Jessie Benton Lyman’s genealogy is the most outstanding family tree in America. It is a Patriotic Tree full of stars. The great mother ship that lands atop the Devil’s Tower in Wyoming looks like a Christmas Tree. Turn the American flag into a cone shaped tree, and her are the red and white rays coming down from heaven.
In the first biography of Christine Rosamond Benton, Garth Benton does most of the talking. Only once does he talk about the love he owned for Christine. There is no mention of a Family Muse, for this book was the Final Divorce that was in its final stages when my beloved sister was swept out to sea – along with all the magic. It is for this love our lost magic that I cling to Ms. Christensen and herald her return, the Winged Muse raining down bright ribbons of inspiration upon us all. Alas, she noticed my string of bright lights was growing dim. And on Christmas Day, she sent me the gift – of her!
The Boston Herald American, p.14, March 26, 1978
By Gary Moore, Special to the Herald American
Spaceship interview given via Ouija board
Darkness had fallen on North Hollywood. You could no longer even see the smog.
About the people I would be meeting I knew only hearsay: Two years ago a Boston writer told me they had smashed the window of his car. Seven years ago Rolling Stone magazine had gone to great lengths to say they were violent, almost fascistic. But now they had dropped out of sight – evaporated.
Suddenly the house was awash in the glare of headlights. There were voices outside. Would they arrive in a battered Volkswagen – a symptom of whatever defeat had sent them into hiding? I stepped out the door to be greeted by a gleaming, grey limousine.
Two young men were waiting for me in the car. We spoke good-naturedly, as if clandestine rendezvous were the most normal thing in the world. White curtains covered all the limousine windows.
“To keep out prying eyes,” he said, smiling.
Finally I had met the Mel Lyman Commune.
“This is our traveling sound system,” said Jim Kweskin, one of my guides and a professional musician, “. . . one of the main things we do is play music.”
He plugged a cassette into the tape deck and three successive songs throbbed and flowed through the speakers.
“Listen for the harp,” said Kweskin in his soft, sometimes almost whispered, voice. “That’s Mel.”
The harp (harmonica) welled up like a baby crying. It was almost like a human voice.
The car stopped and the door swung open. We were surrounded by quiet – the shadows of huge old trees and a spot-lighted, manicured lawn. A house-high cage containing white doves was bathed in an orange spotlight. A wall of shrubbery blocked out any indication of our whereabouts.
A mansion loomed before us.
In the living room there were red velvet chairs and long-stemmed roses in a vase. A violin hung on the wall. Logs were crackling and popping in the fireplace.
Wearing a white dress that emphasized her tan, Jessie Benton entered and firmly shook my hand. As we all sat down, I asked the group for a history of the Lyman community. When had it begun?
“It started long before this earth was made,” said a blonde woman. “We are a race,” she said.
“A race – like a race of people . . . We’ve always been together. We’re gathered here on earth. And we were somehow – in one way or another – drawn to the same place at the same time. That was in Boston – years and years ago.”
Exactly how many years ago?
“Nineteen sixty-six,” said Jessie Benton solidly from her chair by the wall. She is the daughter of artist Thomas Hart Benton.
Someone remarked that the spreading of Mel Lyman’s communities to different cities was “protective.” When I inquired why there was any need to protect, a mild flurry of cryptic discussion took place among my hosts, then it dissolved quickly into what looked like agreement as they began to nod their heads. A young man said, “Y’know, maybe Melvin can talk to him.”
This was the supreme honor. In came a young woman with long brown hair, held back from her face by a gold headband. Her blue dress was a gossamer and a star was at her throat.
She knelt on the carpet before a rainbow colored ouija board which rested on a white pedestal. The ouija board was to be my hotline to Mel Lyman, and the gossamer-gowned lady in blue was to be my interpreter.
Jessie Benton leaned over beside me, “These answers you should probably write down.”
The gossamer-gowned medium opened her eyes.
“Melvin is here.”
I lost little time in utilizing the opportunity, and asked why, after writing six or seven years ago that he would change the world and found hundreds of communities, Mel Lyman had now chosen to go into hiding. Did he now prefer anonymity?
Said the medium: “I have found – that I can actually – have a greater – effect – on this planet from – an anominous (that is the way she said it) position.”
Remembering accusations that Lyman had used racist rhetoric in some of his writings, I asked if his privileged “race” cut across worldly ethnic lines.
The fireplace gave out with a huge, indignant pop, and the lady in blue said, “Of course.”
As long as delicate issues had been broached, I asked next about the violence. The Rolling Stone article had cited numerous instances of assault and battery by Lyman’s followers on people who disagreed with them. Mel Lyman himself had once written, “I am going to burn down the world.”
Said the steady-eyed lady in blue: “I have never advocated violence. It has never been used as – a mechanism.”
It turned out that the very reason why Mel Lyman was not addressing me in person was that his physical presence had been detained somewhere else . . . in a space ship.
I rode back from the Lyman sanctuary in that noiseless limousine, listening to a tape of Jim Kweskin’s personal friend, Maria Muldaur, singing about Jesus.
The fun side of folk music was explored by the Jim Kweskin Jug Band. During the five years that they were together, the group successfully transformed the sounds of pre-World War II rural music into a springboard for their good-humored performances.
A communal-like musical ensemble, the Kweskin Jug Band was formed by Jim Kweskin, who had been inspired by a folk group, the Hoppers, featuring washtub bass player John “Fritz” Richmond. As a student at Boston University, Kweskin would often attend the Hoppers’ performances at Cafe Yana in Harvard Square, learning much about guitar fingerpicking by watching the band’s fingers. After Richmond was drafted into the U.S. Army, serving time in Korea and Europe, Kweskin began to frequent other folk clubs in Cambridge and Boston. Before long, he was playing guitar well enough to perform English and Appalachian ballads in folk coffeehouses.
Although Kweskin temporarily left for California, he returned to Cambridge, along with his wife Marilyn and dog Agatha, and resumed his musical career. A split-bill booking with blues enthusiast Geoff Muldaur at the Community Church in Boston on February 3, 1963, proved a turning point. In addition to peforming their own sets, Kweskin and Muldaur played several songs together. When Kweskin was invited by Maynard Solomon of Vanguard records to record with a band, he immediately remembered playing with Muldaur. Together with Fritz Richmond, and banjo and harmonica player Mel Lyman, Kweskin assembled the original Kweskin Jug Band. The group was a smash from the onset and were quickly signed to a record contract by Vanguard.
During a two week stint at the Bottom Line in New York, Maria D’Amato, fiddler and vocalist for the New York-based Even Dozen Jug Band, attended a show, became enamored of Muldaur and accepted an invitation to move to Cambridge and join the Kweskin Jug Band. D’Amato and Muldaur were soon married.
Shortly after the Kweskin Jug Band performed on the nationally-aired Steve Allen Show, on March 4, 1964, Lyman left the band and was replaced by banjo wiz Bill Keith, who had just left a gig with Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys.
The Kweskin Jug Band continued to bring their unique style of folk music to a national audience, appearing on The Roger Miller Show and The Al Hirt Show. Although Kweskin planned to move to California, the group left Vanguard and signed with Reprise, and virtuosic fiddler Richard Greene was added to the band. Just when it looked as though the Kweskin Jug Band was going to become commercially successful, Kweskin, who had moved into Lyman’s commune in Fort Hill, a run down section of Boston, shaved off his trademark mustache and announced that he was breaking up the group.