9.13.18: Phineas P. Gage’s Tamping Iron


“If you are upset about decaying and dying, you’ve got a problem. You really do.”
—Ram Dass

Is the reason why Astrology “works” because of the actual cosmic properties of the planets themselves…or have so many people collectively attributed these properties to them over the millennia that the planets have simply, retroactively, conformed to/embodied those properties?

Which of course…all goes back to the idea that we are “creating” our own reality.

Why would I have created this reality?


On this day in 1848, railroad construction foreman Phineas P. Gage had a large iron rod shoved completely through his head in a freak accident.

The iron, called a tamping iron, was 1 14 inches in diameter, three feet seven inches long, and weighed 13 14 pounds. It entered in the lower left side of his face, near his cheek; then upward behind his left eye, through his brain (obliterating a bit of it along the way), exiting at the top of his head and eventually landing 80 feet away.


Despite initial convulsions, Gage reportedly (and there are a lot of “reportedlys” in this story) greeted the doctor while sitting upright, telling him,

“Doctor, here is business enough for you.”

Then it gets a little gross so let’s skip over that part.

The main folkloric function of Gage in the collective imagination, even to this day, is the idea that traumatic brain injuries can cause personality changes. The legend went that before the accident, Gage was an intelligent and polite upright citizen—but after, he was a foul-mouthed sex-crazed cretin with the intelligence of a child and yet possessing “adult impulses.”

Having reviewed all the Snopes-esque debunking of this legend, I still tend to believe that the truth lies somewhere in the middle. That Gage’s personality/health in his remaining 13 years of life was erratic seems to be obvious. But indeed, he was well enough in 1852 to be offered a stagecoach driver job in Chile, which he accepted and kept for about seven years (at which time his health took a turn for the worse).

And if we have the two existing photos of him post-accident to gauge (sorry!) from, he not only “cleaned up” pretty well, but was quite a handsome guy. Except for the missing eye, you’d barely guess he was the survivor of such a horrific accident:


As you can see, Gage was quite proud of his tamping iron.

And wouldn’t you be?



“It knocked you off your horse, taking LSD. I remember going to work that Monday, after taking LSD on Saturday, and it just seemed like a cardboard reality. It didn’t seem real to me anymore. Seemed completely fake, only a paper-moon kind of world. My coworkers, they were like, Crumb, what’s the matter with you, what happened to you? Because I was just staring at everything like I had never seen it before. And then it changed the whole direction of my artwork. […] I got flung back into this cruder forties style, that suddenly became very powerful to me. It was a kind of grotesque interpretation of this forties thing, Popeye kind of stuff. I started drawing like that again. It was bizarre to people who had known my work before. Even [Mad Magazine Editor Harvey] Kurtzman said, What the hell are you doing? You’re regressing!”
–Robert Crumb

I don’t take psychedelics, don’t think I have the constitution to take psychedelics…but Crumb’s description here of that “cruder forties style”…whoa, that really speaks to me because I know exactly what he’s talking about here. The “regression.” It’s when I look at crappy old bootleg toys from when I was a kid…not the original toys from the approved manufacturers, but the seriously sketchy stuff covered in lead paint that you could get from your local discount store for cheap…

Like this:


You know, just elemental crude crap.

I wish I could apply that…aesthetic to my writing.

But without LSD, sans LSD. Because I’m delicate.


I was listening to two albums from Ash Ra Tempel yesterday. They were a German “krautrock” band; some may find the “krautrock” label offensive, so I might also call them a “German space-rock” band.

The first one I listened to was Seven Up (1973), made in collaboration with Timothy Leary (who I believe was on the run after escaping from prison in California.

The second one was New Age Of Earth (1976), which was later released under the name Ashra.

I’m not a super music-historian/critic, but I’d say that Seven Up is more like almost a Velvet Underground-type work in places (just in places), and New Age Of Earth is just pure space-sounds.

I’ve listened to them before; they’re just interesting things to put on while you’re writing/painting/spacing-out, etc.


Oh, I do have some words about Henry Cavill being “out” from playing Superman…but a topic of obviously such immense importance really begs for a clear head and the proper space in which to fully give it the attention it deserves.

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