At 65, Wavy Gravy greets 'geezerhood' as activist clown
Tuesday, May 15, 2001
By MICHELLE LOCKE
The Associated Press
Swathed in brilliant tie-dye, the man in the jester's hat contemplates the
question: What does it mean when a celebrity who got his start in the
Sixties hits his mid-60s?
"Turning 65 I could care less," he says briskly. Then, he chuckles. "It's
funny the government has to pay me to breathe after this."
Wavy Gravy, counterculture clown, has long been a comic purveyor of social
unrest. Starting today, he qualifies for Social Security.
It's a moment for reflection. Or not.
"My friends are starting to die of natural causes even," he says with a grin.
There will, of course, be a party. Wavy is marking his "ascension to
geezerhood" with a benefit at the Berkeley Community Theater featuring
surviving members of the Grateful Dead. Proceeds will go to the Seva
Foundation, a charity he co-founded that provides medical aid around the world.
Seva is one of two passions in Wavy Gravy's public life these days. The
other is Camp Winna-rainbow, a summer camp that teaches kids the circus
arts. Wavy and his wife run the camp in ruggedly beautiful Mendocino County.
Born Hugh Romney in East Greenbush, N.Y., Wavy Gravy started his career in
counterculture as a teenage beatnik. In the 1960s he moved to California,
where he tuned in and dropped out, taking up commune life and becoming one
of author Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters. According to Wavy, bluesman B.B.
King gave him his name, explaining, "There's lots of meat in Wavy Gravy."
Fame came at Woodstock, the original, 1969 version, when, as chief of the
Please Force, he stepped to the stage and announced: "What we have in mind
is breakfast in bed for 400,000."
After that came a motley selection of gigs, from helping the Birthday Party
run Nobody for President in 1976 to ferrying supplies to Pakistan and the
Himalayas in 1971 to a 1990 run for the Berkeley City Council. His slogan:
"Let's elect a real clown for a change."
Along the way were a few years listed simply in his Web biography as
"Blanko" and "More blanko."
In 1992, he became a Ben & Jerry's ice cream flavor, from which the
royalties go to Camp Winna-rainbow.
In 1994 and 1999, he reprised his role at revival Woodstocks. "The first
one I became famous. The second two I got paid," he says.
Step into the sprawling brown-shingled house a mile or so from the
University of California at Berkeley campus that Wavy calls home and you
are in a mellower time. Tie-dyed hangings adorn the walls. There is a whiff
of incense in the air. On the CD player, music of the oud, an Arabic
lute-like instrument, twangs softly.
A foot injury has slowed Wavy down in the last year, but he recently took a
An hour of non-stop conversation consists of a swirl of rambling anecdotes,
a little singing, and a raft of cheerful one-liners: "What do you do when
your nose goes on strike? Pick it."
Time, he says, has changed him.
"During Vietnam if you were not giving every ounce of energy to stop that
war, I was screaming in your face. Now I'm just pretty mellow," he says.
But he is still working at changing the times.
"The best way I've discovered to make change," he says, "is to live that
change and have fun doing it."
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