Monday, January 31, 2005

Travelogue, Part 5, Woodstock Nation.

A footnote at eye level; it may cross the mind of some to wonder why I name names and don’t associate them with events or why I mention who someone’s parents were. I’m not gratuitously namedropping, nor are these names exceptional in that regard; save for some on occasion. I’ve a point in mind and that will be clearer once I’ve gotten to it. I see now that after this post I can do a fast forward post encompassing the years to the present as an over view and then summate. Often we don’t see the reason for things because the actual conclusion is other than the one we think we were attempting.

Before I wound up living on Mead’s Mountain with Father Francis and working for Peter Whitehead; when Billy first brought me to Woodstock I initially was at the commune on Ohayo Mountain. It was primarily financed by Gerry Swartz who owned Slugs in N.Y.C.
Slug’s was the premier jazz club in New York City at the time. There was a faux Manson type (far more of these were around than you might think) named Bob Williams; a former professional bowler into a Svengali like fellow whose main interest was sexual encounters under the guise of a nuclear family. This was just prior to the Woodstock Festival which was put together by one Michael Lang; if I ever met a person who was less in the spirit of what the festival was supposed to represent I can’t imagine him; enough said.

Acid and casual sex flowed around me. I was light years from this sort of thing and after a few weeks it was clear I needed other realms. The Hog Farm showed up; here was a group that was also anything but the hype they achieved. None of this looked like my sort of thing so I took off for California and wound up at Altamont instead; right up front on about seven hits of very strong acid. Things had really changed while I was inside. I hooked up with Richard Yerxa who had owned Bookland in Palm Springs but had been converted to a seeker after the nee technologies of the day. Richard and I were very different and you had to be careful with him. He was a superior mountain climber and fearless explorer. If you weren’t taking care you could get hurt around him.

Once we were in Joshua Tree and huge cobras appeared in the desert, maybe thirty feet high. They sucked the sand up into their forms and blew it out of their nostrils to the ground to create wind dervishes. We did a toreador act with them. Richard said, “Let me see what happens if one of them hits me. Well, it picked him up and carried him many meters away and threw him to the ground. That was Richard. A fellow who was there with us later broke his back climbing with Richard.

I went around to all of the people who had corresponded with me and had a myriad of adventures but the West Coast was never really my place and so I came back to Woodstock and it was then that Billy’s mother turned me in.

Woodstock at that time was a fantastic place. I met Michael Green who is now a well known Rumi scholar. A Google search brings up a great deal about him. He is a gifted artist and visionary. He was at Millbrook with Leary. Michael looks like he was carved out of rock and that says a lot about his persona. We would form fire circles in the woods and have ‘sessions’ with a group of like minded souls, chanting to the Amitabha Buddha in a copy of Native American Peyote sessions using LSD. This went way beyond what might happen in a less structured way. He and I lived in teepee’s for several years while running a Macrobiotic restaurant and I had my bookstore as well. We became so inured to the elements that we would walk barefoot in the snow and bathe in mountain streams. That was the life.

I met Sally whom Michael and probably half the town was in love with. My being with her brought me resentment from people that may still remain. I did not drink or smoke and lived as clean as I could aspire to but the world was changing. I began to write songs and learn the guitar. I studied with a group called The Builders of the Adytum who taught the Qabalah and the use of the Tarot in its interpretations, esoteric astrology and the like. I read everything I could find from Eliphas Levi to the Sacred Magic of Abremalin the Mage.

Things happened and things happened. I cannot possibly go into the things that happened in the forests and inside my head. I was a clear as I can remember being and surrounded by a group of like minded people. I met Peter Blum who became my partner in the bookstore and is still a good friend; now a well know Shamanistic teacher, Tibetan bowl singer and hypno-therapist. Peter turned me on to Cocaine and the world changed. Until this time I was probably well liked and well respected. I’d formed an organization called The Survivor’s Club which had as many as 150 members. I was asked to run for mayor of the town by the head of the Democratic party. Cocaine changed everything. Suddenly I was awash in a tidal wave of young ladies and rock clubs. I instantly became an advocate of the left hand path of tantra, a Shaivite. I met a man with kilo’s of pure coke who delighted in giving me large amounts. Rock stars went looking for me in the woods at dawn; very funny.

I became a ghost. Grim things happened and I learned to be clever and dissolute. Yet I was always praying and striving but I was in the wrong boat, seemingly going in the wrong direction.

Guru Bawa showed up in Woodstock and took my whole group away to Philadelphia. Most of them are still there. I went too initially. Guru Bawa (web site on the net) was a Sufi saint of indeterminate age. They’d found him sitting in a tree in Ceylon forty years before, even then an old man. He was about 4’11” and 85 pounds; a man of great power and virtue. It was during this time that I found that although I often got on with the teacher quite well, I had problems with disciples. It’s hard to interact with people who have never lived and who know everything.

I went there with Sally. I tried to fit in. I met my good friend Kenny O’Brien there. Once Bawa looked out the window at me and shook his head and said, “Pavum, what a waste of a brilliant mind.” He also once looked in his hand while talking to me and said, “Ah yes, I’ve read your books, all of them. You will write books of wisdom and I will help you.” I tried to get with the program but I guess it wasn’t meant to be. Sally went to nursing college in Philly and I went to college in Ulster Co. I did so well that it looked like I could matriculate to Swarthmore in Philly. I went back down and met up with some people from Gamble and Huff; the Philadelphia sound. They signed me as a songwriter.

Things seemed to be moving. Then a producer with Columbia Records, the owner of ESP Disk which did many of the jazz greats; Bernard Stollman, signed me away from Gamble and Huff- bad move. I went to New York to record with David Mowry (now with Beaucoup Blues). Rick Glover, a bass player and kung fu aficionado came along (remember him for later). It came to nothing. I seemed to be falling apart inside. My yearning remained at a terrific pitch but everything was crumbling; probably the coke which seemed to always be available to me. I met Susan Sonnenberg who has just divorced Ben Sonnenberg, the son of ‘the’ Ben Sonnenberg who owned one of the most powerful PR firms in the world. When he died Newsweek devoted four pages to the auctioning off of his effects. Susan knew a lot of people and it looked like yet again things were headed up. I broke up with Sally and gave Michael a set of rings. “You marry her.” I said. He did. Her parents were quite upset. They actually liked me. But I knew I was going to lead Sally down. I knew it. I remember saying to myself, “I’ve got to go rock. “ I could literally see sorrow stretching out before me but I couldn’t seem to see my way around it. I went full into the fire.

When you do coke you drink. I never did anything halfway. I became unpredictable. I started hanging out with Richard Manuel for The Band and other people. High living and strong drugs will take you down. All my friends were with the guru. I had exchanged my former aspirations for a mirage. A man went to Bawa with my songs. He thought I might be the next big thing. Bawa was down on this sort of thing but he told me to go ahead; the only one he ever said so to. This caused yet more furors down there. I drifted away and broke up with Susan too; fairly acrimonious that was. Nothing much was coming of anything I was doing except outrageous events becoming more outrageous. I went back to Woodstock and met Betty. Next thing I knew I was in the paraphernalia business, attending boutique shows in New York City and doing coke and drinking and wondering what went wrong. My visions and spiritual encounters turned into a cauldron of melting flesh and sexual excess.

Always I had good friends to lift me up when my world crashed and burned. Paul Dumont carried me for some time, as did Kenny and others. John Fuchs pulled me out of Massachusetts after Betty had gone on to Maui- waiting for me while thousands of dollars from my business went missing at the post office. I don’t know what happened but it wasn’t good. I’d travel to Philly and Washington D.C. moving through a world of ghosts and sad neon, wandering streets full of strangers with stranger lives. I’d become a hollow man. There was nothing to do but sail for a new horizon and Hawaii was the perfect lure.

By now I’d started writing novels, god knows I had enough poetry to prop open the gates of doomsdays break in a high wind. But nothing, not ever, materialized into anything. It didn’t when I was right and it didn’t when I was not right. My saving grace may have been that I knew how to cook and always ate well and I have my martial arts practices that somehow I always held to for some small stability in the torturous changes that inevitably followed over and over.

Once again leaving so very much out but wanting to rush forward and be done for now, next we go to the islands for a little crash and burn.

People are calling me to go to the harbor for the afternoon so I really had to cut this one short and race through it without really seeing what I was putting down- sorry bout that.


Anonymous said...

I guess you were down so long it looked like up to you.

Anonymous said...

All it means is that you will have to write the book. I can feel the suggestion of the anecdotes bleeding through the less than surgical stitching. I understand not wanting to get to close to this in the aftermath, aside from not caring about a personal history it is often painful to revisit. Even so, I'm enjoying it a great deal.

z a

Anonymous said...

reading, enjoying, wishing it were more detailed but waiting, comments evolving alongside.


Anonymous said...

I used to go to Slug's until it got racially inhospitable. I also used to watch your TV show when it came on Woodstock cable a few years ago. You were on next to Saturday Night Live and you were consistently far funnier by yourself for ninety minutes than that whole lame crew. I'm not the only one who has a collection of tapes from that era.

I just visited your web site. My god you have mellowed and evolved. Some of your readers should see what you used to do.

By the way, your music is fabulous.

Nick- a gay guy fron The Catskills
I used to be a bartender at The Maverick and said hello to you in the Grand Union once.

It's fairly ironic I would catch you in the middle of a stroll down memory lane.

Anonymous said...

Cool, very. Far outside what many will understand or appreciate. You get a strange collection of responses. I can't believe they are all serious but that is part of the fun.

Anonymous said...

Do you get days off? You shouldn't.



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