Photograph by Guido Mocafico.
Tim loves Tool, Steel Reserve, and snakes. Not necessarily in that order.
Tim’s website is selfimmunization.com.PLAYLIST
Artist – Song – Album
Pole – Sylvenstein – Steingarten
Guili Guili Goulag – Chevreuil Survivalisme – Saint Arnoult 3018
Uusitalo – Tulenkantaja – Tulenkantaja
Porter Ricks – Biokinetics 2 – Biokinetics
Aphex Twin – Kladfvgbung Micshk – Drukqs
Jan Jelenik – Moire – Loop-Finding-Jazz-Records
Oneohtrix Point Never – Cryo – R Plus Seven
Steven Jackson – Drone 1122 – N/A
Masayoshi Fujiita & Jan Jelinek – LesLang – Schaum
Harold Budd – Serge Poliakoff – Luxa
Tim Friede – Self-immunizer
Tell me the story, you know “I was just getting into self-immunization, and I decided I was gonna try to take a couple of bites” – can you start there and then–
Tim: I thought we did already.
Can we try it one more time?
Tim: I really don’t want to… I mean, I already did. And we discussed this earlier. Honey, come here. Get your ass in here. The cobra bites I felt I discussed before previously very clearly, there’s no reason to do it again.
The one issue is that you mentioned a lot of names, and…
Gretchen: You don’t wanna get into–
Tim: I have a rule now – when I talk about something once, there is no reason to talk about it again.
Tim: There’s not.
Gretchen: Unless you’re sniffin around to…
No, no. Sometimes I find things get better the second time through.
Tim: It’s just — I get tired to do it. I understand that, I do, but there were so many times where it’s like, “Come the fuck on! If I told you once, I don’t have to tell you fuckin’ twice.” Let’s take out some fuckin’ snakes.
* * *
Tim: My father was a cop, and he didn’t understand my passion for my snakes… Half the time I brought snakes home, he’d say “Take ’em and get rid of ’em.” Like, “Oh, come on man…” My mom hated it. Every time they found a snake it was insane. I got called at school, “Jimmy, you gotta come home. We found your snake again. I’m not gonna touch it, I can’t move, we can’t leave the house.” “Mom, it’s a boa. Come on, it’s not gonna kill ya.”
I always have been a daredevil, since my earliest days. I was bad… I was really bad. I basically grew up in Milwaukee with a bunch of punks, so I grew up as a punk. I grew up fighting. I grew up doing the craziest shit. I mean, nothing illegal… We never did anything stupid as far as breaking the law, we weren’t that dumb, but as far as “How many crickets can you eat? How many goldfish can you eat? Can you put a cigarette on your forehead?” “Piece of cake, easy.”
I just always pushed the limits, and it actually never stopped and it actually really got worse.
After high school I was going to go in the airborne school and be a Green Beret. I broke my ankle in a car accident and got discharged before I got in because I broke my ankle. I got the screws taken out, went back in the military and in basic training, broke my angle again. Got kicked back out, honorable discharge… Shit – now what am I gonna do?
So what did you do?
Tim: I worked miscellaneous, crap jobs. Factory jobs, doing this, doing that… Then I got actually involved in cleaning the windows for a lot of years, as a high-rise window cleaner. I have a huge love for heights, that’s why I wanted to go in airborne, jump out of airplanes.
I’d wake up at four in the morning, drop my kid off at the babysitter; I had to be inner city Milwaukee, 24th and Fond du Lac at six in the morning, take the guys from the hood to get them vodka and get their weed before we’d have to hang off skyscrapers. I didn’t do any of those things, I was a hundred percent sober, because I’m not gonna hang off a skyscraper all fucked up.
I’d pick them up, and I’m a white guy from the suburbs, and they’d call me “the White Devil.” So I was the White Devil, picking them up, get their vodka… “Have your weed, I’ll have my coffee.” Then we’d go downtown, and you’d park your truck and you look up at the skyscraper and you have to go up an elevator 32 stories, and you have to drop those ropes at 7 or 8 o’clock when it’s cold, and you have to put alcohol in your water so it doesn’t freeze, to clean all those windows – because the customer doesn’t care, they want it cleaned – and you can’t even see your ropes when they hit the ground.
You have to go back down the elevator and make sure your ropes are at concrete; you’re two stories short, you’re gonna rappel right off and you’re gonna die. And you just take your bucket and you rappel right off the side of the building. Three drops a day. Only three drops a day.
I fell once… I fell off a five-story building on a corner, because my ropes hit the corner at the wrong — I positioned it wrong. I immediately dropped… Caught me like a foot off the ground. Damn! That was scary as hell.
For a lot of years I did that. All day we’d clean windows, we’d go home and go milk snakes, and then in the morning do it again. But that job actually pretty much trained me with what I’m doing now. Granted, nothing really correlates other than one word – FEAR.
How do you deal with those different types of fear?
Tim: You learn to cut yourself off mentally, like I do now. You learn to know you’re really good at what you do, or your rope’s good (cleaning windows) or I might know it’s good snake-wise. Are all my parameters perfect? And they have to be perfect.
I mean, there’s no book on doing this. There’s not a book to say, “Hey, Steve, here’s what you gotta shoot up, and here, we’re in the doctor’s office.” Back then I’m in a basement, with no books, and a needle, and guessing, and stuff. I basically wanted to see if I could do it and what it feels like. Man, if one of those snakes bit me, can I beat it, and how do you beat it? What is it gonna feel like?
So run me through the snakes that you have in here, your inventory.
Tim: Not a lot actually, because they got laid off, but I’ve had this stuff for the last probably ten years. But the ones I have here are Crotalus Atrox, Western Diamondback – easily the most dangerous snake in North America. Next one down is the worse in the world, Taipan.
That’s the most venomous snake in the world?
Tim: The most venomous snake in the world, yeah. It’s bad. Really bad. Next one down’s actually a cross between Eastern Diamondback and Western Diamondback, which is a really good snake for self-immunization, because it has the venom properties of both sides of the species.
These little guys are cool… One cobra’s from Africa – probably the most venomous snake in Africa. There’s no antivenom for it either.
No antivenom at all?
Tim: If it bit you, there’s no way to save you. None. And this is the bad one… The Black Mamba. About ten feet. Toxicity, venom yield, aggression, fang length – there’s nothing worse. You just can’t have a bad day with that one either.
What do you think of the snakes?
Gretchen: I love snakes, I’ve always loved snakes. This is a little bit different to me.
What do you mean?
Gretchen: It’s a little scary sometimes, but he’s responsible about it. You see, there’s three locks on every cage, and a lock on the door itself…
Tim: The ones that aren’t locked I’m rebuilding to put locks on them. These are built for venomous snakes; everything is locks, you can’t get into it.
Do you ever handle the snakes? How close do you get?
Tim: She doesn’t handle anything.
Gretchen: No, I don’t handle anything. I usually stay right here… I wouldn’t be this close if there was a snake in there, I’d be by the door.
You give yourself a few feet…?
Gretchen: Oh, definitely… Because I’m not immune. This crazy boy is immune.
* * *
Tim: I’d have to look at my notes, but I’m coming close to almost two hundred bites and close to probably five to six hundred lethal injections. Well, self-experimentation in history — people doing things to their bodies to understand science. That goes back to Dr. Forsman – he broke the rules a little bit and said, “Guess what, I wanna see what happens if I stick a tube up my arm and inject a dye in there to see what it looks like.” Or Dr. Marshall – “If I swallow this bacteria, what’s it gonna do to me?” The Curies—double-Nobel winners.
All those people actually put their lives on the line to make a difference in medical science, and I’m proud to be next to those people, trying to do the same thing they were doing. I’m just taking a different path. In my case, I use snake venom to prove I don’t die by snakebite.
How do we make antivenom now?
Tim: We currently make it with equines, with horses. They inject the horse with venom, and they extract the blood, and they wanna spin that out and get the plasma and get the IGG antibodies out. That’s what the antivenom is – it’s simply the IGG antibodies out of the plasma from the horses. Those are the antibodies — when I’m bitten by that snake, they realize the venom’s there and block—bind to it lock and key and pull it away.
I have twice as many IGG-specific antibodies to these snakes than most humans have on a regular basis.[snake rattle
aaaaauuugghh not gonna work]
Tim: Yeah, moving these things is kind of tough. They can bite that fast just coming out of the cage, and you have to be really careful when you pick them up. As soon as they start to run, that’s when you pick them up.[snake rattle
oh I gotcha, oooohh no…]
The process of milking is you take a cup and you take a vinyl glove and a rubber band, and you put the rubber band around the cup and you milk the snake. I normally just suck up 0.033 cc’s of venom – that’s my booster shot, basically a small bite. The rest of the venom I dry out, and I’ll keep it in the freezer.
My entire life is this… These are all…
In the butter dish…
Tim: In the butter dish… These are all pure venom injections, all labeled perfectly and measured perfectly… That I use for booster shots, because once I milk it, I take it, I put it back in here, and once that’s in there, good, cold, BAM! Good for 50 years.
* * *
Tim: A good friend of mine, Karen… My best friend is Chuck, and his girlfriend – she gave me a needle on a Tuesday. Actually, that needle is up in that poster which is there, I have to frame it… We were back then just talking about basic concepts, and we wanted to see if I could become immune to it, but I didn’t know how to become immune to it. How much should [unintelligible] down, what do you have to do, how do you have to dry it out, how do you have to process it? The whole nine yards.
She gave me the needle on a Tuesday, and didn’t want me to do it, and died on a Thursday in a car accident with his kids. She’s dead, his kids are paralyzed basically, and I’m like, “Oh, man…” I was a mess, I was a complete fuckin’ disaster, a hundred percent.
After she died, I drank a bottle of tequila, I took two cobra bites and flatlined…
I wanted to take one bite first to see if I could beat it, which I did, and I would have been fine. The problem is all my antibodies are bound up to that venom, and an hour later after the second bite of the Egyptian Cobra in the finger I had no antibodies left, I had no protection. 15 minutes later I’m like, “Oh, man… I’m going down, I’m going down.”
You know what’s called “ptosis”? Your eyes start to shut, you slurry your words tremendously, and you all of a sudden start to shut down, and you just drop – and I dropped. Next thing I know I’m in Froedtert Hospital in Milwaukee, it’s the biggest hospital we have in the state… “Holy crap, where am I?”
The wife was holding my hand… I could only move the pinky finger, I was paralyzed. I could hear everything, but couldn’t move, so they were gonna basically wrap me up and say, “Guess what?! You screwed up!”
I wasn’t “a little bit almost dead”, I was “fuckin’ dead!” Sure, I was still alive, but I was that close to biting it. I was in a coma for four days. Coming back from that is horrible, and you realize how powerful these animals are, how powerful death is, and I wasn’t ready for that mentally yet.
I got up, came back home and got yelled at a little bit by her, obviously…
By your wife?
Tim: Yeah, a lot, because I screwed up. Then the Milwaukee Journal interviewed me with what I did and I had to apologize basically to the world and to the zoo, because I had used their stock, which was irresponsible and not cool. What are you gonna do? Are you gonna take another bite after that? And you really don’t wanna go back through and do that again.
At that point I had to make a decision – what do I wanna do and why am I doing it?
How did that affect your family?
Tim: Well, a lot. I mean, I was dead; my kids saw me die. When you see your dad basically dead on the floor, of course it’s a strain. The wife was upset, obviously, because she saw me die and was there. Because they think it’s either suicidal, or you name it… It’s not normal. It’s not normal at all.
Do you need a break? Do you wanna take a little break, or are you good?
Tim: A little break Gret? A cigarette? A cigarette break….
Gretchen: Sir, yes sir![cross-talk]
Tim: There’s a golf course right there, you can’t see it. It’s kind of nice here man, yeah you’re on top of a gas station but when you’re homeless, coming from this…
A nice little stand of trees, too… That’s good.
* * *
So how did you guys meet?
Gretchen: Oh, that’s a good one. I saw one of his shows many years ago, something on TV when I was living in Cheboygan and then all of a sudden I found him on Faceplant, and he was like “Heey…!”
Gretchen: That’s what I call Facebook – Faceplant. And he’s like, “Hey, come down, let’s hang out for a minute.” And the rest was history.
Tim: Yeah, we get along very well, we’re very much soul mates.
Gretchen: We talk a lot, we laugh a lot…
Tim: Yeah, we have a really good relationship.
Gretchen: I really don’t even see friends, because I just want to see him, and I’ve never been like that in my life.
Tim: Do you have friends? [laughs]
Gretchen: Oh…! Bitch! [laughter] You cunt wipe!
* * *
Tim: Roughly 125,000 people a year die from snakebite. The dream scenario was the vaccine hits the field to vaccinate people that die from snakebite. They should be able to walk in there and get their booster shot like the flu shot.
But would a human vaccine be better than a horse-based antivenom?
Tim: Well of course, because horse-based antivenom – a lot of people still die from snakebite even with antivenom. But with the vaccine, they can go back to work. They don’t need the antivenom. 24 shots, 4 months you’re immune.
So four months of booster shots and you’re immune.
Tim: You can be immune. It doesn’t take that long. And once you’re immune, then what you do is you do maintenance shots, so basically two booster shots to save your finger – not die, not spend a hundred grand in the hospital…
I’m trying to put myself in the shoes of somebody who would be a candidate for the vaccine – let’s say a farmer in Sudan. If someone was like, “Hey, here are these booster shots that you can take and you can immunize yourself, because there’s this guy in Fond du Lac Wisconsin across the world, he’s done it…” I would feel sort of like a guinea pig, I don’t know if I would do it. It sounds scary.
Tim: Well, it is scary, but what’s scarier? Dying from the snake that’s gonna bite you, or giving it a shot to become immune? If nobody does anything with it, there’s gonna be another 125,000 people that die next year.
Okay, so I think some venom doctors look at what you’re doing here and they say, “That’s not real science. There’s no baseline measures, like n=1, sample size… It’s not controlled enough. The only thing that it proves is that Tim Friede can beat snakebite.
Tim: When they say it’s not science, I say “Fuck you!” I say it’s better science. I use myself not to die, not to depend on antivenom. How can you tell me that is not science? There’s a major issue there… Just because I don’t have a PhD means nothing.
But I can kind of see where they’re coming from… I can see why someone working in a lab would say that what you’re doing doesn’t count as real science, because it’s just one person and it’s an uncontrolled environment…
Tim: Nope, stop. There’s not one of us, there’s hundreds now. Worldwide there’s hundreds. They’re coming out of the woodwork constantly fighting these scientists saying it doesn’t work. They’re wrong. All of the doctors are completely wrong, and I’ll challenge any one of those doctors to come here and prove me wrong, but they won’t do it. You know why? What would happen if those doctors were sitting right there, and I got bit by that snake, or they brought their Black Mamba. What would they say? It’s not science? What could they say?
I feel like they would still say it’s not science.
Tim: Even if I didn’t die?
Yeah, they’d be like, “Alright, yeah, you beat that snakebite, following the same principles that we’ve used to create antivenom. You have built up antibodies in your blood, but you’re not a real scientist because it’s not…”
Tim: It’s better than that, because I’m not a real scientist, I’m a factory worker. I beat something they can’t beat. And what’s their idea to save 125,000 people a year? Zip. So if they watch me take a bite and say it’s not science, they’re fuckin’ idiots. I’ll say it right to their face. How stupid can you fuckin’ be? Then what is science? What is immunology?
How do you answer that question?
Tim: Easily – prove it, with the bites. They can’t answer it because they ain’t got the balls to do it. They do not have the balls to do it and they’re jealous. And I do have the balls to do it. I take the bites… I read a lot of books; the same books they’ve read. Just because I’m a factory worker doesn’t make me stupid. Just because they work in a hospital or a lab, or they claim they have a PhD – that means nothing to me. Because if you walk out of this room and you can’t beat these bites, what is that really worth? It’s worth a fuckin’ piece of paper to wipe your ass with.
Gretchen: Tim, stop being so confrontational.
Tim: No, we’re talking about serious shit. You can’t immunize everybody, we’re never gonna do that. Antivenom’s always, always, always gonna be there. But I tell you what – it’s gonna take a lot of that and cut it right out of the picture. You’re not gonna have everybody immunized, because they’re afraid of needles, there’s no doctors here, there’s an order for duration… There’s a lot of problems with it, but I guarantee you could do it. If I can do it in this room here, with the little resources that I have, sure as shit you can do it in a lot of places over there.
Gretchen: What are we doing here?
Tim: Uploading Facebook here… I just wanna see if this works. We have a new option here on Facebook; I’m like, “I don’t give a fuck, I’ll do it.”
Gretchen: Can I go get my beer?
Tim: Do that.
Gretchen: Once you hit Live, it’s…
Tim: …going live? So once I pick “Go live”, it’s filming. Is it automatically uploaded, or do you have to upload it at that point?
Gretchen: It’s automatic. Do we upload it? Um, hello, Live?! Live, live! [laughter]
Tim: Hang on a second, you little shit! Oh! We’re about to do a Black Mamba bite – one of the most dangerous snakes in the world – and we’re gonna prove self-immunization works.
And where are we?
Tim: Where are we… What?
Where are we right now?
Tim: Right here.
Gretchen: Fond du Lac
Tim: I’m not giving my location away. We’re in my little snake venom lab at my house… And here we go. It’s gonna be a little rough, you gotta back up a little over there. You ready? Start filming now, hit it.
Gretchen: Right now? Go now?
Tim: Live![three consecutive beeps
is it working?]
Tim: Black Mamba bite, Dendoriaspis polylepis, LD50.25, we’re filming live on Facebook for the first time. I’m not sure if it’s gonna bite me…
Before I take a bite…
…I just gotta shut down, and really don’t think about it too much. I kind of clear my head, basically, which is a very important thing to do. Don’t get nervous, don’t get worked up. Unlock the cages, open it up…[Ohhhh, almost, almost, almost… not real happy]
I’m pretty gentle with it. I’m not real nervous and have to worry about pinning it down, hurting the snake… I pretty much casually grab it, right behind the head. I don’t put a lot of pressure on it…[Nice and gentle, no pressure…]
I like to do forearm bites, like here, and to see if it bites me. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t.[Ready? Ayi! Good one. Done! Almost a hundred Mamba bites, and that was a good one. You can see the two bites… Top, and you can see the bottom.]
* * *
What would you be doing if these snakes weren’t in your life?
Tim: Oh man, I’d be a pile of fuck. Yeah… My entire life is self-immunization. I mean, yes, I work… I have a great job, I love it, but I am defined by beating death and beating snake venom for reasons that I’m not even sure about. I don’t know why. It’s just what I do, it’s what I’m good at; I don’t know why I’m good at it. I didn’t go to school for it.
It never stops, I don’t miss work because of this. I still get up at three in the morning, I go to the factory. It’s not, “Oh, it hurts”, or “Oh, booh!” I don’t give a fuck. Fucking discipline and focus. Sick? I don’t give a fuck. Broken car? I don’t give a fuck. I gotta walk to work? I don’t give a fuck. Snake bite? I don’t give a fuck. Amputation? I don’t give a fuck.
So you can’t even really imagine what you’d be doing?
Tim: What I would do? Shit, I would have no idea… I mean, if I chose to be a mechanic – yeah, I’d be a great mechanic/plumber/electrician. But my life would just — it would really bore me to think I’m just a great mechanic or a plumber; I have nothing against them, obviously, but I always wanted a bigger cause. What are you gonna do when you get to that level? Then what are you gonna do next year, and then what are you gonna do again and again and again?
What scares me, if the vaccine gets in the field and I do retire from doing this, then what do I do? I’m like, “Oh, shit… I just watch football football games and hang out on the couch and be normal?” [laughs] How the fuck am I gonna do that?
I’m still used to being so extreme, and especially with this, that I don’t know what I would do. I would go stir crazy, I think. I’d pick up on something else to fuckin’ cure, I’d find something else to inject myself with. Snake venom done? Fine, fuck it, I’ll cure cancer, I don’t give a shit.[snake rattle]
Tim: Oh, man, is that powerful…
How do you feel?
Tim: I feel fine. It hurts like a mother… That’s a big motherfuckin’ ten-foot double-bite. Two fangs. I’d say it’s like a huge pain sensation, it’s electrifying. My arm is just — I mean, the swelling’s already… And it’s only gonna keep progressing and progressing until it maxes out.
Will you be able to sleep tonight?
Tim: Oh yeah, easily. All my antibodies – the good ones – are locked onto 60 fractions of that venom, and it’s binding to all those fractions and stopping it from doing what it wants to do – to kill me. No fear, no shaking… I get more calm after being bitten than when I’m not bitten. I love it.[phone ringing 00:24:28.14]
Tim, how are you doing, man? I was just gonna grab some breakfast… I just thought I’d check in and see how you’re feeling today.
Tim: I feel like a fuckin’ pile of fuck, that’s how I feel.
How was your night?
Tim: Didn’t sleep. Swollen up like a motherfucker. Go have some breakfast man, we’ll be here.
Okay, I’ll give you a call after I eat, maybe like in an hour.
Tim: Yeah, do that. Bring us a little bit of fluids, I’ll be here man. [unintelligible] Just bring me some fluids.
And the pain, still…?
Tim: Oh, fuck… Put your hand on that fuckin’ table and give me a hammer; I smash it, and that’s what it feels like.
Tim: Do you like Tool?
Um, I’m actually good, I ate before I came here.
Tim: No, the band, Tool.
Oh, I thought you said “Tuna”. [laughter]
Tim: Oh, tuna. I hope you like tuna! I like Tool and tuna! [laughter]
Tim: It’s cool in here… Somebody took a big fuckin’ shit.
Gretchen: Yeah, I saw that. That’s what drew me to it.
Tim: Wanna clean some cages? A garbage bag please, honey.
Gretchen: I’ll get that.
Tim: It should be right out there.
It’s a pretty distinct smell.
Tim: They eat and shit, that’s all they do. I mean, it’s all they do.
Cleaning a PNG (Papua New Guinea) Taipan. Obviously, I fed it a lot last week, so it’s twice as bad as the last. They shed too, lovely. The Taipan’s got…Yeah, it’s a nasty son of a bitch.
Alright guy, you’re going back in. Staying very clearly away from there.
Gretchen: …I’m getting in the door.
Tim: You didn’t expect it, did you?
What? Were you planning on doing that?
Tim: Not really… I like sporadic things.
For those of you listening at home, Tim just took another bite. Why did you do that?
Tim: Push the limits, beyond the limits.
What was it like for you just now, watching Tim take that bite?
Gretchen: Um, anxietizing, definitely… At least I didn’t cry. [laughter] No, every time he handles snakes I get a bit worried, even though I know that he’s immune. But it does worry me because of the anaphylactic shock.
Tim: I don’t get any shock.
Gretchen: I know you don’t… Yeah, I worry a little bit. I love the man, so I don’t wanna see him hurt.
Tim: That’s great, here’s the one hundred twice bite…
Gretchen: Here we go, this the mean one… Mr. McPissy Pants.[loud snake rattle 00:27:22.14]
Tim: Do you see the tongue coming out? Look at that… Isn’t that cool? I’m smelling you…
Tim: Everybody tells me, “You’ve got one more to go and you’re gonna go down. There’s no way you’re gonna surpass two hundred bites in 16 years and not go down.” There’s no room for error. There’s no bad days. Do you think that snake gives a flying fuck if I’m sick or or my back hurts? Or if my math is wrong or if my notes are wrong? There’s one thing to do – to kill me. And I have one thing to do – to beat that motherfuckin’ bite.
It’s pure fuckin’ evil, and there’s no emotion, and that’s the best relationship I’ve ever had with any animal in my life – that includes women, that includes my rats, that includes my dog, that includes everything. It just wants to kill me, and my job is to beat that. If I can beat that, I win. If not, he wins.
I had a dream a long time ago, before I really started to do this Black Mamba bite to beat death… What would it be like to beat the most baddest motherfucker on the planet – not once, but a hundred times – and how it would feel? And the feeling is the same every time, it’s like, “Man, I beat it again.” That’s pure death, and I love that. It’s very unachievable for most people, and I love that.
He’s sitting here right now just waiting, saying guess what? “Give it a fuckin’ shot again.” That’s a beautiful thing.
* * *
Tim: There ain’t no fancy fuckin’ labs, there ain’t no bullshit. It’s fuckin’ Tool, smokin’ cigarettes, drinking whiskey and getting bit.
Nick van der Kolk, Host & Producer
Steven Jackson, Producer