Shortly after we returned from
By early October, three new girls had joined the Family—Leslie, Juanita, and Cathy (Cappy) Gilles, whose grandmother owned the Myers ranch in Death Valley. Charlie began rapping in earnest about moving to the desert: “Out there,” he said, “things aren’t so crazy; we can have our children, and our children can teach us the things we need to learn. Out there, we’re closer to the stars and to the land and to the spirit of life…Death Valley, you know—it makes a lot of sense.”
I didn’t know until later that during our trip to San Jose, Charlie had been attempting to sell his music through a connection with Dennis Wilson and Dennis’ agent, Greg Jakobson, without success. His impatience to leave Spahn’s was born not only of undercurrents of animosity between him and the wranglers but because of frustrations with the music. Charlie believed in himself as a musician; and rightly so. The Beach Boys had already recorded one of Charlie’s songs, “Cease to Exist,” under the title “Cease to Resist.” Music was, in many respects, his only legitimate vehicle for success in the real world. Even though he despised society, there was a part of him that sought success by its rules, if only to laugh in its face later. “Hey, man,” he used to say, “some of those straight jokers are better than any I ever met in the joint. It’s all the same, really…games. People mind-fucking each other for money and blood and calling it the golden rule. I tell ya, Paul…only the truth will set you free.”
By the middle of October we had decided to go to Death Valley. But first Charlie wanted to center our energies and bring the Family closer together by taking one final acid trip before departure. He told me to “tune” the group, that it was a prelude to our journey.
At no other time did we prepare so elaborately for an acid scene. The girls made special garments—loose-fitting shirts and pants of velvet and silk; the softest, most comfortable clothing. Embroidered with vivid designs of peacocks, sunsets, and flowers. We called them the no-sense-makes-sense clothes: shirts which had pocket flaps where there were no pockets, buttonholes where there were no button. Clothing designed for comfort and beauty and to free the mind.
We redecorated and rearranged the living room, placing couches all around the periphery, and mattresses on the floors. We covered the mattresses with a thick green satin carpet and scattered giant silk pillows everywhere. The girls made curtains out of satin and bought imported porcelain containers to hold zuzus and candles. They also purchased a filigreed waist-high hookah pipe, a Persian incense burner, and a golden hand-engraved goblet to hold our stash of hash and Colombian weed. After a week of “tuning,” everyone was ready. Only Tex and T.J. and Cappy were absent. They’d gone north to bring back the bus.
My own feeling vis-à-vis Charlie and the Family on the eve of that trip had stabilized considerably. My bond to Charlie was strong. The pressures which had mounted following the first two months at Spahn’s had been relieved by the trip north. I felt cleansed again, more in control. Still, Charlie remained an enigma. I loved him as a pupil loves his master. I saw his beauty and his wisdom, yet I had also seen the demon and would never forget it—believing too, at times, that the demon was not only Charlie’s but mine as well.
The night we ate the acid it was windy. I recall this distinctly, since just before we dropped I went outside to smoke under the stars. The ranch was quiet, no sounds of cars or horses or birds. Only the wind blowing the eucalyptus trees and the brush along the hillside above the ranch house. I smelled the smoke coming from the chimney and went back into the house.
The Family sat in a large circle around the table, dressed in their bright silk clothing; some are barefoot, some wore handmade slippers. Charlie was clad in a scarlet silk shirt and was seated to the left of the woodpile we’d stacked beside the fire. Next to him on one side was Squeaky, on the other, Kim, then Sadie, Katie, Mary, Ella, Stephanie, Gypsy, Leslie, Juan, Juanita, Clem, Brenda, Snake, and Ouisch. The smell of lavender incense permeated the air. Charlie looked like some Eastern guru surrounded by his disciples. He smiled as I entered, then signaled for me to close the doors to the rest of the rooms. I did so, then sat down between Brenda and Snake while Charlie started rapping about karma and how you can make any kind of trip you want, so long as you listen to your love, do what your love says, and don’t avoid it by running from fear. We sang a couple of songs; then I passed out the acid.
In the past, Charlie had generally taken less than the rest of us. He did this in order to maintain control and to orchestrate the scene. But that night, I’m sure he took the same dose as everyone else: two white double domes. We all dropped and within minutes started coming on. It was very strong acid. One tab would have plenty.
I was strumming the sitar when the acid seemed to kick me in the face. I felt my cheeks flush, the skin tighten around my eyes. The notes from the sitar sounded like semi-trucks rumbling through the center of the room. I glanced at Charlie; so did the others. We all saw the uncertainty in his eyes. He knew we were all in for a rough one. He asked Squeaky to get him a glass of soda water; she did, and he drank it down. But the look didn’t leave his face, and it affected the entire group. Squeaky clung to Charlie’s arm and tried to rest her head against him.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m hanging onto you.”
Charlie shook his head, then after a long silence said, “No, I’m hanging onto you.”
As he said this I sensed the deeper implications of the remark. So did Squeaky. Charlie was being honest. He was clinging to Squeaky. She was virtually his number-one girl; she’d been with him from the beginning. No one spouted his rap better than she did; no one was more committed to him. She not only took care of George, but because of her rank with Charlie, she was inspirational to the rest of the girls. No one made love to Squeaky but Charlie. Charlie did need her. He did cling to her, even though clinging to anyone was against everything he preached. But at that moment, it became all too clear, at least to me (and to Squeaky)—Charlie was telling the truth. He was hanging on.
Squeaky freaked out. “No, no!” she insisted. “I’m hanging onto you!” Then she started flailing with both arms. Charlie grabbed her.
“No…no, Charlie!” she screamed. “It’s not true,” she bleated.
“Yes it is,” he insisted.
She rolled into the woodpile and started kicking. “Charlie…Charlie! It’s not so!”
Charlie watched for a moment before kneeling beside me. “Look, man…you watch her…whatever she does is on account of me.” With that he changed his clothes and left the house. Everyone sat there in a state of psychedelic shock.
“Charlie…Charlie,” they wailed. “Where’s Charlie?”
I didn’t have time to ponder. Lynn was cutting herself on the woodpile. Her arms and legs were gashed and bleeding by the time I pulled her away and got on top of her.
“It’s okay, Lynn, quit fighting…Relax!” I pushed her shoulders down. Her eyes were wide, the pupils dilated with hysteria. She looked into my eyes and started making strange faces—contorting her mouth in an almost demonic way. Unconsciously I responded by making the faces back at her; it was an instinctive action, yet it seemed to calm her down. Every nuance of expression in her face seemed to register in mine (I felt it), until we were flashing expressions in some kind of bizarre facial language. Gradually the spasms subsided. I relaxed my grip, trying to soothe her. “It’s okay, Lynn…nice and easy…that’s it.” Then, without warning, she freaked out again, arching her back and kicking: deep guttural sounds emanated from her throat, sounds that were completely unintelligible. I muscled her down again and responded by making similar sounds, and once more we fell into a pattern of communication. Then her lower body began shaking—quivering in abrupt, spastic convulsions; her legs twitched and flopped on the floor as though charged with electricity. I was exhausted; it took all my strength to keep her down. I was ready to let her go when her foot struck Kim, who was lying beside us, sending a visible current of energy into his body.
Then he leaped up and raced into the bathroom. I heard a horrendous wrenching sound and the shattering of glass followed by the flow of splashing water. Kim had pulled the sink out of the wall and had smashed the mirror. Moments later he raced into the living room screaming at the top of his lungs, “I’m the devil…I’m the devil!” I watched in horror as he crashed headlong through the front window and out onto the porch in a shower of glass. Everyone began screaming at once: “Charlie…Charlie…where’s Charlie?”
By that time Lynn had wriggled away and was again thrashing in the woodpile; her clothes were half-torn from her body; her face and limbs were streaked with blood. But I just couldn’t hold her any longer. Looking into her face had triggered my own reactive bank of subconscious impulses. I sat back and watched dumbly as she finally subsided in a quivering heap and began babbling to herself: “Charlie…Charlie.”
Then Kim came sailing through the window again and landed spread-eagled on the floor. He got up at once and began ripping the tapestries from the walls and smashing glass out of the remaining windows with the heel of his hand. Sadie, meanwhile, had rushed into the bedroom to protect Zezos and Pooh Bear. “Get out! Get out of here!” I heard her scream as Kim stormed into the room. I started for the bedroom as Kim bolted out again, still screaming, “Charlie…I’m the devil…I’m the devil!” I grabbed at him, but he tore free, then dove headlong into the fireplace.
“Jesus, Kim!” I raced over, jerked him out of the fire, and rolled him onto the rug. His eyes were wild—bald white and webbed with lines of blood. “I’m the devil…the devil” he jibbered.
Hot coals burned on the rug; I glanced at Snake and she brought some water from the kitchen to douse the coals. She seemed the only sane person in the room. Suddenly Kim lurched away again and dove into the fire. Everyone around us was shrieking and freaking out. I yanked Kim out a second time and wrestled with him on the floor. “Charlie…Charlie…I’m the devil!” It took all my strength to keep him pinned, and when I moved momentarily to give Snake room to get by, Kim broke away a third time and plunged into the flames.
It was then that everything seemed to slow down: time became elastic and incalculable. I looked at Kim in the fire and saw all around his body—conforming to every contour—a glowing force field—an aura. It had occurred to me in flashes while struggling with him earlier that he was not getting cut or burned! Not even his hair was singed. His body was totally protected by this force field.
For what seemed like an eternity I watched him lying in the fire, the flames spitting and flickering up around him. His legs were drawn up in his stomach, his body immersed in smoke. When I finally reached in and pulled him out, I saw that the force field had protected my hands. They were unmarked. As Kim lay on the floor, his frenzy subsiding, I obeyed an impulse and reached into the fire and withdrew a small handful of glowing coals. I gazed at them lying in my hands. They felt almost weightless, like a handful of dry cotton. I experienced sensation but no pain. Then a thought jolted me: “You idiot, you just burned the shit out of your hands!” As this notion claimed my mind, I could see the force field starting to change shape, I could see blisters forming, not on my hand, but on the aura itself, as thought the blisters were working their way to the skin. As soon as I dismissed the thought, the aura returned to its original, mirage-like shape. I tossed the coals back onto the fire as Charlie appeared in the doorway.
“Cool it…cool it. The cops are coming!”
Instantly, all kinds of things raced through my head. I knew I was in charge. I thought of order to give: “Hide the dope…grab your clothes…head for the trees.” But each command, as I spoke it, became a question: What dope? We’d kicked over the table and scattered the contents all over the room; what clothes? They were ripped to shreds. If we ran for the trees, we might get shot. Then it occurred to me that I hadn’t spoken any of these words and that if we were arrested we’d be sent, not to jail, but to a mental ward. When I looked up, Charlie was gone and I knew that there were no cops, that he’d yelled in on an attempt to restore some order. I found myself, suddenly, with my hand around my cock, muttering, “Can’t we just make love?”
All around me people were going beserk. “Charlie…Charlie…Where did Charlie go?” Some of them were pummeling each other; others were throwing pillows; some were scratching and flailing on the floor like epileptics. It was complete and utter insanity.
“Charlie…Charlie.” The refrain rang out.
The words reverberated in my head. “Charlie…Charlie.” Yet I had been responsible for the scene. I had struggled to keep it from running completely amok. “Charlie…Charlie.” Pretty soon the name sounded absolutely foreign to my ears, like something from another language. “Charlie?” I muttered. “Charlie? Who in the hell is Charlie?” I flashed on the words: “All is one; I am you and you are me.” Then, it struck me that no one else was standing; on one else even seemed real. “I am Charlie…” I blurted. “I am Charlie.”
The next thing I remember was slumping to the floor beside Snake. She’d put out the fires and had pulled Kim onto the couch. We sat with our backs against the couch, staring straight ahead. Stephanie and Ella were watching the fire. Clem was in one corner, his eyes half-closed, fingering the sitar. There were bodies everywhere. With so much commotion I hadn’t really focused on my own mental processes. Yet, the instant I sat beside Snake, my mind began spinning like a projection reel: I saw countless past lives. I don’t know if it was triggered by Kim’s diving into the fire, but what I visualized was an eternity of death scenes: paper expiring—in fires, battles, countless wars. I saw limbs being lopped off, heads falling from the chopping block; I saw shootouts, drownings, collisions—all manner of death. For a time it seemed purely sadistic; watching such carnage was no different from seeing the wind rustle the leaves; it was almost pleasurable. I watched it and it was all right. I watched it through the eyes of a cosmic and tranquil indifference. Yet, I was watching myself; these people were me in past lives, or perhaps all men in all lifetimes. With these scenes came the realization that the spirit feels no pain, that these deaths (as Charlie had said) were experiences in sensation—a form of transition. The spirit didn’t die. Later I would attribute it all to the raps on ego-death—and letting go, which is what I did as I witnessed this slide show of lifetimes.
Moments later I was seeing myself again, this time as a man in prison. Charlie had always rapped about the joint, what he’d learned there, what it was like. I realized that I had lived many lives as a prisoner. I saw myself in prisons and dungeons of all kinds; some made of concrete and steel, some dry, some damp; some in the mountains, others by the sea. But inside they were all the same—dark, oppressive, and somehow terminal. All this I viewed with Snake beside me. Once, in the midst of it, I saw her reach for a cigarette. By the time she had it in her mouth, seconds later, I had lived out several episodes as a soldier. I’d seen myself in hand-to-hand combat with enemies of all colors and sizes, some on foot, some on horseback. Snake lit her cigarette and blew out the match. I put my head in her lap and closed my eyes. But I did not stop seeing this eternal story in my mind’s eye—the odyssey and the inferno. It was endless and it was painless. Yet, paradoxically, I felt it deeply.
At one point, hours later perhaps, I sensed myself returning to the void. I saw the void for what it was—“a hole in the infinite.” I saw it from all directions at once. I became total consciousness, experiencing perfect peace and absolute sustenance. The void was everything, yet it was nothing. It was solid, yet it was completely clear and open. It was the resolution of all paradoxes-—boredom and exhilaration. It gave meaning to evolution, proved the wisdom of the inner quest. It revealed that self-awareness was meaningful only in terms of the struggle to attain it. The process was to be savored, Wisdom is never absolute except in the void. Life lies in its fluidity, in the process of change; suffering and joy; in an experience of the elements.
It was near dawn and the light of the new day was on the horizon. I sat beside Snake. Around us were ten others, an aftermath of survivors. I looked at them all: Snake, Brenda, Gypsy, Ella, Katie, Sadie, Leslie, Squeaky, Kim, Stephanie. I saw in their faces the essence of humanity. I saw perfection. Each face was a masterpiece, sculptured in flesh and bone. I saw them as children. I saw them as devils. Their ears seemed slightly pointed, their smiles twisted into beatific yet demonic lines which portended the gamut of human feeling and expression. I saw life and death, the paradox of the void. I saw in their eyes compassion, love, and the inscrutable indifference of the cosmos. It was as if we all sat perched on the highest peak of awareness and could fall from there into light on one side, and into darkness on the other. But at that moment, from the summit, we reflected perfection—all elements of our humanness and spirituality.
It must have been around ten o’clock when Snake brought me a cup of coffee and I walked to the window and saw Charlie outside asleep under a eucalyptus tree.
COPYRIGHT PAUL WATKINS AND GUILLERMO SOLEDAD.