When John Griggs, the prophet, died at 26, he left a roiling and chaotic world behind. It took me twenty-five years and more to see his life and times at least somewhat objectively. It was my conceit for years that John's shade was sitting on my shoulder, urging me, in his persuasive Okie Huckster Salesman twang to "tell the truth about it.”
I think that he’d always known that I would be the one most likely to 'get it right', partly on account of my preamble experiences before I met him in 1967, and partly because he had decisive conviction, even when he was dead wrong, about who was who and what was what.
He saw me as a carrier of the story, and in this, at least, he was right. I only knew the last part of his story personally; the part where John was a testifying prophet. His earlier life as a teen-age mischief-maker was legendary, but below the horizon of my experience.
When I finally gave in to John's ghost and its persistent badgering in my inner ear, real or imagined, it took me several decades and five rewrites to get it into its present form. Once I started writing, John's wheedling spirit, real or imagined, stopped its clamoring. I could feel that he was still there, nodding in ectoplasmic approval as I trudged on.
As I approached John's story, I discovered two facts. First, that I had to go back far enough to make some kind of sense out of who he was and why he was doing what he did, and secondly, that I'd have to become a player in the saga to assert continuity, whether I wanted to or not, and I really didn't.
At first, I went all the way back to 1937, when Aldous Huxley, the grey eminence of the story, arrived in Hollywood, and more-or-less founded the Consciousness Expansion Movement along with J. Krishnamurti, Edwin Hubble, Gerald Heard and a suite of swamis and intellectuals. All the lengthy narrative of precursor events from 1937 to 1959 has been lopped off. I am now content to let the story begin with the last gasp of the Beat Generation in San Francisco, and end with the collapse of Flower Power around 1970.
When I was down in the quarry doing the first draft of this writing, I decided to be blunt about sexual matters, to put aside inhibitions that might contaminate other aspects of telling the truth. Now, I am inclined to soft-pedal such salaciousness as could be seen as sensationalistic, or pandering to prurient interests. I'm ambivalent about the subject.
Now that it has become almost de rigueur to write the word "fuck" into one's manuscript, I find that I'm leaning toward rebelling against the rebellion. I've lived through the whole arc of usage from when nobody could write those certain words, to where everyone is expected to use them.
Hemingway could not use them at all, Norman Mailer spelled it "fug” and James Jones finally just used the word freely where appropriate, in dialogue, in his case. These were the commercially narrative big guns, all of whom depended on the banned books of Henry Miller, and the courageous publishing of Henry Miller’s books by Grove Press, for their liberation from censorship and proscription.
But, here I am, free at last, having to use my own judgment about what is apropos. So, I'll just make individual judgment calls as I go along, but I doubt if I'll add any new cussing.
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“Henry Miller” drawing/collage by Dion Wright ca. 1961