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AsEverWas: Memoirs of a Beat Survivor by Hammond Guthrie SAF Publishing
Hammond Guthrie’s road through the Sixties was sometimes happy-go-lucky, fun filled and tremendously creative. A multitalented poet, painter and musician finding himself in a decade that encouraged the artist to invent cool new worlds. He portrays his many journeys and places in a newly published memoir “AsEverWas.”
There are also darker worlds in Guthrie’s life and soul. And their pain and despair get the same clear thorough treatment as the great highs and happenings that at the beginning, energized his path and pushed him forward.
Hammond starts out in southern California. His mother abandons him. His father is sort of mixed up in the American Intelligence community and is distant. There is a second wife and Hammond actually chooses military high school over family life. The school is filled with LA-Hollywood type uncared for rich kids and Guthrie learns about sex, drugs and rock n’roll.
Moving on to San Francisco the author dodges the draft and provides us with one of the best in-print accounts of the method acting involved in pulling it off.
Along the way, he encounters the Diggers, Bolinas, Allen Ginsberg, Carmen McRae, experimental film making, improv theater and the over-dosed colorful world of San Francisco’s fantastic hip. He also adds to the adventure by taking a beautiful bold wife.
And then on to post-Beatles International Times William Burroughs London and he fully feasts on its experimental artistic community. And then to ‘the dope is almost legal’ Amsterdam with its Provos and houseboats. And Hammond the painter is discovered by Willem Sandberg, a great presiding maestro of the international art scene.
Up to now the tale told in AsEverWas is filled with endlessly expanding light. The Sixties are nurturing the author, developing his multi faceted talents and preparing for a larger stage and an enthusiastic reception. He is about to become famous. And then (as it was with so many of us) the rug was pulled out from under our feet. Since we were off the ground for much of the time, it took us a while to notice the terrible turn, but it did hit allthe more harshly for our tardiness.
Hammond’s wonderful wife and pal for life gets attracted to a hard core gang of dope smugglers and there is one in particular that stimulates her fantasies. The remainder of the memoir is an account of the destruction of the marriage and the almost complete spiritual dismemberment of Hammond Guthrie. He blames himself for his wife’s alienation and gives up his art as a kind of punishment sacrifice, in order to make amends and win her back. The pair move on to Tangier for a fascinating, weirdly amusing telling of Hammond’s efforts to spring his wife’s lover from a Moroccan hell-house prison.
It struck me that the end both of Hammond’s marriage and his art does so much resemble the collapse of the whole Sixties with it’s new found passion for criminality over creativity and for an inexplicable capacity not to see the tragedy of it all.
What gets the reader through it and actually enthusiastic about the book is Guthrie’s cool writing style. When he’s describing the bitter, the sweet, Burroughs, Richie Havens, his wife, his father, Allen Ginsberg, a Dutch houseboat or a Moroccan cafe, the author is always generous in detail, ironic, gentle and insightful. You see, feel and understand the moods, people and places that shaped an extraordinary decade, even if its ending wasn’t up to its promise.
I took a different trip back then–more political and activist, Berkeley instead of San Francisco, Algeria rather than Morocco, it’s more like Hammond was a very likable neighbor than a member of my commune. Yet pouring over his life and times teaches me much about my own. And that rarely happens. For its style and its lessons, Hammond Guthrie’s memoir is a rare and important achievement.
Read Hammond Guthrie’s poem, Invasion of the Flies, in this week’s Poets’ Basement.