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Virtually Reality: Phenomicon in Atlanta

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Article Provided by Steamshovel Press (

By Jim Keith

There are more things in the minds of men and conspiracy researchers than are dreamt of in your small philosophy, Bill Cooper.

After a depressing, rather macabre first night at the Phenomicon, a yearly conspiracy politics, cyberpunk, and marginals milieu gathering in Atlanta, where they had thoughtfully popped for my airline ticket and red-carpeted my every disoriented move, Saturday rose in mood and velocity with panel discussions and unscheduled gabfests, to climax in an impromptu party in the hotel bar around nine o’clock. Leu Bracken, Situationist-influenced fiction writer, called from the lobby to tell me that he and Bob Black 一 well-known marginals writer/badboy — were hanging with a crowd of semi-clad and fawning professional strippers, camp followers eager to buy books, and publishers hot to sign contracts, and could I drop by and say a few inspirational words to the assemblage? Matt Love, freelance writer and pivotal figure in the Cabot Cabal research cult, and G.J. Krupey, author of any number of fiercely admired pieces in the underground press and regular contributor to Steamshovel, waded downstairs from our Fortress of Solitude on the third floor, and when we arrived in the lobby the place was boiling with a crowd that looked more like confidence men, call girls and probable spies. It was left for me to suggest that the bar was the only logical place to take our seemingly-bright-yet-undeniably-tarnished intellectual wares, and we did.

Until the wee hours of the morning the air, veritable aether of that unprepossessing booze parlor was lit with the fireworks of the intersection. The field of conspiracy research was represented by Stephanie Caruana (editor of the original Skeleton Key to the Gemstone File,lo these 18 or so years ago), Matt Love, Kenn Thomas (Steamshovel editor), myself, Monty Greene (who I didn’t get a chance to talk with, but I’ve been impressed by his articles in the fine conspiracy rag Zeitgeist), and Joe Ionno (keyboardist for the Dr. Hook retro rock band, oddly enough, who blindsided me with his synthesis of psychology and politics: conspiracy research as scalpel for the scar in the collective unconscious). Having Stephanie at the shindig, both the convention and the party, was a treat; since the release (escape?) of the Gemstone File Skeleton Key years ago she had pretty well retired from the Public Eye, and I understand her reasoning.

But it was good to belly up to the table with her and realize that she was a real person, amiable to a turn, and only given to grabbing the microphone away at panel discussions. Bob Black held forth at length (and breadth) while the Prime Minister of Livestock and Heavy Machinery (who I knew from his underground mag) and his compadre Mark (a blinkin’ cryptographer from NASA! I collared him and told him I wanted an interview later…) banged in and began videotaping the proceedings, occasionally sallying forth to check out the cult religion Church of the Sub- genius, who were holding a dance or pagan ritual of some sort in the basement. Len Bracken, an author portraying one of the most subtle aesthetics and wide- ranging knowledges of culture and politics around (read his superb anarchist science fiction novel Free Play) passed out copies of his new porn book Stasi Slut he’d done for a Playgirl publishing subsidiary, set among members of the East German secret police, and later attempted a demonstration of demonically possessed table surfing as the group launched into a rol¬licking retrospective of 60’s surfing tunes (substituting improvised LaVey-derived lyrics), then abruptly fliverted into a calm, cautiously-reasoned discussion of Wilhelm Reich when two hotel security guards ambled by. It was excellent meeting Adam Parfrey, owner of Feral House; if you’re familiar with the astounding output of his publishing house, that will probably give you the best clue to what he’s like. Adam and Kenn (a profoundly gentle and kind man, especially when it comes to proofreading) and I fell into competing for who could laugh in the most hysterical and non-stop fashion during most of the evening.

Oh, there were plenty of things about the Phenomicon political conspiracy-cyberpunk-marginals convention diet I liked (meeting Kerry Thornley, Lee Harvey Oswald’s buddy, was particularly enjoyable and enlightening), a few things I hated (too many gnawing black leather weasels haunting side corridors, for one thing), but the strictly exclusive (come back if you can find a chick to bring with you, sonny), catered (certainly Mr. Black, I’ll buy you another round) conspiracy authors-publishers-and adleged perpetrators party on the second night of the con was the finest thing.

Jim Keith is the editor of The Gemstone File from IllumiNet Press and Secret and Suppressed: Banned Ideas and Hidden History, from Feral House.

Did you enjoy the article? Visit Steamshovel Press ( for more articles and free access to over 20 years of back issues!


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