What follows below is an email conversation between me and Michael Bowen, world traveling artist. Mr. Bowen wasÂ myÂ original contact to the beatniks,including the “beat leader” Michael McCracken, who lived in the Abalone Factory at Princeton. I interviewed Bowen in the late 1970s, in North Beach in San Francisco, and at his Bolinas home. Michael… who was unlike anyone I had ever met before…was generous with his time and gave me the names ofÂ otherÂ fascinating people to interview, among them San Francisco attorney Marvin Lewis, Alice Kent and Rosalind Sharpe.
The people I could have interviewed began to snowball…of course now I wish I had talked with Sally Lacey, Marilyn Monroe’s understudy, who lived in the City, but I didn’t. And, there are some things I can’t remember…I am certain I interviewed someone at 185 Marina Blvd; I remember being there; I’ll have to find the notes. (At one point Bowen lived at the “mansion” overlooking the beautiful Marina Green, with views of the Golden Gate Bridge).
“185 Marina Blvd.” was also the name of a book by Alex Geluardi and it’s a valuable piece of history.
Michael Bowen lived in Tunitas Creek but was close with his friends who had moved from the City to the Abalone Factory at Princeton. We recently re-connected and below you will read some of the questions I have asked Bowen and his answers. At this point, it’s unedited.
June (via email) to artist Michael Bowen: How did you get to Tunitas Creek?
[Note: I will be editing the material below but I was anxious to post it). Thanks to Messrs. Bowen & Bruch
M. Bowen’s first and only poster, produced for the “Human Be-In.” or as he says, “That is the only poster I ever made . Also the most famous from the sixties. It is for the human be in, which I produced which started the love ins which led to Woodstock all this figured out by some of the people at the abalone factory and some in Carmel around john starr cooke and the finally in Mexico.
Big story really. Actually huge”
Michael Bowen’s answer via email. Written by Michael Bowen & R.W. Bruch
It is important to know for historical reasons, especially because many of the people from the half moon bay Tunitas Abalone factory at Princeton became or are now becoming world famous for their contributions to society.It is true that then, between 1959 and 1964, the Abalone factory was both an
art studio structure, meeting place for all of us from SF and that most of
us in one way or another were attached to the séances going on at the home
of John Starr Cooke in Carmel highlands from 1961 to 1963. The Abalone
factory for many of us was a resting or stopping point were we could both
gather our thoughts, express ourselves, and be free of the SF oppression
which had driven us all out of the city at that time. I was living in
> Tunitas creek, as you know is a little south of the Abalone factory at
> Princeton. When you got to the road to Tunitas Creek you could only turn
> left up the mountain on Tunitas Creek road. Half way up the mountain wasÂ my
> house. It was the house of the future build by the Danish government for the
> Worlds Fair in SF. The Choulos family had bought it and its property. The
> Choulos family of Marin County had beenÂ myÂ patrons and friends for several
> years. The head of the family Vasilious Choulos, and especially his wife
> Laura, were very close to me andÂ myÂ little boy Michael, now a very well
> known actor in Hollywood. The children of both families keep in touch today.
> As for me, I am especially fond of Laura’s son, James Choulos and of course
> the rest of the family as well. When the house in Marin County on the
> cliffs of Muir beach was burnt down by the local inhabitants because they
> thought I was a witch took place, I was suddenly with nowhere to live. The
> Choulos family, who also collectedÂ myÂ art, still have it and won’t sell it,
> heard about this tragedy in whichÂ myÂ dogs also were shot and burned. They
> graciously gave me the house on Tunitas Creek road. That is how I got to the
> house on Tunitas creek road. In that house I was able to practice yoga and
> meditation and was discovered there as some kind of yogi by the wife of Ved
> Vrat who with Haridas Choudari founded the East West Academy which
> eventually became the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) and
> involved others on the various board of directors who are friends of mine
> today. Zeppelin Wong, the brother of Victor Wong the actor, the late Allen
> Watts who of course everyone knows as the great Zen philosopher, and Dr.
> James Ryan of the East Bay, the head of the Sanskrit department at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS). The Abalone
> factory was perfectly situated and tucked away in Princeton between SF and
> Tunitas Creek. Moreover, the Abalone factory was between the Carmel
> highlands and John Starr Cooke at the beginning of the road to Big Sur,
> which was also part of what one might call our hunting ground. That putÂ my
> house and studio and meditation retreat directly between all of the places
> in Tunitas Canyon between all of the places that all of us, our bohemian art
> group, had been scattered to at the beginning of the police oppression in
> North Beach where the police were used to break up and drive out the
> artistic community that was the perfect example of the Bill of Rights in
> action and yet stood in the way of the America at that time. The North Beach
> that we were driven from included people from every race and every part of
> the world who had gathered together and become the Beat generation. And now
> because of the publicity by Herb Caen, inventor of the word “beatnik”, the
> perfect pejorative, [Herb’s son, I know; we are in contact…he has just finished his film attacking the Mormons]. and the necessity of breaking the sexual straight jacket
> that was strangling the country along with manyÂ otherÂ straight jackets that
> were strangling the country, the opportunity to turn the tiny community of
> artists and writers andÂ otherÂ free spirits into targeted creatures called by
> the press beatniks, opened the way for the police to be used to drive out
> the blacks, whites, Orientals, gays, and anyÂ otherÂ combination of races that
> would reduce the income of the new topless owners. Even the great jazz clubs
> were included in this American version of this Nazi purge. Those who made up
> this community in North Beach were to be expelled in order so that it could
> be turned into a gigantic topless money machine run by a combination of
> faceless landlords, gangsters, and corrupt lawyers who came together through
> their ownership of property in North Beach and their manipulation of the law
> designed to bring sexual freedom to people but instead co-opted by this
> group to bring in the agitated drooling masses of sexually repressed middle
> class lust filled weak to watch naked girls serve them beer and dance in
> lurid light in what had been a very few years before a grocery store, a
> sewing shop, or anyÂ otherÂ piece of property that these human leaches could
> turn into a pseudo sex factory who had heard incorrectly about the wild life
> of the beatniks in North Beach.
> Fast forward to the left turn at Tunitas Canyon. One day in 1963 I came back
> from SF from a successful money hunt with the time for art and meditation at
> the Tunitas Creek house. I should say here that if I had kept on driving
> pastÂ myÂ own house, I would have reached the mountain ridge and there was
> John Wickets quasi mansion and property with his mad caretaker, Waldron
> Voorhees. I did go there a few times. The last was just after sunset one
> night when I was there having a drink with Voorhees when he thought he heard
> a sound outside, got up from the table, grabbed a fully loaded heavy caliber
> machine gun which I hadn’t noticed, opened the door and went outside and
> sprayed bullets into the dark woods surrounding the house for over twenty
> minutes. I quietly made an excuse and left, drove home, and that was the
> last time I was ever at Wickets place on the ridge. It would be many years
> that I would be a guest at Johns house overlooking the bay. I found John to
> be a kind, sweet, real human being willing to stand up for his rights and
> use his money to do it. The last thing I should say about how I got to
> Tunitas Creek was how I got out of Tunitas creek. Of course all this time
> Ken Keasey, one or two canyons over, was going through his mad dance. But
> like John Wicket, I was not to meet him for some time and under very
> different circumstances. The reason I left Tunitas Creek was during that
> week of art and meditation and no communication with the outer world, I
> found myself in a kind of trance seeing the immediate future. It was not
> good. At the end of that week in 1963 I decided to drive to SF. On the way
> of course I stopped at the Abalone factory. There I found McCracken laying
> almost unrecognizable as Jesus must have looked after his beating at the
> hands of his persecutors, a swollen pulp. All ofÂ myÂ closest friends were
> there at the Abalone factory, Arthur Monroe the great abstract painter,
> Roberto Ayala and several others including Carol, Michael McCracken wife,
> treating his wounds with ointments and waiting for our great patron Reidar
> Wennesland to arrive from SF to treat Michael and see if he needed
> hospitalization. One of the common questions that is asked in the 20th and
> even now in the 21st century is Where were you when president Kennedy was
> assassinated? Moreover, most people know. However, I did not know the moment
> of Kennedy’s assassination although I knew were I was, the house at Tunitas
> Creek. In addition, Michael McCracken was lying in front of us unconscious
> most of the time from his beating. Since I had just walked into the Abalone
> factory, naturally I wanted to know why he was being beaten. The answer came
> quick and brutally. He had taken a great deal of LSD, which was legal in
> those days, and had walked over to the little fish stand not far from the
> Abalone factory to buy some fried fish for everyone at the Abalone factory
> had no radio of electricity. Of course he should not have gone out in that
> state of mind but he did. When he reached the fish stand the radio was
> blaring and he asked why people were so excited. They told him the president
> had just been killed in Texas. In his LSD influenced state of mind perhaps
> he thought of reincarnation or perhaps he was thinking of the robot like
> appearance of humans that sometimes occurs when one is in that state of
> mind. In any case he began to laugh uncontrollably and rolling on the floor
> uproariously as if the assassination of the president was the funniest thing
> he had heard in his life. Within seconds he was attacked by everyone in the
> fish house. They beat him until they were exhausted. When they were finished
> they tossed him into the water of the bay to drown. Instead being a big guy,
> he crawled through the surf and rocks and glass and sand until he got to the
> beach in front of the Abalone Factory and there he crawled up onto the land
> of the Abalone factory where he was found and brought into the house. This
> is why I found him there and this is why I immediately left for Carmel and
> from there to Mexico.
> Dear June, this is the answer to your first question. I will send the answer
> to the next question and the picture that goes with this question a little
New email from Michael Bowen:
June: How did you get to Tunitas Creek?
I TOLD YOU ABOUT THAT. MAYBE THERE IS MORE BUT I NEED TO THINK ABOUT IT
June: Where did you come from? SF?
June: Where’d you live on Tunitas Creek? Cabin?
NO, REMEMBER IN THE NOT GREAT WRITING FROM THE FIRST QUESTION IT WAS THE
DANISH GOVTS MODEL HOME OF THE FUTURE. IT HAD BEEN BOUGHT FROM THE WORLDS
RE ASSEMBLED ON THE LAND IN TUNITAS CREEK. VERY NEAR THE ROAD, IN FRONT OF A
STREAM BUT WITH NO ELECTRICITY. IT WAS DESIGNED FOR ELECTRICITY BUT ALO
DESIGNED TO BE USED WITHOUT. IN A SENSE THE PERFECT HOUSE DESIGN SHOULD WE ,
AS I BELIEVE MAY HAPPEN, O D ON ELECTRICITY BIG TIME RATHER THAN THE SMALL
BUT HUGE CRASHES THAT WE HAVE EXPERIENCED. I HAVE A FILM OF DAVID CARRADINE
AND I IN EXACTLY THAT SITUATION ON THE MOUNTAIN LEADING FROM SANTA CRUZ TO
OS GATOS. IN THE MIDDLE OF A LARGE PRIVATE SHOWING TO EXECUTIVES ANDOTHER
FRIENDS OF A COLLECTOR OF MINE IN A PRIVATE SHOWING AT THE COLLECTORS 1920S
SPANISH COLONIAL VILLA, ALL THE LIGHTS WENT OUT ON THE MOUNTAIN FOR THE
ENTIRE LIGHT JUST AS I BEGANÂ MYÂ SHOWING. DAVID HAD COME UP WITHOUT ANY
ANNOUNCEMENT FROM L.A AND A FILM CREW WAS THERE, FRIENDS OF MINE WHO GOT THE
SHOWING, US, OLD STYLE BEATS CRACKING UP IN THE LIGHT OF THE GENERATOR THAT
WAS BROUGHT INTO USE. DAVID USED TO DROP BY THE ABALONE FACTORY FROM TIME TO
TIME. WE LIVED TOGETHER INÂ MYÂ FIRST STUDIO IN SAN FRANCISCO, ALONG WITH BABY
MICHAEL, NOW AN ACTOR AND VICTOR WONG WHO BECAME A BIG ACTOR IN HIS< LAST
YEARS. HE ALSO HAD COME BY THE ABALONE FACTORY
June: By yourself? With someone?
MB: Which years are we talking about?
June: You were painting then? Painting pictures? Doing anyÂ otherÂ kind of artwork?
MB: PAINTING AND ASSEMBLAGE. JUST LOOK FOR MICHAEL BOWEN ON GOOGLE ADVANCED WITH
THE NAME KIENHOLZ, IN THE MUST HAVE WORD LINE- YOU WILL GET A LOT.
June: What about the love life? Were you living with the actress?
June: What was your philosophy? About life
MB: SOLVING THE RIDDLE THROUGH YOGA.
June: and love?
MB: FOR ME THE CHILDREN WERE MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE WOMAN Women?
June: Favorite books? Movies?
MB: MOTHRA. AFTER THINKING ABOUT THAT FOR YEARS AND WATCHING IT A HUNDRED TIMES
I DIDN’T GET INTO ANY FILMS EXCEPTÂ MYÂ OWN UNTIL CHEECH AND CHONG APPEARED.
June: How’d you dress?
MB: MR COOL BEAT
June: How important was money to you?
MB: NOT VERY, IT STILL IS NOT. AS MONEY GOES, I HAVE NEVER HAD A JOB, NEVER SOLD DOPE, ALWAYS
MADE IT BYÂ MYÂ PAINTING AND NEVER ACCEPTED A DIME FROM THE GOVT.
June: Did you drive a car?
MB: YES, UNTIL I FINALLY GOT BORED WITH DRIVING IN THE EARLY 90S. I LOVED
CADILLAC CONVERTIBLES, MERCEDES, AND IN DOWN CAR TIMES I JUST PAINTED
WHATEVER CAME UP. ENCLOSED ONE PHOTOMORE LATER WHEN YOU
GET BACK MICHAEL
…to be continued…
The people I (June) could have interviewed began to snowball…of course now I wish
> > I
> > > had talked with Sally Lacey, Marilyn Monroe’s understudy, who lived in the City, but I
> > > didn’t. And, there are some things I can’t remember…I am sure I
> > interviewed
> > > someone in the Marina, whose house number was also the name of a book.
> > >
> > >
> > >
> > > Hi june- that was me, andÂ myÂ house owned byÂ myÂ friend alex geluardi. A
> > very
> > > rich woman who hated being rich. Eventually she gave
> > >
> > > All her money away and became very poor like her poet friends. She was
> > last
> > > seen on the big island of Hawaii. The house was 185 maina blvd. and the
> > name
> > > of the book. The book can be bought thru rare book companys like abes
> > books.
> > > it contains an incredible history of all the writers and artists who had
> > the
> > > house over 30 years
> > >
> > > Best
> > >
> > > Michael bowen
> > >
Right in the Center of a Bolinas Brouhaha
By Judith Anderson
Thurs., Feb. 19, 1981, San Francisco Chronicle
Either some residents of that touchy, insular little Marin County town, Bolinas, are in a chauvinistic snit again, or someone has come up with a dandy way to stir up publicity for an art exhibit.
Artist Michael Bowen is the object of the real or imagined anger. His latest show, “The Bolinas Works,” which opened Saturday (by appointment only) at the Amber Galleries in San Rafael, portrays some residents of Bolinas in less than favorble light. And there is always the fear that any mention of Bolinas…the town that has made a name for itself by its stringent no-growth policies and its tradition of routinely removing highway signs so tourists can’t find the place…will only attract more people.
And so before the show was mounted, Bowen and Pat Meier, a representative of the gallery, said that he as well as the gallery had received several threatening phone calls, all anonymous, demanding that the show not open. After the second call he received at home, Bowen said he disconnected his phone.
Meier said that she had earlier contacted Paul Kayfetz, a Bolinas attorney and director of the town’s public utility district who has come to be thought of as the unofficial spokesman for the town, about presenting Bowen with an award for hisÂ work. She said that at the time she was unaware of “any animosity in the town.”
She quoted Kayfetz as saying that “the people in Bolinas are upset because they don’t want it to become any more of a tourist mecca than it already is.” The threatening phone calls, some of them “rather rude,” came afterward, she said.
Contacted by phone last week, Kayfetz said he thought the so-called threats were “a clever publicity stunt” and “a heavy-handed piece of self-promotion.”
Kayfetz confirmed that someone from the gallery had asked him if the town would present Bowen with “a plaque or an award.”
“I thought she was kidding,” he said. “I told her that (the people of Bolinas) did not generally have a positive reaction to things that generate publicity for that community.
Kayfetz said that he was not aware of any threats that “people (in Bolinas) are not even talking about the show,” and that the local paper, which is usually full of “diatribe and invective,” had not mentioned it.
But Bowen, a bearded world-wanderer who lived in Bolinas for a year but has since moved into a rundown Victorian in San Francisco insists there is a tempest over his show and professes amazement at it. “I travel around the world, live in a place for a year or two and paint where I am. And never inÂ myÂ life have I had an experience like this, where you have a public official (Kayfetz) denouncing the fact that you’re having a show about their town just because there will be tourists or some ridiculous thing, and then stirring up the street people out there, which is a real problem.”
As Bowen talked, his great dane sprawled on an Oriental rug at his sandaled feet. His public relations agent, his gallery contact and the woman he introduced as his wife, Serena, sat around him. The high-ceilinged rooms were heady with incense, and some of Bowen’s paintings…visionary art, as they are called…decorated the walls.
One of them was the painting that supposedly set off the brouhaha. Called “The Horrible Cafe,” it shows a fantasy figure of a woman in a see-trough skirt, and a man with a resigned look on his face at a surrealistic cafe table, sipping through two straws from the same cup.
The painting was inspired by a particularly unpleasant morning at a “filthy, freezing” cafe in Bolinas, said Bowen. As he went in for coffee, he noticed a group of people, some exhibiting bizarre behavior, getting out of their beds in the crash pad at the rear of the cafe. Eventually the waitress in the transparent skirt served him his coffee…cold…and when he asked for cream she shuffled slowly off to the kitchen as if in a daze, repeating “cream, cream, cream” to herself “she wouldn’t forget.”
“It was hard to find a place that horrible,” Bowen recalled. “I enjoyed every second of painting it.”
Another painting, “Parade,” stored that day at Bowen’s studio across town, shows a group of people with “giant cocaine nozzles coming out of their heads,” he said.
Those scenes, as well as some that show the beautiful side of Bolinas, expose “the psyche” of the town that Bowen speculated might be causing some consternation. As an observer of the scene who avoided any involvement in what he called Bolinas’ “internecine politics,” Bowen found that psyche fascinating.
“Every town has its negatives and its positives,” he said. “It’s the tremendous strength of the opposites in this place.” On the one hand are the “Christlike” figures, the “extremely wealthy, the intelligent, the theoretically advanced” and on theÂ other, the chaos of drugs, burnouts and the street people, he said.
Bowen said he has no interest in trashing Bolinas through his art. It is “probably one of the most beautiful places in America and certainly in Northern California,” and his year there was “fabulous,” he said. “I swam every day in the lake.”
But the underlying feeling of hatred and exclusiveness that “permeated the psyche of the town” bothered him. “If there’s anything negative, it’s that,” he said, “that strange kind of washed-up group of minds that have grown there.”
While this may be the first time Bowen’s art has caused such a stir, it is not the first time he has been in circumstances that thrust him into the public eye.
Born in Los Angeles in 1937, Bowen attended military school until he was 17. He studied art at the Chouinard Institute in Los Angeles, and privated with Edward Kienholtz, John Altoon and Wallace Berman.
In 1957, at the age of 19, Bowen married Sonia Sorel, a 35-year-old actress who had just divorced actor John Carradine. A month later the newlyweds were arrested in Reno for contributing to the delinquency of her three young children; at the time Bowen, who described himself as a publicist, admitted the couple had lived together with the children before they were married.
In the mid ’60s, Bowen was once again in the news when he was arrested along with Timothy Leary and others at Millbrook, N.Y., for experimenting with LSD (“it was legal then”). The fact that G. Gordon Liddy, then assistant district attorney in Poughkeepsie, was a key figure in the raid and went on to be tried and imprisoned for his part in planning the Watergate break-in, makes the story better today. Bowen, who got off his drug charges scot-free, does not miss the pleasure of that irony.
Later, in the Haight-Asbury, Bowen helped plan the Love Pageant Rally and the Human Be-In, events of “social magic” designed to raise people’s consciousness about the Love Generation. That episode of his life, his friendships with Alan Watts and Jean Varda and a “spat” with his friend Ken Kesey, are recorded in books…noably Gene Anthony’s “The Summer of Love” and Tom Wolfe’s “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.”
Last September, Bowen’s name appeared in connection with his lover, Serena Blaquelord, who made an unsuccessful attempt to take her daughter from her estranged husband in a remote part of Northern California by helicopter.
Along with all of this, Bowen has been living in Mexico and Hawaii and India and Bolinas, developing a reputation as an avant-garde artist known for his mystical, visionary images.
“Being an artist, I’m involved in key social movements,” he said. But “through all of this stuff, all I did was paint.” The events that were, or became, public have not been “stunts” to sell his paintings, he said.
He puzzles over the implications of this latest incident. “I don’t thinkÂ myÂ paintings offend people,” he said. “It must be that any depiction of Bolinas is offensive to them.”
He went on: “I have never experienced anything so small-town, Babbit-brained. i think Middle America is more advanced than that, I really do. I think everyone should see Bolinas.”
He threw his rumpled head back and laughed at the image of tourists flooding the town, an event that would most certainly rankled the residents.
Funny you found the Bolinas thing. There is a mountain of press and local TV I have from that one. Bolinas is a very sick place. I think now what I never thought possible 30 years ago. That an entire society can become psychotic. Of course, we have the example of the Nazis, Cambodia; history I guess is replete with it. but how does it start? In tiny towns like Bolinas and then spread like a resistant virus? The better also can spread. After doing the be in expressly for that purpose I know humans are inherently good and must be taught to be cruel.
Lets hope we are not seeing a repeat of the Nazis anywhere n the world again and also that we wont ever see that again or anything like it
Photo: “Alice Kent, Bowen, John Starr Cooke and Pablo from Tepoztlan both had just arrived from Tepoztlan Mexico,. Lama Thartang Tulku, and a fewÂ otherÂ people fromÂ myÂ house. We are at the Kent family mansion in Kentfield California year is 1966 or 67. We are looking at an 18th century painting of the bodhi Satva Maitreya. Which was in the Bowen collection.”Copyright R.W. Bruch,Â http://220.127.116.11/Beatscene/index.html