Stewart Brand’s Inventive Life, a New Biography

Not just a few readers first encountered Stewart Model within the opening scene of The Electrical Kool-Support Acid Take a look at, Tom Wolfe’s whirligig chronicle of the Merry Pranksters, Bay Space refugees from the humdrum who within the early Sixties coalesced round novelist Ken Kesey and a passel of hallucinogens, together with LSD, then authorized. Wolfe opens his story in late 1966 within the mattress of a pickup truck rocketing round San Francisco. With Wolfe are a crazily garbed child referred to as Cool Breeze, a younger lady generally known as Black Maria, and “a half-Ottawa Indian woman named Lois Jennings, together with her head thrown again and a radiant look on her face. Additionally, a blazing silver disk in the course of her brow alternately exploding with mild when the solar hits it or sending off rainbows from the diffraction strains in it.” Driving the truck, whose bumper sports activities a sticker studying “Custer Died for Your Sins,” is “…Lois’s enamorado Stewart Model, a skinny blond man with a blazing disk on his brow, too, and a complete necktie made from Indian beads. No shirt, nonetheless, simply an Indian bead necktie on naked pores and skin and a white butcher’s coat with medals from the King of Sweden on it…”

That was Model at 27, fortunately however briefly ensconced in one in all his substitute households. Wolfe initially meant to profile Kesey however his analysis ran away with him. By the point Acid Take a look at debuted in 1968, Model, who as with all his affiliations was within the Pranksters however not of the Pranksters, had moved on. Transferring on, as John Markoff engagingly paperwork in Complete Earth, is what Stewart Model has all the time completed greatest, with generally prescient, typically spectacular end result. A scion of a Rockford, Illinois, household whose antecedents had made a snug amount of cash in lumber and {hardware}, Model was a midwestern mandarin version of that basic American sort, the strolling contradiction: a polymath given to serial obsessions, a gifted chief made itchy by crowds; an innovator who chafed at having to maintain his creations on the rails; a conservative soul with an anarchic bent. Earlier than allying with the Pranksters, Model had grown up the youngest little one of an engineer-turned-advertising man, prepped at Phillips Exeter, attended Stanford, been a U.S. Military paratroop officer—to his limitless chagrin, he washed out of Ranger faculty—a contract author and photographer, an organizer of occasions social and creative, and auteur of a multimedia present he titled America Wants Indians! For Kesey and ilk, Model put collectively the Journeys Pageant, an epochal acid-drenched extravaganza that helped launch the hippie phenomenon, lent the Grateful Lifeless propulsion, and pointed Invoice Graham towards the lifetime of a countercultural impresario. Whereas tripping in February 1966 Model was moved to ask himself, “Why haven’t we seen {a photograph} of the entire earth but?”

His rhetorical question begat the Model-helmed Complete Earth Catalog, a best-selling Nineteen Seventies paperback compendium of endorsements for instruments, books, riffs, gear, and philosophy that Steve Jobs referred to as “Google earlier than there was Google.” Anybody who ever cracked a replica of the catalog, looking, say, rural actual property, and came across $50-an-acre land via the United Farm Company, or, needing to know methods to restore VWs, had at hand a replica of John Muir’s Easy methods to Maintain Your Volkswagen Alive: A Guide for the Compleat Fool when a Microbus’s accelerator cable snapped east of Berlin, Ohio, on Labor Day weekend 1971, will admire this deeply researched and empathetic portrait of a really unique character who, amongst different coups, coined the phrase “private laptop.”

In Complete Earth, Markoff, a former New York Occasions reporter and writer of Machines of Loving Grace, What the Dormouse Stated, and different books, acknowledges, accepts, and succeeds on the formidable problem of portraying every successive variant on the Model model; by the best way, brandwise, that is a certified biography. As Markoff places it in his subtitle, throughout the final half century after which some there have been many Stewart Manufacturers, every invented by the person himself, not occasionally in evolutionary response to his previous incarnation—a restlessness that prolonged to placing himself at a distance from his household of origin (although accepting as his due modest infusions of household dough to fund his varied enterprises). “Stewart has all the time needed to be on the leading edge, and he’s trapped there,” older brother Mike mentioned ruefully. Maybe looking for successors to that unique familial group, Model has labored serially at creating connections with different clans and tribes. He’s a Venn diagram of selves and latter Sixties American and world eras. Moreover his paratrooper-into-Prankster part and people previous it, Model, 84, has modified lanes from editor and writer to political strategist to eco-warrior to conservationist to digital visionary to company guide to writer, all the time striving to stick to an adjuration of his that admirer Jobs adopted: “Keep hungry. Keep silly.” Complete Earth locates Stewart Model and his outstanding array of experiences and impacts within the bigger context of the historical past he has lived via and influenced. —Michael Dolan

Complete Earth: The Many Lives of Stewart Model

By John Markoff
Penguin, 2022

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