High Weirdness by Mail, by Rev. Ivan Stang, New York: Fireside Books, 333 pages, $9.95 paper.
"Do you have 'different' tastes? Intrigued by the bizarre, the kooky, the kinky—as long as it keeps its distance? Enjoy getting unsolicited, unspeakably weird things in the mail—for free? Love to snicker in superiority (perhaps largely imagined) at the incredible gullibility of others? Enjoy reading the headlines on sleazy tabloids, and ads for local psychic fortune-tellers?.…Then…HAVE WE GOT A HOBBY FOR YOU!!"
So begins the instructions-for-use section of High Weirdness by Mail, the latest offering of bizarreness from the pen of Reverend Ivan Stang, ordained Minister of the Church of the SubGenius and master kook watcher. Never before has there been so apt an introduction. Here is a treasure trove of all that is over the edge of American mainstream culture. In short, this is what Hunter S. Thompson would refer to as "a savage journey into the heart of the American Dream."
And every single bit of it is available by mail. Stang provides hundreds of names and addresses of organizations that offer (usually free) eccentric literature, strange magazines, weird art, cassettes, you name it. He presents commentary on these people and groups in a shoot-from-the-hip style that does not even pretend to be objective—"OBJECTIVITY? HA! It is to laugh." As Stang puts it in the introduction, "To grossly insult almost everyone listed here was the only way to be fair."
Even if you never write off a single letter to the organizations Stang describes, the listings themselves are well worth the price of the book. From Tony Alamo's anti-Catholic tirades ("these brochures ooze with vindictive psycho-hate"), to Lowlife ("deliciously captures the '80s ambiance of torment and agony, sloppiness and sleaze"), Stang is out to have a good time while bringing you the best in kook literature. To add a note of wit to many of these summaries, he frequently uses the same stylistic devices that many of his paranoid subjects use (including screaming CAPITAL LETTERS, shrill derision, and the random Capitalization of every other Noun).
Even apart from the humor, there are at least a few good reasons why any student of liberty might wish to dip into this book. First, no matter what you think about the shambling lunatics listed in High Weirdness, each one of them is a stark individualist. In fact, individuality probably doesn't get much starker. Second, the fact that many of these people exist at all is testament (of sorts) to the enormous freedom and diversity of American society.
Finally, there remains the possibility that some people listed by Stang aren't really kooks. Who knows, some of the wacky inventors he lists may turn out to be the Edisons or Teslas of our time. And with so many odd things having come to light in the last few decades, it is quite possible that at least some of the conspiracy theorists in here are actually on to something—remember the derision that greeted first reports of the army's secret LSD experiments?
Buy this book. Read it. Send off for as much bizarre free info as you can stand. Then make up your own mind.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Brief Review".