Review: Mescalito Riding his White Horse by Mike Fiorito

book music review

Mescalito Riding his White Horse | John Hunt Publishing | 2023

I first met Mescalito while sofa-surfing in Hastings, East Sussex, many years ago. It was a downbeat, directionless period of my life, laying somewhere between inaction and contemplation, and Mescalito briefly became a kind of inspirational literary guide, reminding me of myself, refocusing my mind. A sort of bridge between realms.

No doubt in order to help me out of said rut, my brother had leant me a dog-eared copy of Carlos Castaneda’s infamous book Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge. A fabricated tale of course, but a still strangely powerful story in which Castaneda describes his initiation into a spiritual lineage; a sometimes fraught process that included a confrontation with Mescalito.

In the book, Mescalito is a teaching spirit who both personifies and embodies the mescaline-containing peyote cactus. A teacher and a guide, Mescalito refined behaviour and focus against a stolid background of Castaneda’s rationality—an ethereal power that reminds one to be present even when exploring the most extraordinary circumstances.

One of Mescalito’s lessons, it felt to me at the time, was to pause and dwell a moment in directionless-ness in order to rediscover purpose and regain insight. That when the interweaving facts and fictions of life feel overwhelming, they are in truth as they should be when viewed from outside; directions and signposts, not roadblocks and dead-ends.

In so many ways, Mescalito showed me a throughway between my own heady adventures and my daily work, resulting in a deep-dive into the literature of drugs that still persists today. Mescalito was, and is, a map and a territory, reconnecting the plains of separate realities.

Nearly twenty years after my first encounter with Mescalito, I still find this strange totem of experience weaving literary and cultural territories with otherworldliness.

‘Except for the quoted interviews, which were transcribed as spoken,’ writes Mike Fiorito in his new book Mescalito Riding His White Horse, ‘what follows is a combination of autobiography mixed with my visions and dreams. Some were imagined. All were real.’

I first come across the Fiorito’s extraordinary writing in the pages of the Psychedelic Press journal, and his new book perfectly encapsulates his penchant for imaginative non-fiction. In 2021, Fiorito interviewed the outstanding bluegrass musician and songwriter Peter Rowan; a man he also describes as ‘a poet, magus, mystic, and mentor.’

What began as an assignment for a basic interview piece for a magazine quickly morphed into something else however, and Rowan takes on a Mescalito-type persona in this eventual narrative. Overwhelmed by Rowan’s deep alchemical knowledge of music and spiritual wisdoms, Fiorito voyages into the origins of music, with Eastern philosophy and dream-like sequences. The book’s title is of course taken from a line in one of Rowan’s songs.

The musician has had a distinguished career, including playing with the legendary bluegrass musician Bill Monroe, and is described by Fiorito as the genre’s ‘international ambassador’. He also played with the likes of Clarence White and the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia. He was part of the Sixties generation, and ‘The world of new hope and change that Peter’s generation helped usher in seems to be fading in the rearview mirror.’

This illustrious cultural background, though perhaps fading, permeates the presence of the text. A vision of the Dalai Lama that Fiorito relates thematically encapsulates the book’s quickly changing deep-dives into the threads of that story, as ‘Pieces of history floated around me, like asteroids.’ Sections of interview delve easily between song lines and dreams, biography, and spiritual motifs—always grounded by Rowan.

It has been said that you should never meet your heroes, that you’ll be disappointed and have your illusions shattered, but when Fiorito met Rowan, he was profoundly and positively effected: ‘I’ve always known Peter Rowan. We’ve been crossing paths in the multiverse for billions of years, traversing the mysterious wormhole transportation system, dancing illusion’s dance, singing illusion’s song.’

Mescalito Riding His White Horse is a short and thought-provoking book. It is a picaresque attempt to textualize the rhythms that the author imbibed from Rowan, and which thoughtfully lead him across time and space. It is the invisible hand of Mescalito relating realities and set to the sweet beats of bluegrass backing tracks. And ‘who is Mescalito?’

‘Mescalito is in your dreams, your intuitions. While you chase illusions, pictures projected on a screen, Mescalito is the source of what is real.’

You can find a copy here.

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