“Who cares? Whooo cares,” a young girl wailed into a portable microphone. It was 1966, one of the first of the Merry Prankster’s “acid tests.” The Grateful Dead were playing on stage while hundreds danced wildly and drank Kool-aid from large garbage cans. Hugh Romney spent most of the evening saying, “The Kool-aid on the left is for little children and the Kool-aid on the right is the electric [LSD-laced] Kool-aid. Got it?”
Well, at least one girl hadn’t and her screams of “who cares” filled the room. Hugh found his way to a microphone and said, “Some little girl is unglued here and I’m going to try to glue her back together. If anyone wants to help out, meet me at her, wherever she is.” He and 15 others found her in a side room, and joined hands in a circle around her until the glue held and she began to smile.
Hugh (more commonly known as Wavy Gravy) felt he had passed his own acid test that night. His weathered face lights up as he talks about it. “It was like when you hit the very bottom of the human soul and you’re sinking maybe, but somebody is sinking a whole lot worse than you, and you get off your problem to reach down and pull someone else up.”
If the depths of a clown can be measured by the compassion and tears in his joy, Wavy Gravy may be bottomless. Over the years, he’s played many roles, from beatnik poet, author and stand-up comic to children’s clown, campaign manager for nobody-for-president, and all-around-pitch-in-and-save-the-world humanitarian. Perhaps he’s best known from his days as a Merry Prankster, and founder of the Hog Farm — the communal family that helped run Woodstock.
But whichever side of him you view, Wavy Gravy is a man of almost comic strip proportions.
Wavy Gravy was born as Hugh Romney 47 years ago in Princeton, N.J. When he was young, neighbor Albert Einstein used to take him for walks. Wavy remembers Einstein as a very calm man, who smelled funny, wore sneakers and a sweatshirt and had an incredible twinkle in his eye.
When his parents got divorced he moved to Albany, New York, and then later to Connecticut. After finishing high school he joined the Army and studied theatre at Boston University on the GI bill. He soon began writing poetry. Moving to Greenwich Village, he ran poetry readings at the Gaslight Cafe. He married his first wife there in 1966, in a ceremony officiated by blind gospel singer Reverend Gary Davis and attended by friends Bob Dylan, Tom Paxton and Dave Van Ronk. (Dylan wrote the first draft of “Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall” on Wavy’s typewriter.)
He moved to Los Angeles that same year and began a career as a stand-up comic, managed by his close friend Lenny Bruce. As the opening act for jazz great Thelonious Monk he developed his now-famed ability to talk fast, especially when Monk didn’t show up and the crowd grew restless.
His first marriage ended about the time Wavy started taking acid (“that little tab that will do you,” he calls it), gave away all of his possessions and went to live for a time with the Hopi Indians. She thought he was crazy.
Soon, his life took another turn toward the ridiculous when, coming downstairs one morning, he found his kitchen filled with 35 people dressed in day-glo clothes. It was Ken Kesey and the rest of the Merry Pranksters, arrived to do the big Los Angeles acid test. He joined them in their event as well as arranging some of his own — like the Lord Richard Buckley Memorial Sunset (called because of rain).
He moved to a one-room cabin out in the country with his second wife, Jahanara, and 30 other people. When the landlord saw the pile of them, they were evicted. An hour later a man drove up in a truck and offered them a rent-free mountain to live on in exchange for taking care of some 40 hogs. Following what Wavy calls “kitchen synchronicity,” or “the hard-on of the heart,” they moved on to the mountain and the Hog Farm commune was born.
The Hog Farm started doing psychedelic lightshows for large groups, and soon got hired as extras for an Otto Preminger movie called “Skidoo.” With the money they made from the movie the Hog Farm fixed up a few buses and began traveling the country, staging what they called their “Days of Lunacy,” large free celebrations focused on showing people that they were the stars — like the acid test without the LSD. They also became very involved in the anti-war movement. Every 30 miles their caravan would be stopped by police, until finally they were busted for having a quarter of a gram of marijuana ashes in an ashtray.
In 1969, 85 Hog Farmers and friends were flown out to Woodstock to help with the festival. They didn’t realize that they’d been hired to do security until a reporter asked Wavy, “Well, what exactly are you going to use for riot control?” “Cream pies and seltzer bottles,” he replied. “Well, how are you going to do the security?” “Do you feel secure?” Wavy asked. “Yeah.” “Well . . . see?” They printed up thousands of security armbands and whenever they saw someone who looked fairly responsible they gave him an armband. They also ran the food kitchen and first aid/freakout tent, mostly by setting them up for people to run themselves.
After working a few festivals the Hog Farm starred in a rock ’n roll movie called “Medicine Ball Caravan” in England. Hip promoters gave them a bus and they drove off toward East Pakistan. This was right after a major flood. They figured that with all the media attention they had gotten from Woodstock they could start feeding people and so embarrass the large governments that they too would pitch in. At this point the India-Pakistani war broke out and they “hung a left into the Himalayas,” as Wavy put it.
Finally, tired of the road, the Hog Farm returned to America and set up a commune in New Mexico. Soon it became inundated with others coming to join their much-publicized good life. It was too much, and after another cross-country bus trip they settled in Berkeley.
Wavy has always had a bad back but the frequent batterings it took at anti-war demonstrations made it much worse. It was while recovering from one of his many operations that Wavy had the idea of working with hospitalized children. His back had already earned him an appointment as commune babysitter, and now he started volunteering regularly at the Oakland Children’s Hospital. A retiring clown gave him some gear and Wavy’s most recognizable persona was born. He wore it well and the clown character stuck, especially when he found that it kept him from getting beaten up at protest demonstrations. Wavy also runs Camp Winna Rainbow, a children’s performing arts camp in Mendocino, California.
We talked in the Hog Farm’s Berkeley house on Wavy’s bunk bed in a room decorated by piles of stuffed animals, toys, memorabilia, and transcendental clutter. He lay on his back, eyes closed, as we talked. At times he looked pained, either from his back or perhaps from the effort of keeping the ol’ rational mind from working that long. His words were jovial and rambling, his wit keen and fresh (if sometimes absurd), yet beneath it all was a dead seriousness that gave his laughter a genuine ring.
His current project is working as fund-raiser for the Seva Foundation, an international organization directed by Dr. Nicole Grasset — former head of the World Health Organization’s successful campaign against smallpox in India and southeast Asia — which is working to prevent and cure blindness, beginning with a pilot project in Nepal. (For information on Seva, write to Seva Foundation, 108 Spring Lake Drive, Chelsea, Michigan 48118.)
Thanks to Ira Kamin for background information on Wavy Gravy and friends in California Living magazine. And thanks to Ann Schaaf for transcribing the interview.
— Howard Jay Rubin
SUN: Often you’re seen in your clown face. What does it mean to put on the face of a clown? What changes?
WAVY GRAVY: It started when we first moved to Berkeley. We had done an event called the Berkeley Freak Fair and there was a newspaper article referring to me as a social worker in freak’s clothing. Some doctors at the Oakland Children’s Hospital who knew about me from Woodstock saw the article and asked me if I would go by the hospital and cheer up the kids. I was still coming out of my third spinal fusion then. I spend a lot of time chewing sheets, waiting for the synapses to reconnect, and it was just the thing to get me out of my funky space to spend an afternoon with the kids. As I began to go, someone handed me a red nose and someone else gave me some giant shoes — he was an old clown who was retiring and wanted his shoes to go on walking — and gradually I began to turn into this clown. Then one afternoon I had to go to a demonstration right after the hospital so I didn’t have time to change. I noticed the police didn’t want to hit me any more. So I’d finally come across something that was safe. You don’t hear a bunch of rednecks get together and say, “Let’s go kill a few clowns tonight.” I managed to get the entire under-the-counter-culture dressed up like clowns in Kansas City where the Republicans were having their convention, and the police didn’t move because the TV was there, and they weren’t going to be clubbing clowns on color TV. The best definition I’ve heard of a clown is a poet who is also an orangutan.
Going to the hospital to put juice into people who were worse off than I was got me very strong. I certainly got a lot more out of it, it seemed to me, than I put in. Laughter is truly one of the best medicines.
SUN: Is there a problem with that? When you’re doing serious work, do people see you as just lighthearted?
WAVY GRAVY: The more serious the work the more important it is to keep the light. Think of all the insanity in the world as a big pressure cooker. Laughter is the little valve on the top. If you don’t have that the pressure cooker is going to explode and you’re going to end up with beans on the ceiling.
SUN: When you’re working with children, how do you get them to open up?
WAVY GRAVY: It’s always one on one with me. To have any real impact you’ve got to be available for them. I have lots of stuff in my bag — a deck of giant playing cards, a bottle of bubbles. Bubbles are real good if kids are crying because their mom just left or something like that. If I step around the corner and blow some bubbles that will generally quiet them, they’ll want to blow some, and after they’ve done that they can hardly start crying again. I have a musical instrument, some stories to read, riddles. I use riddles a lot. If a kid can trick me in a riddle I’ll give him a balloon.
SUN: So you’ve got your bag of props, but you say that’s not what does it.
WAVY GRAVY: It’s like I said, being pretty much at their disposal, and letting them pick the route to take.
Think of all the insanity in the world as a big pressure cooker. Laughter is the little valve on top. If you don’t have that the pressure cooker is going to explode and you’re going to end up with beans on the ceiling.
SUN: Do you end up feeling like a child?
WAVY GRAVY: My little boy who’s eleven told me I’d never be a grownup, so I don’t worry about that.
SUN: Let’s talk about Winna Rainbow.
WAVY GRAVY: Camp Winna Rainbow is a circus and theatre arts camp that we’ve done for six years. It started out as a babysitting service for the spiritual community, because it seemed terrible to me that parents should be penalized spiritually because they have kids, and can’t attend these various hoohas. So we started as a day care thing. After one year we decided to do our own camp, at the same place, and we put together an amazing staff of folks, the top people in the Bay area in dance and music. We taught motor skills like juggling and tightrope and trapeze, along with dance and music. The clowning arts. I refer to the camp as survival in the twenty-first century, or how to duck with a sense of humor, which I think in this day and age is important. I think if those things were taught in the first or second grade — juggling, tightrope, like that — that the kids would be different somehow.
We’ve just acquired 500 acres of land in northern California. The original vision was to do it in a circle of teepees with a big circus tent in the middle, so right now we’re in the process of trying to raise those bucks to get that together because all of the available cash is involved in paying for the spread. It’s hard for me to hustle for myself. I hustle for No Nukes, I hustle for the native Americans, for the wildlife, but to ask people to do something for me is hard.
SUN: What makes it hard?
WAVY GRAVY: Because you’ve only got so many asks for everybody, and it seems that my kids camp, no matter how nifty it is in the realm of right livelihood, doesn’t seem to be the maximum impact for that ask. So I’m floundering a little bit here, but I know it’s going to be just fine.
SUN: Tell me what Seva is about and what you’re doing with it.
WAVY GRAVY: Seva is a Sanskrit word that means service. It’s mostly made up of health workers who spearheaded the fight against smallpox, which is the first disease in the history of the world to be eradicated. They also look for other ways to make a major change in people’s lives. Now it’s unnecessary blindness. It seems 80 percent of the people in the world that are blind are unnecessarily blind. And 80 percent of that is reversible. In other words, at the going rate today, for fifteen bucks an eyeball you can restore sight. So my particular area has been FUNd raising, big f, u, n, small d. And putting on concerts, first at Carnegie Hall in New York, that was the first one. I call them Sing Out For Sight. Then with the Grateful Dead here, and Garcia and Weir. And then last year with Jackson Browne, Graham Nash, Holly Near, Robert Hunter, Kate Wolf, Country Joe, like that, down in LA. We’ve done pretty well. We’ve also initiated a T-shirt, and we’re trying to disseminate information as best we can from our California office. The main office is in Chester, Michigan. I’m on the board of directors, I guess so they won’t get bored. And this is not just limited to the blindness thing, although we have a major commitment in Nepal to get them self-sufficient in eye care by ’87. We’re looking at a tremendous cataract backlog too. And we were also able last year to teach advanced first aid at Porcupine and Pine Ridge Reservations for women of all red nations. What we’re trying to do is help to alleviate human suffering.
SUN: When was the magical or not-so-magical moment when Hugh Romney took on the Wavy Gravyness?
WAVY GRAVY: Oh my goodness golly. The first festival we did after Woodstock was in Texas, at Lake Dallas. I remember about twenty thousand bare asses, people who had never taken off their clothes before, and the judge told us they were going to call the National Guard, so I had to get everyone to put their clothes back on. I got in a little boat with my Mae West and my cowboy hat on, jumping into the water and yelling, “Ahoy amigo, the judge is going to call the National Guard. If you want to stay high put your pants back on. Swim over and tell that guy, tell him to tell someone else,” till about sundown. As the sun was going down I was certain we had pulled it off, and at that moment, here came a naked water skier. We chased him around the lake until we ran out of gas. It was pretty funny.
At some point I wandered on to the stage while these eleven foot dudes with filed teeth were playing drums and I lay on the floor and started hooting into the microphone, for no apparent reason, “This is Wavy Gravy on the floor, don’t dance on the Wavy Gravy.” And the guys started dancing around me. And I looked out and saw someone selling a joint for six dollars on the dance floor and I said, “This is Wavy Gravy on the floor, all the dope on the stage,” and we started getting this mantra going, “All the dope on the stage, all the dope on the stage.” And this big pile of dope started appearing, so I said, “OK, if you can roll good, come up on the stage.” And the drums are going, these guys are naked to the waist, rolling one-handed, tossing joints off the stage, and this big cloud of smoke went up over Texas. And B.B. King was there, and this was just before one of my multitude of operations and I was getting up slow, and I felt this arm around my shoulder and it was B.B. King. He said, “You Wavy Gravy?” and I said, “Yes sir.” He said, “Well, Wavy Gravy, we can work around you,” and he leaned me up against his amplifier. I knew at that point that I was going to be Wavy Gravy for a while. Johnny Winter came out, they played till sunrise. It was everybody’s reward for picking up the trash and putting their pants on. A tiny tip of Texas went to heaven there.
SUN: Let’s go into a little Hog Farm history. What’s the Hog Farm and what brought it together?
WAVY GRAVY: An extended family. I guess we’ve been doing it fifteen years.
SUN: How big is the family?
WAVY GRAVY: About fifty folks. It was a spinoff of the Pranksters’ old traveling road show. Then Kesey hotfooted it for Mexico with the FBI breathing down his neck, and all these Pranksters were abandoned. My wife and I were living in this one-room cabin in southern California and these Pranksters started drifting in until there were about thirty of them in one room, and the landlord said we all had to leave. About two hours later we heard about a place for free on a mountain nearby. We just had to be caretakers, slop some hogs. And every Sunday we’d have a celebration on the land with a different theme and people would call up from all over southern California and ask, “What’s happening this Sunday?” Saturdays we’d put on light shows at the Shrine Auditorium, for the Cream and the Dead and the Airplane, to make money. Sundays were free, and we tried to figure out how to take those Sundays and move them around. I guess the first bus evolved out of that. We got this old schoolbus and painted it up. We took the pig with us, one little pig, that we later ran for president. She was the first female black and white candidate for president and she became pretty famous. And we would travel around and put on the show. I would go into a college and get sponsors — like I would get the Interfraternity Council and the SDS to sponsor us; it was the only thing they ever agreed on all year — and we’d get as much audiovisual stuff as we could, art supplies, musical instruments, and just pile it all up in the football field and fall asleep. And then they’d come up and say, “Hey, when does the show start?” and we’d say “Golly, we’d better do something. You got a screwdriver?” And we’d put up this sixty-foot dome and thirty-foot dome and set up the picnic, but most of it was getting people to play with each other. It’s a very hippie scam.
SUN: Do you have a good story that comes to mind from one of these shows?
WAVY GRAVY: I remember one show we did to raise money for various foundations. It was called Meet The Pudding. We wheeled out this thousand-pound vat of chocolate pudding, and everybody got spoons. The concept was that everybody would feed each other — some people’s idea of heaven. But we got bored with that after a while and pudding was flying everywhere, ladies got pudding on their mink coats. I heard this sound, “Phttt.” There was a guy covered with pudding from the top of his head to his navel, and he grabbed the microphone from me and said, “I’ve seen the bottom of the pudding.” It turned out that New York University wanted two or three thousand dollars for warping the floor of the student center with chocolate pudding. But we wiggled out of that one.
SUN: Let’s backtrack a little. Looking back on the whole Prankster scene, have your ideas about it changed? What do you think was happening?
WAVY GRAVY: It was a rude awakening, but it was definitely called for. The consciousness of the planet was rooted in thousands of years of karmic cement, and we needed to blast through it, somehow, so the universe provided this substance that enabled it to occur. And we sort of occurred with it.
SUN: It’s gotten a lot of publicity over the years, a myth unto itself. Do you think it’s getting overplayed, people going to the myth instead of doing their own trip?
WAVY GRAVY: Once you do your own trip you do your own trip. All the reading about it won’t ever do it. It’s like one time I threw the I Ching and I got The Well, and the lines said the water in the well is good water, but it’s just water in the well unless you drink it and turn it into light.
SUN: In his introduction to your book, Ken Kesey used the image of a beached whale. How would you introduce Ken Kesey?
WAVY GRAVY: He’s like McMurphy in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. I mean, Kesey doesn’t drink just one beer, he’d drink a case. He consumes vast quantities of everything — people, life — but at the same time is real delicate with a delicate strength. He’s got a wonderful sense of humor too. He’s been an inspiration to my life many, many times over the years. I once used to open as a stand-up comedian for a piano player named Theolonius Monk. He once told me, “Every man is a genius just being himself.”
SUN: What about Woodstock? Such a big deal was made of it.
WAVY GRAVY: There have been many deals made about it, including a recent attempt to demystify the pie-in-the-sky out of it, a book called Barefoot in Babylon. Woodstock was created for peace, love, and wallets, not necessarily in that order, and the universe took over. I remember at one point we were supposed to be doing security. We had no idea we were doing security until we got off the plane from New Mexico and there’s all this press running up to us saying, “Understand you’re going to be doing security. What are you going to use?” I told them cream pies and seltzer bottles. One reporter said, “How will that work?” and I said, “Well, do you feel secure?” He said, “Yeah,” so I said, “Well, it must be working.” The producers came up to us and said, “OK, we’re going to start charging money now,” and there were fifty thousand people on the infield, and five of us. I said, “Do you want a good movie or a bad movie?” because we had figured out by that point that the real bucks were in the movie rights.
There were so many aspects of the scene. It was a wonderful experience for all these Aquarian organizations that were there to drop their weak points and start surviving. Nothing like staying alive to get close to folks. If it was three beautiful days anywhere I think it would just have been rock ’n roll. I said in the movie, “There’s a little bit of heaven in every disaster area.” But whenever we started to believe that we were doing it and pulling it off, we would fall in the mud. If we just let ourselves be moved it’s almost like marionettes.
SUN: You also helped run the freakout tent there. What was that like?
WAVY GRAVY: I remember when the first freakout wandered in. There were all these doctors standing around in white coats and shirts and ties, and me, and at that time I had no teeth and was wearing a cowboy hat with a yarmulke inside that Lenny Bruce gave me so I could say, “Howdy goyim.” And this guy was coming through the door screaming, “Miami Beach, 1942, Joyce, Joyce.” And this 300-pound Australian doctor looked at this guy and said, “Body contact, he needs body contact,” and started laying on him and crushing him to death. The guy is still trying to scream, “Miami Beach, 1942, Joyce, Joyce,” and this other doctor is saying to him, “Think of your third eye, man, think of your third eye.” I decided it was time to make my move and said, “Excuse me, I’d like to make my move,” and they backed off. And the guy was still yelling, “Miami Beach, 1942, Joyce, Joyce,” and I said, “What’s your name?” He said, “Bob.” I said, “Your name is Bob,” and he liked that. I told him his name and I found out where he was from, and I told him his name again and where he was from, and we went through that one for a while, and then I told him he took a little LSD and it was going to wear off, and he said, “Thank you.” They don’t want to hear “third eye,” they want to know when they’re going to come down. And when the guy did come down some more we said, “Hold it. You see that guy coming through the door with his toys in his nose? That was you four hours ago. Now you’re the doctor, take over.” And he wasn’t cut loose until that guy came down and was ready to take over for him and so the whole scene regenerated itself. The same thing with our food trip, where we were feeding ten thousand people a day. People would come into the kitchen and volunteer and somebody would replace them, and by the time Life magazine took the pictures of the Hog Farm kitchen there wasn’t a single Hog Farmer in the kitchen.
SUN: Are psychedelic drugs still important to you?
WAVY GRAVY: Partly because of my body I don’t do it that much. I like to do it at least once a year just to keep honest. But I’ll go off somewhere in nature rather than in some rock ’n roll concert, let me tell you. I’ve noticed that the chemists are coming out with these little bitty hits now which may dissuade some people away from nature’s way of telling us to spend money, cocaine. Terrible stuff. If people take psychedelics in limited doses instead of cocaine they’d be a lot better off, it would help them to go a little quicker. And who knows, they might get a little more consciousness to boot.
The laws of America are set up to help everybody get what they can for themselves. There are no provisions for people who want to live in a group and share, absolutely none.
SUN: How does the Hog Farm make decisions? How do you individually decide what’s next?
WAVY GRAVY: I’ll be moving through time, space, and circumstance and suddenly I’ll start to think well, maybe all the hairs on my arm would like to move to the country. I think that it’s like following the hard-on of the heart. We operate our scene by consensus. Folks all get in a circle and something is thrown out there and you can pretty well tell if anyone else wants to do it or not.
SUN: Fifteen, sixteen years is a long time for a family to be together. Any clues as to what keeps it together, what keeps it clean?
WAVY GRAVY: I don’t know if it’s ever totally clean. You’ve got to sweep and dust. The initial focus of the bus trip was good. We did seven years of driving around, from sea to shining sea and then that one from London to the Himalayas. But kids were beginning to plug up the aisles of the bus and the third word on every woman’s mouth was “house.” And so we settled here in Berkeley, and set up a business that we could all work at. That’s important. The real information in any family begins to occur around the kitchen table. A lot of communes have failed because there wasn’t a real focus.
We ran a telephone answering service called Babylon. It was different for us and good. We had always been supported by some kind of magic. The buses! God knows how we got them on the road. We certainly didn’t. But it seemed that whatever had been taking care of us had better things to do and it was right for us to start taking care of ourselves.
Consensus is good. Folks are starting to learn about consensus through the anti-nuclear stuff. It’s real sticky, it takes a while. There are a lot of rough edges.
SUN: Consensus means . . .
WAVY GRAVY: Everyone’s going for it. We’re creative anarchists, and if we can get something we can all agree on we can get it done.
SUN: What’s been the hardest part of communal living?
WAVY GRAVY: Begging off the big movie of the road and taking care of everyday stuff. Kesey has a good line. He says, “The trouble with a superhero is what to do between phone booths.” That’s what we’ve been figuring out.
SUN: In the Sixties, “the establishment,” “the system” was something to rebel against. Do you feel like you’re outside or a part of the system today and how much can you be outside “the system”?
WAVY GRAVY: I don’t know. I go to jail much more now than I did in the Sixties. My big line these days is the Eighties are the Sixties 20 years later — old feathers on a brand new bird. Very little of what I believed then has changed. I still think the system sucks and we’ve got to get another system. Meanwhile we’ve created this little infrastructure here, and we’re starting to create it in the country, because the only way you can make change is to live the change, and if you’re having a good time at it someone else will try it. Today there are more communes than there ever were, and people are getting into it strictly from economics. Like, one couple can’t afford a house these days. You see a bunch of them get together, you go into the kitchen and look in the refrigerator and every little thing is labeled — you know, Bob’s butter, like that. And eventually either they go nuts and it splits up or all that shading disappears and it’s just the stuff and people figure out how to share the expenses and the labor and that kind of thing. It takes time and it’s hard, because it’s different. The laws of America are set up to help everybody get what they can get for themselves. There are no provisions for people who want to live in a group and share, absolutely none. I think what’s going to really change is not our kids but our kids’ kids. They’re the ones who are going to be different.
SUN: What kind of change is coming?
WAVY GRAVY: I think that all these things that are hard for us are going to be a matter of course to them, if there’s a planet to do it in. I used to do a lot of stuff for the whales, and two or three years ago I stopped that. It’s just a question of priorities. I think it’s important that my kid gets to see a whale, but I’d rather him see his kid. Oh yeah, the Save the Humans button, you just picked up on that. At the Brandenberg Air Force Base we did a big protest against the MX, and I did it as a giant bunny. And I had, hanging off a chain, a human foot for luck. Mutant bunnies for peace, save the humans. Little things like that. The Nobody for President campaign really shakes people up. It gets them to think about what this whole popularity contest presidency is.
SUN: What’s the Nobody for President campaign?
WAVY GRAVY: Look at the issues. Nobody totally understands the economy, nobody’s abolished the draft, nobody’s put an end to nuclear war, nuclear power. Even though nobody wants him elected, nobody’s done most of the work. People say we’ve got nobody in there right now, but we say no, if nobody was in there right now it would be a lot different. We’ve got all the slogans: nobody lowered taxes, nobody bakes apple pie better than mom, let nobody run your life, if nobody runs, nobody loses.
SUN: Is nobody really qualified?
WAVY GRAVY: Nobody knows everything, nobody is overqualified. As I tell the Native Americans, nobody was here first. And you can just go on and on forever. It’s fun. It goes all the way back to Aristotle at least. We have these great rallies where nobody arrives in the back of an open convertible, a lot of rock ’n rolling, and the crowd parts and we bring nobody up on stage, on a pillow, these little plastic teeth. And everybody gets quiet and nobody starts speaking, the teeth start clicking. That’s essentially it. At the Kansas City Convention I was given a press pass by a friend, so I put on some straight clothes and started handing out press releases from nobody to the press. I got spotted by a plainclothes cop, who called the Secret Service and the FBI. He started patting me down and felt this bulge in my pocket. He said, “Is that a gun?” and took it out and these teeth started clicking on his hand. I said, “Quiet, our leader is speaking,” and he gave me back the teeth and said, “Get out of here, you’re too weird to arrest.” I’ve been using the Get Out Of Jail Free card a lot. I’ve been Santa Claus for several of the busts. I usually do that in the warmer weather. He’s more of an anachronism then.
SUN: What do you get arrested for mostly?
WAVY GRAVY: Weapons, nuclear energy. I put in for insanity last time.
SUN: How did that work?
WAVY GRAVY: I told them it was insane to put a reactor on an earthquake fault. You know, they get a little chuckle out of it and they think. If you laugh at something your defenses go down and you’re able to hear it. Otherwise you’re filtering it through all these models you have and you can’t hear the sense to it. But if you laugh you’ve got a clear channel that leads to a mental breath. That’s all it takes sometimes.
SUN: What has changed for you since the Sixties?
WAVY GRAVY: I’ve put on a little weight. (laughs) Six or seven years ago I was down to 78 pounds and was probably not going to make it. And these polarity people and acupuncture people and wheatgrass people pulled together and saved my life. It was after much surgery from getting bopped down by various police, National Guards, that kind of stuff, back when I was a fool. I was very enamoured by the fool in the Tarot who has one foot on the cliff with the dog at his heel. He’s always walking off that cliff. I was that fool, and I fell on my ass a lot. I’m a clown now, that’s different.
SUN: You’ve spent a lot of time flat on your back over the years. What has that meant?
WAVY GRAVY: It’s a great teacher: There’s nothing like good, hard-core suffering. I remember Ram Dass told me how lucky I was to carry all this suffering. I wanted to punch him in the nose. He was right. It’s a great teacher. You learn a lot of patience. I’m much more kicked back saying the same things I was then. When you first tune into the planetary SOS and you think you’re the first one who’s heard it you go around shrieking to everybody and they don’t hear you so much. But if you’re a little more kicked back and you say it then people pay a little more attention. I’m not quite so manic. But you know, they had me full of opiates, barbituates, steroids, everything on earth. That’s what took me down to 78 pounds. Now I just take aspirin and a lot of hot and cold showers. I’m not supposed to be able to walk around without morphine, and I don’t take any of that stuff anymore. If I’m going to do something I have to pace it to the point where I’m not going to blow myself out. But when I started getting chopped by the doctors, nobody even knew what an acupuncturist was. When we first started taking psychedelics, nobody knew what a guru was. Now the kids come up, sure, it’s just one of the things. Now survival is what’s bringing people together — that’s what is producing the peace movement. People are really starting to feel it. In Europe especially, because we’re going to shoot those things in their backyard.
SUN: If there was one change you could make, what would it be?
WAVY GRAVY: Well, for years people used to ask me, “Wavy, can I get you anything?” and I used to tell them I wanted a Bentley for my birthday. Then about six or seven years ago I was working on rebuilding this hospital in Southeast Asia. A TV producer wanted me to have a car to get around in, so he gave me a car, had it parked in the driveway of the house I was staying in, and I woke up in the morning and my wife said, “Happy birthday,” and I looked out in the driveway and there was this big chocolate brown Bentley. Oh no! So now when people ask me if they can get me anything I usually ask for peace on Earth.
SUN: What are your feelings about spirituality?
WAVY GRAVY: Your politics, your religion, it’s all the same mumbo. It’s how you live your life. Everywhere I see it’s just intellectualized. Mostly it’s just the Golden Rule.
I like all the teachings, all the tricks. Many spokes and one hub, I guess. Anything that will get you there. I do something every April Fool’s day called the First Church of Fun. And one of the teachings has to do with the funny mantra, which is the basic Bronx cheer/raspberry type noise. You take a paper bag that just fits over your head and do the funny mantra. The bag will vibrate and make you turn into a human kazoo. And I gave it to the kids in the hospital and said, “Put this under your pillow, and when it really gets bad, put the bag over your head and do that, and it will change everything.” And they do it, and they’re very careful about when they do it. Harpo Marx said, “If all else fails, stand on your head.” Well, you can just stick a bag over your head and do the funny mantra.
SUN: What do you do when things get to that point?
WAVY GRAVY: That’s what I do. And it works.