He traveled via a variety of modes and conveyance – cars, planes, by train, on horseback, by boat and hovercraft, the London and New York City underground subways, to say nothing of walking. Just as he and other beat artists of that time used found objects to produce consequential works of art, Bowen used the people he found in his travels to construct a kind of living canvas. This human-art-tableau created the desired effect. It stimulated a distinctive reaction in all who saw this living canvas. Those who came to the Be-In came for no other reason than to be together with others like themselves, to share and talk with one another, and to be with the human tableau, as had been carefully arranged. This creation by Bowen changed the consciousness of the people; it is arguably the most significant work of performance art in that century. This is validated by the Italian journalist Stella Spinelli, when she wrote her December 17, 1998, La Nazione article, He is the Father of Performance Art: “Michael Bowen created the greatest example of performance art, the first Human Be-In.” Without a doubt, the Human Be-In triggered the Summer of Love, and stimulated a necessary change of consciousness in the general population in order that reality would begin to be viewed in an entirely new way.
As this astonishing story of cultural success unfolds in the following pages, we will see the necessary stages carefully develop, and then expand into the next phase. First, the many séances at John Starr Cooke’s house in Carmel Highlands, from 1959 to 1963, when the entity that called itself “ONE” first manifested, then the necessary travels, starting in 1963, when Michael went south to Tepoztlan, Mexico, where he experienced the Aztec banquet initiation. Continuing the great arc, Michael journeyed to New York City, to find Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert, and others, traveling on to London, gathering other necessary pieces of the Be-In puzzle, returning to New York, and finally traveling straight west, back to San Francisco, in 1966, to establish a studio in the newly burgeoning Haight Ashbury district. Here Michael would create the San Francisco Oracle with his new friend Allen Cohen, and then organize the Love Pageant Rally as a test to see if people would come to a larger gathering. Then, with all the necessary arrangements finally falling into place, Michael produced what would come to be known as the first Human Be-In, the grand performance art that initiated the Summer of Love.
Love Pageant Rally October 6, 1966 Janis Joplin and Big Brother
After Michael ascended onto the stage, the Canadian Broadcast Company fortunately recorded his words. After speaking for a few minutes, Bowen, along with Ginsberg and Snyder, began repeatedly chanting “Om Sri Maitreya,” a Sanskrit chant meant to invoke the presence of Maitreya, the final incarnation of Buddha, the perfect enlightened being. Many people chanted along, and then slowly dispersed through the only exit of the polo field at the west end, close to the Pacific Ocean. Many would continue walking to the beach, and watched in wonderment as the sun set over the vast Pacific Ocean. Many of those on the beach then created bonfires, and spent much of the evening camped by the shore. Others would simply go back into Golden Gate Park the same way they had arrived. By speaking as the sun set, and then chanting to the Be-In crowd, Michael Bowen completed his grand performance art. Each person who came that historic day left the polo field carrying with him or her something that could never be taken from them; they carried away the experience of spiritual unity and harmony by simply “Being.” That rarefied experience of “Oneness” of the 20,000 grew and expanded exponentially, as it began to spread from person to person, and then generation to generation. All became “…as seeds erupting from a red and opening lotus.”
The night of January 14, 1967, in his studio/ashram on Haight Street, Michael Bowen hosted Ginsberg, Leary, Snyder and many others in attendance. The room was alive with exuberance; people were laughing, joking, and hugging each other after a very uplifting Be-In day. Bowen called his guru, John Starr Cooke, in Mexico, to tell him of the magical event that just happened. As will be seen in the chapters to follow, the complete story of this defining moment started many years earlier, with John Starr Cooke and Michael Bowen working synergistically together to design the happening that came to be known as the Human Be-In, the most significant event of consciousness change in modern history. Some of the conversation of that phone call is related in the classic book, “The Summer of Love,” written and photographed by Gene Anthony:
Bowen, who had just come running into the room with a telephone in his hand, called to Ginsberg that he had Mexico on the line. “In Mexico, they meditated with us for six whole hours while we were at the Be-In,” Bowen shouted as he leapt over a mattress, dropped down onto his hands and knees, and began tossing aside pillows until he located an extension socket in the wall.
“You mean to say you have a phone in your meditation room?” Ginsberg said, and burst out laughing.
“Electric Tibet, baby,” Bowen said, flipping Ginsberg the receiver. “Say something, will you Allen?”
“Hello, what’s your name?” Ginsberg said, sticking a finger in his free ear. “Bright? Hey, that’s a groovy name.” Ginsberg was talking to Bowen’s guru in Mexico, John Cooke.
“It’s really far out here, man,” said Ginsberg mimicking Bowen.
Bowen reached for the phone. “It’s really far out here, man,” Bowen said.
John, or Bright as he chose to be called at that moment, repeated to Allen what he had said to Michael just a few moments earlier, “It is snowing here in Tepoztlan. We have exchanged weather with you.” After handing the phone back to Michael, Ginsberg spotted Bowen’s friends, the film crew with their cameras. Ginsberg just groaned and said, “I should have known.”
Dancing Flowers of Tepoztlan painting by Michael Bowen Sweden