AsEverWas: Memoirs of a Beat Survivor
AsEverWas: Memoirs of a Beat Survivor
by Hammond Guthrie
Review by Skip Stone
The great beat writers encouraged many young people to discover true freedom for themselves, on the road. That road of self-discovery began in California for Hammond Guthrie when he took the "Acid Test", Ken Kesey and the Merry Prankster's inspired rite of passage into the psychedelic era. He was soon following the hip beat from San Francisco to London, Amsterdam, Paris and Morocco. Guthrie was befriended along the way by the likes of Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs. Such legendary literary figures helped inspire him and expose his work to a generation whose minds were suddenly open to new and unusual experiences.
Trying his hand at Brion Gysin's (and Burrough's) "cut-up" style, Guthrie found his audience with unique, experimental performances, combining the spoken word, music, strange sounds and psychedelic visuals. He was part of the avant-garde San Francisco performance art scene of the 1960s. He dabbled with innovative media and helped stage some very unusual events.
"One of my solo Events ("PigNailleon") got us thrown out of the church for quite a while. During the "Abstract Expressionist Ritual," I mixed a gallon of sow's blood into my PigMents and then painted a large canvas, using a number of freshly butchered pig's feet for brushes. When the work was complete, I nailed the collection of colored feet to the canvas, and the event was over. (Almost!) Somehow unbeknownst to me, my PigArt was left inside the church, and a few days later I got a call from the irate pastor, who demanded to know what "the ungodly smell" was. I went over to the Intersection, where the chapel air was now permeated with the odor of rotting pig meat. I tried to explain what had happened but the irate reverend went over his top, calling me "a demented artist with distinctly Pagan tendencies" and announced that I was summarily "banned" (albeit temporarily) from my own theater."
Living in London and Amsterdam broadened Guthrie's artistic avenues, and with the encouragement and support of several established artists, he was able to pursue his real talent, painting. He presented several successful shows in Amsterdam, where his "demented" art "with Pagan tendencies" was evidently perfectly acceptable.
But life never works out as planned, and just as his art career takes off; his marriage takes a dive. The resulting confusion and despair managed to shoot holes in Guthrie's self-confidence and career plans. Refusing to give up on his marriage he let his wife dabble in extramarital affairs that only served to drive him further into despondency.
And like many of us from the heady 60s, Guthrie tried to find solace in drug abuse. His story reverberates for those of us who have intimate knowledge of the ego wrenching insecurities such abuse encourages. The downward spiral can lead to disaster, but alas Guthrie was lucky to have many friends who were there to help.
In Amsterdam, Guthrie was fortunate to cross paths with Kees Hoekert and Jasper Grootveld, two of the most interesting characters to grace the canals of that beautiful city. He stumbled upon Kees' canal boat one frozen winter night, and was graciously offered accommodation and warm Dutch hospitality, including copious amounts of Dutch wiet (weed), which it turns out is Kees' and Jasper's ongoing preoccupation.
Guthrie unexpectedly stumbled upon the nascent Dutch cannabis scene, a by-product of the Provo movement. The Provo movement led to reforms and a change in government which liberalized Dutch society, making it possible for marijuana to be grown, sold and consumed without fear of incarceration or ostracism. His newfound friends are now legends in cannabis history and Guthrie's stories about them only add to the legends.
Being around the wholesale cannabis trade inevitably led Guthrie to meet and befriend quite a number of drug smugglers. His tell-tale trail leads us to Morocco, where he and his estranged wife help free five drug smugglers including his wife's lover. The story is replete with Berbers, kif, hashish, decadent Tangier, bribing judges and dreadful Moroccan prisons.
In his memoir, AsEverWas, Guthrie reveals a fascinating tale of Beat/Hippie life including free love, drugs, smugglers and the incredibly creative art milieu of the period. His encounters with the legends from that period are some of the highlights of the book. His reflections and insights into his own life are deep and meaningful, reflecting the prevailing anomie many of us felt during that period of social change.
As a beat-influenced scribe, Hammond Guthrie does that cohort justice, with an easy and breezy writing style. Not unlike a "young Kerouac" as he was once described. In fact, AsEverWas is an important work, connecting a lot of counter-culture dots, yielding a psychedelic collage of people, events and ideas that inspired a generation.
Added: July 21st 2003
Reviewer: Skip Stone | See all reviews by Skip Stone
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