Sunday, September 18, 2016
"A Nation Of Mystics, Book One: Intentions"
Pamela Johnson lives in Oregon House, a small community in Yuba County, but lived through the late Sixties in Berkeley, the center of a spreading counterculture.
Woodstock in 1969 was the high point, so to speak, "when," she writes, "those present became one person in mind, in large part because of shared psychedelic experience."
How this came about, how life in the Haight-Ashbury area turned from the idealism of the Summer of Love to something darker and more repressive after, is told in Johnson's "A Nation Of Mystics" trilogy of novels, beginning with "Intentions" ($4.99 for Amazon Kindle from Stone Harbour Press; also from pamelajohnsonauthor.com).
The story begins 1965 with Christian Brooks, eighteen, the son of a missionary, raised in India and now attending UC Berkeley, haunted by something in his past. How to move beyond anger?
Some of the characters, like Amy, Christian's old lady ("a female partner and lover in common law living or marriage," according to the glossary at the end), fall head over heels for messianic religious figures.
Many others, though, meld political action with LSD. (Johnson's description of the sheer sexual energy of tripping is mesmerizing.) As Richard, one of innumerable dealers in the Haight, tells his old lady, Marcie: "Acid teaches, reveals the fragile soul-ego of each person. … I'm here to join with my brothers and sisters to make spiritual revolution, using acid as our weapon."
Dealing becomes a business. There's pot and LSD, then cocaine, heroin, PCP, meth. Later in the novel the "pigs" recruit informants and there's a hint of violence to come as the lives of the characters are taken into book two, "The Tribe," and book three, "Journeys."
But the Movement didn't die. It "grew, swelling the ranks of civil rights workers, antiwar protestors, disarmament organizations, and the new environmental groups. For many, the essence of the experience in the Haight was spiritual. They had lived with love and communalism and passed the acid test. They had stood before the White Light and touched the face of God."
Pamela Johnson is the scheduled interview guest on Nancy's Bookshelf, hosted by Nancy Wiegman, this Friday at 10:00 a.m. on mynspr.org.