Erie Times-News, April 8,
the turbulent, drug-hazed counterculture days of the
late 1960s and early 1970s confuse yet fascinate
you, Peter Coyote understands. He experienced them
as a founder of the Diggers, a radical, idealistic
street group in San Francisco during the height of
the hippie movement and thereafter.
Coyote later became a successful, recognizable
actor, appearing in "E.T.," "Erin Brockovich" and
dozens of films, plus TV shows such as "The 4400"
and, currently, "Brothers and Sisters." Yet that
earlier era gnawed at him, left him unsettled.
That's why he wrote "Sleeping Where I Fall," a
memoir first published in 1998, which dives into his
past in an unblemished, ruthlessly honest way.
"They were really chaotic, kind of maelstrom years,"
said Coyote, who'll read from his book and answer
questions at Mercyhurst College's Literary Festival
"My life has changed a lot, but I didn't feel like I
had sold out any of my values. I wasn't looking at
my life like I was a wild-and-crazy kid and now I've
grown up. But I had changed, gotten older, had
children, and taken on responsibilities pursuant to
that. So I wanted to make sense of that whole
episode - it was 12 years
- and to integrate it into my current life."
The Diggers, named for a 17th-century English group
that opposed private property, created a new type of
community where people lived together and supported
each other. They started free medical clinics, gave
away food and even sponsored free rock concerts in
Golden Gate Park by the Grateful Dead and others.
"Our conscious task was to create a counterculture,
to try to create an alternate place that stood as an
example of all the failings of the majority
culture," Coyote said. "What was really radical was
we cut through the whole idea of money and private
property. We urged people to do things out of
authentic motivation, to forget about money."
Ultimately, though, he found that the communal
lifestyle didn't work.
"As children got older, they demanded things that a
totally free and anarchistic lifestyle couldn't
provide," Coyote said. "If you're getting up at 5
a.m. to nurse kids, you can't really have wino Eddie
playing tom-tom and smoking a joint downstairs.
"We brought a lot of our problems and hang-ups into
that new world. Though we were trying radical new
forms, like open marriage or sharing everything as
communal property, we didn't have very good or
well-developed vocabularies of interpersonal
"We were trying to be our own heroes. A hero is not
supposed to be jealous, or supposed to care the sink
is filthy with grease, so no one feels like washing
it. Those internal tensions and jealousies made
communal living fall apart."
In the book, Coyote is forthright about using
heroin, how it affected his health and how many
friends he lost to drugs. Yet, though he
acknowledges the failings of the 1960s, he believes
they created lasting, important changes, citing
organic-food groceries, alternative spiritual
practices, progressive political groups and a strong
"We didn't end racism, we didn't end imperialism, we
didn't turn democratic capitalism into a kinder,
generous, more inclusive system. But the cultural
contributions changed the country in very good and
still present ways," he said. "I think some things
are so integrated into the culture, people don't
really notice them."
Today, he's a name actor, yet he says basically the
same person, just wiser, more seasoned.
"I don't feel like my values have changed at all.
I've never taken a film that really offended my
ethical standards or political standards. I've
mutilated my aesthetic standards, but I'm just a
migrant laborer," Coyote said with a laugh, noting
he's never made even close to $1 million for a film.
"To me, it's not what the movie's about that's so
important, it's the way I make the movie. I never
lose my temper, I'm patient, I treat everyone the
same way, from the star to lowest guy on the set.
"I try to be kind to everyone. I've been a Buddhist
for 32 years."
Writing "Sleeping Where I Fall" served its purpose.
"I found the book and the interviews I did pursuant
to writing the book were really helpful, and I was
somehow able to kind of put [that time] to rest in a
good way," Coyote said.
"It still oscillates through my life. But I'm not
tempted to run off, take a lot of
dope and behave self-destructively anymore."
Coyote Web Site ]