–by Larry Brilliant (Feb 16, 2017)
The first time I met Wavy Gravy was while he waited his turn for [smallpox]vaccination. He put out his arm for me to vaccinate him and his face lit up with a huge smile, his mouth a rainbow, a row of multicolored false teeth he’d convinced a dentist friend to make for him. He was wearing a duckbill hat with an actual duck’s bill and a hand-sewn jumpsuit made of patches of American flags, blue sky, and stars. Next to him stood his stunning wife, née Bonnie Jean Beecher, rumored to be the Minnesota beauty of Bob Dylan’s “Girl from the North Country.” She had abandoned life as a starlet—after appearances in Star Trek and The Twilight Zone—to be with the poet Hugh Romney. Then Hugh Romney the poet and standup comic morphed into Wavy Gravy the fool, the clown, and Renaissance man—a kind, smart, compassionate, hilarious force of nature. The police had beaten Wavy so badly, and so regularly, at protests and sit-ins, that his back was broken several times; later he would need multiple spinal fusions and full body casts. When Wavy figured out that cops do not like to beat up—or be seen beating up—clowns, Santa Claus, or the Easter Bunny, Wavy adopted a clown or holiday persona as the season allowed.
A year before he had been Chief of Please at Woodstock, where he and the Hog Farm, the counterculture descendants of Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, were in charge of security for hundreds of thousands of revelers. “How are you going to provide security without weapons?” a skeptical reporter wanted to know. Wavy said that they would form a “please force.” A reporter laughed and said he was silly.
“Do you feel secure now?” Wavy asked.
“Yes,” the reporter replied.
“Well, you see my plan is working.”
When rain and mud from an overnight storm threatened to unleash chaos at the festival, Wavy got on stage and uttered the line that defined him and the event: “What I have in mind is breakfast in bed for four hundred thousand of us.” The Hog Farm commune, with lots of help, delivered a cup of granola to each person in every tent so that nobody tried to navigate the mess left behind from the storms. This was Wavy’s magic. Love and generosity kept things peaceful. “Peaceful” and “Woodstock” became synonyms and opened the door to the possibility of other large gatherings and music events that became part of culture in this part of the Planet. […]
Most of what I did as a doctor with the caravan between concerts was treat colds and flus, help people out whose trips had pushed their minds too far, and stitch up cuts from minor tumbles. It was an easy way to become friends with all these lovable characters. But it was a different story when I did my job as a Rock Doc at the concerts. The drug of choice was migrating from the gentler mushrooms to the dangerous methamphetamine. During one concert near Boulder the speed junkies were out in full force. A guy showed up with the metal teeth of a bear trap still stuck in his shoulder. He got into a knife fight, which started over two dogs who had been going after each other. Wavy brought both protagonists and their dogs onstage and praised each for protecting the honor of their dog; somehow, the clown got the two fighters to hug, and the audience responded with a standing ovation. That was Wavy Gravy, peacemaker. I will never understand how he pulled that off.
–Larry Brilliant. Excerpt from his book Sometimes Brilliant [Illustration offered as an anonymous gift :-)]