The concept was so freaky that even William Burroughs couldn't handle it by himself. Although he's credited with the idea, Burroughs needed the help of visual artist Brion Gysin to create a greater force than his own mind was capable of.
"They recognized that when they were collaborating, it seemed that whatever they were coming up with was beyond the two of them individually, so they called it the third mind," says Brandon Herndon, founding member of Chapel Hill's own Third Mind Collective. Herndon got the idea after going on a cross-country trip in '99 and has had Chapel Hill's version up and running for the last seven years. Ernest Dollar and Herndon's fellow Twilighter bandmate, Josh Sokal, along with Herndon are the Third Mind's core, but the collective has a rotating cast. "We've always got people who were helping and jumping on board. As far as the main organizing went, it was the three of us, " Herndon says. "Then there're plenty of people who have been around more peripherally and been around and do things and have their own lives."
The merged energy theoretically creates a network of creativity. But sometimes the network personnel need a gentle nudge to get things going. "I push them a little bit more and then it runs from there."
It's an artist and musician's collective in the sense that the loosely knit cast of participants get together and do projects, but Herndon says it can be pretty much anything. "They were events and they were gatherings. We'd get together and have a party and sometimes we'd put blank paper on the walls and people would paint, or whatever. The whole idea was that we'd share and inspire and kind of push each other."
Shows were a form of networking where third-minders showed their wares. But as the events progressed, the wares became more visual than audio. The core three started making their own guerilla films.
No one had a real screenplay--they just decided to make a film and see where it would go. Herndon says that's blossomed now into "pretty decent" films based on screenplays.
In the beginning, the collective would show films at their events, have a couple of bands play, dancers would perform, and poetry would be included as well. As the events progressed, photography, painting and sculpture became part of the events held at the Cave and at the former Go! Studios. "If somebody would come to see the show, they might not like everything, but at least something would be intriguing, and that would generate something in that person and in ourselves as performers," Herndon says. "Just being there witnessing and being part of it, things might come out of it."
One of the trickiest parts for the organizers was trying to prevent the organization from being cliquish. "I've been around Chapel Hill a lot, "Herndon says, " and I feel like with a lot of places with art going on it can be kind of exclusive or feel that way."
The core members also tried to keep their feelings about the value or expertise of others' work from influencing that person from being accepted as a member of the group. "We all felt as long as they were serious about it, whatever their craft was, whatever they did, that was pretty much the criteria."
The organization is so loosely knit that it's not considered to be membership driven. Herndon says it's more participatory, with people who were a part of the collective a few years back showing up and jumping back in again.
All this sounds vaguely familiar to those from an older generation familiar with the idea of happenings. Dance, theater, poetry readings and music were loosely combined and often given a psychedelic boost.
Herndon and his group did their mind altering by "taking over" WXYC during their Obey performance a few years back that featured 14 bands at four Chapel Hill venues, mixing music, art, film and theater. Like his '60s predecessors, Herndon wanted to break down the fourth wall between audience and performer and make the whole place the stage. "We had this little thing that happened," Herndon remembers, "and you wouldn't be sure if it was a part of the show or not. The whole idea was that at the end it should be something that would spark our senses a little bit."
When he's not working collective shows, Herndon stays busy with his band Twilighter. Like the collective, is difficult to sum up in a few words. "Bats love it," the xroxx.com website proclaims. Herndon, who doesn't remember if he wrote that piece of promo or not, nevertheless goes along with it. Twilighter evolved as he was recording his first solo album. Being from Chatham County and living out in the county gives his compositions a quiet, introspective feel. But he's not above rapping a listener upside the head with a few quirky organ lines or a runaway beat. Just when you think you've got it nailed down, here comes "Gretchen's An Angel," a mix of old school new wave pop courtesy Sonar Strange's Moog/Farfisa effects mixed with Burrito Brothers warbling.
One reviewer slapped a shoegazer label on it, but Herndon doesn't like that, either. "Somebody from out of town just saw Chapel Hill and just went 'Oh, shoegazer,'" he says. "I don't think it's like that. To me it's more beat-oriented--I wanted moments where there'd just be beat or guitars that would just pop through it."
Even though the upcoming New Year's Eve gig at the Cave is not a collective show, both bands on the bill, Herndon's band Twilighter and the New Town Drunks, have a collective connection. "I can't really say they're part of the collective, but they're friends and they come in and out. And again, the idea is that we're helping each other out."
But the appeal lies beyond loyalty. Though they're not representing the collective on this occasion, they're sure to bring some of its spirit along. Take a page from the collective's own online guide (www.thirdmind.org) and recreate your own happening. "Happily examine the freak inside you--watch others do the same... COME ONE, COME ALL!! BE A FREAK!! HAVE A BALL!!