Kayce Studies: Ayahuasca – Chapter I

Joining the BOMS team is Aaron Kayce, a highly talented writer and music journalist living on the west coast.  He will be writing a monthly feature for BOMS that we are extremely excited about.  For those of you not familiar with Kayce’s work here’s what we know in a nutshell.  First and foremost Kayce is a staple in the music journalism scene.  He spent just shy of a decade as JamBase’s Editor-in-Chief and now contributes regularly to SPIN, Relix, San Francisco Chronicle and various other publications.  He has covered some ridiculously amazing bands and musicians in a variety of creative ways.  How are these for some real life Almost Famous situations?  Kayce hung with Neil Young for an afternoon at an abandoned bar and restaurant; spent a month on the road with Stockholm Syndrome documenting their European tour, and chilled in the studio with Danger Mouse (aka Brian Burton) as well as the The Mars Volta.  Plain and simple, Aaron Kayce is an understated talent.  You’ll get a rare and intimate taste of his musings as he writes fiction for BOMS inspired by the music he’s digging.  So sit back and grab onto your desk chair because it’s going to be a wild ride with Kayce’s words as your guide.


By: Aaron Kayce

Chapter I

Ayahuasca (pronounced [ajaˈwaska] in the Quechua language) was never meant to be a recreational drug.  But after the band A Glimpse of The Feather’s Gulfstream IV jet disappeared into the North Atlantic ocean (presumably, no wreckage or bodies were ever recovered), the Amazonian hallucinogenic plant concoction became the hottest high in America.

Two days before he died, Jackson Rush, lead singer of Feather (as fans call the band) and the world’s biggest rock star since U2’s Bono, had given a four-hour interview to Rolling Stone journalist Rick Ashby in an opulent hotel suite on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro.  The band had just completed a very successful tour of Latin America and was getting ready to finish the year with three sold-out shows at London’s Wembley Stadium before returning home to L.A. for some much needed R&R.

Lounging on plush overstuffed couches the two men, who had known each other for almost a decade, with Ashby being somewhat of the band’s unofficial-official journalist, smoked huge joints of a very strong strain of indoor sativa marijuana, drank tall glasses of Johnny Walker Blue and listened to a sublime iPod playlist heavy on Fela, Miles, Radiohead, Scratch Perry, and Jack White.  During their intimate conversation Rush finally opened up and confirmed his deep connection to ayahuasca.  Intrigued by stories of musicians like Paul Simon (who’s song “Spirit Voices” is said to chronicle his experience with the plant-medicine) and to a lesser extent Sting, as well as writers William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg taking ayahuasca, Rush initially sought the elixir when Feather first conquered South America in 2006.  During some off time while playing a number of dates in Brazil, Rush and his bandmate, guitarist Ian St. Pierre, took an honest to goodness vision quest deep in the heart of the Amazon jungle.  With a trusted local indigenous friend Rush and St. Pierre traveled to Peru where they embarked on a five-day journey that culminated in a humid shack on the banks of the Amazon River where a shaman led all three men through a life changing hallucinogenic pilgrimage. “The old man was chanting while his tribe hypnotized us with their drums.  He had crazy-ass face paint made from berries and animal blood on his cheeks and over his eyes, and he smeared the shit on us too.  We each drank a small cup of the brew, which was a fucking disgusting, putrid mix of leaves, vines and bark, one of the worst things I’ve ever put in my mouth, and about twenty minutes later I started vomiting; intensely” Rush told Rolling Stone.  “I also pissed out of my ass for more than a week, but it fucking cleansed my soul man.  It was the single most wonderful, horrifying, profound experiences of my life and it washed away all of my fears.  And it fucking cured Ian!  He kicked his heroin
addiction right then and there.  He hasn’t had a touch since.”

Rush went on to explain that, as a sect of passionate fans suspected, A Glimpse of The Feather’s multi-platinum 2008 record Visions was directly inspired by the event.  “It was more than inspiring, that’s not the right word, it has allowed me to see the world, and myself, in a different way.  It changed everything.  I wrote all of the lyrics and Ian sketched out all of the music by the time we finished that 2006 tour down in South America” Rush confided in Ashby.  “Shit, we knew had a record when we left the jungle.  We fucking saw it that night in the hut.” Like Rush, Ashby knew this epic story could change his life as well.  Walking out of the hotel room, stoned off his ass and more than a little drunk, he was sure this would be the cover for Rolling Stone, and likely a career-defining moment for the 33-year-old journalist.  When he got word two days later that his friend’s plane had disappeared over the ocean and that everyone on board was presumed dead, Ashby inadvertently kicked off the biggest drug frenzy since ecstasy hit the scene back in the 1990s.

A Glimpse of The Feather was already arguably the biggest rock band on the planet, when their plane went down at the peak of popularity they instantly achieved a level of legendary status only attainable in death.  The fact that Jackson Rush had given the most revealing interview of the band’s career just two days prior to his untimely demise made for Rolling Stone’s best selling issue in the magazine’s 40-plus year history.  Dedicated entirely to the band with artists ranging from Keith Richards to Kanye West proclaiming their love, the cover featured a suggestive picture of a very fit Jackson Rush, waves of sandy blonde hair dropping just below his shoulders, shirt open across his chiseled chest, laughing as his steel blue eyes lock onto the camera’s lens.  The caption read: “Rush bares all in final interview, revealing the ayahuasca-fueled visions that produced the band’s best material.  ‘It was the single most wonderful, horrifying, profound experiences of my life.'”

When this story touched down in America some 5,000 miles from its origin in Brazil, it lit the fuse on the ayahuasca revolution; or, as some in the media have taken to calling it, “the ayahuasca crisis.” 
Prior to Rolling Stone’s exposé, which went deep into the history and mystery of the sacred rainforest tea, ayahuasca was a whisper from old hippies and something you might read about online, but it wasn’t something you could ever get, or really ever wanted to get.  There were stories of adventurous souls seeking ayahuasca in remote regions of the U.S. where pockets of indigenous Latin American elders carried the plant across the continent and even a few rumors of people finding ayahuasca through the cultish new-age PaDeva Church which uses the ancient plant to commune with the gods, but in general, most Americans had never even heard of ayahuasca before Jackson Rush.

There was however a segment of society that used DMT.  N,N-Dimethyltryptamine, or DMT as it’s more commonly known, has been used recreationally since the ’60s but began to show up more prominently in the late-’90s and early-2000s at music festivals, Phish shows, communes, college campuses and, at least in small dosages, anywhere psychedelic drugs were ingested.  The crystal-like powder, which costs upwards of $300 a gram, is often freebased or sprinkled over a pipe of marijuana (though some people do inject it) and within seconds of the smoke filling the user’s lungs intense visual, auditory and mental hallucinations begin.  Ranging from pleasurable to overwhelming, and though very acute, unlike LSD, mushrooms or ecstasy, the hallucinations are generally short-lived.  DMT is also the primary psychoactive compound in ayahuasca.  It is also found naturally in the human body.  DMT, or “deemsters” as it’s often called on the street, was becoming the drug of choice for young psychedelic warriors.  University students, like those at the small upstate New York liberal arts college Hobart & William Smith, began smoking this expensive, rare drug with near religious intensity; some flipping out alone on the couch with Pink Floyd on the stereo, others sitting in circles, holding hands, chanting and getting blasted beyond their wildest dreams, and in many cases, nightmares.

When A Glimpse of The Feather disappeared over the ocean it was like John Lennon being shot, Kurt Cobain offing himself or Jerry Garcia dying.  The world stopped.  Public mourning broke out like hives.  People cried and screamed “Whyyy!?!?”  Dylan Michaels, a junior at Hobart, sat with a group of friends at an off-campus house playing Feather live bootlegs (their favorite was the Summer ’07 run from Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado), pulling bong loads, drinking Jack Daniels and smoking DMT.

“I can’t fucking believe it bro” said Dylan’s roommate, Chris Holston.  “I mean, if they didn’t find the plane or bodies how the fuck do they know that everyone’s dead, man?”

“They didn’t say that everyone is dead” responded Dylan, who never used words like “dude,” “man,” or “bro.”  Even as a child Dylan possessed a fierce vocabulary and always spoke in a manner that made his parents very proud.  “They said that the plane made an S.O.S. call after experience catastrophic engine failure and the pilot appeared to have put the jet down in the ocean.”

“Right, and then search parties trolled the area for three days and the fucking dude on CNN just said they called off the search” Chris grunted, pointing at the barely audible TV.  “They’re fucking dead man.  A Glimpse of The Feather is fucking dead.”

Two weeks later, the day the Rolling Stone posthumous interview with Jackson Rush hit newsstands, Dylan, Chris and Tyler Fitzgerald gathered at Charlie Conway’s second floor room inside Coxe Hall overlooking the impossibly green expanse of grass at the center of campus known as “the Quad.”  Even before the magazine reached upstate New York quotes from the story were all over the internet.  Rush’s ode to ayahuasca was all anyone could talk about.  One particularly liberal and hip sociology professor even devoted an entire two-hour class to ayahuasca.

“Dude, ayahuasca is basically DMT, I knew Jackson was onto some heavy shit” cracked Charlie.  “Fucking pack that shit up!  We are puffing for Jackson today my friends.”

“Yes, of course, but my stash is running terribly low” cautioned Dylan.  “I need to meet with the guy again, but he won’t be back from Fort Collins for another week.  So we must go sparingly.  But yes, you are right Charlie, we are smoking in honor of the finest rock & roll singer ever, and we shall do so in proper fashion.”

Charlie dialed up Visions on his computer as Dylan fixed a bowl of weed topped with a healthy mound of mustard-yellow DMT powder.  He raised the glass pipe towards the sky and said, “For you Jackson, may you and all of Feather rest in peace.”  One aggressive hit later and everything in Dylan’s line of sight turned into kaleidoscopic geometric fractals, and somehow, so did the music.  Though he’d smoked DMT hundreds of times it never failed to kick open his third eye, producing wild hallucinations of every stripe.  Sometimes even when he wasn’t high on DMT he could feel it in his blood, saturated in his fat cells, giving the flowers fresh colors, the teacher’s face new dimensions, and even helping him see the inspired possibilities that lay before him on the football field. 
Dylan couldn’t even look at his friends, their faces a mash of video game blocks and sharp angles set against painfully bright fluorescent lights, so he took to staring out the window; the natural landscape and open spaces far more appealing to his twisted mind.  The grass outside had a neon glow and the trees at the far end of the Quad looked like 3-D wall paper plastered against a movie set.  The music was coming out of the stereo in waves, for a moment almost silent, then rolling over his ears in a violent crash.  It was getting pretty weird for 3:30 on Tuesday afternoon.

“You know what we should do” said Dylan with a smile bordering on creepy, “we should go to the source.”

“And exactly what fucking source might that be?” asked Chris.

“We should go the source of this DMT we’re smoking.  We should do some ayahuasca.”

“Where the fuck are you gonna get ayahuasca?” quipped Charlie.

“Same place Jackson Rush did.”

Tune in next month for Chapter II…


Posted on by jake Posted in The Beat

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