LATELY STEWART Brand's dreams have been so boring : duty dreams, overhead phone calls, editing the same chapter ad infinitum . . . Oh, there's the occasional flying dream --those are the best.
He dreams no more of the pretty little Indian girl he married, nor of the Great Bus Race in the mountainside meadows above Santa Fe, which was going to be one bus at a time against the clock, but Kesey said that was a two-bit race and it had to be all buses together, and so, acid-laced, they careened across the pasture like berserk pigs, revving blindly over pup tents in the dusty din. No, no thanks, not that. Nor does he dream now of his dad, Arthur (Bob) Brand, sitting in the basement hamshack back in Illinois, night after night searching for strangers on the gleaming World War II radio equipment -- "Hello CQ, CQ, CQ" . . . seek you, seek you, seek you . . . "This is W9HOA calling CQ . . . "
As for exalted dreams, Stewart Brand hasn't had one in years. When you're trying to churn out 608 pages in less than six months, and Random House is nervously waiting to put 100,000 sight-unseen copies in the stores by Christmas, and you've just gone to your cold TV dinner, exaltation is elusive.
At $12.50 a soft-bound copy, Brand's"Next Whole Earth Catalog" will be hard-pressed to match the success of its famous predecessor, a publishing phenomenon (1.6 million copies sold) and winner of the 1972 National Book Award for Contemporary Affairs. There was a flap at the time -- the New York Review of Books crowd was appalled and Gary Wills resigned from the jury, protesting the catalogS very claim to bookness -- but the citation called it a Space Age Walden, and one NBA judge predicted, "In 100 years, the Last Whole Earth Catalog probably will be the only book of 1971 to be remembered."
Predictably, both catalogs reveal much of the paradoxical man who created them. They duplicate his flight from boredom, his lust to know , his wonder at the world. Like him, they are earnest and prankish, skeptical and optimistic, eminently practical and charged with the dreams of boys.
At 41, with his six-foot frame, craggy nose and thinning blond hair, Stesart Burrows Brand is no boy. For years people have been telling him he looks like Max Von Sydow, but occasionally his blue eyes take on a manic gleam -- as when dropping a bike five feet oonto a cement floor to savor its resilience -- and then he looks more like the Joker in Batman and Robin. Just now he looks harassed; with 300 pages and 50 days to go before his catalog is due at the printer, he is harassed. "Bassstards," he mutters, referring to tax collectors at multiple levels of government.
Brand is sitting in his Sausalito, Calif., office, a plywood cubicle opening onto a dirt volleyball court; normally, this is where he edits his iconoclastic journal, "The CoEvolution Quarterly." He is wearing Levis, no shirt and a yellow mesh cap his fished out of the bay because it reminded him of one Robert Shaw wore in "Jaws."
Everything in the office save Brand himself is veiled in dust. On the walls are Whole Earth schedules, a blueptint of his 30-foot sloop, some snapshots and a large map of the ocean floor. The knototy bookshelves include "Computer Graphics," "Chaucer and His World," "The Hog Book," a 1902 Sears catalog, "To Be A Woman in America," and "Indigenous Africian Architecture." Missing is Levi-Strauss' "Origin of Table Manners," which Jerry Brown snitched last time he stopped by. "I was out at the time," says Brand. "People told me when I got back. I said, 'You let him have it?! I'll never see it again.' He'll be carrying it around and someone will say, 'Oh, you're reading Levi-Strauss,' and he'll say, 'You haven't read it? Here, read it.' And it's gone."
Brand's cubicle is the smallest in a patchwork of a half-dozen rooms backing onto Sausalito's houseboat ghetto. Here, working 70-hour weeks, fueled by Diet Dr. Peppers and an occasional joint, he and a crew of 20 are editing, designing and typewetting their megacatalog. The staff, mostly in their late 20s and early 30s, is as incestuous as it is congenial; some livie together, two were formerly married to each other, and until recently Stewart's current person-friend worked among them. "Steward runs the best playpen in West," says production manager Anne Herbert.
"If anyone wonders why there are going to be a lot of 'plaited sling cords' in this catalog," yells someone at a layoug board, "It's because they fit." A repairman hovers over the IBMSelectric Composer, oblivious to the wails of Linda Ronstadt. . . "I've been chea ted, been mis-treat -ed" . . . Work halts for afternoon volleyball, halts again for a mass inspection of the office caterpillar-turned-butterfly.
Amidst it all is Brand himself, quietly fussing over every page. "Good skippers don't raise their voices, don't need to," he says in another context. Here he arranges a spread featuring Japanese bamboo scaffolding, there juxtaposes a composting toilet and a septic tank. And constantly, in his cramped handwriting, he dashes off a flurry of critiques of the hundreds of publications he must scan for possible entry in his catalog. "Makes me want to learn math" . . . "Derivative garbage" . . . For all the help he is receiving, the "Whole Earth Catalog" remains incontestably a Stewart Brand production. Final editing, as he says, is "fiercely hierarchical."
As a sickly kid growing up in Rockford, Ill., the youngest of four children, Brand knew all about hierarchies. His father was an engineer-turned-ad-man with a basement full of tools and radio gear. "I couldn't bear to learn anything from him because he'd give these really tiresome lectures," says Brand, "but I guess I picked up his catalog habits. tHe shopped exclusively in catalogs, usually manically so."
Brand's mother was a bright, forceful woman whose own father had made a bundle in wholesale hardware, leaving the Rockford Brands rich enough to send Stewart first to a spiffy private day school and later to Exeter. Summers were spent amid the high white pines at Higgins Lake in Michigan, where his clan gathered in sequestered Victorian houses -- "a rich tribal scene," he remembers, featuring assorted family drunks, a certain amount of intermarriage, and "strolling off into the woods and having nothing bad happen." It is a tableau Brand associates with the storied Michigan summers of another Illinois boy, Ernest Hemingway.
At Exeter, Brand "smiled a lot," garnered a B-plus average, and read enough Steinbeck to hear the siren call of the bohemian West. "I wanted to live like that," he says now. "And here I am." He was all set to apply to the University of Idaho to pursue a Ph.D. in forest-firefighting when an Exeter teacher suggested he try Stanford first. Why not?
In Palo Alto, the world flew open. He met Aldous Huxley, who convinced him he wanted to major in biology: he weekended in Big Sur, where the first pre-Esalen encounter groups were just taking shape; and through a girl friend he began hanging out in North Beach with keepers of the late -beatnik flame. "Everything about me -- who I am and what I think and how I live -- started iin that place."
During a two-year Army hitch following graduation, Brand wangled himself a job as a Pentagon photographer. Believing "they were having adventures galore over there," he was anxious to join the American advisors who were just then starting to descend on Vietnam. When he learned that the assignment would require another three years in the Army, he let it go. "After that, the war went by eithout any input or concern from me at all. Our attitude was if you fight it, you feed it."
For the next decade his life was a page from Kerouac. He camped out in cars, in a Sausalito houseboat, in a Santa Fe steeple, in a $20-a-month apartment in North Beach, in a teepee pitched in Dick Alpert's backyard in Los Altos hills, in a speechwriter's office at the Department of Interior, in a succession of box trailers parked on friends' properties around Palo Alto. Now and then his parents would ask if he needed any money, and sometimes Stewart would say, "Yeah, I suppose," and in the mail would come $500, which would tide him over for months.
In 1963, a friend hired him to photograph the Warm Springs Indians in Oregon. Brand was astounded at what he found. "I wasn't sure if they were the good guys or the pathetic leftover bad guys or what the hell they were, but after I left there nothing looked the same."
He became an Indian freak, wandering through the West, reservation to reservation, a latter-day Edward Curtis, sometimes working on a slide-tape-film presentation called "American Needs Indians," sometimes just hanging around. In Sheridan, Brand met a half-blooded Ottawa from Washington, D.C., named Lois Jennings, and two years later they were married. "When I took her back to Michigan," he says, "they were amazed -- they thought all the Indians had died in the last century. It was a little embarrassing to have a live one looking at them and making judgments, probably."
"For Stewart," says Ken Kesey, "marrying Lois was like a Freedom Rider finding a black in Selma. He looked like a big blond Indian in those days -- tall, good posture, no fat. He thought of himself as a brave. Lois was a scuffling, 20th-century Indian woman -- short and brown, wore glasses, and a frown, and was trying to do as much as she could for her people. And for all people. They were not a very comfortable couple to be around, but there was a sense of dedication and purpose to the union that everybody recognized. I don't think Stewart could have got going without her, or some woman like her. He was able to run around and be Stewart Brand and think these off-the-wall thoughts while she was keeping the books and taking care of business."
Through his Indian network Brand had discovered peyote, and in 1962 in Palo Alto paid $500 to take part in a legal LSD experiment. He was prepped for weeks beforehand with a mixture of carbon dioxide and oxygen called "carbogen" -- "a wongo-zongo instant mystical universe-crossing experience," he recalls. But the main course, the acid, was a bummer, and Brand staggered through a very unpleasant day. A later acid trip inside an old Navajo hogan in Arizona, however, proved the most illuminating moment of his life. "It became a touchstone of a whole spiritual domain, one I can tap into or not." Brand rarely taps into it nowadays. "These are pretty secular years."
It was thus primed that Brand met Ken Kessey. He had read "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" and sensed that Kesey shared his own keen intuition about Indians. So he called him up in Palo Alto, and Kesey said, fine, come on down, and Brand did, showed him a 40-minute, two-projector slide-sound show he'd put together called "WAR-GOD" which stunned many who saw it with its fantastical mix of babies, bulldozers, Buddhas and bombs. Kesey liked it, and Brand in turn right away liked what he saw on Perry Lane, liked the casual consumption of drugs in front of strangers, liked especially Kesey himself -- "the most charismatic character I've ever met, bar none." It would be a few years yet before Tom Wolfe would put the Merry Pranksters on the Day-Glo map in "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test," but Kesey's Movie was well underway, and to Brand it was the best show in town. When Kesey moved to La Honda 15 miles from the coast, he followed.
Brand loved the outlaw aspect of the Kesey scene. "Everything we did they'd pass a law against. There was no sense of connection to the mainstream of the culture at all. You'd look at the news and it would be just one long hilarious laugh -- those poor suckers didn't know anything."
And yet . . . there was something in Brand that wouldn't, or couldn't, quite break loose, let go. He was ever a fringe Prankster, not quite on, not quite off the bus. it wasn't just that he was quieter, or never wore his hair long (hell, Kesey was bald), or dropped less acid than the rest. Rather, there was about him a quintessential straightness and for all his beads and buckskin, the Pranksters saw it shinning through. "Zonker" and "Cool Breeze" and "Mountain Girl" they called each other, but Brand they called "Stewart Brand," pronounced it as one word -- "Stewart-Brand."
"Stewart was ambitious in a way that the rest of us weren't," says Kesey. "He had the move and the drive to have made it in anything -- could have owned a big computer-programming company by now, or could have been, may still be, a senator. He wanted Stewart Brand on the coffee tables of the world. He looked at me as a phenomenon and at the stuff that was happening around me as a little storm created by my electricity. Though he observed us and sometimes rode with us, he's too much of a chief to travel in another person's pack. But everybody really felt that Stewart was a strong ally."
The most intoxicating triumph of that alliance was the Trips Festival. For a few hundred dollars, Brand hired the Longshoremen's Hall in San Francisco, enlisted Kesey, Bill Graham and a few others, called the newspapers, and for three nights one weekend in January 1966 settled back with the exquisite sense of having not the slightest idea of what might happen and let it cook.
"A drugless PSYCHEDELIC experience," said the press release. Check. There was grass acid poppers speed yellow jackets amyl nitrate . . . There were blazing, blinding lights, five count 'em, movie projectors, spots, black light, Day-Glo . . . There was music, including the Dead, then just another Palo Alto band, and speakers within speakers rocketing the sound, masks, costumes, banners, bodies wriggling, writhing, topless . . . There were Hell's Angels and "America Needs Indians" and an Olympic gymnast Brand had hired to come over from Berkeley to dive strobe-lit onto a trampoline in the crowd below, and old Sausalito bohemian things like a black guy breaking an egg on a blond girl's head, absolutely, and of course Kesey (in silver space suit and bubble helmet) and the Pranksters, who made it all soar. "The ultimate mind-blow," says Brand, "was that all the hippies came" -- Graham claimed a gate of 10,000 for the weekend -- "and simply nobody had any idea there were so many of them. You knew the 10 weird people you knew, and they knew maybe two or three others and you figured that was about it, but then you were in this hall and it was wall-to-wall weird people, and you thought, 'My God, there's more of us than of them!'" Wrote Tom Wolfe later, "The Haight-Ashbury era began that weekend."
For the next couple of years, Brand drifted through the higher realms. Why, he mused one afternoon on a half-dose of acid, haven't we seen a photograph of the whole earth yet? Zap! He promptly ordered 10,000 "Why Haven't We Seen . . . " buttons, put on a top hat and a sandwich board, and took his one-man show on the Berkeley-to-Harvard road. Brand stayed out there in the spheres, doing his thing, whatever it was, or wasn't, until his father's long dying triggered "the most effective idea I've ever had."
No, dream this, flying back to California from the funeral in Illinois, staring out the window "into dark nothing." He thinks of his friends scattered out there, groping like him to create new lives. He would like somehow to serve them. A Truck Store maybe, traveling the boondocks, samples of what's worth getting. And a mail-order catalog to go with it, straightforward, continously updated. More knowledge to the layman. Less privilege to the specialist.
The morning after his father's funeral, with $5,000 of his own money and a hand from a tiny nonprofit education corporation called the Portola Institute, Brand plunged ahead with his new idea. That summer, he and Lois bounced along the New Mexico-Colorado commune circuit in their scuzzy Dodge pickup -- the Truck Store -- peddling their skimpy wares, books mostly, and discovering how badly help was needed. "These kids were trying to be artists with their communities, but we were all starting from such abysmal ignorance. We didn't know practical-A from practical-B."
It was quickly apparent that the Truck Store was a idea whose time had not come.The catalog was a different story. The first issue of the "Whole Earth Catalog" appeared in the fall of 68 -- 1,000 copies, 61 haphazard tabloid-size pages. It sold out so fast that Brand upped the press run for the second edition, six months later, to 30,000 and that sold out, too. With the help of Lois and a small staff of hippies, he kept supplementing and updating the catalog, incorporating reader feedback, weeding out, adding . . . In a year, the printing had shot up to 160,000 and the catalog was making money. "It's embarrassing," Brand told Newsweek, one of several national publications by now on the case. So successful, in fact, was his catalog that Brand decided to kill it. In 18 months, he informed "Whole Earth" readers he would issue one final super-catalog and close shop. "If by that time there aren't people and ideas around doing a better job than us, we'll have failed." Hmm. "Copout," wrote one angry subscriber. "You're going to turn it off like some child of itinerant interests . . . GROW UP."
Brand included the letter in the 447-page "Last Whole Earth Catalog," which appeared as promised in mid-1971, Published by Portola and distributed by Random House, the first printing took off like a prairie fire, as did the next and the next and the next . . . It was the best-selling book of the year, and its example soon spawned several other small, independent publishers outside of New York. (Conversely, some of the smaller businesses listed in the catalog collapsed under the sudden deluge of orders for dulcimers or whatever.)
The critics loved it. Cheered Benjamin DeMott in Life. "The cumulative effect is exhilarating: in place of whining, pot-lit, doomed youth, as conjured up in a thousand solemn editorials, a different generation materializes -- one that has come to work as well as play . . ."
The month it was published, Brand threw a "Demise Party" for the Last" catalog at San Francisco's cavernous Palace of Arts and Sciences. Clad in a black monk's robe, he asked that the 1,500 guests decide what good to do with two hunderd $100 bills, about the amount it cost to bankroll "Whole Earth." The crowd haggled all night finally turning over most of the cash to an intinerant dishwasher who buried it in his back yard and later channeled it into a half-dozen well-meant projects. "That night was the first time I'd been really happy in about five years ," says Brand. He was 32.
Stewart had been in a state of growing, often acute anxiety since the inception of the catalog. That lovely old Acid Test high . . . winging into future-unknown . . . was replaced now by long-term contractual obligations and fearsome burdens of responsibility. During production of the "Last" catalog, he was going through a tank a week of nitrous oxide -- laughing gas. "There was a long period there when I could barely function, and in that sense the catalog was a work of fiction. There's this bright, sassy editor-reviewer sashaying through its pages, but that was all projected, it wasn't me. I was hideously dragging myself to work each day. The universe was on upside-down. "I tried one thing after another. 'Well, maybe it's the catalog that has me freaked,' so I stopped the catalog. I could see killing myself, that certainly would solve the problem. I could see also doing without my marriage, and though that was a really basic commitment that I wouldn't think of changing short of desperate circumstances. I began living the idea of maybe not being married, and by and by I wasn't married, wasn't doing the catalog, and wasn't f---ed up."
"If it's all right with you," signed off Brand at the end of the "Last" catalog, "I'm going back to the tree." He set up a nonprofit foundation to give away "Whole Earth's" $1.5 million profit (to, among others, the Black Panthers, a study of "environmental humor," a prostitutes' collective), and bought 55 acres in Nova Scotia, where he handbuilt a small house, using as his manual a Canadian government publication unlisted in the "Whole Earth Catalog." Back in the Bay Area, he "went slowly through the knothole" with a shrink, and wrote magazine articles about his latest enthusiasms -- computer spacewar games and cybernetic philosopher Gregory Bateso.
Bateson had become Brand's new intellectual mentor, successor in that capacity to Buckminster Fuller, whose notions of tools, access and whole systems had instructed Stewart's own whole-earth ventures. Bateson himself was after nothing less than an "ecology of the mind," another Bit Picture for Brand's album.
"Bateson doesn't have all the answers," says Brand in the "Next" catalog, "he just has better questions."
In 1973 Brand staged a New Games Tournament in the Martin headlands, where 4,000 people showed up to play "Softwar" and bash each other with foam sabres. "Perhaps our effort should be to civilize war rather than eliminate it," said Brand. But the best stage he had yet devised for his exotic brain dane remained the catalog, and soon he was back at the old stand, up-dating the "Last" and in 1974 adding an all-new "Epilog," in effect volume II. That same year he launched Son of "Whole Earth," The CoEvolution Quarterly.
Brand sees CQ as "a place to print any damn thing we please . . . whatever interests me," e.g., astropollution, botanic architecture, cross-generation marriage, interspecies music, backwoods ethics, punk medicine and, in the current issue, lesbian insemination. Brand has never been anti-technology, and there is a heavy accent in his magazine on "soft-tech" -- "gentle on its surroundings, responds to it, incorporates it, feeds it. A nuclear power-generating station doesn't qualify. A wooden windmill with cloth sails grinding local corn does.
"We get a lot of criticism that the magazine is just a California-smug, hig-and-groovy waste of time," says Brand of his digest-size, ad-free journal (25,000 subscribers). Asked to say something nice about CQ for a promitional mailing, Mother Earth News editor-publisher John Shuttleworth wrote back, "It was hot stuff as the 'Whole Earth Catalog,' but it's endlessly boring now."
Jerry brown hardly thinks so. Brand and Brown first met at the San Francisco Zen Center shortly after the governor took office. Not surprisingly, they got along. "They're the same age, they're hard workers, not decadent goof-offs, and both are somewhat aloof and puritanical," says Brand's friend and Brown's biographer, Orville Schell. "Their minds are similar, too; Stewart is more organized and better disciplined, but not open to quite as many zany possibilities as Brown."
Soon after they met, Brand began moonlighting for the governor as a special consultant, then was invited to spend a few months (at $2,000 a month) working full-time on Brown's personal staff. In Sacramento, he orchestrated a Whale Day, a Space Day, and -- in acknowledgement of his five-year antimetric campaign -- was appointed by Brown to California's Metric Conversion Council.
"What I remember best about his tenure up there," says Orville Schell, "is that he hooked the governor's office, which normally is a very boring, isolated place, into this grid of people who were on the forefront in a wide variety of fields. Brown is really the best he can be just sitting around talking all night with interesting people, and Stewart's gymnastical mind lent itself very well to that; Stewart made it an easier place."
Among those Brand hooked up Brown with were Bateson (whom the governor subsequently appointed to the University of California Board of Regents), astronaut Rusty Schweickart (now chairman of the California Energy Commission), 'huey 'johnson (head of the state's Department of Natural Resources), Jacques Cousteau, Marshall McLuhan and Ken Kesey. (Brand often printed transcripts of the late-night conversions in CQ -- "sort of the imperial scribe," says Schell).
There was one bump in the Brand-Brown relationship. Two years ago, Brand placed an ad in the Personals column of the Bay Guardian: "Excuse me. My name is Stewart. I publish and edit the "Whole Earth Catalog" and CoEvolution Quarterly and I work part-time on Governor Brown's staff . . . I'm looking for a damn fine, brainy, adventurous, good-looking woman, 23 to 33 probably. P.O. Box 925." Brown's people were not amused. "I don't think anyone ever came down on him very hard," says Brand's good friend Rusty Schweickart, "but they wondered why Stewart had to make the gubernatorial association -- does he really need that kind of honey to attract the fly? It didn't seem very thoughtful in terms of a possible backlash on Brown. I'd call it a momentary lapse in good judgment."
Brown: "I wouldn't say it bothered me. It's just that in politics you have to act in a way that conforms to fairly conventional standards. Free spirits are not generally welcome in the halls of government."
Brand himself says he has no regrets: "I'm interested in all forms of innovative broadcast. Besides, there were one or two sensational women."
Brand came away from his foray into state government with heightened respect for Jerry Brown: "What's so rare about him is that he doesn't have a big scheme about what everybody should be doing -- he's completely a process man. I'd be scared of a guy with that kind of talent who had any utopian vision whatsoever."
Brand says the Sacramento experience demysitified the political process for him, with one exception: "It was a high-velocity speed trip just to be around someone in that position. I'm sure the governor was a little surprised to discover what an obsequious, three-piece-suit-wearing, 'yessir-boss' underling I was." Says Kesey: "Stewart recognizes power. And cleaves to it." Brown says he hadn't noticed.
"The significant point that Stewart makes is the connection between technology and the environment," says the governor. "He is a leader in that process. He identifies and presents concepts not yet part of the conventional wisdom. His value to government is that he brings these ideas on the margin into contract with the mainstream bureaucratic center. And out of that confluence can come enhanced creative awareness."
"A successful new catalog might pay for many years of a continued CQ which could lose money with aplomb," Brand told the magazine's readers early this year. "An unsuccessful new catalog would decisively crash the business in flames -- not a bad way to go." With the catalog already moving toward its third and fourth printings, the crash seems unlikely.
Random House is pushing it as a survival manual for the '80s, relief from the economic crunch. Brand himself believes there are thousands of potential readers living in urban versions of the communes his Truck Store once served. Whatever its reaction to his born-again catalog, he believes his generation has acquitted itself well. "Neither dope nor revolution turned out to be the answer to anything. But with few exceptions, the kids of the '60s have not revised their premises much. There's been a courage of convictions that's held up admirably."
Some convictions held up better than others. "A lot of the stuff that was coming down in that whole 'Whole Earth' attitude was unrealistic," says Ken Kesey, "springing out of a kind of candy-coated Marxist attitude that wasn't going to work when you got right down to running a farm or business."
A pet conviction that Brand himself has shed is the gospel of self-sufficiency. "It was an illusion and a lie," he says. "Self-sufficiency doesn't exist unless you're a crystal. It's the opposite of what you have to do to survive. To survive you've got to have friends. Community."
At heart, though, he remains a loner. "Even when I've had the time, I've mostly hung out with myself. My idea of a good time is to go down and work on my boat." Says Orville Schell: "Work is what vitalizes Stewart; other things like having fun he enjoys but within real limits. He really lives in his mind." Adds Kesey: "He can deal with books about how to ecologically bring in your wood, but to imagine him in a group effort with a bunch of neighbors going up and cutting wood . . . it's just not going to happen."
"Is this the longed-for metamorphosis," Brand once wrote, "our brilliant wings at last? . . ." Could he fly, he would -- God knows he tries. "The other night I dreamt I was a member of a country and punk band. My instrument was a chainsaw. At the correct musical moment I would fire it up BRRAAAAPP!! and have at the stage itself."
Bloody likely, StewartBrand!
Ah, well, the wings of man come hard, and Stewart is anchored by sensible gravities at his core. Earthbound thus, he might as well get good at it, knowing it's always a kind of sleepwalking anyway. He will do what he can. Stay open. Stay foolish. Keep the transmitter on. "There's wisdom in the sheer asking of the question," he says. It is the discourse he loves, the tribal drum, much like his dad down in the basement . . . "CQ, CQ, CQ" . . . tapping into the star-spangled Midwest night.