Wavy Gravy had visited Berkeley before moving here in 1975. Several visits were noteworthy.
In the mid 1960s, Wavy/Romney appeared at the Cabale with members of the improvisational comedy ensemble The Committee – Alan Myerson, Larry Hankin, Hamilton Camp, John Brent, and Del Close.
The Cabale, at 2504 San Pablo Avenue (at Dwight), was a folk club founded in late 1962 by Rolf Cahn and Debbie Green (two Cambridge folkies) along with Howard Zeem and Chandler A. Laughlin III (later known as Travus T. Hipp). Cahn had previously owned the Blind Lemon at 2362 San Pablo.
The Cabale opened to the public on January 4, 1963 and ran until mid-1965, when the folk action moved to the Jabberwock.
This is a photo of Chandler/Hipp and Romney/Gravy taken in 1970. This is a STUNNING photo.
And then there was the Berkeley meeting and exchange with Rinpoche.
The famous Tibetan lama Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche spoke at the Graduate Theological Union. Rinpoche is a Buddhist meditation master and holder of both the Kagyu and Nyingma lineages, the eleventh Trungpa tülku, a tertön, supreme abbot of the Surmang monasteries, and originator of a radical re-presentation of Shambhala vision. I think that the speech was entitled “The Nature of Mind” and took place on May 11, 1971.
Rinpoche was dressed in an exquisitely tailored. three-piece suit. Wavy Gravy had recently had a back fusion and was in a near-full-body cast. His wife and friends had painted the cast and attached notes from foreign currencies to the cast. He called it his “cast of thousands.”
Rinpoche’s central premise was that you can’t do anything of lasting benefit for anybody else until you first reach level of spiritual awareness that brings you wisdom. Before you can really help with anyone else’s suffering, you first begin the path toward your enlightenment by addressing your own suffering.
Wavy poked at Rinpoche. He snatched a lighted candle from the improvised altar on the stage and set it in a puddle of melted wax on his belly. He helped himself to Rinpoche’s Drambuie, a blend of Scotch whiskey, honey, herbs and spices. He smoked Rinpoche’s Marlboro’s. And he challenged Rinpoche’s rejection of doing good work – “You’re right, Boss, but while we are meditating, let’s feed the people who are starving in Bangladesh.”
In 1975, Wavy Gravy and the Hog Farm moved to Berkeley. They lived and worked at 1600 Woolsey. They lived and worked there until buying the house at Berryman and Henry in 1979. In 1982, the Hog Farm began buying the land in Laytonville and the migration of many Hog Farmers to Laytonville began.
Back to Woolsey Street:
They paid the rent with an answering service, motto: “An Elephant’s Memory for Only Peanuts a Day.” Hog Farmers worked a certain number of shifts for room and board, and then cash for shifts over those. It was a brilliant service in the Ages Before Answering Machines Let Alone Voice Mail. An advertisement in the Bay Guardian explains: ” Use our number as your own for friends, customers, ads.”
On Woolsey, the group had an idea. Nobody for President was the Idea. It was political satire at its finest, with many pun possibilities.
Wavy Gravy being Wavy Gravy there was a Nobody For President Bus.
Curtis Spangler (on the left) was Nobody’s Campaign Manager.
Jimmy Carter won the election, but Nobody had fun. The Nobody for President campaign toured the country again in 1980 in the Hog Farm Greyhound, which was temporarily named “Nobody One.”
Wavy turned 50 in 1986. He threw a big bash at the Berkeley Community Center, named “The Wavy Gravy 50th Birthday Benefit for Just About Everything.“ And it was. It benefitted three re-forestation projects (in Costa Rica, Basuto, a little country surrounded by South Africa, and the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in North Dakota), “a project benefitting Mayan Indian refugees from Guatemala, a Native American health center “that won`t be under the thumb of the Bureau of Indian Affairs,“ the children`s cancer research project at a San Francisco hospital, Camp Winnarainbow, a not-for-profit circus arts summer camp on Hog Farm land, the antinuclear Livermore Action Group, Kate Wolf (then undergoing treatment for leukemia and Seva,
At the birthday party, Wavy’s son Jordan recreated a stunt that Wavy had performed many years earlier at NYU. A bathtub full of chocolate pudding was wheeled on stage with 50 candles. Jordan emerged from the pudding with a snorkel. “It blew my mind” said Wavy.
In 1990, Wavy ran for City Council. He had the best campaign poster in the History Of The Universe.
He ran against incumbent Shirley Dean. She had been on the Council since 1975. In Berkeley she was considered a moderate.
The San Francisco Examiner published a substantive article about the race on October 8, 1990:
I could put some joy back in Berkeley politics. The Berkeley Council tends to get lost in its own Berkeley-ness. I think I can lighten things up.
Local politics is different. I believe in it. It’s real, because you can do it. Grass-roots representation politics is good stuff, and I never thought I’d get into it. Now suddenly I have a fund-raiser, a treasurer, a press person, and a campaign manager.
I still believe that grass-roots representational government is a sacred thing, and if I did win, not only would I be compelled to show up at every meeting, I ‘d be compelled to do a very good job.
One thing I learned in six years in and out of hospitals is patience. I got beat up by the police and National Guard a lot in the old days, when I was a fool before I was a clown.
He had several oh-so-clever campaign slogans:
Let’s Elect a REAL Clown for a Change.
Recyle or Die.
Toward the Fun.
We’re all the same person trying to shake hands with ourselves.
If you don’t have a sense of humor, it isn’t fun anymore.
The New York Times of October 18, 1990 jumped into the coverage of the Berkeley Clown running for City Council. Wavy didn’t disappoint. “If elected, he promises more creeks and fewer cars, campgrounds for the homeless that will set a model for the nation, and whistle rings and hooter horns at the weekly council meetings to help his colleagues lighten up.” The Times reported that Wavy said he could leaven the meetings of a City Council that tends toward earnest, ideological discussion that lasts until dawn. ”They tend to get lost in their own Berkeleyness,” he said. ”I think I can lighten things up.”
What did he think of his chances? ”Because of my name recognition I just might jiggle her tree,” He was aware of the downside though – ”If I win, there goes every Tuesday night for the next two years.”
What did others think of his candidacy? The Times quoted Shirley Dean as saying ”I take this campaign seriously, although sometimes it’s a little hard,” she said. ”I think he’s an interesting guy. I’d like to know more about him. But I’d like to do it outside politics.”
Lee Marrs, the co-chair of Berkeley Citziens’ Action, told the Times that ”Being serious about social change and public affairs and being a somber person are not synonymous, This is not like Pat Paulsen running for President.”
Nancy Skinner, then a council member, observed to the Times that Americans tended to disparage their clowns rather than honor them, as the French do Marcel Marceau. ”Wavy is a clown in that tradition,” she said.
The Daily Californian of October 26, 1990, ran an article about Wavy’s candidacy. Wavy told the paper that Russell Bass, co-chair of the progressive Berkeley Citizens Action asked him to run. “I told him that I’d do it if I could be a clown, thinking that he’d hang up. Instead, he accepted.”
In the article, Wavy again defended local politics: “Presidential politics are an insult to people’s intelligence. But grass-roots representational politics are sacred.” He explained his clown schtick: “Clowns are safe. Police don’t want to hit me any more.” He advocated “an Earth Day every year, and turn it into a real carnival.” He expressed confidence: “I can beat her.”
Wavy pulled out all the stops. The Merry Prankster bus named Furthur. Ken Kesey. Larry Brilliant.
In the end, Wavy won 2,037 votes. One of those votes was mine. That would have been enough votes to win in District 3. It was almost enough to win in Districts 2 and 4. But not enough in District 5, where Shirley Dean got 4,502 votes. Wavy was a gracious loser, exactly what you would expect from a clown.
Wavy was not in Berkeley for the original making and defense of People’s Park in 1969, but he has been a dependable supporter over the years, either at anniversaries or actions.
I would date this photo shortly after the fence surrounding People’s Park was torn down in 1972.
This photo is from 1980. Clown make-up but no clown-suit.
These two photos are from 1991 when shit got real again around actions at the Park. The University announced that it was building volleyball courts in the Park. Park activists objected. There were riots, The South Campus area was occupied by hundreds of police for weeks.
These photos at the Park are undated. In the bottom photo Wavy is full-bore clown.
Again, remember – this is not exhaustive. This is about highlights.
These highlights give a glimpse into the energy, creative force, and humor that Wavy Gravy has brought to Berkeley.
I don’t know if the Berkeley of five or ten years from now will be an environment in which this type of crazy freedom and humor and individualism will be able to take root. We are changing. Formidable forces are affecting the change. There are voices speaking out – Thomas Lord for one. But the pressure of an expanding regional tech industry and a University scrambling through increased enrollment to support a system in which, on average, big-sport coaches make more three times more than Nobel laureates and where the University has absorbed 54% percent of the $440 million debt arising from the Memorial Stadium renovation as well as the Simpson Student-Athlete High Performance Center – these pressures are very real.
I am AT THIS MOMENT listening to Cream with today’s lesson from 1966:
I’m so glad
I’m so glad
I’m glad, I’m glad, I’m glad
Don’t know what to do
Don’t know what to do
Don’t know what to do
Tired of weeping
Tired of moaning
I’m so glad that Berkeley is what it is. I’m so glad that I have been here for these years. It may be that nothing can bring back the radiance which was once so bright, but we can always find strength in what remains behind. Or – option two – we can pack up all the dishes, make a note of all good wishes and leave.
As for Wavy and his scene – you – yes YOU – can tap into that force next weekend. PROUD PLUG alert:
I showed my friend the draft post. My friend claims that he was sitting around with Wavy when Wavy came up with “HIPPY ICON, FLOWER GEEZER & TEMPLE OF ACCUMULATED ERROR.” I take this claim with a grain of salt. My friend also claims that he knows where the original draft of the Port Huron Statement is, “not the compromised second draft.” I take that claim with a grain of salt.
On a probably-true note, he slipped into lecture mode. When he heard me listening to Cream he brought a spiral notebook in and he referred to it from time to time in the following short lecture:
“Cream’s rock version of ‘I’m So Glad’ was originally a blues tune recorded by Nehemiah “Skip” James in 1931 for Paramount Records and released as a 10-inch 78 rpm shellac record. Skip James was from Bentonia, Mississippi, a very small town in Yazoo County, a very small county. On April 30, 1900, Casey Jones was killed when his Illinois Central Railraod train collided with a stalled freight train in Yazoo County.
“The Bentonia Blues Festival is held the third Saturday of June. The stage is set up in front of the Blue Front Cafe which is still operated by Jimmy “Duck” Holmes, who learned to play the blues from Henry Stuckey, the originator of the Bentonia blues. Stuckey learned the open E-minor tuning from black Bahamian soldiers – you tune 5th and 4th string one whole note up, and you end up with E-B-E-G-B-E – in France in the Great War and when he got home to Bentonia he incorporated the tuning into his playing.”
He wasn’t done: “Skip James was known for that dark, minor-key sound, played in an open D-minor tuning instead of the open E-minor. It’s DADFAD and has a distinctively minor tonality not found in other styles. Gerard Herzhaft is a specialist in traditional American music and Southern culture. Of ‘I’m So Glad’ he writes: ‘This spiritual probably dates back to the beginning of the blues.’ Stephen Calt was Skip James’ biographer. He describes ‘I’m So Glad’ as ‘a Two-Step piece marked by fiendishly fast playing in an eight bar arrangement comprised of single measures.”
He had one more point to make. “Cultural appropriation? Cultural exchange? I don’t know. I do know that Cream made sure that the record companies paid James royalties. That wasn’t a common practice. Skip saw Cream perform ‘I’m So Glad.’ It is not known what he thought of it. After James died of cancer in 1969, his widow wrote Cream’s bass player and singer the late Jack Bruce thanking Cream for the royalties.”
He showed me two photos.
I truly enjoyed the lecture of Bentonia blues, but really wanted to hear what my friend though of this post and its peek at the highlights of a Clown’s Days in Berkeley?
“I dig the man.” What about the post??????