June 24, 2016
Highest greetings from Amsterdam, where I’m spending the summer in a very interesting section of the city called the Bijlmer that used to be a terrible fear-ridden slum on the outskirts of town but has been redeveloped by the government as a sort of art-centered multi-cultural neighborhood populated by people of many descriptions, from dark-skinned immigrants to young white urban professionals with real jobs and a certain quotient of bohemians both black and white.
The interesting thing is that, unlike in the States, the immigrant population of the former ghetto was not expelled to make the renovated area “safe’ for white people but was included in the redevelopment plans and rehoused as an integral component of the upgraded neighborhood. The oppressive 1950s-style Stalinistic eight-storey project dwellings were razed and replaced with buildings of no more than four floors and the whole thing painted in bright colors marked by diagonal stripes of orange, yellow, green, bright blue, and lots of third-world murals.
I’m staying in the spacious apartment of a new friend named Tariq Khan, a Dutch Rastafarian with big dreads who started out as a rapper called MC Lazy but now is an energetic artistic and cultural activist with his own recording studio in the building around the corner that also houses a hip-hop radio station called Hot Twenty that’s staffed by local youths. Tariq also produces and directs video shoots for many purposes and conducts youth workshops for community groups, but his day job is working for the Sensi Seeds empire at the Hash, Marijuana & Hemp Museum one day, the Cannabis College the next and the Sensi Museum Gallery on Thursdays, where he joins my old friend Joseph who mans the vaporizer and gets people high all day.
What a job! Joseph has been around for a long time and knows everybody who’s into anything in terms of the cannabis culture—he’s even regarded as a spiritual leader in some advanced quarters—so I turned to him when I was desperate to find a place to lodge for the summer after my week-long residency in the Sensi guest quarters was up at the end of May. He hooked me up with Tariq, and Tariq took me straight to his place in the Bijlmer and set me up like a champ.
Sensi Seeds is a remarkable enterprise started by a guy named Ben Dronkers in Rotterdam a long time ago, first as one of Rotterdam’s initial coffeeshops and then as a way to get marijuana growing in Holland by supplying top-quality seeds and encouraging local growers to plant and harvest them. Over the past 30 years Sensi has grown into a mammoth operation known as “the most comprehensive cannabis seed bank in the world,” dispensing millions of seeds to funky farmers all over the world and then pioneering the revitalization of the hemp industry as well.
As the Sensi Seeds website explains, Ben Dronkers started growing marijuana in 1975 and began saving the seeds he found in good quality weed, eventually collecting and categorizing all the cannabis seeds he could find. From the end of the 70s until the mid-80s Ben travelled the world from Central Asia and the Hindu Kush to the Himalayas, down through the subcontinent to Southeast Asia and around the tropics, seeking out the best genetics and focusing on regions famous for their ancient cannabis traditions.
Around 1984 Ben began several cross-breeding programs in order to develop new cannabis hybrids. He gained access to the first examples of the new stabilized hybrids from the US—including Haze and Skunk—and took the final step required for the creation of new, world-class hybrids in Europe. By 1985 he had founded the Sensi Seed Club, expanding and centralizing the process of creating hybrids and keeping meticulous records of plant genealogy and interrelations.
In 1991, Ben bought another seed company from a breeder who had also been working with the US hybrids since the 80s and merged the two companies to form the Sensi Seed Bank. In 1994 he founded HempFlax, a company dedicated to growing and processing industrial hemp, and successfully revived the once-thriving Dutch hemp industry. in 2006 Ben acquired the Flying Dutchmen seed company when his friend the owner decided to retire, and he consolidated its venerable stock with the existing Sensi Seed Bank to make an even more comprehensive collection of cannabis strains.
The great thing about Ben Dronkers and Sensi Seeds is that it isn’t just about raking in the profits like most of the people in this great industry of ours. Sensi has garnered millions of dollars in sales over the years, but—aided and abetted by his friend Ed Rosenthal, the great American cannabis activist—Ben has dedicated a significant portion of his earnings to the creation of public benefit institutions like the Hash Marihuana & Hemp Museum, the Sensi Museum Gallery, and the Cannabis College, which was initially a project of Flying Dutchmen. Among many other things, The Gallery displays Old Masters painted hundreds of years ago which depict ordinary men and women enjoying the smoking of cannabis.
Now these institutions are lined up on the Achterburgwhal in the Red Light District in the center of town, making up a sort of Green Light District of their own along with the Sensi Seed Bank itself and the Sensi Corner Store, formerly the Sensi coffeeshop where I used to hang out and got to know all these incredible people that make up the Sensi empire.
One of my fondest memories of the Sensi coffeeshop was the day I sat down with Ben Dronkers at a table inside and listened while he carried on an intense conversation with a South American man who turned out to be a minister in the new government of Bolivia led by the former coca famer and now head of state, Evo Morales. Evidently Ben and Evo had met and even toked down together on Morales’ visit to Amsterdam before the Bolivian election, and Ben was making a impassioned plea that the new government consider completely legalizing marijuana and establish Bolivia as the world center of cannabis enlightenment.
Dronkers promised that he would move his entire cannabis empire to Bolivia and encourage the international growing community to do likewise, bringing incredible amounts of new revenue to the small South American nation and transforming it into a haven for the worldwide cannabis community of suppliers, growers and consumers.
I listened with rapt attention as Ben’s argument unfolded, but the Bolivian minister calmly explained that there was no chance that the church and moral authorities would let them get away with it, no matter how great an idea it might be. Ben was visibly dejected, but I guessed he was accustomed to official rejection of his visionary ideas and the conversation passed on to more mundane topics.
Well, there were several other topics I’d meant to discuss in this month’s column, but I got carried away thinking about the greatness of Sensi Seeds and now I’m out of space for this time. Of course I continue to feel that one day cannabis will be granted its rightful place in our world of oppression, but it’s never going to be an easy proposition and we’ll just have to keep on fighting every way we can until that happy day. FREE THE WEED!
June 24, 2016
© 2016 John Sinclair. All Rights Reserved.
June 15, 2016
WORDS: Robert Anton Wilson and Steve ‘Fly Agaric 23’ Pratt
MUSIC: Steve Fly, Tim Egmond, Martin ‘Youth’ Glover, Rick Rasa, Hagbard Celine, Garaj Mahal.
PRODUCED BY: Mark Sampson and Steve Fly Pratt
MASTERED BY: Simon Reeves at Framework Studios, Birmingham
RELEASED on IRON MAN RECORDS June 23rd 2016.
Special thanks to: Robert Anton Wilson, Christina Pearson, Rick Rasa, Chu, Mark Sampson, Kai Eckhardt, Matt Black, Martin ‘Youth’ Glover, Paul Krassner, John Sinclair, Tim Egmond, Toby Philpott, Prop Anon, Nick Larson, Caleb Selah, Pete Maybe, Jenni Vyskocil, Faustin Bray, Bob Tesch, Lance Bauscher, Jack Sarfatti, Nigel Blunt, UB40, Robin Johnson, Tom Jackson, Raymond Wiley, Daisy Eris Campbell, Janne Svensson, Gregory James, Ben Kappel, Brien Harvey, the Maybe Logic Academy staff and students.
While getting firmly hooked on the series of Cosmic Trigger books during the mid 1990s, I literally dreamed of meeting the mysterious author, Dr Robert Anton Wilson. He was an early anarchist hero to me, a truly free man, and he remains one of the funniest scientific philosophers of all time. And yet, he, and his great works remain underground for the most part, bubbling away beneath the surface, patiently awaiting rediscovery and reenactment by brave new readers from next generations and with fresh interpretations. I hope this recording can introduce his ideas to at least one such reader. We need to act on his wisdom now!
After an auspicious solar eclipse experience in August, and a house fire in December moments before the millennium fever of 1999 went into overdrive, i had a rare moment of clarity, and decided to sell my prized turntables and scrape the money together for a ticket to go and see this guy for myself. Only six days after the sad passing of Terence Mckenna, i set off to New York where i next caught the Greyhound bus to New mexico, and my destination, the so called the ‘Prophets Conference’ only two days before my 24th birthday.
Little did i know that RAW had fallen ill that week due in part to his post polio syndrome, together with the grief of losing his lifelong companion, writer and activist Arlen Riley Wilson. The announcer at the conference informed the crowd Bob would not make it, and i went into an altered state of total shock awareness. After the conference was over i straddled that Greyhound up to San Francisco and fell in awe of the San Francisco bay area. I hung out at Wired Magazine radio station, worked for Sound Photo Synthesis, jammed on turntables with jam jazz super group Garaj Mahal. Plus i met Dr John Lilly, Jack Sarfatti, Saul Paul Sirag, and some other friends and associates of RAW, all seemingly by happy coincidence most of them were presenting at the Guilding The Lilly event at 3220 Sacremento street.
When my visa time limit came up, unlike Columbus, I returned to the UK. One memorable summer day in 2000 i received an email from the Prophets Conference asking if i would like to be a carer for Bob during his next lecture in Palm Springs, 16-18th December 2000. I eagerly responded ‘yes’ and started to save up my dole money.
Bob’s fine lecture at Palm Springs can be viewed on youtube and you can hear him say at one point “I had a Manhattan with my lunch” which i purchased for him when sat together with Paul Krassner and his wife Nancy before his show. This may have led to him using slightly more taboo words than usual, which became part of the reason why the conference wrote him a letter explaining that they had received complaints about his language! and were unwilling to invite him to any more conferences, unless he more or less cleaned up his act. For fucks sake. Bob writes about this in his book T.S.O.G: The Thing That Ate The Constitution. I was sacked from the Prophets Conference a few months before Bob. My crime was much less punk rock, i failed to get Bob to the stage with adequate time to spare before he was scheduled to speak, which set a few people panicking and resulted in the boss lady of the conference screaming at me in front of Bob.
After his lecture, Bob gestured me over and invited me up to his room to conduct an interview, which i hinted at earlier. This was partly due, i think, to the fact that he saw how badly i was disgraced earlier and so took a little pity on me. I gifted Bob with a copy of the “The Stargate Conspiracy”, a pretty lame book in retrospect, but a text i figured he should take a look at as he had a few mentions in it, along with almost everybody else at the fringes of paranormal and psychic research in the 1970s.
I offered Bob some dried mushrooms picked at my local spot called Wychbury Hill. He gracefully passed on them with a kind smile and nod. They didn’t go to waste though, years later while reading an article by Richard Metzger (Dangerous Minds) who visited Bob’s room shortly after my interview–i discovered Richard ate the shrooms’ and reported that they were good and strong. Success. His friend Alex Burns, also from Disinformation, managed to get us all super high with some High Times Cannabis Cup winning weed, named William’s Wonder.
I pressed the button for the apartment number Bob had sent and waited, and waited…and after what seemed like an eternity i heard the crackle of the intercom and a familiar voice “yes”.
“It’s fly agaric, erm’, i was in touch with you by email about coming down to visit”. After another long pause he said “So…do you wanna’ come in then?” “Yeah, sure” i said, and he buzzed open the steel gate. I walked around the small inner garden area, up some steps to the front door which was already ajar. I stepped through the door.
Once through I slipped my shoes off and walked past his study on the right, and his small library area to the left. He was sitting on a couch, next to some large sliding doors, with a fresh clear view looking out over the Monterey bay. “Hi Bob, thanks for having me over.”
“Would you be so kind as to grab me a coffee, it’s in the pot” he said. “Sure”. I fetched a mug, which had a quote from Hannibal Lecter printed on it, filled it with black coffee and set it down on the table, sitting opposite Bob. “Thanks, fly. So, you’re going to make a recording right?” he asked. “yeah, if that’s cool with you.” I unpacked my minidisc recorder, and set up the microphone on the table.
The apartment reflected a humble man, with moderate furnishings, a couch, two chairs, a television set, stereo, coffee table and a dresser decorated in what looked to me like traditional Japanese artefacts. There were framed pictures hanging up and ornaments that indicated this really was Bob’s residence. On my way out I recall seeing a certificate from a UFO convention, plus I’ll never forget the cute Loch Ness monster ornament laying out on top of the cable box, which at one point during the interview he politely asked me to straighten out for him.
We had two smoke breaks out on the balcony, where i kissed the sky with a specially rolled up bomber. Bob passed my offer due to already feeling high as a mountain goat on his marijuana brownies, which he consumed for medical purposes to help relieve the pain from post polio syndrome. It would be fair to say we were both pretty high and cheerful. I went the whole nine yards and cracked open a four pack of guinness, which was probably a mistake due to the slight fogging of my memory caused by the alcohol.
Bob talked and talked, weaving his unique prose to my unrehearsed questions, turning them into delightful examples of his unique mind at play. He mixed hilarious tales with some serious facts and produced his unmistakable discordian dance of delicate metaphors. There were times when my mouth opened and nothing came out, due to my processing what he had previously said. I had to remain mindful not to interrupt or talk over him, which i’m prone to do at times. There seems nothing worse to me than an interviewer who can’t listen, and sings the eternal song of “I”.
The audio interview is regrettably only the first half of the full recording, the other half of which remains lost in an ocean of badly indexed minidiscs. Fortunately, i made a transcription of the full recording, which was published at the Maybe Logic Quarterly magazine in 2008. However during the interview my disc space ran out, but we carried on talking for at least another 45 minutes. Hence my regret at getting half drunk. Some of the subject matter i recall from that chat included Saul Paul Sirag, Jack Sarfatti, Paul Krassner, David Bohm and the Physics Consciousness Research Institute. He commented at length on 9/11 describing a friends experiences in New York, and the high weirdness that day, and the days that followed. I talked about some of my musical projects, about Garaj Mahal, graffiti art, Ninjatune and my fascination with jazz and synchronicities connected to the music John Coltrane.
I was made to feel welcome during the 3-4 hour visit, and Bob did not whinge or complain once. I only felt him get slightly agitated during the interview after i blindly asked him a series of four readymade questions from somebody else, the last of which was “how do you plan to take physical action?” which, when i said it, sounded rather inappropriate for a man suffering from post polio syndrome most his life, and who uses a wheelchair to get around. It hit a small nerve, he coughed and raised his voice a little “I don’t mean to ball you out but, it’s just that i hear that kind of question a lot.” He went on to describe how he attends protests and gatherings when he can get a ride there, and contributes to Amnesty International.
In 2015 I was digging for a minidisc of DJ Fly material for use on my Fly By Night radio shows, produced for Radio Free Amsterdam. While sifting through the discs I noticed one with writing in light pencil that read: R.A.W 10th September 2002. I popped it into the player, and to my delight it was the first half of the interview. I edited and boosted the sound files to the best of my ability, and added a selection of music from friends and past collaborators, resulting in what you hear right here.
I uploaded two short excerpts from the interview to my Soundcloud account and was planning to release the other parts when a friend, Mark Sampson of Iron Man Records, stepped up. In March 2016 Mark kindly offered to master the audio and release it on his independent record label Iron Man Records. So the circle is complete and I hope you enjoy the words and music. Long live the optimists.
– Steve Fly, June 2016