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.

Disney’s adapting Philip K. Dick’s "King of the Elves"

Wednesday, April 9th, 2008

I thought it was a bit odd that a couple of the guys from Undeclared would be doing the next Muppet movie. I thought it was even odder when I found out Disney was doing a Philip K. Dick adaptation. He is, after all, known for his dystopian worlds of corporations gone amok and for surreal metaphysical and theological themes — which drew on his own personal experiences with drugs and mental illness.

Nonetheless, he did write one light fantasy story ripe for a Shrek-like treatment. So, Quint reports, Disney’s adapting Philip K. Dick’s “King of the Elves”:

Walt Disney’s King of the Elves, based on the Philip K. Dick story about a gas station attendant who receives a knock on the door one rainy night. It’s a group of elves. Small, maybe a foot tall each. They are all green, with leaves and foliage growing off of them.

They beg him for shelter from the storm. Despite his better judgment he allows them to stay and as reward he is made king of the Elves.

Directed by Bob Walker and Aaron Blaise. It’s pretty far out from release, of course, but they showed some art. The elves I described a little above. The art was very painterly and the idea is that these little green buggers live in modern day Mississippi and have been undiscovered based on their appearance. With the leaves growing on their bodies if a human enters their domain they can just ruffle their foliage, duck their heads down and be completely undetectable.

There aren’t just small creatures in the forests. We saw art of huge moss covered man-like tree giants.

This list of Disney and Pixar’s Full Animated Line-Up Through 2012 sheds some more light on the subject:

Directed by: Aaron Blaise (Brother Bear) and Robert Walker (Brother Bear). Legendary storyteller Phillip [sic] K. Dick’s short story (his only experiment in the fantasy genre) becomes the basis for this fantastic and imaginative tale about an average man living in the Mississippi Delta, whose reluctant actions to help a desperate band of elves leads them to name him their new king. Joining the innocent and endangered elves as they attempt to escape from an evil and menacing troll, their unlikely new leader finds himself caught on a journey filled with unimaginable dangers and a chance to bring real meaning back to his own life.

If you’d like to read the original short story, it is in print, available in the Selected Stories of Philip K. Dick.

Long before we get to Pixar’s King of the Elves movie, we have WALL•E, which, of course, looks fantastic:

Pixar fans may want to pre-order The Art of WALL•E and DK’s WALL•E: The Intergalactic Guide.

Oh, and take a look at the Buy n Large corporate site.

Blows Against the Empire

Wednesday, August 15th, 2007

Philip K. Dick is best known for the films loosely based on his stories: Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, etc.

Now, the Library of America has bestowed a certain amount of respectability on his work by compiling Four Novels of the 1960s, a collection including The Man in the High Castle, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, and Ubik.

In Blows Against the Empire, New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik examines the troubled writer and his work:

Of all American writers, none have got the genre-hack-to-hidden-genius treatment quite so fully as Philip K. Dick, the California-raised and based science-fiction writer who, beginning in the nineteen-fifties, wrote thirty-six speed-fuelled novels, went crazy in the early seventies, and died in 1982, only fifty-three. His reputation has risen through the two parallel operations that genre writers get when they get big. First, he has become a prime inspiration for the movies, becoming for contemporary science-fiction and fantasy movies what Raymond Chandler was for film noir: at least eight feature films, including “Total Recall,” “Minority Report,” “A Scanner Darkly,” and, most memorably, Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner,” have been adapted from Dick’s books, and even more — from Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil” to the “Matrix” series — owe a defining debt to his mixture of mordant comedy and wild metaphysics.

But Dick has also become for our time what Edgar Allan Poe was for Gilded Age America: the doomed genius who supplies a style of horrors and frissons.


Dick’s early history is at once tormented, hustling, and oddly lit by the bright California sunshine of the late fifties. Born in 1928, he had a twin, a sister named Jane, who died when she was only a month old; like Elvis Presley, who also had a twin sibling who died, Dick seems to have been haunted for the rest of his life by his missing Other. He seems to have blamed his mother, unfairly, for her death, poisoning their relations. He had one of those classic, bitter American childhoods, with warring parents, and was dragged back and forth across the country. He had loved science fiction since boyhood — he later told of how at twelve he had a dream of searching in Astounding Stories for a story called “The Empire Never Ended” that would reveal the mysteries of existence — and he began writing quickie sci-fi novels for Ace in the fifties and sixties. “I love SF,” he said once. “I love to read it; I love to write it. The SF writer sees not just possibilities but wild possibilities. It’s not just ‘What if’ — it’s ‘My God; what if’ — in frenzy and hysteria. The Martians are always coming.” The hysteria suited him. He seems to have been a man of intellectual passion and compulsive appetite (he was married five times), the kind of guy who can’t drink one cup of coffee without drinking six, and then stays up all night to tell you what Schopenhauer really said and how it affects your understanding of Hitchcock and what that had to do with Christopher Marlowe.

By the way, Bladerunner fans will want to pick up the new five-disc ultimate collector’s edition.

Fruitful, Consuming Paranoia: A Sci-Fi Master’s Madness

Tuesday, September 21st, 2004

In Fruitful, Consuming Paranoia: A Sci-Fi Master’s Madness, Sam Munson reviews I Am Alive and You Are Dead: A Journey into the Mind of Philip K. Dick:

It’s difficult to imagine a writer who could have appreciated the adaptation of his works into a series of increasingly bad movies more than Philip K. Dick. The progression from Blade Runner through Total Recall to Paycheck has all the hallmarks of one of his stories — black irony, psychological degradation and the implication of a vast conspiracy organized to deceive and persecute one man. The young Dick would have written it as a dark comedy, the older as a bizarre Christian fable.

Dick’s journey from neurotic bohemian to full-blown religious psychotic is as fascinating a tale as anything he ever wrote. And it has fallen into capable hands in Emmanuel Carrère’s I Am Alive and You Are Dead.

Philip K. Dick was never particularly sane:

He was born in Chicago in 1928. After his parents’ divorce, his mother Dorothy took him first to Washington, D.C., and then to Berkeley, Calif. Philip was a withdrawn and sensitive child, subjected to both Freudian and Jungian therapy by the time he was 15. His anxious, self-dramatizing mother lived, in Mr. Carrère’s phrase, in a state of excited “bovarysme.” It’s not surprising, given these circumstances, that Dick turned toward literature, and particularly toward the fantastic and grotesque.

In his early 20′s, after an adolescence colored by his mother’s subtle domination and his fears of latent homosexuality, he published his first science-fiction story and decided he’d found his vocation. From his beginnings as an unknown and frustrated writer of science fiction, he became a theological guru and existential mascot to the burgeoning counterculture, a highly respected author in a small but explosively broadening field; he finished as a prematurely aged, functional-but-insane casualty of LSD and scores of other drugs, writing an interminable religious text called the Exegesis. He died in 1982, after achieving his first substantial material success with the sale of the movie rights to Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the novel that would become Blade Runner.

In the last decade of his life, Philip K. Dick “came to the conclusion that reality as we know it is an illusion used by the Roman Empire to numb the minds of Christians.” Riiiiggghhhht.

The Second Coming of Philip K. Dick

Saturday, December 13th, 2003

The Second Coming of Philip K. Dick examines how Philip K. Dick’s science fiction stories have practically taken over Hollywood:

Like the babbling psychics who predict future crimes in Minority Report, Dick was a precog. Lurking within his amphetamine-fueled fictions are truths that have only to be found and decoded. In a 1978 essay he wrote: “We live in a society in which spurious realities are manufactured by the media, by governments, by big corporations, by religious groups, political groups. I ask, in my writing, What is real? Because unceasingly we are bombarded with pseudorealities manufactured by very sophisticated people using very sophisticated electronic mechanisms. I do not distrust their motives. I distrust their power. It is an astonishing power: that of creating whole universes, universes of the mind. I ought to know. I do the same thing.”

It didn’t start off quite so auspiciously:

Dick’s career in movies did not begin with a bang. It was 1977, and a small-time actor named Brian Kelly wanted to option the 9-year-old novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? For a mere $2,500, he got it. “The works of Philip K. Dick were not exactly in demand,” recalls the writer’s New York literary agent, Russell Galen, “and for Phil” — then 49 and living in suburban Orange County — “that was enough to make the difference between a good year and a bad year.” Kelly’s partner wrote a screenplay and shopped it around. Eventually it landed on the desk of Ridley Scott, who’d just directed Alien. Scott brought in a new writer and sent it to Alan Ladd Jr., one of the top players in Hollywood.

Just a few months before [Blade Runner]‘s release, Dick suffered a massive stroke. [...] Before Dick died, Shusett bought the film rights to “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale,” a story about a nebbishy clerk with dreams of going to Mars. He retitled it Total Recall and took it to Dino De Laurentiis, who put it into development.

This part is pure Hollywood:

Total Recall languished for years before all the elements — producer, director, star — came together. At one point, Richard Dreyfuss was attached. At another, David Cronenberg was going to direct and wanted William Hurt for the lead. “I worked on it for a year and did about 12 drafts,” Cronenberg recalls. “Eventually we got to a point where Ron Shusett said, ‘You know what you’ve done? You’ve done the Philip K. Dick version.’ I said, ‘Isn’t that what we’re supposed to be doing?’ He said, ‘No, no, we want to do Raiders of the Lost Ark Go to Mars.’” Cronenberg moved on. Arnold Schwarzenegger wanted to star, but De Laurentiis refused: Even in an overamped Hollywood bastardization, he couldn’t see Schwarzenegger in the part. Instead, it went to Patrick Swayze, with Bruce Beresford directing. They were building sets in Australia when De Laurentiis’ company went bankrupt.

This gave Schwarzenegger his chance. He got Carolco, the high-flying mini-studio behind the Rambo series, to buy the property, and Paul Verhoeven to direct it. The henpecked clerk named Quail became a muscle-bound construction worker named Quaid, and a new ending was written to make up for what many filmmakers see as the problem with Dick’s short stories: their lack of a third act that will take a movie to 90 minutes or more. But while Verhoeven’s film was an interplanetary shoot-’em-up that bore little resemblance to Dick’s story, it did retain the tale’s essential ambiguity: At the end, we’re not sure whether the main character actually went to Mars or only thought he did, thanks to some memory implants he bought. “This was extremely innovative, coming from a Hollywood studio,” says Verhoeven. “To dare to say, Everything you see could be a dream, or everything you see could be reality, and we won’t tell you which is true — I thought that was pretty sensational.”

It sounds like Verhoeen hasn’t seen a little cult classic from the late 1930′s…called The Wizard of Oz.

High Style

Monday, February 10th, 2003

High Style, in reviewing Marcus Boon’s The Road of Excess, covers some interesting drug history:

The hundred and eighty years since De Quincey’s invention [of the discourse of recreational drug use, started by his Confessions of an English Opium Eater] have seen a great expansion in the pharmacopoeia, especially since 1862, when the drug company Merck began to produce cocaine.

I didn’t realize (or remember) that Merck first marketed cocaine.

Diamorphine, also known as heroin, was first synthesized for commercial use in 1897. The men who discovered it, Felix Hoffman and Arthur Eichengrun, had also, a couple of weeks earlier, invented aspirin; for some years, heroin could be bought over the counter and aspirin required a prescription. Professional ironists love drug history.

Professional ironists love drug history. So true.

Then we had barbiturates, beginning with Veronal, in 1903, and amphetamines, which Smith, Kline first put on the market under the trade name Benzedrine, in 1932.

So Merck marketed cocaine, and Smith-Kline marketed speed. Interesting. At least now I know why Sartre never made much sense:

When he wrote the “Critique,” Sartre, a lifelong caffeine fiend and serious drinker, was also frying his brains on corydrane, a form of amphetamine mixed with, of all things, aspirin. The philosopher was using corydrane on a daily basis, first to cut through the fug of the barbiturates he was taking to help him sleep — and he was having trouble sleeping not least because of all the corydrane he was putting away — but also to keep him at his desk, churning out the “Critique.”

This description made me laugh out loud:

Sartre was therefore a recognizable type of speed freak, the type dedicated to obsessive, unfinishable, and, to the neutral observer, pointless toil — the sort who, several hours after taking the drug, can usually be found sitting on the floor, grinding his teeth and alphabetizing his CDs by the name of the sound engineer.

I already knew about Philip K. Dick’s drug use:

For sheer quantity, Boon notes, it is hard to beat Philip K. Dick, who from 1963 to 1964, under the influence of the methamphetamine Semoxydrine, wrote “eleven science fiction novels, along with a number of essays, short stories, and plot treatments in an amphetamine-fuelled frenzy that accompanied or precipitated the end of one of his marriages.”

It was just a few days ago that I quoted W.H. Auden:

Perhaps the finest writer ever to use speed systematically, however, was W. H. Auden. He swallowed Benzedrine every morning for twenty years, from 1938 onward, balancing its effect with the barbiturate Seconal when he wanted to sleep. (He also kept a glass of vodka by the bed, to swig if he woke up during the night.) He took a pragmatic attitude toward amphetamines, regarding them as a “labor-saving device” in the “mental kitchen,” with the important proviso that “these mechanisms are very crude, liable to injure the cook, and constantly breaking down.”

For an unabashed square, I find this stuff fascinating.