On a hill located in |
the city of Boston
a man who once said
he was God. The
people who live on
that hill, along with
others who have
come and gone,
Backstage at the Boston Tea Party, there in the same room with The Incredible String Band. I want to speak to them, simply because of the effect that their performance has had on me. I have nothing to say, though, so I wait, sort of dazed, looking on.
Robin Williamson talks with someone else, someone from Boston. Suddenly I am listening sharply, that name has floated by again. Here is my excuse.
"Excuse me," I manage to say when their talk begins to dwindle and wander off, "but did you Just mention Fort Hill?"
Robin Williamson turns to speak with me. "Yes, I did. I was saying that I had my dinner there last night." Friendliness, with distance and curiosity.
There was no other question to ask. "Do you know Mel?"
"Well, I've met him . . . I don't think you could say anyone knows Mel."
I smile and nod, but don't jump in with anything else to say. He begins looking away from me, glancing around the room. But I haven't had my Conversation.
"I've heard a lot about him, but I've never known anyone who actually met him. What's he like?"
"He's like you and me, you know. He's a human being. He's got two eyes and a nose, and a mouth. He eats, sleeps and craps just like you and me. . . ."
Oh, yes, I understand that. But what sort of a person is he - what did you think of him?"
A careful moment. Then, "Mel Lyman is a man of strong intentions. Very strong intentions."
"Strong intentions . . . yes, I see . . . " still smiling. I look hopefully at him. Mel Lyman is a man of strong intentions, yes. . .
Then suddenly his face turns very cold. "You're asking quite a few questions, you know. Come on, out with it . . . you're fishing for something aren't you?" Flash to the face of Robin Williamson on stage - joy and warmth, while in command of The Incredible String Band, now it seems a little, just a little, unreal . . . "Come on, what is it you're fishing for?" Hostility, and the eyes are hard to meet, so piercing with sudden anger.
I look back frightened and try to say evenly, "I'm not fishing for anything . . . I'm just interested in Mel Lyman." But I can only hold his stare for a very few seconds.
in the mirror.
Melvin Lyman comes from the state of Oregon. He was born in April, 1938, grew up and attended Junior College there. In 1955, at the age of seventeen, Mel left home for California where he married and took a job as a computer technician.
Six years later, 1961, now twenty-three, Mel Lyman dropped out of his job and life in California and headed across the country looking for a new life. In Ashville, North Carolina he found Oberey Ramfay [sic] and learned from him to play the banjo. He became a superb banjoist; music was his new life. He played with The Jim Kweskin Jug Band. He was successful.
But he was more than a musician. He had an amazing personality. He had an enormous knowledge of people, and not only made friends, but helped them to solve their problems. People would come to him with their difficulties and after a while he was teaching them how to live their lives. He taught them to live with the utter loneliness and pain of human life; not to try and escape into the scrabble for material goods or the dream of a drug existence. Above all, he taught them that they had to work.
Soon these friends of his, among them Jim Kweskin, gathered around Mel Lyman in a family commune. They could be open with each other. And they had something meaningful to work for - not for a new car or weeks of tripped out cosmic consciousness - they worked for Mel. He was the beginning and end of the only life that they had ever come close to finding happiness in. Mel was God.
Mel Lyman and his family made a home for themselves. During the Revolutionary War, a tower had been built atop the highest point of land in Boston, overlooking the city and hundreds of miles beyond. The tower still stands on the top of Fort Hill in the middle of Roxbury, Boston's black ghetto. There is a small park there, for the tourists, and a number of old Victorian mansions. It was here that Mel moved his family, to the houses on Fort Hill Terrace. The first purchase was made in August of 1966, when the Lyman family came to move in, remodel and clean up their first home. Today the Lyman family owns most of the houses around the park, and claims the Tower as well, although it still officially belongs to the city. It is an impressive sight to drive through the squalor of Boston's worst slums, up Fort Hill nearly above the smog, to find the neat, well-kept houses of the Lyman Family community.
When they moved in in the middle of the 1960's, Boston, perhaps more than the rest of the country because of its great student population, was bursting with a revolution of values and ideas. It demanded communication and expression. The new counter-culture in Boston needed some outlet for the energy exploding from revelations that were happening every day; but there was none. In every medium that could reach all the people of the Boston community, the establishment world had strict control.
So Avatar was born. Organized by writers and intellectuals from around Cambridge and Boston and members of the Lyman Family, it would be the medium for the Boston underground, allowing expression beyond the limits of local papers and magazines. It would bring the people together, give them the power to communicate and ally, a power they urgently needed as the city of Boston grew resentful of the growing legions of spaced-out longhairs. The new underground paper would be named "Avatar" for Meher Baba, the god-man Avatar who was just then gathering a name and recognition all over the world as the possessor of ultimate knowledge and experience For equipment, Broadside Magazine offered the use of its offices. Avatar became a reality.
(left) Two Avatar|
editors outside office
(right): John Wilton
Harvard Square 1968
The original editorial board was made up partly of Lyman Family members, and partly of people who weren't disciples of Mel, but the actual power structure was confused and nebulous. No one wanted to be responsible for the slightest editing or censorship, yet not everything could be printed: and no one was at all organized - no one, except the Lyman Family .
Mel never came down from the Hill to involve himself in Avatar. He wasn't officially on the editorial board at all. But the determined force of disciples who represented him gently pushed through any measures he felt necessary. When one of the pieces he had written was corrected grammatically by Sandi Mandeville, managing editor of Broadside, before printing, the Lyman Family insisted that the same article be reprinted in its original form in the very next issue. Mel was a perfect writer, they said, his exact words were the absolute truth, and they were not to be tampered with. The next issue of Avatar carried Mel's article the way he had written it, along with an explicit note of reprimand to Sandi Mandeville.*
As each new Avatar was made up, in every conflict, always the Lyman Family was stronger - they were the only ones who were unified and they were ferociously determined. For about a year Avatar was the only underground voice in Boston. Their circulation was terrific - and each issue carried more of Mel's message, more devoted praise of him by his followers.
Avatar was suffering, though. The people in the Lyman Family simply didn't have the experience to produce as good a paper as they wanted to. Gradually new writers and editors, who were not disciples of Mel, were allowed power on the Avatar staff. These people were interested in reporting news, not in communicating Mel 's message to the world. Avatar assumed a new format: it came in two parts, an outer section, basically a newspaper, devoted to underground news, and an inner supplement section devoted to Mel.
The inside Avatar was written by and about the Fort Hill community. The cover often consisted of a portrait of Mel by artist Eben Given of the Lyman Family. Mel himself wrote a number of columns: "To All Who Would Know," "Message from Mel," and "Telling It Like It Is" usually accompanied by one or more photographs of Mel or a sky shattered with thunderbolts. There were two write-in sections, "Letters to Avatar, " and the lengthier "Letters to Mel." In his columns and replies to interested readers, Mel developed and spelled out the teachings of his personal philosophy. He was the Avatar, and the paper was his voice.
In December, 1966, Avatar was brought on trial in Cambridge District Court on charges of obscenity. Between the time the charge was made and the arraignment in court, Avatar devoted its entire centerfold to the words FUCK SHIT PISS CUNT. Avatar was now the cause of free speech. Attorney for the defense was a well-known Boston lawyer, Joseph Oteri. The trial developed into a parade of qualified experts and scholars from universities in and around the Boston community testifying to the redeeming social value of Avatar. They won the case, garnering immense fame and glory for Avatar, and for Mel Lyman.
In its edition for early April of 1968, Avatar carried the charter of the United Illuminating Corporation. In it, Eben Given pledged himself and the rest of the Lyman Family:
Mel rapidly became one of the most controversial figures in Boston. His advice to readers seemed sincere and compassionate, yet he claimed to be God and answered his detractors with ruthless hostility. Much of the writing in Avatar was terrifically creative and sensitive - but whole pages were often spent in what seemed to be pointless praise of Mel - his looks, his words, his every characteristic described as most beautiful and sacred. When the Lyman Family, with Jim Kweskin, performed at the Club 47 and stopped playing to elate Mel's wisdom to the audience, the evening ended in fighting.
I have written a charter that includes and defines everything I know. I have lived a thousand years in a day and a night, talked with you all, been still, slept, gotten up again and written - knowing through the sharpest pains of my own inadequacy and Limitation - the greatest that I have ever known in all my life - that what must finally be written and signed by all of us today, can only be written as my first picture of Mel could only have been drawn - when the last resources of my own separate talent had been exhausted - when I had seen so deeply, and suffered so deeply that there was finally nothing left of me to draw WITH. And the picture came.
It is not my own private pain. I suffer it as each of you has suffered it and will continue and must continue to suffer it. It is the pain of being consumed, of having every last vestige of separateness between that which we have felt and come to know more deeply than all else, which is incarnated forever, for all of us in Mel which is our heart, burned away that we may be free that HE may finally be freed. It is the pain of being born.
Today we simple incorporate ourselves as Mel Lyman. The definition rests with all that we can attest together as the larger embodiment - through us to all men of the purpose and the practice of one pure man. Today is our birthday - March 21st, 1968. .
One day in the late spring of 1968, one the non-disciples on the Avatar staff, a powerfully built black man who wrote under the name of Pebbles, made his way to the top of Fort Hill and demanded to see Mel. Naturally he was told that he couldn't Just see Mel, that he would have to wait until Mel wanted to see him. No one could stop him, though and he went right to Mel's house and knocked on the door.
It was opened by Mel's wife, Jessie Benton Lyman, who refused to let Pebbles in. They argued for awhile, then finally Pebbles loudly announced that he was in fact God, and that he was a greater God than Melvin Lyman. Then he left.
The incident was a shattering experience for the people on Fort Hill. It was, above all, a fearsome breach of Mel's security. It was that day that Mel said, "Build me a wall."
Immediately the entire Lyman Family fell to work constructing a thick stone wall around Mel Lyman's house on Fort Hill. All other activity ceased. Work on Avatar by the Lyman Family stopped.
The people outside of Fort Hill wore thrown into turmoil. They had obligations to advertisers, they had articles and news to publish, but the Fort Hill editors had abandoned Avatar.
After some squabbling for control of Avatar, a new editorial board was formed and voted in, headed by Charles Guiliano and David Wilson. The paper was completely redesigned. The cover of this edition, issue twenty-five, included nowhere the title "Avatar." It was a triumph for the unbelievers; the paper carried nothing but news, underground writing and photography - Melvin Lyman wasn't mentioned.
In the early hours of the morning, just after the production work had been completed and the papers lay stacked around the Avatar office, a truck pulled up and Mel's disciples piled out. Without a struggle, every copy the paper was surrendered to them. After it had all been loaded into the truck, the Lyman Family returned to the Hill and deposited the papers in the Tower, later to sell them as paper scrap.
The battling was nearly but not quite over. The Lyman Family now no longer had enough voting power on the board of corporate Avatar to produce a paper their way and still be able, legally, to call it Avatar. Soon, two papers appeared, Avatar and American Avatar. The two forces continued to struggle against each other but the fighting grew weaker and weaker. The revolution which they had borne had swept past them on to San Francisco and L.A., to Chicago and Woodstock. By the end of the summer, 1968, Boston Avatar had ceased publication. American Avatar appeared sporadically for another year, then it too disappeared. Mel's influence outside of his family and following rapidly dissipated.
Since that time, Mel and his family have been quietly working to ready themselves to bring Mel's word to the world. They have founded Lyman Family communes in New York City and Los Angeles, but neither of these has been at all able to equal Fort Hill in size or strength. A magazine produced by the Lyman Family called Pluto appeared in New York, but it only lasted one issue.
Members of the Lyman Family work to keep up the houses on Fort Hill. Many of them hold outside jobs where they work during the day and turn their pay over to Mel. At night they return to help in repair work and to continue the construction of an inter-media studio. This studio will have facilities for four-track tape recording and a film center as well as a theatre for live performance.
Meanwhile, Mel has already made several films which he is waiting and negotiating to present entirely under his control in cinemas or on television. The Lyman Family has also released an album on Reprise with Lisa Kindred, American Avatar. Mel himself wrote the liner notes:
I've been waiting to get this record released for three years and it is finally only possible now because I played the tapes for Mo Ostin a few months ago and he loved them. Everyone I have ever played these tapes for has been deeply moved, it is great music. The force that drew us together to record this music is the same force that is always evidenced in great works of art, and like all great works of art this music was created to elevate men, we were merely the instruments. We played this music but we didn't make it, it passed through us like light through the darkness. And like all great works of art this music had to await its time, it even took awhile for us to appreciate it. I have marveled at these tapes for years and have never ceased to find more and more in them, more grace, more perfection, more magic, more God. And now I have passed than on to Mo and he is passing them on to you in the form of a record album. This is no album, it is a miracle.
Today, Mel and the rest of his family are preparing and waiting: waiting for the day when the world is ready to receive Mel Lyman's message. when Mel Lyman's smiling face will appear on your television set to announce to you that he is God.
The message which Mel has already relayed to the world through his writing is, on close examination, a little confusing. Using the same technique as Richard Nixon and other crowd-pleasing political philosophers, he takes on, at different times, the postures of a number of history's well-known gurus and messiahs while at the same time actually asserting only his own particular truth. Thus in Avatar number fourteen, in his column "Telling It Like It Is," Mel says of Eastern philosophers,
The sickest people I have ever met were long term believers who could spout all this crap about 'we are all one' and 'Kharma' and 'reincarnation' till kingdom come, they explained the whole fucking universe away to their sick little satisfaction and then they curled up and died. Talk about insanity, that's IT!
Yet in the issue of American Avatar whose cover pictures Mel on a television set (it carries no information concerning date, volume or edition number) Mel seems to have something else to say. On page four, beneath a photograph of Wayne Hansen, one of the members of the Lyman Family closest to Mel, he writes,
The Buddha is with me. Never before in the history of this planet have we appeared simultaneously, this may give you some idea of that which we are going to accomplish. I am going to operate as the heart, the CENTER, and Buddha is going to serve as the World Mind. He will put into effect, as World Government, all that I am. In the past he has assimilated and become all the wisdom of the East. In this present incarnation he has undergone all Western experience and is now the Master of World Thought. This is not the proper time to reveal His Name as he walks among you as ONE of you but believe me he is HERE. Rejoice, we are going to unite the WORLD!
This is also the issue in which Mel reveals that he is Jesus Christ. "...I'm Christ, I swear to God, In PERSON," he writes, on page one, "and I'm about to turn this foolish world upside down... Love, Christ." On page fifteen, Mel is pictured sitting atop a television set. His legs are crossed in Yoga fashion, while the upper part of his body, with his hands clasped and his face turned upwards in a rapture of saints and apostles as portrayed in religious paintings of the Middle Ages. In the "fourth cycle," first issue of American Avatar, this letter appeared:
Mel replies, "I am all that Baba was. But what's more, I am all that he wasn't." Mel leaves room for all of his readers to assume that he is into their trip, too, or that he has been, and now passed beyond it. Furthermore, by making these assertions in such an absurd fashion, Mel always leaves himself the out of saying to his detractors, Can't you see that I'm joking? You must be a fool if you take me so seriously.
Now that Meher Baba has left his body, are you Meher Baba?
On top of this spiritual fence-straddling, Mel deliberately makes certain points confusing and unclear, after first saying that they represent his most important ideas, stated in the simplest terms possible. Avatar number fifteen carried this exchange in the "Letters to Mel" section:
"YOU certainly don't do justice to my choice of words, my ultimate meaning seems to escape you. Let me sum it all up for you so there will be no further misunderstandings in translation: I'm out to transform the kind of pride that destroys transformation and destroy the kind of pride that transforms destruction. Got it!"
Saw my letter printed in Avatar No. 14.
You do admit, then, that pride can be expressed as love.
But by saying you are at war with everybody's pride, you put yourself in the position of one who would destroy rather than transform.
Perhaps your choice of words did not really do you justice.
Sincerely, David Ames
In one of Mel's earliest works, a paperback book entitled Autobiography of A World Savior, he simplifies forty preceding pages of his philosophy like this:
Now I want to review all that I have said concerning the process of creation. We start with space. Space is nothing, it is neither life nor death. It is nothing. Nothing cannot exist and so nothing comes into existence as SOMETHING, as BEING. Space becomes BEING and being creates LIFE and life includes its opposite, non-life or DEATH. Life is CONSTRUCTION and death is DESTRUCTION. Construction is establishing ORDER and destruction is returning to CHAOS and the two are inherent polarities in all that is in existence. . . .
and so on for another five pages or so. Using the same sales technique as the one that sold the emperor on his new clothes, Mel closes his book on this note:
And now I have said my piece. And you may THINK you have understood. You may THINK you KNOW. I caution you not to take these words lightly. If you really know everything I have WRITTEN here then I hold you responsible to APPLY what you know. If you UNDERSTAND, if you KNOW, then YOU are a world savior TOO and if you DON'T you AREN'T. . . .
Mel's exposition of his personal history and philosophy of life, particularly in this autobiography contains a number of statements in addition to his identification of himself as God whose incredibility may confound even more those who try to understand and criticize him. Autobiography opens with this startling pronouncement:
Long long ago in another time in another dimension on another planet I volunteered for an assignment the nature of which I knew little and in fact little could be known as I didn't possess the particular equipment necessary to translate such knowledge into contemporary understanding. . . . I was to be an embodied purpose and that purpose was THE purpose.
Elsewhere in the book Mel articulates some more facts concerning the history of the world that are a little hard to believe. Mel describes the emergence of the mind in men on earth as passing through three stages. The first of these developmental stages was the "concrete mind." The concrete mind was capable of organizing man's environment to suit him: that is, to deal with the material world around him. It appeared in an early race of men.
The second stage in the development of the mind was the "abstract mind." A second race of men were so put off by the use of the mind on a purely material plane that they avoided dealing with it at all and left the concrete side of their mental composition to lie dormant. Mel points out in some detail that this was just as bad as being concerned only with the material world since neither the concrete mind nor the abstract mind can realize complete spiritual fulfillment without uniting with each other.
Finally, a third stage was reached by the human mind. A third race of men developed both the concrete and the abstract mind at the same time, very nearly bridging the gap between themselves and spiritual fulfillment.
. . . This third race was the race of Aryans and they made it possible for the finer tuning and further development of the spiritual instruments to continue by their efforts to perfect the lower instruments whereas the orientals negated the use of the lower instruments and became insensitive to the material world which soon led them to believe it to be invalid and the Jews became insensitive to the SPIRITUAL world and soon believed IT to be invalid. Aryans never learned to SCHEME like the Jews or DREAM like the orientals but held both worlds to be equally valid and sought to UNITE them through the process of intellect and the descendants of these Aryans are the intelligent reasonable men of the world today, the THINKERS of this planet, and though they still have a long way to go it's at least a good start towards creating a heaven out of earth and an earth out of heaven.
All of these statements, like the statement that Mel Lyman is God, are so very outrageous that it is even a little difficult to believe that anyone would dare to say them if they weren't actually true; particularly when they are couched in such impressively intellectual and seemingly reasonable terms. They are even easier to believe when they are mixed in with ideas which are reasonable.
And much of what Mel has to say is indeed reasonable; not only is it reasonable but it is deeply moving, and evidences a great sensitivity to the human condition. It may not be entirely original - great proportions of it are very similar to the philosophies of Zen, Buddha, Nietzche, Heidegger and other existentialists but this is hardly relevant, for Mel's words convey a sense of profound belief; they have the strength of deep sincerity.
The basis of all that Mel Lyman has to say is a feeling of intense loneliness, an aching, inescapable longing to find some meaning in an apparently empty and futile universe. Throughout Avatar, this hopeless longing is expressed a hundred different ways, in a hundred different voices.
Mel responds to this pain by teaching that only if he feels pain can a man feel anything else. He answers the seeming emptiness of the universe with the teaching that God lies unrealized in every man. This God, divine spirit, or soul, has come out in great men at their greatest moments and he cites Abraham Lincoln, Ben Franklin, Clarence Darrow and others as examples. Mel himself is simply a man who is pure God. Any man can strive to find God in himself and meaning in his life, however. Before he can realize hid soul, though, he must struggle, and work, and suffer until he has totally exhausted himself, wept so much that he has no more tears to cry and no more hope to lose. Then, when the man's self has been totally erased, when he has truly given himself up, there will be nothing left but his soul, and he will have found God. To live meaningfully a man must spend every instant of his life in that search, he must believe that nothing is more important than to make his thought and action this moment, right now, as well as every other moment in his life, as true and as perfect as he possibly can. When he achieves this, he begins to live his life in a state of grace which knows neither hope nor disappointment, neither complacency nor impatience; only the constant struggle.
|I keep grabbing at the rose trees
As I tumble downhill;
And the thorns pile up
At the bottom
It is beautiful philosophy; one which it is probably clumsy and presumptuous of me to try either to explain or to interpret. A sense of it can only be felt by meeting the people of Fort Hill and listening to what they have to say, or perhaps by rereading the old Avatars. To even begin to understand it, and to see what it means to Mel Lyman and the people who live on Fort Hill, is a deeply moving, a humbling experience. For to them it is the absolute truth of life.
Fort Hill abode
We had been working that day at the old Milton Town Hall, salvaging pieces from the abandoned building, to be used on Fort Hill. There was Randy, the drop-out from Harvard who had driven out with me from the Hill in my red truck; he seemed to like me. Then there was Kurt, wearing his hard hat, business-like; and Rick, good-natured and amiable. Ned, also friendly and warm, with his long jaw and evenly cut face; he seemed to be in authority there, with some competition from Eddie, tall, dark and powerful, an Army veteran with an ironic sense of humor and steely disposition. As they read this, they are all probably laughing at these descriptions, for I was only with them a very short time; only Just long enough for them to judge me.
Each of them had his turn alone with me, his chance to heal me answer the same questions. Why had I come? What did I want on Fort Hill? What was I looking for? I would admit that I had come on a writing assignment, but I would also say that I had come for myself, to learn why the Lyman Family was the Lyman Family; to try to understand why they had turned their lives over to one man, to Mel Lyman, and to try and conceive of how they could believe that he is God.
They would nod to what I said, and then calmly explain that there was no way I could possibly understand. Even the fact that I was trying to understand - to fit their beliefs into some sort of concept - made it plain how hopeless it was for me. I could only feel it if I came to need it as much as they did. Then perhaps I might see what Mel Lyman meant to them.
They had their chance to see me when we were all together as well. While we worked as a team on each of the day's separate projects, they were watching me closely, testing me.
Near the end of the day, as we loaded lights into the back of my truck, Kurt spoke to me again, asking the same questions and more, asking what writing meant to me, asking what this assignment meant to me and why I had been chosen for it. Then the calm fell from his face; he grew very serious and intense. He told me then that he could see that I was too young and inexperienced to write about Fort Hill, that there was more there than I could see or write about in years. He told me that others, many others, had come to Fort Hill and tried to write about it. Always they had thought they understood, tried to fit it into their own scheme of the world, and ended up simply exploiting it for their own trip. It hurt him he said, for Fort Hill was his life, and to see it cheaply used was naturally a great and very personal pain for him. I answered lamely that I would do the best I could, that that was all I could ever do, but even as I was saying that, he had turned away and started back into the building.
Inside, Randy told me we were breaking work for the coffee and sandwiches we had brought from the Hill, and I followed him down into the basement of the building. There, amidst the broken cement and other debris we stood eating, our breath clouding in the unheated night winter air.
"Paul here says he's come to find out all about us. He's a writer," Kurt began, between mouthfuls.
"Well, what do you want to know, Paul?" Eddie asked. "What questions do you have? We'll answer 'em right now." His eyes were growing, colder as he watched me.
"There's nothing I want to know . . ."
"Oh. Well, if there's nothing you want to know, then you must think you already know everything right? Maybe you're wrong," Eddie cut in.
"There's nothing that I want to know, really. And if there was, it isn't something I could put into a question for you to answer."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Eddie flashed. "I mean, you come here saying you're a writer and you want to know all about us . . . now I give you a chance to ask us questions and you say you don't want to know anything after all. Now come on . . ."
"You know what he tells me, Eddie?" said Kurt. "He says that they sent him because the other writers they wanted to come were too scared. He was the only brave one."
"Are you the brave one, Paul, is that right? Tell me, what is it that those other writers were afraid of and you weren't, huh?" Eddie leered down at me.
It went on like that for about a half hour. They didn't want to hurt me, though, and the only threat came when Eddie said that things could have been a lot worse than they were. When I asked him how, he said, "I could have broken you in half." He could have, too, but after I had admitted that I was afraid, and said some other things as well, they left me alone. I had known it was coming, having spoken with other people who had visited Fort Hill and gotten the identical treatment, with practically the same words used in the dialogue. Throughout it all, Randy and Ned sat silently, their heads bowed and their faces turned away. Kurt and Eddie did all the talking while the others looked on.
They wouldn't speak to me ever again after that, but as they left to take all of the things we had spent the day loading onto my truck off of it to send me on my way, Rick suddenly turned to face me, alone in the hallway, and said, "can't you see? There's nothing that we can say to you. Can't you see that we don't even understand it ourselves?" and there were tears in his eyes.
What goes on in the mind of Mel Lyman? What does he dream about at night, and what is his first thought when he gets up in the morning? Does he really believe that he is God, or is this his own personal joke on the world? Could it be that he simply believes in an ideal society, and this is the best way of packaging his product to sell it to the world? Does he claim to be God as an elaborate publicity technique?
|I am going to fuck the world
I am going to fill it with hot sperm
Mmm mmm, I can't wait
I am a giant erection
I am ALL COCK . . .
and the world
is ALL CUNT
Much of what Mel says and does can be taken as classically neurotic. In his autobiography he describes his mother obsessively , but never mentions his father:
. . . I could never tell a LIE to my mother because that would DISPLEASE her and for me there wee no greater suffering, even the slightest GRIEVANCE to my mother. . . . I'll never forget the time I forgot to wash the bathtub after I got out of the water and she told me the story about the poor little bathtub that cried all night alone in the bathroom full of cold dirty water because the little boy had taken a bath in him and gotten himself all clean and made the tub all dirty and just went away leaving him that way and didn't even CARE and the poor tub felt so unloved and cried and cried because nobody loved him and believe me THAT always got to my heart. I knew how it felt when nobody loved you cause when my mother turned her love off I felt as lonely as lonely can feel and to this DAY I've never again left a bathtub less than shining like a star when I was through with my bath.
There are a few more accounts:
I was quite delicate and could never hold my own with all of these robust little boys, in fact I found their activities to be of a very distasteful NATURE to me. I couldn't even stand to get my HANDS dirty, a trait quite foreign to most little boys, and spent much time WASHING them every day. . . . I felt sorry for all the little scraps of paper in the streets and I gathered them up wherever I went and carried them home in my pockets. I kept them all in a big drawer feeling that they wouldn't be so LONESOME if they could be TOGETHER like that.
This together with much of what he has done since - such as the incident of having a wall built around his house - suggest that Mel Lyman is a paranoid megalomaniac who has the fairly typical delusion that he is God.
(left) The Fort|
But it is entirely too easy to dismiss Mel as insane. Psychology is a suspicious science at best. Many of its most distinguished proponents could be accused of being paranoid megalomaniacs themselves - far more dangerous ones than Mel Lyman. In all likelihood, if Jesus Christ himself, the son of God, did actually appear on this planet, he would be immediately regarded as a lunatic. All of this is over-shadowed anyway by the fact that it must take at least a little insanity to have a vision of the world whose glory and illumination could make life worthwhile, and this is the vision that Mel Lyman has. If Mel is crazy, it is distinctly a most wonderful madness.
It is impossible to say what goes on in Mel Lyman's mind. This is one of his greatest strengths. By keeping himself as he does, completely isolated, he remains a mysterious and awesome figure. He is a dark, intriguing character, living alone on Fort Hill, cut off most of the time even from his own family, a complete recluse. He keeps the infrequent company only of his most devoted followers, and there is no way that anyone else can put a finger on who exactly Mel Lyman is. He is very reluctant to discuss any but the vaguest details of his early life. The nature of his personality is inaccessible except to guesses and the imagination; he and his family are ready to point that fact out against the claims of his detractors. No one gets to meet Mel Lyman until they have begun to worship him. It is a very effective way to win belief from his admirers.
Mel began to gather followers around himself during the mid-1960's. It was a time of outrage and confusion; a thousand new and amazing ideas, each challenging the others to be the truth. LSD began by taking faith in the intellect apart; a sudden political awakening to our country's horrific crimes lent righteousness to violence; all the regulation, security and beliefs of an entire generation - which had fought the world's most terrible war to defend them - were swept aside: worthless and worse, irrelevant. To answer this bold, irresistible disillusionment came a flood of new perspectives on the world: cosmic, fantastic, spiritual - Rock and Roll - breaking the Law for grass is good - money is, after all, only evil - but living in the street loses its nobility - does acid awaken you to God?
One man had a simple statement, a simple explanation of the conflicted world, and he could back it up in person. Mel Lyman is God. Looking up from pain and bewilderment to see him standing there confident and reassuring, his people believed. A philosophy and an approach such as Mel makes works best on people who are lost in confusion, just after they have been bombarded by a thousand new ideas.
This philosophy is appealing largely because of its amazing and simple earthiness. It's hard to live a life of struggle with nothing but ideas for guidance. This is what has happened to many of the 1960's revolutionaries. Today they have found rioting and organizing to be a futile expression of their anger and an extravagant use of their lives. Mel offers the satisfaction of substance; his family doesn't simply fight all day for "freedom." They build their own homes, repair them, go on to build a studio, make a tape or a film. In the end they can stand back and see that they've created something new, and each construction is proof for them of the meaning in their lives.
It is a thoroughly American way of life, something of a Puritan ethic. They believe that real satisfaction comes only after doing a hard day's work. Their God is an earthy reality; opposition can only give them greater strength in their righteousness. Though they have no Satan to grapple with, they have a definite sense of the absolute rightness of their cause. In a sense the Lyman Family is a missionary group, bringing the Truth of Mel to the world.
They are new American spiritualists. Their heroes are the great Americans, such as Lincoln, Emerson and Ben Franklin, and the attitudes of the Lyman Family are a sampling of what America may be after it has finally polarized. They believe in good, honest work and have nothing but contempt for hippies who live out their lives in a drugged stupor. When they're finished with the day's work, though, they'll enjoy a little grass and rap, and agree that the Establishment is bullshit. They denounce Nixon for the games he's playing with the American people, then back Ted Kennedy for president in '72. Mel Lyman was born an American, and while he may be God, or on a mission from another planet, he makes no move to deny his traditional conservative American heritage.
The Lyman Family is true to American form in its reaction to criticism, as well. They become hostile and belligerent, closing any argument out of their minds. They are not alone in this country, either. In the years since the mid-1960's a number of experiments in communal living and expression of new spiritualism have developed into tightly knit, almost fascist communities who believe that one man, their leader, has all the answers and cannot be denied. Manson was only a well-advertised example. There are many more in California and strung out through the Southwest and other rural areas in this country. Each one is a little knot of righteousness, and their people live like members of an exclusive club. Visitors are informed that they have come across a community unlike any other in the world. They have the Key, the final meaning in the universe. Dissenters are plainly unwelcome. It is more than a little frightening; they are often the same people who led the revolution in America a few years before. Now, after severe disillusionment, they have retreated into these collective shells of security.
They, like the Lyman Family, have seen something beautiful in the middle of cheap, ugly existence and are now clinging to it desperately for a meaningful survival. The love and yearning for unity in the universe turns to fearful jealousy and possessiveness. The strength for revolutionary consciousness and the freeing of minds is lost. The movement is shattered into a thousand fragments, and they have sacrificed victory as a whole for their own salvation from American destruction. The great ideals are there, the love and the freedom, but frantic pursuit of them has turned liberation into an escape of dreams. When the destructive forces in America begin their sweep of the "subversive elements" they will find them like Manson, sandbagged behind the walls of their houses, determined not to see how quickly the stinking reality they have shunned will swallow them up.
But even without the U.S. doom that is stalking them, they are stepping heavily on their own ideals, crushing them. In the Lyman Family on Fort Hill, they have kept their goals fixed firmly in view, and their simple faith, even rugged determination. But they have also become smug, imperious and inflexible. It is a home of openness, innocence and compassion, but for the entire outside world there is suspicion, hostility, blind hatred. Melvin Lyman and his family have had a beautiful vision, a dream of ending the world's emptiness and loneliness, of filling it instead with love. But the dream has been twisted. Mel Lyman is not God.
Fusion N° 54
April 16, 1971