Picture this: a transmigration towards the center of being, the Pauite Spirit Land where, according to Injun’ tradition, white and red brothers had been separated at creation, Black Rock, Nevada.

Picture this: a Blind Hippie and three compatriots on the road to the Burning Man festival there, a sort of free-form techno-pagan celebration with colors and music and a giant, sky-scraping wooden effigy of a stick man set on fire as a sort of act of atonement for the sins of post-industrial America.

If the culture is to seek penance, the Black Rock desert is as good a place as any. Injun’ Conflict and conflagration, war games, amateur rocket launches and sundry manifestations of tweaked machismo have been perpetrated on this very chunk of longitude and latitude. Atonement is a nice gesture, but it’s really to ease the soul of those still breathing, as those who have vanished and vanquished have been incorporated into a landscape whose scale and magnitude renders such gestures superfluous and futile.

Still they come: in vans, cars and caravans.

Roving bands of naked percussionists – Marching Drug and Bong Corps, if you will – jammin’ on high and so blissfully oblivious to their own arrhythmia that it eventually becomes a rhythm, snake through various camps of pierced performance artists and tattooed torture artists, Fuller-ites with portable Geodesic domes (!), etc., etc.

The Burning Man. It resembles a star-shaped power line stand that supports the high tension lines cutting across the Mojave between LA and Vegas. The resurrection of a skeletal Trojan Human with nothing hidden, its structure as blank as the desert that houses it, its message empty excepting whatever meaning any one of the gatherers wants to foist upon it. And with that done, the whole thing will be set on fire, of course. These projections, like the edifice itself, which will be consumed by fire at the culmination of the festival. Woodstock meets the World’s Fair, whose finale is Jimi Hendrix electronically vomiting out the “Star Spangled Banner” while the Hindenburg immolates. Or something.

The festival is held on the Black Rock dry lake bed, a location with serious overtones of ancient civilizations of Pauite Indians and genocide, and WW II war games.

This dry lake bed is a flat ball of string with the triumphs and transgressions of Western Man and the Noble Savage he supplanted all intertwined. The spiritual, the cosmic and Western Man’s “fucked male energy” are all there… it is the only logical place to set the Man on fire and attempt to purge the sins of Modern Life and some how get right with nature.

Beyond its status as a pagan festival, Burning Man is a gesture. It is a metaphor. A reactionary statement about life at the ass end of the 20th century, whereupon technology has taken a strange turn.

The whole gag was form over function. A bio-mechanoidal convergence. The least functioning the sculpture the better. Technology is inextricably intertwined with our lives, nay, our very central nervous system(s). Thematically, Burning Man is a commentary on technology gone awry, a re-enactment of 2001, when the mainframe computer on the space station in 2001 went haywire and makes a cognitive decision to lock the pod bay doors in an attempt to deprive the astronauts of their oxygen. The astronauts were in a battle of wits with the computer and the computer was kickin’ some serious Homo Sapien ass. So anyway, Burning Man is/was a contrived attempt to dis-empower technology, to relegate it to its proper status as a tool and not the command center.

Technology is an extension of humanity, and takes the Venn Diagram one step further, it is an extension of nature. Burning Man was a contrived and somewhat precious attempt to detune technology to the basics: punch cards, strobe lights and pulse jet go-karts…

All of which is sheer spectacle and an exercise in entropy and pointlessness.

The festival ends with thousands of post-modern hippies, punk rockers and other bohemian-types wiped out on the dry lake bed. They were drugged out, drunked out, fucked out. The Man is cinders, caught in the ethereal, basso profundo winds that blow across a desert bed that one sci-fi writer referred to as “the afterlife.”

There was nothing left to burn.

The only thing left was to “pack it out.” Dutifully, the Blind Hippie begins to help clean up the trash. The next year he returns. And stays.

THE PHONE CALL (1997)

November 2, 2008

The phone call comes from Shell Oil’s media power center in West Los Angeles. It is the day after Labor Day, 1997. The voice on the other end, an oil company’s flak who apparently had drawn Craig Breedlove as his assignment, is clueing me in as to how, beginning tomorrow and after a year long hiatus following the 675 mph mishap, the speed trials are back on for the Spirit of America at the parched alkali of Black Rock, Nevada. It is official, the first proper supersonic Land Speed Record attempts are a green light. I am to get credentialed tomorrow at a hotel in Reno, NV, whereupon Craig Breedlove will rendezvous with the press and lead a caravan out to the desert like some latter-day man-machine Mohammed. At the press conference he will explain the modifications and improvements administered to a land speed machine that had become unstable and crashed at transonic speeds.

In the days following Breedlove’s 1996 near-calamitous daredevil act – near the speed clocks, Breedlove got out of the groove and began bicycling his sleek J79 jet engine-powered manned missile like a circus act, the 5-wheeled vehicle riding on the front tire and one rear wheel rolling and yawing off course until it made an abrupt right hand turn and was aimed at some Snowbird-types in an RV (by the grace of the All-Knowing, by a whisker had Breedlove missed torpedoing these senior citizen motorheads who had hoped to witness history, not aware that unwittingly they had almost become new members of the Good Sam’s Club in the Sky) – the more dubious members of the motorsports press had surmised that Breedlove’s speed was closer to 475 mph.

“Performance incentive clauses” was the phrase bandied about by these cynics, in reference to the reality that Craig would need beaucoup greenbacks from his sponsors to repair his exotic race car. The only confirmation of the actual speed of the vehicle as it became unstable came from the Spirit of America itself. (Breedlove showed data from the run which corroborated his speed, apparently.)

Whether the streamliner was traveling at 475 mph or 675 mph was rather moot; the Spirit of America had failed to reach its objective of reclaiming the Land Speed Record from the clutches of the British in general and Richard Noble, Order of the British Empire in specific. The recent improvements to the race car’s contour promised to render ‘er even sleeker than last year’s model, a design which already resembled an arrow from the quill of the Pauites.

There were also conflicting reports about whether Craig intends to crack the sound barrier or if his intent is to get the car up to trans- and sub-sonic speeds, and then remove himself out of the hot seat, install a remote controlled drone system and then go supersonic.

In other words, there was a chance that when the Spirit of America went Mach 1, it may not have a driver.

To get the skinny, the publicist tells me, I have to be at the Reno press conference by noon tomorrow. The flak kindly asks me to be sure to include references to Shell Oil in the article on Breedlove I was to pen for HOT ROD Magazine. I assume he means in relation to its continued patronage of Breedlove’s increasingly-streamlined fuselage, a relation that dated back to 1962, and not its recent alleged complicity in the political assassination of Ken Saro Wiwa and genocide in Nigeria, when some of the locals were less than happy with what they considered exploitation… Ultimately, notions of tyranny and subterfuge in the Third World are now dormant in my mind. The important thing is that the Grunions are Go! The Land Speed Record is about to be raised…

The hour is late… I have just enough time for loading a camera bag with lenses and a half dozen plastic canisters of Ilford, cramming some clothing and toiletries into a shoulder bag, brewing up a thermos of Cafe Bustello, jumping in the Batmobile so’s to make time to the Burbank Airport, throw a credit card down on an airline counter and catch a plane to Reno.

Because of the haste and my appearance, I would fit the profile of a terrorist: unshaven, jittery, amped on caffeine, paying with a credit card and demanding to be put on an airplane that was just about to taxi… but that routine would be repeated often during the next six weeks or so and was part and parcel of chasing the Land Speed Record, I would find out that Richard Noble’s adage about “Going fast is slow business,” is not accurate: it is slow business with a co-efficient of chasing airplanes.

My journey would only take a few hours. In Newtonian terms, the Land Speed bunch had taken an eternity to arrive at this moment; in four-dimensional respects, an infinity.


THE PHONE BOOTH

November 2, 2008

I am waiting to make a phone call to the editor of HOT ROD Magazine. I wait outside the booth as Richard Noble is fumbling for the proper change to dial out, and I notice all he can summon is lint and some British coins.

Here he is, Richard Noble, the fastest man on the planet, desperately trying to make lodging arrangements in the middle of the American Outback, the weight of an entire LSR operation on his shoulders. The SSC’ers got no rooms and their leader can’t even make a fucking phone call.

The Brits are boycotting that turncoat opportunist Bruno. They adjourn to the bar next door, “Bev’s Miners’ Club,” and discuss Plan B. After enjoining Bev the barkeep to “Give us a fag, wouldya’ love?” (Loosely translated, “I’d like to purchase a package of cigarettes”), the affable Brits begin making friends with the locals, particularly Bev.

So picture this: Richard Noble and his lads (twenty-odd clamoring Brits clad in matching RAF-khaki) are hoisting Coors in a dusty, desert Dew-Do-Drop-Inn (this about as bizarre as it gets, in my book) when one of Noble’s crew members shushes the entire bar. The local teevee news is reporting on that morning’s press conference (“Going 700 mph does not interest us. We are here to go Mach 1”) at the casino in Reno. Suddenly the videotape cuts to the chipper studio humanoid broadcaster who closes the report with this coda, “Noble and his team are taking Saturday off in observance of Princess Di’s funeral.”

Simultaneously Richard Noble, OBE does a “say wot??” double take while his overworked and underpaid entourage cheer and Bev pours more drinks and opens more cans of beer.

They didn’t get the day off. Nor did they care, really. All of which underscores this question: What is it about Noble that inspires his troops, his lads to persevere in high-desert heat to erect a portable self-contained military-industrial complex that meets the criteria for the digital era’s standard for data gathering, all on a dry lake bed that time forgot?

(The massive amounts of hardware assembled by the SSC to facilitate the penetration of this phantom waveform amounted to nothing short of a hi-tech paramilitary invasion of a forgotten lake bed that – excepting for the war games and impromptu fighter plane dogfights staged sporadically by the military back in WW II and the alterno-tech paganism of the annual Burning Man Festival – had more or less been bypassed by the techno-industrial revolution of the 20th Century and had never seen electricity, much less microwave satellite uplinks, portable airsheltas, rescue vehicles, hundreds of channels of real time telemetry and supersonic motorcars.)

The answer is not explainable by the notion of “technological enthusiasm,” a phrase that has recently come to explain everything from hot rodding to the Apollo moonshot. The answer is deeper, more atavistic and completely primeval. The answer has roots which extend into the quintessence of matter: The universe is expanding. By extrapolation, consciousness is expanding, constantly encroaching into realms of the unknown. The technological enthusiast must go THERE, the technological enthusiast will devour and outmaneuver whatever is in his or her way: Pauites, the laws of aerodynamics, Newtonian physics, whatever.

Thus you have some of the finest minds of our lifetime sleeping on other people’s couches, on their hands and knees picking up pebbles off the desert floor (to keep them from getting Hoover’d into the jet engines intake), all so they can have their moonshot.

THE HUMAN PUNCH CARD

November 2, 2008

“Colours, sounds, temperatures, pressures, spaces, times, and so forth, are connected with one another in manifold ways; and with them are associated dispositions of mind, feelings, and volitions.” – Ernst Mach, THE ANALYSIS OF SENSATIONS (1886)

As night enters its own rapid eye movement, Danny Jo lay back at the Fly Ranch and closes his eyes. Why a blind man closes his eyes to sleep is a mystery, but he does. And he gets lost in thought…

Due to his preternatural and extraordinary sensory awareness, Danny Jo the Blind Hippie now serves as an auxiliary participant in the quest for breaking the sound barrier in an automobile. Danny Jo volunteered his services to the SSC team as a sort of data analyst for the Mach 1 Land Speed Record attempts at Black Rock. His mission as he saw it would be to provide analysis to complement other data gathering designed to prove the existence of a true, physical barrier – an invisible, longitudinal wall created by the energy generated by any entity attempting to travel faster than thunder.

Danny Jo would be working without any of the modern accoutrements desired by contemporary systems analysts. His method of telemetry is completely primeval and organic… For the sensors used are his fingers, toes and bottom. He receives the sound waves generated by a jet-driven motorcar as it reaches speeds of almost 800 mph, analyzes the shape of the waveform and its pitch as it enters and massages the nerve endings in his body and then plots the reaction of the wave’s characteristics as it attempted to punch through this much hypothesized invisible brick wall.

He is a human punch card.

This sound barrier has never been penetrated by a motorcar and the blind hippie is well aware of the significance of his assignment. The slightest miscalculation on any of the data recorders and the results could prove fatal to the driver… As the stars shift and the earth continues its rotation, Danny Jo contemplates the ramifications of dealing with a concealed phenomenon and its ability to capsize any vehicle loaded with the chutzpah to penetrate its hidden threshold… He reasons that his offer to monitor data was accepted because it takes a blind man to see and hear both into and beyond the invisible…

As his earth momma woman sleeps beside him, the blind hippie continues to meditate in the black. He remembers a free verse poem he had composed and began to recite it to himself, sotto voce. “Sound occurs within spaces. Like natives, vibrations interact in a circle.” He repeats it to himself, this mantra interrupted only by the infrequent doppler of a military plane or satellite – it sounds like a detuned pedal steel guitar slithering out of a trucker’s jukebox in Reno – and the accompanying ultraviolet tones emanating from the blinking lights. He also hears a train, just like the Spencer Tracy movie. These sensations make the blind hippie smile…

The blind hippie tunes out the psychic waves that beep and click from the satellites like Morse Code from the dead; waveforms Teutonic in origin are what he needs to focus on; he is here to witness and interpret a high white noise generated by a space age, supersonic motorcar; any signal that was not of a technological nature is to be rejected…

But on a metaphysical level, he knows he is to do more than encode and decode raw data. Although not in the job description, part of the gig is to diagnose and analyze the distant echo of the white sound most men never hear. To monitor such phenomena, a detector must be as sensitive as possible. The trade off, unfortunately, is that a detector that sensitive is also subjected to noise, in this instance being the poltergeists of genocide as well as an extraterrestrial force that seems to congregate at sites where spy planes and black projects frolic and dogfight in maneuvers above the desert lake beds; indeed, there are still shell casings as well as undetonated carpet bombs on the desert floor, more flotsam and jetsam from war games and simulated battles dating back to WW II.

(The dormant ammunition gives off its own weird and twisted energy, more information that crept into the mind of the hippie mystic…)

He attempts to summon the sound of an oncoming train, but his efforts are continually hampered by the strength of the signals from the Pauite Injun’ burial grounds. The sounds of the locomotive are drowned out. The blind hippie relaxes, slips into a trance, and communes with the soul of ol’ Chief Winnemucca himself, a Pauite Tribal Leader summoned to the Father Land over 100 years ago.

And so the supernatural powwow begins. The Chief says that back in the day he was enthralled and fascinated by the technology of the white man – weapons that made a great noise like thunder and lightning, houses that moved, big houses that go on a mighty ocean and travel faster than any horse. In those days, he considered the white man his brother.

The Injun’ speaks to Danny Jo of the beginning and how there were four children of the Good Father in the Spirit Land: A white brother and sister and a red brother and sister. Their bickering was divided upon color lines and the Good Father segregated the siblings along those lines. The great paleface emigration of manifest destiny was seen by Captain Truckee née Chief Winnemucca as an opportunity to heal the wounds… to reunite the red man with his white brothers and sisters, an opportunity which had turned to shit and utter dysfunctionality when two wily sons of jackals/fur traders kidnapped two young Pauite squaws and hid their nubile quarry in a trap door – technology that was beyond the kin and comprehension of the redskins.

(What is a door to an Indian?)

Before the squaw’s abduction, the Pauites were on copacetic and neighborly terms with the paleface emigrants and squatters. But the Injun’s demanded justice in the form of the sons of jackals’ blood, which led to the merciless bloodshed in the shadows of the mountains to the East, the Great War of 1860. Kit Carson, enjoined by the Forked Tongue Power Structure to whoop up on some redskin ass, led the attacks. The fallout from those battles was self-evident to anybody en route to Gerlach. And suffice it to say, ol’ Captain Truckee was not quite enamored with the new technology of his white brothers and sisters after the smoke had cleared off of Pyramid Lake…

As the Chief finishes this tale, the telepathic tête-à-tête is interrupted by another spirit, not unlike a lurker in a chat room. The blind hippie tunes into these new vibrations and deduces that its origins were much further away, hundreds of miles east on I-80; indeed, the source was as far away as the abandoned air strips at Wendover, Utah or perhaps its adjunct, the Salt Flats of Bonneville where a few moons back Land Speed warriors plied their trade with jet-engined automobiles until the potash mining had finally fucked up the Salt’s water table so badly that high speed record attempts were fruitless. Captain Truckee reckoned that the voice was that of a white brother, although not one of the white brothers whom had plundered the mesa.

The signal is weak at first, but when he rolls his eyes, they act as a rotary dial on a ham radio or the swiveling of a pair of rabbit ears and the reception improves; still, the transmission has to penetrate entire mountain ranges – Cortez, Sulphur Spring, Shoshone, etc. The blind hippie admires the channelers’ tenacity and likens the signal itself to those seemingly massless subatomic particles that could penetrate and pass through the earth, a handful of which were captured in a detector in Japan.

Once dialed in, the voice from beyond the mountains tells of his experiences with a great noise like thunder and lightning and houses that moved; indeed, the voice from beyond the mountain range actually used the thunder and lightning itself to move the house, a notion that Winnemucca found amusing as he was fascinated by the white brother’s technology but wondered at what point does this technology become a coyote with two heads? The blind hippie deciphers what the voice from beyond the mountain was actually referring to, an automobile powered by jet engines on the Salt Flats of Utah. Exactly, said the voice from beyond the mountains. Oh yes, I have seen those from the Spirit Land, says Captain Truckee.

Did you not use the weapons of thunder and lightning to further the expansion of the white nation? Not exactly, the voice from beyond the mountains answers. We borrowed the thunder and lightning for another purpose: not just to travel faster than any horse, but to travel faster than the sound of the thunder itself. We were attempting to get closer to what you call the Spirit Land. The only warriors who died were ones who allowed themselves to be sacrificed by the thunder and lightning itself. Captain Truckee says he understands the desires of the new white brother warriors to use the thunder and lightning to enter the Spirit Land. He then told of a high white noise above most folks’ hearing range. It is, to most, an unheard music. Danny Jo interrupts, saying that this music is only for those who are tuned in to the ethereal, the existential absolutes. Yes, acknowledges Captain Truckee: It is a noise for those who are unafraid to die – and it is as loud as the thunder when the warrior is closest to his own death. The Injun’ muses that even though the first white brother had given me a new name that meant “very well,” perhaps those were not the white brothers that the Good Father in the Spirit Land had meant at all. Captain Truckee reasons that perhaps you were the correct white brother as you are a fallen warrior whom in death has joined me in the Spirit Land. The Good Father talks of koyaanisqatsi, the world out of balance; until we as brothers reconnect, the universe will not be whole. The blind hippie marvels at the bookends of this cosmic situation and nods his head.