I want to take you back to a moment I experienced about eight years ago.
It’s a few weeks after my father, Ken Campbell’s, sudden and untimely death.
I’m standing on the corner of two cobbled streets in Liverpool in the rain.
And I’m looking at a bust of CG Jung.
And that’s kind of weird because right at that moment I’m halfway through an essay about Carl Jung for a Master’s degree I’m doing.
But that’s not why I’m there.
Stood next to me is Prunella Gee, Chris Langham and a guy called Peter O’Halligan. We’re all looking up at this bust of Carl Jung.
It’s there because Carl Jung had a dream about Liverpool and he wrote about it in his book, Memories, Dreams and Reflections. He said he thought it may be the most important dream he’d ever had. And he realised that in his dream, Liverpool was the Pool of Life.
I’m writing this essay about Jung’s ideas of the collective unconscious and synchronicity, a phrase he coined, and now I find myself looking at this bust of his head. And that bust has only been erected because of the tireless campaigning of Peter O’Halligan, who’s standing next to me. Because Peter O’Halligan is sure that this very spot is the exact spot that Jung dreamt about.
But just to the side of this bust is another unusual thing – it’s a plaque, set into the wall, which commemorates The Liverpool School of Language, Music, Dream and Pun.
This has also only been erected due to the tireless campaigning of Peter O’Halligan.
Because just over 30 years previously, which is when O’Halligan first found this illustrious Jung-Dream site, he also noticed that the building on the corner of these two streets – just along from where the Beatles first performed – was derelict. And so he adopted it, set up a caff, and called it The Liverpool School of Language, Music, Dream and Pun.
And the first production to be staged in a room above the caff, was an eighteen hour epic called Illuminatus!, directed by my father, Ken Campbell, starring (amongst many many others) my mother, Prunella Gee as Eris, Goddess of Chaos and Confusion, and co-adapted with Chris Langham from a novel by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson.
And there we all are now, and I say “It’s weird because right now I’m in the middle of an essay about Jung“, then I realise that, although I’m doing a distance-learning Master’s degree, I am actually studying at John Moores University, based in Liverpool.
And Peter O’ Halligan tells me that John Moores knew my dad’s dad, my grandfather, who I never met, they were both from just outside Liverpool, and John Moores offered my grandfather the opportunity to get involved with his new business venture, but my grandfather declined. It was the football pools! Which made John Moores a multi-millionaire, which was how come he’d had enough money to build a whole university, where I was right now studying Carl Gustav Jung.
And my head was starting to spin, then my mother, said “And you know you were conceived in that building?“.
I said,” What?” Surely you were both too busy staging The Greatest Show on Planet World?“. And she said, “Well it was an eighteen hour production. There were a few dull bits.”
So I’m standing on the spot where I was conceived, which was also the site of Jung’s most important dream, looking at a bust of Jung, whilst writing an essay about Jung at a university built with money that would have been mine, were it not for my paternal grandfather’s lack of business acumen, where my mother played the Goddess of Chaos and Confusion and my father staged an epic which was to change the lives of everyone involved. And Eris is my middle name.
And they say there’s nothing to this synchronicity lark?
The funny thing was that growing up I knew all about the legends surrounding the production of Illuminatus!, but my dad was more than a little cagey about going into too much detail with me.
So it wasn’t until I was in my early twenties, twenty-three to be exact, that I got around to actually reading Illuminatus!. And – how can I describe it? It was like being initiated into a magical order that almost everyone I knew was already an initiate of. I suddenly found that I could speak the language of my tribe. I could spot 23s with the best of them, I understood the ancient battle between Discordians (Hail Eris) and the Illuminati. I understood why you can never trust any government, the true meaning of the eye in the pyramid symbol on every dollar bill, why communication is only possibly between equals, and why you should never whistle while you’re pissing. I began to see connections, and synchronicities everywhere. Life became too meaningful. And I began to understand the foolishness of giving your only daughter the middle name Eris. I flipped out, and found myself in a very plush loony bin somewhere in Kent.
I arrived with rainbow knickers on my head, for important cosmic reasons, and the inmates gathered to see what new nutters the night had blown in. They asked why I was there, and I told them synchronicity led me there. So completely trusting was I in the various signs that I felt I was being given, that I told them the answer to why I was there would be in that magazine – and I pointed to a magazine one girl was clutching, Soap Opera Magazine. I said I would open it at a random page, and there would be my answer.
So I did. And the huge pink headline read, “Daisy must lose some of her passion.” So that’s what Daisy did, and ten years later, I honestly thought I had put a lid on that old crazy-maker, Eris.
Now the wonderful and possibly worrying thing about Illuminatus! is that almost everyone I know who has read and loved that book has got a pretty similar story to tell. Some are less extreme. Some more! But tales of bizarre synchronicity are pretty much guaranteed, and very often there are tales of some kind of spiritual emergency, as Stanislav Grof would call them, or temporary psychosis, as the rest of the medical establishment would have it.
These experiences are what Robert Anton Wilson, in his book Cosmic Trigger, refers to as a journey through Chapel Perilous, a dangerous crossing point from which one can only emerge agnostic – or paranoid.
Incidentally it was only after reading Cosmic Trigger that I understood what my dad was really on about when he used to say, “Now Listen Daisy, Don’t believe in anything – nothing which is the product of the human mind is a fitting subject for your belief – but you can suppose everything – and in fact you should. Supposing as much as possible is mind-opening, mind-widening. Suppose God. Suppose flying saucers. Suppose fairies. I suppose you could suppose that one of the big religions had got it right – down to the last nut and bolt! But, Daisy. Don’t believe it.”
Or as Wilson more succinctly puts it, “Convictions cause convicts”
That’s the great thing about coming across fellow Wilson fans, is that you can relax, because you know that they’re very likely to be agnostic – they’ll be open to a bit of supposing. Although you have to be a bit careful, because occasionally they are not agnostic, but really really paranoid…
But usually they are what my dad called ‘Yes-and’ people.
When my dad was hanging out at the Royal Court Theatre with a lot of the new-wave playwrights, he couldn’t help noticing what a depressed lot they all were. How as they got more drunk they became more and more maudlin; how any bright ideas were greeted with the phrase, ‘no-but.’ Then for one reason or another he got invited to a science-fiction convention and discovered a whole world of ‘Yes-and’ people. “Imagine the colonization of Mars. Yes-and! Imagine the water supply was running low. Yes-and! Imagine the dolphins could talk! Yes-and!”
And that’s what Illuminatus! feels like as a novel. It’s the ultimate ‘Yes-and!’ novel. Especially since it was co-written by Wilson and his best mate Bob Shea, while they were both working at Playboy magazine. You can just hear them: “So should the rebels all live on a yellow submarine?” “Yes, and they should be able to talk to Dolphins” “Yes, and that can be achieved by the world’s most advanced computer!” “Yes, and they’ll go to Atlantis!”
Here’s the original policy statement Ken wrote to the British Arts Council when he was creating The Science Fiction Theatre of Liverpool:
So I was in this loony bin somewhere in Kent with the rainbow knickers on my head – what I was actually attempting to do was to regulate the flow of cosmic pronoid synchronicities that I was experiencing (you know about pronoia, right? The creeping sensation that everyone everywhere is out to help you). I believe paranoids favour tinfoil – but I was pronoid, so rainbow knickers seemed more apt. I knew from moment to moment if I was Eris or Daisy as there was always either a flower motif somewhere or an apple – or sometimes just any fruit – but anyway in the words of Hakim Bey, I had become a pirate for all signs and meanings.
I was holding forth one day, and I was telling everyone about my dad’s notions about Artist’s Choice. It goes thus:
- Choice one: you can distract, entertain and deceive about the true state of things and thus help to sustain the status quo
- Choice two: you can pose as exposing wrongs, but in fact deceive and therefore help to sustain the status quo.
- Choice three: you can expose wrongs and bring about change. Unfortunately this choice is not possible, because if you really knew what was going on – you can be sure they’ve got something on you —
But perhaps there is a fourth choice which might just be possible:
- To pose as exposing wrongs, but in fact deceive, but with a wilful mix of truth and lie, research and fantasy, so inscrutably compounded as to send the status quo hunting for needles that nobody’s lost, in haystacks that don’t exist, diverting attention from the ensuing release of hitherto imprisoned forces, which will bring about change, but of an unpredictable nature.
And there’s a surly young guy stood back from everyone else scowling at me, and he says, “How long have you been stuck up your father’s arsehole?”
I look him in the eye, then after a pause I say, “I don’t know.”
So it’s fifteen years since I’m in the plush loony bin reading ‘Daisy must lose some of her passion’, and eight years since I’m standing looking at a statue of Jung, and Eris is well stuffed back in her box. Then I get a phone-call from someone to ask for a meeting to discuss the possibility of staging Illuminatus!. And I remember my dad’s worried face any time anyone mooted that possibility, and I remember the rainbow knickers, and I also remember that I’m meant to be trying to get out of my father’s arsehole. So I decline.
Then that same week I get another phone-call to discuss the possibility of staging Illuminatus!. From someone else entirely, who has no idea about the first phone-call. And I thought: oh, here we go. Illuminatus-related synchronicities are back – and I’m not sure I’m going to be able to out-run them this time.
But I knew I didn’t want to do Illuminatus! again, and then I thought, well what was the logical next piece in the jigsaw puzzle?
Well, what was the book that Robert Anton Wilson wrote immediately after Illuminatus!? It was Cosmic Trigger; a non-fiction book he felt compelled to write about what actually happened to him as a result of writing Illuminatus!. And, given what had happened to me simply as a result of reading it, you may begin to imagine the kind of strange-ness this book contains.
So this book was born as a direct result of Illuminatus! – and so was I!
And picking up my father’s thoroughly battered copy of Cosmic Trigger, I was reminded that it is actually dedicated to Ken Campbell and The Science Fiction Theatre of Liverpool, and that on page 223 (the same page, you may recall as Jung’s dream of Liverpool), Wilson writes about meeting my dad when he comes to the opening of Illuminatus! at the National Theatre and is dared to do a naked cameo in the black mass scene.
So my dad could have a part in it!
KEN (coming out of audience onto stage)
Yeah, alright. That’ll do for now. Go and learn your lines. I’ve got to talk to this filmmaker chap.
The actors come off stage, talking in English accents and wander off to various perches to look over their scripts or chat quietly.
Right, I haven’t got long. I’m just slinging on an 18 hour epic with no money. What do you want to know?
Well, I suppose – er – how you came to be putting on this production?
I get this phone call from a Liverpudlian poet chap, Peter Halligan, to say he’s been reading Jung’s book Memories, Dreams and Reflections and on page 223 he – Jung – talks about this dream he’s had about Liverpool being the pool of life. There’s a little fountain and whatnot.
Anyway Jung reckons this is one of his most important dreams. So this poet chap, Halligan, makes it his commission to find the exact spot. So he’s phoning me to say that he’s found it. It’s on the corner of Mathew St, right near the Cavern Club where the Beatles first performed. Anyway the building on the corner of this most holy spot turns out to be derelict, so Halligan claims it. He’s telling me that he’s set up a caff in the basement and he wants to know if I’ll come and stick something on for him. He’s called it The Liverpool School of Language, Music, Dream and Pun.
So I pop along to Compendium bookshop to scout out some possible ideas for this show, and I pick up a few fairly interesting looking bits and pieces, and then I come across this book and on the cover is a Yellow Submarine.
So I decide to test it. I thought: Jung’s dream was on page 223 of Memories, Dreams and Reflections so I’ll turn to page 223 of this Submarine book and if it’s interesting, I’ll stick on an adaptation of that. So I turn to page 223 and – I’ll read it to you.
John! John get the cloth out of your ears – grab that copy there will you? Right, read out the bit from page 223.
Where is it, oh yeah. It’s a quote from Robert Putney Drake: “Do you know what Jung-
The FILMMAKER looks up surprised.
that old Chinese sage disguised as a psychiatrist, answered? “You are diving, but she is sinking”.
Yeah. That stopped me in my tracks. So I phone back Peter Halligan and say “Yeah Peter I’ve got the show for you – It’s called Illuminatus!.” So here we all are in a derelict cinema in Liverpool. First thing the company had to do was fit the toilets.
The FILMMAKER cuts.
That’s great, Ken.
So how did you come to be making a film about us in your cardigan?
Well urm. I heard about it from a friend back in London.
Urm Brian Gilbert.
Oh that burk. Yes?
Yes, and well I put in an application to the arts council and got the go ahead.
The cast winces as the filmmaker says this
You got funding from the arts council?
They won’t fund the greatest show on Planet World, but they’ll fund some prick who’s heard about it from his burky mate in a pub?
The filmmaker is laughing along nervously
NEIL CUNNINGHAM (to himself, covering his eyes)
Oh God, don’t laugh you stupid fucker.
You think I’m joking? You know what funded is don’t you? Fun Dead. You and your arts council funded camera are sucking the fun out of the true geniuses. Fun Dead. A conspiracy of mediocrity. Go on you can fuck off and tell that Brian burk not to send any more pillocks up to Liverpool . Go on, fuck off out of here.
The filmmaker realises he’s deadly serious and bundles his stuff and himself out of there.
FILMMAKER (safe distance)
Fine, Ken. You carry on up your own arsehole.
Yes, I fucking well will. And I’ll find the whole secret of the Great Cosmic Joke up there, right up inside my arsehole – and you can beg for Arts Council funding to come in and have a look…
So that’s what I decided to do. A stage adaptation of Cosmic Trigger! And I got to work.
But then I was just floundering about with the first draft and wondering if the whole thing was a bit daft and a bit cosmic for modern sophisticates, and if there was really an I was wondering whether there was an audience for Robert Anton Wilson-related theatre out there anymore, when as synchronicity would have it I was introduced by my own mother to the wonderful John Higgs, whom she had met incidentally because John was procuring a picture of her as Eris, and he said “Yes! There is an audience and I know where to find them!”
It’s a very particular challenge, trying to write a drama about ‘Yes-and’ people, because mostly they all agree! So I’m pioneering the new ‘Yes-and’ narrative structure, where the drama is to be found in what happens when you keep saying ‘yes-and’ long after all the neophobes have dropped away with their ‘no-but’s.
So anyway we’re going back nearly three years now, and the first draft is written, the second draft is underway. And my attention turned to how I might fund the bugger, especially given my father’s strong views on Arts Council Funding.
I was pondering this, when my partner said, “Isn’t the clue of how to fund it contained within the last scene?”
WILSON’S HOME – 2007. He is an old man now.
A letter plops through a letter box. He slowly maneuvers himself to pick it up.
In 1975 I lost the ability to know when something was about to come through the door. It wasn’t all that useful a skill anyway. It’s a cheque for $23. How funny.
Another letter plops through the letterbox. He opens it.
It’s another cheque for $23.
And another. OK there’s something fishy going on. Time to consult the oracle.
He reaches for his laptop.
Type in Robert Anton Wilson 23 dollars.
Ok guys, time to support cosmic thinking patriarch Robert Anton Wilson, whose infirmity and depleted finances have put him in the precarious position of not being able to meet next month’s rent or his medical costs. His last wish is to die in his home, but he cannot afford this option. Robert Anton Wilson will one day be remembered alongside such literary philosophers as Aldous Huxley and James Joyce. (I don’t know about that). But right now, Bob is a human being in a rather painful flesh-suit, who needs our help. I refuse for the history books to say he died alone and destitute, for I want future generations to know we appreciated Robert Anton Wilson while he was alive.
If Bob Wilson changed your life, send him $23 dollars now.
Another envelope plops in, followed immediately by another, and another, they are clogging in the letter box; then the whole door starts to strain – eventually bursting open – and an avalanche of envelopes pours into the room. Bob, all white long beard and twinkly eyes, stares in delighted disbelief.
We launched a website – ForTheLoveofBob.net – the premise of which was simple, yet heroic: a list of every single thing the production needed to go ahead, with a space for someone to pledge their name next to each thing. Asks ranged from performers to set-builders, anecdote-providers to flyer deliverers. The pre-crowd fund launched the night of October 23rd 2013, when I first told this tale, and we went on to raise over £23,000. Enough to stage the whole four-hour epic seven times in Liverpool and London in 2014, and to create the Find the Others Festival of Robert Anton Wilson and his ideas. (The name was inspired by Timothy Leary’s answer to an earnest seeker: “What do you do after you’ve turned on, tuned in and dropped out?” Dr Leary: “Find the Others”.
Since then the Others have gathered from all over the country. Festival 23 in 2016 was a celebration of all things RAW and Discordian. Fanzines, books, magazines are flying off the press as a direct result of RAW’s inspiration. Giant puppets of Burroughs, Watts and Leary have toured the UK; Discordian cabarets, rituals, parties and talks are popping up all over the place, including a recent 14 Hour Super Weird Happening in Liverpool in April, starring V for Vendetta and Watchmen author, Alan Moore, Kermit Leveridge from Black Grape and Youth from Killing Joke. And for the ten-year anniversary of Bob’s death this year, I plan to pilgrimage to Santa Cruz where the mayor declared 23rd July Robert Anton Wilson day.
In the meantime, through a combination of love, will and the generosity of Arts Council England and The Cockpit, the play has found a new home. Robert Anton Wilson’s Cosmic Trigger will be staged throughout May 2017 at The Cockpit, in Marylebone. Come and see for yourself what all the fuss is about.
Tickets are available from The Cockpit. Box Office: 0207 258 2925. Online booking: http://thecockpit.org.uk/cosmictrigger
After the first night of Cosmic Trigger in Liverpool, a group of us pilgrimaged to the bust of Jung, and some blokes who really should know better hoisted me up to place a pair of ceremonial rainbow knickers upon his head. And I cried out, “may our minds be blown – but just right!”
And as I looked up at the be-knickered bust of Carl Gustav, I realized why the dream of Liverpool was so important: It was the moment he realized he was finally out of Freud’s arsehole.