Esquire
February, 1968, p. 105

GOD IS BACK

He says so himself

L. M. KIT CARSON

He returned at the end of the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. That was the year Bob Dylan showed up with electronic folk-rock, and it was a nasty time. That summer's crowds were surly, and when the last concert ended Sunday night the audience wasn't satisfied. There was a riot at hand when lean, twenty-seven-year-old Mel Lyman walked out into the center of the stage, cupped his harmonica against the microphone, and began playing Rock of Ages.

"When I started the piece," Lyman recalls, "I got my first jolt of spirit and started shaking so hard I musta lost ten pounds the first three minutes. And the spirit wasn't me, it was their hunger." At the end of twenty minutes Lyman dropped his harmonica to his side, the sound in the valley died away, and the crowd quietly left. God was back.

After Newport, Lyman got a gig in a coffeehouse in Boston called The Orleans, picking the banjo and talking to people on Wednesday nights. The Wednesday-night sessions developed into a kind of religious service with Lyman asking people if they were happy and people telling him mostly that no, they weren't happy, and then everybody talking it over and finally Lyman playing banjo and singing to end everything.

As he gained disciples, the gospel of Lyman's deification began to take form. In his book, The Autobiography of a World Savior, Lyman explained that he came originally from another planet, "the planet of pure being, same place Christ came from." This planet had been running something called the "earth experiment" to see how low a level the spirit could vibrate at, but something had gone wrong and earth had reached such a low level of vibration that all efforts to revive it and return it to the original level had failed. Mel had then volunteered to "bring the home vibration down to earth" and raise the earth vibration by "sounding the note of the home planet in the midst of humanity" and return everyone to home.

As the volunteer, Mel underwent a step by step "unfoldment" until his vibration was in phase with the earth's vibration, at which point he physically emerged on earth, that is to say, he was born an ordinary human child. The danger in the rescue mission was that, upon physical emergence, the volunteer spirit would immediately swoon under the intense heaviness of the earth surroundings and be unable to recall clearly where he had come from or construct for what purpose his life was intended. Only gradually, at the depth of intense love and intense pain, would the volunteer spirit suddenly recover the voice of home within himself and suddenly begin uncontrollably sounding his note, which is love. The volunteer would then discover that earth is full of other volunteers who had faltered in their separation from home and who could be aroused by the volunteer's note. At the book's end, Lyman, choking with a longing for home ("cosmic asthma"), painfully calls to the other volunteers, most of whom have grown sluggish and vulgar: "I need you badly . . . I love you . . . won't you please help me fulfill our promise, don't you remember when we made it together, I do, I haven't forgotten, that's why I've written this. Can you hear me out there, hey, I say, can you hear me, hey yyyyoooouuuu!!!!!!"

By the time the book was published, the group around Lyman had grown to nearly thirty: artists, political thinkers, physical and electrical craftsmen, women and children. They were the other "volunteers" from the planet of pure forms, strangers on earth whom Lyman had stirred awake, and who now looked to Lyman for purpose and guidance in their lives. The group (now bound themselves into a spiritual tribe, taking Lyman as their Father) found their holy land: a beautiful, almost treeless hill rising out of the Negro ghetto of Roxbury, Massachusetts. They bought or rented the seven Victorian houses that stood on the top of the hill, and spent the winter starving in those houses, repairing them to keep warm.

Eventually the spiritual style of God and his people began to solidify into a way of life: everything is scrubbed and orderly, the women wear little makeup; the men wear mild-colored shirts and old pants, are allowed the decoration of long hair and embroidery around the collars of their shirts. They use astrology with simple confidence and irony. ("Christ was a Capricorn. He probably wouldn't have acknowledged me, but He would have appreciated me.")

The spirit in Lyman began to fill Boston's underground newspaper, Avatar, and at present there are five different Lyman columns in the paper that range from scatological ranting diaries to patriotic McLuhanistic essays. "If Reagan were elected President, it would probably help people a lot, force them to pull together. I mean, look at Hitler, he forced the whole world to pull together. That did a lot of good."

In his writing, his message is not always specific, but always direct: "I am the Spirit that is rooted in the very center of creation. I have destroyed some people and I will go on destroying them to destroy the crap in them and thus save them, make them plug into me. When finally everybody does plug into me, it will turn out that I am just another wire; but I carry the highest voltage."

God's return is hardly unexpected. He was bound to come back, forced to return by two basic human appetites.

First, the need to have a God, analyzed by Krishnamurti - himself chosen as a Godchild years ago by the English Theosophists until one day he got fed up and announced he was not God after all and everyone should leave him alone: That we have God because we want to use Him, we are out to exploit Him. We can't love, so we want God to be there, to love us.

Second, and more important, the need to be God, explained by Bertrand Russell - himself tempted - "Every man would like to be God, if it were possible; some few find it difficult to admit the impossibility."

Therefore, the return of God is not remarkable. What is remarkable, and what has always been remarkable, is the man so hungry that he can do the trick: feed those who make him God at the same time they feed him - who, like Mel Lyman, picks up his phone to hear, "Hello, God?" and who, like Mel Lyman, answers: "Speaking."


Mel Lyman