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Kayce Studies – Ayahuasca: Chapter II

Posted on by jake Posted in The Beat | Leave a comment

Ayahuasca: Chapter II

By: Aaron Kayce

Rick Ashby was devastated by the news that A Glimpse of The Feather’s plane had vanished over the ocean.  As far as anyone knew, he was the last person alive to have any sort of significant conversation with lead singer/rock god Jackson Rush.  This fact laid heavy on Ashby, a badge of honor and also a burden.  His Rolling Stone feature became the definitive A Glimpse of The Feather story and within a week of the magazine spreading to every corner of the free world, he had numerous book deals being lobbed his way.

This put Ashby in a difficult position.  He had pitched the band on an officially sanctioned book a few years ago, and Rush was into it, but the singer said, “Not yet.  The story isn’t finished yet, Rick.  But when our story is told, we want you to tell it.”  So on the one hand Ashby felt he had the band’s blessing, but in light of recent events it just felt like exploitation.

The majority of book agents and publishers were pushing for a fast-tracked Feather book that would more or less reorganize existing interviews and bio notes, combining them with photos and getting it out as soon as possible, hopefully within six months, to capitalize on the public’s fresh wound.  Ashby considered the band to be friends and no matter how much money was thrown his way he couldn’t stomach the deal, until a sympathetic agent at Simon & Schuster convinced him otherwise.

Melissa Ives was a 28-year-old passionate music fan and she adored A Glimpse of The Feather.  She also loved Ashby’s coverage of the band over the years and particularly his already legendary story for Rolling Stone.  She didn’t want to push this biography out as soon as possible.  Ives had convinced the big brass at esteemed publishing company Simon & Schuster that the world didn’t need another half-assed book on Feather.  Like any superstar band there were already countless unauthorized books that were exactly that, which were flying off shelves, hence the desire by many to get a new book by the definitive Feather source done immediately.

But Ives had a different angle.  “How about we send Ashby back to the jungle” she said in a closed door board room meeting with the head honchos at Simon & Schuster.  “We’ll get it done as soon as we can, but let’s not rush this.  Ashby has tapes upon tapes of interviews with everyone in the band, much of it never seen by the public, so that along with his extensive knowledge and history of the band will be the focus” she continued.  “But if we retrace Jackson Rush and guitarist Ian St. Pierre’s final days where they trekked into the Amazon and drank the ayahuasca, if we get Ashby in there, talking with the tribe, reliving the experience and using that as a way to tell this story, I think we might have something much more compelling, and important, than a quick-hit music book that brings in some cash.  You’ve seen the news.  Ayahuasca is on the tip of everyone’s tongue and at the forefront of the nation’s thoughts.  No one really knows what it is but they can’t stop talking about.  This is a cultural event and it’s having a profound effect on society.  This is more than the story of a band and its demise, this could be a Pulitzer.”

When Ashby got off the phone with Melissa Ives he sat motionless on a weathered fake leather coach inside his one-bedroom San Francisco apartment.  It was only 3:00 p.m. but he was already on his second whiskey drink (Makers Mark as he isn’t able to afford the Johnny Walker Blue he so enjoyed drinking with Rush) of the day.  Since returning from Brazil Ashby had been in somewhat of stupor.  Drinking heavily, barely working, smoking enough weed to kill an elephant and sniffing coke off car keys in dirty restrooms more often then he’d care to admit.  Though he couldn’t figure out why and was aware the notion was ridiculous, but for some reason Ashby felt partially responsible for A Glimpse of The Feather’s demise, and more specifically for Jackson Rush’s.

It was easy to convince his mind that of course he had no part in the plane crash, but his heart felt otherwise.  The psychotic e-mails from various religious groups and hand scrawled letters from desperate mothers that might have well been written in blood blaming Ashby for glamorizing drug use and introducing their kids to ayahuasca and its shady cousin DMT, certainly didn’t help.  He wanted to get out of town, out of America, and the book deal offered by Ms. Ives was too good to deny.  Due to Ashby’s extensive archive of interviews he’d conducted with the band over the past decade, his personal relationship with the members and the fact that he was publicly recognized as the Feather authority put the deal somewhere in the ball park of $500,000.

The figure tossed over the phone by Ives crippled Ashby.  It was so much more than anyone had offered and though he’d probably say otherwise, deep down he knew that no matter what the parameters were, at 500 large he was taking this deal.  Ashby was a blue collar guy.  A well-educated and very bright one, but blue collar none the less.  He didn’t come from money.  Everything he had he earned and $500,000 was more money then he’d ever dreamed of.

Ashby graduated with honors from UMass Amherst, where he earned a double-degree in Psychology and English, and after college gradually taught himself the journalism trade.  He worked at daily newspapers and weekly publications covering politics, local news and arts.  He started contributing to a small music website called Pitchfork and pretty soon his music journalism was garnering massive praise.  He started writing for The New York Times music section, SPIN and Rolling Stone, before long he had established himself as one of the premier music scribes of his generation.

But it was more than the money.  And it was more than the manner in which Ives and Simon & Schuster had crafted the deal, sympathetic to not only the band and their story, but to Ashby’s altruistic nature and with no time, or budget, restraints.  The bottom line was that ever since leaving Jackson Rush’s hotel suite in Rio Rick Ashby was determined to have his own ayahuasca experience.  Ashby was an adventurous soul, growing up in the music scene he’d experimented with just about every drug he could get his hands on and as Rush announced his adoration of ayahuasca, crediting the psychedelic root for inspiring his greatest works, one way or another Ashby was going to try it for himself.  Now someone was offering him $500,000 to go do it.  Ashby realized the book deal wasn’t specifically about him getting high on ayahuasca, but Ives did indicate that to tell the story the way she and her bosses saw it, drinking some of the sacred brew would probably be a good idea.

Within a week Ashby had signed the papers and faxed them back to Ives’ secretary.  The book deal was official and he was told to forward all expenses to Ives and promptly received a $50,000 advance to start his journey.  The plan was to retrace Jackson Rush’s final days as closely as possible.  The details were sketchy at best, but Ashby had some guide posts.  He knew to book a suite at the exclusive Copacabana Palace overlooking the famous Copacabana Beach just outside Rio de Janeiro.  He also knew to search out a young Brazilian man named Gabriel, the same one who brought Rush and St. Pierre into the jungle.  And if he could, Ashby was to track down Maria Vasquez, a young woman Rush had spent several nights with while in Brazil.

The influx of money brought with it a large send-off for Ashby.  Finally starting to shake the funk that was holding him down since Feather’s disappearing act, Ashby and a few friends went out on the town for a night of drinking and general debauchery in honor of the big book deal.  The length of the trip was unknown and it seemed appropriate enough to gather his closest cronies, eat a giant steak dinner, have some drinks and get fully blasted before staging his own Brazilian disappearance.

Ashby’s flight was at 8:00 a.m. out of San Francisco International Airport and when he started to see the sunrise from his buddy’s apartment he knew that he was in trouble.  Some people like seeing the sunrise after being up all night, Ashby hated it.  He knew what it meant and it instantly made him feel dirty and used up.  He longed to tick back the sun just a few minutes, enough to get himself home and under the covers, hidden away from the new day.  But there was no time for that, day was breaking and he had to leave for the airport immediately.

Tune in next month for Chapter III…

If you missed Chapter I – Visit Here

Kayce Studies: Ayahuasca – Chapter I

Posted on by jake Posted in The Beat | Leave a comment

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.

Ayahuasca

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…