I really enjoyed reading this. I've always wanted to know more about what it was actually like on the farm, and Gordon gives a detailed and very readable account from the very first beginnings in April 1968 until he leaves in March 1971.
During these years he was almost ever-present and, more than anyone else, responsible for the smooth day to day running of the farm and the hard work involved in trying to make it more self-sustaining and habitable. This was also the period of time when the farm had the greatest number of residents and visitors.
His writing is never judgmental, always gently perceptive in his observations of the challenges posed both by the decrepit state of the farm itself and by the idiosyncrasies of those living there.
This is my sense of what the book is about:
(1) The farm itself: abandoned for seven years with no running water, no electricity. It is impressive just how much back breaking work Gordon, Peter Orlovsky, and others put in, and how hard this was. Week in, week out, there was so much work to do, especially during the growing season.
(2) The backdrop of the times. Gordon vividly conveys the particular craziness of those years. John Sinclair and Tim Leary both received insane jail terms on dubious charges of minimal marijuana possession. The government was getting deeper and deeper into Viet Nam. There was growing polarisation in society of war and anti war, drug user and straight, long hair and short, permissiveness and conformity. Revolution and violence were in the air. This deepening polarisation eventually led Allen to begin meditating for an hour a day on a regular basis, something that would develop further once he got to know Chogyam Trungpa in the early `70s. Throughout these years Gordon is resident on the farm but linked into the world zeitgeist through Allen Ginsberg's constant involvement with so many causes.
(3) Centre-stage throughout are Allen Ginsberg and the Orlovsky brothers, Peter and Julius. In truth this account is about Allen rather than the farm, as the book is grounded in Gordon's love, admiration and respect for Allen, and Gordon's observation of and learning from Allen is the important central core of the book. While Gordon had a more difficult relationship with Peter, I still found it very interesting to learn more about his day to day interactions with both Peter and Julius. I had known very little about Julius before reading this book, so it is great to see him brought to life.
(4) The supporting cast of characters, some staying longer than others: Denise Mercedes, Herbert Huncke, Gregory Corso, Ray and Bonnie Bremser, Barry Miles, Maretta Greer (whatever happened to Maretta?), John Giorno, Ed "The Hermit" (neighbour) and a number of others.
For example, I particularly enjoyed the portrait of Huncke: ".... a warm deep voice and an eye-fastening look and attentiveness that put you at ease whenever he spoke. And whenever you spoke - at the center of his abiding calm lay his gift for making you feel that whatever problems or difficulties you had, they were familiar: from the perspective of those large regarding hazel eyes and that rich voice, they were his own." It's good to read something of his charm, as there is so much written about other sides of him.
I would have liked to have heard more about some of these individuals, the remarkable Denise Mercedes for instance, whose electric guitar I'm told is still blazing a trail in clubs and stadia. However, I appreciate that there is only so much room in the book and it already comes in at some 450 pages.
(5) Relationships. The pressures of disparate individuals living together in a small dilapidated farm are great, and some of these residents/ visitors were not easy people to be around. If I have to make a criticism of this book it is that its style edges into the observant rather than the emotional, so that the day to day grist of human encounter is somewhat played down. Several well-known flare-ups are already documented in the Ginsberg biographies and in the two farm chapters of Barry Miles' excellent "In the Seventies", and Gordon does take the reader through these once more, but there is always a sense for me that there is more that could be said. I think that this is also true of his account of his own relationships with women: although he makes explicit a number of disagreements and failures to communicate, in general I am left feeling that these relationships are not described in significant emotional depth. He does make reference to his own sexual intimacy with Allen, but again I do not know how important to him this was, and whether this was an integral part of him living at the farm or not. However, despite these comments, these are minor criticisms as I still found the book an enthralling read.
I think that this is an excellent book. I am so glad Gordon has finally written it. If you have any interest at all in the life of Allen Ginsberg, I recommend that you read it.
Thank you Gordon.