knows no propaganda more effective than people calmly enjoying themselves."
- Raoul Vaneigm, The Revolution
of Everyday Life
"sees bliss in ale
and can with wine dispense;
whose head proud fancy
never thought to steer
beyond the muddy ecstasies of beer."
Crabbe, English poet, 1754-1838
1. I inhale the head of a beer the
way others breathe oxygen. And then I walk. And when I walk I think,
and when I think I become a genius; beer bottle reserves in breast
pockets, tracing enigmas to their source, noting incidents of autumnal
light, imbuing jails, detention centers and chopshops with the ecstasy
of its collapsing light.
I wander around, discover hints of
being in the lucent light, a celestial, bedouin, navigational starlight.
Not your average horrendous watt overkill, households lit like sagging
jack-o-lanterns, overlit to barricade the cellmates inside against
all fear, all curiosity.
Here, at the frontier of where light
goes limp and darkness blossoms, one becomes privy to chance discoveries;
scuffling through dingy snow as grey as the gray matter that no
longer matters, to find the roving ghosts of Stephen Crane, Henry
Miller, Hart Crane, Hubert Selby, Jose Padua, and Carson McCullers--their
presence like watermarks on forgotten stationery.
I discover the knowledge of perfection
like an alchemist with a 6-pack coursing through my alimentary canal--colon
and rectum--ancient phantom stops along the Rockaway-bound A train.
Brew is the sextant of elixir, an alchemy that transforms sharp
objects, projectiles of control, architectures of neglect and belligerent
light strategies into a soft contoured womb, spinning everything
of mind and blur, of environ and reverie, into its non-spatial and
non-temporal delirious core. This state (migration inside stasis,
daydreams of the stoneface) is attained, some say, as we move from
light beer to dark, where the blood becomes aqua vitae and the conscious
will becomes flooded with personal lumen naturae or psycho-magnetic
2. Alcohol was the first liquid known
to alchemists which actually initiated the metamorphosis and dissolution
of organic compounds such as fat (enemy of aesthetic prowess, inhibitor
of mobility), substance (placeholder of value), façade (simulation
of appearing to mean), and all the other cultural ballast that clings
The delicious and delirious recognition
of the effects of airborne yeasts which convert sugar into carbon
dioxide and alcohol was made long ago--even before the Mesopotamians
domesticated barley (8000 B.C.). Evidence reveals that beer probably
came before bread (or more succinctly, inebriation preceded substance).
Recent discoveries of beer crocks
in the Zagros Mountains of Iran and a seal from the Royal Cemetery
in Ur (see ref. 5) reveal that the complex Sumerians may have developed
a very unusual method of imbibing--the seal "depicts people
seated around a large vessel, drinking something out of it, presumably
beer, with long straws." In fact, "one of the most common
pictographs in Sumerian ruins is the sign for 'beer,' which shows
linear markings within a jar."
The desirable effects--release from
the constrictures of reason and convention, dissociation, euphoria,
social lubrication--were observed from the start and point to an
inherent (genetic?) need for humans to escape, get wasted, transcend,
vacate the mundane limitations of sobriety, or as Lord Byron put
it, "Man being reasonable, must get drunk, / The best of life
is but intoxication."
And so wherever humans are bound by
employment and engage in other spirit-deadening activities there
is alcohol--often in the form of beer. "In the case of starchy
vegetation [barley], quite primitive agriculturists learned how
to convert the starch to fermentable sugar by providing the necessary
zymase from their saliva through such a simple process as preliminary
Sumerian pharmacists prescribed beer
(1200 B.C.); Egyptian physicians included beer in over 100 of their
prescriptions. Beer and wine quickly replaced water as an offering
because of "its capacity to help the shaman or priest and other
participants reach a state of ecstasy."
Africans made beer and wine from corn,
millet, bananas, bamboo and palm sap. Asians used rice and barley;
Central Americans had cactus wine and beers made from corn and agave;
South Americans managed to discover the confluence of spirit and
inebriation in corn, tubers, flowers and various saps.
Monks in the Dark Ages knew much about
the yeasty marvels of beer--as blessing, sacrament, and magical
substance that gladdened the saddened heart. That's why monks brewed
beer and allotted themselves and peripatetic guests up to 4 liters
per day. They knew beer had become intertwined with sacred--but
suddenly social and even personal ceremonies as well. They not only
made beer from barley, but oatmeal, burdock, dandelions, nettles,
and even spruce. The availability and abundance of substances necessary
for inebriation was to them a sign from god that inebriation was
a sacred state of beyond mind--a taste of divinity. They KNEW; and
that's why the earliest breweries were also places of worship. That's
why beer was poured onto fields--to bless harvests. Afterward, farmers
would masturbate on these blessed fields to doubly assure abundant
Beer saved the lives of the Mayflower
Puritans. It's why they ironically--considering their subsequent
aescetic argument that abstinence was somehow a signal to god of
one's devotion--called beer "'the Good Creature of God.'"
During American colonial times inebriatory
necessities led the early settlers to ferment just about anything
from beets to spinach, parsnips to gooseberries, in the name of
intoxication. Benjamin Franklin even compiled a "Drinker's
Jefferson wrote the Declaration of
Independence with beer in hand, Paul Revere fortified his ride through
darkness with a strong rum drink called Flip. The Founding Fathers
might as well have been called the Founding Brewers (Sam Adams)
& Dipsomaniacs because "alcohol and public drinking houses
were the key to successful rebellion against the British during
the American Revolution. Taverns functioned as nurturing wombs where...camraderie
developed and subversive plots for independence were hatched. True
patriots considered taverns nurseries of freedom..."
3. I find bars that offer respite from
the cumulative insanity outside. Taverns with Coltrane and candles.
Bowers of timelessness, quiet temples, Amsterdam's "brown cafes,"
Prague's rowdy pivnices (Old One Eye), the neon-lineamented
zinc bars of Paris (Bar Iguan), NYC's outpost dives (Sally's, the
Shandon Star) where clocks are all a mess; where play time doesn't
pass so much as nourish; where one doesn't age so much as beam.
It is the mouth to mouth, the intimacy,
spittle entering the glass as beer enters you, clocks losing their
tick, hearts losing their beat, "a playful continuity,"
a hum, the hum inside the humerus; where the ruddy-cheeked smile
embodies essential theories of ecstasy's architecture. Where eyes
sit in the smile's crescent like warm eggs, oblivious to the idio-tautological,
er, ideological tricks of the time managers.
Convivial bars where barkeeps intuit
your desires, where you can stare at a wall and they can sense you
are watching the filmstrip that is already inside yourself. Where
you manufacture your own fanfare, lean back into your own character,
where you cannot depend on a logothematic backdrop (Harley Davidson
Cafe), festive psycho-diorama (TGIF), or some simulacrum saloon
(Hard Rock Cafe) where MTV-enhanced waitpersons memorize jokes to
"entertain" tips out of you and your wallet. Or offer
you pithy correctives like "smile and the whole world smiles
Sometimes I take my acolyte Nielle
along. Nielle loves being called "acolyte" because of
the "light" in "acolyte." I was pretty sure
it wasn't spelled that way but wasn't about to point that out and
risk breaking our spell. The more confused things got the more I
managed to make a lovely sense of it.
We fasted and deprived our bodies
of sleep. Our bowels, our muscularis mucosae and our unicellular
slime glands (coincidentally called goblet cells) prepared
for maximized absorption of alcohol. We welcomed the excitement
of the unexpected into the pores of our souls. Transporter becoming
transportee becomes transported.
The famished adrenalin-driven anticipation,
hyperaesthesia, isolation, debilitation, and narcotic ale, ex
lupulis confectam, a lovely bouquet replaced make-up, jewelry,
and fashion as we headed out into the night. Adventure was the throb
in the blood, the beer in the glass, the light in the bulb.
We were in search of that brackish
crepescule, that grey zone, that netherland where beer meets dark,
where soul floats into alignment with ale, where I "encounter
darkness as a bride and hug her in my arms." Because "it
is obvious enough that the sexual life flourishes better in a dim
murky light; it is at home in the chiaroscuro and not in the glare
of neon light."
Law enforcement, social architects,
and bureaucrats understand that light is a tool of surveillance
and control. Light makes conscious what is better left UN. Light
leaves humans squeamish, camera-shy, blinded; it circumscribes instinct,
clips the wings off fancy, defines the parameters of lust and behavior
so that erogenous zones are renovated as trade zones.
And they know that in order to control
society and its collective unconscious they must control fear, regulate
the consumption of palliatives and annex darkness. Their frontline
defense is streetlights--manifest destiny in the shape of 175--watt
unshielded mercury vapor lamps or the common 150-watt cobra-head
fixtures. That's why to disperse a potentially unruly scrum of festivity-seekers
management always turns up the lights after a concert to send its
revellers scurrying home like Blatta Americana, common cockroaches.
That's why cops patrol the dark sectors carrying flashlights, scarring
the fields of night with vectors of light, to contain its squalor
Beer offers us a repertoire of insouciance
to take back the night, resist curfews, and re-occupy this no-mans-land
so that "the sense of order and organization of time and space
gives way to uncontrollable chaos."
4. I visited the site of the old Bedford
Brewery on Dean Street in Bedford--Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, "borough
of breweries." The master brewer in his day, made a pilgrimage
all the way to Czechoslovakia, to the town where they made Budvar/Budweis,
the original Budweiser, to learn the secrets of beer which
involves "some of the subtlest processes of life," a nexus
of micro-biology and metaphysics.
It was impossible to imagine that
a brewery had once thrived here. As I looked out across this lot
(a plot at once empty and full) filled with debris, discarded auto
parts, mangled baby carriages and a 9-foot mound of Pampers, some
fix-faced black teens taunted me because they could not figure out
why I was staring at this empty lot.
"They used to make beer here."
They looked at me as if this tour guide voice had ventriloquilly
emerged from my rectum.
"The Dutch settlers of Brooklyn
were exuberant beer drinkers." I added to their perplexity.
And that exuberance was matched by other exuberances, which was
consummated in the temple of yeasty effervescences, the tavern.
The settlers went to their own founts to refill their own receptacles.
A community that integrated production, thirst and consumption with
the temporal displacement of the body; in the tavern where the body
was hung from a hook at the door.
By the late 1800s there were some
40 brewers in Brooklyn. "In 1907...Brooklynites consumed 2
barrels of beer...a year." But the brewers wanted "to
get away from their crumbling neighborhoods" and abandoned
the drinkers, dreamers, and downtimers because of cost considerations,
"economic imperatives [which] seek to impose on the whole of
human activity the standardized measuring system of the market."
Schlitz, Piels, Rheingold, Schaefer
(all aesthetic betrayals of beer anyway--good riddance to bad garbage)
fled to other regions where workers could be had for lower wages
and less trouble. They left, in their wake, as a result of their
alienated mediations, an empty lot of brick and dust, the detritus
of exhausted people who could no longer negotiate the paths to their
And with the knowledge that "fermentation
and civilization are inseparable" I uncap a Lambic, an old
Belgian beer fermented with wild yeasts, matured in wood from Bordeaux,
something special from the surreptitious confines of a paper sack!
"to feel a euphoria steal over [me] that effectively blots
out the harsh realities of life."
A paper sack so that those whose function
is defined by how well they contain vision and funnel yearning through
the various official and constrictive sphincters. They tinker this
zeitgeist into shapes that will allow them to flatter themselves.
This is not unlike the way statues of soldiers in parks begin to
Don't guzzle a Lambic. Let this most
unusual beer linger on the taste buds. The Lambic aligns itself
with anarchist thought because it invites wild microflora
to spontaneously ferment. And its surprising taste is capable
of convincing me to totally rethink financial priorities--I spend
rent money on it.
A Belge Lambic can be traced, in the
etymological sense, to the Middle English alambic, now alembic,
meaning anything that transforms, purifies, or refines. An alembic
lamp, for instance, provides heat but also light, a special kind
of light, a light that purifies and more. The word "alembic"
continues back to the Arabic word for still; stillness and
tranquility or perhaps still; as in distilling device
consisting of a vessel--the Greek ámbix means cup--in
which a fluid is heated and vaporized and a cooling coil condenses
5. But like every fine invention, beer's
liberating effects can easily be harnassed to oppress and control
(see priests and warriors). For with inebriation comes liberty;
with liberty comes responsibility; and withholding responsibility
And the same way that masturbation
passed from accepted animistic ritual into condemned and punishable
act, so did the consumption of beer become "troublesome to
government"--both civil and ecclisiastical. Onanism and alcohol
both left the "abuser" unemployable, useless, insane,
lazy and without commodity value. It was suddenly bridled to somber
occasions and sanctimonious ceremonies. Priests condemned the "common"
intake of beer and its peculiar exaltations. The move from sacred
to secular--where pleasure might have its way with purpose--being
a noticeable deterioration of their power as the supreme intermediaries
between god and imbiber, gut and soul. Comparable to the dictator
who outlaws opposition parties to remain in power.
Popes, priests, kings, industrialists
and generals all attempted to systematically curb the pub crawl,
temper it to their own ends while circumscribing its anarchistic
aspects of personal jollification. Autonomous imbibery came too
close to suggesting nonhierarchical and self-determined divinity.
And so, as easily as beer might be
the shoe horn into the divine, it could also mutate into the powder
horn used "to help rub out aborigines who dared resist";
fortifying the foot soldiers in their "empire building and
indian killing." This is because, like priests and kings, "the
rich snobs who subsequently emerged to rule [the USA] didn't like
this independence at all [see again, personal jollification, Bacchus,
et al.] and started the long terrible process of strictly regulating
alcohol consumption" [see Puritans, Moslems, Hindus, Catholics,
U.S. Army, rum as motivator in the British Navy, Buddhists, Dutch
Courage, et al.] This "orgy of temperance" managed to
hone the effects away from "the defiance of controls and...drunken
insubordination" and toward a more streamlined and nefarious
"endurance of the tedium and discomfort of barrack life"
and "was expected to sustain the soldiers' powers of endurance."
Beer then, like all somas, is both
source of liberation and subjugation, autonomy and hegemony. It
plays a crucial role in both allowing one to see the limitlessness
of consciousness and in tolerating the thick dense walls of the
office, factory and barrack and "maintaining a stable class
society." "Widespread alcohol use in proper doses regulated
by benevolent authorities has proven to be an extremely effective
way to control the population, defuse social tensions and protect
the status quo." Frederick Douglas observed in 1846 that, "masters
give them the stupefying draught which paralyzes their intellect,
and in this way prevents their seeking emancipation." Witness
the cynical niche targeting of ghetto populations by manufacturers
of malt liquors, high alcohol-content beers. Obviously, these liquors
are not meant to aid awareness but to bludgeon and obliterate all
signs of curiosity and resistance.
As Ben Hamper observed in his Rivethead:
Tales From the Assembly Line, "Go to any General Motors
plant in Flint. Turn your back to the building and gaze directly
across the roadway. I guarantee you'll be peering at a tavern, perhaps
several of them...Find a factory you'll find a bar."
But let's not forget that "alcoholic
beverages...in primitive societies...had important nutritional value...were
the best medicine available...facilitated religious ecstasy and
communion with the mystical super-mundane power thought to control
tribal and individual fate. They enabled periodic social festivity...thus
also serving as the mediator of popular recreation...drunkenness
could be approved or even mandatory and still serve an integrative
social function. In short, the most general effect of alcohol, suggested
by its very equivocal uses, appears to be as facilitator of mood
change in any desired direction."
6. Solace and resignation or resistance
and transformation: what is that fine slackwire balance between
abstention and obliteration?
As a mental zymurgist, a kind of "aquanaut
of the subjective" and mnemonic alchemist one can convert the
merest memory of beer, its aftertaste into that delirious oracular
spiraling which is the pinnacle of the inebriatory cycle.
At 0.4% blood alcohol concentrations
an anesthetic state is attained--unarousable sleep, incapacitated
voluntary actions. This is the black-out, that rare blackhole, of
one's own digging, a shallow coma, dug just deep enough by too-much-is-just-enough
beer so that it allows the body to levitate off the coathanger of
the bones, to hover there among the elusive ripples in the fabric
of space time. Where the body is the thing most absent--manifestation
in absence. Alcohol oxidizes in the blood not unlike how the blackhole
postulated in space disperses--it's very disappearance causing its
effect. Absence makes a heart feel fondness.
This place where one gets down below
and outside the commodity of self, lawless and pathetic, tranquilized
beyond stress and strain--unconscious, is where up no longer
means the place one could fall from. Where one begins to eat of
the bodily self; a solipsistic excavation among the entre jambes,
hidden just below the ribs, delectable pouches of fat, stashed there
for just such a journey into personal darkness as an acolyte aligning
and allying beer with soul.
When I came to I felt like a Breugel,
lithe and prostrate. Nielle helped me to my feet and there I stood,
staring at a moving daguerreotype of affection. She placed beer
in hand and I managed to rig a second-nature, necessity-determined,
physics-enhanced feeding crane: my right arm reached across solar
plexus, clung to an anchoring fold of flesh under crux of left armpit,
upon which my left elbow could rest; this allowed my left hand (holding
beer) to pivot like a metronome toward and away from my mouth so
that the feeding of "sudstenance" could remain intimately
linked to essential breathing patterns.
"Beer is tantric, arousing senses,
sex, and smarts to their highest pitch so that memories and responses
can be reconverted into the pure energy from which they all originated."
"OH." She said. A signal
I presumed, that Nielle comprehended how a hydrogen atom in a hydrocarbon
is replaced by the OH hydroxyl group-producing alcohol. The alchemy
of OH, premier phoneme of OM, the OH of oralized ecstasy, joins
a gas, a spirit, to become liquor, comestible spirit.
Inebriation allows one to extract
this "OM," this noctambulist's foot in the door of transcendence,
from a LindeboOM or a DOMinion Beer. Because beer in its early mashy
state secretes a coded, cheesy, viscous goo to initiate the yeast's
very own mating processes. This coded gooey chain of tiny fungus
organisms somehow replicates the human sex hormone--gonadatrophin--as
it converts sugars into alcohol. Its almost as if the yeast does
this to ingratiate itself into our lives--imitation as the sincerest
and most deterministic form of biological flattery. The yeast emerges
as the life of the party, the central cog (keg?) in our psyche's
processing of amorous, inebriatory and illuminational data like
a "liquor vitae," ch'i, the life energy, that electric
fluid which flows through blood and nerves, carrying our essence
to every cell--and beyond. As we perspire the pores dispatch endorphin-laden
signals, enhancing our magnetic core so that we can attract other
human vessels into our midst. This is how the body transfuses beauty,
lust and beer in the neuro-comedy we call life.
Sometimes I do the checkerboard thing;
mix 40 oz. of Budweiser with 12 oz. of dark Mackeson--so that low
cost can taste good and reverse, in some small way, the spin of
the earth. I'm suddenly up, up and around my queersome gnarled podiacal
digit, like some ballet "Bierishnakov" whirling in that
stark yet magnificent checkerboard linoleum instant. And if the
fever works right it wrings reveries and vision from the tangled
entrails of mind. And with utter amazement (balanced on big toe
of all consequence) I begin to reverse all the damage the spin of
the earth has ever caused us.
Beer (and its adherents) must surmount
the requisite disorder, seek supreme integration, enhance the interface
between the shifting territories of mind and environment. Beer has
magnitude but no location--brain alcohol concentrations cannot be
measured accurately--fumes of spiritus, an unfixed point of energy,
a long stream of deep-in-thought urine. Like there is no end except
in nausea, the nausea of knowing. And knowing that the result of
discovery is just more discovery. In awe of this immensity we discover
the collapse of all phenomena around each morsel of knowledge with
a million more concentric circles of knowledge spinning wildly about
it and just as many spinning concentrically within it. Vertigo is
the physical manifestation of this knowledge, this location.
There's a map on the back of the beer
label which guides my nocturnal circumambulations. I keep it in
my breast pocket.
1. Who stares "wide-eyed into the darkness" to "dream a new blazingly
magnificent world which collapses as soon as the light is turned
on." Henry Miller. Henry Miller on Writing. New Directions,
2. "John Dos Passos...frequently passed Crane tramping across the
[Brooklyn] Bridge late at night, usually in a drunken state." Brooklyn:
People & Places, Past & Present. Grace Glueck & Paul Gardner.
Harry N. Abrams, NY ,1991.
3. "I used to take long walks at dawn in New York." Jose Padua.
"New York." Unpublished poem, 1997.
4. The word "urquell" in Pilsner Urquell, the Czech beer
from Plzen, is based on the German word ur meaning "the source of."
5. "The eruption of lived pleasure [which] is such that in losing
myself, I find myself; forgetting that I exist, I realize myself."
Guy Debord. Panegyric. Verso, London, 1991.
6. Theophrastus Bombastus Paracelsus 1494-1541 was an alchemist
who died from alcohol poisoning, his alleged elixir of life. But
then again people have always died of excesses and deprivations
of almost anything and everything.
7. "Jar in Iranian Ruins Betrays Beer Drinkers of 3500 B.C." John
Noble Wilford. New York Times, 1994. Additionally, the drinking
of beer through straws was revived in the 1970s when some amateur
ale strategists claimed this tactic increased the inebriatory effects;
something about less oxygen and more efficiency of internal organ
9. "Alcohol Consumption." Mark Keller. Encyclopedia Britannica,
11. Bruce Clifton. "Alcohol: America's Secret Weapon," from Exercise
with Alcohol. Skull Varnish Press, Portland, OR. 1994
13. "Temporizing," Jordan Zinovich. ALLey TRACts, Brooklyn, 1997.
14. The long bone in a human's arm extending from thirst to shoulder,
to elbow, ulna, radius, carpus, metacarpus, phalanx, and around
the circumference of the beer glass. Palm, the Belgian beer, is
properly poured into a glass seemingly cast from the perfect breast.
15. A composite of several real people.
16. "If the flower [uneven beerhead] is sufficiently beautiful,
it will not quickly fade." Michael Jackson. The New World Guide
to Beer. Courage Books, Philadelphia, 1988.
17. William Shakespeare.
18. Henry Miller.
19. "Light doth seize my brain / With frantic pain." William Blake.
20. Something that relieves without curing.
22. Glueck & Gardner.
23. Budweis was the "beer of kings" while Anheiser-Busch's Budweiser
became the "king of beers."
24. Anthony Rose in a 1959 Scientific American, quoted in
25. Glueck & Gardner.
26. "...intoxication is called on to provide an imitation of a state
that the shaman is no longer capable of attaining otherwise." Shamanism:
Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy. Mircea Eliade. Rutledge & Kegan
Paul, London, 1964.
27. Glueck & Gardner.
28. Glueck & Gardner.
30. John Ciardi, 1916-1986, American poet, critic and translator
31. George Bishop, The Booze Reader, Sherbourne Press, Los
32. New York City law prohibits the consumption of alcoholic beverages
from open receptacles on public streets. To imitate tolerance police
officers would--until 1994 (when suddenly enforcement of so-called
quality of life regulations became imperative)--turn a blind eye
as long as one kept the beer bottles sheathed in a paper sack. Bottles
were covered in visual prophylactics in much the same way that Islamic
women's faces are veiled; to prevent temptation from infecting the
souls of those devoted to the immaculate machinations of control.
34. "My people must drink beer...Many battles have been fought and
won by soldiers nourished on beer." Frederick the Great, King of
Prussia, quoted in "Alcohol: America's Secret Weapon." Clifton.
37. David Arnold. Colonizing the Body. University of California
Press. Berkeley, 1993.
43. I "lived" for several years in Flint, Michigan, a ruthless,
sad, ugly place, where I too observed necklaces of brightly lit
bars wrapped around the fat necks of auto plants.
44. As quoted in Clifton.
45. Although Eliade in Shamanism insists "intoxication is
a mechanical and corrupt method of reproducing 'ecstasy,' being
'carried out of one self." In other words, a sad imitation of shamanism.
47. Zymurgy is the "branch of applied chemistry dealing with fermentation,
as in...breweing." Random House Webster's College Dictionary.
Random House, NY, 1995 48. "Cannibalism & Amnesia," Rob Hardin.
ALLey TRACts, Brooklyn, 1997.
49. One beer may contain as many as 60 taste extracts.
50. This phase "results from an indirect effect of alcohol in suppressing
the function of inhibitory brain centres...The physical counterparts...are
unsteady gait, disturbed sensory perceptions and inability to make
fine discriminations." Keller.
51. Which "produces a sense of spaciousness, purity and clarity."
Jan Hoogstad, Space-Time-Motion. SDU Uitgeverij, Gravenhage, 1990.