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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thoughts on "The Mad Artist...",
If you've ever wondered what taking drugs is really like read this book.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Meaning of Life revealed, no less,
On the other hand, the clear lucidity of the writing, taking an open objective stance even when describing the most subjective of experiences, is certainly a characteristic of Roger's personality and writing. Even when elaborating descriptions of his first LSD trip as a young twenty year-old student, the experience opening the doors to a new way of viewing the world, putting surrealist art, music and literature into context, while at the same time revealing horrors and insecurities arising from within, Roger's prose is clear and expressive, inviting and yet warning, alert to the wonder of the stoned-out-of-your-mind experience and its potential for opening up the mind, yet at the same time cautious about the negative impact it can also have.
If dualism proves to be the enemy of the perfect exploration of the trip, as the young Roger discovers with his partner-in-acid Henry, it's the quest through writing that makes the novel work so well in the underlying quest to explore and understand the experience of life. This does not, as might perhaps be expected, temper the purity of the experience with a retrospective moralising outlook from a more mature perspective, but rather Roger manages to successfully re-enter the mindset and attitudes of another person in another time and another place - even if that other person is himself. This is clearly the author's intention - it's stated there in the Foreword of the book - and, in as far as that's possible (journals and some creative reimagining were clearly involved), he succeeds marvellously. There's every indication that this is the experience of the Roger Keen of the 1970s, not a revisionist view of it from the very different Roger Keen I know now, detached from that time, but undoubtedly, it would seem, still deeply influenced by this period, still continually seeking new ways to view and understand the world through art, literature, philosophy, music and cinema, and ultimately, writing.
Vigorously and actively trying to get to grips with what we understand by reality and the world around us, as well as documenting a particular period of 70s England, there's every reason then to expect that The Mad Artist has more to offer a wider readership and there is much more to it than just being a memoir by someone you might not have heard of. The descriptions of dropping out and experimenting with mind-altering substances certainly evoke the acknowledged Kerouac and Castaneda, but fans of latter-day Philip K. Dick (A Scanner Darkly) will recognise many of the situations recounted here, and The Mad Artist has similar qualities with regards to perception and reality that you'll also find in Robert Irwin's work, particularly in this period and in relation to the surrealists in Satan Wants Me and Exquisite Corpse. Roger's aims are incredibly even more ambitious than those influences, attempting no less to write the Novel, achieve enlightenment and basically understand the meaning of life. Incredibly, in the Mad Artist he succeeds.
Opening up and jumping straight into a remarkable description of that first LSD trip, there's a sense of the novel having peaked too soon (to use some of the drug terminology used in the book), but it is indeed only the beginning, the narrator moving away from Plymouth to study photography and multimedia in Bournemouth, hitchhiking in Europe, becoming a part of a whole other subculture exploring an alternative lifestyle. The world has been changed, or at least a way of looking at it has been changed and Roger presents wonderful reminiscences of a period of experimentation that marks a significant break from his parent's generation and sets a background that provides valuable insights into the motivations of a whole youth culture today that is much more open to the use of recreational drugs without perhaps being fully aware of what they are getting into. If the excessive use of mind-altering substances towards achieving any meaningful new insights proves counterproductive and even futile, it's the restless underlying quest itself to explore and cut through conventional ways of looking at the world that ultimately yields impressive and potentially life-changing results.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Psychonauts at Work and Play... HERE COME THE PATTERNS!!!,
Rather than painting the sweep of its four and a bit years in broad strokes, Roger Keen paints this never-leave-a-turn-unstoned saga in intricate detail. He describes what is going on in his life alongside his trains of thought as he attempts to understand his LSD, cannabis, opium, cocaine and psilocybin experiences, often comparing them with other psychonauts' travellers' tales. If you're interested in 'man + psychedelics (entheogens) = ?' then you should read this.
Right at the beginning Roger tells us his first acid trip was a much anticipated milestone in his life. The Mad Artist opens on 'a dull Sunday afternoon in December 1975' when, after a phone call from his best friend, Henry, arranging to meet up for their first acid trip, Roger already begins to feel he 'was now a stranger in [his] own front room.'
This trip was a mixture of wonder, awe and paranoia - and interestingly, his acid visions often inspired his art college projects: 'Suddenly the trip jumped in intensity... [...] The whole wood around me was no longer composed of trees, branches and leaves, but one composed of ...letters. Letters of the alphabet.' (p26) Later, Roger creates art out of these images. Like an explosion in a type foundry, alphabetti spaghetti recurs in other psychedelic episodes throughout the book.
At times The Mad Artist reads like a novel, at others it is very much a memoir and at yet other times it is a thoroughly absorbing blend of the two. At its best it brings Roger's experiences vividly to life. Roger constantly attempts to understand his experiences and the psychological, philosophical and emotional concepts arising therefrom. At times he is terrified, either by the sheer power of the psychoactive substances he's taken or from the resulting visions and concepts that are evoked. He always takes pains to provide a truthful, accurate and detailed account.
The heavy dope smoking gives rise to a rather sinister 'tulpa' in the guise of 'The Man', a sort of archetypal trickster-shadow who turns up at various points to make sardonic comments. This paranoid projection from his subconscious makes the first of several appearances as Roger is walking home severely stoned after a party. 'The Man' tells him, '"Any moment now [...] you're going to do something stupid. Now - Bite off your tongue!"' (p67). In spite of this spectre-from-the-psyche, Roger, daunted but never defeated, persists in his psychonautic endeavours. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there are moments during a trip when he suspects, along with Banquo, that 'The instruments of darkness tell us truths, Win us with honest trifles' but he can't be sure that betrayal lies ahead...
Roger is reading Carlos Castaneda's Don Juan books and in Chapter 19 (p135), with his college pal, Mick, he applies the old Yaqui sorcerer's technique of 'stopping the world' (and other teachings) to the game of shove ha'penny: '"Knowledge," he hissed. "The score of a luminous being!"'
Missing a train on their way to Stonehenge Festival (p139), Roger and Henry view the incident in terms of the I Ching: Henry says, '"Missing the train was a broken line."' To which Roger responds, '"And not only was it a broken line, it was a moving broken line because the train was moving!"'
When seated on the next train, Henry consults his I Ching cards: '"We have a trigram, [...] Sun -- wood, wind, cock, penetration, thighs."' Roger interprets this as, '"We're on a train, which is a cock penetrating the wooded thighs of Hampshire and generating wind."' (!)
On a visit to Madrid Roger 'came upon' the Prado (p154). There follows a lovely passage in which he describes the works of art and his impressions of them. Some 'hinted at an altered state within the painter', others 'evoking nightmarish and trip-like states'.
Stoked by Leb and black, listening to Stan Getz's sax, Keen gives a splendid description of a dope vision, '... a helter-skelter ride that speeded up crazily till it twisted itself into a drill bit, hurling out great red meteorites, each exploding right up close, the debris turning into skyrockets, spaceships, satellites, shooting stars, flying saucers, before dissolving into a crisscross of rainbows, which lay flat to become the etched surface of an ice rink, covered in skaters inscribing beautiful geometric designs...' (p171)
During his time in student halls, Roger relates the tale of two of his fellow students indulging in a dick-swinging contest as they attempt to out-do each other with the size of their home-made bongs:
'Race had had his Courvoisier bong trumped by Sam's belljar...' (p207)
The Big Trip that opens Chapter 34 (p237) is beautiful and well-written. 'There's a finality about dropping a large dose of acid.' This is what an outdoor trip is all about and all looks set for a fair wind and a following sea, which is indeed the case - until the dialogue between Roger and Henry becomes disconnected (not unusual during trips), leading Roger to suspect his friend of deliberate obtuseness, keeping himself 'one step ahead', sabotaging the wonderful interchange of previous occasions:
'"Tell me, Henry, do you know something I don't?"
'Henry didn't reply and that silence barrier descended again like a steel shutter.' (p243)
This signifies an early indication of fundamental changes in their friendship which are dealt with in the subsequent narrative.
Much later, during a mushroom trip, Roger seeks out his friend Henry to explain a particularly significant transformation he's undergoing. '"Blimey," [Henry] said at last. "You're telling me that you've become a Butterfly... I think we'd better get a cup of tea."' (p352)
The whole story is a delight from beginning to end. He describes his exploits on and off campus, the sex, the trials and politics of student life, a trip to a Stonehenge festival, crazy nights in and out with best friend Henry. There is a thread running through the narrative dealing with 'Geometric Progressions' (Keen's term for his spiritual development) that leads to some very interesting musings and conclusions towards the end.
Heightened perception. Altered states. Philosophical musings. Enlightenment.
Regardless of the 'Tee hee!' from my pixies and pirates and 'Heh heh!' from Roger's 'The Man', this is le fromage sacré véritable...
As Andy Roberts writes in his review of my book, Trippers, 'We [...] thought we were individual, yet take a look down the time tunnel [...] - we were conformists after all! But what a conformity it was!' We thought we were unique in our adventures and experiments, delving into little-known regions of liminal reality, but in fact it seems that on any particular day or night there were (and hopefully still are) legions of intrepid trippers slipping into multidimensional realities. Whether indoors with candles, incense and hi-fi speakers or out in the woods and fields, by rivers and lakes, in graveyards and ruined castles, racking up experiences that 'outsiders' could never believe, experiences that have brought about deep and lasting changes in their psyches (in out of the way places or transmogrifying in plain sight) - in short this land is aswarm with these magicians.
Roger has said that in a parallel universe the two of us are possibly the same person - there are numerous instances where The Mad Artist and my book, Trippers, connect, even though the former spans four years and the latter just a few weeks - and I wouldn't disagree with him in principle, but consider this: an observer looking down upon the British Isles from a celestial vantage point may well see a myriad coloured lights twinkling in the darkness and those lights may well represent The Semi Secret Fellowship of Freaks (questing trippers) unravelling the world and encountering the Absolute.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Three books in one,
Running throughout the book is the story of a friendship of two young men from Plymouth as they start on their adult lives at art college and university in the watershed years of the mid 1970s.
Through them the reader experiences their quest for knowledge and the meaning of the life unfolding before them. They embark on a journey of discovery using LSD, cannabis and hallucinogenic mushrooms to open the 'doors of perception' and aid their quest to answer the philisophical questions that they grapple with. Their powerful drug experiences make them begin to question the nature of reality itself as they witness the bizarre and surreal twisting of their perceptions of shape, colour, sound and time. Roger's writing ability is so well tuned to these experiences that he is able to paint a vivid picture to the reader that unpeels a glimpse of this altered world.
The second theme is an often-hilarious account of life as a student in the mid 1970s before life got too serious and whilst the hippy dream of the possibilities of an alternative lifestyle and society was still alive. The crazy, chaotic, and spontaneous episodes at house parties, rock festivals and the interplay of unconventional characters in shared student accommodation are brilliantly described in a style that will make you laugh out loud.
The third theme is more deeply philisophical. It descibes in scholarly detail the results of the friends' quest for the meaning and role of hallucinogenic drugs in religion and tribal societies particularly Taoism, Buddhism and eastern philosophy. The connections the friends make between everyday life as students and mankind's centuries old search for the meaning of life bring their joint quest some answers but also pose even more questions.
For anybody wanting an insight into drug culture in student life in the 1970s, its links with eastern religion and philosophy, and a thoroughly entertaining journey of discovery of life as a young student, then this book is as relevant today as it was back in those more optimistic days.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful book,
Psychonautic Adventures in the 1970s.
This book is a significant addition to the canon of psychedelic literature. Roger Keen has pulled off a remarkable feat in his `novelistic memoir', set in the second half of the seventies. His descriptions of the visuals and of the fractured, frantic and inspired thought processes of the LSD experience are brilliant. They sparkle all over.
And Kean is a brave man too, an adventurer of the mind who, though sometimes terrified by the substances he's dabbling in, returns doggedly to them in his quest for enlightenment.
Somehow he manages to convey that vertiginous feeling of having to grapple with the most important questions of life whilst being totally out of your skull, and out of your depth. This is a wonderful book. Inspiring, eloquent, sometimes gruelling... but then enlightenment doesn't come cheap.
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The Mad Artist: Psychonautic Adventures in the 1970s by Roger Keen