Community

Going back to Paradise, Elysium Fields: Topanga’s Clothing-Optional Club

 

Elysium today 2017

Gate to Elysium Fields site, 2017

“Five dollars please young man,” requested the mustachioed thirty-something man wearing only flip-flops and beads.  I handed over the money and proceeded to the men’s changing room.   Slowly I undressed for this first time in public nudity, anticipation rising I joined the crowd in the park-like grounds.  Even though it was 1971, still a bold act for a 21-year-old kid from the suburban conformity of the San Fernando Valley.  Just ten miles from my childhood home, I had landed at Los Angeles’ haven of the liberated human body and mind.

Given the zeitgeist of these times of building twenty-foot border walls, ethnic registries, and 24-hour surveillance, I wondered ‘could that memory have been real?’  Not just the practice, but the ideals. Audaciously the founder, a journalist and father-figure of American nudism, Ed Lange called his human potential naturist (or nude) club—Elysium Fields referencing the classic Greek mythology of the after-life playground.  In the Sixties such idealistic names were the norm.

I learned about Elysium in a purloined copy of Playboy magazine, but it took several months for me to find out its exact location.  Being young and fairly inexperienced, I was curious and excited about the expanding sexual/ social revolution and Elysium sounded like a perfect place to join it.  Being a hippie radical, I regularly visited the Free Press Bookstore (ground zero for the counter-culture in LA) on Fairfax Ave, and one day someone slipped me the directions to Topanga Canyon’s clothing-optional club.   The two canyons that mattered in Los Angeles back in the Sixties and early Seventies were Laurel and Topanga.  Over-looking Hollywood, the former was the vortex of the burgeoning hippie rock scene of LA, whereas the hard-core back to the land hippies landed in Topanga.  LA’s closest alternative to San Francisco’s Marin, Topanga hosted love-ins, festivals, and other hippie events back then (and still does to this day).  With lots of open space, it epitomized local favorite, Canned Heat’s hit song, ‘Goin’ Up the Country.’

 

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Classic 70s look of Elysium Fields, Topanga

 

In those revolutionary times, a few experimental communities, each with its own flavor, emerged in Topanga,.  The most notorious, Sandstone required a special invitation due to its partner-swapping parties.  Another was known for esoteric spiritual rites like yoga, incense, séances, chanting and so on.  And then there was— Elysium Fields.

After numerous successful lawsuits the LA County Supervisors gave final permit approval, and Elysium Fields flourished as a private membership-only club until the 1990s.  A good neighbor, the club was well-respected member of the Topanga community.  Unfortunately, after Ed Lange died in 1995 his two daughters sold the property for $2.5 million.  The executive director, Betty Meltzner and her husband poured their personal money into a new property in Malibu, but it soon floundered.

On a hot summer’s day, I enlisted my buddy, the Silver Tongue, (whose soft, understated voice was like a FM DJ) and raced  through the mountain curves in my Triumph sports car (top down), a potent mix of anxiety and fear kept my pedal on the floor.   Just north of the center where the Post Office, a head shop and the general store served local residents, a plain street sign announced Robinson Rd.  Twisting and turning uphill for a couple miles, we arrived at a solid, wooden 10 foot fence with a regular house gate and purchased our temporary memberships.  Forking over the high admission charge (in those days $5 would buy two record albums or a ticket to see the Animals at the Hollywood Bowl), we summoned as much cool as possible for a two horny, young guys from the Valley.

Once we got over the initial jitters, we had fun sipping wine, looking at the girls behind our sunglasses, and cooking in the hot tub.  I envied the regulars who had booked the private meditation room in advance.   I made a few contacts but didn’t get lucky that day.  In addition to the recreational activities, human potential workshops (a la Esalen) were offered on various days.   I planned to come back for enhancing my aura, thinking it may help me get girls, but I never did.  My consciousness was still wrapped up in my Berkeley college days and the political revolution, not personal enlightenment.

Although I embraced the counterculture ethos of skinny dipping at youth hang-outs like Tahquitz Falls in Palm Springs, Elysium was more than kids self-consciously jumping into the water.  Distributed around the lush lawn a couple dozen ‘grown-ups’ ranging in age from 25-50—all naked—‘frolicked.’  Not just lying around, but playing volleyball and shuffleboard or chatting and sipping wine, while several waited for a turn in the sauna/ hot tub.  All in all, a civil, calm adult scene.  We meandered on the look-out for young women to ogle among the mostly ‘mature’ women in the grounds.  Feeling quite exposed and nervous the whole time, it felt like a dream, a Maxfield Parish painting from the 1920s, all fuzzy and ethereal.  Mentally I took notes:   Life lesson #1 most bodies are average, more or less, without clothes.  Lesson #2 when nudity is the norm, it isn’t titillating, but actually relaxing, pretense is dropped along with clothes.

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Harbin’s Temple before the fire

Both lessons were regularly affirmed for me years later during my annual trips to Harbin Hot Springs, a clothing-optional neo-hippie resort north of San Francisco, until it burned to the ground in 2014.  On the other hand, non-participation invites the voyeurism seen at Black’s Beach near La Jolla in San Diego in the 70s.  When the word got out that people were disrobing at Black’s, the cliffs above soon became a magnet for all kinds of  with binoculars.  The scene was ruined.  That never happened to Elysium.  Maybe it was the admission fee and the secluded location, but it exemplified the highest hippie ideals; free love (not just physical), community, consciousness expansion, and fun.

Fast forward to 2016 and the emergence of my seniority in age, if not maturity, one of my interests now is pilgrimage to the old counter-cultural scenes.  What was the back story?  What was it about?  What did it contribute to my life and others?  What, if any, survives the decades?  We live in a continuous present with ever thickening layers of experience over experience, which often results in embellishment, denial, and puffery.  With that in mind and wondering if I could find any artifacts and spirit of the old Elysium Fields of Topanga, I drove up there recently.

The Robinson Rd sign still points to the highlands where bucolic spaces welcome dogs and beat-up old vehicles.  I passed fancy restored homes closer to the highway, and then higher up, California oaks thicken and the yards get bigger and some with old trucks and equipment rusting in the weeds.  My thoughts drifted back to that day decades ago and the spirit of possibility I felt.  This day I sensed or saw nothing evocative of that magical day in 1971, just a few Buddhist prayer flags and a phone pole with a flyer announcing a lost dog and guitar lessons.  Your classic Topanga life that could’ve been 1991, 1971, or 1951, still expressing eccentric individualism and California country living.  Although in my Porsche Cayman (still in a sports car), I drove slower this time taking it all in.   At the assigned address, a foreboding gate blocked the entrance.  My only option to get closer was farther  up Robinson Rd around the backside where I saw the familiar lush, green lawn, surrounded by a few out buildings.  And empty.  No people.  No dogs.  Like an empty movie set.  I tried to imagine that day with the hip, exploratory young and middle-aged adults of LA who came up here to explore consciousness and sexual freedom, but no ghosts appeared from the oaks and the luxury cars.

Today that site and most of Topanga look the  same, but the visit revealed the lessons of Elysium.  A significant element of those free-wheeling times in the Sixties/ Seventies, Elysium made a mark as a real-world example of progressive culture that transcended ethnicity, age, and sexual orientation.   For me, my vision of community, creativity, and expression was solidified in the rustling leaves of the oaks.  Now, I realized it is my turn to share the hope and the ideals that I tasted that day over forty years ago.  Even in these potentially dark days of moralistic, hypocritical family values national leaders, experiments in liberation and community continue and always have.  Deep in my heart and many others of my generation, the experiments of those days aren’t forgotten.     Its seeds continue to sprout in healthy, consciousness-expanding, uninhibited resorts and communities all over the world.   Elysium was a dream, but the dream didn’t die.

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Venice West: No Longer Beat Down

Next time you sip that espresso with organic, gluten-free sesame muffin, and listen to a open-mike poet at your favorite local café, you’re in debt to a culture and a time long obscured by the flood of history.  A typical evening at the café included a round or two of poets reading accompanied by bongo drums, while fellow beats sat around sipping espresso.  At times a painter would use the blank wall as a canvas for his colorful expressions.  You might have heard Stu Perkoff reciting  his piece about  a physically and  spiritually complete life:

Feasts of Love, Feasts of Death by Stu Perkoff

sitting on the benches, bodies warm & throats  filled with joy & love

we offered worship

sitting warm, eyes & skin touching, love flowing 

we offered  worship

               we sang

& spoke languages & poems

offered worship & love

mixing the birds of passion & the swords of God

in our beautiful young eyes

 

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The  Beat scene 1959 at Venice West

If you’re in the LA area,  the direct line to your coffee place, the Osteria Venice West, faces the boardwalk in Venice.  Look across Dudley St. from Osteria Venice West in Venice (formerly Los Angeles’ beach slum and now the high-tech Silicon Beach) and you’ll see the restored, chic Cadillac Hotel.  In that beachfront block, where tourists, inner city visitors, homeless drunks, street vendors, and occasional locals like myself mix in a bouillabaisse of humanity, it’s not hard to imagine  LA’s fifties counter-culture congregating here 55 years ago.   Like today’s eclectic crowd, the beatniks, refugees from “squaresville,” hunkered down in this space then known as Venice West Café.  Some lived across the street in the Cadillac, at that time a low-rent boarding house.

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Original Venice West

This is the only site from that era recognized by a city of Los Angeles historic marker of the Beatnik scene of the Fifties in  LA. Other Venice Beat locations such as the Gas House (now a vacant lot filled with weekend vendors of tourist paraphernalia) and Lawrence Lipton’s house on  Park Ave don’t get that modest respect.  But Osteria Venice West houses the spirit and vibe of the beatniks that begat the hippie culture, which in turn continues to impact our world through the counter-cultural ideas of yoga, organic food, classic rock, environmental concern, and global community.

Although some of the heroes of the hippies in the sixties and seventies had their beginnings in the Beatnik world (Allen Ginsberg, Ken Kesey, and others), I knew next to nothing about the Beatniks.  As a former history teacher and an original Hippie, soon after I turned 65 I began to look backwards to hippie’s forbears—the Beats.  (There’s something about reaching that magic  number,  which I’ll go into on  another occasion.)  After graduating from UC Berkeley in the seventies, I moved to Venice:  At the time the vestiges of what had been a slum and refuge  for artists, hippies, and other low-income individuals still lingered.  Funky (a word coined by the Beats) and casual, I felt right at home in Ocean Park/ Venice.

Alienated and not just a bit lazy, most of the Beats were young men who landed in Venice initially because it had fallen on hard times.  Once a bold and glorious real estate development, Abbott Kinney’s Venice of America offered the burgeoning city of Los Angeles a beach fantasy land complete with canals, luxury hotels, amusements, and casinos.  Kinney and his partner Francis Ryan had planned a massive project from Ballona Lagoon on the south to Santa Monica Pier to the north.   But due to a business conflict, they split and the northern piece, Ocean Park, went to Ryan and was eventually annexed by the city of Santa Monica.  Kinney established Venice of America in 1905.  It was an immediate big hit, but over the years as most flashy scenes do, Venice faded.  Starting in the twenties and with the advent of Prohibition a gang element took over. Followed by the Depression and then World War II, by the forties Venice’s former glory was just a memory with the old hotels turned into rooming houses for the elderly and poor.

Perfect for artists and bohemians with its cheap rents away from meddling by the power brokers of LA, it soon became a magnet for alienated young men and women who wanted to drop out from the mainstream.  To distinguish themselves from the squares, a slang developed that would assist a beatnik in determining a wannabee square from a fellow beat.  Many of their terms, ranging from “cool” to “cop-out” to “funky” to “turn on” to “shack-up”  and many others are still in use today.

Venice West Aug '16

The author on  the  scene 2016

On the contrary:  The counter-culture known as hippie, which grew out of the beat subculture, although also anti-establishment, had a vision more idealistic, hopeful, and celebratory.  Rather than sitting around in black turtlenecks and goatees reading Howl and listening to introspective jazz and hitting on  “horse” or heroin, Hippies wore colorful costumes and grew long hair and convened love-ins in parks where they danced, painted faces, and tripped on mind-expanding  drugs.  The Hippie movement caught on with millions in the sixties and its’ lifestyles and principles spread through out society, attracting young and young-thinking people world-wide with an optimistic vision for the future.

As an ardent participant in the hippie movement, I knew our antecedents were in the beats.  And I’ve lived in Venice/Ocean Park for over forty years, but I knew very little about them. Sure, I’d read Kerouac, Ferlinghetti, Snyder, and Ginsberg, but knew little of their beliefs, values, and culture.  After reading a historical summary of Venice West, a visit to the seminal beat location seemed appropriate.  It  would  be a kind of pilgrimage to my cultural ancestors, akin to visiting Gethsemane in Jerusalem or Trieste Cafe or City Lights Books in San Francisco or CG Jung’s tower near Zurich.  Everyday places now, but sites of cultural significance.

Venice West Café Expresso was established by Stuart Perkoff in mid-1958 to capitalize on the growing trend in coffeehouses.  He and a partner bought 7 Dudley  Pl, former shul (a Jewish meeting house) and later bleach factory .   They ripped off the  plaster and exposed the brick walls.  On opening day a hand printed sign announced Art is Love is God.  Perkoff, one of the original Venice Beat poets, had recently broken with Lawrence Lipton, whose January 1959, firsthand account of the burgeoning Beat scene, The Holy Barbarians, attracted national attention to the area.  Feuding with Lipton and running short on funds Perkoff sold the café in Janaury 1959, just before Holy Barbarians‘ publication in February, 1959.

The book sparked widespread interest in the beats and soon throngs of wannabees, weekend Beatniks, and tourists descended on the area and Venice West Café.  At times a painter would use the blank wall as a canvas for his colorful expressions.  Often one could hear a poet spouting his (they were almost always men) verse backed by a bongo player and/ or jazz musicians.  The café flourished, but eventually after years fighting closure by the city due to complaints by uncool, non-Beat neighbors, Venice West closed in 1965.

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Osteria Venice West Cafe today

On my visit to the site of Venice West, I noticed how much and how little has changed in Venice.  Within 50 feet of the now luxury café, Osteria Venice  West,  the homeless population congregates and hits up city day-trippers with crafts and sullen stares. Recently next door at the Candle Café, I attempted to have a calm conversation  with a friend while a rag-tag crew of ‘musicians’ played amplified instruments and passed the bucket.  Is it fair to say they are the descendants of the Beatniks?  They still play music, create “art,” and take a lot of drugs and alcohol.  Or is the proprietor of the organic, gourmet restaurant?

The borderlines of counter-cultures are never sharp and constantly shifting as ideas get absorbed and co-opted into the mainstream.  But in exploring the roots of bohemian Venice, I discovered that alternative values such as free-love,  creative  expression and individuality don’t belong to any one “movement.”  Like the flowing garb of the Hippies and the free verse of the Beatniks, the counter-culture is constantly shifting and not limited by any label.  Once the  site of an innovative tourist attraction, followed by decay, poverty, Beatnik drop-outs, Hippie idealists and today by Silicon Beach techies, Venice has always offered a break from the  cookie-cutter, ersatz world of consumer culture.

Although of short duration and small numbers, the beat influence has been surprisingly long lasting.  In addition to its gifts to the vernacular and our coffee tastes,  it also left us the drum  circle which continues to this day on Sundays on Venice Beach.   And like many counter-cultures, it encouraged sexual liberation, eschewed ethnic bigotry, and advocated an anti-war creed.  Its’ embrace of cool jazz and cannabis predicted the wide dissemination of such tastes.  And most importantly, the Beats recognized that mindless consumerism was a hamster-wheel, which research psychologists have confirmed does NOT lead to greater happiness or life satisfaction.

A key feature of Beat was the acceptance that anyone is a creative soul.  One didn’t have to get an MFA to spout poetry or write a novel or throw paint on a canvas.  What mattered was your authenticity and soul.  The Beat movement was the first counter-culture to practice and encourage that the freedom to create is available  to everyone.  Their vision seeded today’s creativity explosion seen in the availability of on-line video, print-on-demand books, blogs such as this, and sound clouds, where anyone with the courage and the urge can be an ‘artist’ and publish their creations.

More than a trend or a style, the Beats demonstrated that ‘living  in society and not of it’ is possible.  So, when you down an espresso or attend an open-mike, you’re sampling a bit of Beatnik.

plaque Venice West

Giving respect to  the  tradition (on the wall at the site)

Categories: Community, Creative Expression, Discover / Adventure, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Getting Called Out at Little Beach, Maui (creative expression/ community)

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Descent to Little Beach

“Hey man, why you reading the paper?  It’ll bring you down,” said a young man at the weekly celebration at Little Makena Beach on the Hawaiian Island of Maui. Awoken from miasma, his words blasted me back to the present.  I came all the way here from LA, to change my routines and attitude and after only two days, I fell into my pattern from home:  Distracting my ‘here and now’ with reading.  In front of me a crowd of 20 free-spirits danced, drummed, twirled batons and hula hoops and surrounding them a 100+ multi-generational crowd mostly indulged in the clothing optional-custom of this hidden beach.

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Wild ones on the Beach & a stray old hippie

 

My accuser was a skinny guy, about 23, with long, blondish hair wearing a headband and glistening smile.  He moved easily and quickly from one group or individual to another like he was the host of the event.  Of course no one leads this neo-hippie scene, the whole event emerges ad-hoc.  But this man, Joshua, played the maitre de of Little Beach, first drumming, then pulling a six-pack of beer out of a cooler and passing one to whoever he meets, myself included, then stopping for a hit off a joint and talking with a group of three young women, and then prancing down to the beach for a chat with an older guy with a long,  gray beard.  No generation-gap here.

The tropical sun blazed down on the revelers and I desperately sought some shade.  Back home I enjoy hot, sunny days, but this was too much and I hid in the shade of trees on the periphery of the beach.  That’s when the young host zapped me with the lightning bolt—‘Be here now.’

After miles and miles of jumble of big condo developments and tourist shopping centers in Kihei, the road goes through the antiseptic, planned community of Wailea with  its luxury hotel resorts and golf courses and the speed limit ratchets down inexplicably to 20 mph.  Not surprisingly hiding around corners and in  the bushes police wait for the celebrating Little Beachers.  I’ve been coming to Little Beach for decades on my many trips to Maui.  As in most cool places I’ve visited all over the world, the original tip came by word of mouth.  Someone in the tourist center said, “You might like Little Makena Beach.  You get there by driving past the luxury Makena Resort to Makena Beach State Park south of Kihei and park at Makena Beach State Park.”  Makena Beach offers a wide comfortable beach and some basic facilities, but  you have to know that somewhere over a lava outcropping lies a hippie haven.

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Carefully edited view of the Beach

 

Back in the day the original hippies crawled over the rocks and in the secluded cove let go of clothes and inhibitions and ‘cleverly’ named it Little Beach. The word spread and the Sunday afternoon bacchanal grew into a tradition and legend in the hippie world.  Nowadays one sees mostly younger folks like the young man who woke me up that day, but mixed in the crowd are many gray-haired celebrants.

Maui is like that now.  My first visit in 1976 etched the placed in my soul as a tropical idyll.  Beautiful scenery ranges from volcanoes to deserts to rain forest to tourist beaches , while at  the same time it is a typical American small city with all of the conveniences from Home Depot to Costco. But in those days for us Maui was a nature adventure.  A company called Beach Boy Camper Holidays rented converted pick-up trucks that we parked at any beach park and camped for free.  It was the anti-tourist tour of Hawaii.  That freedom of movement combined my priorities, freedom of movement and comfort.  Stop where and when you feel it and relax.  Maybe that underlies the appeal of the RV culture of today, freedom and comfort.

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Firesticks and dancers at sunset

 

Of course, the whole world is a lot more packaged these days.  Finding and participating in the free expression of Little Beach revived the part of me that is still 25. But it is difficult to find, since I just don’t travel in those globe-trotting young peoples’ circles these days.  No hitch-hiking, not much hanging out in bars, and needing a bit more comfort (bed and warm shower).  Stoked I stayed til almost sunset, and as I left groups of people were just arriving with their drums and batons and ice chests.  The night  brings on a wild fire dance I’m told.

On this trip to Maui I had the good fortune to drop into a group of free-spirited young people.  I rented a room via AirBnB, because I wanted to stay in a locals’ neighborhood.  The room and the house provided what I needed, plus the unexpected benefit of hanging with free-spirited youth.  As it happened, the owner was out of town and he had a friend stay to supervise the rooms.

About 24, she quickly invited her new boyfriend to stay.  About 22 with long hair with an occasional penchant for wearing long dresses, he had recently left a work/ stay arrangement at an organic farm and now was looking for work as a waiter.  Another day, a friend of his from home (Grand Rapids, MI) arrived who worked as a tree-cutter.  Finally a third guy who is a medical marijuana care-giver came from Michigan for a short visit.  So, we had an instant communal crash pad, just like I experienced in the seventies.  Someone scored a place to stay in a cool place, and the crew showed up.

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Pondering the ephemeral aspect at Buddhist cemetery

 

Like me, they had come to Maui searching for something different from home and its routines.  My Venice home serves me well, but it gets old after awhile, more so since I jumped out of the rat race.   Some older, retired people share this with young people:  We’re both free of most responsibilities and the adventurous ones break out:  The world calls, wanderlust hits and at the slightest hint or suggestion, it’s off to on a new adventure.  Even in touristy Maui.

Maui hit the spot for an easy break from the mainland routine.  The weather is almost always perfect, spectacular natural sights await, and has all the comforts of home.  For me as an adventure traveler it takes some adjusting, because the edginess that appeals to me is hard to find. But the revelry, expression,  and connection of Little Beach made it for me.  Don’t miss it, even if you weren’t a hippie.  Fun can be infectious.

Categories: Community, Creative Expression | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Burning of the Age of Aquarius (boomer remembrance/ ideals)

Hair2009When I went to the revival of the first rock opera, Hair, a few years ago, out of nowhere tears flowed down my face during the rendition of Let the Sunshine in/ Aquarius.  I looked over at my girlfriend and she asked “What’s wrong.  It is a joyful song, it is a hopeful message.”  I responded, “You had to be there.”  And she was from a different country and generation, and the Age of Aquarius was just a song.  For me and many of our generation Hair codified our culture’s ideals and vision.  In September 2015 a real world expression of that vision incinerated.  It may be rebuilt, but it won’t be the same.  Harbin Hot Springs’ latest incarnation was a direct descendant of flower power in the best sense of that term. The recent conflagration elicited a similar reaction in me of a long ago vision finally, inexorably GONE.

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Before the Valley Fire photo Ed Gold

When the Valley Fire in September, 2015 descended on an ancient hot springs resort, buildings over a hundred years old turned to ash.   All that remains is the twisted dragon shaped iron works and the pools.  Originally a haven of the local indigenous people, nineteenth century entrepreneurs capitalized on the then massive demand for the ‘cure’ and built a succession of resorts in this spot  in northern California.  Located in an out of the way canyon near Middletown, CA (named for its location as a stage stop middle way between Calistoga and Clear Lake).

 

A lifelong counter-culturalist (even in my disguise as a inner city high school principal), I discovered Harbin Hot Springs in the mid-90s.  A quirky, enigmatic, poet friend  peeped to me almost on the down low about this edgy place two hours north of San Francisco. One weekend we rolled up from LA.  That first day felt like a homecoming for me.  Disregarding the signs that prohibiting alcohol and drugs, we fired up before entering and sat in a perch in the oaks overlooking a motley crowd of hippies of all generations, ethnicities, sexual orientations, and styles.  After the first few minutes, the titillation of dozens of naked bodies strolling around wore off and a kind of reverie settled in.  Peace, love, and happiness prevailed.  The natural hot springs pool accommodated about a dozen people—all in meditative silence.  Around the regular pool and the heart-shaped pool people carried on soft conversations, but mostly sat and read or napped.

 

1-2Slowly Harbin developed into my own Shangri-la, where I regularly sought respite from the pressures of the career, modern life, and my everyday self.  At Harbin, I could count on meeting new friends, whether alone or with a friend.  Odd encounters frequently happened, like the time I ‘accidentally’ ran into an acquaintance from home two years running.  Or a couple years ago when I wanted to watch the NBA finals and went to the local brewery and met someone I had just spoken with in the pools.   Sometimes I had romantic encounters, but mostly it was community.    By showing up there, we self-selected into this tribe from the Age of Aquarius.

369That same vibe happened back in the sixties/ seventies, when every kid in the concert or the demonstration was a friend simply because we were there.  We shared values.  Everyone was pre-qualified as a fellow traveler of the Sixties counter-culture.  Harbin felt the same.  It attracted like-minded souls from around the world.  I once had a didjeridoo healing from a young woman from Israel and after that kept running  into her.  Then there was the German woman who lived in Santa Fe, NM I encountered two years in  a  row.

tumblr_m2sr743gXD1r3fhtgo1_1280Harbin was resurrected from ruins of a failed commune by Ishvara (originally Robert Hart) in 1972, who then sold the property to a religious corporation, Heart Consciousness Church in 1975.   For the past fifteen years on my annual trip I marveled at the on-going, quirky enhancements to the magical vibe.  One year they added a winding path decorated with dragons and hobbit-like railings from the store front to the market.  Several years ago a major improvement arose in the form of the Temple which looked like an old time big top circus with perfect acoustics.  The pools stayed largely the same except for the addition of sauna and steam bath rooms.  Lately, as a sign of our increasingly digital age, electronic devices were banned from the deck area due to privacy concerns.

Harbin wasn’t all quiet and peace.  They could party with either unconditional dance or live concerts providing entertainment along with the free, couch-filled movie theater.  At the dances, free flowing half naked guests and residents gyrated to the dj music—No partners (just like at psychedelic concerts at the Fillmore in San Francisco).

Community vibes could happen anywhere at Harbin.  The communal kitchen operated as the center for visitors.  You could leave excess food in the community box.  Help yourself.  That applied during meals as well.  Many times I’ve shared my food with strangers.  Of course, no meat was allowed in the kitchen.

The heart of Harbin was the staff:  Over the years I had many engaging conversations with the staff and they all had a story.  Not drop-outs, but drop-ins to a calmer and freer lifestyle.  I’ve met engineers, clowns, and teachers who now played the roles of housekeeping or cook or security.  For some, Harbin was a temporary refuge from the struggles of the world, and for others it became home.  As the community aged the quarterly newsletter reported the passing of longtime residents.

344Hippie ideals of peace, love, and community rooted and prospered at Harbin largely due to the vision and commitment of Ishvara.  Ishvara is not a man who seeks notoriety, but at the same time has always harbored big dreams for Harbin.  As true hippies they honored they appreciated the history of the place and the character of the 100 year old buildings.  Our parents’ generation had celebrated the modern in all things; new tract homes were preferred to older areas like Ocean Park and Venice.  But when hippie evolved out of beatnik, the upbeat, positive hippie converts gravitated to older neighborhoods which had great appeal.  Old stuff had character and soul and that is what we craved—authenticity.  In those days the approbation slung at someone or something hopelessly square was—Plastic.  Plastic, the phoniness of it epitomized our ethos.

The old buildings were rehabbed and restored standing as links to earlier times.  Nothing at Harbin was plastic, fake, bogus.  The old buildings that had survived numerous fires before this time succumbed to the ravages of nature and are now gone.  Now only ruins of the concrete foundations and the stone fireplace chimney and the pools remain.

The Age of Aquarius prospered and flourished at Harbin Hot Springs from 1978-2015, forty years.  And now it is gone.  Yes, it can and will be rebuilt, but the vision expressed in its last incarnation is over.   Hippie dreams have completed their cycle. We had a 130 acres of our vision and now it’s gone. Whatever rises in its place won’t be the same.  It won’t have the same weight of history, of connection to the lineage of the 1960s, and heritage of the original settlers.  The bromide ‘change is constant’ doesn’t say much until we face major transitions which compel reinvention.

I have an old friend from the original hippie days who made a fortune in the fast changing garment industry.  And when I told him about Harbin’s destruction, he reported a ceremony a recent temple dedication in downtown Los Angeles.  A crew of Tibetan monks made a sand mandala and according to their custom blew it away—Impermanence.

Harbin’s oasis of the Age of Aquarius has now returned to dust and whatever shall rise up will be 21st century.  This old hippie hopes they keep a foot or a toe in the 20th Century and remember the tradition of a glorious place where hippies of all ages, ethnicities, and classes lived in harmony with each other and nature.  Nature has its due, and we are part of nature.  But time is real and there is no rewind.

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Categories: Boomer Ideals/ Remembrance, Community | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Red, Gold, and Green Comes Together in DTLA (community)

Bob Marley is the King

At the  prophet—Bob Marley’s yard  in Kingston

“How many saw Marley perform live?” inquired a seventy something man with dulcet vocal tones, a shock of wild hair, a purple lined sports jacket, and a tie with images of Bob Marley. A couple dozen hands went up, mine included.

A mission on par with my 22 hour flight time to South Africa, but beyond the Bucket List nature of visiting Cape Town, Okavango Delta, and Victoria Falls, had called me to reconnect with a far flung tribe and spirit. Part pilgrimage, part passion, and part community, I heeded the call of Bob Marley.

Looking around the crowd of mostly strangers, I relaxed after my stressful; Waze guided drive to DTLA (downtown LA) during rush hour traffic. More than the new versions of old songs, witty anecdotes by Roger Steffens, I came to connect with of my tribe of fellow Marleyites—Lovers of the music, but in addition adherents of a vision of community beyond the isms and schisms that often separate us.

reggae archives

In Roger Steffen’s Reggae Archives

Roger greeted me and many others with powerful hugs and the personal attention rarely seen outside of family. Pacing in front of the stage without a microphone, he held the crowd of 100 in the auditorium at USC spellbound for over two hours with stories and unreleased videos of Bob Marley. After the presentation each question prompted a quick, relevant and amusing reflection about the reggae icon. Several times during the evening, this audience of diverse ethnicities, ages, and social status, gave Roger Steffens and by extension Marley several standing ovations. As one man in the q & a session proclaimed, “In a hundred years, when Bob Marley achieves Jesus-like veneration, then Steffens will be considered his St Peter.”

Roger Steffens discovered Bob Marley in June 1973 while living in Berkeley, CA and has built a life and career around, as he says, being ‘just a fan.’ He has traveled the world giving talks on the life and music of Bob, written six books on Marley, and building the world’s largest reggae/ Bob Marley archives in the world. And now almost 35 years after the passing of the king of reggae, Steffens epitomizes and crystallizes Marley’s mission of one love—community.

One of my early blogs on Living the Dream Deferred drew a snarky comment from a lifelong friend that community can’t be instant like the reggae gathering at USC. I propose that community is where we find it. It can happen whenever people walk the same path and share a vision and values. Seeing and building these connections helps me to keep stepping when I hit a rough patch or massive traffic. Or as fifteen year old Marley said in his first recorded song, Judge Not—“The road of life is rocky. And you may stumble too.”

Tonight I head out on another mission through the jungle of LA’s freeways to the Grammy Museum. I hope to meet the tribe again and get the word and spirit of One love.

Categories: Community | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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