Insider Histories of the Vietnam Era Underground Press, Part 2 (Voices from the Underground)
edited by Ken Wachsberger
APPENDIX 1: LOOKING FOR UTOPIA
by Patrick Halley
In 1973 I decided that I had to start writing for the Fifth Estate, Detroit's revolutionary, "underground" paper; or become a werewolf and fade into some wilderness unknown. The times were ablaze with change, and the world was but a tinderbox only waiting for the right match.
I had been on the road, a la Jack Kerouac, for six months, hitchhiking up and down the West coast; singing for quarters on street corners from Vancouver, British Columbia, down to L.A. and in major cities between Detroit and the coast. My little theater troupe, "The Shadow People," also took me around the Midwest where we performed wild skits and bizarre "assaults on Western Culture" on the streets, in coffee houses, bars, and outdoor concerts – wherever and whenever we had the slightest opportunity to vent creative spleen. In a word, I was afire.
But working for a biweekly underground paper was a more disciplined pursuit, with deadlines, heavy scheduling, and editorial responsibilitiesthat forced me to hone my writing skills and adapt to compromising with a collective of equally imaginative and fermentative individuals. I couldn't be as crazy, yet I could be more effective because we had a wider audience with the Fifth Estate, and other members of the collective were very talented people with experiences in teaching and writing. One fellow, Michael Neiswonger, was a former head of the English department at Cass Technical High School in Detroit; another, Bob Hippler, was the former editor of the University of Michigan's college paper; another guy had a Ph.D. in economics, and so on, and all of us had a slightly different view of Utopia–though we were certain that it was "just around the corner."
I was certain that "Utopia is already here, but people just don't know it yet."
Via the Fifth Estate we not only worked frantically to end the war in Vietnam; we also wanted civil rights, economic justice, women's equality, gay liberation, ecological awareness, free thought, legal drugs, and all manner of New Left issues. We were on a tidal wave of change and were more than willing to sacrifice not only our careers but our lives to make the world a place where we could live for love and creativity and not merely for economic prosperity – with all of the social evils that unrestrained capitalism necessitates.
Working on the Fifth Estate was rewarding and stimulating but it wasn't so very easy, largely because the paper was (and is) collectively run. Every rule, every single article that we printed, was debated and voted upon, because the operation of our paper was itself a socialist experiment. Begun in 1965, the F.E. by 1973 was staffed by anarchists, socialists, liberals, and even apolitical activists oriented by single issues. Arguments often raged into the night. Sometimes fisticuffs would come into play, only to be broken up quickly and settled eventually with marijuana or a trip to the bar. Despite our different backgrounds and political orientations, however, our first principle insisted that we operate with no boss or editor-in-chief to make anyone tow the line. It worked. We fought, but we wanted history to show that a socialist experiment could work and that's why we made it work!
THE GURU COMETH
I made myself and the Fifth Estate world-famous in 1973, in one of the many bizarre instances of Detroit politics, when I threw a pie in the face of a renowned guru. The year before, the Supreme Court had broadened the scope of U.S. tax-exempt laws to enable obscure religious groups to receive tax-deductible donations that previously only traditional major Judeo-Christian religions had been entitled to. One immediate result was the rise of the "Moonies," the "Krishnas," and various fundamentalist Christian groups that seemingly surged from nowhere.
In August of 1973, guru Maharaj Ji, the 15-yearold "perfect master," arrived in Detroit to inaugurate his "Divine Light Mission" – a religious cult started in India – and he was to receive the key to the city. The Fifth Estate was alerted of his coming by the Yippies in New York, who indicated that this guru was a hustler and a fraud, and I volunteered to investigate him and his sect. Having been involved with Buddhist and other Eastern religions, I felt that I could at least feel out this sect and determine if it was a genuine movement for peace or another capitalist scam.
I went to a meeting of the Divine Light Mission, previous to the guru's coming, and found that the Yippies were correct. The guru's technique was to attract affluent suburbanites into the cult, indoctrinate them, and then get them to donate all of their money to him, even to work in businesses that he started. It worked. Even George Harrison, the erstwhile Beatle, gave a Rolls-Royce to the corpulent mogul of spirituality. But I could see at their meeting that the deceptive methods of recruiting were more like a pyramid scheme than a truly religious function. My friend and I were ejected from the meeting for heckling the guru's head Detroit disciple.
-- LOOKING FOR UTOPIA --
VOICES FROM THE UNDERGROUND 37
When the guru came to town a few days later, on August 7, 1973, the local press hailed him as a messenger of peace and brotherhood. His disciples (advance men) hailed him as a combination Jesus, Buddha, and Krishna, the new "God." The Detroit City Council had plans to give him a testimonial resolution and the key to the city, but my radical friends and I were ready to give him hell. At the foot of the City-County Building in Detroit, we passed out leaflets to satirize the occasion. Since this guru was "God," our leaflet had a list of demands that "God must meet, or leave the Universe in shame." It was signed, "No-Name, Ambassador of the Animal Kingdom."
In compiling this list, knowing that the major press would most likely pick it up, I decided not only to satirize the guru and religion in general, but also to throw in some anarchist concepts to prick society as a whole. The demands were: "End to all suffering, pain, and hostility immediately … Money should grow on trees … God must clean house – no more pollution … No more work – let the angels do it … Extend the life span of people, with perpetual youth … Large mountains in Michigan … No more gravity – let people fly … No more winter … Free the Devil and all political prisoners … Abolition of all private property, bosses, and government … More money for teeth from the Good Fairy … No more premature orgasms … Communications with all civilizations in the Universe … PEACE, PEACE, PEACE, PEACE, PEACE, PEACE, PEACE, PEACE."
This was participatory journalism, radical in itself at the time. Not only did the New Left writers write news; we also tried to make news. After our brief demonstration, we alerted the media that an event was to occur with the guru that shouldn't be missed. In the council chambers, surrounded by gushing worshippers of the guru, I sat with a corsage of flowers that concealed a cream pie. When the guru entered the dais, surrounded by aides, I came forward with the corsage. He glared disdainfully down at me, in his expensive suit, as I approached him, so without hesitation I launched a perfect throw from 15 feet that hit him square in the face.
Pandemonium ensued as I flew out of the council chambers. My friends in the balcony laughed uproariously; furious disciples clutched at my arms as I raced down the aisle with a mob of screaming "gurunoids" and policemen following in hot pursuit. I raced down thirteen flights of stairs and out the door, and lost myself in the swirling crowds of downtown Detroit citizenry. I did it; I didn't even wind up in jail!
38 VOICES FROM THE UNDERGROUND
My friends and I had a great time watching the videotaped event on the evening news. I was particularly satisfied when Bill Bonds reported the list of demands on the channel 7 news at 11:00 o'clock. My momentary utopia was sobered out of me the next day when I read the newspapers. I had carefully prepared a statement to the commercial press: "This pie should be seen not only as a protest against the guru, who I consider a fraud, but also against what I consider to be thousands of years of illegitimate religious authority." The Detroit Free Press quoted me as saying, "I hate authority. God is an authority. Therefore, I hate God."
What I thought was a perfectly quotable anarchist statement for all time was instead twisted into a grotesque statement of someone who is insane, or worse. The Free Press used this misquote to attack me in the editorial page next day as a racist and religious bigot. They said that the "guru only came to town preaching brotherhood and peace, which Detroit needs so badly, only to be insulted by a misguided and confused zealot."
Of course the Free Press had no way of knowing that people would pay good money a few years later to kidnap their own children from the guru and other cults, and have them "deprogrammed," because they didn't investigate him. But they did investigate me, and I still don't know if it was merely sloppy reporting on their part, or an attempt to get back at the alternative press for our constant harping about them and the commercial press at large. A revolution is never without enemies.
A week later, however, I was vindicated, because the press had to report that I was beaten and almost killed by two of the guru's disciples, who attacked me with crowbars and crushed my skull. This was the first battle in the war against cults and represents a real "scoop" by the alternative press. Because the New Left and the alternative press were really at the forefront of peace and equality in the early seventies, we had to constantly be on guard against opportunists attempting to co-opt these trends for personal, political, and corporate gain.
BACK TO THE PRESSES
The notoriety of this pie-throwing incident helped expand interest in the alternative press, and that is one of the reasons we did it. We did it, as I've always insisted, because, like everything associated with the Fifth Estate, the pie-throwing was a collective effort. I depended on others to help defend me physically, and
-- PATRICK HALLEY -