Shelves: donated-to-bookcellar A bit of a scumbag, a lousy lay, full of blarney, sometimes puerile and petty minded, after pages I was fed up with this guy. Still, this was an interesting read. Aug 24, Jeff Buddle rated it liked it I both love and hate this book. Boy-oh, boy-oh does it start good, describing a game of ringolevio on the streets of Little Italy in s New York. Ringolevio is a sort of kids wargame in which the object was to capture the majority of the opposing teams members and hold them in a prison while fighting off any attempt to free them. Its a kids game, innocent and brutal at the same time.
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A lithe, freckled man with flinty, Irish features walked in to observe. He had an arresting gait with a leoline head thrust aggressively forward as if it were impatient with the body behind it. His eyes were a cool, unflappable blue, and his face was as still as a mask suggesting abundant anger and determination. Emmett Grogan had come to audition.
We struck up a conversation that carried us through the afternoon and a long walk to our respective flats, which, it turned out, were on opposite corners of the street. He was a galvanizing story teller and an immediate new friend who subsequently changed my life in more profound ways that anyone I had ever met before, or have allowed to since.
If all of us are "life-actors," more or less consciously creating an identity by our intentions and daily behavior, Emmett was determined to be a "life-star. Men and women attended when he entered and moved through the room with the detached concentration of a shark, because he had a developed sense of drama in his posture, his cupped cigarette, his smoky, hooded eyes.
His being declared him a man on the wrong side of the law; a man with a past; a man who would not be deterred. This was Emmett Grogan, the self created by young Eugene Grogan in a life sentence of hard labor with his soul.
Though time and observation have modified my early perception, they have never totally obliterated it. Initially comprised of disillusioned vets, their gang life of blood loyalties, squad-and-platoon-sized intimacy and organization was an early intimation of the coming war with the status-quo.
The cultural propaganda machinery was in full swing. In real homes, people drank, fought bitterly, abused their children, had ulcers and worked themselves into early graves.
Young people were pressured to study meaningless subject matter to enter college, to graduate and "make good" like the parents who were dying in front of them.
This divorce between reality and official fiction demanded articulation and voice, and that voice was the unquenchable Youth Underground which leaked its "treacherous" information through street wisdom. We were trying to thrive in a culture whose values and goals were so sublimated to material ends as to be indivisible from them. In such as case, what do you do when the culture itself is the enemy? Eugene created Emmett as his answer to that question. Emmett quickly became bored with the Mime Troupe and what he considered the "safety" of the stage.
With his almost invisible companion, Billy Murcott, the one he called "the genius," Emmett began improvising activities on the streets which laid the groundwork for the Diggers, a group whose action-oriented philosophy and politics were based on autonomy, personal authenticity and freedom.
The name itself was an homage to Gerard Winstanley, the millenarian heretic religious leader of seventeenth-century England who believed in the universal right of man to cultivate wastelands and common lands without paying tariffs to owners of the manors they adjoined. A simple act if you considered it as "charity. The food was there, the kids were there, why not feed them?
Without ideology, or cant. Just have food there and see what happened. It was a challenging, interesting thing to do, a precedent-setting thing to do. Consider the implications, the organizing, the effort, to make this possible: if you could feed two or three or five hundred people a day, for free, what else could you do? And why not? His notion of anonymity was to give his name away, so that countless people would claim it for countless purposes.
Eventually,, some reporters would assert that there was no Emmett Groan, that the name was a fiction created by the Diggers to confound the straight world.
While it was a way of demonstrating lack of attachment, it also made him ubiquitous, an instant legend. If, for instance, he came into a room late for a meeting, he might apologize with a story about being attacked by street toughs, taking revenge on him for some earlier intervention in their affairs.
Usually people listened to these stories, without believing or disbelieving them, enjoying the drama of life with Emmett. If one were pushed to incredulity by a particularly outrageous claim and were to challenge him, he might remove his glasses with the air of a smug magician and demonstrate his blackened eye and wounds. The wounds were definitely real, but was the story? If it was true, was it completely or partially true?
One never knew and never found out. And what was that work? That summer, we camped illicitly in the Chelsea, pretending to be "managers," in the rooms vacated by Janis Joplin and her band after they had left on tour. We would move from room to room, picking the flimsy locks, confounding the Hotel management who sent the bills on to god-knows-what befuddled band accountant. We spent hours on the phone each day, calling people we had never met, but who might be resources - anyone of whom intimate knowledge could be turned to our advantage - inventing pretexts to bring them into our purview.
By the end of the summer we had New York wired; unlimited mobility and access to room we wanted to be in; cultural impact; and enhanced prestige. Of course, this last is a contradiction, but we were contradictory people, and, after all, human.
We reveled in the confusion and shock on the faces of the police and the gang-leaders as they were escorted by the doorman, who had unlocked the huge skyscraper, into the executive meeting room.
There, at the head of the huge, empty, hardwood table with seating for twenty, were Emmett and I, in blue-jeans, long-hair and earrings, waiting for them like it was our living room. That was a classic Digger play - hard politics with style. All artists desire an audience, and much as we would criticize and change our culture, we want, at the same time, to be accepted and rewarded by it. Emmett was no different, and it is this contradiction, of simultaneously spurning and yearning an audience, which became the crucifix on which he finally impaled himself.
But the strain of inventing a culture is exhausting. Everything comes up for review. No limit or taboo is sacred, especially when the investigation is coupled to belief in a high and noble mission. If our souls know no limits, why should our bodies? Drugs became the fuel for imaginative and physical transcendence. As edge dwellers, we were proud of being tougher, more experimental, truthful, and less compromised than our peers who seemed more interested in dope-and-long-hair-at-the-office than in real social alternatives.
Hindsight has taught me that there is an invisible ravenous twin haunting each of us. Despite each "good work" and selfless sacrifice in the name of commonly held beliefs, without unremitting vigilance, tiny, daily, indulgences betray these high aims and feed our gluttonous companion. Emmett struck me with a needle twice. The first time he pierced my ear. Sweet William was attending the ceremony, his grave, Mayan-Jewish face with high cheekbones and dark eyes bearing solemn witness.
Emmett pierced by ear and he was right. It did change me. It drew me a little deeper into our confederation, a little farther outside the pasty grip of convention. The second time was in the living room of a Hollywood movie star, in a forest of Pop Art paintings. This time the needle was a syringe, loaded with heroin. The Sixties turned into the Seventies and the hard-life changed a lot of things. A lot of friends died, all I believe, mentioned in this book.
The list is longer than I have the heart to type. Faced with these cautionary episodes, a lot of people got well. Phyllis went to school and became a nurse and a college professor; Natural Suzanne became a lawyer and will be a judge of international treaties with indigenous people; Nina, Freeman, David and Jane moved upstate to the Mattole River and today look after the wild salmon and fight the excesses of the logging industry.
Peter Berg, whom Grogan called the Hun in Ringolevio , writes and breads new ground as a bioregional thinker just as he did as a Mime Troupe director and Digger. Somewhere in these transformations, Emmett got lost.
I went to see him once, shortly after the publication of Ringolevio when he was riding high, married to a beautiful French-Canadian actress and living in a luxurious apartment in Brooklyn Heights. He was proud of having returned "so near and yet so far," as he put it.
I admit to envy of him then. Most of my energy was going into survival and what was left was dedicated to learning enough about nuclear power to prevent a plant from being erected in our community.
I explained everything that I had learned about it to date, told him he was a boring motherf and left so that we could both lick our wounds. From that time on, our relationship changed, and Emmett began to relate to me as if I were a necessary audience. He was proud to tell me that our bedroom confrontation had produced a new book, called Final Score , a nuclear thriller which he felt would outline the perils of the whole system.
He had begun writing songs - the Band even recorded two - and was excited that Etta James might record one. Despite all these activities and interests, by this time nothing much was really sustaining Emmett. He developed curious mannerisms, particularly a constant, knowing wink, suggesting that everything had a deeper, hipper side that I would have missed without his warning.
The last time I saw him, I kept a rendezvous at a Malibu beach house and no one answered the door. I prowled around, broke in and found Emmett passed out in bed. I checked his pulse and, satisfied that he was living, shook the place down before I woke him and found enough drugs and traces to open a small pharmacy.
We had a knock-down fight and finally, as a strategy for getting me off his back, he confessed to a suicide attempt the previous day. That was so uncharacteristic it frightened me. Because I lived four hundred miles away, I called a trusted friend who lived close enough to monitor him a bit. A tall and charming hipster and political can-do wizard, Duvall was fearless and never missed the joke.
I thought he and Emmett would like each other. They did, and began to hang out together, sharing the same sense of adventure. Duvall called one day, and though his laughter described a hundred-mile-an-hour car race through Topanga Canyon where Emmett chased down a famous cinematographer and forced him to sign a release for his book, the man had optioned and ignored for an unconscionable length of time.
Their two lives, and two deaths, continue to haunt me as unnervingly similar. There is no way that I can tell you who Emmett was; neither will this book.
Emmett told you what he thought. He was stand-up. So read Ringolevio in that light. Whether or not he actually did everything he claimed in exactly the way he claimed is immaterial.
Emmett was a guidon carried into battle, an emblem behind which people rallied their imaginations.
A lithe, freckled man with flinty, Irish features walked in to observe. He had an arresting gait with a leoline head thrust aggressively forward as if it were impatient with the body behind it. His eyes were a cool, unflappable blue, and his face was as still as a mask suggesting abundant anger and determination. Emmett Grogan had come to audition. We struck up a conversation that carried us through the afternoon and a long walk to our respective flats, which, it turned out, were on opposite corners of the street.
Ringolevio: A Life Played for Keeps
Ringolevio – Emmett Grogan