Notes on the Avatar

The Hill People and the Valley People

Tim Kelly

I was a "founding member" of Avatar, along with Dave Wilson and Wayne Hanson. Lew Crampton came along about as the first issue was being put together. This was done in the basement digs of Dave Wilson's Broadside magazine in Cambridge. Edw. Beardsley (he always insisted on both the Edw. and the Beardsley, although his name was Ed Jordan), Suzanne Carson, and Melvin Preston "Bud" Burns had managed to raise the capital (mostly from national record company ads) to get Colony Press (the printer) enough up-front money to run off those first 5,000 copies of Volume 1, Issue 1. The use of Emerson on the cover was agreed on after Eben Given and Edw. came to "an understanding" following arguments that lasted several days. Hanson and Given had created the image and insisted it carried the transcendental ideals that the era "seemed to be reaching for" (à la Beatles). Wilson and I distrusted this notion and the Kweskin Jug Band crowd. Beardsley and Carson were neutral, but provided the swing votes that carried that and other decisions.

At that point, Avatar was given its name, for no other reason than that nobody had a better one, and few knew either the meaning of the word or its implication. From the outset, the Hill People maintained devious means to their own ends. This was the primary reason for the rift that was to tear apart any cohesiveness that had managed to survive two years in the midst of the late '60s.

That a rift existed from the start cannot be denied. The Hill People were of a wholly defensive attitude, patrolling Fort Hill with shotguns and insisting on heavily Lyman-based editorial content. The Valley People (not the Not-Hill People), on the other hand, were the conduit through which the Hill People maintained contact with the various entities active during that period, including the Black Panthers, the Beatles, the Underground Press, the endless stream of folks (like Peter Coyote), et al.

As was typical of other underground press of that era, the Valley People insisted on both a political stance against the War in Viet Nam (which got little ink) and remaining open to artistic content from outside the immediate Avatar community. Each issue became a battle, and constant compromises were made that allowed Lyman his vehicle. At one point late in the game, the Hill people took the print-setting equipment out of the Avatar offices and published the slick-cover issue with Lyman "sitting in space" above the Earth (literally in orbit). The Valley people got together and published an issue that was subsequently stolen and destroyed by Brian Keating, George Peper and others from Fort Hill.

Here it should be noted that Avatar was selling, mostly by street hawkers, for 25 cents, a dime of which went to the vendors. It was a bi-weekly means for "street people" to get some cash together. With the "slick-cover issue" the Hill/Lyman group raised the price to 50 cents. We were, at that time, publishing an initial run of 50,000 copies and usually selling out in one or two days. Subsequent runs were not recorded but were commonly in 5,000-copy batches. All transactions were cash and supposedly deposited into Avatar accounts.

When a final board meeting was deemed necessary (there had only been two to my recollection), it was learned that money (that had been dutifully deposited in some cases and not in others) had been withdrawn (without either board authorization or knowledge) and spent. On several pet projects of Melvin Lyman: a commercial recording studio, several houses in Fort Hill, basic construction equipment and materials, unprofitable publications in New York City, and similar backhanded expenditures. These had tapped the account dry. Some discussion regarding taking civil and criminal action to correct this ended in no action being taken. It was felt that many of the Fort Hill members with children would be harmed, and they were in fact innocent. We simply walked away.

Tim Kelly
June 1, 2000

Mel Lyman was said to have been born in Tacoma, Washington. I think I had words with him in this regard and found this to be true, but my memory is now fading and maybe not.
I would like to hear from any of those participants with the means and method to get in touch. There is much more to this story, not all of which I am aware. Over the years, I have often thought of how history may (woulda, shudda, cudda) have been changed had the ego of Lyman not interacted on this singular not-for-profit-motive effort. I remember Pebbles, a Black poet, and a hundred others with talent and no outlet. I first heard of the Internet in 1969 through a nameless friend of Joe Aiello who was working on a Top Secret project in Lincoln Labs at MIT. In sum, Rolling Stone, however misguided their motives, did the World a favor.

Tim Kelly at
Mel Lyman