Wavy Gravy, who was a figure of the peace, love and mud blowout that was Woodstock, who hung out with Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters, was a homey of the Grateful Dead and continues to be head of the famed Hog Farm commune where he lives with his wife and a gang of other aged hippies, is eating beef sliders at Wynwood Kitchen & Bar and reminiscing with his old pal, Miami publicist Susan Brustman.
“We always talk about how we’re among the very few of our friends from that time who actually survived,” says Wavy, 76.
They met in 1964, when Brustman, 19 and heartbroken after having to give a baby up for adoption, moved to the west coast to help start the underground newspaper Los Angeles Free Press. She lucked into a big house in North Hollywood that she shared with a friend. They had a couple of extra bedrooms and rented one to a collage artist named Hugh Romney, later christened Wavy Gravy by B.B. King. The other room went to singer-songwriter Tim Hardin, who composed hits such as If I Were a Carpenter.
One day, a few Pranksters went to visit the Free Press and Brustman invited them back to her house, which was something of a party central.
“After that they came and took her away to their farm. And later they took me away to their farm,”’ says Wavy, who shows up for lunch in a tie-dyed T-shirt and matching drawstring pants.
One minute he’s wearing a big red clown nose, the next he’s shooting his soap bubble gun or grinning through fake rainbow teeth. Dubbed the court jester of the counterculture, Wavy long ago discovered that dressing as a clown was a better weapon than his arsenal of one-liners. He was a natural comic from the start, and at one point was managed by his buddy Lenny Bruce as he performed as a monologist, opening for the likes of Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane and Peter, Paul & Mary. But before that, he was director of poetry at the Gaslight Café in Greenwich Village. He shared a room above the joint with a fledgling musician named Bob Dylan, who wrote A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall on Wavy’s manual typewriter.
Living in a cabin
By 1965, he was devoting more time to peace activism and living in a tiny cabin outside Los Angeles with his wife and friends. About 40 of the cabin crashers, including Pranksters and members of the Dead, posed for Life magazine. Wavy’s landlord saw the photo and evicted the mob on the spot. But a couple of hours later they heard through a friend about free land nearby that they could live on in exchange for tending to hogs.
“The Grateful Dead became our house band,” Wavy says. “We later ran one of the pigs for president. She was the first female black and white candidate. We broke a lot of ground with that pig.’’
The Hog Farm commune is now on the 700-acre Black Oak Ranch in northern California, owned collectively along with a sprawling urban outpost in Berkeley that Wavy calls Hippie Hyannis Port.
But not all was peace and love back in the day. Brustman says she was intrigued by Kesey and the Pranksters and told them she wanted to hang around to write a book about their movement. But while she was sitting at their place one day with a notepad in hand, somebody slipped LSD into her beer.
“I started to hallucinate. Until then the only thing I had tried was pot. I thought I was going crazy. It was a really bad trip and I couldn’t come down from it.”