G. Allen Johnson
December 2, 2010
Wavy Gravy, hippie extraordinaire, emcee of Woodstock, ruler of the
Hog Farm, namesake of a Ben & Jerry's ice cream flavor, is walking
gingerly up the stairs in his comfortable compound - his "Hyannisport
West" - in Berkeley. He's had five back surgeries and is scheduling a
sixth, but a more positive person you'll probably never meet.
He pauses on the stairs to look at a large portrait of himself in his
trademark clown outfit. "David Crosby purchased this at an anti-war
rally in Santa Fe," Wavy said. "He called me up one time and said, 'I
can't stand you looking at me all the time,' and he mailed it to me."
He introduces Jahanara, his wife of 45 years, then shows a reporter
into his "office" - more like a crash pad, complete with a Jimi
Hendrix CD playing in the background.
The occasion is a new documentary on Wavy, "Saint Misbehavin': The
Wavy Gravy Movie," directed by Michelle Esrick. The film looks at
Wavy's life, from his early years as a Greenwich Village poet, comic
and performance artist - still known by his real name, Hugh Romney -
through Woodstock and his years as one of America's most visible
hippies, as well as his extensive charity work.
The film has interviews with Gravy pals Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne
and Ram Dass. But the best part is the wealth of archival footage,
including Woodstock, anti-war rallies and his bus tour across the
Middle East and India in the 1970s.
Much of it he had never seen before. "My jaw hit the floor.
Absolutely. Bam!" Wavy said. "It rocked my world."
Wavy has raised millions of dollars over the years for various
charitable endeavors, especially his Camp Winnarainbow (
www.campwinnarainbow.org) circus and performing arts camp in
Mendocino County, which includes openings for disadvantaged children,
and his Seva Foundation ( www.seva.org), which combats disease and
poverty, with a focus on restoring sight through cataract surgeries.
So Wavy has walked the walk. But has the hippie movement achieved its
goals? Didn't a lot of his compatriots get a haircut, put on a suit
and get a real job?
"OK," Wavy laughs. "On the down low, there are more communes in
America now than there ever was in the '60s. I think a lot of what
the hippies were putting out there has been absorbed into the
mainstream - the ecology movement, organic foods, many levels of the
Wavy is feverishly planning his 75th birthday party in May, which
might be a bicoastal affair - with all proceeds going to charity, of
course. There seems to be no slowing him down, back problems notwithstanding.
"That's how I've led my life," he says. "One thing leads to another.
If it lights up, I'm doing it."
Starts Fri. Red Vic Movie House, 1727 Haight St., S.F. (415)
668-3994. www.redvicmoviehouse.com; and the Shattuck Cinemas, 2230
Shattuck Ave., Berkeley. (510) 464-5980. www.landmarktheatres.com.
Also shows 7 p.m. Sun. (Part of the International Buddhist Film
Festival.) Smith Rafael Film Center, 1118 Fourth St., San Rafael,
(415) 454-1222, www.cafilm.org.
- G. Allen Johnson, email@example.com