Misbehavin' - The Wavy Gravy Movie
It takes a special man to
make a name for himself simply for his selflessness.
Wavy Gravy (born Hugh
Romney) has become kind of a legend of the counterculture. He's not
exactly what you would call famous, but he has a certain infamy amongst
those in the know - both as essentially the clown prince of the Woodstock
nation and as a caring, tireless activist.
The man has
lived a fascinating life, playing all sorts of roles - a beat poet in the
early Greenwich Village scene, a cutting edge social comic, a member of Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters, one of the first well-known hippies, founder of
the Hog Farm Collective, security (and craft services) chief at Woodstock,
unofficial ambassador, commune director, camp counselor, rebel,
philanthropist, Ben & Jerry's ice cream flavor, fool, clown, master of
ceremonies - the man has pretty much done it all.
Of course, when a man is
willing to change his name legally to Wavy Gravy (a moniker suggested at a
late 60s music festival by BB King), you realize the guy has to have an ...
umm, unique ... way of viewing the world.
And Gravy is nothing if not
He became a legend in the
hippie world because of his strong beliefs, his constant good nature and his
prodigious drug taking.
To a certain extent, Wavy
Gravy is like a real life Forrest Gump - not mentally challenged, of course,
but a man who lived right on the outskirts of history - experiencing things
that most of us could only dream of and befriending most of the defining
minds of his generation. He is also like Gump because of a strong and
single-minded determination to put others before himself.
Not all that many people
still practice the communal ideals of hippiedom (as proof, just look at
Jerry Brown, who has just again been voted Governor of California) - nor are
they usually able to translate them to the modern world.
Wavy Gravy has grown to be
a modest man living in a communal house in Berkeley, Ca. He still runs
a camp that he has been running for decades and now has generations who
vouch for the man's generous spirit and good intentions. (One of the
unintentionally funniest moments comes when a young camp-goer shows the
place's strict no judgment stance by pointing out that one of the kids is
even a Republican.)
After all, the guy has made
his strongest impression simply by determining to treat all people as
deserving of respect. When he was a young rebel in the 60s, Gravy
found himself getting beaten by the police. Instead of fighting back,
he took a more cerebral tact. He started dressing as a clown, because
he realized that he would not get beaten - or even arrested - dressed as a
This discovery sort of
colored the man's world view - using humor and good nature as a tool to
break down people's defenses. Perhaps this approach worked most
dramatically when Gravy was sort of shanghaied into handling security at the
Woodstock Music Festival. He created the punnily-named "Please Force"
and made the backstage password "I don't remember." Instead of
heavy-handed rules, he and his people believed in the general goodness of
others and were rewarded by a three-day grouping of a half a million people
in which there was no violence or crime.
There is also a
heartbreaking section of the film in which Gravy and the Hog Farmers rode
buses through the Middle East and became goodwill ambassadors for the US who
were beloved by the natives, simply for being American. Forty years of
strife later, one can't help but see all the missed opportunities and dashed
hopes of the past several decades.
Over the end credits of the movie, a supergroup of Wavy
Gravy's friends, collaborators and admirers (including Jackson Browne,
Bonnie Raitt, Steve Earle, Dr. John,
Bob Weir and others) sing Wavy's theme song "Basic Human Needs." The
song's lyrics ("Wouldn't it be neat if the people that you meet/would have
shoes upon their feet and something to eat") are much like the man who wrote
them - a little corny, a little naïve, but full of a wonderful optimism and
compassion for the less fortunate.
In a modern world where corporate bailouts
have become par
for the course and tea party every-man-for-themselves
beliefs are increasingly taking hold, it's kind of nice to spend an hour and
a half with a man who spends pretty much every waking moment working for the
greater good. No matter what you may think of Wavy Gravy's lifestyle
or beliefs, we
could all learn from him.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2010 PopEntertainment.com.
All rights reserved. Posted: November 14, 2010.