Posts Tagged With: Community

There’s Still Love-In the Park

Just loving in the park fifty years ago, even ‘The Man’ had fun

Rummaging in my souvenir clothes, next to the glitter cowboy shirt and the Moroccan jelaba, I found my 1967 paisley shirt and multiple-patched bell-bottoms. Somehow without popping the buttons, I squeezed into the shirt with only my belly exposed (After all it’s been fifty years.) Properly outfitted, I gathered a friend who dressed the part too with a flower crown and ripped jeans and my brother, the cameraman and experimental musician, and journeyed back to the merry-go-round in Griffith Park, Los Angeles.

Over the decades the Sixties has achieved a kind of mythic reputation for its music, drugs, free love, and protests, but at the core of it was something more organic, more timeless, and more ephemeral—Community. That deeper impulse of the movement has often been forgotten in last year’s 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love, 1967. What brought it all together was the almost pied-piper like call and mass response by the youth of the day. No social media to provide an ersatz sense of connection, a gathering could only be physical; the only virtual experience was on TV or in some kind of psychedelic haze.

We young people wanted to be with our tribe, whether at an anti-war march, a concert, or a love-in. In the late Sixties and early Seventies in LA’s vast Griffith Park, around the merry-go-round, hosted a weekly Sunday love-in. At the love-in (as long as you were cool without bad vibes) you could get a free meal provided by Cleo Knight and his Green Power, play bongos and guitar, share a joint (no bogarting allowed), and essentially just hang-out without supervision. Going from my suburban home to the love-in meant leaving a world of tract houses, shopping malls, and stifling conformity, and entering a place where friendliness, love, individuality, and kindness ruled.

Love-in Griffith Park, 2017 by RW

Connection with like-minded individuals fuels many gatherings, but our zeitgeist called for personal expression and freedom as well. I recall snide comments by college professors (who mostly wore white shirts and ties) back then that we hippie youth were conformists. Nothing could be farther from my experience. In fact, within certain parameters (long-hair, jeans, beads) we created our own styles. Like the bell-bottom jeans I had patched or the military jackets that I confiscated from my father. Almost anything old, different, or colorful could qualify as hip. Special clothing stores popped up that catered to the new styles. Expressing a rebellious streak, for a season or two, the American flag inspired shirts and accessories. Anything that pushed boundaries of ‘normal’ was OK.

photos love in

Photos from LA Free Press, 1967

 

In August, 2017, dressed in my authentic hippie clothes, I attended the fiftieth anniversary of the first LA love-in hosted by Georgianne Steele-Waller. I expected to see a few dozen old hippies nostalgically rewriting history, but the majority of the 150 attendees weren’t even born until the 80s. I met a twenty-something young woman from Australia who called herself Serenity, a serious young Latino man from Garden Grove who came to make a political statement, a thoughtful thirty-something man, Alejandro, and an assortment of millennial generation vendors selling Indian trinkets and incense and organic ‘wonder’ potions.

Most of the young people didn’t even know there had been love-ins fifty years ago. By way of introduction, I shared the front page of the LA Free Press from those days to one circle of young people; one would’ve thought it was precious artifact from a lost civilization: Passing it around, someone asked if it was real. “Not only that,” I explained “20,000 showed up on that Easter morning, 1967.”

A spontaneous eruption, the original love-in went off without a hitch to the surprise of the mainstream media of the day. A simple announcement in the Free Press, LA’s underground weekly, got the word out. From sunrise to sunset a variety of rock bands played, people danced, and loving community prevailed. Even the few LA PD officers went along with the vibe and accepted flowers from the hippies. Good vibes wafted in the air, like the patchouli incense and marijuana smoke.

Young people want to congregate and party in any era, but in those days teenagers were just discovering the freedom to hang out and the opportunities were rare. Not like now, when an outdoor concert such as the Twilight Concerts on the Pier in Santa Monica, attracts 10,000 partiers and the police worry about security to the extreme.  In 2017, Santa Monica Police marked lanes in the sand to be able to make quick incursions into the crowd for ‘emergencies.’  Too much of a good thing, the Santa Monica City Council has terminated the annual pier concerts.

Front page announcing Love-inLA’s original love-in followed the previous year’s police riot on the Sunset Strip. Heads were banged and many youths arrested, while protesting the demolition of a popular teen hang-out (Pandora’s Box). Immortalized in Steven Stills’ For What It’s Worth by Buffalo Springfield, the song announced a new, assertive attitude from teenagers. Rather than turning up the pressure, the police took a different tack at the Easter love-in a year later, very few arrests were made and even the Los Angeles Times gave a neutral, if muted report.

San Francisco paved the way with its’ Human Be-in. (The suffix –in came from the civil rights movement where protesters would stage a sit-in at a segregated café and then in the Free Speech Movement in Berkeley which held teach-ins). At the January 1967 Be-in a line-up of notable speakers that included Timothy Leary, Allen Ginsberg, and others heralded a new era of the various counterculture ‘tribes’ of liberal San Francisco coming together. In keeping with ideals of freedom and community, the Diggers (one of whom would later become a well-known actor under his assumed name Peter Coyote) distributed free food, clothes, and sometimes crash pads (place to sleep). SF planted the seed with the Be-in, but LA’s version kept up the tradition for many years.

RW & Richard Easton from the Hollywood Hemp Museum

And now, fifty years later some of the originals returned. Mercy from the GTOs (Girls Outrageously Together, a Frank Zappa group) shared some of her memories and her friend, Corby reported how she used to hitchhike from her home in the Valley until the Hells Angels began to disrupt the scene.  Johnny Echols from the seminal LA interracial progressive rock band, Love, expressed his concern that the goodwill and racial unity of that time has regressed, but he remains hopeful for a renewal.  A wild guy dressed in cannabis inspired clothes and hat promoted the marijuana museum on Hollywood Blvd.  One slightly drunk/ stoned fellow claimed to have attended when he was a kid and his aunt brought him.  Everyone had a big smile.

 

For that one day in August 2017 the ideals and dreams of the hippie movement lived again. Cross-generational, inter-racial, and un-commercial, people of many backgrounds came out and fanned the embers of a long ago time, when anything was possible together. Not a mirage or a myth, the Love-in expressed the yearning that dwells in many; not a brand, not a programmed show, and not a celebrity showcase, just the authentic yearning of people for community, expression, and freedom.

YouTube and social media may entertain, but the desire for live human connection still exists. The human spirit wants community. Events like the Griffith Park Love-in peep into that part of us that yearns to reach out of boxes and labels of generation, nationality, race, and class. And come together in love and harmony.

love in poster by Cleo Knight

Ad from the LA Free Press for the Love-in hosted by Cleo Knight

Inner Journey:

Where did you find community in high school or college?  If you were around in the Sixties, where did you connect with like-minded young people?

Action Steps:

How do you find community these days?  Is it commercial or organic?  Step out and try a new activity with the only goal of enjoying yourself.

FOR VIDEOS FROM THE 2017 LOVE-IN, PLEASE CHECK OUR FACEBOOK PAGE

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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.’

 

Elysium sign

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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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.

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