In 2007, when independent publisher Jodi Wille published a book about a 1970s mystical tribe from L.A. called the Source Family, she had no idea the profound ripple effect it would have on a certain swathe of the contemporary art underground. Illustrated with photos of the long-haired, dreamy-looking family members, the book triggered a chain reaction in a specific substrata of neo-hippie musicians, designers, writers, graffiti artists, restaurateurs, alternative livers and spiritual seekers, some of them famous (Billy Corgan, Devendra Banhart, MEAR ONE), all of them free spirits, the kind who might themselves have joined the Source Family had they been born 30 years earlier.
The Source Family was led by a bearded visionary called Father Yod, who lived with his 14 "spiritual wives" in a mansion in Nichols Canyon alongside around 140 other family members, operating LA's first health food restaurant 'The Source' on the Sunset Strip (featured in Woody Allen's Annie Hall), and living by "Aquarian" principles of love, whole foods, Eastern and Western spiritual teachings, and rock 'n' roll. This year, thanks to Wille's documentary, The Source (it premiered in March at SXSW, with more screenings planned in San Francisco and LA), the cosmic ripples started by the book in 2007 are set to reach an even wider audience of New Aquarians and future "Yodheads". But unlike the Source family Aquarians of the 1970's, who lived, ate and slept together, dotingly hanging on to Father Yod's every word, these New Aquarians are decidedly postmodern, a brightly-hued collage of inter-connected individuals who aren't looking for a guru, but are bonded by their common appreciation of the Source's radness. Some of them have taken on Aquarian names; they connect at rock shows, gallery openings, at parties under desert night skies, and on Facebook; they design Source-inspired clothing and make Father Yod-inspired art, tuning into the Source on their own terms, in a way that doesn't require them to actually drop out...not yet, anyway.
One of the early Source Family adopters was musician Guy Blakeslee, frontman of LA rock band, The Entrance Band. Like many others in his scene, he already had a passing knowledge of The Source Family thanks to the legacy of YaHoWha13, the Family's influential psych band, comprised of longhaired, guitar-wielding and gong-smashing wizards Djin, Sunflower, and Octavius Aquarian. When YaHoWha13 reformed in November 2007 for a concert at the Echoplex celebrating the book's release, hundreds of bearded, feathery, beautiful young things gathered at the venue, curious to meet original Source family members, including the book's authors Isis and Electricity Aquarian, and the late Sky Saxon, garage rock legend who happened to be a Source family member in the 1970s. (Father Yod was there too, but only in spirit--he died in a freak hang-gliding accident in Hawaii in 1975.)
That night at the Echoplex represents, as Blakeslee puts it, a "pivotal" moment in the development of the psych scene in LA, uniting many generations of psychedelic music fans and spiritual warriors in one room, creating a dialog between the 1970s and the "kids" that hadn't taken place before. "There was a room in the back of the venue all done up with white shag carpet and huge inflatable bean bags and I can remember lounging in this room on loads of Ecstasy talking about Kabbalah and breath of fire with Source Family members who were excited to be talking to a young wannabe shaman active in the LA scene," says Blakeslee (his band also performed that night). When the white-robed, messianic figure of Electricity Aquarian led the audience in a cycle of 108 breaths of fire (a Source Family ritual known as the "star exercise"), Blakeslee remembers feeling "impressd that so many hipsters were willing to let down their guard and do the exercise together."
Shortly afterwards, Blakeslee played the YaHoWha13 reunion show in San Francisco, members of the Entrance Band backing 70-year-old Sky "Sunlight Aquarian" Saxon. Like Blakeslee, Saxon was tripping balls. "Sky was on mushrooms and his wife kept looking at me all googly-eyed and saying "we're not supposed to eat mushrooms" as she ingested more. Sky would turn to me and say "is it trippy Guy? Guy, is it trippy?" And I couldn't quite tell what he meant, but I knew the answer had to be YES." That night, Blakeslee had a long conversation with Electricity Aquarian about his idea for a traveling show, where the Entrance Band, Sky Saxon, and YaHoWha 13 would travel the USA playing shows at elementary schools to recruit and convert the next generation of Aquarians. And even later that night, Blakeslee was given his Aquarian name by YaHoWha13's guitarist, Djin Aquarian ("such a down to earth gentleman with an elfish charm"). Guy was pronounced "Sir Guyser Aquarian", and the Entrance Band drummer Derek James was anointed "Lux Deus Aquarian".
Blakeslee remains in regular contact with Djin Aquarian, the most active YaHoWha13 member, and go-to guy for many contemporary musicians interested in the Source. When Sky passed away in 2009, singer Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins fame played bass for Djin Aquarian at the Sky Saxon tribute show, also at the Echoplex. This would mark the first performance by YaHoWha33, a band made up of any YaHoWha13 fan who wants to jam with Djin Aquarian. Sky and Djin had given Billy Corgan his Aquarian name--Shmuel. "It's Samuel in Hebrew," says Djin, on the phone from his home in Mount Shasta. "Samuel was the prophet that anointed King David, and King David was the songwriter. But Billy might be ready for a more cosmic name now, less rooted in Hebrew. Shmuel sounds like a wet mop in the face."
Djin has given out several hundred Aquarian names over the last five or six years, to the ever-growing group of young friends that is gravitating toward him and the Source. Apparently, before Father Yod died, he told his 140 core followers that they should prepare for a second incarnation of The Source, made of friends and extended family, whose members would number 4000. That's a lot of names, but Djin is happy to channel them for his new friends. "The names are based on love and friendship," explains Djin. "It gives you a little boost to feel like you belong to that energy movement, that is moving towards health and hygiene and lifestyle and sovereignty and sustainability and all those things that we stood for."
Take Sasha Vallely of the LA band Spindrift--visit her Facebook page and you'll see she now goes by the name Sasha "Kaleidoscopia Aquarian" Vallely. Sasha received her name after meeting Djin at the Sky Saxon tribute event, which she helped organize. "Some people ask questions about my name; they wonder what it's all about," says Sasha. "I try and explain it. I say it's kind of like a cult, but now it's more spread out, and about like-minded people. People that believe in love and being good to one another and all those philosophies. It's a really cool thing to be a part of. A lot of other people want to be involved and I think it's great to spread the word, the message of being more health conscious and looking out for each other." She, like many other New Aquarians, picks and chooses the elements of Source family philosophy that fit her life as a touring musician. "The Source were very strict and used to get early every morning and meditate and were vegan. I can't do that right now. But I do strive to be more health-conscious. I mean, look at Djin, he's full of life and energy and glowing, because of the healthy lifestyle that he leads. I would like to be more like that."
Don't mistake the New Aquarians for straight-up New Agers--open-minded they may be, but forming a drum circle on Venice Beach, growing dreads or paying a lot of money for didgeridoo healings in Ojai isn't what turns them on. They're too inspired by 60's and 70's backstage rock 'n roll culture to go full-on tie-dye (they see themselves as more sophisticated than that), and they're too committed to their art to fully drop out. Instead, they're part of that new breed of conscious hipster, the young culturally-astute hedonists, yogis, and shamanic aesthetes who are searching for their souls and healing their bodies and minds using various experimental means--magic mushrooms, whiskey, ayuasca, raw foods, LSD, niacin, goat-herding, juice cleanses, sound baths, travel to India, art shows in Paris, rainbow-chasing, you name it.
OwlEyes, an LA artist known for his vibrant use of color, rainbows and other psychedelic imagery, started incorporating Source family "vibrant light" inspirations into his collages around the same time he decided to switch up his lifestyle and get healthier. "I think the commune/ cult vibe always attracts the youth, but what made the Source stand out for me, I think, is that they had a very advanced idea of the way food should be treated and used," he says. "Living food for the immortals." Café Gratitude, arguably LA's hippest new health food restaurant, plans to come out with its own take on the "Source burger"--one of the most popular items on the menu at the original Source restaurant. Isis Aquarian, co-author of the 2007 book and spiritual mother of the New Aquarian movement, is expected to be present when they unveil the burger. Isis, like Djin Aquarian, has become a touchstone for young artists and musicians interested in the Source.
As Father Yod's former right hand woman, one of his spiritual wives, and designated record keeper of the Source family, Isis makes regular trips to Los Angeles from her home in Hawaii to pursue her life's work--spreading Father Yod's "love, health, and rock n roll" message. Famed graffiti artist MEAR ONE, for example, is one of Isis' biggest fans. You wouldn't ordinarily pair a young urban graffiti artist with a septuagenarian from Hawaii, but the admiration is mutual, and strong. The pair recently met up at Elf restaurant in Echo Park (whose co-owner Astara is another Source family devotee, of course) to discuss a stencil MEAR is making of Father Yod's face, underscored with Yod's slogan, Just Be Kind--kind of like an "OBEY GIANT" for the New Aquarian movement (look out for it on a city street near you soon). "Isis hunted me down in a spiritual sense," says MEAR, from his studio in Silverlake. "It's interesting, when I met her I was in a transition period in my life and she kind of zeroed in on that and got straight to the point. She's kind of a shawoman like that." Isis' philosophy, says MEAR, is "like water for thirsty minds right now."
Likewise, Seattle-based experimental clothing designer Michael Cepress has become one of Isis' young fans, and he is creating some Isis-inspired looks for an upcoming new line. "When it comes to the Source Family aesthetic, I love the pure, natural beauty of their handmade clothes, their glorious long hair and glowing complexions--an obvious merit badge granted from years of organic diets, daily meditation and clean living--and the honesty of the look," says Cepress. "There is no tongue in cheek subtext or "we're smarter than you" irony. Its honest, direct, and filled with an undeniable hope for making the world a brighter place through gentle living and open minds."
Sometimes the adoration gets a little out of control--Isis wishes an Australian jewelry company called ManiaMania might have asked for permission before creating their 'Isis Aquarian bracelet', but when they sent her one of the pieces she had to concede it was very pretty indeed (she gave it to Jodi Wille as a gift). Isis continues to fly back and forth from Hawaii to LA, fulfilling the quest given to her by Father Yod before he died, to spread his Just Be Kind philosophy among the New Aquarian tribe. And they're lapping it up--when Isis introduced herself to musician Devendra Banhart at a show at LA's Harvard and Stone venue recently, Devendra beamed from ear to ear. "I'm so honored," he said, explaining that he had read the Source book as he wrote down his phone number on a piece of paper. Isis Aquarian may have been the most senior lady in the room, but that night, she was the envy of every girl. Later that night, over a bowl of late-night tom yum soup at a Thai restaurant in Hollywood, she attempted to explain the Source's magical appeal. "We were forbearers, pioneers; we were part of something that was ahead of time, embracing things that this generation is embracing too, taking everything from home birth to green energy to vegetarianism to the mystery teachings. Plus, we wre multi-faceted--there was fashion, music, the restaurant, our mystique...and we really did exist in another realm of frequency. That's how we did it. As a concept, that is just being accepted right now. But kids get it."
Read the article on KCET's ARTBOUND here.