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Wavy Gravy – Counterculture Saint
Back in 1976, my pal Stacy seriously injured her back. She was at the Bay Area osteopath’s office waiting room for a pre-operation exam when an odd, rumpled guy also waiting struck up a conversation.He empathized with her and described his own history of back problems, dating back to a police-administered beating at an Anti-Vietnam War Rally.When she was called in for her exam, he asked “Could I have your address and phone number?”
A couple days after her treatment, she was laid up in bed and her boyfriend was cooking her breakfast-in-bed when they heard a knock at the door. It was Wavy Gravy, the guy from the doctor’s office with bouquet of flowers in hand.
“I wanted to stop by and see how you were doing. And, looks like you are in good hands.”
That’s Wavy for ya.
I first met Wavy thru early Rainbow Gatherings. I was on the planning team and Wavy was co-MC with Fantuzzi of the annual Peace Pole Pageant. The pageant has representatives from all the various groups giving a five-minute presentation that the entire crowd joins in on. The Hari Krishna’s get five (everyone sings along); the Love Family gets five; the folks who believe the spaceships are about to land get five (“Sure would blow my mind.” ~ Wavy)…and Wavy made it all work.
Later on in the 80s, Wavy would come to Breitenbush Hot Springs, our intentional community/retreat center, with Ram Dass for some ten-day retreats with 170 people. We were in the midst of trying to end the liquidation of the Ancient Forest surrounding the springs. Ram Dass set aside one day of each retreat for a silent hike in the forest. Even after Ram Dass’ stroke, he’d still have the hike when he came. He would have a group of Breitenbushers drive him to a car-accessible trail access point a mile out and when the long, silent line of hikers came around a corner, there would be Ram Dass sitting bundled up in his wheel chair in silence, a Goshawk feather that dropped in his lap woven into his hair.
Later at dinner, Wavy and I would make a presentation to the guests and get them to write letters opposing the logging plans. Wavy then came on his own to a couple of our pro-forest protests. At one of them, a reporter from the New York Times who was going to quote him, asked, “Is that Mr. Wavy or Mr. Gravy?”
In the evenings, we would sit around discussing the state of the universe – “Reasoning,” as our Rasta brothers and sisters call it. Wavy helped immensely in our eventually successful effort to protect the forest. He brought his pal Ken Kesey and others on board. The forest where the hikes occurred is now part of a Late Successional Reserve (LSR) and the protected trees still stand.
“Peace, Love and Granola” and Native Rights
Wavy has been there since the beginning of the Counterculture. He famously was MC at Woodstock (and the two follow-up Woodstocks). He is still a communard – an integral part of the Hog Farm Commune. A veteran, Wavy was, as mentioned, a fixture at Peace Gatherings.
Wavy and the Hog Farmers were early supporters of the American Indian Movement (AIM). They colluded in the takeover of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) HQ in DC back in November of 1972. While there, they discovered plans to “Terminate” the tribes – a land grab disguised as “Assimilation.” The Klamath Nation had already been Terminated (the test case) and others were in the line of fire. The discovery led to massive publicity and the end of the Termination scheme. The Klamath Nation was “Restored.”
When Wavy arrived, Russell Means was weaving eagle feathers into the hair of the young warriors. He looked up and saw this tie-dye-wearing knucklehead with an arrow thru his head and got furious. Dennis Banks stepped up and said, “Cool down. He’s a clown.”
Wavy and his AIM buddy John Trudell then joined in on a number of environmental causes. They again shared a cell with their pal and John’s roommate Jackson Browne and 1900 others at the huge 1981 protest against the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant.
Flower Geezer extraordinaire: “In 20 years, I’ll be 100!”
John Trudell used to talk about how “White people seem to have few Elders. They have a lot of Oldsters, instead.” But, John saw Wavy as an Elder; as do many Natives and other peace-loving, planetary citizens
On May 22nd, about three thousand gathered to celebrate all things Wavy for his 80th Birthday. Wavy, as always, had set it up as a benefit for the SEVA Foundation, a fabulous group he, Ram Dass, Dr. Larry Brilliant, Dr. Govindappa Venkataswamy and others co-founded. SEVA has carried out over 3.5 million operations curing blindness around the planet, primarily in Nepal. Wavy also got SEVA to initiate forest planting/stewardship projects on five continents, including one on Lakota land here in the Midwest.
So, colorful folks gathered near Santa Rosa, CA for the festivities. Young clowns, jugglers, drummers and stilt-dancers from Wavy’s beloved Camp Winnarainbow were all around. The campers had a tie-dye booth where one could buy or create on-the-spot their own tie-dyes.
Excellent music, with Wavy reprising his MC role, was presented by a stellar line-up of groups and singer/songwriters.
First up: Quiltman and T traveled from the Warm Springs Nation in Eastern Oregon to do an honor song for Wavy on the occasion. Typical of Wavy, he asked instead for an Honor/Remembrance song for “my good friend, the great John Trudell; who is now roaming the cosmos, representing Indigenous people everywhere.”
Quilt, T and Wavy honor the magnificent John Trudell
“Don’t tell me this clown ain’t got no soul, you just gotta poke around…”
The great Harmonica man John Popper was on hand and he put in a full day’s work sitting in with The Dead Winter Carpenters, The New Riders of the Purple Sage, the T Sisters and the wrap-up act, The Yonder Mountain String Band. Wavy played along on his one-stringed gourd, air guitar and his kazoo.
The New Riders and Popper played a superb version of Dead Flowers with the crowd dancing and singing along.
Earle, one of our treasured troubadours and a Peace Champion like Wavy, then put on a fabulous solo acoustic set. His Jerusalem may well be the most hopeful-for-Peace song of them all.
Yes. Wavy Gravy is a Counterculture Elder. He has dedicated his life to Peace and Justice. The back issues and age have slowed this clown down, but he remains fully engaged. His latest is doing everything he can to keep The Donald out of the White House.
I had a wonderful time. It was a diverse crowd – in age and ethnicity. I had many great random conversations with people, many I had never met until then. Often, we talked about the bad rap the Counterculture got from mainstream media right from the beginning. We all reject the media notion that Charles Manson-like creeps represented us, instead of a saint like Wavy.
We’re gonna reclaim our “Peace, Love and Granola” history. This gathering was an important part of it. SEVA, AIM, communes, Eco-Defense, Woodstock, Rainbow…all are components. Wavy Gravy has been an integral part of all.
Wavy was pleased that I, my two brothers, a sister, a couple life-long friends and Quilt and T drove so far for the occasion. I, and they, wouldn’t have missed it for anything. Trudell is right – we don’t have many elders and I sure am gonna celebrate the ones we have while we still have them. I can’t wait for Wavy’s 100th!