San Francisco Institute of Possiblity


Life is a carnival – the Cacophony Cosmology of Gary Warne

Don't you want to ride?

Don’t you want to ride?

If the Cacophony Society had a patron saint, it was Gary Warne.

The founder of the Suicide Club, Gary personally inspired the people who would go on to found Cacophony before his tragic death at 35.  Like Moses, he didn’t live to see the promised land:  but his words have inspired many who came after.

Gary wrote this piece, “Carnival Cosmology,” shortly after founding the Suicide Club in 1977 – and the fact that it’s quoted entirely in both Chicken John’s “Book of the Is” and the new “Tales of the San Francisco Cacophony Society” makes it as close to a seminal document as Cacophony culture has.

You should read it.  It’s important.


The world is a midway; cities are its sideshows. The only difference between children and adults is that there is no one to take care of us. When we left home it meant we were lost on the midway and, unlike God, the carny boss will only let us ride as long as we pay.

No one will come to find us. Some children will hurt us, others will stop to play…some are still deciding. But you can sneak in too.

I have been exploring a world of adventures, exotic locales, mystic essences, confronting my fears was the immediate goal, the predominant focus of the explorations and challenges. Now, nine months later, my fears have become wafer like and crumbling, shadows of their former selves. Now I find fear only a final, non-evolving image that stills other possibilities, the creation of more intoxicating future images, that prevents me from entering into a visionary dialogue with whom I could become.

Recently I have walked past the place where my fear images blotted out what would have come next if I had not been afraid. I climbed the Golden Gate bridge three weeks ago immersed in images of falling thru space into the ocean. There was nothing to fantasize beyond this one, final, deadly image. Fantasies of my friend’s deaths were perhaps even more vivid and recurring. People who didn’t go asked their companions to call them when they returned, no matter what the hour. Those unable to express their love in this way simply asked for the rent before their roommates left for the climb. The image of death, for many THE culminating fear image, blots out all other possibilities.

The subject of fear has fascinated me for many years. That night I felt I understood it much better. Fear is a freeze on the future, the filter or floodgate that stops our imaginings; something within us that stops us from becoming more powerful and loving, rather than fearing those things that are more vivid than our fantasies, more powerful than our magic, more mysterious than our own mysteries.

I buried the predominance of fear in my own cosmology that night. After many months of incredible experience and a rich new flood of images and emotions I began to see the colors and textures beyond the death images, beyond the fantasies of authority and arrest, beyond inner  visions of my own failure of stamina or confidence. And something more began to emerge.

I am not speaking at all metaphorically when I say that it was the bright lights and moving colors of the bigtop, carnival, amusement park-midway. Once I was on the bridge I was greeted instead by moonlight on still waters and the skyline of the city diminutively reduced to scale on a plywood board, ready for display. The outline of the city floated across in, all of shades, autumnal colors of yellow and orange. Our height did not make them that way; it allowed me to see them that way as the houses, ships and lights below took on a bathtub, toy like countenance. The height silhouetted by sky and underscored by the sea allowed me to place it within a gigantic midway, rather than myself as a stick figure man within the reality of the city’s overwhelming back buildings.

Two months before I had climbed the Oakland Bay Bridge and for the first time the metaphor had become real. The bridge was obviously a jungle gym made to climb rather than drive over: the cars just using it for the in between times. The girders were so huge that you could climb inside them like chimps, risking nothing but a strained heart from the excitement. It was then that I was first struck with the feeling that we were here to play, if nothing else, here to play with the world and other people.

Before that I visited a ghost town in central California and it became the spook house of a long bankrupt carnival, disappearing into a marshy bog at the same pace it was swallowed up by the past. As I walked along the tracks at night that led to the town, unsure if I was going the right way, a bouncing yellow light appeared behind and we waited for the predictable “hey you kids, get out of here!” only to have it explode instead in to a supernaturally silent coal black train screaming into the night ahead, shaking the ground in great heaps and gulps of air as it roared past.

My mind elongated with it, as it did as a small child in front of the TV, when Daffy Duck sold Elmer Fudd a new house and then turning to leave, opened the front door and let a train rush straight at the camera, straight at Elmer, straight at me, right through his living room and mine, my child’s mind simply gasping at the possibilities.

Other possibilities are becoming much more apparent. The world is becoming a total play environment and I am becoming something else entirely. The future is no longer on a circuit like the news, entertainment something an entrepreneur plans as I expectantly read the notices in the bleached parchments on the corner stands. It is an imagination away.


Learn more.  Live it.  You should be having more fun.

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