The Philip K. Dick-Punk Rock Connection

Tuesday, May 10th, 2011

The Philip K. Dick-punk rock connection is tenuous: Nicole Panter, manager for the Germs, had three boyfriends in a row who were obsessed with the writer. She found out where he was living in Santa Ana, and she arranged for the gang to go meet with him — even though she still hadn’t read any of his works.

The interview turned into (what I would consider) a self-parody of alternative journalism, published in Slash magazine in 1980:

Slash: Darby has a mohican now which brings up the kids you wrote about that modeled themselves after South American Indians or was it Africans. When did you begin to write about mutant youth cultures?

Dick: In my writing? TIME OUT OF JOINT in 1958.

Slash: Were you a beatnik then … a bohemian?

Dick: I was all of those things. I knew the first beatnik. His name was Charles McLane … oh, the first hippy. I’m sorry. He was into drugs – that would be hippy.

Slash: What made a beatnik, alcohol?

Dick: Some were into drugs. The difference was there was more of an emphasis on creative work with the beatniks. You had to write … much less emphasis on drugs.

Slash: How far does a bohemian or lunatic fringe go back?

Jeter: To the Bohemians in the twenties …

Dick: Wrong! Puccini’s LA BOHEME describes people who were poets and singers and who burned their pictures in the 19th Century. The furthest I can remember back is the thirties to the WPA artists paid by the government. They became the bohemian strata of the United States.

Slash: What prompted you in 1958 to begin writing about this kind of youth culture? Kids with teeth filed to points?

Dick: Yeah, I don’t know. It wasn’t until ‘71 in a speech I delivered in Vancouver that I was consciously discussing the rise of the youth culture. I glorified punks “kids who would neither read, watch, remember, or be intimidated.” I spoke of the rise of a youth culture which would overthrow the government.

Slash: Do you still think that’s the case?

Dick: I certainly do.

Slash: Have you got a timetable?

Dick: What time is it now? (laughter) Any day now I expect to hear that swarms have entered the White House and broken all the furniture.

Slash: What comes after that?

Dick: Oops!

Slash: You wrote in one story about a system of enforced anarchy.

Dick: Yes, I did … (tape stops!) … of course I grew up in Berkeley and my baby sitter was a communist. She used to give me lectures on how wonderful the Soviet Union was. I would draw all these pictures of tractors and cow shit, but told her the shit was dirigibles. I was sent to a communist kindergarden.

Jeter: Sounds like a Roger Corman film. COMMUNIST KINDERGARDEN.

Slash: What do you think of communism now?

Dick: … uh, I’ve had the shit kicked out of me by the authorities so many times that I no longer have an opinion on that. “When I hear the word “communism” my mind goes blank. Let me know when they’re in power. Then I’ll give you a definite opinion. (laughter) I regard the Soviet Union as a tyrannical dictatorship run by an entrenched clique of old men who are probably the Ronald Reagans of the communist world.

Slash: The kids that trash the white House would probably be a bunch of dub shits out for a yuk. Is that a scary prospect?

Dick: Not for me it’s not! I can’t imagine how they could be more dangerous then the people that are there now. Carter has spoken of the Russians in relation to the Afghanistan war as atheists. That’s holy war talk. And the Democrats are getting the MX missile put through, which is almost like a Warner Brothers cartoon.

Slash: A scary prospect is that, though Carter and those guys are fucked, they seem at least able to keep a country going or vaguely protected more than a bunch of illiterate morons, however energetic. Wouldn’t Russia take advantage of a White House full of guys telling fart jokes?

Dick: I don’t welcome the Soviet Union into this country at all. It seems to be more of a war between young and old. And so far the old are winning. Certainly the Soviet power elite are entrenching beautifully against the youthful dissidents. Like that exhibit of modern art that was literally bulldozed. That’s almost like a nightmare. That scared the piss out of me. I’ve had my house vandalized by kids and robbed, but the idea of government bulldozers to destroy works of art?

Jeter: The orientation of the underground in the past is always that it seeks to become the overground. That there’s a revolution simmering under that’s going to take over … but every time it takes over, if it does, as in the case of Marinetti and the Futurists affecting Fascists to the extent that Italy did become a Futurist state, but when it became a Futurist state it became the very thing that the Futurists hated. A smart underground might orient itself to staying underground and becoming a permanent subversive pool underneath society.

Dick: I just figured if the kids broke into the Pentagon and smashed all the machines there would be no workable machines. I have all these visions of these marvelous GHQ consoles in ruins and it takes forty years before they work again. That’s my dream. Not that kids would rule, but that they would make it impossible for the sophisticated technology to function. I have this impulse that comes to me when I’m drinking orange soda. That is to pour half a can of orange soda into my television set. I think someday I won’t go to Washington and attack them and their computers, I’ll just turn on my own television set and go after the stereo after that.

Slash: Responsible vandalism?

Jeter: This is it. I would like it if the people in charge were better capitalists. The problem is that they are shitty capitalists. They seek a social reward rather than aesthetic or financial reward. Most of the publishers would have folded several years ago if foreign and native conglomerates hadn’t bought them out.

Slash: Are conglomerates better capitalists?

Jeter: They are going to have to be.

Slash: The problem with conglomerates is that they are backward looking in that they seem to rely too much on marketing research. Marketing research is what I would like to demolish. How did you come to write stories that are a little bit ahead in time?

Dick: I originally wrote straight fiction but I couldn’t sell it, so I recast it in the future. But I’ve always been primarily interested in the human being as artificer: producing some kind of product. In high school I worked at a radio repair shop and my friends were radio repairmen and I was fascinated by this mentality and later repelled by the salesmen.

Slash: A feature of your writing a little bit ahead is the precog or precognitive facility.

Dick: It’s one paranormal facility which really fascinates me.

Slash: Do you have precog ability?

Dick: I wrote one novel in which there was a 19 year old girl named Kathy whose boyfriend was named Jack who appeared to have a relation with the criminal underground who turns out to have a relation with a police inspector, and that Christmas I met a 19 year old girl named Kathy who had a boyfriend named Jack who sold dope but later turned out to be a police informant. There have been other instances.

Slash: Can you control this ability?

Dick: It just happens.

This is the passage that caught Kalim Kassam‘s eye and brought the whole thing to my attention:

Slash: What’s your prognosis for the next 25 years? Do you think things are going to get real dismal?

Dick: No! No! I think things are going to get really good. I think we’re going to see a great decentralization of the government, which is good. The government is just failing to solve the economic problems and it will devolve to the state.

Slash: States? That’s what Ronald Reagan is after, isn’t it?

Dick: Yeah. I think he’s right about that. If you got really sick now it’s the state of California that’s going to pick up your bill … not the federal government. We could survive much better without the federal government than without the state government.

Jeter: It’s like those forces in the Brown administration who want to conclude a separate treaty with Mexico for petroleum products. What the hell! California is the sixth largest industrial nation in the world …

Dick: I know where my state taxes go. They don’t buy weapons with that. I would like to see this country break up into individual states.

Slash: Wouldn’t that mean some pretty piss poor states?

Dick: Yeah, but presumably you’d still be free to travel. I spent years and years studying the war between the states and as much as I admire Lincoln, I think his philosophy was wrong and they should have let the South secede. That would have been a much wiser decision.

Slash: What would things be like now? Would the South still have slavery?

Dick: Definitely not. Civil rights would be much worse for Blacks in the South than they are now but … on the positive side … uh I have books written during the war of speeches made by General Sherman have the right to self determination.

Slash: Sounds more Socialist.

Dick: Well, actually they influenced the Germans on that. The North adopted the Hegelian view of state as a real entity rather than an abstraction which has led to the massive centralized government as bad as the Soviet Union. The original model for the U.S. was modeled by Jefferson after the models of the American Indian Federations. There is no doubt that the founding fathers were designing a system of independent and allied states based on these Indian models. Jefferson would have been appalled by Lincoln’s contesting the supremacy of states rights.

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