WBZ Bob Kennedy Interview

(Early in June, [1967,] just about the time the first issue of AVATAR was published, we [Mel Lyman, Wayne Hansen, Eben Given,] were Bob Kennedy's guests on WBZ's radio contact show. For the purposes of simplification, United Illuminating, not Trust Incorporated was more or less represented as publisher of AVATAR, and while many consider themselves a part of both groups, those who do not have asked us to make that distinction here. United Illuminating Inc. wishes to thank Bob Kennedy and the Contact Show for allowing us to reprint this partial transcript.)

Kennedy:What kind of an audience are you trying to reach with your newspaper?
Wayne: We're trying to reach everybody that's awake in America today and to wake up the people that are not awake.
Kennedy:Good. And the title itself intrigues me, A-V-A-T-A-R, what does that mean?
Wayne: Avatar is from a Sanskrit word "avatara." It means spirit made manifest in the world to do work, to bring heaven to earth.
Kennedy:That's a pretty lofty title.
Wayne: It's a pretty lofty paper.
Kennedy:O.K. What are some of the subjects that you're going to get into in your newspaper?
Wayne: In the first issue we've got an article by Eben Given on what Avatars are, who they are, who they have been.
Kennedy:You mean they're PEOPLE!
Wayne: Oh, sure they're people.
Kennedy:O.K. Who are some of the people who would be considered Avatars?
Mel: Abraham Lincoln!
Wayne: Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Kennedy:Ralph Waldo, good.
Wayne: Jesus, Buddha.
Kennedy:You're in pretty good company there. What makes a person an Avatar?
Wayne: He knows the truth.
Kennedy:He knows the truth, good.
Wayne: And he knows that he knows the truth.
Kennedy:Are you fellows Avatars?
Wayne: Mel is.
Wayne: Mel is.
Kennedy:Mel. is. Only Mel? What qualifies you as one Mel?
Mel: If we get into that we're gonna take this to a whole 'nother place and it won't have anything to do with newspapers.
Kennedy:Oh, all right. Fine. Um, someone else want to say why he qualifies as one?
(At this point Wayne skillfully brought the discussion back around to the newspaper.)
Wayne: I'd say that the paper is more for younger people, that is, people under 40.
Kennedy:Are you over 30 Mel?
Mel: I'm 30.
Kennedy:Just hovering on the brink of leaving the organization. Isn't that rather old in a way to be part of this, uh, I would offhand call it sort of a hippy movement.
Mel: A what?
Kennedy:A hippy movement. The hippies. I don't know what you would call it but people outside who have haircuts and things, kind of call it the hippy movement y'know. But I mean truly now, and I'm not trying to be facetious, I think the bulk of the community if they saw you three fellows walking by with the length of the hair you have, and the clothes you're wearing they would say they're part of the hippy movement and, uh, now whatever you may figure this does not qualify you as, but uh, usually difficult people to talk with, I wonder why. Why is it so difficult for outsiders, and I guess I am an outsider. I have a shirt and tie and a haircomb and if I were going to an interview at a radio station I might wear a shirt and tie and haircomb, but I suppose these things aren't important to you fellows. Why not? (I would like to interject here that we thought we were dressed pretty nicely for the occasion. All clean shaved with clean shirts and sports jackets and corduroy pants. None of us have what is considered long hair, I guess it was the lack of ties that made us appear so grubby.) I'll just leave that question open.
Eben: We came here to talk about the paper, not about our own appearance here. As this isn't a television show nobody can see us and if you hadn't mentioned that we weren't wearing neckties nobody would have known.
Kennedy:No, I'm just curious because when I said the word hippy it sort of got a little bit of a reaction I think, anyway from Mel over there.
Mel: I was thinking about my hair. I was thinking maybe I should cut it shorter.
Kennedy:Well, I don't particularly care one way or the other but my other point was that people who have haircuts and wear ties seem to have a hard time communicating quite frequently with people who don't.
Wayne: That may be a part of what the paper is about too.
Wayne: To give something that doesn't put the stamp of long hair or beards on what we do. Nobody could know what the people that made that paper look like and they could only know what they think and what they feel.
Kennedy:Good. So you're trying to reach anyone who is interested in this type of thing.
Wayne: We're trying to reach everyone.
Eben: Well, there will be a lot of so-called "hippies" reading this paper because it's affiliated with the Underground Press Syndicate.
Mel: One of my articles in the AVATAR is pro-hippy and one is anti-hippy.
Kennedy:Why would you write an anti-hippy article?
Mel: To balance the other one.
Kennedy:How can you argue on both sides of the same issue?
Mel: Because I'm on both sides.
Kennedy:Are you?
Mel: Yeah.
Kennedy:Good. Give me some anti-hippy arguments.
Mel: I kind of hate to get into that too.
Kennedy:You don't like to talk about anything so far.
Mel: Right, I don't have much to say yet. I'd rather not say anything if I don't have anything to say.
Kennedy:You had something to say in the article. Did you forget it?
Mel: No, I wrote it down.
Kennedy:O.K. Here's a copy of the newspaper.
Mel: No, it's not in this copy of the newspaper, it'll be in the next one or the next one or the next one.
Kennedy:I see.
Mel: I wrote an article on LSD.
Kennedy:Have you taken LSD?
Mel: Yeah.
Kennedy:Been on trips? How have the trips been for you?
Mel: I wrote all that down in the article about LSD. (Long pause) You want to talk about LSD?
Kennedy:I don't want to talk about anything. (Pause) You were talking about, uh, the fact that you sort of live in common at Fort Hill. I think this is another thing that might be interesting and a surprise to some of our non-hip listeners.
Mel: Some of our what?
Kennedy:Non-hip. Is that a good word? I just made that up.
Mel: Oh, non-hip, oh.
Kennedy:Non-hip, UN-hip, square, people who don't take drugs.
Mel: EVERYBODY takes drugs. Everybody takes drugs, you've just got a certain classification of things you call drugs. What do you call drugs? Cigarettes are drugs. Do you smoke?
Mel: Do you drink alcohol?
Mel: That's drugs.
Kennedy:I don't get drunk.
Mel: Then you take them in moderation.
Kennedy:Well, there's a vast difference and you know that.
Mel: Yeah, there's some that are legal, and there's some that aren't. People are smoking bananas now and that's legal and those are drugs.
Kennedy:Oh, all sorts of weird things.
Mel: And people used to eat nutmeg and cactus.
Kennedy:Why do you feel you want to take these drugs? What does this do for you? Hmm? Why are you so unsatisfied with yourself and your position in life?
Mel: Ask me which drug.
Kennedy:Anything! You name your drug. You were talking about LSD a few minutes ago and then you were talking about bananas.
Mel: Why did I take LSD. I don't take LSD now.
Kennedy:You don't take it now.
Mel: Oh, no.
Kennedy:What about bananas?
Mel: No, I never DID smoke bananas. I took LSD because I wanted to find out what it was all about.
Kennedy:Just once, twice?
Mel: Several times, many years ago.
Kennedy:Uh huh, O.K.
Mel: That's also why I started smoking and I enjoyed it so I still smoke.
Kennedy:Still smoke.
Wayne: And drinking coffee.
Kennedy:And drinking coffee, fine. O.K. Now what goes on at Fort Hill? You're living out there in common, you have this United Illuminating Company you talk about. What is the point of this?
Wayne: Well, we're just a family living together to create together.
Kennedy:Create what?
Wayne: Well, like the newspaper.
Kennedy:This is basically a publication then of this United Illuminating Company?
Wayne: A lot of the people in the paper live on the hill.
Kennedy:And they don't work particularly, they just live in common? Is THIS it?
Wayne: We work all the time. You have to do a lot of work to put out a newspaper, you have to work to keep your house together.
Mel: We make movies and we make records and we play music and we paint, the newspaper is just one thing we do.
Wayne: We are also working with the Roxbury Beautification Program to fix up Highland Park which is a Revolutionary War Monument.
Kennedy:So it's just a creative community down there, eh? How many people are in that community now, do you know?
Eben: There's more all the time, there's probably close to 50.
Wayne: With children, there's about 15 children.
Kennedy:What draws a person TO this? Why do you fellows find that you're drawn to this type of living away from what would be considered the average norm, the conservative type of living: Going through school, getting a job, raising a family? What has turned you OFF so about this?
Eben: Nothing's turned us OFF. We're artists and artists have always lived somewhat outside of ordinary...
Mel: Well, those things he just said are things that most of us have all done anyhow. I was married, I raised a family, I had all kinds of jobs, I was an IBM operator of three years. I went to school. This is just an extension of what I've always done. I haven't left anything behind, I haven't cut myself off from anything.
Kennedy:Did you leave your family behind?
Mel: No, they're all up on the hill.
Kennedy:Do you have youngsters living up there?
Mel: Yeah.
Kennedy:How many youngsters do you have?
Mel: Just me or all together?
Kennedy:No, I mean just you, how many youngsters do YOU have up there?
Mel: Uh. (Thinking hard)
Kennedy:Three? Two? How many CHILDREN do you have?
Mel: I think it's 4 or 5. There's a little confusion there because my first wife is there and she's with Eben now, and uh.
Kennedy:I don't want to pry into your personal life. You ask most people how many children do you have and they say three: two girls and a boy.
Mel: It's not really personal. It's sometimes hard for me to remember which kids are mine. They all look very much alike.
Kennedy:I see.
Mel: And I married a friend of mine's first wife and he married... uh, you know everybody's TOGETHER.
Kennedy:Uuh. GRAND! Well, it's LOVE... Right? Wow... GREAT! (Putting-us-downingly)
Mel: No, no, not the way you just said it, no. It's not like love, wow, great, it's just what we ARE.
Kennedy:Uh, huh, all right. You also, uh, there's the Boston Tea Party in town. Is this something that you're connected with?
Wayne: No longer. We did a great deal of work at the beginning to put the place together. Once it got together and going we left and it's no longer a representation of us and the things we do.
Mel: They're out to make money. WE'D like to make money too but we don't want to stop doing what we love to do, we don't put that first.
Kennedy:What do you do with your money when you get it?
Mel: We have so little that there's no use talking about it.
Kennedy:Say if you DID make any kind of a profit, where would the money go?
Mel: One of the first things we would do is buy some 16mm equipment. We're making films now and that's a very expensive thing to do.
Kennedy:What kind of films are you making?
Mel: I made a beautiful film on the kids the other day. I got into their little world and filmed it. I also made a movie on some people high on LSD. There's some psychiatrists in the area who are very interested in that film.
Kennedy:Do you show these movies publicly?
Mel: It's hard to do right now because it's all in 8mm.
Eben: We're setting up a theater in Cambridge where we'll be able to show these films in midsummer or the fall.
Kennedy:You were talking a little earlier about the fact that you're interested in astrology. Do you find that people who are part of your life, part of your community are interested particularly in astrology?
Mel: Yeah, very much so.
Kennedy:And you think this stuff works?
Mel: Well, it's a way of communicating.
Kennedy:On which level? You mean communicating one with another?
Mel: Yeah, it's like we all speak the astrological language.
Kennedy:Do you have people chart your lives? Do you have astrologers down there who work things out for you?
Mel: Joey's an astrologer, he does charts.
Kennedy:Great. Do you chart your life, work your life out by an astrological chart?
Mel: No, I do everything by feeling. I can explain my life to someone who speaks the language of astrology astrologically but I do what I feel is right.
Kennedy:What sign were you born under?
Mel: Aries.
Kennedy:Aries. What type of person do you feel that makes you?
Mel: Well, aries is the most creative sign, and I'm certainly creative.
Kennedy:And Wayne, what sign were you born under?
Wayne: I'm a capricorn.
Kennedy:You're a capricorn. And Eben?
Eben: Leo.
Kennedy:A leo, huh.
Joey:You can check the centerfold in the paper.
Kennedy:The fellow who's not on mike, taking movies, just said that. As you see, this IS a happening. (Checking the centerfold in AVATAR #1) What does it have in the centerfold? Oh, yeah, all of the little, little charts. (Kennedy checking out the virgo section) I'm inhibited, huh? (Roars of laughter) Well, I might say at times I'm turned OFF by certain types of people but I never quite thought virgo was inhibited. (Still checking out virgo section) Analytical... hmm. Inquisitive, sincere, learn how to serve. I have never heard virgo analyzed as being that particular way. Another thing we find is that sometimes people who are interested in astrology are also interested in things psychic. Do you find that this has any interest down there?
Mel: That's true. Astrology is one of the occult sciences and occult sciences all deal with what's termed psychic I guess. Psychic to me is just more.
Kennedy:You have an article on page 6 that's called What is the Underground. What IS the underground?
Mel: Who wrote that?
Wayne: Bud Burns. HE'S a virgo. (Laughter)
Mel: He's a VIRGO? He picked out the virgo out of the whole paper.
Kennedy:Analytical, inquisitive. How did he explain the underground?
Wayne: I think he said that EVERYBODY was the underground if they looked deeply into themselves.
Kennedy:What are some of the articles you intend to write in the future?
Wayne: A lot more of the same.
Mel: You know a nice article would be to interview Bob Kennedy.
Wayne: I think so too.
Kennedy:Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy. I'm sure you'd like THAT.
Wayne: An interview with an interviewer.
Kennedy:(Looking in AVATAR) Here's a Love Experiment in Haight. This is Haight-Ashbury.
Wayne: That's a reprint from the East Village Other. The nice thing about the Underground Press Syndicate is that when you like an article that you see in one of the other papers and you think it's important for your city, you can add it to your paper. That's a very good article on the history of the underground movement in America.
Kennedy:Can you give us a little background on the history of this underground movement in America?
Mel: Something that's underground is something that just hasn't come above the ground yet. It's like something in the embryonic stage.
Wayne: And the fact that these papers are coming out indicates that it's beyond the underground now. It's been developing and now it's starting to come out. It's very young.
Kennedy:You fellows have removed yourselves somewhat from normal conservative type of society. You're living in common in a part of Boston, you make things that people call far-out films and your newspaper is different than most newspapers. Is this because you and people like you, this underground group, is it very much dissatisfied with the world and they say, "I don't WANT that world, I'm going to make my OWN through drugs and through creating and through just going away."
Mel: Oh no, no, no, no. We just want to help IMPROVE. There's only ONE world. There isn't our world and THEIR world. There's ONE world, we all live in it together. We just want to do as much as we can to make it a better place to live in HOWEVER we can. You keep saying that we've SEPARATED ourselves from the world. We HAVEN'T. And far out movies, my movies aren't far out at all.
Kennedy:Are YOU dissatisfied with the world? Is that why you felt you had to sort of take your family and move up to Fort Hill away from wherever it was you were living before?
Eben: Well, YOU'RE dissatisfied with the world too. Everyone is a little dissatisfied with the world. The world's not perfect.
Kennedy:Sure. Oh no, no, no.
Eben: And YOU'RE trying to do something and WE'RE trying to do something, just the fact that we're all HERE.
Kennedy:But you obviously would be more dissatisfied with it than I would be.
Eben: No, I don't think so, I don't think so.
Wayne: Not necessarily. We may be working harder to make it better.
Kennedy:Therefore you would feel the need more for the change.
Wayne: We really DO feel a need for the change, but we're working on it, we're not just sitting around and talking and saying that it needs to be changed.
Kennedy:And by making movies. Is this it?
Wayne: By making movies and records and putting out a newspaper, and Eben paints and does posters.
Kennedy:I think I have one of your posters at home. A silk-screen.
Wayne: The Be-In poster.
Kennedy:Yeah, that was great, congratulations. Believe it or not fellows it's up in a den I have where I do some fairly conservative reading there in the morning.
Wayne: Oh. You've got the underground invading your house!
Mel: Is that the one with my picture on it?
Eben: Yeah.
Mel: So you have me in your house. (Gales of laughter)

Mel Lyman