Monday, July 2, 2012

How I Met E.J. Gold

At the age of 21 I was turned on by my friend, Bob Gregory, to a book that profoundly changed my life, Robert Anton Wilson's Cosmic Trigger.  This book serves up a compelling  autobiographical account of Wilson's spiritual journey  included methodical experimentations with an eclectic assortment of consciousness expanding technologies.  Wilson ranks as a genius, one of the truly great psychonauts of the XXth and early XXIst Centuries.  His balanced skepticism and generalized purview, ranging from the scientific to the paranormal, from theoretical physics to ufology, covers a lot of ground.  His playful Pythonesque sense of humor lightened the seriousness of the task.  Cosmic Trigger appears concisely encyclopedic in scope,  introducing most if not all of the cutting edge esoteric researchers in the areas of study Wilson pursued.  I spent at least the next 10 years following up on subjects I discovered there.  Apart from Wilson, the researchers that had the strongest influence on me included Aleister Crowley, G.I. Gurdjieff, Timothy Leary, John Lilly, and Buckminster Fuller.  A unifying thread behind all these disciplines is the search for underlying principles behind all religions, mythologies, philosophies, sciences and human experience.  Gurdjieff, inspired by Sufis, called it The Work.  Crowley, a romantic poet by profession, called it The Great Work.  Leary declared himself to be carrying on the work of Crowley and Gurdjieff., and came up with the S.M.I.2L.E. formula. Lilly, a hardcore scientist, called it Simulations of God.  Fuller, seemingly the most pragmatic of them all, called it Design Science.  It was an interest in all these fields that eventually led to meeting E.J. Gold.

There were 3 independent sources that personally directed me to working with Gold.  The first came from Sam Zeiger who owned and operated the Blue Light Floatation transit station on 23rd Street in New York, the second was through an eccentric wayward Sufi named Hassan Heiserman who worked on and off for Bill Laswell, and the third was Robert Anton Wilson.

 The first book of E.J. Gold's that I read was Secret Talks with Mr. G but I had no idea it was by him.  No author was listed and the cover featured a photo of what appeared to be G.I. Gurdjieff.  It registered to me as one of the most informative books about Gurdjieff's work I had read. It had real substance.  Later I found out that the photo was of Gold dressed up as Gurdjieff.  He apparently felt that significant writings by Gurdjieff was witheld from publication so he and his group simulated Gurdjieff''s salon, assumed the role and invoked him. This method generated quite a bit of useful material but also incurred the wrath of the Gurdjieff Foundation.  They have since made peace.  The next book I got was The Lazy Man's Guide to Death and Dying, now out of print, unfortunately.  I picked that up at a Robert Anton Wilson lecture because Wilson penned an intro for it.  It didn't do much for me at the time, but I've since grown to appreciate it.  The book that really grabbed my interest was an expensive spiral bound publication called Practical Work On Self.  It was the title that caught my attention.  My biggest issue with the Fourth Way literature was that there was a great deal of theory but not much in the way of practical exercises.  This book basically only had one exercise called Invocation of Presence but I found it very effective.  Strangely enough, the book was mistitled, it's real title was Invocation of PresencePractical Work On Self is a whole other book entirely.  


I next encountered Gold's work when I went to one of my regular floating sessions at Sam Zeiger's place. Gold had a painting on a magazine about Floating that Glenn and Lee Perry published. I thought, wow, this guy really covers all the bases. Customarily, after my float, Sam would serve some refreshing herbal tea and we would hang out and chat about the latest in conciousness raising technologies. He told me about the Institute for the Development of the Harmonious Human Being which put out all kinds of products inspired by Gold. This had a nice updated Gurdjieffian ring for me. Gurdjieff's school was called The Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man.

Sam got me into doing readings from the American Book of the Dead (ABD), a book I'd first come across when Bill Laswell brought it into the studio. Sam also turned me on to the Zen Basics being attention exercises, a practice I still revisit from time to time to this day.  One day Sam called me up with an invitation to an event for people interested in the writings of E.J. Gold.  It featured a demonstration of essential oil fragrances and was going to take place at the apartment of someone named Evan Lurie.  Now, I had heard of a musician by that name who was an original member of  the Lounge Lizards.  However, I remembered that the editor of the ABD was Iven Lourie so I was already getting my conspiracy theory brain tweaked and wondering what was going on.  It was the ex-Lounge Lizard Lurie's domicile, they both just had similar names.  I remember walking down 29th Street from Park Avenue to their apartment on the corner of Lexington looking at tree tops blowing in the cool wind against a grey overcast sky. I felt this strong mood and a premonition that my life was going to be forever changed.

It was at that "perfume party" that I met Jimmi Accardi.  Jimmi was also a musician, formerly of a group called The Laughing Dogs that had been signed to Columbia in the heyday of CBGB's.  He applied an essential oil blend to my wrist that combined labdanum and patchouli to create a very earthy and spicy fragrance.  After the party, I went back into a session at Platinum Island.  When I chanced to smell my wrist again, it smelled different having blended in with the natural skin oils.  I suddenly flashed on a memory of when I was about 2 or 3 years old.  It smelled exactly like a favorite stuffed animal I had back then, completely obliterated from my memory over the years.

After the oils had been presented, Jimmi had us gather in a circle and asked if anyone had any questions they'd like to ask.  I mentioned that I had a problem which is that I could get into more rareified states of consciousness but I couldn't maintain them with any kind of consistency. He thought this was a good question.  There was some discussion but nothing that I can recall today.  Jimmi dropped some hints that there might be other kinds of meetings regarding this work but stopped short of offering an invitation.  He did mention a presentation of some sort that he and Evan were going to do at Estorica bookstore the following week that I was invited to attend.  I went to it, we had some further discussions, my memory fails of exactly what, but it did lead to an invitation to participate in his study group out in the Jackson Heights section of Queens. 

Jimmi was a masterful study group leader.  He stressed that if anyone was even one minute late, the door would be locked, entry denied.  The far corner of Queens was a long way to go to get turned away.  This had the effect of making these meetings seem like they were the most important thing we could be doing at that time. I felt like I was entering into a secret society or attending a Masonic initiation.  We would gather in the living room of his apartment exchange greetings and pleasantries, but once we crossed the threshold into a separate adjoining room where the meeting took place, we left behind all social custom, parking the conditioned behavior of our ordinary personalities at the door.  It really felt like stepping out of the human world into another dimension of unknown territory.  I would start to notice the same skin prickling sensations experienced in the floatation tank indicating a shift in consciousness and awareness.

*  *  *  *  *  *

 Hassan Heiserman was quite the character, maybe still is for all I know.  I'm not sure if he's still alive, I hope so.  The last I heard, he had adopted a lifestyle of the homeless,  hanging out in Alphabet City.  John Zorn would see him from time to time but it has been some years since I got any news.  He had an abusive childhood but somehow as a teenager ended up living at J.G. Bennett's 4th Way community at Coombe Springs in England.  The stories about him are legend.  He apparently drove across the U.S. with Jack Kerouac sometime in the '50s.  No idea if this is true but there is a photo of a young Jerry Heiserman, before he adopted his Sufi moniker, taken in 1963 with a caption by Alan Ginsberg.  So Ginsberg knew him, and of course Ginsberg and Kerouac were close friends.  Hassan also claimed to have cooked for Timothy Leary during his Harvard days.  I had a chance once before a lecture to ask Tim if he knew him.  Leary looked puzzled and said he couldn't recall him.  I asked again, saying that Hassan claimed to be his cook, Leary shifted gears saying something like, 'Oh yes, now I remember ... wonderful guy,' and smiled broadly, but I had the distinct impression that he was shining me on, telling me what he thought I wanted to hear.  I suspect they're both right.  Hassan probably catered some Leary events, he never claimed to have met or spoken with Tim, and it's likely that Leary wouldn't know the hired help.

Bill Laswell met Hassan when he got into a cab Hassan was driving.  Somehow the subject of Ornette Coleman came up with Bill saying that he'd really like to meet him.  Hassan said that he knew Ornette and that he could arrange for Bill to meet him which he did. Bill and Ornette remain friends to this day.  Hassan said he knew Robert Anton Wilson, I didn't get any details, and that he had also spent time working with John Lilly's son, John Jr., on a project in Mexico.  Hassan fascinated me because of all his contact with heros of mine, yet he always had some snide criticism to offer about these individuals.  I asked him about E.J. Gold whose books I was reading and all he said was, "I love E.J,"  Then he told me how they met.

At some point, I believe it was in the late '60's or early 70's Hassan moved to Turkey and joined the Mevlevi Sufi Order.   After  a couple of years his teacher told him that it was time for him to return to the West and that he should look up  two teachers there, Reshad Feild and E. J. Gold.  Hassan didn't know either of them at the time.  He ended up in Los Angeles.  He had a bit of an inheritance so he used to spend his time taking long walks around the city.  One day he walked past a house with a sign that read "First Sufi Church of Christ."  Somehow he knew that E.J. Gold was there so he knocked on the front door, and started to explain who he was and who he was looking for.  Before he could finish, Gold came bounding down the stairs and announced to everyone that Hassan was his teacher from Turkey, sent out for Middle Eastern food and had a feast with Hassan as the guest of honor.

Coincidentally at that time, Reshad Feild and his group, The Institute for Conscious Life, lived in a house just a few blocks away.  They were preparing for a residential course, were in need of a suitable cook and ran into difficulties finding one.  Feild explained his predicament to Gold who replied that he knew just the right person, Hassan.  Years later, I was in Switzerland for a Praxis show not far from where Reshad had another large group house.  I came bearing gifts from Gold, a couple of small paintings, one for Reshad and another for one of his students.  Feild was out of town visiting relatives in England but the major domo left in charge drove out to the hotel we were at and we had coffee.  For some reason I started telling him about Hassan only knowing about his unusual meeting with Gold, unaware of what happened subsequently.  Reshad's consigliere, whose name I don't recall, mentioned that Feild was in the process of writing a book, which eventually became Going Home and that one of the chapters was about Hassan though his name had been changed.  I was invited out to the house where I spent a wonderful day and left with a photocopy of a transcript of the chapter in question called The Cook from Afghanistan.  Reshad speaks highly of Hassan.  It was nice to get some independent verification.

Hassan also turns up in one of E.J. Gold's books, Autobiography of A Sufi.  He's included in a "serious group of specialists" called The Fellowship of the Ancient Mind.  Gold writes:

Hassan was an expert in Persian, Turkish, Armenian, and Tibetan, and served as chief cook on our journeys.  He was familiar with the knowledge of "transforming factors" in food - spices and herbs which made food a new substance which could utilize the results of breath and impressions for material for the development of essence.  He had also studied with the Mevlevi in Konya, Turkey, and been the personal secretary for the founder of a great world religion in Indonesia for some years. 

The 'great world religion' was Subud who he likely got connected to through J.G. Bennett.   Hassan was also responsible for introducing Lily Nova to Gold.  Lily was another colorful character, a fashion designer for the stage who had once dined with Salvador Dali at the Waldorf Astoria.  Lily had been part of Oscar Ichazo's Arica group prior to meeting Gold.  She knew the filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky  around the time he made The Holy Mountain through the Ichazo connectionLily and her partner Paul Landman had hosted Gold and his group from California during the summers of  '82 and '83 when they presented a series of workshops in New York. The summer of '83 was the time I first visited New York.

After I got to know Hassan better, at one point, out of the blue, he said "We have to get you to see E.J." I wasn't sure what "we" he was referring to.  Another time he spoke very highly of everyone he knew who had been through Gold's program.

*  *  *  *  *  *  

I've always been skeptical about joining any kind of group.  This explains why there's never been a desire to join the A .'. A.'. or the O.T.O. despite a strong resonance with the system Aleister Crowley propagated.  I once attended an introductory meeting of a 4th Way group at the Squat Theater next to the Chelsea Hotel in New York.  Their lineage derived from J.G. Bennett's school I was told.  They promised 'real work' the next day up in Central Park.  I found them extremely pretentious, they turned me off.  You could ask the most ordinary question like, 'What time are we meeting tomorrow?' only to be met with a pregnant pause while they searched deeply within for the correct being essence answer.  

Reading something by P.D. Ouspensky changed my mind in that regard.  He stated in no uncertain terms that transformation was only possible in an esoteric School.  This point bothered me so I brought it up at a Q and A session following a workshop by Robert Anton Wilson.  Wilson, one of the most skeptical, independent freethinkers I knew, was also aware of Ouspensky's writings.  I asked him if it was necessary to join such a School.  He simply said, "I think it's a good idea."   A long pause ensued before I followed up with, "do you know of any you could recommend?"  He said, "well there's E.J. Gold's group out in California."

TO BE CONTINUED . . .







6 comments:

  1. This is great. Can't wait for the rest of this story

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  2. Yes. It is very interesting to find out EJ Gold. Tell us more!

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  3. Don't know how I came to your blog tonight, but I was living in the Institute for Conscious Life in Los Angeles with Reshad and Hassan.

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