By Ron Lancia

Volume I: Elliptic Windows

In true Skull & Roses spirit of honoring the elders in our scene, here is a turn-of-the-century tale that involves the intersection of mythos and history. When we lost psychonaut Terence McKenna (see Food of the Gods or Jerry’s favorite, The Invisible Landscape) back in 2000, we held a memorial ceremony at a San Francisco club called the 7th Note, formerly known as Wolfgang’s and owned by Bill Graham. Born Wulf Wolodia Grajonca, Graham was given the nickname “Wolfgang” by his parents and escaped the Nazis in WW2 as part of a children’s transport from Germany to France before landing in the Bay Area and forever changing our scene. It seemed like the appropriate venue with a sacred quality worthy of Terence.

Our musical guest was Phil Lesh, and we invited Robert Hunter to be part of the event, as Hunter had an extensive online dialog with McKenna called Orfeo. Orfeo is ostensibly a reference to Monteverdi’s seminal opera that tells the story of the musician and poet Orpheus with his spellbinding lyre and lyrics, who travels to the underworld to bring back his dead bride.

Historically speaking, while it is true that Robert Hunter, born Robert Burns, played with Jerry as a teenager and was involved with the same Stanford experiments that included Ken Kesey before penning the flagship songs of the Grateful Dead, perhaps equally interesting is his lineage as the great-great grandson of 18th century poet Robert Burns, the national bard of Scotland, whose verses inspired the titles of two of the most well-known works of American literature, Of Mice and Men and The Catcher in the Rye.

We were understandably floored when we received a message from Hunter the very same morning letting us know that while his shoulder prevented him from performing, he instead wanted to share with us an original work written for the ceremony called “Words for Terence”. We presented the poem to Phil who read it onstage, and I will leave it with you here, dear reader, for your interpretation:

A wealthy soul hath he
a bellicose capacity for wonder
as braving the dread
Tactility of infinite ice
he astonishes angels at their orisons
and consorts with actual imps
in virginal dimensions both holy and obscure

There is no tongue he does not speak
chemic, mathematic, philosophical rap
nor thunder rattle
No Medusa hath he left uncourted
while she sits beside elliptic windows
contemplating Asia in the setting sun

Salutations thou who was and is and is not
Ave Atqua Vale
There is no death
only final preparation to discover
that all numbers are multiples of one.

Robert Hunter 12:13:00

Ron Lancia is a school teacher in the San Diego area—as a matter of fact, he was Schoolteacher of the Year recently—and he knows stuff. He’ll be one of WON’s regular contributors.