The 27 Club and searching for a Vision

“The entertainment for this evening is not new, you've seen this entertainment through and through you have seen your birth, your life, your death....you may recall all the rest. Is everybody in? Is everybody in? Is everybody in? The ceremony is about to begin. WAKE UP!” - Jim Morrison

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“Wow Maaaaaannnnn, there are so many groovy Hippies here. Did Owsley make a batch of Orange Sunshine, that had these freaks trip for over 20 years, like Rip Van Fucking Winkle. Wow Hippies...so cute....”

I go on and on, with as much smugness and self congratulating coolness that I could muster, in my black on black on black NYC late eighties street wear.

“What are these poseurs doing here? Yeah the Hippies were righteous and all that, but that was over 20 years ago. They had the Summer of Love. Then we had the Summer of Hate, ten years later. Now we have Reagan and the whole world is going to shit. If these day-glo-freaks want a Summer of Love, then they should at least be taking MDMA, and listening to Acid like they are in London. Fucking Posers.”

I hate posers. Be real, be authentic, don’t be a fucking poser. I know that I am not one. I went to Art school. I worked with some of the great fashion photographers. Yeah I did drop out for a spell, and I went to San Francisco. But I fell in with members of the Suicide Club and the Art Warehouse parties, not with the stoners at Golden Gate Park. I know all the hip music, and scenes on both coasts. I am forming my own band. I am wearing the same sunglasses that Thurston Moore wears, so I'm no poser!

“Why are you here Mark? Well if you don’t want to be here, then just go.”  

My girlfriend had a good point. Why am I in Central Park, among a couple of thousand people, in Frisbee Hill next to the Sheep Meadow, for the annual New York Rainbow Family of Living Light potluck picnic, if I don't want to be seen with these pseudo-Hippies?  I have no real answer. I love my girlfriend, but could care less for her Hippie ways. But I do want to hang out with her, and her friend Bobby and his old lady, who joined us.  I could leave and met everyone later, but I am compelled to stay.

“Kid. Let me lay you down some science on The Rainbow Family.”

Bobby was an Original Hippie, the real deal. He sold massive amounts of LSD back in ’67. Eventually he got busted and saw some hard time. He had the most amazing collection of music I had ever seen. He was funny and wise in the ways of the Counter Culture. He was like a beefy long-haired, Gandalf via Arthur Lee, giant of a man.

“The Rainbow Family stared as a non commercial version of Woodstock, in Colorado, in 1972. It has been going on every year since. Every summer around the week of July 4th, The Rainbows gather in a National Forest to live as one. Many camps get set up, each one has a different flavor and are created by people from all over the world. The week culminates with everyone participating in a silent mediation on the 4th of July. Upwards of 40,000 people show up and attend. It is a free event. Food, everything is donated. New York stared a local Rainbow chapter a few years ago. The Rainbow Gathering has kept much of the Hippie spirit alive and current. Many young people attend. Even punks from East Village squats, have their own camp. You should go around, young man, and find a tribe you vibe with.”

At that moment a massive drum jam starts. The beat was hot enough to make me want check it out, and perhaps to join in. So I jump off the rocks we are sitting on, and start to walk to the drum circle. Bobby yells out.

“Hey Mark! Those are cool shades. Looks like the type Jim Morrison wore back in the 60’s.”  Ouch...

I walk over to the drum circle. Me in solid black, in a sea of tie-dyed. I make it to the center of about 100 drummers. From a distance it sounds pretty good, but in the center it is a cacophony of bad timing. No one is holding a solid One. A man, who is playing a giant bass drum is so high, that he keeps on dropping his stick. Finally it bounces off the drum and almost impales me, but I catch it before it gives me an instant lobotomy. I try to hand it back, but the dude barely mouths the words;  “ I am way toooo stooooned.....” No Shit Sherlock. I position myself over the drum and start to slam an Earth shaking solid 4 on the 4. This wakes up everyone, and the beat finally congeals.

I slowly increase the tempo till all the drummers and dancers start to sweat. A man blows a conch. I see my girlfriend smile at me, take off her shirt, and dance topless. Many woman follow suit. That’s my girl! The energy is full on. Wild and Solid!

A flash of color catches my eye. I turn and see this long hair man in a silk Kabuki outfit looking straight at me. He is defiantly a freak, but he is impeccably dressed, and completely lucid. His smile is like the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland. I am unnerved. We lock eyes and Mr. Kabuki pulls out giant metal fans. Whack Whack WHACK! He unfolds them in perfect rhythm to my drum. We are like thunder and lighting.

From the center of the dancers a wail erupts, like an animal mating call. Everyone joins in. The drummers go wild, and I jump on top of the rhythm and pull the beat faster and faster. I yell out. “Ok you Motherfuckerhippies! show me how you dance!” Oh my God! That pulls everyone over the top into an orgasmic explosion crescendo. Mr. Kabuki somehow rains a massive shower of rainbow confetti over the hundreds of dancers, and drummers, from out of his sleeve.  Boom...Boom...BOOM! I end the beat. A sinewy arm drummer pats me on the back, and gives me a soul handshake. “You need to go to The Rainbow Gathering man. We need drummers like you. But don’t wear so much black. It is so early ‘80’s.”

“Manic depression is touching my soul. I know what I want but I just don't know, how to, go about gettin' it. Feeling sweet feeling drops from my fingers, fingers. Manic depression is catchin' my soul.” – Jimi Hendrix

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My early to mid 20’s were filled with extreme highs and lows. I graduated from the School of Visual Arts for photography with honors. I worked for some of the legends in the commercial photography world, for a number of years. But I became bored, and decided that I needed to do a Kerouac, and lit out for open road. I traveled across the USA with my girlfriend. We ended up living in San Francisco, and becoming enmeshed in the scene that eventually beget Burning Man. I went wild living there, and then crashed, and moved back to NYC.  I had a major quarter life breakdown, and had a few very dark years. I broke up with my girl friend, very soon after she introduced me to the Rainbow Gatherings. I was 27.

There is the concept of the 27 Club. It is the club that is inhabited by Rock Stars who died at 27 years old. Jim Morrison, Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, and Amy Winehouse are some of the members of that club. In astrological terms when one reaches 27 years old, it begins ones Saturn Returns, till the orbit is completed at about 30 years old. Saturn Returns represents the passing of time, and of an age. On a personal level, the late 20’s represents the transition from Youth to Adulthood. My friend Sylvia Brallier, a great teacher and healer, gave me the best explanation for Saturn Returns. “It is like a rebirth where you are being squeezed tightly inside a birth canal. When we are younger we are like fire, but after Saturn Returns, we become like coal. So in our 30’s we don’t appear as fiery but we become like coal, hotter and more focused.” It does represent a powerful death and rebirth process. Sometimes, as in the case of the 27 Club, it becomes all too real.

I believe that when major life transitions happens most people in our modern culture have no clue how to navigate the waters. Sometimes they sink. Imagine being a superstar, and having to go through major transitions in public, and having no deep spiritual guidance to help you while you are also connecting with powerful, and sometimes dark creative forces.  Many modern artists are like a shaman without proper training or initiation. Actually with access to the same experiences of Sex, Drugs and Rock n Roll (or EDM), most anyone today has ability to open the doors of perception. But whether one sees angels, or nightmares when the doors open, deepens on their perceptions, trainings, and the quality of people they surround themselves with. It also depends if a person has a vision for their life. Many people without a compelling vision become lost.

“Where there is no vision, the people perish...” Proverbs 29:18

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The years I was deeply involved in the Rainbow Gatherings happened to be during my Saturn Returns. I met some of the most amazing people who followed the “Rainbow Trail.” They were Students, Lawyers, Carpenters, Artists, Construction Workers, Teachers, Wall Street Investors, and of course Hippies.  This was years before Burning Man became more then just a party on the beach. Rainbow was where the edge was in alternative lifestyle culture.

I found a home among the Rainbow Culture. I found friends who were motivated, focused, and wanting to make a difference in the world. Somehow through Rainbow I became Straight Edge. No meat, no booze, weed. I became a raw food vegan, and trained all the time in Kung-Fu. My desire for performing was encouraged. We were New Age Hippies, and we were also bad-ass New Yorkers, with a sharp view of the world. It was the first time I found a community of people who understood me and got all the contradictions of my soul, and reflected back the beauty of it all. I found my tribe.

There are so many stories and adventures I could share about being involved in Rainbow. I will share how my Saturn Return ended, and I had my Vision...

My friends and I created one of the largest kitchen camps from the East Coast. The Wandering Lotus cooked about 700 meals a day, all donation based food and labor. It was hard work, but so satisfying to be of service and to be outdoors in the magnificent mountains of Vermont. The view from the kitchen was breathtaking. We became a hub of activity both during the workday, and our all night drum jams. Rainbow always invokes the passion and possibility of living closer to harmony in nature. It was a week of singing, drumming, eating, sharing, creative workshops, making new friends, and lovers. The land of Vermont is so beautiful. It felt like a bit of Paradise.

On Wednesday night a powerful storm came barreling through. We awoke to the most beautiful day of the whole week. I think the fact that we all had to cooperate together to survive brought out even more love and camaraderie. The cool freshness certainly added to the magic of that day.

That night, there was to be a massive bonfire drum circle in the center camp. The sight and sound of thousands of dancers and drummers promised to be amazing. That night the Moon was full. It was cool and perfect night, and we all knew that the drum circle would be epic.

The after dinner ritual was that everyone in our camp would gather, and have a social tea, and “smoke 'em if you got 'em". Now being Straight Edge for almost three years, I did not partake in such desserts. But that night when my friend handed me a spliff. I thought “When in Rome...”  I took a heroic dose. In for a penny, and all that.

Well! After years of super clean living, that huge jazz cigarette hit me like a massive bass drum beat. “Wow”, was all I could say. My friend, who gave me the joint, asked me if I was all right. I was about to say. "I am way too stone", when a bolt of energy went up my spine.  I took off and started to run up the trails.

The hills of Vermont are pretty rocky. During the day it is easy to loose your footing, not to mention the trying to walk around at night. But I was running up and down the hills like a mad gazelle, almost tripping from being so high, but never once stumbled. Everything was glowing to me. It so was easy to see.  

From a peak point I saw the Fire Circle. I bolted down the hill in what seamed like a flash. The circle was almost twice the size in honor of the Full Moon. There were some serious drummers playing. It was cold that night, but hundreds of people were dancing naked around the fire. The whole scene was raw, primal, and so familiar to the deepest part of my soul.

The music stopped and there was a moment of quiet. I took out a huge Nigerian cowbell I had in my backpack, and started to play. One by one a drummer started to play. Each drummer added a wrinkle of a beat, or sound. Unlike what the playing was in Central Park, the musicians here were focused and listening. Or maybe it was the weed, or maybe....

The music was so intense. The dancers were as hot as the fire. I looked up at the Moon and I had an out of body experience. I saw my self from a distance of the circle, yet I was still in the center. The music became explosive, as what looked like a huge tree, was put in the fire.  There was a climax, and slowly the music slowed down and then faded to silence again.  And I saw it. 

Men and Women dancing as one, around the fire of the Earth. The rhythm fades in, and then it fades out. We don’t know where we came from. We don’t know where we go. But we are meant to live and dance together as one, with the Moon and the Heavens all around us. Watching us. It was a vision of love, not a romantic or personal love, but LOVE, as the force that binds everything in the Universe. I saw it from the center of the drum circle, and I saw it a half a mile away at the same time. I felt it in a language without words, my vision. I became quieter inside then I ever was before. I knew I was meant to share the vision for the rest of my life.

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I left the fire circle. I wandered for a long time in my stillness. I heard a voice call, “Hey Brother, do you want some hot soup I just made?” I was starving from the running, and the playing, and the munchies.  I saw this tall man sitting in the perfect private camp he set up at the opening of this small cave. It looked like a set. We spoke for hours about life, as I ate. I was thankful for the offering. I shared in detail what my night was like. He was completely captivated as I shared my story and vision. At the end he said: “Wow...maybe I should stop smoking weed for a few years so could have your experience.” But then he lit up a joint and said: “But I am too much of a Hippie to do so.” I got back to my tent at dawn, and slept for a couple of hours. I woke up refreshed, and was silent most of the day.

The rest of the gathering was lovely. The big meditation circle for peace the 4th was incredible. As the peak happened, the cloudy sky opened up, and a rainbow circled the sun. I left the gathering, which happened to be my last one, with the question. “What do I do now that I had a vision?”  

I would not have a clue until I came back from the mountain, and returned to the city of my birth.

I was turning 30 that year...

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"You know, the first cities by and large were not devoted to commerce. They were ritual centers devoted to the sacred." - Larry Harvey