Returning to my favorite quick getaway recharge town in the Mojave Desert, Yucca Valley, I discovered a long-shuttered coffee lounge reopened. Minor structural and decor changes have occurred but its essential classic 40s architecture remains. Pleasantly surprised after missing it for over a year, I bought my coffee and quiche and went outside to enjoy the warm desert air.
The day began with running into the annual Memorial Day parade on the main street, starring soldiers from the nearby 29 Palms Marine base. Slightly peeved at the delay, I did my ritual walk of the labyrinth at the Joshua Tree Retreat Center, then I saluted the seven directions at the medicine wheel and I drove to the intersection of 29 Palms Highway and Pioneertown Road. I intended to drive home the long way through Landers and eventually to Deep Creek Hot Springs for a long hike. But my tentative plan ran into a greater purpose.
Seeing a small man in his 80’s in deep concentration on a book by L. Ron Hubbard, I shouted his name and introduced myself. For the next two hours we had a wide ranging, up to date conversation. This man is an iconic figure of the Sixties and legendary to my generation that came of age in Los Angeles in that Era.
Art Kunkin published and edited one of the first and the most successful ‘alternative’ newspapers in the 60’s and 70’s, the Los Angeles Free Press. His influence as a promoter of the emerging hippie/radical culture can’t be overstated. If you aspired to hipness at all (and what high school kid didn’t back then) his weekly was required reading. In it, I learned about the anti-war movement, protests in Berkeley, love-ins, Hair (the musical), concerts, and marijuana. I read poetry by Charles Bukowski, media criticism by Harlan Ellison, and excerpts from the Pentagon Papers by Daniel Ellsberg. In those pre-Internet days, access to current affairs was limited to the nine TV stations, the L.A. Times, and the throw- away papers. The excitement and tumult of the times was spread by newspapers such as the Freep, as it was affectionately known by its fans. The Free Press announced the ‘revolution.’ By the late Sixties, its weekly circulation reached over 100,000. The only other source of radical information was Mort Sahl expounding leftist politics and interviews on local KHJ TV.
Craving more of this exciting and new culture, occasionally my buddies and I would make the 45-minute drive to Fairfax Ave in Hollywood and visit the Free Press bookstore. It stocked many hard to find items in 1967, candles, incense, radical books, black-light posters, beads, and bongs. When the crack in 1960’s suburban-conformity widened and became an outright fissure in America, the Free Press and others like it were the harbingers as Dylan had foretold in Times They Are a Changin.’ Too young to participate in the cultural and political tempests on the college campuses, we looked to Art Kunkin let us ‘know what time it was.’
Meeting this iconic and influential figure of the Sixties reinforced my view that the mature stage of life offers the chance to renew and revive the spirit of our youth. The Sixties generation had great hopes for real, significant change in our society. We know how that all turned out. My long ago optimism for social change got a boost talking with Kunkin. He is still in the vanguard. He spoke at length about his latest project, a technology for living up to 200 years of age. At the time he was 83 (now 89), and well versed on the latest advances in media and uses the Internet for disseminating his investigations of ancient alchemical teachings for life extension. The techniques can be read in detail on his website and in his weekly column (back then) in the The Desert Star. Not one to rest on his laurels, he is an exemplar of life-long growth, courage, and service.
As I left, Kunkin gave me a useful tip: meditate on the attributes of those that inspire you. Art Kunkin influenced me from afar in my youth and now inspires me in person in my elder phase. He represents forward thinking that is not bound by age.
At 60, 70, 80 and more, life can be a journey of exploration, growth, and service. Looking at habits and comforts in my life and remembering the excitement of youth, my big take-away was never stop learning and when you learn something, share it. The second lesson of the day was to trust my intuition because it knows where I need to go. Although I missed my hike to Deep Creek Hot Springs, the synchronistic stop at the coffee lounge was, as we used to say, right on time.
Now, more than fifty years since the Free Press began, the clarion call of societal tension has amped up, and there’s a show-down of opposing values and interests. Back in the day, the main fissures were civil rights (for blacks and other minorities, women, gays) and the futile war in Vietnam. What have we learned? What wisdom can we offer as the circle comes around again?
The above piece is from my chronicle of my reinvention, Living the Dream Deferred, published 2015. Art Kunkin still lives and pursues life-extension in Joshua Tree, CA. A new interview will be forthcoming in September, 2017.