In Memory of Gregory Robert Junell
January 1968 - August 2012
Thank you for taking the time to read and contemplate the extraordinary series of events which follows. They touch on life, friendship, marriage, death, DMT, past lives, and messages from beyond the grave— lighthearted stuff really. I'm not asking anyone to suspend their disbelief but I do ask you to please keep an open heart and mind.
Greg willed $10,000 toward the cost of the event.
I hope you all enjoy and, above everything, that by spreading these words I am doing right by all things Greg. He is sorely missed.
WHEN I FIRST GOT NEWS THAT GREG junell HAD DIED OF COMPLICATIONS INVOLVING CANCER TREATMENT MY IMMEDIATE REACTION WAS THREEFOLD:
No way. This was Greg we were talking about. If anyone could beat down cancer it was him. He'd done it once before.
Wow. I am bawling my eyes out over here.
Fuck this. I am calling my friend who runs ayahuasca retreats in the Amazon and flying to Brazil. I’ve been dancing around doing this for years but never felt I was mentally strong enough, especially since the incident. Besides, Greg would want me to, I just know it...
Fifteen minutes later— as soon as that— I was on the phone to my friend. Once I found out prices and logistics however, reality sunk in: Cat and I were out of holiday time, in the process of purchasing our first flat and mortgaged to the hilt. We wouldn't even be able to make his funeral stateside, or the 3-day party afterward. I let the impulse die. This will, I hope, make sense shortly.
LOOKING BACK AT ALL THE MAJOR MILESTONES OF MY ADULT LIFE, GREG JUNELL WAS THERE.
When my father retired, he and my mother moved from Los Angeles to San Luis Obispo (SLO), in Central California. When I first visited this safe, homogenized though lovely college town I thought my social life, when visiting my parents, was over. Two years later, in March of 1996, I met Greg and his best friend Moorlock at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, CA.
We were there to spend a weekend with Terence McKenna, who was hosting a conference entitled "A Primer for a Descent Into Novelty" (more info about the conference and a eulogy to Terence as published in the Anchorage Press to be found here).
All three of us had read Terence's Food of the Gods and were impressed by his wild and wide-ranging theories on the evolution of consciousness-- not to mention held absolutely rapt by his leprechaunic sing-song voice. But despite the breadth of Terence's knowledge, we kept steering the conversation back to his incredible experiences with dimethyl tryptamine, a powerful hallucinogen that he described as “three-dimensional spirituality” and “meditation as advertised.”
Basically, Terence was smoking this lab-synthesized psychedelic wondershit which he claimed enabled him to travel to astral realms and encounter bonafide aliens. These beings he alternately called “self-dribbling jeweled basketballs", "reality gnomes working reality with crystal levers" and the more popular “self-transforming elf-machines.” I remember Greg asking Terence straight up if he had ever demanded of them: “Take me to your leader.” More tellingly, Greg was the only person at the conference (as far as I know) to whom Terence, covertly, gave some DMT. This is the equivalent to getting acid off Tim Leary.
At the time, both Greg and Moorlock lived in SLO. After the conference, they introduced me to their merry band of freaks and geeks— my people! I was over the Moon (what they called Moorlock's apartment). My rootless job as an outdoor educator had me driving between various wilderness areas all over California and now I had a place to decompress while passing through town. After only a few conversations, Greg grokked what was important to me and introduced me to everyone as a writer who had just finished his first novel. When I pointed out that my attempts to publish said novel had resulted in over three hundred rejection letters Greg said, “Fuck those people. No one can take away the fact you wrote a book.” When I did finally manage to get a (different) book published, and needed help establishing myself in London, Greg wrote me a check for three thousand dollars, no questions asked— a loan he didn't mention once in the five years it took for me to repay him. And, at my lifetime’s lowest ebb, recovering from the incident— desperately needing to leave town for somewhere neutral, Greg tossed me the keys to his truck.
“Dude, uh, I’m on anti-psychotic medication—you really think I should be driving?”
His response was something I’ll never forget:
“I LIKE TO GIVE PEOPLE MORE RESPONSIBILITY THAN THEY THINK THEY CAN HANDLE THEN WATCH THEM RISE TO THE CHALLENGE."
And, when that book he loaned me money to help promote eventually brought me to my amazing wife, Cathy, it was Greg and Moorlock, in their capacity as mail order ministers, who married us on a beach outside Cayucos.
As for Cathy, her abiding memory of Greg will always be his booming voice outside our tent at Burning Man:
“You guys decent in there?”
The tent unzipped and there was Greg—in all his playa-dusty, long-haired, red-bearded glory, wearing his Tilley hat and holding a can of WD40. “Routine maintenance,” he said before spraying along the length of our zipper. Then he went to the next tent. And the next. Who does that? I wondered. Who considers the minutiae of other people’s experience that way?
Our zipper didn't stick all week.
But that was Greg. And this is just one story. And it is not unique. Even in hospital, when death and pain were all around him, in addition to making origami hearts for all his visitors and nurses, he was taking Bodhisattva vows: Buddhist promises made by enlightened— or at least more enlightened—beings that they will forgo nirvana in order to come back and assist in the spiritual advancement, and higher rebirth, of all sentient beings. Greg was one of the most generous people I have ever encountered.
But here is where it gets weird. Here is where I talk about how Greg fed me a base-pipe full of DMT and changed my life forever. Here is where the famous journalist David Holthouse appears. Here is where we talk about the afterlife.
IN OTHER WORDS: BUCKLE YOUR SEATBELTS, MOTHERFUCKERS. IT’S GOING TO BE A BUMPY RIDE
Some quick but necessary background:
The world’s only endogenous hallucinogen (found inside the human body— specifically in the pineal gland) dimethyl tryptamine is the active ingredient in ayahuasca, the “brew of souls” consumed by the Shuar and other tribes of the Amazonian rainforest. Dr. Rick Strassman, the only physician to run clinical trials on DMT-- with mixed results-- called it The Spirit Molecule.
Intriguingly, both the pineal gland and the sex organs appear in a developing fetus 49 days after conception which, according to the Tibetan Book of the Dead, is the same time it takes a human soul to reincarnate into a new body. That period is called the Bardo.
I have written and spoken extensively about my experiences with DMT. In the process I have exposed deeply personal experiences to both disbelief and ridicule. I am well familiar with the opinion that DMT is just a drug and any experiences/insights had while under its influence are simply neurons firing/misfiring within a human brain.
My position is simple: DMT is less a drug and more a vehicle that takes you to a place. Many people have been to this place and have described it with impressive commonality regarding visual architecture (witness the work of Alex Grey). In conveying my experiences I have often felt like a Jehovah’s Witness bringing Biblical literature to the doors of evolutionary biologists as proof of a six-thousand-year-old planet. Only this particular bible is a whitish-orange powder that smells a lot like mothballs.
Buy the ticket. Take the ride. We’ll talk in fifteen minutes.
AS TERENCE LIKED TO SAY, “THIS IS WHERE COURAGE COMES IN.”
After the first hit you probably won't feel anything. After the second, understated Terence, “You might begin to feel a bit peculiar.” After three, you will begin to dissociate from your body and approach a sort of membrane "alive with color and as-yet-untranslated meaning". At this point many people feel as though they've had enough but this is only the top of the rollercoaster. Said Terence at his novelty conference, “This is where you need a friend to force the pipe into your mouth and shout ‘NO, SMOKE ONE MORE!”
Twice, Greg was that friend for me— the last time, so enthusiastically that he spilled the molten molecule into my mouth, scalding the tip of my tongue. Greg was also the guy who— after I incarnated as a four-armed Vedic Serpent as detailed in my novel The Techno-Pagan Octopus Messiah— took charge of clean-up after I was "reborn" into my physical body, cried like a baby and pissed myself on Kevin's futon. (Kev, if you're reading this, sorry again for that).
In my experience DMT is “just a drug” in the same way a human being is “just an animal”— i.e. not so easily lumped with the sponges. But I am not here to promote DMT, ayahuasca, irresponsible behavior or anyone’s personal worldview. I am here to talk about Greg.
ON WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 12, 2012…
… slightly more than one month after Greg died, Mr. David Holthouse, acclaimed journalist and one of the two best men at my wedding, was offered DMT for the first time by a friend of his in Brooklyn. Dave had read my book years before but decided not to seek out DMT— though he had experimented with many other psychotropic substances. He did say, however, that he'd reconsider should the molecule present itself organically, as it did that Wednesday night. He also said he was on the couch smoking the shit within five minutes of it being offered— wanting to take it before he "had time to think."
The narrative which follows is direct from e-mails Holthouse sent me hours after the experience, and subsequent telephone conversations. For the record: Holthouse didn’t know Greg very well but had met him a few times: at Burning Man, at our wedding and over dinner at my parent's house in SLO maybe twice. According to Dave, he and Greg never exchanged private phone calls or e-mails in the sixteen years they'd both been in my life, and he never knew how Greg and I had met. A few days after Greg died, Dave did offer me his condolences. Lastly, it was Dave who introduced me to Terence McKenna's work by giving me a copy of Food of the Gods.
Over to you, Dave!
“My name is David Holthouse and I approve this message.”
"After two massive hits," says Dave,
"I passed through a diaphanous kind of curtain composed of bouncing, sentient, black and purple spheres. I had the distinct premonition they were there to inspect my karma, I guess— and if they didn’t like what they found, things would go sideways in a hurry."
Accepted by the spheres but still somehow within the membrane, Dave found himself at "an inter-dimensional tube station" where "an energy field I immediately recognized as Greg appeared as sort of a giant, bespectacled, long-haired, Greg Sphinx Head that rose up before me, opened his mouth and then swallowed me— and it was through his mouth that I went from the membrane state into supernova.
“I mean, I liked the dude. A lot,” said Holthouse. “I wish I’d known him better. But I was surprised to find him guiding me by the hand out there because I didn’t go looking for him. But then again, he’s the only person I have a deep connection with (via you) who died within the last seven weeks. So there, maybe, you have it.”
From here on, Holthouse refers to this Sphinx head energy field as Greg/Not Greg.
“It was like he had been tipped off,” said Holthouse, “and was expecting someone to show up at this particular tube stop. When he saw that it was me, he was sort of simultaneously relieved and disappointed that it wasn’t you.”
I find THIS INFORMATION BITTERSWEET…
… especially given my original impulse to fly to South American and drink the Brew of Souls.
Dave continued: “The information shared between Greg/Not Greg and myself were not quite conversations. It was more as if I was remembering something he had said half a tic after he said it— if that makes any sense.”
“What, like hearing a foreign language?” I asked. “It takes your mind a moment to translate?”
“Sort of. It was more like a Vulcan mind meld.” Long pause. “Anyway, I asked him, ‘So, do you, like, live here now?’ To which Greg/Not Greg replied, ‘No. I just gotta figure out a couple things and then I’m going back. Now listen, we don’t have a lot of time and you’re going to have a lot of questions so let me answer a few of them by showing you THIS."
Dave then describes an "incredible amount of information… being downloaded into my consciousness in multiple, parallel streams.”
One of those streams was Holthouse’s past lives and one of those was following the wooly mammoths across the Siberian land bridge to North America. As a woman. Along with his current, real-life, part-Inuit wife who, in the vision/remembrance, was a man. (David lives and grew up in Anchorage, Alaska)
For the record, up until September 12, 2012, David Holthouse was a smirking, piss-taking, annoyingly-skeptical Agnostic. The following serves him right:
“(Another) one of those streams was How Things Work: You live, you die, you go here/out there, you see and experience incredibly intense visions based on your past lives but most intensely/directly based on the life you just led, and then you go back. And then at some point, you live and die for the last time and then you join the cosmos forever with full knowledge of and perspective upon all the many lives you led and are possessed of an intelligence and wisdom that’s practically unimaginable in our present state.
Which is totally fucking awesome, dude!”
Yes, Dave. Indeed, the fuck, it is.
“Another download stream was the aliens soothing my brow. Telling me that being raped when I was seven years old was the central challenge of this lifetime, and that I’ve overcome it. I wrote about it, now I speak about it publicly to huge audiences, and that by doing so I’ve helped many, many people. I fucking won this round, and I’m moving forward in the next. So for the rest of my days in this body, I just need to be the best father and husband and friend that I can; enjoy myself, live a good and ethical life but also just chill the fuck out and give myself a break. Because from here on out, this time around, It’s all gravy but the biscuits, baby!”
(Please read Holthouse’s inspiring and borderline criminal article, Stalking the Bogeyman, which has recently been turned into a play, as well as the follow-up, Outing the Bogeyman, in which David finally names his rapist. Also please check out his infiltration of the US white supremacist movement. And everything else he’s ever written. Dude’s a Gonzo genius. And one of my personal heroes.)
(You can also listen to my interview with Dave on Litopia After Dark!)
Holthouse was also uploaded with other, stranger streams of information but on these I'm sworn to secrecy. However, toward the end of Holthouse’s DMT experience, Greg/Not Greg informed him that they were “really, really far out there and needed to get back. And also I have a message for Ian.”
(For the last several years, since the incident Greg helped nurse me through, I have been licking my wounds here in London. Yes, I have traveled, become a Londoner and a Brit, and have been lucky enough to marry an amazing, half-tattooed English freak named Cat. I am humbled by and grateful for this good fortune. But I’ve also been writing a book that’s taken far, far longer than I anticipated. I have dropped off the web and gone into self-imposed artistic and social exile. And, while it feels like I'm following my path, it is often a lonely, isolated place. To help pay the bills I’ve been distracted from the Work by so-called survival— selling bread at the Farmer’s Market every weekend, mostly in the rain; working winters in the coat check of a restaurant run by Cat. I know, I know, boo-fucking-hoo. First world problems, etc. Yet the list of things I’d like to accomplish once I finish the work-in-progress is long and getting longer, a circumstance that often frustrates me to borderline depressive states of mind.)
“Tell Ian,” said Greg/Not Greg to David Holthouse in hyperspace, “Tell Ian: You have plenty of time.”
Dave opened his eyes on the couch in Brooklyn. He saw his friends meditating by candlelight nearby. He made eye contact with one of them.
“I think I need to go back,” he said.
His friend nodded quietly and David closed his eyes.
“Hold on a minute,” said Dave, ever the investigative journalist. “Tell Ian that he has plenty of time? Or tell Ian that I, David, have plenty of time?”
“No,” replied Greg/Not Greg through Vulcan mind-meld. “Say to Ian: you have plenty of time.”
PEOPLE, LET ME TELL YOU: there are many, many neurotic, Jewish ways to interpret this message:
- I have plenty of time (and I’m wasting it, what’s my problem?)
- I have plenty of time (because what I’m doing’s not really all that important anyway, so why stress?)
- I have plenty of time (because there’s more than one life as revealed to Holthouse).
However, my immediate reaction—my intuition— the moment I got that message via e-mail at 7am on a Saturday morning was this: Don't try to do it all at once. You have plenty of time for what you’re doing RIGHT NOW.
I realize that for many people, this whole illegal episode is, in the Queen's English, total fucking bollocks. But speaking from the heart: once I took a minute and let it all sink in, my tears transformed to roaring laughter, like I haven't laughed in ages.
Was this not totally Greg? He was exactly type of person who, after taking Bodhisattva vows and dying a painful, wasting death, arrives at some loading platform between lifetimes, seeks out the alien in charge— in classic ‘Take me to your leader’ fashion— and says, “Okay, I gotta confront all these fears and desires and lights and shit before I reincarnate—I get that. But first, please, is there ANY WAY I can go back to planet earth and fuck with my friends from beyond the grave?”
Ask anyone who knew him. I think they will agree.
The incident I keep mentioning was a clinical psychosis that had me naked, covered in my own blood and fighting the Oakland police in the streets before being put in a Hannibal Lecter mask and committed to a psychiatric ward. The incident also torpedoed my one-man-show, set to run that summer in San Francisco. The incident was triggered by the anti-malarial prophylactic Mefloquin (Larium) which I'd been taking during a month-long trip to Madagascar where Cat and I were first, unofficially married by a Sakalava crocodile shaman (truly). Worst of all, the incident sparked dry brush in my genes and ignited a lifelong wildfire: bipolar disorder.
Later, I would discover that members of my immediate family were, or had been, similarly afflicted. I have since come to terms with this diagnosis and found ways to manage it. Certain social and recreational activities are off the table. It feels unwise for me to take the stage. On the plus side, I have a much greater respect for mental illness, depression, psychiatry and what constitutes true friendship. As a result of being brought so low, Cat says I'm a better, more compassionate person now. I'd like to think she's right. But when my manic side insists I have to do things NOW and FASTER to get them done; or when my relentless internal dialog insists there's not much point, I had my chance and blew it so what's the bloody use? Those are the times I close my eyes and picture Greg, his great, grinning, red-bearded mug, the Tilley hat and ponytail, the can of WD40, leaning in my tent flap and saying,
"Dude! You have plenty of time."
And for that I am forever grateful.
Here's looking at you.
I would like to extend an extra sexy thanks to Jean Balsz, left, the chief organizer and part-financier of the Gregstravanza who, it should be noted, stayed awake (!) and sober (?) for three straight days to make it happen. And, of course, a special shout to Moorlock for having the nutz (and matching penis gourd) to read a grief-stricken even longer-winded narrative than this one in my stead. As well as in my novel, more info can be found on this particular, tax-avoiding crackpot here: https://sniggle.net/TPL/index5.php