By Kate Conger
By Brian Rinker
By Rachel Swan
By Anna Pulley
By Erin Sherbert
By Chris Roberts
By Erin Sherbert
By Rachel Swan
The long-haired, gap-toothed Sirius was a self-described "street rat" and ex-yippie musician from New York. Kennedy was the faculty wife of an Eastern religion professor at UC Berkeley, and the daughter of a wealthy Palo Alto family that claimed Noah Webster in its lineage. Her friends included the late Aldous Huxley and Ken Kesey.
Despite its small print run of 1,500, High Frontiers No. 1 was well-received. The back room of Mill Valley's Flashback Pizza became the unofficial hangout of Sirius and other characters who worked on the magazine: "Somerset Mau Mau," "Amalgam X," and new Art Director "Lord Nose." There, Sirius began plotting the second issue of this party-on-paper. Timeliness was not an issue.
"The staff was always blasted!" laughs pseudonymous investment banker/psychedelic drug expert "Zarkov" of the pizza parlor era. Zarkov often contributed, together with his companion Gracie, to this Mondo family tree of publications. "Selling pizzas and drugs on the side -- it took forever to get your pizza."
High Frontiers No. 2 equally focused on drugs, but expanded to include interviews with yippies and physicists, reviews of art and literature, and an essay by Kennedy about datura, the common North American plant whose psychoactive qualities were rediscovered by British soldiers who accidentally ingested it in Virginia in the 1800s. (According to an 1883 citation, the limeys became extremely disoriented, blowing feathers in the air, grinning like monkeys, and "pawing and fondling their companions.")
In its pages, Sirius and Mau Mau advertised little pamphlets touting the "Neopsychedelic Pop Party" and "cunnilinguistic programming." Now published by Sacred Cow Mutilators, High Frontiers was right on schedule -- producing a whopping one issue per year.
"My original idea was to make it a confluence between psychedelics and science and tech, but once we blasted out the first issue, which was all about psychedelics, we sort of got deep into it," laughs Sirius. "That's the most fun I've ever had in my life, actually. It was pretty fucking carefree."
But not very profitable. David Latimer came on board for High Frontiers No. 3 in 1987, which was subtitled "The Latest in Science and Fun." He had worked on Sunset and Scientific American, and was co-publishing both Soma and a magazine for Asian-Americans called Rice. With Latimer (also hiding behind a pseudonym), Sirius and company opened an office in San Francisco's Financial District, launched a companion newsletter called Reality Hackers, and began sponsoring seminars and discussion forums at the Julia Morgan Theater.
"We had Terence McKenna and [physicist] Nick Herbert together talking about time travel," remembers Sirius. "It was pretty fucking obscure stuff."
Equally obscure were the new designer drugs, many of which were not yet outlawed.
"We tried every drug there was," says Latimer, who today publishes the cafe magazine Cups. "Peyote, ketamine, DMT, MMDA ..."
"... 2CB, 2CE, dozens of little alphabet soups," smiles Sirius. "We were tripping pretty heavily. It was very magical, actually."
High Frontiers No. 3 plunged still further into new technologies with strange articles on psychoactive software, nutritional memory enhancers, quantum physics, fractal geometry, and interstellar carbon clusters. And, of course, heaping quantities of drugs, and an essay on tarantula venom from Alison Kennedy, who had been rechristened Queen Mu, Domineditrix.
High Frontiers/Reality Hackers attracted not only the psychedelicized, but computer types from Silicon Valley. As detailed in Douglas Rushkoff's book Cyberia, the acid/high-tech computer geek connection extends back to the days when Jobs and Wozniak were still constructing blue boxes from which free long-distance phone calls could be made.
Sirius says that a revelation occurred to the staff "that if, for instance, we were able to change ourselves biologically, that would be a more interesting change than a million people dropping acid. ... I started to become aware that the ability to manipulate information -- and the huge carrying capacity of information, all that stuff that is related to silicon and digital stuff -- was also going to be related to any other kind of technical change."
In other words, getting high wouldn't change the world. But computers could. The '80s had been years of great imagination with science-fiction novelists like William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, and John Shirley stretching the form so far that one East Coast newspaper wag coined the term "cyberpunk" to describe this new genre. Silicon Valley nerds were hunched over tool benches, furiously whipping more, more, more out of their fledgling appliances -- the 512 begat the Mac Plus, which begat the SE, etc. Desktop publishing bureaus opened around the bay. Ex-hippies like Stewart Brand and Kevin Kelly started the WELL computer network as an offshoot of the post-hippie Whole Earth Review. Anarchist programmers like Jude Milhon hovered around the Bay Area, inciting nerds to plot the overthrow. In Amsterdam, Louis Rosetto and Jane Metcalfe, later to found Wired, published a magazine called Language Technology. Theorists like Timothy Leary pondered the consequences of a digital future about which nobody knew anything -- except that its reach seemed infinite.
And then tragedy struck High Frontiers. One night Sirius and Deborah Smith, the magazine's office manager and fiancee of David Latimer, drove down the peninsula to Cupertino for a radio interview. Smith got bored and decided to take a drive over to Santa Cruz; on winding Highway 17, she got in a horrible head-on collision.