The Surreality of Mark McCloud
San Francisco is my favorite city. Its topography is graced with abundant green parks, the air is clear and practically smog-free, and it’s the cultural epicenter for some of the most brilliantly colored freaks and weirdos I’ve ever had the privilege to count as friends. This is the story of a weirdo of considerable notoriety: Mark McCloud.
Not ringing bells for you? Well, Mark’s the guy who, for the last decade, has raised the eyebrows/suspicions of the US government for having 33,000 tabs of LSD in his house. You know, like you do. It’s blotter art, you see, a rare-but he insists perfectly legal-habit of framing these little decorated squares as part of his collection that spans half a century.
Rare indeed. So when my dear friend and fellow Prankster Sunny Cronn peers over her morning coffee at Homeskillet on Market Street, and asks if I want to go to Mark’s McCloud’s house after these eggs-it doesn’t take me long to respond. “In.” We throw the parking break up on one of those treacherously spiny hills and wander up the steps to a respectable two-story Victorian. The front door is already open. Mark McCloud greets us in the entryway, wearing a maroon striped button up over a pastel air-brushed t-shirt. A lanyard with a set of gold keys and a pair of tortoise shell glasses hang precariously around his neck. He shifts his paper coffee cup into his left hand and greets us. “Just got back from the shop. How’s it going,” he says in a deep gravelly voice as he beckons us into his study. Walking in, I inhale the mossy scent of marijuana and pristinely kept high-grade nostalgia. Limited edition concert posters and 50 year-old spiderman figurines combine with palpable blotter art along the walks, bookcases, stairwells and ceilings. Albert Hoffman, Timothy Leary and Ram Dass’ faces smile back at us.
Mark first leads us over to a Grateful Dead poster printed on a transparent background; Bob Fried’s handiwork. “They hung two of these in the windows of the head shop. This is one of them,” he smiles, reminiscing.
The way McCloud rolls trivia off his tongue in excessive detail is overwhelming. One minute he’d be discussing the work of Mati Klarwein (his chapel inspired Alex Grey to create COSM, didn’t you know?), the next he’d make a valiant attempt to convince us that George Washington was a hermaphrodite.
I ask him about his extensive collection of blotter art. He says he initially collected the tabs in the fridge, the first 10 years or so, but then he would notice his supply dwindling. So he began to frame them, since you’d “choke on the frame if you tried to swallow
If you’re keeping it for posterity, people always try to talk you out of it, because the learning trip is always much more important than the posterity.
“Acid saved my life,” Mark says. With a little prodding he continues. “Because when you die, to access the same body you left, is a very tricky thing. I could have never learned how to do that if it weren’t for LSD. And so I would have had to reincarnate, very unpleasant. And so I was allowed to actually reenter my body again, a few millions of years later, but that’s why. That’s why you want to be on LSD when you die.” Taken aback by this statement, I don’t know whether to ask exactly HOW he died and returned to his body, or just keep my mouth shut. I chose the latter. “Aldous Huxley died on the day Kennedy was assassinated, and he chose to go out on 250 mics of LSD,” Mark continues, nonplussed. “He asked Timothy Leary to shoot him up with it. Leary said, ‘Why don’t you have your wife do it like she always does!’ And that’s what he did.’” Mark briefly touches on meeting Timothy Leary, and how his biggest query revolved around Leary’s stint as a musician when he played with Jimi Henrix.
Oh, more trivia you didn’t know? Allow McCloud to fill you in. “Leary made an album with Hendrix, John Sebastian and Tommy Smothers. Leary sang and Jimi played bass, John was on lead guitar and Tommy on drums. And the reason they picked those guys is because they were all busted for marijuana.” Mark walks over to a cabinet and pulls out this unicorn of an album. On the cover is Leary’s smiling face inside what looks like a USA coat of arms, with the album title, ‘You Can Be Anyone This Time Around,’ circling Leary’s image. “The musical equivalent of a full-blown LSD trip,” according to the liner notes.
So what’s the best concert McCloud ever attended? “The Hendrix show I slept through,” he explains. “I was in a boarding school at the time, and every six weeks they’d let me loose for three days. There was a midnight flight from LA to SF for three dollars. The Hendrix show was two bucks. We bought tickets for both nights. The first night I saw the whole show, but the second night I couldn’t keep it together. So I dreamed through the Hendrix show. Right there on the floor, you know? I imagine that’s probably the best.”
“What was the hardest thing for you to find that you really wanted, and then you got it?’’ I’ve been waiting to ask him this one. I anticipate him pointing at one of these printed blotters on the wall, or grab something surreal from a hidden vault behind Hoffman’s framed photograph. “There’s only one thing that rare,” he says. “And if you don’t know what it is, then keep looking.” Somewhat deflated, I glance around the room again, waiting for something to jump out at me. “What’s the MEANING behind all these forms and shapes that seem to line up into these patterns?,” he continues, maybe sensing my disappointment. “People want to know the true mechanism that’s making everything function, and work, and how it all ties together, and who they are in relation to it. That’s what they’re doing here. And when they GET that, it’s called Rapture. Or one word for it, here, is Rapture. But that’s what everyone is looking for. The GOLD.”
“Can you experience it more than once?” I ask.
“Can you experience it ONCE is the question. Are you READY? Because that’s the only time you will see it. When you gamble everything to see it. That’s how it is. You’ve gotta give everything to pay the door fee. And the guy who walked in the door will never be the same as the guy who came out. So you have to give that up, you know. That’s easy for us. We’re tired of that hustle, right?” He glances around the room at each of us.
“So it’s hard to exist on this plane of existence after having that experience?”
Mark turns to me animatedly: “That’s the problem! Is how do you fit a love so big into this little place?” How indeed.
As we say goodbye to Mark McCloud and walk down the steps of his Victorian home, I find myself committing the address to memory. You never know when you’ll be in need of another universal truth.
To read more about Mark McCloud and his collection, check out this great article written by Vice:
Vice Magazine: Mark McCloud Has 30,000 Tabs of LSD in His House
This post was written by Lindsay Kent aka ‘Scribbles’.