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Terence McKenna (1946-2000)
Terence McKenna on Marshall McLuhan
Terence McKenna: The Last Interview (1999)
The following are excerpts from interviews that I conducted with Terence McKenna in late October and early November of 1999, in preparation for a profile that appeared in the May 2000 issue of Wired. These interviews have also been edited and released on a CD, Terence McKenna: The Last Interview. Given McKenna's subsequent demise, I chose selections concerning his feelings about death and dying. The October interview was conducted in San Francisco just a few days before Terence underwent a craniotomy, and he therefore spoke a bit more frankly about his condition than during November, when I spent a week with him and his wonderful girlfriend Christie Silness during his sort-of recovery in Hawaii.
The comments have been edited and are not chronological; I have included my questions only when necessary. Perhaps someday the full text of our talks will be made available. In Hawaii, we had an especially entertaining routine: during the day, I would ask him the professional interviewer questions, and in the evening, after he had napped, we would get thoroughly baked and ramble through the wilds of esoterica and bibliomania. The evening chats were recorded on DAT; they need serious editing, but there's some mind-bending loops in there.
I first met Terence in the early 90s, and I feel blessed to have been able to spend some time getting to know him a little better during the last six months of his life. I found him kind, generous, and unpretentious, although he clearly had a potent dark side. He was even more brilliant and well-read than I had expected, with fistfuls of references at his command. But most remarkable for me was how he seemed to face his situation: with an admirable blend of humor, compassion, stoicism, and a willingness to stay open and awake in the midst of the big awful questions without trying to console yourself with answers. And that, for my money, is the ultimate lesson of the psychedelic path -- not the Gaian mind, or the onrushing apocalypse, or those ridiculous elves, but a radical openness to ambiguity and the unknown.
At one point I asked him what advice he had for someone about to down 100 ml of potent ayahuasca alone in a rainforest. His words were spare, the utter opposite of the guru some made him out to be: "Pay attention. And keep breathing." Words to live by, until you stop.