On John Keel

Mirage Men is dedicated to the memory of John Keel (above), author of fortean classics Jadoo,  The Mothman Prophecies, UFOs: Operation Trojan Horse, Our Haunted Planet and numerous other books, including some risqué fiction, under assumed names.

Keel was first and foremost a story-teller, and what I’ve always loved about his fortean work is that it knowingly blurs the lines between fiction and non-fiction. Leading the second wave of classic fortean literature, in the 1960s, I would argue that Keel was a post-modernist of the highest order, one whose work genuinely altered the fabric of consensus reality for many thousands of people. Wittingly or unwittingly (I suspect the former), Keel charged his ideas with the power of myth and so ensured their continued survival long beyond his own lifetime.

Keel was also a trickster, and certainly not above pranking both his readers and other fortean and UFO researchers. This reached delirious heights in the 1960s as he and ufological friends James Moseley (of Saucer Smear zine) and Gray Barker performed reality-warping, almost-Situationist routines to promote the growing myths surrounding the Men in Black, which they collectively ‘invented’ (though these archetypes took on an active life of their own and I suspect were further exploited by the military and intel agencies in a form of weaponised ostension).

This Sunday, the New York-based Ullage Group will be hosting a tribute to Keel:

Some of his friends and fans, including Doug Skinner, Anthony Matt, Lisa Hirschfield, Larry “Ratso” Sloman, and probably others, will mark the anniversary of his death with readings, audio and video clips, and other memorabilia from his long and sometimes unbelievable career. It will all take place at the Jalopy Theatre, 315 Columbia St., in Brooklyn, Sunday, July 11, at 3 pm.  As usual, we charge a pittance (a $5 pittance), just to cover our expenses.

I was lucky enough to meet John on several occasions through our mutual friend the author, musician and performer Doug Skinner.  Doug now runs an excellent tribute web site, John Keel.com, where he’s posting scans of some of the remarkable archive material that he found while clearing John’s calamitously messy flat after his death. My favourites include the Unicorn Review (a po-faced roundup of unicorn sightings in the style of UFO and cryptozoological zines), and his calling card, which read ‘ John Keel: Not an Authoroty on Anything’.

Also amongst the debris Doug found this terrifying image, snapped by Keel himself, of the present author at his Upper West Side apartment in 1999. I conducted a lengthy interview with John at the time, but sadly the recording was very poor quality, so I never transcribed it and it’s now lost.

Story-teller, trickster, post-modernist, reality-warping sorcerer of ideas, John Keel, the Mirage Men salute you!

About Mark

Author of 'Mirage Men' & 'Far Out' and publisher/editor at Strange Attractor Press.
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3 Responses to On John Keel

  1. kek says:

    “I would argue that Keel was a post-modernist of the highest order, one whose work genuinely altered the fabric of consensus reality for many thousands of people.” – right on! I love Operation Trojan Horse. I’ve been a big fan of Keel’s since late 70s / early 80s. . Shaky Kane and I did a Mothman story for 2000AD waaay back before the film made the myth go mainstream. I loved his idea that UFOs were part of a consensual / ‘cultural’ form of mass hallucination, one that had been around for centuries and changed it’s form to match the cultural memes of different eras (ref: the ‘airship’ flaps of the late 1800’s that were an analogue /precursor of UFO flaps of the Atomic Age)…

  2. Steve says:

    Interesting, I’ve heard similar accounts of Keel from others, and concluded at least some was fictionalised, and often a little paranoid. But the correlations between much of what he described and my own experiences reinforced the sense that there was some fire beyond the smoke. For instance I think ‘invented’ deserves the scare quotes re the MIB, as my own encounter (probably told and retold to friends ad infinitum now) seems to be beyond both ‘myth making’ and ‘intelligence ops’, though admittedly not beyond bizarre coincidence. One of the most alarming things about it was its precise similarity to Keel’s descriptions, and still sends a shiver down my spine. So while I agree there does appear to have been a lot story telling going on I’m not inclined to dismiss it so readily. Also wasnt Keel quite annoyed at Barker’s spoofing at times?

  3. peterh says:

    after winding my way through the ufo labyrinth john keel’s trojan horse resonated most soundly with my own opinions. jim keith also came to a similar opinion, as told in UFOS at the edge of reality

    looking forward to the movie!

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