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My Odyssey Through the Underground Press
excerpt: pp. 416-418

on American Avatar N° 3

Michael Kindman

Follow the Leader

Some of the most sad and disorienting times I had during those early days on Fort Hill were when friends from East Lansing would show up and either fit in to the scene or not. I felt obliged to give them as true a Fort Hill-type experience as I could, even when I was just reciting the lines, and this feeling at times produced strange results. Larry Tate, my long-time roommate and co-founder of The Paper, got tired of graduate school in Berkeley after less than a year and came to Boston to check out what we were doing and to visit another friend. He visited Fort Hill a number of times over a period of months, beginning when Candy and I were living in the apartment we shared in our early days there. Predictably enough, he was not at all interested in joining the work crew, even for an hour, or in being converted to our proto-religious adoration of Mel, or in being measured against some standard of realness.
This was really okay with me, but it was not okay with the others who observed our interactions, and eventually I was put up to challenging Larry on his "resistance." When he wouldn't budge, I accepted the inevitability of forcing him and delivered a slap across his face, which surprised and saddened both of us, and wimpily fell far short of what was expected of me. Larry left in a huff, nurturing hurt feelings and a permanent rupture in our relationship.
On the other hand, Eric Peterson, who had introduced me to Candy when he joined the Paper staff and then remained behind to help publish The Paper after we left town, graduated from Michigan State the next year and visited Fort Hill during that summer, before starting graduate school at Yale. The hierarchical authority structure, the inexorable necessity of doing "what was right in front of you," the clear truths that made it unnecessary and even undesirable to think for oneself from moment to moment - all these suited him perfectly, and he fit right in. Almost from the moment he started graduate school in New Haven, he was spending his weekends in Boston with us, and it was just a matter of time before he dropped out and moved to Fort Hill permanently.
This happened some time during the spring of 1969, roughly a year after Candy and I first arrived. Eric and I began, with some discomfort, functioning as a working unit within the larger work crew; we seemed bound to each other, which made both of us rather uncomfortable, but we remained so for years. Always obedient, he took to reminding me of the dicta of Fort Hill discipline when I would seem to be lapsing, and it made me want to scream, or kill. But on the surface we remained friends, as best we could. The work required it.
A former girlfriend of Eric's from Michigan, Linda Kendrick, also showed up during that season to see what we were up to. She quickly became involved with Randy Foote, who had moved to the Hill about the same time as Candy and I, after apprenticing with Avatar for quite a while, dropping out of Harvard in order to sell Avatars on the street and get busted during the censorship struggles. Randy and Linda set up another satellite household on Marcella Street, a few blocks downhill from the main block of houses, on the way to Jamaica Plain. Somehow, their household didn't go through the struggles our household on Beech Glen Street did, continually trying to figure out whether we were a Hill house or not. It was clear theirs was not, and it was equally clear Randy was destined to become part of the Hill inner circle.
For now, their place served as a stopover point for people curious about the Hill but not yet with it. One of these, an unstable young man named Sandy, took a liking to Linda, and a complicated three-way relationship developed. One day, Sandy flipped out at Linda and beat her nearly to death, leaving her in a pool of blood with a badly broken jaw and numerous other injuries. Randy discovered Linda that way and rushed her to the first emergency room he could find, which happened to be at Boston Children's Hospital. There, Linda spent several months playing with the other patients, all of them young children, and gradually recovered both her health and her sanity. Her mother came to fetch her back to Michigan, but eventually she returned to Fort Hill to stay.
Another young woman from our East Lansing circle, who had been a freshman advisee of Candy's and mine in our psychology department tutoring jobs during our last days there, came to visit and never left. She was another one whom the discipline suited well, and who was ready to move into the traditional woman's role that was the only option offered her. She eventually had a child by one of Mel's musician friends, who lived at the Hill intermittently. She also played a key role in setting me up for one of my several encounters with the "karma squad," but I'll save that story until its own time.
Then there was Nancy Platt, a friend from the East Lansing countercultural circle, who arranged to spend the summer of 1968 at Fort Hill, before starting graduate school somewhere. She was simply too independent to fit in well, but her visit was pleasant enough.
And there was Dale Walker, whose curiosity brought him to Fort Hill numerous times but who was really too traditional in his own values to be taken in by the Hill's futuristic rhetoric. Eventually he stopped visiting, but we remained close enough friends that I was able to use his home in Brattleboro as a stopover when I was wandering through New England looking for myself.
All in all, so many of our friends visited and came to stay, from various phases of our past, that our East Lansing circle became an object of considerable interest and curiosity around Fort Hill. This endless supply of visitors and curiosity-seekers made it clear that we had had something fairly powerful going on in East Lansing, too, and that people there had looked up to us and learned a lot from us. Thus, it was even more mysterious that I couldn't seem to find the same thread at Fort Hill. I had these clear memories of having been a focus of community energy in the past, of having been right on about what was happening and able to move with the flow of events no matter what those events were. But at Fort Hill I couldn't seem to figure out how to be anything but a coolie, a laborer, a follower, and not a very good one at that. It was very disconcerting and disheartening, particularly in the presence of so many people who had known me before.
I remember a brief conversation with Jessie, in which she said Carol had told her about the old Michael in East Lansing, who was "full of piss and vinegar." "What happened to him?" she asked. I didn't know how to answer, but the same question was plaguing me. I used the oracle of the I Ching frequently for guidance and consolation, and sometimes it would help me find some direction. But with alarming frequency it would offer me the hexagram "Holding Together": "Holding Together brings good fortune.... Those who are uncertain gradually join. Whoever comes too late meets with misfortune." Had I already missed my opportunity to bond with the people of the Hill? I wanted to see myself as "the superior man" mentioned throughout the I Ching, who understands the significance of each moment and senses the appropriate way to behave to achieve a good outcome. But I didn't seem to fit that description. I didn't want to believe that the light that I believed was shining at Fort Hill was simply too bright for me to be comfortable in its presence, even though that did seem to be what was happening. And events on the Hill were certainly moving in such a way as to test that theory.

Christ, You Know It Ain't Easy

A few months after the "community" issue of American Avatar was published, Mel was feeling the urge again - and this time he was in the mood to really put people through changes. A third magazine-format issue was put together, again looking different from any previous one. The "Christ" issue was on heavy, matte-finish paper, the pages wider than they were long, so that the cover could be a close-up photo of Mel surrounded by a border resembling a television screen, in working class get-up, holding a cigarette and staring into the camera. The title American Avatar is printed in white block letters across his chest; no ambiguity here. The next two pages are a glittering array of white stars on black background, painted by Eben, with a corner of the earth at the lower left; floating nearby is a photograph of Mel in his work clothes, sitting cross-legged on a painted-in nebula, holding a drink and grinning, with a halo around his head, and next to him is "Message to Humanity" in white letters on black background:
Hi gang, I'm back, just like the book says. By God here I am, in all my glory, I thought I'D NEVER come. But I'm here now and getting ready to do the good work. Maybe some of ya think I aint Him. You'll see. I aint about to prove it for you, much too corny, I'm Him and there just aint no question ABOUT it. Betcha never thought it would happen like THIS did ya? Sorry to disappoint you but I've got to make the most of what's here and there sure as hell aint very much. No turnin water to wine and raisin the dead this trip, just gonna tell it like it is. You've waited a long time for this glorious moment and now that it's actually HERE I expect most of you will just brush it off and keep right on waiting, that's what those damn fool Jews did LAST time I came, in fact they're still DOING it. Oh well, what's a few thousand MORE years to people who've been suffering for MILLIONS. So while most of you turn your heads and continue sticking to your silly romantic beliefs I'll let the rest of you in on a little secret. I'm Christ, I swear to God in PERSON, and I'm about to turn this foolish world upside down....
Love, Christ
Mel's "Message to Humanity" is followed, on the next few pages, by The issue continues with a book review written by Mel, an excerpt from Mel's Autobiography of a World Saviour, a couple of short poems by readers, two full-page ads (both conveniently illustrated with pictures of Mel), a sarcastic meditation by Mel on the wonders of getting lost in his television set, a lengthy semi-real autobiographical ramble, "co-written" by Wayne Hansen and Mel, about the process of getting hooked on Mel's writing and music, et cetera, that gradually turns into an angry put-down of Mel and his arrogance (just a joke, of course), and Mel's "Essay on the New Age," on the need to have discipline if one is to handle increasing amounts of freedom.
Then come a picture of Jessie with Daria, her and Mel's infant daughter; another picture of Mel alongside an exchange of letters with a reader on the nature of being God on earth; another picture of Baby Daria; and another "Essay on the New Age," on Mel's role as the bearer of a new spirit for our age.
It goes on: a picture of Mel seeming to hold the earth in his lap; an untitled essay that begins, "Patience is the test of character, you can find out just exactly how deep your understanding is by seeing how long you can wait for something you really want"; a picture of Mel looking rugged in a heavy sweater; a long poem called "Contemplations" that concludes: "God creates me, I create the world. / Deep within myself I know unity, all my understanding / flows from a perfect order. In the world about me / I see fragments of this order, how can I help / but seek to unite them"; and two pictures of Mel, one of him silhouetted against the ocean at dusk, the other of him playing banjo and looking deep. End of opus.

10. Test of Faith pp. 418-423

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The same Linda Kendrick?
AT -

1 LINDA KENDRICK (Philips SBL 7921) 1970

1 It's The Little Things/When Your Love Is Warm (Polydor 56076) 1966
2 I Fall Apart/Friend Of Mine (Polydor 56146) 1966
3 Grey Sunny Day/In Need Of A Friend (Philips BF 1660) 1968
4 Hold On/Fah La La (Philips BF 1818) 1969
5 Sympathy For The Devil/He Wrote Me A Letter (Dawn DNS 1063) 1974
6 House Of Cards/Music Brings Us Joy (Dawn DNS 1106) 1975

During the late sixties Linda Kendrick performed in the musical 'Hair'. Her seventies album is often compared to Barbara Streisend and features orchestral backing. When the album was released she was just nineteen years old. Her cover of the 'Stones Sympathy For The Devil is very good, and House Of Cards was the first recording of an Elton John composition