Chapter Three, Part Four

From those first moments with John in Carmel, life moved quickly and seamlessly from triumph to tragedy and back to triumph again. This oscillation continued for those late fifties and early sixties Beat-generation years that could be described as a mad laundry list of events. Michael’s paintings continued to be collected by Dr. Wennesland and other collectors. In a year or so in 1959, the house on Greenwich Street began to break up due to events beyond anyone’s control. A friend of Bowen’s owned a Mafia gay bar called the Black Cat. When Michael told him he needed another place to live, he said he had a house in Mill Valley and that Michael could have it for some drawings as rent as long as he liked. By that time, Michael was making assemblages from mannequins, some horrible and frightening reflections of the American underbelly revealed. These assemblages were exhibited at the now famous Beat-generation Batman and Spatsa galleries. Michael moved his family from San Francisco to the suburban Mill Valley across the Golden Gate Bridge. The Black Cat owner’s house was perfect, very big and hidden by trees. It was only a fifteen-minute drive by car to the Commercial Street studio and Sonia and little Michael enjoyed the new lifestyle away from the San Francisco inner city hustle and bustle. Michael filled the woods in front of his house with the mannequins because he had no other place to store them. However harmless and innocuous putting mannequins in the woods seemed to Bowen, it freaked-out the neighbors. Michael continued to go back and forth to the commercial street studio and work at creating art as well as painting at the Mill Valley house

“Take me to Your Leader” Bowen Assemblage

One day after coming back to the house from San Francisco, Michael learned that Sonia and little Michael were paid a visit from the child protective services of Marin County. The neighbors that Michael and his family did not know had made complaints. They told the social service agency that some kind of maniac had been living in the house, and that the house with its unusual decoration of mannequins had become a kind of hidden eyesore in this hidden neighborhood. Michael knew that they would be back. He tried to see the mannequins that were painted ghostly white with baby heads and six arms and other oddities that were dismantled from his shows in San Francisco as nothing unusual. After all there was one particularly horrible and offensive assemblage called “John Birch’s Mother” that sold immediately to a dealer in New York. The other pieces from the exhibit, which were equally bizarre, filled the woods in front of his house. When Michael saw the woods and his house through the eyes of his unknown neighbors and combined that with a visit from the social services authorities, he knew he had to move his family quickly out of that house.

A Beat-generation writer that Michael knew named Jerry Kamstra had been living in an isolated log cabin on the cliffs on the seaside of Marin County above a town called Muir beach. Kamstra told Bowen that he was leaving and that Michael and his family could have the place. In a few days Michael, Sonia, and little Michael moved from their Mill Valley house and into the new log cabin. Their new house was an incredible Americana relic; it was a genuine log cabin on the edge of a cliff above a small Portuguese town far away from civilization, which was on the other side of the mountain away from Mill Valley, and its square civilization full of bigots. Michael felt that his family would be safe there but now it took him an hour to drive to the studio on Commercial Street. Michael had to travel to San Francisco as many days as he could since their money came from not only his time producing his genius creative efforts in San Francisco, his incredible oil canvases, but also his time was spent meeting and entertaining collectors, and establishing and working at exhibitions of his work from his studio along with Monroe and McCracken. Michael had also taken the time to make many visits to see John Starr Cooke in Carmel Highlands as often as he could. Sonia and little Michael would come along to visit; it was fun for the small boy to run around outside and sometimes there were other kids his age.

*
‘There is no coming of the Beast, it is already here.
The Beast is ancient – existing and entwined with mankind since the beginning,
Manifesting in various forms thru the ages –
Sometimes savage, sometimes subtle and insidious.
An archer appears, but has no quiver. Shooting bolts of liquid fire,
He destroys the demon at the portal.
The demon dies a thousand times and rises yet again.
He is not to be destroyed finally, but elevated.’
*

“Beast Before the Heart” Etching by Michael Bowen

Years passed and many incredible Beat-generation stories and adventures occurred for Michael. Now, in the beginning of 1963, the police oppression in San Francisco had become impossible even for the three tough and resilient artists on Commercial Street. Arthur Monroe, even though a great intellectual and artistic genius, was beaten regularly simply because he was black. (7)

Bowen was stopped and harassed by the police many times for absolutely no reason. Michael McCracken was also harassed by the police and also attacked by the criminals of North Beach with its newly arrived “tits and ass topless” bars and clubs. The North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco in those days had become a Mecca for the sexually frustrated, criminals, drug dealers, and corrupt police and politicians. All of Michael’s close bohemian friends were packing and moving south to Mexico, Big Sur, New York, anywhere to get away from the fascists city administration and its minions.

After spending a day packing art materials and getting ready to leave the once fantastic Commercial Street studio, but now slowly becoming just a huge loft again, as McCracken, Arthur, and I began the process of abandoning this incredible space in which so many great people had had so many wonderful moments of exchange. As he walked down the stairs for the last time, Bowen looked back at an emptiness that would become art history. Bowen drove back home to the Muir Beach log cabin that he had left that morning to drive across the bridge to North Beach and the commercial street studio. The cabin where he would leave his family most days and some nights was isolated and could not be seen from any road. The cabin was warm and beautiful with its wood stove and iron cooking pans on the wall of the kitchen. There were coat racks for the windy moments outside the house high on the cliffs over the Pacific Ocean. It really was not much different than living in the West in the America of the 1800s when Mexico still ruled California. Little did Bowen know that soon he would be in that Mexico, its borders now pushed south almost six hundred miles. The cliff on the ocean side was almost straight down, yet at that time in the 1950s the coast was not polluted and we were able to get enormous amounts of fat delicious muscles just by going down the cliff holding on to a steel cable someone had anchored in sometime long ago. It was strong and I am sure it is still there. Coming back up hand over hand was not too bad leaning out straight out on the cliff as if you were walking. Maybe five minutes down and fifteen minutes up on a good day. But the bag loaded with the muscles gathered at low tide would be up there before you, sometimes pulled by my four year old little boy, and sometimes by others ready for a feast of muscles and seaweed, garlic and herbs cooked outside in a giant cauldron.

That evening when driving his car down the dirt trail and thinking pleasant thoughts about his quaint family life in the seaside cabin on the cliff, Michael could hardly believe his eyes; there where the house once stood was nothing but smoldering coals. A feeling of vertigo washed over him. The log cabin had been burned to the ground and Michael’s family was nowhere to be found. He turned the lights on in his car and got whatever flashlights he could find in the car and started walking toward the rubble, as the earth seemed to fall away underneath his feet with each step. There in the smoldering ashes he found a pile of bones still burning from the fire and felt sure they were the remains of his beloved wife and child. The ringing in his ears was deafening as he bent to pick up a stick off the ground. Holding it in his wet grip, he poked at the smoldering pile of bones feeling a kind of burning insanity and rage, soon to be replaced by a coldness that he had never felt before in his life. Michael pulled up the remains of a charred head; it was the head of one of his mastiff dogs. There was an immediate sense of relief that the pile of bones was not his wife or child, but was quickly replaced by swelling anger. A red haze descended upon his brain, engulfing him within its swirls, and imparting a desire he had never felt before in his life – the desire for revenge – to answer violence with more violence. (8)

–The Beast had Michael within its grasp–

Asked the seeker: Oh Master, a beast of anger has grown in me. Upon what does it feed that I may deny it its existence?

The Master said: Deny it nothing for denial feeds the monster also. There is no killing that can bring the beast of anger unto death, for it only grows again a greater beast, stronger and more fearsome. Before me is its proper food, and it must bow before it eats. Feed this heart unto the beast, for Love is the name of You and its sign in all its ways is the heart, the guardian of your path.

In a state of rage, he quickly got in the car and raced over the dirt road, which was the only way to get down on the Muir Beach side of the hill. Michael drove straight to the house of a nearby friend Philo Farnsworth, who was the inventor of television. Philo had died some years before, his wife barely scraped by with enough to eat for herself, and her children after David Sarnoff had stolen the entirety of Farnsworth’s invention, the television. The key to the television picture tube came to Philo at 14, when he was still a farm boy, and he had a working device at 21. Yet he died in obscurity in San Francisco. It was here at his friend’s house that Michael found his family, Sonia and little Michael, terrified but alive inside the safety of the house. The traumatized Sonia told the story of what had transpired that afternoon to Michael. Ignorant and superstitious Portuguese fishermen believed that Michael and his family were some kind of witches and decided to take action against them, like a vigilante committee they formed a group to scare away the harmless and innocent Bowen family. They shot at Sonia and her small child who were able to escape down the road and then they burned the log cabin down after shooting and killing Michael’s guard dogs. Just as in Mill Valley, Michael experienced first hand unwarranted and unnecessary cruelty and bigotry. Knowing there was no time to lose, Michael put his wife Sonia and little Michael into his car and immediately drove to the Mill Valley house of attorney Melvin Belli’s partner, Bill Choulos. Michael and Sonia related the story of what had happened to the horrified Chouloses. This kind of violent behavior by the ignorant fishermen shocked and appalled Bill, but he did offer an immediate solution for Michael and his family. Laura Choulos, who had been Michael’s lover for several years, although their son had not yet been born, persuaded her husband Bill to let them have the Danish house in a trade for art for as long as they needed it. He had recently bought some property south of the little town of Princeton up a road called Tunitas Creek. Here he had moved a contemporary house that had been the model for the Danish modern homebuilders at the recent Worlds Fair in San Francisco. Michael and his traumatized family were able to move in that very night. Although the immediate safety of Michael’s family was now secure, he also realized that there still was a danger. The modern Danish house was in San Mateo County, which at that time was run and controlled by the Republican friends of Richard Nixon. Moreover, the virtual head of the Republican Party in that county was Sonia’s father, Henry R. Henius.

“Richard Nixon in Hell” Painting by Michael Bowen

Psychologically, Sonia had spent her entire life trying to get away from her abusive father and paranoid mother. Henry would regularly have his wife sent to the psychiatric hospital for the only known treatment for paranoid schizophrenia, chemical/electro-shock therapy, an antiquated psychiatric treatment that often had severe and long lasting side effects. This allowed Henry full control of his brain-fried wife. Bowen’s new Tunitas canyon house was situated on the coast side of the mountain range that runs the length of California. Michael found himself the farthest away from his working studio on Commercial Street than he had ever been; he was now at least one hour and a half away. Over the Tunitas creek road lay the wealthy Republican Bastian of San Mateo and Sonia’s rich but hate-filled father and mother. Since the time Michael had met Sonia and they had their son, Sonia’s parents lives were devoted to somehow breaking them apart. Now, Michael needed to drive back to Commercial Street through the oppressive Republican territory of San Mateo and their police, and finish clearing the studio on Commercial Street. He needed to bring the entire studio, paintings, paints, easels, boards, tables, canvas rolls, mannequins, and establish a studio in the new house within the beautiful redwoods of Tunitas creek. Although the picturesque comfortable modern house was a welcome change, all of the pressure and trauma from oppressive and superstitious fascists as well as moving from house to house while taking care of a small child was very hard on Sonia; she soon started to break down. Sonia and Michael both knew that all she had to do in order to get into her five million dollar trust fund was to go home with her son but without her husband, Michael.

In the little close by town of Princeton, some of Bowen’s friends, Monroe, McCracken and others had set up a new studio in the seaside town of Princeton in an old abalone factory. So that became the new commercial street working space in a way and Michael was able to set up a functioning studio there as well as paint at home in nearby Tunitas canyon. For the first six or seven months, life was happy but then one day Michael came home to the beautiful house the attorneys family had traded Michael. In a way he was sorry to leave such a house. The house was built and there was no Sonia and no little Michael. At that time, little six year old Michael was playing in the woods living like a little naked Tarzan full of happiness and joy. Michael realized immediately when they were not there that she had crumbled and taken their child and gone to the family mansion in San Mateo. Michael raced over the mountain in his car and up to the filthy-rich mansion of Henius and pounded on the door demanding to see his wife and child. Instead, Michael found himself soon surrounded by the San Mateo police and attacked, beaten, thrown into his car at gunpoint, and told to never come back because if he did, he would never take another breath. Michael frustrated and angered over the turn of events drove back to the now lonely house, lit up many candles and began to make collages. One collage went into his dairy page about Vivekananda, the Hindu saint and teacher of Vedanta that was another source of connectedness and inspiration for the young artist/actor.

“Swami Vivekananda Diary Page” 1964 by Michael Bowen

One of his friends who visited him during those anger filled last three weeks in America was the artist Sätty who became inspired by Michael’s collage creations and went on to become an eminent collagist himself. During those days and nights alone unable to do anything about his child except start the hunt for him with his good friends in the legal profession in San Francisco along with a truly skillful private detective. That same new cold-rage came over Michael. The powerlessness and frustration of being separated from his son deepened a new resolve. All of the power that he had accumulated in the years with John Starr Cooke, who also had escaped back to Mexico a month before, filled every fiber and electron of Michael’s body. He made a vow in that lonely time that he

“The Johnson Family” Painting by Michael Bowen

would get his son back, even if it meant destroying the irrational unity of every ignorant family in America.

With that power pulsing in him, Michael went down to see his friends for what would be the last time for some, and a long time for others, back in the studio at the abalone factory in Princeton. The studio there was a temporary situation and everyone knew that they needed to figure out where the next step would take them. Things had gotten bad; the fascists seemed to multiply everywhere. Cultural War was rampant throughout America as well as in the military; a new and foolish war was just beginning to rage in Vietnam. On that eventful day when Michael walked through the doors of Princeton’s abalone factory studio, there lay his close friend Michael McCracken beaten
unrecognizably and laying on a bloodied bed tenderly being cared for by Arthur Monroe and others. Michael was aghast at the horrific site and asked what had happened. Arthur Monroe told him the following story:

“Michael McCracken had taken a large dose of LSD (which then was legal) and went to the local fried fish eatery in Princeton. At that moment, the locals were gathered around the television set listening to the news of President Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas Texas. McCracken in his inebriated state had walked into this restaurant within a few minutes of Kennedy’s assassination and the television reporters were shockingly blasting the news to everyone in the small fish fry place. McCracken was so stoned that he thought it was an elaborate joke, could not be true, and began to laugh uproariously at what he thought was very funny. The restaurant crowd who were mesmerized and shocked by the endless television news reporting, turned on him, beat him to a pulp, and threw him into the water to drown. He must have crawled for a long time through the rocks and sand to get through the beach and to the abalone factory studio where we found him, took him inside and called Dr. Reidar Wennesland immediately. He quickly drove all the way from San Francisco to treat him. You just missed him.” said Arthur as he showed signs of exhaustion and frustration as their beaten down Beat-comrade lay in front of them.

The great doctor, friend, and art collector had just left a few minutes before Michael’s arrival. Michael stayed with the badly beaten McCracken and did what he could to comfort and nurse him but he was now resting under the influence of the anesthesia. Michael Bowen took this as a sign. World events were changing and changing fast. The work of his mentor John Starr Cooke was completed in Carmel, and he decided then to follow him to Tepoztlan Mexico and escape the oppression and insanity of a disintegrating American dream. After a few hours, Michael started making a series of phone calls to get the process moving faster to find his son knowing that it would not be easy.

Michael Bowen knew what he wanted to do.

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