Page One, an online literary newsletter
Your early aspirations were to be a writer. Who were some of your earliest inspirations and what were your favorite books? What was the last book you read?
I read interminably as a child, and still remember the summer of my Seventh year when I got a library card and read thirty books over the summer. I loved all the OZ books, the Edgar Rice Burroughs fantasy books; H Rider Haggard. Then I read the entire Lighthouse Books series. Later I fell in love with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolf, Melville, Hawthorne. I usually read two or three books at the same time, and I just finished the new fagel translation of the odyssey, a biography of Melville by Lorant Robinson, and am reading Hemingway’s “A Moveable Feast”.
How long did it take you to write “Sleeping Where I Fall” and what was the process? Did you use notes? An outline? Free write?
Sleeping Where I Fall took about ten years. It began as a submission to Zyzzva magazine which my friend, Jack Shoemaker, editor of then Northpoint (now Counterpoint), told me should be a book. I worked on it on and off for the next nine years – interviewing friends, perusing old journals, cranking up my memory. I finished the first draft in a binge session at a friend’s house in Gourds, France. Then my old comrade, Terry Bisson, helped me shape the manuscript and Counterpoint, after all that time, bought it. It is currently in its fifth printing and will be out in paperback in April.
Explain the title “Sleeping Where I Fall.”
I never know how or why things come over the “spinal telephone” out of the ether into consciousness. The title has two senses in my mind – one means running until you drop, until nothing is left over; and the other suggests taking advantage of circumstances…as in – “I’m lying down, might as well sleep.”
The San Francisco Mime Troupe and the Diggers were the first portals you mention that gave you new directions and pursuits for what you describe as absolute freedom. Do you feel any absolute freedom was found? Were the costs worth it?
The truth is that absolute freedom is a chimera, a youthful fascination. Wisdom dictates that everything in the universe is interdependent and, therefore, nothing is, in the sense that we wished it as young people, free – either of relationships or karmic retributions. Some people might have been innately wise enough to know that without going through all those experiences, but that was not me. However, the life I lived was the life that brought me here…to Zen practice, to relative health and sanity and a measure of peace. Were the costs worth it? Who knows. I’m sorry that I took so many drugs and ruined my health, but I’m certainly glad I’ve learned what I have. I certainly have come to appreciate limits and their utility.”
In your book, pg. 123, you discuss The Rolling Stones (namely Mick Jagger) refusing to allow an eight-month pregnant friend of yours, who had been hit with a bottle, to use their helicopter for medical treatment. This particular incident seems to sum up the entire Altamont concert and the winds of change that were beginning to blow hard through the country. Did you feel, know or have any sense of these changes before this concert?
The Diggers had a good sense of what was coming and this is why none of us attended Altamont. We tried to warn Sam Cutler and the Grateful Dead that what they were doing was wrong and irresponsible; using the audience as props in a piece of economic machinery that had already been sold but was pretending to be ‘free’. To me, Altamont was part of the cynical manipulation of counter-cultural values by the very people who symbolized (as opposed to actualized) those values. I had a hard time forgiving it for many years, but, what the hell, life’s short and no one is who they were then any longer.
What do you hope the end and overall result will be for readers of your book?
I hope that readers of my book will get a taste of the contradictions which made up the sixties; the blend of high ideals, deep thought, selflessness, personal betrayals and indulgences. I hope they will get a taste of the times interpreted by a peer instead of a wannabe or some pundit or whore-of-the- court hoping to put their own spin on history. I hope that the reader will learn how acts of personal indulgence can weaken the grandest plans and aspirations, and how necessary impeccability and caution and restraint are to any measure of success. Finally, the result was that the process of writing the book, put the issues and the times to rest in my mind.”
Who is Peter Coyote now as compared to Peter Coyote in 1966?
Peter Coyote came from nowhere and is working his way back. The same man began and will end the journey – the same in terms of intentions, the drive for heightened opportunities for more people and other species to achieve their maximal potential. I am different primarily in understanding how long social processes take, so that I am more patient, less judgmental, less anxious for immediate gratification. But, I was comfortable with myself then, and am so today, if you take that to understand that I am also continually working on my self – sitting Za-zen (Buddhist meditation) doing yoga, trying to conquer the ‘Big-three’ of greed, hatred, and delusion — an avocation that will take lifetimes…..