OSU Libraries | OSU Home

Communing Adventure and Activism

May 22, 2018

As a young man during the era of unprecedented social and political upheaval that was America in the late 1960s, Malcolm Terence, author of Beginner’s Luck: Dispatches from the Klamath Mountains, desired a more active role in the world than his job at the Los Angeles Times was providing him. He left his journalism job in search of activism and adventure that culminated in his living at Black Bear Ranch, a commune in a remote corner of the Klamath Mountains. His memoir, Beginner’s Luck, chronicles his life as a journalist, hippie, communard, timber worker, and environmentalist. Below, Terence shares how his search for activism and adventure began.

___________________

"Beginner's Luck: Dispatches from the Klamath Mountains" by Malcolm TerenceAbout 50 years ago I left the world of news reporting. I was still a young man from a newspaper family so I’d been writing for papers since I was in my early teens. It was small papers and then big, even the biggest—the Los Angeles Times. But somehow it seemed that the world was changing faster than the world of news. South Central Los Angeles exploded in the Watts Riots on August 11, 1965. My beat was the West Side, far from the unrest in South-Central. “Unrest” understates it. Thirty-four people died, most killed by police and National Guard. Over a thousand were injured. I watched hundreds of families escape from the war zone to Santa Monica beach, where they set up camp. It was safer than home.

When things settled down, I told my editors about the camps that had blossomed and asked them why they thought the big populations of black people on the West Side had not joined the melee. They just shrugged. I offered to write a piece about why the West Side Black neighborhoods—we called them ghettoes—had stayed peaceful and they said to forget about it. News coverage has come a long way since those days.

Not too long after that I decided that my newspaper work was making me miss what was going on in the world so I left it behind. Pretty soon some musician friends invited me to be their business manager and I couldn’t resist. Their background was avante garde and multicultural and their politics were revolutionary. A perfect mix for rock and roll. Record companies guessed that they could make money with us so we quickly had recording contracts and bookings across the country. Who knew there was a market for revolutionary culture? But a year plus of that and it became a grind. There was continuous friction between the musicians, who were each very talented.

Then we played San Francisco and I met the Diggers. They were a theatrical gang who didn’t just talk changing society. They lived it, and they immediately won the attention of the national media. And my attention, too. I’d wearied of all-night recording sessions and back-to-back bookings, always on the threshold of imaginary fame and wealth, but never quite there. Before long I was in the mountains of Northern California at a commune just getting started. It was a different world. So I bailed on music much like I had on newspapering. You’re not very patient in your mid-20s. That’s where my book Beginner’s Luck: Dispatches from the Klamath Mountains begins its tales.

Remember that the world was spinning like a brightly colored top in the 60s and no one knew where it would land. People were organizing around issues of race and gender and against the war going on in Asia. A few years earlier, 1964, Lyndon Johnson, a Democrat, had run for the presidency against Barry Goldwater, and one of his campaign slogans was that a vote for Goldwater was a vote for a land war in Asia. Johnson won, but four years later our country was waist deep in a war in Vietnam. In other words, the world was going crazy, America was divided and it occurred to many young people that they needed to resist the corrupt insanity.

Sound familiar? Change the names of the presidents and move the land wars over a little way on the globe. It is some comfort that young people today are getting organized and standing up, just as we did 50 years ago.

History is written by the winners, they say. I’ve tried to write a history of the rest of us, as I lived it and watched it happening around me. I like that the young people around me—Native and white alike—are continuing the work that my generation began. That’s certainly another book.

Member of AAUP