This story is dedicated to Jan Hutton, whose crossed to the spirit realm on June 27, 2013. Jan was a willing participant in all my improvisational ceremonies, no matter how crazy they seemed at the time, because she had a deep connection with the spiritual vibrations. Her spirit is a good place to be.
By the time I went to my first National Rainbow Gathering, I’d already been hanging out with Garrick Beck in the East Village for over a year, and also attending the Rainbow picnics in Central Park, which I stumbled into by accident one afternoon. So when I arrived at my first gathering, I came well prepared and even carried a bunch of water-based florescent paints so I could make cool signs, paint faces and customize my camp. I built a pretty elaborate scene next to Garrick. This is where I first met the great Fantuzzi, the star of the midnight jam sessions.
Of course, my life turned 180 degrees after that experience. I’d been focused on the garage band scene at the time and leading my band the Soul Assassins to rock’n’roll glory on the Hemp Tour while leading the fight to legalize marijuana, but suddenly I had an urge to put a major effort into spreading Peace Vibe Consciousness. First thing I wanted to do was visit my cousins in Florida. Tom had saved me in 1970 by buying a one-way ticket to Stockholm so I could escape the Vietnam War, an experience both my cousins had been through and neither wanted me anywhere close to that national nightmare.
After Vietnam, my cousins had spent a few years traveling the world. I maintained correspondence with them during this time, and kept everything, including all the Vietnam letters. Someday I’ll put that up on smashwords, as Tom is a great writer and very funny. They both became anti-war activists right after leaving the service. Eventually, they settled in Delray Beach and got jobs as lifeguards. But they had a secret hideout in the Florida Keys, where they would go on vacations whenever they had time off. I went there to initiate them into the Rainbow Family. My plan was to build a sort of private gathering celebrating the Rainbow spirit, something I thought might convince both my cousins to come and join me at an upcoming regional in Ocala, Florida.
There were psychedelic signs everywhere. I had a bag of mushrooms and brewed up some mushroom tea, the drinking of which would be our first ritual.
Most people don’t realize the counterculture came out of Congo Square in New Orleans, and it started as a merger between Black African slaves who had been living in Haiti working the sugar plantations and the local native Americans. You can see the Native influence in the New Orleans ceremonies of today. That influence is huge on hippie culture as well, and it’s a path for all people to experience vibes of Native culture without actually becoming a wannabe because our version is a hybrid of all cultures, which is what Rainbow is really all about. After an OM around the Peace Pole and drumming and chanting, it was time to get into the boats. My cousins had two sailboats at the time, a big one and a little one.
It was a masterful craft, very fast and seaworthy. As I recall, there was a race to see which boat would get launched first and Jerry won easily. Once we were out near the Gulfstream, it was time to go snorkeling, one of our favorite things to do in the Keys, and this was before the pollution killed most of the coral.
(I’d later try to do one of these in Jamaica with the High Times staff, but soon discovered they were all wearing life-preservers which made submerging impossible.)
After the underwater OM, I got fascinated by a lonely baby jelly fish and followed the transparent little creature back to his nest, where thousands of relatives were breathing in unison. I was thinking about doing an OM with them, but then suddenly snapped out of my mushroom fog and realized what a dangerous situation I was in. Very suddenly I was swimming full-speed back to the boat.
We loaded up on the big boat and headed back to the safety of our camp. It was a great week, and I had a blast creating my little hippie disneyland, but, in truth, although my cousins went along and joined in on the ceremonies, they didn’t get drawn in enough to want to ever attend a Rainbow Gathering. In fact, Jerry admitted he’d accidentally stumbled into the Ocala Gathering one year and been scared off and freaked out by the sight of some naked hippies. That was the difference between me and my cousins. I had joined the counterculture as a teen while they had joined the army, so going to a gathering for me was like going home. Why it’s so hard for outsiders to get over the nakedness I’ll never know. It’s just another form of freedom, and if you never use it, you aren’t really free.