An Irregular Education



Published by Counterpoint

April 14, 2015

"Besides having an unusual upbringing—influenced greatly by a wealthy, angry father and depressed mother; a brave, smart, and thoughtful housekeeper; a taciturn, skilled groundskeeper; and bebop jazz player Buddy, who taught him that “life could be improvised”—actor-writer Coyote was an astute, remarkable young man, able to hear animals speak and aware, early on, of the separation of mind and body. But he was also crippled by a vow never to 'play,' to compete. This engagingly written exploration of his life has a few, sometimes disorienting blank spaces, but those are “covered in detail,” Coyote points out, more than once, in his memoir Sleeping Where I Fall (1998)and readers may prefer to start there for the full story. Still, there’s plenty here, in anecdotes of caring for the hungry in his Digger kitchens in Haight-Ashbury, befriending and learning from Pulitzer Prize–winning poet Gary Snyder (and then following Buddhism for more than 40 years), becoming a respected actor, and raising his own family with the wisdom he carefully garnered as a youngster. ...Eloise Kinney

Peter's Coyote's new memoir is just plain wonderful--richly textured, beautifully written, sad, sweet, sometimes funny, always wise. It is about childhood losses and joy, growing up, mentors, loyalty, the search for Truth, survival, the sixties, the seventies, transcendence, healing, disasters. It is told by a writer of deep wisdom, self-knowledge and charm, yet I gobbled it up, like a novel." ...Anne Lamott

"As he showed in Sleeping Where I Fall, Peter has lived a life most of us could only dream of. In this insightful and beautifully expressed follow-up, we get a deeper view not only of his own path, but of the currents underlying so much of our own shared histories. Viewed through this prism of three transformational relationships, his story is as moving as it is fascinating. A remarkable book." ...Bonnie Raitt

Kirkus Review:
An imperious and flawed father figure looms large in Coyote's artfully rendered chronicle of his intriguing journey from confused, privileged youth to enlightened Zen practitioner. Not long ago, Coyote, international screen star and veteran countercultural revolutionary, had a transcendental experience that he had arguably been searching for his entire life. But while the author's Buddhist practice is a vital component of his often descriptively brilliant biographical odyssey, it is by no means the only one. Coyote's story, the follow-up to Sleeping Where I Fall (1998), is as much about a boy's initial introduction to the great wide world as it is about one complex human being's lifelong hunger for inner meaning. Coyote presents a fascinatingly intricate portrait of what it was like being the peculiar scion of wealth and power. As a child, the young Peter Cohon found himself languishing in neglect, floating in the staid world of his conflicted parents, Morris and Ruth. Soon, however, he was propelled headlong into a parallel existence where he met lively figures hired to run the family's Turkey Hill farm and Englewood, New Jersey, abode. "For the next ten years [caretaker] Susie Howard was the North Star around which my heavens revolved." The impressionable young boy eventually encountered jazz legends, intellectual radicals and rough-hewn outdoorsmen. In addition to an imposing gangster uncle, each of these individuals managed to shape the boy who would later become not only a central figure in America's nascent youth movement, but also a dusty pioneer in communal living, a left-wing rabble-rouser working inside the political system, and a struggling father trying to support a family with a heroin monkey on his back. Astonishingly, well into middle age, the author accomplished another remarkable turn, evolving into the well-respected film actor many know him as today. Presented with so many well-defined faces, there's guaranteed to be at least one Coyote, and probably more, that readers enjoy meeting.  

Publishers Weekly:
Writer, actor, and political activist Coyote picks up from his previous book, Sleeping Where I Fall, about his experiences in the 1970s, and details the rest of his life. Most important to Coyote's narrative is his Buddhist practice; a Zen sense of impermanence and placid acceptance permeates every page of this memoir, from Coyote's birth and immediately rocky upbringing in 1941 to his contemporary life at San Francisco Zen Center. Those unfamiliar with Coyote's life and wishing to know more about his time with the anarchist improv group Diggers will be disappointed; Coyote frequently refers readers to his previous book, making this one difficult to appreciate in its own right. But it's interesting to follow Coyote's careful, step-by-step unraveling of his own psyche and emotional constructs, and fellow students of Zen will especially appreciate Coyote's breakdown of meditative retreats and flashes of enlightenment.

Library Journal:
Best known now as an actor, voice-over artist, and documentary film narrator, Coyote (Sleeping Where I Fall) has lived a varied life. In the 1960s he rejected his wealthy background by becoming a founding member of the Diggers, an anarchist theater group based in San Francisco whose basic tenet was that everything should be free. This book, Coyote’s second, focuses specifically on his upbringing and his discovery of Zen Buddhism. His early life was unpleasant, though it seems to have taught him to be self-sufficient. Coyote’s father was domineering, distant, and at times abusive, while his mother suffered a nervous breakdown early in Coyote’s young life from which she never seemed to recover. Zen helped Coyote rediscover value in his life, after years of drug abuse and living in dirty and impoverished conditions. He is very honest in describing his initiation into Zen thought and practice, not making it sound either easy nor entirely pleasant. In particular his mind struggles with the formality of Zen. Having lived such an undisciplined and unstructured life up until his early to mid-30s, it takes Coyote some time to see the value in rules. VERDICT Remarkably forthright and insightful, this memoir may inspire others to add a bit of Zen to their lives.

Jonah Raskin, San Francisco Chronicle:
As a memoir of one man’s adventures, it’s appealing because it shows what happened to a generation caught up in sex, drugs and political protest, and who dreamed the dream of the utopian ’60s. Readers will probably come to this book for the personal revelations and the behind-the-scenes look at famous people such as Polanski. They’ll linger for the memorable language that shows that Coyote is indeed a fine writer... The stellar cover photo of Coyote by the famed Bay Area photographer Chris Felver   suggests the anguish beneath the author’s handsome exterior.

Lou Fancher, San Francisco Examiner:
Peter Coyote’s intriguing second memoir “The Rainman’s Third Cure: An Irregular Education” displays one man as an entire cast of characters: actor, activist, Zen priest, acted-upon child of parents prone to caustic comments, and more... Proving that a skilled writer can coax fertility from an already plowed field, there’s nothing ho-hum about a second look, partly because Coyote’s life is dramatic. From a glittery childhood with a rich, violent father who was “a textbook of threat” and a mother who was distant when she wasn’t expressing her distaste for life or for her son, Coyote spent years mired in teenage rebellion and adult angst expressed in self-destroying lifestyle habits...

Understandably wounded by his upbringing, his life has been a yin-yang attempt to distance himself from his own experiences while craving proximity to his center. A naturally gifted narrator, Coyote’s writing about other people is more illuminating than his exposition of internal thoughts and feelings – and that’s not a criticism. His first-person, once-removed voice is an abstraction that soars in sentences worth underlining and memorizing for when an occasion calls for acute observation expressed with brevity. The struggle between a spiritual and a status-seeking life behind the lyrics in the Bob Dylan song that inspired the memoir’s title might be Coyote’s narcotic for life. But each time he climbs another mountain to look at the terrain, he’s grown a bit more lucid about the peaks and valleys — and increasingly sage about their power.

Suzanne Gordon, Beyond Chron:
What these two books (Sleeping Where I Fall & Rainman's Cure) highlight is that spirituality and political commitment are not mutually exclusive choices. What Coyote’s life story teaches us is that making peace with one’s inner demons can even lead to a deeper and richer engagement with efforts to change the world.

The guiding metaphor in Peter Coyote’s new spiritual biography is drawn from a line in an early Bob Dylan song. For Coyote, the twin forces Dylan identifies as Texas Medicine and Railroad Gin – represent the competing forces of the transcendental, inclusive, and ecstatic world of love with the competitive, status-seeking world of wealth and power. "The Rainman’s Third Cure" is the tale of a young man caught between these apparently antipodal options and the journey that leads him from the privileged halls of power to Greenwich Village jazz bars, to jail, to the White House, lessons from a man who literally held the power of life and death over others, to government service and international success on stage and screen... What begins as a peripatetic flirtation with Zen deepens into a life-long avocation, ordination as a priest, and finally the road to Transmission—acknowledgement from his teacher that he is ready to be an independent teacher. Through Zen, Coyote discovers a third option that offers an alternative to both the worlds of Love and Power’s correlatives of status seeking and material wealth. Zen was his portal, but what he discovers on the inside is actually available to all humans. In this energetic, reflective and intelligent memoir, The Rainman’s Third Cure is the way out of the box. The way that works.


paw.gif (1107 bytes)

Home | Latest Tracking | Sleeping Where I Fall | Coyote in Print | Biography
Filmography | TV& Stage | Documentaries | Audiobooks | Photos | Archives