The material on this site is controversial. Almost all of it is from published sources, but in many cases the accuracy - the truth - of the content has been disputed.
Was that really the way it was?
Mel Lyman was controversial. He was the brilliant folk musician who soothed the Dylan-ruffled crowd at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, the Fort Hill guru whose prose in the undergound newspaper Avatar shocked conservative Bostonians of the late 60s...
He died some 25 years ago at age 40, and the articles and writings included here start from about 15 years earlier, from 1963. It's "ancient history", but a little piece of it was also my history, and Mel Lyman was important in my life. He taught me something important, something that changed me for the better, and so I feel I owe him at least this, a place on the Internet.
The last time I saw him was probably in 1967, so I have no first-hand knowledge of most of the events described here - I've never been to Fort Hill, and didn't know most of the people. It was because of rumors I read in newsgroups on the Internet around 1995 that I started this research - this site - to try to find some of the "truth" - to learn something about the Mel Lyman after I knew him.
Many years of collecting, and help from numerous people has resulted in the large collection of articles reproduced here. Some say Lyman was God... others that he was a devil... but most of these articles show him as a charismatic individual somewhere between those two extremes.
A large part of this is from the writings of Mel himself, from his published books and Avatar, so that he can "tell his own story." He has many, many voices.
Some of the links below are to subpages with additional articles, such as the large Avatar section. If some truth is to be found within the hundreds of pages included here, it will not be quickly, and not without patience.
The first piece below is from Mel's 1971 "Mirror at the End of the Road", a diary-like book he seems to have assembled mainly from letters he had written, like this one from early 1963. It reminds me of the writing of Jack Kerouac, and I find my own name and wonder why I can't remember it all as clearly as if it were yesterday...
Was that really the way it was?
pages with photos/images
With rue my heart is laden . Mel Lyman. January, 1963, Bowery loft, New York. (from Mirror at the End of the Road. 1971)
Two letters from Mel Lyman. Mel Lyman, May, 1963.
|Sept. 18, 1963
|Notes on Mel Lyman. The Broadside, Sept. 18, 1963, p.9. E.C. & F.L.
"...If Mel Lyman stays around Boston for awhile, it would give us all an opportunity to hear authentic music sung in a way that deserves to be perpetuated."
I dreamt about our old house in the country again last night. Mel Lyman. May 20, 1964, attic cave, Cambridge, Mass. (from Mirror at the End of the Road. 1971)
Jim Kweskin and the Jug Band
|Just Playin' Folks. photographs by John Launois. Jim Kweskin and the Jug Band at the Second Fret, Phildelphia coffeehouse. Saturday Evening Post, p. 26-27, May 30, 1964.|
|Mel Lyman on record: with Eric von Schmidt, Jim Kweskin and the Jug Band. 1964-1971.
It was through his music that Mel Lyman's name first became widely known -- click on the album covers for a detailed guide to all of his published recordings, with liner notes.
|Harmonica (actual title unknown) by John Bowers. Coronet, May, 1965, pp 138-143. mentions Mel on p. 142...
|... The "blues" harmonica moves in an underground world most of the time, not in the glare of publicity. It has "in" celebrities who are little known to most people. Sonny Terry, the great folk artist, is perhaps the most legendary figure. Then there's Mel Lyman, the Grand Old Man of the "blues" harmonica in his mid-twenties, who plays in a jug band and who has started many a young man on a promising "blues" career....|
|Aug. 18, 1965
|On the Scene by Robert J. Lurtsema. The Broadside, Aug. 18, 1965, ends with Mel at the Newport Festival:
|...And from a lone mike on stage, the thin plaintive cry of a harp sobbed "Rock of Ages!' "Rock of ages, cleft for me..." it sang, over and over, the same simple chorus, the same refrain, and the audience fell in step. It was a plea, a hymn, a dirge, a lullaby. Twenty times, thirty, more, and always the same beseeching, stroking, praying, pleading; then slower, softer, and, as the supplication trailed away, the park was empty and people were on their way home.
Thank you, Mel Lyman.
Lyman Happens at Orleans. Linda Kalver, Boston After Dark, May 11, 1966.
|Aug. 3, 1966
|Mel Lyman: in The Broadside, Cambridge, Mass., 1965-1966.
United Illuminating. Ralph Earle, The Broadside, Cambridge, Mass., August 3 & 17, 1966.
|July 20, 1966
Newport Festival issue
Kweskin Jug Band cover
Happy Be-In-At Park. Bay State Banner, Roxbury, Mass. April 29, 1967.
|October 28, 2010 - Issues of Avatar listed for sale on eBay
The Avatar "underground newspaper" is the key resource for an understanding of Mel Lyman and his contemporaries in the late 60s. Published 1967-68, it presented around 1,100 articles and letters, including over 150 by Mel. Some 200 of them - about half by Mel - are accessible here, via the links which start in this panel.
index to Mel's articles |
index to other articles
WBZ Radio Interview. WBZ's Bob Kennedy interviews Mel Lyman, Wayne Hansen, Eben Given. Early June, 1967. (partial transcript, Avatar N°6, Aug. 18, 1967.)
|The Underground Press. Jacob Brackman, Playboy, p. 83, August, 1967. [The article was apparently written before the appearance of Avatar, which isn't mentioned. It was sent to Mel for comment, according the letter in Avatar N°6, p.14, from A.C. Spectorsky, Editorial Director, answered by Mel in that column, and the November 1967 issue of Playboy, below.]|
Avatar: Notes from A Sober Underground. Michael Horowitz, The Village Voice, p. 18, October 5, 1967.
Avatar descends on Boston: The underground press speaks up. Jane Harriman, Boston Sunday Globe, October 8, 1967.
Avatar to be banned in Cambridge? Avatar N°11, p.17, October 27, 1967.
|Letter to Playboy. Mel's response (among others) to Playboy's Jacob Brackman article, above. Playboy, November 1967, p 12.|
Avatar Explains its Side. Jeremiah V. Murphy, Boston Globe, December, 1967.
Harrassment. Avatar N°14, p.3, Dec 8, 1967.
Friendly Fifty on Fort Hill -- Better Way for People? Robert L. Levey, Boston Globe, December 12, 1967.
Avatar and Fort Hill: A Community of Free Men. Steve Kovaka. Innisfree, pp. 4-7, December, 1967.
|Festival: A film by Murray Lerner, DVD 2005 Eagle Rock Entertainment (©1967 Patchke Productions). (A musical film made from sequences at Newport Folk Festivals in the early '60s. Mel Lyman appears in the opening sequence, "Jug Band Prelude", with Kweskin behind Pete Seeger in "Green Corn", and with a brief comment after Dick and Mimi Farina.) - this was the Mel Lyman that I knew...|
Incident in Harvard Square. Boston magazine, pp. 42-44, January, 1968.
(detail of a photo by Diane Arbus, Esquire, February 1968)
White Revolutionaries Settle in Roxbury. Susan E. Davis. Bay State Banner, Roxbury, Mass. February 15, 1968.
Avatar Forces the Issue. Susan E. Davis. Bay State Banner, Roxbury, Mass. February 15, 1968.
How Escalation Brought the Chief to the Bargaining Table. Wayne Hansen. Avatar N°19, Boston. Feb. 16, 1968.
Transcript of an Interview Between Mel Lyman and Dave Silver. Avatar N°19, Boston. Feb. 16, 1968.
New York Avatar. Mar 29, 1968 - August 1968 "...four Manhattan-based influential underground papers: the New York Free Press, the East Village Other, the Rat, and the Avatar." Steven Heller. "A Youth in the Youth Culture" Apr. 6, 1998.
Avatar closes its Mel. Robert L. Levey, Boston Globe, March 26, 1968(?).
The Structure of Structure. A conversation between Mel Lyman, David Gude, Jim Kweskin and Joey Goldfarb. Avatar N°22, Boston. Mar. 29, 1968.
Avatar Job Nets 45000. Brian Kelly. Boston Free Press, Third Edition, [May, 1968].
Avatar Heist. Brian Kelly. Boston Free Press, Fifth Edition, [June, 1968].
American Avatar. magazine. 4 issues. irregular. Boston. October 1968- Summer 1969.
|Pluto. "A magazine produced by the Lyman Family called Pluto appeared in New York, but it only lasted one issue." Paul Mills, "An American Avatar: Mel Lyman", Fusion, April 16, 1971. 48 pp. 1970.
An American Avatar: Mel Lyman, Paul Mills, Fusion, No. 54, pp 7-12, photographs by Peter Simon, cover drawing by Patrick Foss. April 16, 1971.
Robert Somma's "Editor's Page" introducing this article, in Fusion, No. 54, p. 3, April 16, 1971.
Robert Somma's follow-up "Editor's Page" on this article, in Fusion, No. 55, April 30, 1971.
The World is Dying. Richard Herbruck. L.A. Free Press June 11, 1971 p. 5).
(On the identity of Richard Herbruck, in David Felton, Chapter 7;
in Michael Kindman, p. 437)
||Plea For Courage. Mel Lyman. L.A. Free Press, July 30, 1971, p. 2; Fusion, (#62) Sept. 17, 1971.|
Is Mel Lyman God?
Art Kunkin, Los Angeles Free Press, (part 1) July 30, 1971.
God Is Mel Lyman. Art Kunkin, Los Angeles Free Press, (part 2) Aug 13, 1971.
["Art Kunkin founded and edited The Los Angeles Free Press in 1964, the first alternative newspaper then, co-founded the Underground Press Syndicate that became the national nervous system of the 60's, co-founded and edited the Whole Life Times in the 1980's, has been a contributor to and supporter of Change Links, edits the World Wide Free Press on the Internet, and has now been appointed publisher of "The Big Issue", U.S.A."]
|Mirror at the End of the Road. Mel Lyman.  pp, 20.3cm. Illustrated by Ebon [Eben] Given. Photographs by Link Devereaux, Charles Frizzell, Bruce Gemill, Tony Glover, Bill Harrell, Michael Harvest, Mel Lyman, Ron McElderry, Julie Snow. Preface by Wayne Hansen. An American Avatar Publication. (Distributed by Ballantine Books.) ©1971 United Illuminating Inc. 27 Fort Avenue, Roxbury, Massachusetts 02119. 1971.
Epilogue, Valentine's Day, 1971.
|(available for $30 including postage and handling from: Dick Russell, Six Fort Avenue Terrace, Boston, MA 02119-1480.)
Kweskin's Revival. Dierdre Gallagher. B.A.D., Boston. September 28, l971. p.22.
The Lyman Family's Holy Siege of America. David Felton. in: Mindfuckers: A Source Book on the Rise of Acid Fascism in America Including material on Charles Manson, Mel Lyman, Victor Baranco and their followers by David Felton, Robin Green, and David Dalton. pbk. 20.8cm, 324pp. (pp. 147-324). Edited by David Felton. ISBN 0-87932-038-9. Straight Arrow Books, 623 Third Street, San Francisco, California 94107. 1972.
Mel & Charlie's Women - The Souring of Street Life. Ellen Herst. Boston After Dark, p. 1, (12, 13). Vol. III, Num. 7, February 15-21, 1972.
|Mel's "Bowery loft" (38 Canal Street, NYC)|
from the back cover of Mirror
photo by Michael Harvest (?), 1960s.
photo by Martin Abramowitz
facing south, 1990s
photo by Martin Abramowitz
photo by Matthew Klein
lyman, mel, in Mug Shots, by Jay Acton, Alan Le Mond, Parker Hodges. p. 134. World Publishing, New York. 1972.
||The Dangers of Charisma: Mel Lyman and Fort Hill from "The Lyman Family's Holy Siege of America" by Devid Felton, Rolling Stone, no. 98 (December 23, 1971), pp 43, 44-45, 50-51, and 54, with omissions. © 1971 by Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc. in: Communes: Creating and Managing the Collective Life. Rosabeth Moss Kanter. New York, Harper & Row. Chap. 17, pp. 209-221. ISBN: 0-06-043476-7. 1973.|
|Not of the World: A History of the Commune in America. Daniel Cohen. 23 cm, 224 pp, photos, index, bibliography: p. 206-207. ISBN: 0695804057, 0695404059 (lib. bdg.) Follett, Chicago. 1973. (The development of the commune from the Dutch Labadists of Maryland to the Children of God. Among those discussed are Ephrata, the Shakers, The Rappites, Amana, the Hutterites, New Harmony, Brook Farm, the Fourierists, the Icarians, Mel Lyman, Twin Oaks, and the Children of God.)
Mark Frechette - Daria Halprin...
Antonioni Flick: Sally Dennison interview by Rowland Koefod. Boston Free Press, [June 1968], p.4.
Look, Nov. 18, 1969
Antonioni's Newest Superstars. American Avatar, Summer 1969, pp 10-15.
Antonioni's America. Jack Hamilton, Look, November 18, 1969
Cinema: Fourteen Points to 'Zabriskie'. John Burks, Rolling Stone, #53, March 7, 1970
Daria. Pluto, 1970, pp 31-35.
Mark Frechette and Daria Halprin on the Dick Cavett show. ca. 1970 (YouTube clip).
Police Kill Gunman in Bank Holdup. Bert MacNeil and Jack Cadigan, Boston Herald American, August 30, 1973.
Gunman killed, 2 others arrested in holdup try at Roxbury bank. John Robinson, Boston Globe, August 30, 1973.
Man killed in robbery identified. Boston Globe, September 2, 1973.
Fort Hill commune seeks facts in bank holdup death. Joe Pilati, Boston Globe, September 3, 1973.
Actor finds his life took unplanned turn. Steven Kurkjian and John Robinson, Boston Globe, September 3, 1973.
Mark Frechette: Making of a Bank Robber? Vin McLellan, The Boston Phoenix, September 4, l973, vol.2, no.36, Sec.I, p.1,8-9.
Where are the listeners? A journey from Fort Hill to Zabriskie to Cell 104. Bob Sales, Boston Globe, September 9, 1973.
Mark Frechette's 'Personal Act of Revolution'. Vin McLellan, B.A.D., Boston, September 11, l973, vol.7, no.37, Sec. I, p.3, 16-17,30.
Frechette of Fort Hill: Robbing the Bank for Mel. Joe Klein, The Real Paper, Boston, September 12, 1973, vol 2, no.37, p.5,16-17.
On the Set of Zabriskie Point. Beverly Walker, The Real Paper, September 12, l973, vol.2, no.37, p.5, l8.
Ricky Nelson to Jimmy Dean. Vin McLellan (Boston Phoenix), Rolling Stone, October 11, 1973, #145. ("Behind bars Mark Frechette is a curiously satisfied man...")
Watergate Playback: Political Cons Act Like Pros. New York, ca. March, 1975.
Up Front: Mark Frechette, star of Zabriskie Point, is a jailhouse producer. People, April 14, 1975.
Mark Frechette: A Manipulated Life. Dave O'Brian, The Boston Phoenix, p.9, 12, October 7, 1975.
The Sorry Life and Death of Mark Frechette. Dave O'Brian. Rolling Stone #199, November 6, 1975, p. 32.
Notes: Passenger/Mark Frechette. by Justin Beal, Helvetica, September, 2003, p. 30.
J. Hoberman: The Dream Life (2003). [section on Zabriskie Point, Frechette...].
Mark Frechette: At his peak in peak form (2013) [Frecehtte fashion photos by Richard Avedon, Vogue Nov. 15, 1969].
The Underground Woman. (a novel) by Kay Boyle. 264 p. 22 cm. Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday. ISBN: 0385070470. 1975.
In Between. (1964-1978). Jonas Mekas. Footage shot during the hiatus separating Lost, Lost, Lost from Walden Finds a Home. "Mel Lyman, Salvador Dali, Allen Ginsberg, Norman Mailer and Jane Holzer rub shoulders, at least cinematically. Mel Lyman playing banjo on the roof of 23rd Street was actually recorded on the roof, with the wind blowing in the mike." 52 min., with banjo and found music.
Commune's image belied reality. Katharine Paine, Staff Writer, The Boston Herald American, p. 1, March 26, 1978.
Spaceship interview given via Ouija board. Gary Moore, The Boston Herald American, p. 14, March 26, 1978.
Cult leader's early years were spent on the move. The Boston Herald American, p. 14, March 26, 1978.
|Baby Let Me Follow You Down: The Illustrated Story of the Cambridge Folk Years. Eric von Schmidt & Jim Rooney. University of Massachusetts Press, Amherst, Massachusetts. ISBN 0-87023-925-2N.FONT>. 1979. 2nd edition, 1994.|
| ||U and I. No. 1. 28 cm.  pp. ©United Illuminating, Inc. 1985. |
(available for $15 including postage and handling from: Dick Russell, Six Fort Avenue Terrace, Boston, MA 02119-1480.)
We still are family The Lymans of Fort Hill then and now. Michael Matza, The Boston Phoenix, Section Two, July 16, 1985.
Once-Notorious '60s Commune Evolves Into Respectability; After 19 Years The Lyman Family Prospers As Craftsmen And Farmers. David Johnston. Los Angeles Times, Sunday, Home Edition; View; Part 6; page 1. August 4, 1985.
Mel Lyman: Special Place in Family; Man They Worshiped as God Is Nowhere To Be Found. David Johnston. Los Angeles Times, Sunday, Home Edition; View; Part 6; page 14. August 4, 1985.
'60s commune finds affluence in the '80s. Suzanne Wetlaufer. The Sunday Enterprise, Brockton, Mass. Sunday, p. 1, August 4, 1985.
Family Portrait. Diane Samms Rush. The Wichita Eagle-Beacon, Wichita, Kansas. p. 1E. Sunday, September 22, 1985.
Commune Became His 'Family'. Diane Samms Rush. The Wichita Eagle-Beacon, Wichita, Kansas. p. 5E. Sunday, September 22, 1985.
The Fort Hill 'Gang' 20 Years Later: Controversial Hub commune of the '60s survives and prospers. Matt Carroll. The Boston Herald, p.12. Sunday, November 24, 1985.
Mel Lyman: A mind-control guru or a leader deserving respect and love? Matt Carroll. The Boston Herald, p.12. Sunday, November 24, 1985.
The History of Boston Rock and Roll, from a series which originally appeared in The Beat Magazine throughout 1985-86, reprinted at the Dirtywater: The Boston Rock and Roll Museum site.
|| U and I. No. 2. 28 cm. 122 pp. ©United Illuminating, Inc. 1986. |
(available for $15 including postage and handling from: Dick Russell, Six Fort Avenue Terrace, Boston, MA 02119-1480.)
U AND I.Crystal MacLean Field. Literary Magazine Review. pp.70-71. Kansas State University, Manhattan KS. January, 1986.
Quiet Survivors from the 1960s: The Lyman Family sets own course on a Kansas Farm. Brian Burnes. The Kansas City Star. p.1B. Thursday, March 27, 1986.
Benton Bash to be April 13. The Star's staff. The Kansas City Star. p.3B. Thursday, March 27, 1986.
U and I. Rob Peterson. The Land Report. Number 26. p.27. The Land Institute, Salina, Kansas. Spring, 1986.
The Lyman Family: A Story. in: What Am I Doing Here? (a collection of essays) by Bruce Chatwin [1940-1989]. 367pp, 19.8cm. p.36-41. Viking Penguin. New York. ISBN 0-1401-1577-3. 1989.
Mel Lyman - God's Own Story. Draft edition. Laura Whitcomb, compiled by Aes-Nihil. ©1989, Aes-Nihil Prod. 1989.
Apocalypse Culture: edited by Adam Parfrey; (contains Declaration of Creation as "Something as it really is," p.39). 1987. Expanded and Revised ed. (pbk), 362pp, 21.7cm. ISBN: 0-922915-05-9. Feral House, 1990, contains revised version of Laura Whitcomb's Mel Lyman: God's Own Story (above).
|Rants and Incendiary Tracts: Voices of Desperate Illumination 1558-Present, edited by Bob Black and Adam Parfrey, anthology of 56 rants, includes Mel Lyman's Plea for Courage. pbk, 240 pp, Amok Press and Loompanics Unlimited. (ISBN 0941693031) 1989.|
Learning From The Banjo. Stephen Trussel. 1990.
||My Odyssey Through the Underground Press. Michael Kindman. in: Voices from the Underground: Insider Histories of the Vietnam Era Underground Press Vol. 1. pp. 369-478. edited by Ken Wachsberger. 608 pp, 28 cm. Mica Press. Box 25544 - Library Lane, Tempe, AZ. ISBN 187946101-3. 1993.|
Roots of Communal Revival 1962-1966. Timothy Miller. in: Farm History. The Farm Historical Society. Summertown, Tennessee. online article 1995 (?)
"...I grew up in a Family of 150 people - 'The Family.' We didn't go to public school, and we didn't listen to radio. The only television shows we saw were old movies that we were required to watch. At night we all sat around and sang while the adults played instruments. It was a highly intolerant, manipulative, and frightening place to grow up, but we didn't know that. It was our lives for as long as we could remember, and we were taught to believe that we were being protected from the World."|
|The Mel Lyman Webpage - October 10, 1996 - This Mel Lyman site appeared on the internet, in a much smaller version. The URL was www2.gol.com/users/steve/f_mel.htm. Two years later the home page URL became what it is now, www.trussel.com/f_mel.htm.|
Roxbury commune survives on Fort Hill. Seth Cobin. Bay State Banner, June 19, 1997.
A Youth in the Youth Culture. Steven Heller. online article Apr. 6, 1998.
Sleeping Where I Fall: A Chronicle. Peter Coyote. Counterpoint. 368 pp. $26. ISBN: 1887178678. 1998. online review article by Marc Carnegie, May, 1998.
mel lyman. song from the album "Bath, Michigan," by Landis MacKellar, 1999.
Cults. Kathy Reichs, Death du Jour. Pocket Books, 1999.
Notes on the Avatar : The Hill People and the Valley People. Tim Kelly, personal communication, June, 2000.
A Comment from Ed Jordan. Ed Jordan, personal communication, July 14, 2000.
"So many years have passed...". Alex Simack, personal communication, November 1, 2000.
Footnote on Mel Lyman. Bill J. Harrell, footnote (3) from Charisma and the Con-man, ca. 2000.
"Correction to Felton...". Maryalice Ogilvie Cheesman, personal communication, January 20, 2001.
Ah, to Be Young and Stupid Again.... Seth Gordon, Letters to the Editor, Miami New Times, April 26, 2001.
When E-Prophecy Fails. Brett Sokol, Kulchur, Miami New Times, May 17, 2001.
Mel Lyman: Biography. Bryan Thomas. All-Music Guide, ca. 2002. (And at the Artist Direct website.)
Mel Lyman wrote many things.... Alex Simack, personal communication, November, 2002.
The Unlikely Sisterhood. Jennie Green. Boston Globe Magazine, December 2, 2002.
Just Like Old Times, A Jug Band Stompin'. Alex Ward, The New York Times, February 27, 2003.
|June 4, 2003
Request for Information
I am working on a biography of Mel Lyman, from his years as a "folk musician" through his years writing for The Avatar and as a leader of the Fort Hill Community. I'm seeking to interview as many people as possible who knew Mel, as well as gathering copies of any letters, recordings, films, or other material that might be pertinent to this project. While I knew Mel personally during the last six years of his life and have for thirty years altogether lived as part of the extended family that formed around him in the 1960s, this biography will be written primarily in third-person narrative, utilizing along with excerpts from letters & diaries, the memories of numerous sources - some who admired, respected and loved Mel, others who did not. If you are interested in communicating with me about this, please send an e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org. (I also have a website, www.dickrussell.org.)
Comments on "Bryan Thomas: Biography of Mel Lyman". Anonymous, personal communication, August 19, 2003.
Cases & Controversies: The Avatar. "Four letter words in Chaucer's day" - sale of obscenity to minors - The Avatar underground newspaper - Commonwealth v. Faith Gude (1970). Harvey Silverglate. December, 2004.
|Free Press: Underground and Alternative Publications, 1965-1975. Jean-Francois Bizot. Universe, 2006.|
|Vows: The Story of a Priest, a Nun, and Their Son , by Peter Manseau, 2006. pp 169-171.|
|Norman Mailer, RIP. William F. Buckley's obituary of Mailer, including quotes from Mel. Yahoo News, Nov. 13, 2007|
|Avatar 25, "the 'lost' issue", with recollections of the editor, Charles Giuliano, 40 years later. July 2, 2008|
|My Childhood in a Cult (The New Yorker). May. 6, 2019 (online edition dated 4/29/2019). Guinevere Turner|
"On our isolated commune, we kids were taught that the world was about to end. But my world ended when I was told to leave."
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Mel's writings and Avatar articles reprinted under license from United Illuminating Realty Trust