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“Bless this day as it transpires and help me be the best Wavy Gravy I can muster.”
The movie Saint Misbehavin’ begins with Wavy ending his morning prayer as he always does; in his room at the Hog Farm Commune’s “Hippie Hyannisport” in Berkeley, surrounded by icons – sacred and silly. And, this excellent movie shows that he indeed has been a very good Wavy Gravy – one who has had plenty of loving help through the years as he’s been there spreading “Peace, Love and Granola” at so many seminal events of the Counterculture.
The movie covers a lot of them, starting with the young Wavy (then known as Hugh Romney) hitting the Beat Poet circuit, hanging out with Lenny Bruce and sharing a Greenwich Village apartment with Bob Dylan. He morphed into a progressive stand-up comic who created the Phantom Cabaret with Tiny Tim and Moondog.
“And I also thought that Richard Nixon was the greatest political education we have ever had, but it looks like we need to relearn again.”
Wavy was instrumental in the early Peace Movement (and still is) attending numerous rallies seeking to end the Vietnam War. Unfortunately, he has severe back problems (six operations, so far) from abuse at the hands of the cops at these rallies. He was such a Peace activist that, for awhile, he demanded to be hauled by friends to demonstrations while strapped to a backboard.
While earnest about Peace and Justice, Wavy developed a more whimsical approach to politics in general. Wavy and friends ran a pig for president. They later settled on running the Nobody for President Campaign on the Birthday Party ticket. “Who’ll lower your taxes? Nobody!”
After moving to California, Wavy fell in quite naturally with Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, joining in on the epic Acid Tests and the famed Electric Kool-Aid cross-country trip. That led to the Hog Farm Commune – a life-long effort; we even get to see Wavy take his designated communal turn cooking for the gang. The Hog Farmers were hired to provide security (the “Please Force”) at Woodstock. Wavy served famously as an MC for the festival, as he has continued to do for many, many other such gatherings. Jahanarah Romney, Mrs. Wavy for 47 years, organized the food distribution for Woodstock’s famous “breakfast in bed for 400,000.”
“It’s all done with people”
Soon thereafter, Wavy and Hog Farmers decided to drive supplies to Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) after one of the disasters that regularly befall the people of the low-elevation country. They drove across Europe and Asia in a bus caravan, stopping in Eastern Europe where they awoke surrounded by tanks and soldier. The friendly soldiers provided them with a ton of socks to distribute – an act of spontaneous generosity that Wavy admits changed his views – of both the Warsaw Bloc and military conscripts. They were welcomed and feasted in Iraq and in Afghan towns where people had photos of John Kennedy on the wall. (One can imagine it’ll be a long, long time before a US President graces those wall again.)
They never made it to Bangladesh as the Civil War there prevented it. So, they took a turn and headed to Nepal where they started a life-long connection with the people there. The movie doesn’t show this, but Wavy likes to tell the tale of arriving at a monastery town and all the young, shaved-head, monks-in-training descended on the caravan. As he is famous for, Wavy broke out the kazoo and the bubbles and the kids went wild like kids everywhere; chasing down the elusive bubbles. A number of dour elder monks came out and chastised the entire of lot of them for engaging in such decadent frivolity. Then the wise abbot arrived, wondering about the hubbub and was delighted by the bubble scene. He saw it as the perfect teaching on Impermanence. New bubbles are regularly sent to the monastery where they are kept on an honored spot on the altar and once a year there is a bubbles holy day.
From Nepal to a getaway in Michigan, the movie traces the origins of the SEVA Foundation, founded by Wavy, his friends Larry Brilliant, Ram Das and others, to help cure preventable blindness in Nepal which they found was epidemic. For 30 years, Wavy and his many altruistic hearted musician friends have held benefits for SEVA. Many more have joined in as individual supporters. As of today, over 2 million successful cataract surgeries have been completed. SEVA has expanded its mission at Wavy’s behest and also now has reforestation projects going in many countries, including on Native lands in South Dakota. SEVA also runs Health Clinics in Native communities.
Wavy is a great supporter of the Ancient Forest protection movement. He came up with the term “tree flesh” for paper. Wavy became involved in the efforts to save the Ancient Forests of the Northwest, hooking up with us at Breitenbush in the Oregon Cascades and elsewhere during the peak of the tree-sits, blockades, etc. He also came to Breitenbush with Ram Das for some memorable ten-day retreats in the 1980s. In the movie, Ram Das, Brilliant, Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, Odetta and others speak of the putting his good where it does the most aspects of Wavy’s life.
We also see Wavy’s great love, the Hog Farm’s Camp Winnarainbow which is a northern California Circus Arts camp that Wavy and Jahanarah founded and have run for 25 years. With support from some of Wavy’s musician friends, Camp Winnarainbow makes sure that underprivileged kids get to attend alongside those who can afford to pay. There’s even an Adult Camp: as Wavy likes to note “it’s never too late to have a happy childhood.”
We don’t see any of the great Rainbow Gatherings that Wavy also was an MC for; and where I first met Wavy decades ago. And, I’m sure there are many other points on the Counterculture Data Line that involve Wavy that were missed – there are so many. But, take any Counterculture institution (strange word, but true) and you’ll likely find Wavy’s fingerprints somewhere.
“We’re all bozos on the bus. So we might as well sit back and enjoy the ride”
So often the considerable efforts of Wavy and so many other compassionate, humanitarian hippies are dismissed, ridiculed and even demonized. It is so heartening to see a movie that celebrates all that is good about the Counterculture. Go see this movie. You can’t help but feel uplifted spending time with Wavy; the guy Paul Krassner calls “the illegitimate son of Harpo Marx and Mother Teresa” and his amiable troop of co-conspirators.
Wavy Gravy is Nobody’s clown!
Wavy’s turning 75 this year and a Birthday Party/SEVA Benefit is scheduled for May 14th in Richmond CA and another one on May 27th in New York. Here’s your invite.
“Keep your sense of humor, my friend; if you don’t have a sense of humor it just isn’t funny anymore.”
MICHAEL DONNELLY has enjoyed every minute he has been lucky enough to spend with Wavy Gravy and his good-hearted, merry band of “bosses” thru the years. (All the highlighted quotes are from Wavy.)
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org