Ayahuasca: Chapter II
By: Aaron Kayce
Rick Ashby was devastated by the news that A Glimpse of The Feather’s plane had vanished over the ocean. As far as anyone knew, he was the last person alive to have any sort of significant conversation with lead singer/rock god Jackson Rush. This fact laid heavy on Ashby, a badge of honor and also a burden. His Rolling Stone feature became the definitive A Glimpse of The Feather story and within a week of the magazine spreading to every corner of the free world, he had numerous book deals being lobbed his way.
This put Ashby in a difficult position. He had pitched the band on an officially sanctioned book a few years ago, and Rush was into it, but the singer said, “Not yet. The story isn’t finished yet, Rick. But when our story is told, we want you to tell it.” So on the one hand Ashby felt he had the band’s blessing, but in light of recent events it just felt like exploitation.
The majority of book agents and publishers were pushing for a fast-tracked Feather book that would more or less reorganize existing interviews and bio notes, combining them with photos and getting it out as soon as possible, hopefully within six months, to capitalize on the public’s fresh wound. Ashby considered the band to be friends and no matter how much money was thrown his way he couldn’t stomach the deal, until a sympathetic agent at Simon & Schuster convinced him otherwise.
Melissa Ives was a 28-year-old passionate music fan and she adored A Glimpse of The Feather. She also loved Ashby’s coverage of the band over the years and particularly his already legendary story for Rolling Stone. She didn’t want to push this biography out as soon as possible. Ives had convinced the big brass at esteemed publishing company Simon & Schuster that the world didn’t need another half-assed book on Feather. Like any superstar band there were already countless unauthorized books that were exactly that, which were flying off shelves, hence the desire by many to get a new book by the definitive Feather source done immediately.
But Ives had a different angle. “How about we send Ashby back to the jungle” she said in a closed door board room meeting with the head honchos at Simon & Schuster. “We’ll get it done as soon as we can, but let’s not rush this. Ashby has tapes upon tapes of interviews with everyone in the band, much of it never seen by the public, so that along with his extensive knowledge and history of the band will be the focus” she continued. “But if we retrace Jackson Rush and guitarist Ian St. Pierre’s final days where they trekked into the Amazon and drank the ayahuasca, if we get Ashby in there, talking with the tribe, reliving the experience and using that as a way to tell this story, I think we might have something much more compelling, and important, than a quick-hit music book that brings in some cash. You’ve seen the news. Ayahuasca is on the tip of everyone’s tongue and at the forefront of the nation’s thoughts. No one really knows what it is but they can’t stop talking about. This is a cultural event and it’s having a profound effect on society. This is more than the story of a band and its demise, this could be a Pulitzer.”
When Ashby got off the phone with Melissa Ives he sat motionless on a weathered fake leather coach inside his one-bedroom San Francisco apartment. It was only 3:00 p.m. but he was already on his second whiskey drink (Makers Mark as he isn’t able to afford the Johnny Walker Blue he so enjoyed drinking with Rush) of the day. Since returning from Brazil Ashby had been in somewhat of stupor. Drinking heavily, barely working, smoking enough weed to kill an elephant and sniffing coke off car keys in dirty restrooms more often then he’d care to admit. Though he couldn’t figure out why and was aware the notion was ridiculous, but for some reason Ashby felt partially responsible for A Glimpse of The Feather’s demise, and more specifically for Jackson Rush’s.
It was easy to convince his mind that of course he had no part in the plane crash, but his heart felt otherwise. The psychotic e-mails from various religious groups and hand scrawled letters from desperate mothers that might have well been written in blood blaming Ashby for glamorizing drug use and introducing their kids to ayahuasca and its shady cousin DMT, certainly didn’t help. He wanted to get out of town, out of America, and the book deal offered by Ms. Ives was too good to deny. Due to Ashby’s extensive archive of interviews he’d conducted with the band over the past decade, his personal relationship with the members and the fact that he was publicly recognized as the Feather authority put the deal somewhere in the ball park of $500,000.
The figure tossed over the phone by Ives crippled Ashby. It was so much more than anyone had offered and though he’d probably say otherwise, deep down he knew that no matter what the parameters were, at 500 large he was taking this deal. Ashby was a blue collar guy. A well-educated and very bright one, but blue collar none the less. He didn’t come from money. Everything he had he earned and $500,000 was more money then he’d ever dreamed of.
Ashby graduated with honors from UMass Amherst, where he earned a double-degree in Psychology and English, and after college gradually taught himself the journalism trade. He worked at daily newspapers and weekly publications covering politics, local news and arts. He started contributing to a small music website called Pitchfork and pretty soon his music journalism was garnering massive praise. He started writing for The New York Times music section, SPIN and Rolling Stone, before long he had established himself as one of the premier music scribes of his generation.
But it was more than the money. And it was more than the manner in which Ives and Simon & Schuster had crafted the deal, sympathetic to not only the band and their story, but to Ashby’s altruistic nature and with no time, or budget, restraints. The bottom line was that ever since leaving Jackson Rush’s hotel suite in Rio Rick Ashby was determined to have his own ayahuasca experience. Ashby was an adventurous soul, growing up in the music scene he’d experimented with just about every drug he could get his hands on and as Rush announced his adoration of ayahuasca, crediting the psychedelic root for inspiring his greatest works, one way or another Ashby was going to try it for himself. Now someone was offering him $500,000 to go do it. Ashby realized the book deal wasn’t specifically about him getting high on ayahuasca, but Ives did indicate that to tell the story the way she and her bosses saw it, drinking some of the sacred brew would probably be a good idea.
Within a week Ashby had signed the papers and faxed them back to Ives’ secretary. The book deal was official and he was told to forward all expenses to Ives and promptly received a $50,000 advance to start his journey. The plan was to retrace Jackson Rush’s final days as closely as possible. The details were sketchy at best, but Ashby had some guide posts. He knew to book a suite at the exclusive Copacabana Palace overlooking the famous Copacabana Beach just outside Rio de Janeiro. He also knew to search out a young Brazilian man named Gabriel, the same one who brought Rush and St. Pierre into the jungle. And if he could, Ashby was to track down Maria Vasquez, a young woman Rush had spent several nights with while in Brazil.
The influx of money brought with it a large send-off for Ashby. Finally starting to shake the funk that was holding him down since Feather’s disappearing act, Ashby and a few friends went out on the town for a night of drinking and general debauchery in honor of the big book deal. The length of the trip was unknown and it seemed appropriate enough to gather his closest cronies, eat a giant steak dinner, have some drinks and get fully blasted before staging his own Brazilian disappearance.
Ashby’s flight was at 8:00 a.m. out of San Francisco International Airport and when he started to see the sunrise from his buddy’s apartment he knew that he was in trouble. Some people like seeing the sunrise after being up all night, Ashby hated it. He knew what it meant and it instantly made him feel dirty and used up. He longed to tick back the sun just a few minutes, enough to get himself home and under the covers, hidden away from the new day. But there was no time for that, day was breaking and he had to leave for the airport immediately.
Tune in next month for Chapter III…
If you missed Chapter I – Visit Here