Sunday, August 3, 2008

Influences

It's been a hell of a week here at the Gumbo Palace, so once again I'm going to be lazy and post in list format. This week, I'm going to give you a rundown on the people you probably need at least a passing familiarity with in order to follow this blog. Think of it as a suggested reading/listening/whatever list.

Charles Fort
I've already discussed Fort at length in a previous post. He's the guy who spent an inordinate amount of time collecting reports of anomalous phenomena and wrote books in which he cataloged them and subtly made fun of the scientific establishment.

Warren Zevon
Most people, if they know Zevon at all, know him as the guy who sang "Werewolves of London" and "Lawyers, Guns, and Money." These people are missing out on the best of Zevon's work. Zevon wrote songs of high adventure, the absurdity of the human condition, and even the occasional straightforward rock song. The best starting points for familiarizing yourself with Warren Zevon are Genius (a greatest hits type compilation) and Learning to Flinch (a live album).

Robert Anton Wilson
Robert Anton Wilson is probably best known as the co-author of The Illuminatus! Trilogy, which built upon the Discordian religion revealed to the world in the Principia Discordia(or, How I Found The Goddess, and What I Did To Her When I Found Her). He also wrote many books that combined occultism, psychology, literary criticism, political manifestos, and science into a unique, reasonably believable (and rather Fortean) way of seeing the world. In addition to Illuminatus!, those interested in exploring Wilson's work should pick up the Cosmic Trigger trilogy and Prometheus Rising.

George Carlin
I talked a bit about Carlin right after his death. Carlin once said that he divided his comedy into two broad categories: "the little world"--common everyday things that everyone experienced (pets, losing things, sports); and "the big world"--more theoretical things like politics and religion. While Carlin's "little world" bits could give Bill Cosby a run for his money any day of the week, the "big world" stuff was where he separated himself from the pack. Carlin had a fascination with language, an amazing ability to notice what was really going on in the world, and a healthily nihilistic attitude that made him, in the words of Robert Anton Wilson, "America's Greatest Living Philosopher" (before both he and Wilson died, that is). Check out some of his books and performances.

Dr. Hunter S. Thompson
Hunter S. Thompson was a political junkie, firearms enthusiast, and the father of Gonzo Journalism. Wikipedia defines Gonzo Journalism as "a style of journalism which is written subjectively, often including the reporter as part of the story via a first person narrative. The style tends to blend factual and fictional elements to emphasize an underlying message and engage the reader." My definition is a little shorter: realizing that there is a difference between reality and truth and focusing on communicating the truth of a situation. Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas is probably Thompson's best-known work, but his political writing, collected in books like Songs of the Doomed, is where you'll find the real magic.

This list could go on indefinitely, but I'm going to stop with a Discordian five. While there are other people who influence my way of looking at the world (some of whom, like comic book author and wizard Alan Moore and director Terry Gilliam, are still alive), but these five are the ones who pop up most often and most overtly. You should learn more about them. They're interesting bastards.
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