Yesterday, I had the pleasure of catching the West Coast premiere of The Source documentary over at the Pacific Film Archive here in Berkeley... and, man, this is probably the best documentary - and maybe film for that matter - related to the counterculture, intentional communities, and religious cults I've seen. The story itself - of Father Yod and the Source Family - can really be seen as a microcosm of its larger subject... their journey mirrors the aspirations - and flaws - of whole spiritual side to the countercultural experiment... a subject very close to my heart, as it's something I actually grew up a product of myself, and that still really informs my outlook and experience of things (one of the joys for me in exploring the mp3/album blogosphere actually has been discovering blogs devoted to the whole 'Jesus Movement'/'Jesus Freak' scene of the 70s, which is my roots, the sound/vibe I was raised on)...
I must admit, that I get pretty bored with one-dimensional and clichéd portrayals of 60s and 70s counterculture (always groan whenever a movie or documentary lazily uses Hendrix's version of "All Along the Watchtower" to signify "the turbulent 60s"), but this film was refreshing in the amount of care, intelligence, and style with which it approached the story and period (and to any psych/drone obsessives reading - which I assume probably make up the majority of my readers - a lot of electrifying and eerie Yahowa 13 and Source Family jams make up the soundtrack.... to gorgeous effect - this film is practically dripping with vibe)...
The Source Family, if you're not familiar with them, was one of the thousands of communes and cults scattered throughout America in the early 70s. It was led by one Jim Baker, aka Father Yod, a really interesting Los Angeles character who had owned several popular health food restaurants (the first of their kind in the US, in fact) around LA before opening the Source Restaurant on Sunset Boulevard (just below the hills of Laurel Canyon) that served a vegetarian menu of raw food and would quickly become a popular spot for hip Los Angeles at the time.
Baker had discovered the benefits of health food at a young age, and later became interested in spiritual and esoteric teachings when he and his second wife came upon the works of Los Angeles occult scholar Manly P. Hall in the '40s - thus beginning a lifelong fascination with the teachings of every Eastern and Western religion and mystical school (what is it about some Californians and this tendency?). Sometime later, while living in Topanga Canyon, he would also become acquainted with the Nature Boys - which included Gypsy Boots and eden ahbez - proto-hippies that would lay the foundations for both the holistic healing movement and the health food industry (what might be described as 'hippies' - in the green-living, long-haired Californian sense rather than post-Beatnik sense - actually go back much further than the 1960s, there were proto-hippie types around the Los Angeles area living a lifestyle influenced by a nature-mysticism brought over by back-to-the-land Germans in the earlier decades of the 20th Century).
Then in 1969, after meeting his "Spiritual Father" Yogi Bahjan, Baker experienced a spiritual awakening and transformation that would lead him down a path towards guruhood himself - and a close-knit family of followers of his own - who would be known as the Source Family. While their story is perhaps similar in many ways to that of many other hippie cults and communes of the time (well, except maybe for the difference of all the Hollywood connections - and popularity/centrality that they enjoyed among the LA scene), they remained a point of interest over the years thanks to the legacy of the cult's own band, Yahowa 13, led by Father Yod himself, that would become legendary among collectors of psych and obscure esoterica.
The story of the Father Yod and the Source Family has also seen a resururgance in interest in recent years however, in part due to the blossoming of the psych/done/noise underground over the last decade, but especially because of the tireless work done by Source Family photographer and archivist Isis Aquarian to record and preserve their legacy (in addition to the film, I can't recommend her excellent book on the Source Family enough)...
I was actually lucky enough to catch Yahowa 13 perform for a reunion show in 2007 with Sky Saxon and the Seeds (Sky had been a member of the Source Family as well), and got to meet a lot of the family - Isis, Djin, Electricity, Sunflower, and Sky. It was a fun night... enjoyed some chaotic jams, and between sets, Electricity led us all in Father Yod's 'Star Meditation' . I also was surprised to feel this palpable vibe radiating from everyone from the Family - really strange actually - this deep, serene light/warmth coming through everyone. Almost like their group, through the guidance of Yod's esoteric experience/studying, had gotten onto this frequency - not that I'm saying I'm drinking the Father Yod Kool-Aid - but I can see how these cults draw people in by tapping into these little pockets of truth (not that I'm using 'cult' as a pejorative either by the way, I actually think it's a reflection of something necessary to the human experience - and music culture, and art, at its best, imitates it. Anyone who has had a really powerful music experience as part of a subculture might recognize the cultic aspects involved). Whatever it is all these things gesture towards, I'd like to know the real thing.
Upcoming screenings of the documentary, and related events:
Source Book Signing and Meet 'n Greet feat. Isis Aquarian and others
Tuesday, April 24th, 6-8 PM
1055 Valencia St. San Francisco
Source Documentary SFIFF Screening
Friday, April 27th, 3 PM
Sundance Kabuki Cinemas
1865 Post St. San Francisco
Source Family Live Music Performance w/ Yahowa 13 guitarist Djin Aquarian
Saturday, April 28, 8 PM
The Vortex Room
1082 Howard (near 7th St.) San Francisco
Source Documentary SFIFF Screening
Sunday, April 29th, 6:15 PM
Film Society Cinema
1746 Post St. San Francisco