June 25, 2015 (Thursday) 9:16 AM
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is a good place to start exploring the ouevre of Philip K. Dick. In lieu of Cliffnotes you can watch the film, Blade Runner. Blade Runner is a great film, but it’s not the book that PDK wrote that you see up on the screen. PKD books always operate on multiple levels, and some of those levels inevitably get left behind.
Also, the protagonist in the book is dumpy and unattractive — in short: Philip K. Dick; whereas the hero of the film is by definition a movie star: Indiana Jones, Han Solo, American Graffiti dude Bob Falfa, or blade runner Rick Deckard. In tall: Harrison Ford.
I am not faulting Ridley Scott, director of Blade Runner, in the least. It is a great translation of a book to a film — but something was lost in translation. A lot of PKD’s books have been made into films, ranging from his story “We Can Remember it For You Wholesale,” the basis for Total Recall (weird that I couldn’t remember this title. It was like the time I couldn’t remember the name of the song by Simple Minds that was in The Breakfast Club: “Don’t You Forget About Me”) starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and directed by Paul Verhoeven to Minority Report starring Tom Cruise and directed by Steven Spielberg. Still, regardless of the merits or lack thereof of these and other films based on the books or stories of Philip K. Dick, the Philip K. Dick Estate, and the hard-core fans of PKD, known collectively as Dickheads, felt that we had yet to see a full PKD book onscreen, in all its myriad and multitudinous glory.
The closest any one has come so far is A Scanner Darkly, which was done using a technique called interpolated rotoscoping whereby footage of live actors is converted to animation. That way, the special effects required, such as a scramble suit that cloaks your identity and numerous drug-induced hallucinations could be achieved at relatively low cost. The film, with a stellar cast including Woody Harrelson, Robert Downey Jr., Winona Ryder, and Keanu Reeves was a modest success, but the children of Philip K. Dick were so pleased with the result that they presented the director, Richard Linklater, with a 1st Edition or manuscript of A Scanner Darkly (read it on the Internet, but couldn’t find it again. Oh, well).
Scanner was the ultimate paranoid drug fantasy, with an undercover narc preparing to turn in all of his friends, plus the woman he loved, while also becoming addicted himself. Philip K. Dick had good reason to be paranoid. His home had been burglarized and his files, kept in a safe, were stolen by what appeared to be government agents, or at least highly capable burglers, much more technically skilled than average. This was the era of Nixon and Watergate, and the CIA and the FBI would later be revealed to have been conducting covert operations such as COINTELPRO, and testing LSD and other mind altering drugs on unsuspecting individuals. The burglary happened while PKD was living at 707 Hacienda Way in San Rafael. He was recently divorced, with some others in the same boat. It was a den of debauchery, the sudden return to bachelorhood triggered a frat house kind of atmosphere, and the house on Hacienda Way was a magnet for freaks, geeks, and other denizens of the demimonde. This was the milieu depicted in A Scanner Darkly. San Rafael was a small town that was just across the Golden Gate Bridge, north of San Francisco, in Marin County. It was the location for the film, American Graffiti, and the drive-through hamburger joint that was the hub for all the activity still stands today. Coincidentally, Harrison Ford, who would later portray blade runner Rick Deckard, was in this film as a bad boy street racer, Bob Falfa.
Before moving to San Rafael, Philip K. Dick had grown up and lived in Berkeley. I also lived in Berkeley at a slightly later time, let’s say the ’80s, and while there I was in a punk rock band called The Molotovs. It was kind of a spin-off of my friends, Otto and Andy’s, more successful band — a side project. I was the singer and guitarist, though I wasn’t very good at either. We played at the Mab (Mabuhay Gardens, famous Filipino Restaurant turned punk rock club on Broadway in San Francisco); and at Barrington Hall, which was a student housing co-op, or a dormitory, in Berkeley, that hosted rent party/concerts. We also played at a house party in Berkeley.
In retrospect the house party gig would actually turn out to be the most significant in the sporadic and short lived career of The Molotovs. For this gig, we had a guitarist: UC Berkeley student Ben Cohen. Of course, all Cohens can trace their DNA back to the tribe of Levi, the priestly cast. Cohen means rabbi. With Otto and Andy on bass and drums, and Ben on guitar, I just sang. On the plus side, I had black leather pants, but on the minus side, I had the lyrics to a Sex Pistols song that we covered written out on a sheet of paper. “Not very punk rock,” read the reviews.
Ben Cohen would go on to play in The Pop-O-Pies, who recorded a song that went something like this: “Make those doughnuts with extra grease, this one is for the chief of police.” What the Pop-O-Pies were better known for though was their live performance where they would do an extended punk rock cover of The Grateful Dead’s “Truckin'” that lasted for their whole set. How anti-punk rock is that? Just one song, in contradiction to the usual practice of playing lots of short, fast, punk rock songs. Now that I think of it, Flipper would also do an interminable version of their song, “Sex Bomb,” that was practically their whole set, but I think this was after The Pop-O-Pies pioneered the concept.
Ben Cohen’s illustrious career did not end there. He went on to play in Sister Double Happiness, a really great band fronted by volatile vocalist Gary Floyd. Floyd founded Sister Double Happiness after taking a sabbatical from the seminal Texas punk rock band, The Dicks, to become a Buddhist Monk. Floyd was chanting and meditating but the other monks told him he wasn’t cut out for the monastery. His dharma was to be a singer.
Here’s where it gets weird: The house in Berkeley where The Molotovs played was the house that Philip K. Dick lived at. It was his last Berkeley address, and he owned the house and lived there for quite a while, though he had previously lived at other addresses in Berkeley. The address of the party and Philip K. Dick’s house was 1126 Francisco Street. I like to think that this was a little bit of synchronicity, and that I absorbed, by osmosis, or some other mysterious metaphysical process, a bit of the spirit and wisdom of Philip K. Dick. The ‘K’ stands for ‘Kindred,’ by the way. I am a kindred spirit of Philip Kindred Dick.
This opens quite the can of worms, and launches me off on an epic tangent that I will save for another day: The subject of synchronicity itself, not just in the aforementioned instance, but in the works of Philip K. Dick, and in the works of the originator of the concept, Carl Gustav Jung. Synchronicity and other Jungian concepts and topics permeate the ouevre of Philip K. Dick. Jung studied Alchemy, the I Ching, and Gnosticism extensively, and developed his concept of Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious. These esoteric interests led to Jung’s break with Freud, who considered it all, along with religion, to be mere superstition. While there may have been a rift between Jung and Freud, the concepts of Carl Gustav Jung and the ideas of Philip Kindred Dick seem to reach a mysterious accord. There is in fact so much material to delve into here that I must save this whole further tangent for another day, when we can send in fresh horses.