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Words | Jason Bell

Images by Zoe Schae er

May 2012



eep beneath 117th Street, Operation Midnight Climax is about to go live without its mastermind. Devin—DJ, priestess, militant, or magician—looks anxious without Angela. She hides behind her hair—black again after a brutal bleaching—and starts punching buttons on an enigma machine. “Our new, uno cial motto is: Intoxicate, Indoctrinate,” Devin tells me, ddling with the control board in a most un-mystical manner. Technical di culties seem too normal, too expected. Banality discloses a secret and malevolent intention. We are in the belly of Sulzberger Hall, the pilothouse of a submarine or the stomach of a uorescent whale, drifting 20,000 leagues below Broadway. e airwaves run cold: no static: blackout: surface communications silent. Besides its obscene grafti and revolutionary agitprop—unprintable, unairable—the chamber reminds me of Churchill’s war rooms. In the event of nuclear war, I could weather the winter here with nary a care, save lack of canned bean supply. I am not unnerved. en again, claustrophobia has always comforted me. Compression and wombness soothe my soul. 87.9 WBAR is Barnard College’s indigenous radio station. e WBAR studio—one DJ booth and a beautiful CD collection—runs 24/7, a depressurized pod where students spool out music to unknown audiences of doubtful signi cance. Show titles include: “I Can’t Feel My Legs: Branson Beach Interrogation Squad” (wizard rap), “Kafka’s Jogging Music” (foreign stu ), and “Pizza Spices From Outer Space” (experijazztronicduboise). Devin and Angela coopted the coveted Monday 12 am-2 am slot for their show, “Operation Midnight Climax.” When Angela returns at 12:17, unmolested by COINTELPRO, e

Melvins, e Wipers, Earth, and Black Sabbath pour into Internet and FM space. Nominally, Operation Midnight Climax plays “90s alt rock, punk, stoner metal, talk”; Devin and Angela prefer to think of their theme as “p “Our show is the name of a CIA operation that doused people with LSD and watched them behind a mirror to try and control their minds,” Angela says. Between songs, I am informed that Operation Midnight Climax was part of Project MKULTRA, a CIA human experimentation program. She peels a grapefruit and caresses a secondhand copy of Gravity’s Rainbow. In Angela’s dorm, she curates a shrine to omas Pynchon, complete with lava lamp and mermaid statuette. She is majoring in anagrams and minoring in Mayan Astrology. (Actually, English.) Secret systems, hidden structures, and undisclosed reservoirs of meaning captivate her formidable intellect. According to Angela, “paranoia is not that you’re worried that they’re trying to get you, but that you’re playing a role in the system—wondering why it was you that was chosen by them to do something. e feeling that there is something very wrong but that you don’t know what it is. You’re always on the edge of breaking through.” Despite its usual connotations, Devin and Angela don’t de ne paranoia as a negative pathology. ey intend to cultivate creative paranoia by way of college radio. “Creative paranoia means developing at least as thorough a We-system as a ey-system,” Devin quotes from Gravity’s Rainbow. Devin and Angela’s We-system revolves around Frankfurt School philosophers (Walter Benjamin, etc.) and a speci c musical taste: dark, anxious, urgent; Eurotrash, troubadours, hipsters, mainstream rockers, 80s poppers; however, the songs are only delicious
May 2012

intoxication, one-half the Operation Midnight Climax equation. ere is a whole lot of indoctrination behind the music. Monday, February 13th, 2012: approximately ten months before the Mayan apocalypse. e show is about Google Ads (how they are reading your mind and what to do about it!) and Angela o ers to anagram my name. As a (retired) competitive Scrabble player, I am a pro cient anagrammer, one who remains persistently skeptical about its prophetic power. My name anagrams to “Jello In Braces.” Maybe the paranoia is kicking in—it’s 12:34 and I’m starting to get freaked out. Until I was 15, I was a fat kid who wore braces. A Bosnian punk once called me “Jelly Belly” on the soccer eld. Clearly, I need to join a more thorough We-system. “ is is completely in our own heads,” Devin reassures me. e Wipers come on: “Is is Real?” I detect, with no minor measure of unease, a very disconcerting humor. While I listen, the boundaries between insanity and reality, silence and song, paranoia and complacency decompose. Operation Midnight Climax is a worm crawling around the kernel of institutional logic. What we know to be irrational and disordered is still schizophrenic. But somewhere around Midnight, white noise becomes coherent, rational, present, and most de nitely real. ■