The underwater OM circle

This story is dedicated to Jan Hutton, whose crossed to the spirit realm on June 27, 2013. Jan was a willing participant in all my improvisational ceremonies, no matter how crazy they seemed at the time, because she had a deep connection with the spiritual vibrations. Her spirit is a good place to be.

By the time I went to my first National Rainbow Gathering, I’d already been hanging out with Garrick Beck in the East Village for over a year, and also attending the Rainbow picnics in Central Park, which I stumbled into by accident one afternoon.  So when I arrived at my first gathering, I came well prepared and even carried a bunch of water-based florescent paints so I could make cool signs, paint faces and customize my camp. I built a pretty elaborate scene next to Garrick. This is where I first met the great Fantuzzi, the star of the midnight jam sessions.

Of course, my life turned 180 degrees after that experience. I’d been focused on the garage band scene at the time and leading my band the Soul Assassins to rock’n’roll glory on the Hemp Tour while leading the fight to legalize marijuana, but suddenly I had an urge to put a major effort into spreading Peace Vibe Consciousness. First thing I wanted to do was visit my cousins in Florida. Tom had saved me in 1970 by buying a one-way ticket to Stockholm so I could escape the Vietnam War, an experience both my cousins had been through and neither wanted me anywhere close to that national nightmare.

After Vietnam, my cousins had spent a few years traveling the world. I maintained correspondence with them during this time, and kept everything, including all the Vietnam letters. Someday I’ll put that up on Smashwords, as Tom is a great writer and very funny. They both became anti-war activists right after leaving the service. Eventually, they settled in Delray Beach and got jobs as lifeguards. But they had a secret hideout in the Florida Keys, where they would go on vacations whenever they had time off. I went there to initiate them into the Rainbow Family. My plan was to build a sort of private gathering celebrating the Rainbow spirit, something I thought might convince both my cousins to come and join me at an upcoming regional in Ocala, Florida.

Before my cousins arrived I constructed a giant peace pole and designed some ceremonial spaces.

There were psychedelic signs everywhere. I had a bag of mushrooms and brewed up some mushroom tea, the drinking of which would be our first ritual.

Just to get the right vibe going, after the mushroom tea and ceremonial face-painting, I started reading from the autobiography of Red Cloud.

Most people don’t realize the counterculture came out of Congo Square in New Orleans, and it started as a merger between Black African slaves who had been living in Haiti working the sugar plantations and the local native Americans. You can see the Native influence in the New Orleans ceremonies of today. That influence is huge on hippie culture as well, and it’s a path for all people to experience vibes of Native culture without actually becoming a wannabe because our version is a hybrid of all cultures, which is what Rainbow is really all about. After an OM around the Peace Pole and drumming and chanting, it was time to get into the boats. My cousins had two sailboats at the time, a big one and a little one.

Jerry built the little one himself, as well as the trailer he lugged it around with. It was a masterful craft, very fast and seaworthy. As I recall, there was a race to see which boat would get launched first and Jerry won easily. Once we were out near the Gulfstream, it was time to go snorkeling, one of our favorite things to do in the Keys, and this was before the pollution killed most of the coral.

Then I got the inspiration to do an underwater OM, which actually worked out fantastic since we could all hear each other clearly and it seemed to have a calming effect on the ocean around us.

(I’d later try to do one of these in Jamaica with the High Times staff, but soon discovered they were all wearing life-preservers which made submerging impossible.)

After the underwater OM, I got fascinated by a lonely baby jelly fish and followed the transparent little creature back to his nest, where thousands of relatives were breathing in unison. I was thinking about doing an OM with them, but then suddenly snapped out of my mushroom fog and realized what a dangerous situation I was in. Very suddenly I was swimming full-speed back to the boat.

We loaded up on the big boat and headed back to the safety of our camp. It was a great week, and I had a blast creating my little hippie disneyland, but, in truth, although my cousins went along and joined in on the ceremonies, they didn’t get drawn in enough to want to ever attend a Rainbow Gathering. In fact, Jerry admitted he’d accidentally stumbled into the Ocala Gathering one year and been scared off and freaked out by the sight of some naked hippies. That was the difference between me and my cousins. I had joined the counterculture as a teen while they had joined the army, so going to a gathering for me was like going home. Why it’s so hard for outsiders to get over the nakedness I’ll never know. It’s just another form of freedom, and if you never use it, you aren’t really free.

Whatever happened to experimental theater?

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In the 1960s, the idea of joining an experimental theater troupe was a noble concept pioneered by The Living Theater on the east coast and the San Francisco Mime Troupe out west.

I studied theater as an undergraduate but was mostly initially obsessed with Anton Chekhov. I had a theory most productions were badly directed and failed to appreciate Chekhov’s sense of humor, as well as his ability to poke fun at distinctly Russian personalities. Since American directors had little contact with those Russian personalities, Chevhov’s plays became drawn-out with long, pregnant pauses and bombastic emotions, instead of the light comedy the author had intended.

However, I did become fascinated with the saga of The Living Theater, and would soon learn about Jasper Grootveld and the Provo Movement in Amsterdam. Julian Beck and Judith Malina had drawn the audience into the play, and loved nothing better than ending a performance with the entire audience stripping naked and then maybe going out into the street to perform an ritualistic OM circle around the local draft board. But The Living Theater was quickly hounded out of the country and forced into exile in Italy. They were considered that dangerous. Grootveld, meanwhile, had a much different fate. Today, we know him as the founder of “the happenings,” and he’s considered a performance artist. But his performances were intended to provoke his audience into action, which is exactly what happened. Dressed as an African shaman, Grootveld threw a flaming hoop over a statue in Spui Square during certain special evenings. Marijuana is legal for adult use in The Netherlands as a result of these ceremonies, and that, my friends, is real magic in action.

Boy, did my mind get blown when I finally met up with Andre Gregory’s Manhattan Theater Project during their visit to the University of Illinois around 1972. Their version of Alice in Wonderland (see photo above) was the greatest adaptation of that novel ever achieved. The company also produced a version of Chekhov’s Seagull unlike any other production I’d ever experienced, and one that solidified my belief Chekhov was misinterpreted. Gregory is a Harvard grad, by the way, from the Adams House, once home to head jocks, but later a center of student activism. Gregory learned a lot from Jerzy Grotowski, who re-invented experimental theater through the use of extended improvisations combined with intense yoga and mudra exercises designed to open up all seven chakras to full power. Gregory and Grotowski were really in a class by themselves at the time, both masters of what I call Improvisational Ritual Theater.

Another part of this tradition that gets frequently ignored is Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, who were pursuing very similar art at the time. The Acid Tests were a deeply spiritual endeavor, as well as an artistic statement and Kesey was a pioneer in performance art as well as master shaman and magician. The Pranksters, however, were surfing the fun vibe, while Grotowski, unfortunately, seemed completely humorless, which was probably his tragic flaw. I think you can understand the similarities and differences by just realizing one was based in Poland a few miles from Auschwitz, while the other was based out of Haight-Ashbury.

It’s strange how this tradition has largely disappeared from the planet. I keep the flame alive, however, when I get together with the Temple Dragon Crew. We manifest ceremony, ritual and improv energy for days, and frequently take that ball of energy to a big stage and show it off, like we did recently at the Munchie Cup in Aspen, Colorado, last August. We’ll be back next May.

 

Born-Again Hippies

It takes more than a bag of weed to forge a hippie heart. In fact, most of the time, it takes a major ceremony. I spent a long time searching for answers throughout much of the sixties, but I didn’t get truly “zapped” until I attended the Woodstock Music & Arts Festival in the summer of 1969.

I’d planned to meet up with Larry Green and Carole, but they were coming from New York City, while I was traveling south from Cape Cod. Once the highway was closed, I feared they’d been turned away.

As it turned out, however, meeting people at Woodstock was no problem. I ran into James “Chef Ra” Wilson almost immediately. I could tell Jim was already zapped. His life would never be the same. Davy Goldwasser, one of the brightest kids in town, stumbled into our camp in the middle of the sea of humanity. When the rain came, we hid under a tarp Davy had brought along. A photo of us appeared in a German magazine (left). Note the fence I constructed to keep people off my comfy bed. I remember Larry was really pissed at me for changing into my dry clothes right after the rain blew over. I think it was about the only negative second we experienced at the event, and Larry was afraid the straw we were sleeping on was getting muddied, although I suspect the real reason was Carole’s frequent whispering in my ear.

The zapping I got at Woodstock sure faded over the years, as I went back to college in California and then back to Illinois as I had to work my way through a couple of degrees. I’d lost most of that non-violent telepathic energy by the time I hit High Times in the late 1980s. When I’d first moved to New York at the beginning of the 1980s, my primary interest had been experimental theater, and Julian Beck’s Living Theater was one of my biggest influences. Imagine my surprise when I saw Julian standing on the corner outside my apartment on 98th Street shortly after moving in.

Many years later, however, I’d meet Julian’s son, Garrick Beck, one of elders of the Rainbow Family of Living Light. Soon after meeting Garrick, I attended my first National Rainbow Gathering, which is where I got re-zapped.

That’s when I also decided to inject some ceremonial elements into the Cannabis Cup and WHEE! festivals I’d created. I was hoping to pass this non-violent culture on down and let the future generations get zapped by our peace-love vibrations. We really need a return of this culture in order to heal some of the trauma of the last few years, especially all the shootings. By showing respect for non-violence, you can help turn the children away from the allure of violence. But when you disrespect the cultures of non-violence, you actually urge children toward prejudice and bigotry.

Sad to say, many people walked through these ceremonies over the years and never got zapped by anything. Nothing even close. If anything, they developed a further hatred for hippies, vegetarians and the Rainbow Family. However, there were plenty of born-again hippies created as well. I know because many of them came up to me and told me so, while thanking me effusively for putting them back on the path of non-violence.