James Kent: How did your success with the ‘Magic Mushroom Growers Guide’ steamroll into a career?
Terrence McKenna: As the new age got going, say ’80,’81, ’82, I just found it incredibly irritating, and I was busy consulting and staying home and I also had small children, but I just thought it was such a bunch of crap.
JK: Talking about crystals and such?
TM: Yeah, the crystal, aura, past life, channeling business and I said, you know, why don’t these people check out drugs? What’s the matter with them, my god? And finally someone persuaded me to say that in a public situation, and it’s been constant ever since.
JK: Could you be more specific about ‘saying that in a public situation’?
TM: Arthur Young invited me to give a talk at the Berkeley Institute for the Study of Consciousness and there were people there who were from Esalen. So from that came the invitation to Esalen, and there was a very far out guy at Esalen who has since died who really believed in psychedelics. And all through the ’80s, which were kind of a Dark Age for this stuff, they held a conference every year and paid everybody to come. Anybody who was a researcher in psychedelics or who even had strong opinions… and we all got to know each other. That’s what Esalen did; it actually created a community by bringing us together from all over the country once or twice a year. Stan Grof, Gordon Wasson, John Lilly, Dave Nichols, Myron Stolaroff, Rick Yensen… virtually anybody who now has any visibility in the movement got to know everybody else during those years. And we all proceed in different directions, you know. I mean, Sasha is the great synthetic chemist, I’m the plant advocate, Grof is the transformative Freudian… people have their own bailiwick.
JK: So what do you hate most about what you do? What just burns you up every time?
TM: United Airlines. (Laughs) I’m getting nutty on the subject of how much I hate to fly ’cause I’m convinced that these air flights, especially the ones to Europe where they fly really high, you know, they recirculate the air, and if one person has the flu… So you arrive in Hamburg and you’re supposed to get your act together and give a talk and you realize you’re getting the flu. I hate the flying. I’m a hermit. I mean, my natural inclination is to be alone. I have been alone at times in my life for very long periods of time with perfect contentment. So it’s kind of strange that I’m cast in this very public role.
JK: What would you most like to spend your time doing?
TM: I like doing some kind of research with a lot of books and a quiet setting. I mean, if I were not me for instance, I would go to a company like Voyager in L.A. and say, ‘Hire me to build a CD-ROM of Ulysses.’ And I’d take the text and put it on the surface and then line up the streets of Dublin and all the stuff behind. That’s the kind of thing I like. I like tight, meticulous work. I’ve had jobs like insect specimen preparer in museums and art conservation and all these little, tiny, nitpicky kind of things. I really like that ’cause I can think when I have a job like that.
This is actually from Part 2 of this interview. If you’re interested, Terence talks a bit about how he became an unassociated academic, his youth (bullies included), and his intellectual training in Part 1.