Reflections on Older Brothers

Here’s my best buddy Larry Green in 1966 before he had long hair. Since I’ve already outlined my teenage iconography involving the goddess side of life (see “Origins of Stairway to Heaven” and “Goddess with the Dark Hair”), it might be useful to chart two major influences on the Yang side of life. My two best friends, Larry and Bugsy, both had extremely influential older brothers, both one-year older than us. While my brother was attending an Ivy League prep school (see “Smartest Kids in Town), Larry’s and Bugsy’s brothers were living in San Francisco, the coolest place in the universe in 1967. Having a super-cool older brother gave them both a leg up on me. But those two dudes, they were as different as night and day, and really represented the twin paths that confronted me. And I couldn’t decide which path I wanted to take and kept swerving from one to another.

Larry’s brother, Richard, had gone South during the Civil Right’s Movement and put his life on the line to help those less fortunate than himself. Somewhere along the line, Richard became a full-fledged Bodhisattva, devoting himself to helping people and spreading positive vibrations. Richard came through town periodically, and instead of Champaign County ditch weed, he carried real marijuana that actually got you high. Richard turned Larry on for the first time that summer and then started driving back to Frisco. He broke down around Carbondale, and a stranger helped him fix his flat. Richard gave that stranger a joint as a present for helping him and the stranger called the cops. Richard spent a few months in jail.

But then there was Bugsy’s brother, Don, who’d broken all the rules and walked the wild side since he was 14. His parents had shipped him off to Florida for a special program (probably a CIA mind control experiment—at least that’s what Don and I believe today). At the very beginnings of the ’60s there was already this dichotomy between the peace-love hippie vibe, and the punks who were living in the real world of pimps, prostitutes, pawn shops and pool halls. Don was a master of that world.

Brian Ravlin soon followed Don to San Francisco. Both these brothers, Richard and Don, would soon return to Urbana, however, and I would finally meet both legends in the flesh.