Avante Garde Magazine, Issue 5
Before Peter Schjeldahl was writing reviews of old masters for the New Yorker he was a groovy sweaty features editor for Avant-Garde magazine. Avant-Garde was something like a counter culture arts review.
In this ’68 issue an unbuttoned Schjeldahl co-authored (with Neal White) an expose of a So Cal commune (in Sunland-Tujunga!) called The Hog Farm.
Pigasus was Prime Minister of this, then two year old, commune. From here, his humble sty in Sunland, one can assume that he was the very same pig that went on to seek the presidency as the 1968 nominee of the Yippie Party.
In the late 60′s Sunland-Tujunga was a wild place. The article chronicles the tussles between the commune and its neighbors. According to Schjeldahl the Valley Ranchers Association had set up an armed roadblock. Additionally “local toughs, many of them Vietnam Veterans”, known as the “Androids” would occasionally “pillage the farm.” Much of this, according to Schjeldahl, was set off by a picture published in the Voice of the Verduga Hills of Pigasus with a flag “flapping above his sty”.
Administration of the commune is on a daily rotation basis with everyone, kids included, taking a turn as “Dance Master” or “Dance Mistress.” “When you have this many people living together,” Romney (Hugh Romney the founder of the commune, aka Wavy Gravy- ed.) observes “you’ve got to dance or you step on somebody’s hand.” The Dance Master sees that things get done by someone who wants to do them.
The farm, as Romney suggests, is more than a summer camp for misfits. It is a thriving spiritual community, an experiment in utopian living. You get the idea when you attend the highpoint (literally) of the Hog Farm day, just before bedtime in the cantonment’s biggest dome. Shrouded in parachute silk and brightly lighted, the dome can be seen for miles on a smogless night. You can only guess at what the citizens of Sunland-Tujunga imagine is possibly going on inside. What is going on is this:
Inside the dome 30-odd men, women and children_lotus-squating, clad in an assortment of strange clothes. Eyes closed, hands clasped in two concentric circles, they are humming in unison_”Om.” “Om” is a loud resonant, brain-buzzing sound made by vibrating air in the sinuses. The choral hum is punctuated by improvisatory moans, pants, and clucks, it dissolves into an athletic chant: “HOG-HOG-HOG-HOG-HOG-HOG-HOG!” Then someone in a Donald Duck jersey stands and gently raises everyone, like a a circle of dominoes in reverse. Climax! All fall down. “The Circle Joke” is over, and the Hog Farmers, spent and blissful, break the circle and retire to their sleeping bags for the night.
I like the New Yorker, but I can’t help but imagine how it would be if they or Schjeldahl had such a groovy editorial position on art and culture today.
All photos by Jillian Wasser.