An Interview with Free Will Astrologer Rob Brezsny
by Os Davis
Rob Brezsny is undoubtedly the world's busiest spiritual janitor. In addition to juggling seven careers and twice-weekly appointments as surrogate husband for anywhere from five to 27 wives, his weekly duties include writing love letters to 10 million worldwide. Flipping through the local version of some 120 publications now graced with the presence of "Free Will Astrology," each of the zodiac's 12 signs can fortify their seven-day spiritual quests with poetic bon mots of goodwill: Leos' liberated lust may be encouraged, while Tom Landry's words of wisdom are bestowed upon Libras. Capricorns may be called upon to imitate the bull elk, and Geminis warned away from smashing bricks over their heads.
Actively preaching the virtues of "pronoia" (the mirror-opposite of "paranoia") in the age of Taurus remains top priority on Brezsny's agenda. Through turns as "hippie bum," Jungian beatnik funk band frontman, bullshit artist of the first magnitude, poet, reverse panhandler, astrologer, performance artist, proud pop of nine-year-old future trickster Zoe, and finally novelist via the fat head trip entitled The Televisionary Oracle, this macho feminist is now seeking election--or, more accurately, appointment--to the as-yet non-existent cabinet position of Fool Czar.
On the eve of his arrival in Albuquerque for a booksigning at Bound To Be Read, Weekly Alibi spoke with the alternative astrologer about his beliefs, his take on male menstruation, and a masterplan that wishes "to show what a moral vision would look like if it were rooted in the quest for beauty, truth, love, pleasure, and liberation instead of order, control, politeness, fear, and self-denial."
On page 41 of The Televisionary Oracle, the world ends. [The passage reads: "Everyone in the world/secretly died of disinfotainment/while watching a holocaust/of boring love/on TV/during a nuclear war/back in 1999,/and therefore/WE ARE ALL LIVING IN PARADISE/AT THIS VERY MOMENT!"] Is this just a metaphor or is it something you honestly believe in?
Fortunately, it ended and we are now living in paradise. You gotta understand, I believe in living in the liminal spaces as much as possible, those places in-between which in the book are called "the Drivetime." Most people are divided into two schools, one of which puts all of their attention on the spiritual realm, and the other group of people regards only the material world as real. I like to be in that in-between state where things are neither real nor imaginary. So that statement comes from that location.
There's a lot of stuff in The Televisionary Oracle about past lives; do you have any insight into what might be your future life?
When I first started to listen to the voice that was telling me how to write this book--it was from Rapunzel Blavatsky [The Televisionary Oracle's female protagonist] and I didn't quite know what to make of it; I still don't--in one version of the story from which this book originated, Rapunzel Blavatsky contacted me from her future incarnation in 2071 and urged me to basically transcribe her story as she told it to me, and it was not clear to me whether I was still alive at that time or could become eligible to be alive at that time by virtue of this connection with her.
So the book is not fiction and it's not non-fiction: it's in-between.
There you go.
How would you like to be remembered?
I think I'd like to be remembered as a person who mastered, embodied and illustrated the incredibly difficult task of being utterly selfish and utterly generous at the same time.
What should your epitaph read?
"Inflamed by The Goddess, which was 10 times as strong as he ever thought possible."
What does your grandchildren's world look like to you?
I don't believe in predestination. I don't believe that the stars or any other forces have already shaped our future. I think it's up in the air. I think it's unimaginable. I think that there are technologies and developments in the human psyche that are completely impossible to imagine. [The Televisionary Oracle's text includes Arthur C. Clarke's postulation that "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."] A hundred years from today, what we call "telepathy" will be so widely accepted and used that we will laugh at those small minds that say now it's not possible. I look at the history of science, and again and again we reach a point where the priests of science declare that everything has been learned, everything has been discovered, and that we are the ultimate arbiters of reality. Each time, 100 or 200 years later, we laugh at what has come before. I think the aliens among us will be revealed at that time--we call them "extra-terrestrials," but I don't happen to believe in extra-terrestrials. They are the denizens of our realm that have shared this place with us for millennia. Some people have called them "angels" or "the little people" and they've been here all the time, but I think they will be communed with at that time.
What will you tell your grandchildren about our era?
I'll tell them that we lived through the apocalypse. Not the typical apocalypse, but an apocalypse in both its degraded senses. "Apocalypse" in the modern sense means "the utter destruction of the order." Its ancient meaning is "revelation, resurrection, or great awakening." I think both of those apocalypses are happening right now as we speak, but they're not happening in the way the media acknowledges. [They're happening] on a very personal level for each of us.
What do you see as the pinnacle of success?
To listen to my muses with faith and tenderness, to translate the messages that come through to the higher portions of myself. One Gnostic Gospel said, "If you don't give birth to your genius, your genius will destroy you. If you give birth to your genius, you will become a god." I think we all have that capacity. We each have a quality of genius in us. The ultimate pinnacle is to create a home for that genius to survive.
Is it true that you're campaigning for President?
No, not for President. For a cabinet post called the "Fool Czar." It's analogous to the Drug Czar. The difference is that I'll be working to combat the hyperdignified literalism that effects every level of our society. I would be the Administration's first level of defense against taking itself too seriously.
What is your platform and is it similar to the one used in your 1988 campaign for city council in Santa Cruz?
Well, that was a more serious campaign, so I had to control myself to some degree.
Was it difficult?
The hardest part was that I was drawing so much support that I was afraid I was going to win and face the prospect of sitting in a hard chair seven hours a day.
With a bunch of sober men.
Right. And so at that point, I took out an ad in the local paper telling the truth about myself, and that maybe they'd better not vote for me unless they understood.
A little auto-erotic mud-slinging then. What sort of campaigning are you doing this time?
One of my first acts was to defend the right to reverse-panhandling [an activity that involves Brezsny standing at the exit ramp of a major highway dispensing five-dollar bills while holding a sign reading "I need to give; I love to help; please take my money"]. That's part of a holiday I would create called "Give Too Much Day." We would all celebrate that day by flinging praise at the beach, giving unwarranted gifts, or expressing generosity in various ways to just about everyone we meet. There would be a holiday called "Unhappy Hour," a two-hour blowout when people would have license to moan and complain and bitch about every single thing that's driving them crazy.
And at the bars, you'd pay twice as much for a beer.
Right. There'd be a little self-punishment involved. The point being that having spewed all their venom in one little neatly-packaged ritual, they'd be free to enjoy sweeter moods and more broad-minded visions the rest of the time.
Any plans for the next book?
I'm waiting for the news of that to be revealed to me during the course of the "Beauty and Thrift Tour."
There is a strong vein of the irreverent school of writing running through The Televisionary Oracle, shades of Robert Anton Wilson's Illuminati trilogy, Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Kurt Vonnegut's works ... are any of these authors influential to your writing?
I think one of the strongest currents running through me these days is that of "pronoia," the opposite of paranoia: the sneaking suspicion that the whole world is conspiring to shower you with blessings. To me, that's my assignment, to spread that benevolent infection right now. I think Wilson certainly--in his own way--goes after that as well. Vonnegut seems pretty pessimistic ...
Could you give us a neat 50-words-or-fewer summary of the novel?
It's the benevolent kidnapping of an aging rock star by an ancient, all-women school who, as part of their effort to save the world from Apocalypse, has the intention of converting selected men to the glory of embodying menstruation and becoming lesbian men.
Your assistant at Free Will Astrology made it quite clear to me that you are in fact "a male lesbian who menstruates monthly." Can you explain this a little bit?
I don't shed blood, but the ritual of menstruation for me is a time to completely drop out of the routine for three or four days, to enter back into eternity, to regard as unimportant all my worldly concerns and ambitions and [also] during that time to meditate on what needs to die in my life, what aspects of my life have become a parody, what aspects I'm just imitating blindly without thinking about whether it's still appropriate for me, what kinds of ideas or structures I'm holding onto ...
Is the experience described in the novel as "feeling the power of those who bleed but do not die"?
Yes. The point is to die a little every day. St. Paul--curiously--said something like "Die daily in order to prevent those huge traumatic deaths." Die a little bit every day, and life doesn't have to visit disaster upon you.
Yours must be the first press packet to describe its subject as "really horny"--does this have something to do with your doctrine of "macho feminism?"
What do you say to people that call macho feminism a contradiction?
Well, I think it is a contradiction, but I aspire to be a living paradox. That's the Tao, the in-between, the Drivetime: taking on things that seem to be contradictory, but embracing both. For example, macho feminism is about a man who is extremely sensitive and reverent to women, who aspires to be a good listener for them and to fight for their political rights. To be a great feminist, in other words, while not sacrificing any aspects whatsoever of the most robust, virile masculinity.
Your bio lists one of your many occupations as "sacred janitor." What exactly is a "sacred janitor"?
"Sacred janitor" means someone who takes seriously the task of helping people clean up in every sense of the word, whether that's the literal physical environment they live in or karmic consequences they've created by virtue of their decisions. The sacred janitor helps people clean up after themselves.
And this is what you're doing in your columns.
Exactly. It also derives from my actual experience as a janitor in restaurants.
You are an actual astrologer, right?
Yet you've called your column a "love letter to the 12 sun signs." Do you apply any star-chart findings to your writing?
Sure, but--and this is something I confronted when I first started as a horoscope columnist--I always hated typical astrology columns. They were a bastardization of what astrology really was. And when I took on the job, I decided "Well, somebody's got to do this dirty job; it might as well be me," someone with real writing skills and who has the intention of not filling people up with ideas that the stars can tell their destinies. I didn't want people to be full of superstitions, to expect that the worst is going to happen to their future. But I am certainly a serious astrologer; I've studied it for 20 years and I love astrology. Part of my rule is to reshape astrology to stimulate people's imaginations and activate their willpower.
What do you say to professional astrologers who complain that you're subverting the dominant astrology writing paradigm?
At this point, I very seldom get criticized by astrologers. I did when I started and for about 10 years, but at this point, most astrologers are really happy with what I'm doing. I think any smart astrologer understands that astrology is an art, not a science. It needs vigorous imagination to squeeze life into it.
It seems to me that your teachings could be easily pigeonholed into the category of "New Age." How do you feel about New Age system?
I love it and I hate it. I think we need New Age, because it introduces a wild hodgepodge of spiritual information that breaks up the logjam of Judeo-Christian dogma. I think it's very useful to have all kinds of crazy ideas of reality running around.
Why was the name of the column was changed?
As part of my meditation system, I believe in the power of making radical breaks with the past. Whether that was when I moved out of Santa Cruz and abandoned the small-town celebrity status that I had--to get the hermetically-sealed cave-like quality I needed to write the book--or whether I left behind my career as a musician at the height of it, I've sought not to become too attached when I need to carve out a new path.
But as a cynic, couldn't I say that the name change was merely due to the fact that you were paying lawyers too much to protect the name's copyright?
That's also an aspect of it, but when I left my music career, I was also tired of having to deal with lawyers at MCA, who wanted me to change the lyrics to some of my songs ... there's always a reason to do something, and certainly that was one of them.
Did you ever think you would be read regularly by so many people?
I think I suspected it a few years ago, but for many years--especially when we only had two or three other papers beside my original publication--I never considered it.
Where was your first astrology column published?
It was published in 1978 in Good Times in Santa Cruz. I was just a bum, a hippie bum. The astrologer that they had quit in a huff because of low pay and I found a classified ad in the back of Good Times when I was looking for a used bike.
What's your stand on The Goddess? Do you in fact believe in Her?
I always question that question of "believing" in something like the Goddess. I live with The Goddess; She's a daily part of my life.
So if Rob Brezsny and The Goddess wrote the Bible, what happens on Day One? In the beginning ..."
In the beginning, men and women were absolute equals."
Divine some precious pearls of wisdom from Rob Brezsny himself when he appears at Bound To Be Read to sign his novel The Televisionary Oracle, Friday, Sept. 15 at 7 p.m.