Gone Hallucinogen Freeway by Craig J. Moore

Originally published in 2009 ‘Gone Hallucinogen Freeway’ is a stylistically experimental novel written by Craig J. Moore. Set in California, around 1967 and the summer of love, the book is narrated by Joey, and tells of his life aged seventeen, trying to find his place in the counterculture. As part of the growing genre of self-published psychedelic works, which tend to focus on personal, socio-historical narratives  ‘Gone Hallucinogen Freeway’ portrays what, arguably, could be called the defining era of popularized psychedelia.

The book is split into three chapters; the first, Down the Rabbit Hole, recounts Joey’s introduction into the world of weed, LSD and the alternative lifestyle of the counterculture. The second, The Summer of Neverending Love, she said, covers the hedonism of that now legendary season and the third, Way Down in the Revolution of Wild Flowers, is a resolution, of sorts, on Joey’s personal, teenage hopes. Central to these hopes, and to the book, are a series of female relationships, wherein the age-old search for the destruction of virginity is tempered through the characterisations of the females in question.

Numerous enchanting girls, who each appear to represent different elements in the seduction of the counterculture, become points of fascination for Joey. Naomi, in particular, threads her way through the novel, she is the experienced hand of LSD who guides Joey with her esoteric manner and worldview. Another, called Janey, only 13 at the start of novel seems to be the very potent mixture of youth and anti-social (in the most literal sense) behaviour that idealized the fear felt in the mainstream; her attraction was her freedom. Claudia, who is synonymous with cannabis and jazz, is the beat chic, the glossy cool formed from the grit of the 1950s beat generation.

Near the start the narrator talks about Claudia’s artwork, her idealized characters based on those around her and it seems to be a metaphor that frames the whole novel; almost saying that the counterculture itself was an attempt to idealise reality, an artistic, creative act. As a cultural epoch or time, the Sixties has been defined variously over the years.  For Joey, looking back: “I simply remember a day in my youth when the world changed: the day President Kennedy was assassinated. My childhood ended, and the next thing I knew I was hearing the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show.” Suddenly a creative culture takes main stage.

LSD itself, the central drug of the text, is categorized through the legendary acid chemist Owsley Stanley, for whom the LSD in the novel is purported to have come from. The upshot of this is that psychedelic heroes were not, more obviously, Leary and alike, but the people who produced the raw material. “I had to blaze my own psychic trails, and I really had no charts or maps, no trip guide, no psychedelic travel log.” Though he’d come across The Psychedelic Experience by Leary et al, reading at that age for Joey was not the source of information, it was word-of-mouth and the experience itself. Owsley was a hero because he enabled this approach to LSD.

In thinking about Gone Hallucinogen Freeway as a work of drug writing then, one must take into account two things. Firstly, though it belongs in temperament to the psychedelic era, it is very much of the culturally reflective ilk so predominant in recent self-published works of drug writing. Secondly, as a convention on the era, it tells us that the famous literature of the time – by Leary, Huxley, Watts, Wolfe and alike – had a less of an impact than one might suppose. Instead, it was the underground press and magazine culture that had a greater bearing.

There are passages in the third section, basically long streams of consciousness, with all but no punctuation; packed with cultural signifiers and rich imagery. Had one the breath, then the words almost demand to be read aloud, as if a poem. Then, seamlessly following these passages, Joey says: “I met a surfer acid head from Redondo Beach who was going to write a surreal novel.” The structure appears to mirror and pick up the incidents of Joey’s life, as if demonstrating the cultural milieu of regular drug taking. The era becomes a hazy crash of parties, incidents and tribal gathering, which is connected through the drives of the narrator.

At times the author’s voice appears to cut across the narrative voice very sharply, reflections on the reflections, discussing the story with the reader. In doing so Moore discusses identity in relation to the story of the text: “As I did not become something other than who I was, but rather that I merely continued to be the person I am, that I do not fundamentally see the world as some very different place from the one I was passing through then. Then is now, now is then.” Therefore the book is positioned as an archive on an individual and not necessarily on the setting and time itself. The upshot of which is a criss-crossing story that appears at times to lose itself, before reappearing in the guise of another episodic moment.

Joey’s façade – the drop-out anti-authoritarian drug user – is for society and, as such, a demonstration of dissatisfaction but his mind, his inner struggle, dwelled on the “knotty problems of existence.” But this seems, when read in conjunction with the ideas around identity, to be the same. If one dwells on the cultivation of consciousness, as geared towards the very ontology of itself, then one is detached from the politics of the external. What then is true across time, wherein identity for Moore is meshed and singular, is then also the same for space; the outer vision of someone dwelling on the internal is the appearance of removal from society.

Moore’s writing style, like Hunter S. Thompson, has a penchant for the grand, cascading social comment: “And Brian and I had that bent, that difference to find some reflection in the glittering night, some need to know that our need was not just some image in a magazine, not just another empty hole filled with all the empty promises of all the empty institutions of emptiness.” Yet, unlike Raoul Duke, Joey seems to be trapped in the whims of the social movement; so entwined with the politics it so despises.  For example, Joey and his friends employ the word narcotic but do so ironically because it is the state-issued word; consequentially it becomes part of the counterculture, very much in the manner that the word ‘freak’ was appropriated.

Gone Hallucinogen Freeway beautifully portrays the clash of counterculture ideal with the hazards of being a teenager and yet manages to carry the optimism of the age through its words: “To say that I was stoned that all I could do was just sort of take it all in and ride the current was perhaps…more to the point, and that point was exploding into the sky above my head into infinite points of departure.” At times, the book is lacking plot and relies heavily on episodic intertextuality to create its meta-thread, however, this shouldn’t detract from the painting of the novel, which, to my mind, wonderfully brings to life the business end of the counterculture. You can buy a copy of this book here.

Via the House

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