Mug Shots, by Jay Acton, Alan Le Mond, Parker Hodges.
World Publishing, New York. 1972

lyman, mel

Born April 1938, Oregon. Studied banjo with legendary Oberay Ramsey; acquired proficiency as banjo player and joined Jim Kweskin Jug Band. Mid-1966 moved to Roxbury, Mass. Set up commune; published Avatar. Coup pushed him from control of Avatar: started American Avatar. Record: American Avatar (1970). Author, Autobiography of a World Savior.

 
He has been called everything from an "East Coast Charlie Manson" to the "Howard Hughes of the Underground." No one but his communal family has seen him in several years, and they would go to any lengths to keep his presence inviolate. He is something that George Orwell could have imagined if he were tripping.
In a seedy mansion in the Fort Hill neighborhood of black Roxbury, Mel Lyman exists with his family. The house is surrounded by a four-foot wall which walls Mel in and keeps the outside world out.
The little that is known about Mel could best be described as "educated conjecture." Paul Mills, a writer for Fusion, dogged Lyman for a year in an effort to produce a story. During the course of his investigation, he was put to work by the Lyman family, had the tires of his vehicle slashed, and was in the end rebuffed. He concluded: "If it looks like you're going to devote your life to them, then they might help you out."
Mel is probably best known for his Avatar ministration. Avatar was founded in Boston in 1966. Says Mills: "It was supposed to be just a regular underground paper, but Mel's family made it Mel's paper. Other people who worked on the paper objected but were always collectively outvoted by Mel's people."
The original non-Lyman people soon became fed up and left. A new group was recruited to handle the paper's day-to-day affairs. An inside section was developed and was devoted exclusively to Mel and his pronouncements. Mel himself penned such notable essays as: "To All Who Would Know," "Message from Mel," and "Telling It Like It Is."
One of the pieces Mel wrote was corrected by an editor, who noticed its typographical irregularities. The editor was rewarded with a published reprimand and the original piece was run untouched beside it. Mel was a perfect writer, his family reasoned, his words were the absolute truth and not to be tampered with.
Avatar's problems were just beginning. One day a huge black man called Pebbles, who wrote for Avatar but was not a Lyman disciple, went up to the commune, entered the Lyman residence and announced to the family members that he was God, in fact, a greater god than Mel. Mel was obviously shaken. He ordered family members to cease their newspaper activities and construct the wall. They obeyed.
This time the non-Lyman members of the staff were able to gain the upper hand and the Lyman family was bested in a power struggle.
Mel began publishing American Avatar, but that enterprise soon folded as Mel shifted his energies into other fields like real estate. He owns property in Los Angeles, Maine, New York, and Martha's Vineyard. Mel will never have to want; his several wives and the rest of the family hold outside employment.
Recording is one of Mel's newest fillips. The family has built him an expensive recording studio so that Mel can get the word down and get it distributed all without stepping outside his door. Reportedly, video capabilities are being added to the studio, giving Mel the potential to become an Electronic Jesus. "Mel is hoping to appear on television and say 'I'm God' without any commercial interruption," Paul Mills asserts.
If you can't wait to see Mel, live on your own set, you can dash out and get a copy of his album, American Avatar. Here's a little preview from the liner notes, composed by Mel himself: "I've been waiting to get this record released for three years. . . . Everyone I have ever played these tapes for has been sincerely moved. it is great music.... I have marveled at these tapes for years and have never ceased to find more and more in them, more grace, more magic, more god. And now I have passed them on... in the form of a record album. This is no album, it is a miracle."


Mel Lyman