“There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning. . . .
And that, I think, was the handle—that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting—on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. . . .
So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.”
Hunter S. Thompson Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
With so few prospects for a recent MFA grad in sculpture, I thought joining forces with others, starting a commune, would soften the harsh winds of existence. Little did we know those winds were howling inside each of us. Our little group had visited various experiments in this way of life: The Farm in Tennessee, The Bruderhof in Rifton, New York, Emissaries of Divine Light in Loveland, Colorado. Our causal nexus was to be creative spirit: poets, painters, musicians—but, we were all hard at work trying to hammer out the nature of our own “voices” and really had little interest in a true communal life. I had given up much of the studio life to learn the fundaments of construction and vegetable production. My DIY plan á la Helen and Scott Nearing held sway, the Whole Earth Catalog on the nightstand. The I Ching always at the ready, Carlos Casteñeda the front-runner for explications of the Mesoamerican mystery of fancy drugs, Chögyam Trungpa for guidance into the great mountain of Buddhist thought. Chasing down a teacher… being a teacher… and finally just get on with it…If you are called to art, just do it everyday, even for only five minutes. At least that’s what I finally came to. The 8th deadly sin was Ascedia, the failure to answer the call to vocation. All the shamanic steamrolling, the weekend retreats wouldn’t do a thing for you if you didn’t listen to your own call and do it every single day.
At one point, in this age of Gurus washing ashore on a High Pressure front of American-style narcissism, we thought a good business would be a kind of “What’s your Trip” brokerage service. Matching your longing to a master. EST for a little ego pumping, Rajneesh for the masochists, Scientology if you felt you had too much money and wanted to get rid of it, etc. etc.
By the time we were done with communal foraging, exhausted by rolling seas of psyche, with my wife and 2 year old baby we set off for California’s siren call. The creative life is individual. Duh! There is no commune in the studio. Four months of zig zagging across the continent in a VW van, headed down HWY 1, turned at Olema onto Sir Francis Drake and into the San Geronimo Valley. “I have no idea what I am going to do (with my life), but this is where I’m going to do it” (Been here ever since.) A refugee from my own very unclear thinking about what it would take to live a communal life, I arrived in West Marin, my new home the day Nixon resigned.
Broke, no job, I frequented the job placement center at the Marin Civic Center. Hopeless. Next door to the job counseling center and bulletin board postings was the magnificent Frank Lloyd Wright domed library— I’ll check out the art magazines to the see about the folks who are actually being artists. Find out what’s the next big deal? What’s Leo Cash-telli showing? — Magazines were expensive and well out of my nothing-for-lunch budget.
I flipped open Artforum, and because it was a gatefold it fell to Lynda Benglis’ ad. (NSFW) It slammed all my “poor me” wool-gathering into a brick wall. Here under the calm of Wright’s School of Athen’s style dome, that electric jolt of an ad popped my sad bubble. She unleashed the artist as shapeshifting holy fool. Yes! Art is about freedom of expression. This was the real radical politics of the image. This is what art could be. Take a stand mother-fucker—show don’t tell. Pornographic? Sure. For me, it was my call to action: I will continue. The arrival of this new life came with an answer to all the 1960’s turmoil: I will live my life as though we had fought the “Revolution” and won.