adio Interview - Sleeping Where I Fall

NPRs Fresh Air with Terry Gross on April 28, 1998

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Peter Coyote has appeared in over 50 films. But his new book isn' t about Hollywood. It's a memoir of his life in the '60s and early '70s, when he lived in communities that tried to create alternative lifestyles and institutions. Coyote was a member of the San Francisco Mime Troupe, a radical street theater group; and "The Diggers," a collective of artists and anarchists which was active in San Francisco' s Haight-Ashbury district.

It was only after this period of his life that Peter Coyote pursued an acting career. He's appeared in "E.T.," "Jagged Edge," "Outrageous Fortune," Roman Polanski's "Bitter Moon," Pedro Almadovar's (ph) " Kika" and "Sphere." He's also been a regular on the sitcom "Cybill." Peter Coyote continues to live in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Let's start with a reading from his new memoir about the '60s, which is called "Sleeping Where I Fall."


This book attempts to describe what the pursuit of absolute freedom felt like; what it taught me and what it cost. It is neither an apologia for nor a romance of the '60s. Coming to understand the necessity and value of limits should not be construed as either a defense of the status quo or as the contrite repentance of someone who's flapped his wings a few times and decided that flight is impossible.

Every culture has its priests and devils; its intoxications and follies. And the counterculture we created was neither more nor less ethical, diverse, or contradictory than the majority culture. You can't grow tomatoes without manure, they say. And while we may have had much of the latter, we also had plentiful tomatoes.

One side of the story should not be sacrificed to the other. We may not approve of the fact that Sigmund Freud was shooting cocaine and writing randy letters during his investigations of the psyche; or that the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. may have enjoyed sex outside of marriage. But these very combinations and conjunctions of aspiration and frailty reveal the complex humanity of such famous people and allow us to believe that we, too -- flaws and all -- can mature and contribute something of worth.

GROSS: That's Peter Coyote, reading from his new memoir Sleeping Where I Fall.

As you say in that, you wrote this to describe what it's like to pursue absolute freedom. What did "absolute freedom" mean to you then?

COYOTE: Well, at the time it meant the breaking down of every premise and preconception of right and wrong; everything that might have been handed down from the culture; the grandest reinventing of the wheel that we could imagine. This took place in a revolutionary context, where people wanted to reinvent America.

Following the moral example of black people who created and took a stand with the civil rights struggle, a number of us thought that the roots of the problem were in the culture itself, as much as individual belief systems of people. And we felt that a culture based on profit and private property inevitably created racism, inevitably created unequal distribution of goods. And so, we set out to invent a new culture.

And the problem of doing that from within is you never know whether your ideas are generated spontaneously from your imagination, or whether they're deeply preconditioned. So, we took a lot of drugs to try to break down that conditioning and get to something like root perceptions.

GROSS: The first group setting in which you pursued this kind of freedom and new structure was with the San Francisco Mime Troupe.

Describe what the Mime Troupe was like when you joined it.

COYOTE: Well, the Mime Troupe was like a raggle-taggle, gypsy street theater company. I'd never seen anything quite like it. I came to California in a three-piece suit and huge clunky shoes that Prince Charles might have worn in the '50s. And I had some grandiose idea of the theater. And I was working for the Actors Workshop, which was the precursor of ACT in San Francisco.

And I saw this theater one day, which the Mime Troupe was performing in, which the Actors Workshop had rented to them. And they had dressed the lobby up with wonderful blowups of their reviews and photographs of dazzling women, and people having a great deal of fun dressed in masks and colorful Renaissance costumes. And most of my critical life decisions in those days were made on the basis of following some woman or another.

And these were dazzling women. And so, I went to investigate and I was bowled over by this troupe. They were ribald and uproarious and improvisatory. And they were dedicated to progressive political ideas and making theater out of it. And the quality was so great, and the sense of fun so great that I quit the Actors Workshop and went over there and joined up with them.

GROSS: There's one time - this is a story you tell in the book about a time when the Mime Troupe was at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and giving a performance there in this like 1,500-seat university theater. And the students had asked the group to announce a demonstration that was organized for the next day to protest the presence of recruiters on campus from Dow Chemical, and Dow was the maker of napalm and Agent Orange, which was being used in Vietnam.

So after the show, the leader of the Mime Troupe gave a little speech which you reprint in the book. Would you read that for us?

It's on page 29.

COYOTE: Oh, yeah, I would. This is - this is exactly why the Mime Troupe was arrested all the time and thrown out of various places because we absolutely were the models of outside agitators. So Ronnie Davis got up on stage and at the final curtain he said: "We're from another area, but would like to help you all here.

We were told there'll be a demonstration against the Dow recruiters tomorrow at 12 noon, and we thought that you and we might all be there. We've learned through our experience that after all, this country is our country, and if we don't like it, then we should try to change it. And if we can't change it, then we should destroy it. See you at the demonstration."

GROSS: Yeah, they must have loved that at the administration.

COYOTE: Yeah, that was - I mean...

(Laughter) I don't agree with that, but those were the sentiments of the times; and that
demonstration did turn into a huge riot. And there's a wonderful story about how such events radicalized people. The police had arrested some students, and a very collegiate guy was walking out of a dorm or a classroom with his girlfriend - looked like an athlete, short hair, clean cut kind of guy we wouldn't have hung out with.

And he looked at the scene and he looked at the police and he looked at the kid in the police car, took his coat off, gave it to his girlfriend, picked up a big rock, and walked over and smashed it through the window of the police car. Put on his coat, picked up his books, walked away. The guy knew what side he was on.

GROSS: Now you missed this whole day because you were in bed with a woman you had just met, which I thought was pretty telling also.

COYOTE: Oh, you had to bring that up. Thank you, yes. Well, it shows just how deeply rooted my political convictions were.

(Laughter) I didn't know there was going to be a riot. I was having a two-person riot of my own. And who knew?

GROSS: Some people broke away from the San Francisco Mime Troupe and started a different group that became known as The Diggers.

Describe who The Diggers were.

COYOTE: Right. Can I give you like a little precursor? The Mime Troupe was dedicated to radical change, and so we went to New York and one of the things that happened was we performed a play that I co-authored and directed and performed in called "Olive Pits." And we won an Obie, which is the Oscar from the Village Voice - the New York Off-Broadway Oscars. And I was horrified. I'd written this play critiquing the middle class and they'd given me a medal.

So it became very obvious that theater was not a vehicle for - to promote radical, cultural change. So...

GROSS: Like the Village Voice was the big establishment or something...

COYOTE: Yes ...

GROSS: ... the alternative newspaper.

COYOTE: Exactly. Well, you can see what edge-dwellers we were.

GROSS: Yeah, I'll say.

COYOTE: I mean, you know - but anyway, The Diggers originally were a 16th century or 17th century group who fought the king when he reclaimed the common grazing land to graze his sheep, to have wool for his woolen mills. And Garrard Winn-Stanley was a pamphleteer who argued stringently in those days against private property. And the king sent Cromwell against them. And they were called "The Diggers" because every morning, they were burying their dead.

But we took them as kind of role models and The Diggers felt that we had to imagine a new culture; that people were not going to go thronging the barricades to be part of the urban proletariat; that that was unimaginable and unimaginative - didn't seem like any fun.

And that too much leftist ideology and rhetoric was an excuse for doing nothing.

So, we commanded one another to imagine the world that you wanted to live in and make it real by doing it. And if you had an idea and the idea was compelling, people would help you. And if enough people became invested in doing this and if enough people became invested in the alternatives we created, they would defend them. And that was very different than doing things for ideological reasons.

So, we had free food and we had free medical clinics and we had free crash pads - not because we were the Salvation Army of the Haight- Ashbury, but because we wanted to live in a world where such things were free. And so, we just did them.

GROSS: What were your living arrangements like? Did you live together collectively?

COYOTE: Yeah, living arrangements were pretty haphazard.

Because we had no money, communes were a pretty natural alternative.

You put a lot of people together in one household and very often there might be 20 or 30 people in a household. And the rent would be paid by one woman that - maybe there's one mother in there and her rent would pay - her welfare check would pay the rent. And the rest of us would dedicate our time to supporting one another and supporting the larger community.

Because at that time, before the gas crunch in 1973, there was a paradigm shift. Before 1973, the feeling was: there's more than enough to go around and that you could build a creative and even elegant life off the garbage; that the machinery existed to build a television set for every man, woman, and child on the planet. And if you didn' t have a television set, it's not because there weren't enough televisions. It's because money was a valve between you and the television that someone else could turn on or off.

So our argument was: love in the dump. Live off the garbage. So by not working, we had lots and lots of time to take things, take urban flotsam and jetsam; create our own free stores; fix stuff, repaint it - make it beautiful.

After 1973, and certainly during the Reagan years, they very skillfully changed the paradigm to: there's not enough to go around.

And everyone felt that if they didn't get out there and scramble and get theirs, they'd be under the '80s instead of on top of them.

And that's what kind of unleashed that "me" generation decade of, you know, materialist excess. But, we just did it.

GROSS: It all sounds so corny. I can't - you know, I cannot figure out a way of saying all of this without falling into some, like, mass- media cliche about the '60s. It's very troublesome. Help me with the language. Give me some words that you can use to describe - describe the '60s that doesn't sound like a bad evening news report on flower children. Do you know what I mean? I just...

COYOTE: Right.

GROSS: Yeah.

COYOTE: Well, you know, you've touched on something because one of the reasons I wrote this book was because the '60s has been so deliberately misrepresented as Nehru pants and corny peace symbols and bad...

GROSS: It's Nehru jackets, Peter.

COYOTE: Nehru jackets - sorry - bell-bottom pants and Nehru jackets and corny peace symbols. You know, the men and women that I was with were stylish, bold, fearless people. And the - I think the appropriate terms are: exploratory, ethical, penetrating, thinking - the kind of stuff you don't normally associate with people who are not working every day. But the level of discourse that took place on most communes was the equivalent of a master's or doctoral lecture at any university in the United States, only, usually, more appropriate.

People were constantly trying to understand more about their roles as human beings - men, women, what is ethical, what is unethical, what can I do to make my living that causes minimal harm, what can I do that I feel good about.

This was going on 24 hours a day, and this side of the struggle has not been reported and has not been touched. Or if it has, it's been made fun of as a, you know, firebrand ideologues. But it was not that. It was hundreds of thousands of deep, intimate, thoughtful conversations going on all over the country, all the time while people plowed, gardened, changed diapers, fixed trucks, scored old parts, made music.

This was what the '60s really was to me - was a deep investigation of where we'd come from and where we wanted our country to go.

GROSS: This was an era that in some ideological circles became known as the time to smash monogamy, meaning you know, that jealousy was a bourgeois concept. Monogamy was a middle class concept. And you know, if you're living free and living with kind of joyous anarchy, that you should be with whom you choose, when you choose - whether or not you were also involved with a long-term relationship.

And that's kind of how you lived, I guess.

COYOTE: Oh, absolutely.

GROSS: Absolutely, right?

(Laughter) COYOTE: I - I believed that fervently until my girlfriend went off with someone.

GROSS: Right. Well, that's what I was wondering. Like, how did you deal with jealousy? You know, did you try to like ideologically deny that it existed?

COYOTE: Well, I dealt with it hypocritically. I don't know how other people dealt with it. Yeah, you know, that was a real problem because - and later on in the book, I point out that we had very undeveloped vocabularies for dealing with interpersonal stuff. We were supposed to be heroes. Heroes were not supposed to be jealous or envious or concerned with washing up in a dirty sink in the morning.

So, it was another great period of experimentation. I mean, and sometimes reached ludicrous dimensions. I can remember at Black Bear commune which was way, way in the north of California at the end of a nine- mile-long dirt road in a canyon, up in the Trinity-Siskiyou Wilderness.

At one point, a radical feminist faction took over for part of a winter and declared that couples were a bourgeois institution, and so that no one could sleep with anyone more than three nights in a row.

(Laughter) And of course, I happened to be there at that point, and being like, just, you know, craven as I am, as I was working my way through the women that I was attracted to, I was keeping kind of a wary eye on a room full of patiently waiting women I was not so attracted to, who were kind of standing in line. And sometime, when I had finished my own personal list, I found some reason to go to the city on a run - on some public service mission for the rest of the community.

But you know, I never saw those free love experiments really work. Yeah, there was a lot of elasticity and a lot of permissiveness and people tried their best, but people got jealous. And I used to call it "death over the orange juice," you know, where somebody comes home the next morning and the - the couple is sitting together after one of them has been with some other lover, and the conversation is something like: "hi." "Hi." "Have a nice time?" "Yeah, yeah." "Would you pass the orange juice, you SOB?"

(Laughter) And those things just happen. I mean, there was a point at which I lived with
two women for a while, and for about two weeks, it was a frolic, you know. They were comparing notes - "well, did you ever think of moving this way or that way or..." And then one day, my long-standing other woke up and said: "what's this woman doing in my bed?" And boom, the curtain fell.

Those things happened. And it - it actually upended a whole community.

GROSS: Now, did you end up ever telling any of the women who you were, with who were irritated at your own tendency to have lots of relationships - did you ever try to convince them that this is a feeling they should try to overcome, to transcend, to kind of get more behind the values of the community and give up on this possessiveness?

COYOTE: Were you eavesdropping on me?

(Laughter) Yeah, it's kind of embarrassing to see - kind of what a snake oil salesman I could be, but I - I believed it. I believed that I should get over it. And I mean, I can remember times where the shoe was on the other foot; where my feelings were hurt or I was kind of crushed, but I couldn't really throw a tantrum. I couldn' t really do anything. I was hoist on my own petard and had to live with it.

So, I guess that's all that you could say, is you might feel bad, but you don't try to manipulate other people according to what you want them to do.

GROSS: Now, you write in your memoir Sleeping Where I Fall that it took you a long time before you started examining, you know, gender and sexual politics. What - when did that enter into your life in a serious way?

COYOTE: Yeah, it's embarrassing. And I think what happened to me once is I was visiting my oldest friend and comrade from college days. He's a novelist called Terry Bisson. And I was visiting a commune that he was living on in Colorado called the Red Rocks, out in the Warefano Valley.

I got into an argument with a woman there who was sort of in my face and really pressing me. She was very smart. And at a certain point, she screamed an epithet at me and I cocked my hand to kind of slap her or something. And, the whole group froze. Everyone looked horrified. I was horrified. I'd never done that before.

And this chill settled on the room and I was persona non grata.

And I realized this was a really grave transgression. And Terry and I sat up late that night and I remember him telling me then - this must have been 1969 - that relationships with women are the last boundary - kind of the last hurdle to jump to become liberated from attachment to gender and preconceptions and things like that.

And so, that was the - I woke up the next morning and I apologized and started talking to this woman and to the community - apologized for bringing bad feelings into their home. And that kind of opened my eyes and started me thinking about men and women and roles and the economy and power and all of that stuff.

GROSS: What did LSD mean to you when you started doing psychedelic drugs? What - what kind of tools did it feel -- did you feel it gave you perceptually?

COYOTE: Well, I still think that the first one or two LSD trips are the most important. Those were like mind-bending trips where they created a kind of cinesthesia - where you could hear smells or see sounds or feel colors. And, you realized that the spectrum of possibilities of being a human being was so much vaster than you could have imagined.

And at a certain point, you think: if you can define a problem as a limited number of possibilities, all of which are unacceptable, you can see that with limitless possibilities, there's no such thing as a problem.

So, LSD offered you a kind of insight into a world which was so much vaster and had so many more options than you could possibly imagine. And at those days, I don't know anybody who was just tripping - you know, just dropping acid and going to the mall. It was still new. It was still very powerful. People were following a kind of spiritual model - going out into the woods, bringing a companion to watch them. And looking for deep spiritual truths. And, that' s what they found.

And I realized, I don't know, somewhere along the way, that the trick was to learn how to get there without drugs. And that's predominantly why 10, 15 years later, I entered a Zen monastery and started sitting Zah-Zen because I wanted to learn to do it without chemicals.

GROSS: Somewhere along the way, you started using hard drugs.

You started shooting drugs. And I'd like you tell us the story of how you started doing that.

COYOTE: Well, I mean, I remember the first time I got high. I was - I don't know whether to protect the guilty here or not - well, he's innocent. But I was in Dennis Hopper's house, and The Diggers were in Hollywood, and we were cruising Hollywood for access and money and support and all of these things. And we'd met Dennis and we were friends and we were over at his house.

And Emmet Grogan went out and scored some heroin. And said to me: "this'll change you." And what I knew of heroin was that Charlie Parker took it and Billie Holiday took it and a lot of great cultural heroes took it. And I took it. And, yeah, it was great. I mean, it just shut my head down -- blam. Instead of 7,000 thoughts a minute, I had two and they were bubbling up one at a time, where I could look at them and think about them.

And that was the beginning of a long kind of torturous path. Two other people who were in that room - one's dead, one's paralyzed with a bullet in his head. I'm nursing a liver that's been damaged by that. And in fairness, I have to make it clear that Dennis was not using dope that night. It was just his house. And as a matter of fact, he paid a heavy price because his wife at the time walked in and took one look at Grogan and Sweet William and myself - all stoned in their pop-art living room - turned on her heel and walked out. And that ended his marriage.

But he wasn't -- Dennis didn't use heroin as far as I knew.

GROSS: Now, you had before this already used a lot of psychedelic drugs and found it, you know, very kind of perceptually exciting and spiritually exciting. Were you getting any of those feelings from -- from heroin?

COYOTE: Well, I was sort of a needle freak. I mean, I liked the whole ritual of scoring dope and cooking it up and putting it in a syringe and injecting it.

GROSS: Wow, that's really interesting to me, 'cause it seems like such an ugly ritual. I mean...


GROSS: ... this - getting the dope seems really ugly and scary, not to mention expensive, especially when you have no money. And then the whole - the whole process of, you know, tying up your arm until a vein pops. It just always seems like really ugly stuff.

COYOTE: Well, I guess it is dangerous, but it's kind of fixating, like looking at a cobra or a falcon. And every time you do it, you' re kind of walking a tightrope, you know. Is this going to kill me? You know, is this going to be great? Is this - what is it going to be?

And it's obviously dysfunctional. I mean, my father died a Demerol addict. Different reasons, but whatever dysfunction came out through my family, I inherited and had to work out. And I found it quieting and just like we found methedrine gave you the energy to - to work for several days, you know. Again, we were saving the world.

So, if we had to go off and steal a semi-truck full of lumber to build a commune somewhere, we had to be able to work for 12, 14, 15 hours without sleeping. And who knew that your body had limits and was fallible and could be broken?

GROSS: Now, let me get back to an incident in 1968 when members of the Grateful Dead came up with this mission to send you and some other people to England to scope out - I think to scope out how serious the Beatles were about -- about what?

COYOTE: Well, they wanted to know if the Beatles were as socially adventurous as they were musically adventurous. And The Diggers were kind of like the conscience of the underground, or pretty much universally recognized as the guys who knew what was happening.

So, the Grateful Dead put together a group of emissaries, including The Diggers and Ken Kesey and some of his people, and some of the Hell's Angels, and sent us over to check them out and also to represent our California culture in swinging '60s London.

GROSS: And did you get to meet the Beatles?

COYOTE: Well, we met some of them. I met Ringo and I met George and I met John Lennon, certainly - saved John Lennon from getting his teeth knocked in by the Hell's Angels.

GROSS: What happened? What happened?

COYOTE: Oh, we were at a Christmas party one time and the Beatles were kind of frightened of us. We all descended on their office and George came out and told us that he knew a good hotel where they'd take anybody. And Ringo was just kind of looping around. Paul was out of town. And the Beatles' publicist was a guy named Derek Taylor - lovely man, who just died -- and he kind of took us under his wing and we rented a big flat in Battersea.

And we were invited to the Beatles' Christmas party. And we were there and we were walking around and there was no food. And we had no money and we were hungry. And Pete Nell, who was the president of the Hell's Angels, San Francisco Chapter, started complaining: "well, where's the food? You know, we've been invited to eat.

Where's the food? I'm hungry." And some English twit in an ascot turned around and said: "oh, really? It's uncool to be hungry." And Pete flattened him - just decked him right there in this big Christmas party. And John Lennon jumped up and said: "what's the matter with him then?" And he - Pete turned around and pointed to me and said: "tell him he's next." And I just sat John down right away and explained the situation from a diplomatic perspective; that we'd been invited. We were guests. We'd been there five hours. We hadn't had anything to eat. And Pete was a little cranky.

And John got the picture and dummied up and food was there in about 15 minutes.

GROSS: Hmm. Must have been - so how did you scope out how serious the Beatles were about being socially adventurous? I mean, how did you measure this for the Grateful Dead?

COYOTE: Well, John had an adviser. I can't remember his name now, but some American cat from Kansas. And he - I don't know - he just wasn't into too much. He had John's ear and we just were not so interested in what the Beatles were doing. I mean, we liked their music. They were really good musicians. But they were not paradigms of anything. I mean, their band wasn't organized. Let's say, the Grateful Dead's band was organized like a family. The Beatles were not organized like that. They were a big-time rock and roll business.

And while their style was certainly exemplary of the new age, they were all millionaires, you know, buying into the aristocracy in big homes. And we didn't really see them taking care of other people or using their power and access to create new models of anything. So we just listened to their records, but we were not looking to them for advice.

GROSS: What did you like and what didn't you like about living communally, in which everything was going to be shared, in which you had, you know, the support of a lot of people, but probably not a lot of privacy?

COYOTE: Mm-hmm. Well, you got it. You got the dichotomy right there. The support of a lot of people was great. I've never had higher musical experiences than sitting around with 12, 14 people night after night after night, playing music - visitors coming in playing music.

There were always people to talk to and do things with. Each day was kind of an adventure and surprising. And we - you felt like you were with the best minds of your generation - people who could really provoke you and push you, bring you in touch with new ideas, new books, new concepts.

But the other side of it was that there are certain kinds of things you can't resolve. If I like to wake up and wash my face in a clean sink, and you don't care if it's a grease pit, we can't resolve that ideologically. I remember working in the shop one time and my idea of a shop was a clean shop with everything put away. And my friend Kent had just dismantled a refrigerator to recycle the parts after I'd cleaned the shop. And I got into a big fight with him, and he turned on me and he said: "well, your idea of order is to put everything away, and mine is to leave everything out." (Laughter) And so...

GROSS: That's one way of looking at it.

COYOTE: ... what are you going to say? Yeah.

GROSS: That's right.

COYOTE: Or one day Vinny came and took the one bathroom door off the bathroom because he decided that privacy was a bourgeois concept.

GROSS: Right.

COYOTE: So you know, there were personal predilections which had nothing to do with revolution or anything else that was - were constantly being reexamined and looked at. And that could get very tiresome. As was the fact of living in a house designed for four, where there were 30 people. That got to be really difficult.

GROSS: What about raising children communally? What do you think worked and didn't work about that?

COYOTE: Well what I think worked about raising children was that the children were immediately part of the community and there were always mothers around and always fathers around and always someone to help out. And the parents who were looking after them were not stressed, because they had real support systems.

The biggest shock of my life was when the communes broke up and suddenly we were living again as nuclear families, and as was one guy, one woman, and a baby. And there was no support system. You were on the hook all the time.

In a commune, if you needed to take a nap, you just said "watch the baby" and took a nap. If you needed to go do some work, the baby stayed and played with its friends.

The downside was that maybe the children were exposed to things that they shouldn't always have been exposed to; that they were not protected from certain aspects of adult behavior; that it might have been better that they didn't see or witness.

My daughter is just finishing up her Ph.D. degree in psychology and she's telling me that, you know, that children being around, let's say, when their parents were making love somewhere; or somebody else might have been - today, would be looked at as child abuse.

From our point of view, it was just being natural or doing whatever you thought. So, I think those were some downsides. And then, there were also adolescents in the community and some of those people - some of those kids looked at myself and some of the other elders as role models, and I certainly didn't take that nearly seriously enough.

And instead of being kind of like an uncle and kind of more of a model, I think I was a contributor to their delinquency - certainly in the realm of drugs. And that's something I feel a lot of chagrin about.

GROSS: In the beginning of your book, you said that you were looking at the '60s and trying to figure out what was - you know, what was the value of this experiment that you were a part of; what was the cost of the pursuit of freedom. What do you think the cost was?

COYOTE: Well, on a personal level, it was certainly a certain amount of damage to my health.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

COYOTE: It was the deaths of at least 18 friends between 1965 and 1975. The costs, depending on from what perspective I look, the cost could have been a career in some degree, you know, I didn't get my Screen Actors Guild card 'til I was 40. And had I been an actor in my 20s and 30s, who knows what it would have been.

That's not something I regret, it's just a fact or a query. I think the cost was - I think there were a lot of costs. I think the - one of the costs was the right-wing reaction that took place in the Reagan years. I think we pushed too hard and too violently and too unskillfully. And in some way frightened the country, and they took refuge in Ronald Reagan, who was this bland avuncular figure, but really very close to a fascist, from my point of view.

And most of the country I don't think supported his values, if you look at the fact that we had a Democratic Congress all those years, but they just wanted to kind of hold the lid on things. The '60s raised too many questions that no one could answer. We couldn't answer them. The culture couldn't answer.

And we just went into a backward kind of retrograde mode for a while. And I think that was one of the costs. And we need to look at that and bear some of the responsibility for that.

GROSS: You describe yourself as a critic of capitalism. Is it hard for you when you up for instance doing a voice-over for a car commercial - you know, is that like a crisis for you? Or is that just, you know, professionalism?

COYOTE: It's not a crisis. It's a contradiction.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

COYOTE: I don't want to be under the '90s anymore than anyone else does. And I feel like I've paid my dues in poverty. I tithe myself and I give a lot of my energy. For every voiceover I do that I get paid for, I must do five that I'm not paid for. And I don't - I don't actually serve the system by making myself poor or sitting on my gifts or clamping down on them. I tried that during the '60s and that's partially what contributed to my being a heroin addict. I mean, needling myself - keeping myself asleep.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

COYOTE: So somewhere along the line, I had to accept, I live in this world, and interdependence means that there's going to be the same amount of positive and negative values in every realm you enter.

And that what enlightenment can be is reaching consistently for the most positive possibilities wherever you are.

GROSS: Well Peter Coyote, I want to thank you very much for talking with us.

COYOTE: Thank you, Terry. It's been a great pleasure.


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