RAW Week: Pope Bob Remembrance, by Rev. Ivan Stang


RAW (seated) and Rev. Ivan Stang (left)

If Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea had not written the Illuminatus! trilogy, there might still be a Church of the SubGenius, but we probably wouldn't get it.

All SubGeniuses, Dr. Philo Drummond and myself in particular, owe Pope Bob big time, and we've never made any bones about that. He and Shea gave us the broad view of conspiracy theories that is required for any understanding of what we call The Conspiracy. RAW's seemingly countless other books also served to remind us that while we are indeed crazy, the so-called "normal" people are even crazier.

In the late 1970s, I felt compelled to get Pope Bob's attention somehow, mainly so that I would have an excuse to send him our first SubGenius Pamphlet. He had once mentioned an oddball Texas UFO-related cult called The Silver Shirts, so I decided to write him with questions about them. At the end of his informative response, which I was amazed to receive, he told me, "If you get any deeper into UFOs, remember to keep your sense of humor!" His timing was perfect — I was about to lose my sense of humor about UFOs — and I took his advice to heart.

Later, in the 1980s, I had the honor of opening for him, or at least introducing him, when he lectured in Austin or Dallas, so I got to meet him in person and even have a few dinners with him. I busted ass writing up a proper introductory rant about this fellow that I regarded almost as a god, and I expanded on it each time. It was a series of lines like, "…he is the James Joyce of swingset instruction manuals… the Lenny Bruce of children's books…" I have been gratified that not only have others swiped that intro to describe other artists, but that Pope Bob himself used parts of it to describe himself.

He was always extremely supportive of the SubGenius projects, contributing to our books for practically no pay, and frequently mentioning the Church of the SubGenius as well as his close personal friend, J. R. "Bob" Dobbs, in his writings and talks. While I was still a wet-behind-the-ears baby radio DJ, he guested on my radio show, "The Hour of Slack," and to this day I regret not simply letting him talk the whole time.

A video clip from that ancient show:

When we started abusing Usenet in the early 1990s, Pope Bob, using the nym "The Mgt.," frequently trolled the old former SubGenius newsgroup, alt.slack (now abandoned for a more private forum). I think I was the only participant who knew it was the great RAW who was posting these outrageous statements. "The Mgt." constantly infuriated the SubGenii of those days by posing as an ultra-extreme misogynist, or a crazy far-right-winger, or simply as an idiot; proof of his trolling skill is the fact that so many SubGenii — who themselves tend to specialize in a kind of long-term troll — took him seriously. I never let on what I knew — UNTIL NOW!

At a short-lived annual weirdo convention called Phenomicon in Atlanta, Pope Bob and I ended up together on a discussion panel that also included arch-skeptic Bob Sheaffer, several little old New Age ladies and the late conspiracy theorist and all-around kook, William Cooper of Behold a Pale Horse fame. Sheaffer, the skeptic, was friendly to me but tried to run down RAW as some kind of charlatan. I think RAW might have been a little over Sheaffer's head as a put-on artist. Pope Bob certainly took Sheaffer's weird accusations gracefully. But it was William Cooper who really tried to lambast both of us. "There are some on this panel," he declared, meaning Wilson and me, "who have done nothing but trivialize and make light of the most serious issues facing us today, and they are worthy only of our disdain." (I paraphrase.) An audience member stood up and said, "The only reason most of us are here at all is because these two guys have written, in entertaining but sensible ways, how fringe extremists like you might be worth listening to." That got a standing ovation from most of the audience, which took some of the hot wind from Cooper's sails.

I later became involved with the Association for Consciousness Exploration ("A.C.E.") in Cleveland. Pope Bob and I were frequent speakers at their Starwood and Winterstar festivals. One of my fondest memories of A.C.E. events is one night during a Winterstar when I got to sit in a cabin with both Wilson and Robert Shea listening to the two old chums discuss their favorite subject: MOVIES. Those two could sling movie trivia like nobody's business.

The last time I saw Pope Bob, it was again at Winterstar, and although his old polio problems had him in a wheelchair and probably in a lot of pain, he was as cheerful, scrappy and mischievous as ever. He was an enthusiastic Hannibal Lecter fan and expressed to me his disgust that the grisly shock ending of the novel Hannibal had been grossly changed and softened for the movie adaptation.

Because I had videotaped many of RAW's lectures in Texas and Ohio, I was able to contribute footage to the RAW bio film Maybe Logic. The film's producer later started the online Maybe Logic Academy, and I was invited to teach courses on SubGenius history and how to run a home-made cult. Ironically, my first class started on the day Pope Bob died. I quickly assembled a gallery of all the digital photos and video frame grabs I had relating to him, which can be seen here.

I have one and only one negative thing to say about Pope Bob. He was not microphone-friendly. I've lost count of the times I, as amateur sound technician, had to creep up onto a stage and push that mic just a little closer to his lips. He would NOT raise his voice nor lean into the mic. That just meant that his listeners had to sit closer and be quiet to hear what he had to say. It is a testament to the content of his speech that so many people stayed so silent and sat so close to him in order to hear that incredibly wise and whimsical Brooklyn monotone.

One last important historical point. Despite what the San Jose newspaper said, the SubGenius guru and cult founder J. R. "Bob" Dobbs is not based on Robert Anton Wilson or anybody else. He is simply "Bob." Wilson himself described getting drunk with "Bob." It would be more accurate to say that we might ourselves all be based, however loosely, on "Bob," but that without RAW we would be unable to entertain that very thought.

My very favorite RAW quote is: "Maybe if we all said 'maybe' more often, the world might be a nicer place." He said that a hundred different ways, and each time I heard him say it, it rang very true. He gave us the gift of DOUBT.