Lucian Truscott IV Makes his Voice Debut
Clip Job: an excerpt every day from the Voice archives. January 2, 1969, Vol. XIV, No. 12
A Stockingful of Love, But No Re-admission by Lucian Truscott IV
"Wow!" I thought. A free thing on Christmas at the Electric Circus. How East Villageish and community closeness and everybody will be together and the whole love-peace-free-beautiful scene will predominate. Quite a prospect -- a very pleasant one indeed -- when all one has to face on Christmas morn is his Lower East Side pad styled in the inimitable Lower East Side style of interior decoration, surrounded by the sights and sounds of the Lower East Side street.
And so...up and out into the 20 degree cold and over to St. Mark's Place -- the very first time I have been the only one on the street, no kidding -- where I found the Hog Farm buses parked somewhat illegally one behind the other in front of the Electric Circus. The buses themselves look like something left over from Merry Prankster days long gone -- Ken Keseyish forays into psychedelia that could only pretend to be the rolling cop attractions they are. Only upon actually seeing the buses does the appropriateness of the "Hog Farm" title strike you -- get it? Hogs -- pig -- cops. When Hugh Romney testified that they are stopped once every 20 miles, he wasn't kidding. Just getting all the moving vehicle code violations on that motley collection would take that many cops and stops. Close examination of the buses revealed Prankster pranks extended: "Further than futher," and other cuties along the Hog motif. The interiors of the buses were done tastefully in Classic Traveling Trashpile and Early Mobile Crashpad. Further.
The trek up the stairs into the Circus was my first -- its exorbitant price tag being heretofore unapproachable by my limited funds -- so I cannot make any comparisons between the Christmas scene and what might be a "normal" scene there. At any rate, as I entered, I had the somewhat upsetting feeling that I was venturing forth into a place of no return. I passed money collection window after hat check window after sign saying "No Re-admission" in electrical blacklight mindblow Electric Circus lettering. To make you feel "higher" after having lowered your monetary resources, I guess (the sign is around a corner from the money window -- little dost thou know when thou payest). Once I hit the main floor, however, the atmosphere changed. The well-modulated, coaxing voice of Hugh Romney presided over all...booming out of the Circus's superb sound system. I looked and looked, and yes there he was, characteristically attired in white jumpsuit with red, white, and blue patch on the back, and a two-color court jester's bonnet -- you know, the kind with the beak that cocks jauntily down over the forehead making the face look 10 years younger and a factor or two more ridiculous.
As I walked in, the advertised geodesic dome was in its infantile stages, and Romney was wandering about, microphone in hand, getting members of the audience -- or were they participants? the issue was rather clouded right at that moment -- to say Merry Christmas to everyone. The reactions which he got varied from Merry Christmas in four different languages to an adolescent "Up Against the Wall Motherfucker" followed by a classically meaningless interpretation of its significance on Christmas. Romney seemed transfixed by the children who were there and devoted long periods of time to coaxing a Merry Christmas from them. The entire scene had a contrived air to it -- a feeling which was to continue throughout the afternoon.
As people began to obviously tire of hearing each other say Merry Christmas, Romney signalled for the music to be turned up in volume and reserved the microphone for important announcements, such as: "We have 20 Christmas trees outside. Does anybody have an idea how we can get them to stand up in here? Anybody have a workshop nearby where we could nail some boards to them? If we can get them to stand up, we can decorate them with all the beautiful decorations and possessions we have on our persons. Groovy!'" (The one Christmas tree which was already in the room was barren save for a single scraggly popcorn string. No one advanced with ideas or offers of assistance for making the trees stand.)
The audience participants were an interesting lot. The males in the group seemed to have an average age of about 30 -- a fact that was painfully obvious despite heavy beards, sideburns, and mustaches designed to hide wrinkles around the eyes and corners of mouths. Their activities centered primarily around seeking out and festively (it's Christmas, right?) embracing the females in the group who were uniformly younger and better looking. The girls, many of whom looked suspiciously uptownish or suburbanlike in their finely creased elephant bells and floppy hats that didn't quite make it as old felt stetsons, seemed to be there to cast daggerlike eyes at each other's outfits from a distance and then to gush compliments when they recognized each other. The Hog Farm people who were there were all dressed in one kind of work outfit or another and in fact were working in, around, and under the crowd at getting the dome up. The crowd was not only uncooperative, it was resentful. Their dancing was being interrupted.
Finally the dome was completed, and Romney again took stage center to effect what he termed "dome consciousness, togetherness, love" and the like. The idea, according to Romney, was to put straw in the center of the dome and have everyone sit around it. The infants in the group were to sit in the straw and the group was to zap them with love and good will and bless their lives' beginning. The plan was good; the execution left something to be desired. Almost immediately, two of the 30ish-type men stripped and sat naked, causing a minor ruckus in that portion of the dome. One infant showed up, cradled in the arms of a somewhat frightened looking mother, who sat as directed in the hay where she was immediately surrounded by other "infants" who averaged about seven to 10 years old and came equipped with every undesirable and obnoxious trait of that age. Romney called for lights out and a spot on the kids. Violation one in dealing with the brats that age: never put them in the center of attention. Hay began to fly, most of it directed at the two naked men, who threw it back, much of it going past the kids and landing on the now irate mother of the infant.
Romney, noticing the small battle being waged in the center of the object of his love-zap, called frantically for the famous Hog Farm Circle Joke to begin, the idea being for everyone to make the same noise until someone, "it can be anyone, you or me or even you," changes the noise and the new one is picked up by everyone. Romney, with the microphones, naturally assumed duties as chief noise starter and changer, but no one seemed to mind. The love-zap began and had zero effect on the love-zapped brats at the center of the dome. Interestingly enough the fascistic tendencies of the whole scene -- everyone doing the same thing, making the same noise, being directed by one central figure -- were ignored by everyone. No one made a move that even remotely resembled anything individualistic.
At that point, I moved out of the main ballroom and into an interim room where a number of disciples of the Krishna Consciousness movement were giving forth with a Hare Krishna chant, complete with finger cymbals and tambourine, interspersed with what appeared to be Indian dancing and other ecstatic activities. They captured the interest of several of the roaming middle-aged males for a time, but they couldn't exactly get caught up in the mind-drone of the whole thing, and drifted off. One harried film-maker was trying to film the scene but was having trouble with his batteries and kept getting bumped by cavorting Krishnaites. I must admit, the kids did appear dedicated. The chant seemed to go on forever.
A brief visit into the third room on the floor, where several local winos were being fed cake and cookies, completed my Christmas visit to the Electric Circus. As I left, the Group Image was "going to play pretty soon...where's Barry of the Image? Has anybody seen Barry?" (the Image is always going to play). People of every size and description were entering, even some uptown types with wives and kids came to see what the East Village had to offer on Christmas. Bundling up again, I went back out into the cold for one last look at the buses and found, much to my surprise and delight, a hog in the back of a pick-up truck. He looked intelligent enough, snorting away in the cold, so I tried a little conversation with him. He didn't have much to say. But then, neither did his owners.
[LUCIAN TRUSCOTT IV is a cadet at West Point]
[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in New York, delivered to your inbox.