How lucky we should be to spend all our free time on Twitter, using the Internet as an exigent teacher informing us how to interpret any and all of the day’s events, whether it’s the Daft Punk leak or the Benghazi hearings. Unsure of how to feel about anything? Strap on some web goggles, stand in front of the wind turbine of general consensus, and let it buoy you to whatever conclusion you need to reach. It’s a microcosm of history in general, which necessarily streamlines along politically-guided narratives to give us reference so that we’re not all stuck bumbling through our individual perceptions of what actually happened. But some wonderfully weird shit slips through every now and then, lacking the meticulous packaging and immediate contextual understanding of bigger events. They force you to do some of the legwork, and imagine for yourself what it must’ve been like at the time.
Take the Source Family, a California hippie cult launched out of a health food restaurant and led by a messianic figure named Father Yod who literally looked like the biblical depiction of God. They’re the subject of an eponymous documentary that came out earlier this month that travails the life and death of the group, meticulously pieced together through archival footage provided by Family historian Isis the Aquarian (not her given name) and featuring interviews with amateur Family scholars and former Family members. It’s a fascinating exploration of an organization that made an honest attempt to meld the hippie tenets of open-mindedness, free love, and reinterpreted spirituality into a liveable ethos without totally rejecting mainstream society, becoming a cultural phenomenon quoted in Annie Hall and Saturday Night Live as the weed dream of the ‘60s became the coke reality of the ‘70s. (Or so I’m told, since I’m 24 years old and haven’t lived through shit.)
Most intriguingly, the documentary has prompted a mini-revival of acts like Ya Ho Wha 13, Children of the Sixth Root Race, Father Yod and the Spirit of 76, among others, bands formed out of the Family’s 100+ members that recorded somewhere around 65 albums, only some of which were released at the time—and even then, no more than a few dozen copies. Running the gamut from free-floating space age psychedelic to scuzzed-out stoner skronk to hippie-dippie folk hymns and beyond, it’s a stunning find considering the bubble the Family was living in, genuinely obscure music to experience without any context of how it fits into a greater musical timeline. According to the documentary, several of the Family members were musicians before they joined the group, and were given the cash by Father Yod (earned through the restaurant) to purchase high end recording equipment so that music could become a natural extension of their spiritual exploration. Yod himself would take the mic from time to time, leading free form jam sessions with his shamanic bellow.
Pretty soon, everyone joined in. (In the movie, there’s a shot of a woman recording a vocal in a studio booth while holding a suckling baby at her breast with a free hand.) “Whether you were a musician or not, everybody carried a guitar, everybody sang, everybody was a free spirit, and music was the universal language,” Isis the Aquarian explained when we talked over the phone. “It connected everything. It was just the mindset of that time, music-wise. It was like acid, it was a chariot that people rode to cross over. It was like a portal opened and music was the chariot that people rode from their minds and hearts over that crossover.” (I should mention that smoking prodigal amounts of marijuana, or “the sacred herb” as they called it, was part of the Family’s group doctrine, as was polyamory and something called “sex magic” that’s mentioned once or twice.)