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Author: RW Klarin (page 1 of 4)

Them Changes


If we don’t change, we don’t grow. If we don’t grow, we are not really living. Growth demands a temporary surrender of security. —Gail Sheehy

We cannot live for ourselves alone. Our lives are connected by a thousand invisible threads, and along these sympathetic fibers, our actions run as causes and return to us as results. —Herman Melville

The spirit of the original hippie days knocked on my door at a café on San Pablo Ave in Berkeley. While I sipped a dark roast coffee, I looked around a classic  21st century café, with organic, fair-traded coffee, a comfortable patio, retro-chic knick- knacks, and free wi-fi. An empty bottle of Lancer’s circa 1966 sits on a window sill. Surrounded by old stuff, the café evokes a calmer, simpler time. But for many Boomers, the 60s and 70s, didn’t feel simple and calm.

Back then the scent of cultural revolution was in the air. Our generation was going to be different, anti-Establishment values informed us back then. We wanted a change and we wanted it now. A prescient anthem was Dylan’s ‘Times They Are A Changin’ (1962). A tumultuous decade of protests resulted in some modest changes in the political sphere: the lowering of the voting age, end of the draft, more civil rights for women and ethnic and sexual minorities and the impeachment of Nixon. Buddy Miles reflected the stress of those times in his 1970 song, ‘Them Changes.’ In other areas stewardship of the environment, ending futile and pointless wars, and economic fairness, we failed miserably. In these measures we have left our children a country in worse shape than we found it.

One of the most enduring gifts from the Boomer generation is the music and its corollary, the freedom to self express. Our music presented a vision of an idealized time of peace, love, freedom, and harmony in a highly contentious time. We pointed the middle finger at our elders who were ‘square,’ ‘bigoted,’ and ‘uptight.’ All things Establishment were at the risk of our ire and idealism. It was in the lyrics of the songs, but also expressed in other forms— movies, clothes, hair and more. We considered ourselves different, the Now Generation who would set about making the world with peace and. love.  The high point came at Woodstock in the summer of 1969 and later in the year the shadow appeared at Altamont.  The naiveté of the times was shown in hiring the Hell’s Angels for security one of whom  was  accused of  stabbing and killing a young man while Mick Jagger sang, ‘Sympathy for the Devil.’ But many of us were dreamers and lived for freedom and love. Guided by John Lennon’s words in ‘Revolution,’ we sought to free minds instead of perpetrating violent revolution.   The Sixties cry for freedom resonates within most people, especially Americans. Looking back we can see that the ‘liberals’ weren’t liberal enough for many impatient youth. Resistance to the Democratic party’s political dominance prompted the rise of the underground press, the most prominent of which was the Los Angeles Free Press.

Following that spirit of youth and freedom, we aspired to build a new society, but we failed. Our nation took a drastic turn to the right. Since Reagan’s arms build-up that resulted in the implosion of the Soviet Union, we have been on a constant war footing. Coupled with excessive deregulation, anti-union policies, and tax breaks for the 1%, we now live with extreme natural disasters, climate change, increasing gap between the rich and the rest of us, self-righteous religious zealots, and never ending preemptive wars of aggression. It is no wonder that the youth of today look to our music for inspiration. We had great ideas and slogans and made a lasting, if limited impact on the political system as well as lifestyles.  Some argue that the rise of Trumpism began as a reaction to the idealistic New Left of the Sixties.

In the 70’s our generation’s revolution subsided, but had lasting impact on lifestyles (think meditation, yoga, health foods) like others before it. The majority took the road most traveled, the one most traveled.  The by-product of that conformity produced the fruit of climate change and tribalism infecting our body politic today. Nevertheless, we Boomers have continued through the power of our numbers in the marketplace and the voting booth to express our views loudly. However, despite positive trends, such as expansion of gender and sexual equity, organic food, yoga, and electric cars, society has lost ground on key quality of life indicators, obesity, traffic, economic security, bigotry, and personal privacy.

At a talk in Hawaii in 2011, renowned researcher on the science of human consciousness, Peter Russell, was asked if he had hope for the human race given its extreme challenges. His answer, “I don’t know. I hope so, but I don’t see the evidence for it.” As I sat in that room of 100 Boomers and a handful of 21st-century yogis/hippies, I realized that a positive plus of aging is to be knowledgeable and appreciative, of one’s past ideals.

Can we reconnect with our youthful vision of equal rights, economic justice, environmental sustainability, and the end of futile wars? But firstly, we need an honest inventory of our successes and failures. That recollection may be infused with regret or longing, but within the group memory is the power of community. Our generation once had hope, vision, and purpose. We can make a difference again. We now have the age and resources that come with it: time, economic freedom, knowledge, and mobility. Let’s leave a positive legacy. To paraphrase Peter Fonda in Easy Rider, ‘Let’s not blow it again.’

Inner Journey:

What do you miss from your youth? From your middle age (30–60)? What were your ideals in youth?

Action Steps: 

Pick one social issue that inspires your interest. How can you make a difference with your actions? Now do something concrete to address it.

Called Out by My Young Self on Maui


 

RW, Joshua, and a crowd of new hippies at Little Beach, Maui, 2015

“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 here from LA to change my routines and attitude and, after only two days, I fell right back into my pattern from home: Distracting myself 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.

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. But 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 talk 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.

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 all I’m on the island where the popularizer of that phrase, Ram Dass, lives.

After several miles 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 then its speed limit suddenly ratchets down to 20 mph. Not surprisingly, hiding around corners and in the bushes, police wait for the Little Beach celebrants.

All ages bacchanal at Little Beach by RW Klarin

As is often the case in the coolest places I’ve seen all over the world, the original tip came by word of mouth. Decades after my first visit, I still remember that whisper about a hippie haven just beyond a lava outcropping.

Big Makena State Beach offers a wide comfortable beach and some basic facilities, but back in the day, we 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 legendary tradition in the hippie world. One sees mostly younger folks nowadays, like the young man who woke me up that day, but mixed into the crowd are many gray-haired celebrants.

Overall, Maui is like that now, too. 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 Costco to El Pollo Loco. But my first visit in 1976 etched the place into my soul as a tropical idyll, a nature adventure. We rented a converted pick-up trucks from Beach Boy Camper Holidays and camped at any beach park for free (no permits needed). It was the anti-tourist tour of Hawaii, a mix of my priorities of freedom of movement and comfort. It’s the same—relax where and when you feel like it—appeal of the RV culture of today.  This ‘tour’ is not possible today.

Unlike most of Maui, the show doesn’t end at sunset; a night tribe comes out with fire sticks.  The whole world is a lot more managed these days. But participating once again in the free expression of Little Beach revived the part of me that is still 25. As I 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)—that youngster doesn’t often show up. Stoked, I stayed till almost sunset and, as I left groups of people were just arriving with their drums and batons and ice chests for a wild fire dance to welcome the moon.

On this trip to Maui I rented a room via AirBnB because I wanted to stay in a locals’ neighborhood, Paia. 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 . Around the same age, with long hair with an occasional penchant for wearing long dresses, he had recently left a work/ stay arrangement at an organic farm on Maui. The next day, a friend of his from home (Grand Rapids, MI) arrived who worked on island as a tree-cutter. And then a third guy, a medical marijuana care-giver, came from Michigan, too. 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.

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 a while, more so since I quit the rat race (some call it career). Many of us older, retired people share this with young people: We’re both free of most responsibilities and when wanderlust hits the world calls, and the bold ones are off to on a new adventure. For me the remembrance of revelry, expression, and community of Little Beach made for a good excuse to visit Maui, yet again.

We all have that need for novelty, the unknown, and the exotic. Sometimes it is deeply repressed and / or covered by excuses, but it is usually possible to seek and find your own Little Makena Beach, just past the rocky point.

RW Klarin ponders the transitory nature of life at Buddhist cemetery on Maui

Inner Journey:

Recall a ‘magical’ place or experience you had in your youth and haven’t revisited. Imagine what it felt like. How does it feel now?

Action Steps:
Throw away most of your caution and security and go back or do it again. Example: I stopped playing golf when I was 20, recently I picked it up again and it is fresh and fun.

[Ed.s’ Note:  Other essays can be found in RW Klarin’s memoir/ self-help book—Living the Dream Deferred (2015)

Beyond taking you back to one of the most interesting  times in American history, the book can help move you forward on your own mission. IF you DO the Inner Journey and Action Steps that are part of its format.  Then you, too, can head out to exotic isles or create your on wonderland at home.]

Deena Metzger’s Tree is Still Free


A throng of young protesters wearing masks and wielding clubs attack ‘conservatives’ at a rally at UC Berkeley, the home of the original free speech movement. Back in the Governor Ronnie Reagan days, the attackers would have been the ‘Blue Meanies’ as we students nicknamed them in the Sixties.  But now these opponents of speech pose as progressives and claim to be ‘anti-fa;’ (for anti-fascist) protesters who claim lineage to the fully exposed demonstrators of over fifty-years ago. Mario Savio must be spinning his grave.

What has happened to the left? What would the anti-fa do if an Allen Ginsberg look alike pulled one of his anti-establishment rants at a rally protesting conservatives? Would they accuse him of sexual harassment for micro-aggression for his unconventional stunts like disrobing at a poetry reading? Would the words in his seminal poem, Howl, like ‘cock’ and ‘pussy’ offend? What about the frequent speeches like those by ‘Jesus freaks’ on the plaza in the 70s?

Who are these people? Are they FBI undercover agents seeking to disrupt legitimate complaints about conservative positions? That did happen back in the day, and given the level of surveillance and the authoritarian nature of the Establishment today, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were.  But on its face, it is not inclusive.  Authoritarian and intolerant, its’ posturing is antithetical to the values and ideals of the New Left of fifty years ago.

In 1970, I knew a Black Panther and attended a  Panther meeting with him. At that meeting at a coffee house in San Francisco, a lively discussion explored the likelihood of FBI agent provocateurs in the group. By that time, J. Edgar had almost no inhibition in his war against the radical movement.  He planted undercover agents in radical groups around the country in addition to inciting violence at anti-war demonstrations.   And it worked. Discredited by faux radicals and overwhelmed by Establishment newspapers maligning the New Left, the movement disintegrated into squabbling factions like Weather Underground and the SLA.  Fortunately, underground newspapers like the Los Angeles Free  Press and the Berkeley Barb exposed this undermining of progressive politics.

A period of exhilaration occurred when President Richard Nixon was driven from office.   His misdeeds combined with J. Edgar Hoover’s disregard for the constitution validated the radicals suspicion of persecution.  After the Freedom of Information Act was passed, evidence of the government’s harassment of the left was exposed.  In the 1976 presidential primaries, Jerry Brown’s populist campaign and forward thinking ideas reaped the scorn of liberals because he didn’t conform to Establishment dogma. Instead, a mild-mannered but non-innovative peanut farmer, Jimmy Carter, was elected. His moderate policies were easily exploited by the former movie actor and governor who blamed the country’s ills on Berkeley radicals. Seduced by the smiley face of Reagan and his cowboyism, a weary public caved to repression stronger than ever. Most of the radicals cut our hair, got graduate degrees, and/ or built fortunes. In other words, we were coopted.

RW and Deena Metzger at her reading at the Topanga Public Library, October 2917

A few weeks ago, I finally had the opportunity to meet a local Los Angeles hero of free speech—Deena Metzger. Ms. Metzger was a cause celebre’ at Los Angeles Valley College in 1969.  I was a sophomore and anti-Establishment.  At this suburban community college, her cause was our local version of the free speech movement .  Deena Metzger went on to be a prolific novelist, writing teacher, and shamanic healer. But in 1970, she made the front page of the Los Angeles Free Press after she was dismissed from her teaching job for “immoral conduct.”  To illustrate censorship, she wrote and used in class a sexually graphic poem.  The Los Angeles Community College Board of Trustees voted to terminate her.  According to Ms. Metzger, the only vote against her dismissal was from newly elected trustee and later four-time governor Jerry Brown. True to the ‘cheap’ reputation he later earned as a higher office holder in California, Brown’s reason was that it would be fiscally irresponsible, Metzger said.*

Free Speech Plaza, LA Valley College, 2016

The scandal was a big sensation at the college. Demonstrations were held in the quad, later renamed Free Speech Plaza, supporting Metzger. Detailed stories were published in the LA Free Press, along with fragmented reports in the campus newspaper. The importance of free speech was brought home for me in the Metzger incident, but I had not met her until just last month. It was during my weekly writing session at the Café Mimosa in Topanga Canyon, that I noticed a flyer announcing a reading by Deena Metzger. A  cycle had come full circle and right on time. The time was ripe for a  glance back, the familiar issue—free speech, is back. Finally, I got to meet Deena Metzger, especially satisfying now as a reporter for the LA Free Press.

Like visiting a relative after many years absence, I felt like I was returning to a familiar person, and wanted to present myself as successful in life. Kind of like an accounting: What have I done? Did I stay true to the values? I’d never met her, but for me she represented that era’s hope and possibility for one’s self and society. I wasn’t disappointed. Remembrance of that old story added reality to my youthful memories.

A soft-spoken woman, with an earth mother quality accented by her many scarves and rings, Deena Metzger conveyed a grounded power. Still radical, her focus is now on the natural world and the pressing need to take care of our world. Comprised mostly of women from her long-running writing group, the audience seemed to absorb more than the words but also her essence. She spoke from experience within herself and the world.

Like a time-warp in that library room, I remembered how exhilarating those times of pushing the socially condoned boundaries felt as a 20 year old college student. After the talk, I bought one of her books and told her my story. She inscribed, “Many blessings for our shared history.” Meeting Deena contributed to my resolution of that long ago era of freedom when it was our zeitgeist. My soul felt freer knowing one of LA’s vanguard in free speech is unbent.

The soul of the Sixties still lives, grows, and teaches with Deena Metzger. Freedom is just that and the real heroes of freedom like Deena put their careers on the line and showed their faces. Metzger stands as an icon of the rich Los Angeles and Topanga iconoclastic history.  And real progressives are those who show their faces.

*In 1969, I was fired from a tenured teaching post at a local community college for reading to my students a poem I had written on censorship and pornography.  The case soon became an occasion for the advocates of censorship to organize themselves against the students’ right to  know and the teacher’s right to teach.  After three years, I was restored to  my position by the California State Supreme Court.

From Deena Metzger’s Writing  for Your Life.   1992

Jehovah’s  Child:

Metzger 2

Burning of the Age of Aquarius, Harbin Hot Springs


Hair’s long run on Broadway reinforced the counterculture imagery

Dragon gate welcomes still

I attended a revival of the first rock opera, Hair, a few years ago and, out of nowhere, tears flowed down my face during a 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.” She is from a different country and generation, and to her 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 is being 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. But when it rises again, like the phoenix, will it be true to its Sixties’ tradition?

Harbin’s Temple pre-fire

When the Valley Fire in 2015 descended on Harbin Hot Springs, buildings over a hundred years old turned to ash. All that remained was 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 ‘water cure’ and built a succession of resorts in this spot in northern California in an out of the way canyon near Middletown, CA (named for its location as a stage stop mid-way between Calistoga and Clear Lake).

A lifelong counterculturalist (even in my disguise as an inner city high school principal), I discovered Harbin Hot Springs in the mid-90s. A quirky poet friend told me on the down-low about this mysterious place. One weekend we rolled up from LA. That first day felt like a homecoming for me. Disregarding the signs that prohibited alcohol and drugs, we fired up before entering, then perched in the oaks overlooking a motley crowd of hippies of all generations, ethnicities, sexual orientations, and life-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 mandatory meditative silence. Around the regular pool and the heart-shaped pool, people carried on soft conversations, but mostly sat and read or napped.

 

Temple meadow now

Harbin developed into my own Shangri-La, where I regularly sought respite from the pressures of career, modern life, and my everyday self.  At Harbin, I could count on meeting new friends, sometimes amorous, whether alone or with a friend. Odd encounters frequently happened, as in the time I ‘accidentally’ ran into an acquaintance from home two years running. Or, a few 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. We were all from the same Aquarian tribe.  Like the vibe back in the sixties/ seventies, when every kid at the concert or the demonstration was a friend simply because we were there. We shared values and culture. Harbin felt the same. It attracted like-minded souls from around the world. I once had a didgeridoo healing from a young woman from Israel which touched me so deeply I cried.

The hippie Harbin 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, which he heads. For the 20 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 and had perfect acoustics. The pools stayed largely the same except for the addition of sauna and steam bath rooms.

 

 

Harbin wasn’t all quiet and peace. They could party with either unconditional dance or live concerts providing entertainment in addition to the nightly free movies. At the dances, free flowing half-naked guests and residents gyrated to dj music—No partners (just like 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 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 them 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.

 

Hippie ideals of peace, love, and community rooted and prospered at Harbin largely due to the vision and commitment of Ishvara. Ishvara was not a man who sought notoriety, but at the same time had always harbored big dreams for Harbin. As true hippies they honored 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 and when hippie evolved out of beatnik, the hippie converts gravitated to older neighborhoods, like Haight-Ashbury. Old stuff had character and soul. We craved—authenticity. In those days the approbation slung at someone or something hopelessly square was—Plastic.

Under Ishvara, the old buildings were rehabbed and restored, links to earlier times. Nothing at Harbin was plastic, ersatz, or bogus. But the classic old buildings that had survived numerous fires before  are now gone. Only ruins of the concrete foundations, the stone fireplace chimney, and the pools remain.  The Age of Aquarius prospered and flourished at Harbin Hot Springs from 1978-2015, almost forty years. And now it is gone.

 

 

Heart pool right after the fire

Yes, it will be rebuilt, but the vision expressed in its last incarnation is over. Hippie dreams have completed their cycle. We had 130 acres of our vision and whatever rises in its place won’t be the same. It won’t have the same weight of history,  connection to the lineage of the 1960s, or heritage of the original settlers. The bromide ‘change is constant’ doesn’t mean much until we face major transitions which compel reinvention.

Harbin’s oasis in the Age of Aquarius is now returned to dust—whatever shall rise up will surely be 21st century. This old hippie, though, hopes they will keep a remembrance of a glorious place where hippies of all ages, ethnicities, and classes thrived in harmony with each other, and with nature. Nature has its due, and we are part of nature.

Hopefully, Harbin, will be, as is the Los Angeles Free Press, reincarnated with the ideals of old, along with new thoughts and strategies for creating a freer, more just and harmonious world. Time is real and there is no rewind, but we can influence its unfolding.

 

 

 

Hot pool is back, 2017

[Ed.s’ Note:  Read more by RW Klarin in this secction of the LA FP – Remembrances – or a whole more in his memoir/ self-help book—Living the Dream Deferred (2015)

In fact, you can even read about him with a short jump to our LA FP Staff page with a simple click HERE.]

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