Archive for March, 2015


Ventura Top Pick By Mens Journal

Ventura Harbor seen from the hillside.

Ventura Harbor seen from the hillside.

Mens Journal, with sales of more than 700,000 per copy, which places it among the U.S.’s highest circulation magazines, ran a recent feature on 50 Best Places to Live.

Topping the list was our neighbor to the seaward size, Ventura. The city of 106,000 was picked for its authentic middle-class beach community feel, as well as, ahem, its proximity to Ojai.

Southern California used to be full of laid-back, middle-class beach towns. One by one they have disappeared — the locals pushed inland, their modest neighborhoods razed to make room for trophy homes and luxury condos. And then there’s Ventura. This sleepy city of 106,000, located midway between Malibu and Santa Barbara, remains refreshingly unpolished, “like a 1961 Ford pickup that’s been well kept,” says C.J. Paone, a 44-year-old architect who’s lived here for 11 years.

Read more: http://www.mensjournal.com/expert-advice/the-10-best-places-to-live-now-20150312/ventura-california#ixzz3VX2Vr1jj
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Photo by Bobbi Bennett, painting by Joan Scheibel

Photo by Bobbi Bennett, painting by Joan Scheibel

Porch Gallery Hosts Bennett-Scheibel

Show Through March 29

By Demitri Corbin

It’s 3:30 when I approach Porch Gallery where artists Joan Scheibel and Bobbi Bennett sit awaiting my arrival.  I’m here to interview them for their new show, ‘Home on the Range,’ which opened the past weekend.

Gallery owners Lisa Cantoni and Heather Stobo are inside attending to business.  I greet the two artists and they chat as I set up for the interview.  The sound of the late afternoon traffic on Matilija is joined by the clink of wine glasses against the bottles of Perrier and Chardonnay that Heather sets down before us.  With refreshments in hand, we begin.

Demitri Corbin: Hello, I’m Demitri Corbin I’m sitting here  at Ojai’s Porch Gallery.  I’m sitting here  with Bobbi Bennett and Joan Scheibel … hello, hello …

Bobbi Bennett and

Joan Scheibel:  Hello, hello!

DC:  -We are here to talk about their collaborative show at the Porch called, “Home on the Range.”  I think I’m going to start with you, Joan, because I don’t know you very well, although you do know our publisher, Bret Bradigan.  How do we start with that … that …

JS:  Connection?

DC:  Yeah, connection.

JS:  I’ve been working with Bret for many years now.  We do a magazine together for another client of both of ours, so we have been working on a magazine called, Architecture For Sale, so we’ve been working together for many years and actually just met him through this collaboration and show.  I only spoke to him on the phone or through email, and it was nice to put a face to the voice.  He’s a wonderful, brilliant, creative person to work with.  He’s one solid guy.  So, we’ve been working many years together and I finally met him this month!

DC:  That’s great.  That’s what I heard was that you finally met.  And Bobbi, you kind of worked with Bret, all though it was more with me with the Men of Ojai Calendar.

JS: (surprised) Oh.

BB:  I know.  That’s me.

We all laugh.

BB:  You know me and the men of Ojai!

DC:  And that’s it was, I was talking to Lisa yesterday about this project in particular and your being a risk taker, this was a big risk for you, as was the Men of Ojai Calendar for you.  You took that risk and you delivered something that the community really appreciates.

BB:  And as I recall I was the one that sold the piece, right?

DC:  Yes, first one, which, by the way, came back to us and it’s sitting in a friend’s house.  (to Joan)  She took the assignment of shooting a nude portrait of someone who was actually well, still living but dying.  And you caught the life in him.

JS:  That’s beautiful.

BB:  And it was actually one of the most challenging pieces I’ve ever done.  That one.  Cause he had a double colonoscopy and I had to shoot him naked and make him look phenomenal.  And I did.  I put him in a hammock and put a Persian cat on him.

DC:  And it just came out a wonderful portrait.  And what also came out is your style, which I fell in love with when you first moved here.  And now to see this show combining two styles – I don’t want to say styles, but two mediums I guess-

JS:  Yes, two styles too, though.

DC:  And what came out is another for the community, a really exciting event.  So, I want to know how did this collaboration come about.

BB:  Well, we met about a year at a party.  Actually in July and Joan approached me and wanted to do a show.

JS:  No, I actually approached you and said, “Are you Bobbi Bennett,” cause we had not met.  I’d seen her stuff through mutual friends and had worked with the same artists, so I knew of her.  And at this party a friend of mine said, “Oh, that’s Bobbi.”  So, I went up to her and said, “Are you Bobbi Bennett,” and she said, “Yes,” and I said, “I’m Joan Scheibel.”  And she goes, “Oh my god, I’ve been wanting to meet you,” and I said, “I’ve been wanting to meet you, as well.”  And we kind of met at that party and I said, “Let’s get together for coffee and maybe we can do something together.”  Like a show, not a collaboration.

BB:  Yeah, we weren’t going to do a collaboration, so I was kind of excited about it.  I was having a kind of challenging time Santa Fe and I really wanted to get back to LA.  And I said, yeah, I’d love to a show with a painter who I really liked her work

DC:  You were mutual fans of one another.

JS:  Yes.

BB:  But then  I had this sort of thing where I wanted to do pieces like this.  And met basically on my birthday at LACMA I did get a couple of galleries and situations where they were like saying “yes,” but things weren’t really coming together

DC: And you say this is what, August of last year?

BB:  It was September, September 28th.  So it was that week, like 2 days before and we were at LACMA sitting at the bar and I drew up these sketches and I said, “I have this idea.”  And when I saw Joan’s paintings in her studio I thought, maybe I’ll do the painting part.  But when I saw her abstract horses, especially her cowboys on horses, I started thinking, “Why don’t we do something together instead of doing these separate shows.”  And the cool thing is I sketched it out on these tiny little napkins and she understood it right away.   And I would have to say like that’s been – I’m going to jump a little bit — that’s the great thing about working together is that we get each other – artistically.

JS:  We fight like an old married couple.

We laugh.

DC:  You fell right into step with that, huh?

BB:  Yeah , and it was just, you know … I didn’t have to be … she said yes! When I came out here I had already set up with Lisa and Heather to do a show and they wanted to set me up with someone else, ’cause their like, “We don’t know Joan, and you want to show, like this painter, you know and we don’t know.”  So I come up here and it was right before I was supposed to go back to Santa Fé, and I had this little sketch book and I want to show you Joan’s paintings, this our idea and what we’re going to do.  Lisa was way into it, like, “Yeah, let’s do it!”  And Heather was like, “Well, let me see what you’re doing.”  And she just stared at me like I was from Mars.

JS:  She showed her the napkin.

DC:  I can see the look on her face.

BB:  And she’s – you know, she gives you that look, and she says, “You know Bobbi, I really like your work and I like you.  But I can’t give you a solo exhibition with a painter I don’t know based on this cocktail napkin.

We all laugh!

DC:  Not going to happen.

BB:  And so, I said, “Well, what if we make something.”  And she looked at me and I said, “You know, when are you going to make a decision?”  Because she, they were was running out of space for the year and I really wanted to be in their gallery.  Because I’ve been watching them on Facebook.  And I said to Joan, “Would you be up for coming to Ojai, it’s not LA…” And she was like, “Absolutely, yes.”  So we produced this piece –

JS:  No, she said, “We have two weeks to get me a piece,”  and I said, “Let’s go, production is in!”

BB:  So we did it.

DC: Let’s go to you, Joan, cause I’d never seen your work – let’s go to your gallery, your studio.  Your studio is in West Hollywood, as well.  Tell me more, I guess.

JS:  Well, it’s in West Hollywood.

DC:  You’ve been there for how long?  Is it a gallery or your work studio.

JS:  It’s my work studio.  For about – this particular studio – for about 2 years now.  I said immediately let’s produce this piece.   I’ve shown with various artists and I basically come into this style which I’ve locked in and I’m very happy with it.  I’ve gone through many dimensions of styles and work when I first started.

DC:  Did this style come out of this particular space?

JS:  No, it was developing and then when Bobbi came in and kind of showed up and I said, “This is what I do,” and she loved it.  And the work together kind of matched better with the style of photography … and I live and work in the same space, which I love, cause when I have an idea at like 3 o’clock in the morning I can just get up and

DC: Boom, go to it.

JS:  I can just go right over, I don’t have to drive anywhere … and I’m very excited.  I’m very excited for what we have in the future together,  this show and how it’s just been seamless, we’ve been pretty seamless with the working experience and the creative part of it.

DC:  I want to talk about, or ask just some words on a few, three in particular that stood out for me the most.  There’s always something that goes, “this speaks to me.”  I think the first one, though that I liked was “Silver Stream,” in the back.

JS:  Yes.

DC: That one particularly I like.

JS:  That’s one of my favorites.

DC:  It is?

JS:  I always say that when I come into the show, I love all of them.  But it’s been a process that piece, right?

BB:  Yeah, well, I think your painting changed in that piece.

JS:  And it’s on burlap.  So it gives it a different texture.  It was originally supposed to be on bareback but then I thought I want to do something different with that Joshua Tree and she put on that Airstream.  So, it’s always been a precious piece to me.  So, I’m really happy you said that.

DC:  That was the first piece that made me go, “Wow.”  But I love “Raven’s Crossing,” and “Thin Blue Line.”  But the Airstream, that was the most intriguing for me.

Painting by Joan Scheibel, Photo by Bobbi Bennett

Painting by Joan Scheibel, Photo by Bobbi Bennett

BB:  Mine are definitely those two, ‘Ravens’ and ‘Thin Blue Line.’

DC:  And it was a great showing.

JS:  Opening.  It was amazing.

DC:  You got your posse out.

BB: Oh my gosh.

DC:  The community came out.  It’s one of the best, I think one of the largest openings they’ve had.

BB:  Yes.

DC:  It was pretty large.

BB:  They said it was the largest opening they’ve had.

JS:  Well, the support and the love, and the enthusiasm from everybody, I had so many people come up from LA and rented rooms.   We all, I’ll have to say it was one of the most magical weekends and nights and people were just happy-

BB:  And even the next day people were coming back and hanging out.

JS:  I had at least 40 people stay the night and rented rooms.

DC:  That’s a lot of people.  That’s like a wedding’s come to town.

JS:  We had the lunch over at the Agave Maria’s, and we had like, you know, 30 people at lunch before the opening on that Saturday (laughs) and my friend looks at me and goes, “Is this your wedding reception lunch.  And everyone was so happy and we went over to The Hub –

DC:  You hit The Hub?!

JS:  We hit The Hub, we were playing darts –

BB:  I missed that whole part –

BB:  I can’t do the party before the show or I won’t even be ready.  But Joan, she’s the social butterfly, much more than I am.

JS:  The whole time was great and everybody was just on a different … everybody was just full of love and support and happiness and uh … nobody wanted to…we even had to come up in the afternoon and get my car and nobody wanted to look at the gallery.  I had like five friends with me when we came to pick up my car.  They didn’t even want to look at the gallery, they just wanted to wait until five o’clock….

DC:  That’s exciting.

JS:  And when they came in, I had about four people … they cried. ‘Cause it was … they had no idea what I was doing with Bobbi.  They knew my work and they knew everything that I have done up until this point and I had not shown anybody anything.  And I thought I’m just going to wait for the opening of the show.  So, nobody had a clue of what we were doing together.  It literally took their breath away and people were very moved.

BB:  Yeah…

DC:  So both of your followings had no idea what was going on.

BB:  Yeah, they were just like, “You’re doing what?”

JS:  And you couldn’t explain it either.  It’s like, “We’re putting two pieces together in recine…”

BB:  The other thing I want to comment on about the work is that, you know, I really have been living in the Southwest for about two years.  The land has become sort of ingrained in me.  There is a definite passion on my part about just really showing the land in the Southwest.  What I find is phenomenal is that, you know, Joan’s not in the Southwest, she’s in LA!

JS:  I’m a Los Angeles New Yorker!

BB:  I’m like, “This is so weird!”  You know, we joke because we are like really opposite,  and I just think it’s amazing it’s just become so cohesive as one piece.  And obviously it resonates with people because there’s red dots on the wall. And that’s pretty cool, cause you can go, “Well, we really love it but hopefully people want it in their house or somewhere else.”  So, it’s kinda cool that , you know, it’s affecting people that way.

JS:  I think ‘Bareback’ the one of the horses.

DC:  The one in the window?

JS:  Yes.  That’s me and Bobbi standing and looking at the show.  She’s the white horse, I’m the black horse and it really, truly is.

DC:  Yeah, I love that piece, too.

JS:  That’s us.

DC:  But again, it’s that one in the back that has something.

JS:  You know, I’m so happy the fact that you said that.  I was just talking to Lisa a couple of hours ago, I said, Lisa, this piece moves me and it moves me in a way that…and once Bobbi put the Airstreams in …

BB:  But it’s not like the Airstreams here that are all polished.  The ones in New Mexico are not and people kind of live in them because they’re – they don’t have any money.  It’s not like here where, “Yeah, well I spent forty-thousand dollars – or more – on my refurbished Airstream because I got a lot of money,” and I wanted to show the trailer in the photography and then landscape, like there’s a softness and a hardness about both of the pictures and the paintings.

DC:  There’s something that comes out to you is all I can say.

BB:  There’s beauty in it but it also makes you a little agitated but you want to keep looking at it.

DC :  It makes you feel.

BB:  Right.

DC:  It makes an emotion come from you.

JS:  It’s kind of that traditional feeling, you want feel safe.  The tradition of ‘Home on the Range’, which is the name of the show.  You know, go back to roots and family, feeling safe.  And then putting the edge on it.

BB:  Well, also showing that it’s not safe, it’s actually dangerous.  That whole image of the prickly pasture is an allusion, you go into that pasture, you’re going to get bitten by a cactus, your horse is going to fall into a ditch and it all looks really good until you have to out there and experience that.

DC:  What you said, I felt that in some of the others … the two strips, I think that they were just the photo, the cow and now I think there is something else there.  But there’s the danger of being in the wilderness that you kind of feel in, well, in all of the paintings.  Some of them are kind of laid back but there is a … nature is there in its beauty and danger.

BB:  In photographing those longhorns, I was really close to those longhorns with my camera.  I’m used to using a small, plastic cameras, there’s no telephoto lens… and, you know, the ranchers would comment that the animals are really posing for me.  And there’d be a moment where I’m taking the picture, I always try to feel the vibration of the animal or the land or whatever it is, and try to feel it really hit the film and that’s when I know I’ve gotten it.  But there’s also like, this thing could kill me right now.  And they’re right in front of me, all they have to do is run up towards me and I’m dead.  And … I’m like what the hell am I doing?!

We all laugh!!!

BB:  Why are you doing that?!

JS:  Yes, this piece, right here on the wall where the longhorn is just looking straight into the camera, it’s just…

BB:  And it was in the snow, so there was just no gettin’ away! I mean really, that’s the thing I think I like doing creative in New Mexico and bringing it back to California because it’s just such a different way of being.  You don’t really understand it if you’re not there but I think it translates in the work.

DC:  My next question because I heard somewhere in our discussion earlier, what are plans for future collaboration, if any?

JS:  I’m done, we’re gettin’ a divorce!

BB:  I can’t take it anymore!

JS:  I’ve filed the papers already!

BB:  I get half!

JS:  Yes, she gets half of everything.

DC:  But this is still the honeymoon, so, what’s next?

BB:  You wanna go?

JS:  No, you can go.

BB:  Well, we’re in the Water Works show with Heather and Lisa, that big show that they put together.

DC:  Okay.

BB:   That’s really exciting, so we had already decided that we were gonna do water images, so the next show is going to be called, “Wet.”

JS:   So our next series is water, but we’re going to keep going with this, too, like commissions.

BB:  We have commissions for more work, so I’m going to be hanging out at the ranch, shooting owls and all kinds of stuff.  But I feel like this isn’t really done yet.  We’ll probably continue but we’re also going to gradually get into that water art thing.

JS:  The show will be called, “Wet,” though.

DC:  That’ll be … what’s the word…

 BB: Wet.

DC:  Intriguing, titillating-

BB:  Makes you want to go!  Who cares about the work!

DC:  Gosh!

BB:  It sounds like fun!

JS:  That will be the next series, and then I already have a series after that, so…

DC:  Busy, busy, busy.

BB:  We’ll be busy for awhile.  This is already gone, like, if there’s anything left I have my gallery in Santa Fe that wants stuff and there’s stuff happening in LA that’s pretty cool.

(The post office tower begins to toll four o’clock.)

DC:  Beautiful.  And then the clock chimes.  So with that, any last words you want to say about … Ojai?

JS:  Ojai has been, it’s been so much fun and I…when I left I was here before the show, I spent four days here, two nights at Lisa and Heather’s and then I spent Saturday at the Ojai Casa Inn with all my friends, it was like a frat party, it was like college, everybody was just like, “We’re at a Mo-Tel,” and it was really funny, everybody was driving up with bottles of champagne – and when I got on the road I was already missed Ojai.  I missed the girls, I missed everything about it.  So, it’s nice to be back for this interview and just to revisit and I walk in and I think, you know, it’s a great show.  And I hope people come to see it before it closes.  It’s worthwhile.

BB:  For me it was like coming back home and to do something really so different in the Southwest and have it start here, it just felt really good to me.  It just felt like the right place to begin.  And it was just such a great meeting point for the Santa Barbara people, the LA people and just everybody I know here.  It just has a sense of community and I think it was perfect.

DC:  Wonderful.  Thank you.

JS:  Well thank you, Demitri. And it was effortless, it wasn’t even work, it was just a magical, creative experience.

DC:  Wonderful, and that’s what we want here in Ojai!  Thank you so much.

JS:  (to BB)

BB:  Except when….

DC:  I’ll turn this off before they start telling stories.  Thank you Joan, thank you Bobbi!

Porch Gallery presents

 Bobbi Bennett and Joan Scheibel  – Home On The Range, February 26 to March 29. Porch Gallery Ojai is located at 310 East Matilija St.  For more information visit porchgalleryojai.com

Ruth Denison, Buddhist and Meditation Pioneer

Ruth Denison, Buddhist and Meditation Pioneer

Local Artist Participating in Project About Meditation Pioneer

Local artist Attasalina Dews is participating in an important project, “The Silent Dance of Life,” about the pioneering life of Ruth Denison, who just passed away this year at the age of 93. Dews and other directors are seeking crowdsourced funding.

Please enjoy the trailer and support the project at :


or http://bit.ly/15BOUYZ

Crowd funding ends March 23rd



Ruth Denison, Women and the Mindfulness Revolution 

In 1976, Ruth Denison took a trip to the high desert in Southern California. While camping near Pioneer Town, she rescued a family of baby opossums’ who were clinging to their mother who had ceased living. Compassionate to all creatures in suffering, Ruth had a very grounded view of right action and right thought. She did not stand for “bullshit” or sit with it for that matter. She was riding the waves of giants and she wanted for everyone to gain the capacity to see from this point of view.

That trip sowed the fateful seed that grew to become the Vipassana Meditation Retreat known as Dhamma Dena in Joshua Tree, Ca. Ruth Denison was among the very first western women authorized by an Asian meditation master to teach. Her mentor, U Ba Khin, had a strong inclination to bring the practice of Vipassana to the Western community. Spreading a discipline of mindfulness grounded in practicing awareness of one’s breath, body and thought as a means to access the ability to tranquilly observe one’s experience.

Ruth’s meditation teaches many things, but it particular, she taught people to understand or at least to acknowledge what they were experiencing within themselves. Rather than always looking away as our eyes are prone to do, Mindfulness is a practice of also turning the view inward. Learning to see inside as easily as we believe we see the outside.

Ruth Denison was quite a groundbreaker for women and was the first Buddhist teacher to create women’s meditation retreats back in 1980. She was working very successfully with traumatized people thirty years before trauma therapy became popularized. Forty years ago, when meditation was only sitting and walking, Ruth was combining movement, dance, music and mindful eating with the traditional model of mindfulness practice. Ruth´s innovations were not widely accepted or understood at the time, but have since become adopted by the vast majority of western Buddhist retreat centers.

Born in Germany in 1922, then Ruth Schäfer, came of age during World War II and experienced the horrors of the war first hand. In 1957, she immigrated to the United States and found herself in Los Angeles, California in the midst what was fast becoming the flower power movement. Together with her husband Henry Denison who was of the Advaita Vedanta school of Hinduism, Ruth associated with many artists, intellectuals and Buddhist teachers who were looking for new forms of expression – a “new consciousness”.


They frequently hosted luminaries in their home in the Hollywood hills, including Aldous and Laura Huxley, Alan Watts, Charlotte Selver, Timothy Leary, Ram Dass, Lama Govinda and Anaiis Nin among many others. After years of practicing meditation and traveling around the world to meet masters first hand, in 1971 Ruth was authorized by her teacher Burmese master U Ba Khin becoming one of the first female Buddhist teachers in the Western world – now famous for her innovative and “feminine” approach.

“You are a pioneer of Buddhism in the West!” proclaimed celebrated meditation teacher and author, Jack Kornfield. Ruth Denison has always been a colorful yet humble character. Though highly acclaimed within the community of Buddhism, she was passionate about one thing only, the Dhamma. Her last words about her life were, “I am glad that I dedicated my life to the Dhamma. It is a good life and a good way to be, I am glad that I dedicated my life to helping people.”

Ruth Denison passed away just last month at the age of 93. “The Silent Dance of Life”, the first feature length documentary on Ruth Denison, is currently crowd-funding. During the past four years, director and producer Aleksandra Kumorek accompanied Ruth at her center in the Mojave desert, capturing more than 100 hours of unique footage. The completed project will yield a remarkable portrait of one the unique women teachers of our time as well as an online-archive with many hours of exclusive videos and materials including Ruth Denison´s formal and informal Dharma talks, ceremonies, rituals and guided meditations.

The project, if successful, will contribute an exceedingly meaningful body of knowledge and experience to the meditation community as well as to the greater scope of human kind and meaning in the twenty-first century.

Please enjoy the trailer and support the project at :


or http://bit.ly/15BOUYZ

Crowd funding ends March 23rd

Video embed code:

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Uncle Walt’s Ghost

John Slade goes full Walt Whitman

John Slade goes full Walt Whitman

Acting Teacher Brings New Relevancy to America’s Bard

By Tree Bernstein

John Slade walks onto the bare stage at the Ojai Art Center carrying a boom box on his shoulder. He sets up the box and punches up the beat — uhn chooka un chooka uhn uhn — and launches into Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself”:

His performance lasted about 5 minutes; he’s part of an annual community reading program called The Favorite Poem Project. That evening, November 8, 2010, a dozen others shared favorite poems with an appreciative audience.  It was a remarkable transference; John Slade does not just read Walt Whitman, he embodies him.

With his wife Laurie Walters Slade, John Slade came to Ojai in 2001 to teach English Lit, Film Studies, and Theater Arts at Nordhoff High School. His dramatic student productions were praised by a local newspaper for “a reputation for quality and relevance.” He taught and directed at NHS for 11 years, retiring in 2012. That fall in 2010, Slade wanted to introduce his English class to the poetry of Walt Whitman, but was met with yawns. That’s when he got the idea for putting a backbeat to Whitman’s poems and rapping out the lines. “From English to Drama, they woke up,” he says.

The genesis of “I Sing Walt Whitman” is an organically grown Ojai story. From classroom to Art Center, Slade began to build his repertoire of Whitman’s extensive oeuvre, memorizing “sets” of poems: the early “Leaves of Grass’”declarative poems; excerpts of letters to Ralph Waldo Emerson; and, later, sad elegies from the Civil War years, such as “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed” and “O Captain, My Captain.” Slade’s reverence for the spirit of Whitman’s message came out in song.

Enter Kim Maxwell. Local inspirational theatrical coach and director, Maxwell helped Slade with his first song, “Who Learns My Lesson Complete.” It debuted in 2012 with a troupe of community performers as part of Kim Maxwell Studio’s production of “Lost & Unwilling to Ask for Directions.”

“With Whitman I could have a platform for my spiritual life,” Slade confirms. At an open mic at Bart’s Books, at Libbey Bowl during Ojai WordFest, in Ventura at the Artist’s Union Poetry series, Slade showed up with Whitman under his hat — and swept the room with Old Grey Beard’s ecstatic song and prophetic words.

Then came ‘The Beard.’ Early on, Slade adopted the tipped-hat slouch and short-bearded look of a vigorous, yet mature, Walt Whitman.  Slade shares similar features with the poet from the early editions of “Leaves of Grass.” (Whitman was the first American author to put his photo on the page — an audacious act for the times.) Nowadays the actor favors the elder poet, and for that, the addition of ‘The Beard’ was required. A wig and beard maker in Kentucky took snips of Slade’s own hair for a perfect match. (At $600 for chin whiskers, it should be.) With beard and hat, and the old grey overcoat, Slade found his character’s look.

Material for the show is voluminous. He notes, “I probably have two hours altogether — but lots more stored in reserve. If I want to do a Whitman lecture on a topic like sexuality, or environment, or health, or some other favorite subject of his, I can expand and embellish on what my original text contains. I’d have to memorize or read the new material, but that’s allowed.”

Next, the show needed new venues. Whitman was performed locally at the Ojai Valley Community Church and the Unitarian-Universalists Church in Santa Paula.  The mix is part Chautauqua-tent revival, part lecture-with-song packaged in poetry. The show played at Oxnard College and the Elite Theatre and had a turn in Burbank and Malibu. It was part of Ken Wilber’s Integral Life Spiritual Conference for New Year’s 2013. By the summer of 2014, the show had short tours in other states, and was well received in Prescott and Sedona, Arizona. The highlight of 2014 was in December at the Mighty Met Acoustic Flashback Benefit for Paraquat Kelley in New York, where George Thorogood and Slash were headliners.

The CD, “I Sing Walt Whitman,” debuted in 2014. Local musicians contributed to the mix with Jimmy Caliri on sax and Hammond B3, April Theriault on tin whistle and vocals, Ken Eros on guitar and drums. The CD was engineered at Eros Creative and Sound here in Ojai. The fruit of these labors, all homegrown. (See OQ winter 2014-15 for Off the Shelf review of the CD.)

The music is a big part of the appeal of the Whitman show. As a self-described “shy kid in 9th grade” who grew up in Pontiac, Michigan, Slade found his way on to the stage through his talent as a singer and musician. He was in a band called East Bound Mound with Gilda Radner in his 20s. He played keyboards and was lead singer for the performance comedy/drama group, a sort of precursor to the Saturday Night Live format. The group had a big fan base in Ann Arbor, opening for the likes of Bob Seger and Ted Nugent. Then, in the early ‘70s, Slade came west to Hollywood with his first wife and had some success on stage and in film with roles in “L.A. Confidential,” “Titanic,” and “Slam Dance.” His discography includes: “Boomer Town” (2006), “I Got Plans” (2011), “Night Crossing” and “I Sing Walt Whitman,” (both 2014).

In the middle of all that, he met Laurie. “It was,” he says, eyes twinkling, “a palpable attraction.”

Laurie Walters is a former television actress, best known for playing Joanie Bradford on “Eight Is Enough,” which aired from 1977 until 1981. In Ojai, Mrs. Slade runs the bi-monthly Shakespeare Salon at the Ojai Public Library, and directs plays. She will direct the upcoming “As You Like It” at the Ojai Art Center, which runs from March 27 through April 19. She is very involved in environmental issues, garnering the 2014 Volunteer of the Year Award from the Ojai Green Coalition. She organized the Green Library for the Green Coalition on Signal Street, and is also active in Tree People, an organization that plants trees. Slade credits his wife as co-director and producer for the Whitman project. She is also head wrangler of ‘The Beard.’

Comparisons to other one-person shows are inevitable. Hal Holbrook’s “Mark Twain Tonight” (which has been running since the ‘50s) leaps to mind, as does “The Belle of Amherst,”  a one-woman play by William Luce, popularized by Julie Harris in the ‘70s.

While somewhat apt, such comparisons fall short of the actual experience of feeling Whitman come alive in a contemporary context. “Whitman was writing for this generation of gay rights, of dignity for people of color, for spiritual inclusivity, for Boomers and for Millennials,” says Slade. It is a show that is refreshingly free of the usual postmodern cynicism. “The good news is, Uncle Walt’s gospel is amazingly current: His riffs about sex and eternity still sound resoundingly ahead of their time. Before Carl Sagan, Neil de Grasse Tyson, evolutionary evangelist Michael Dowd, and futurist Barbara Marx-Hubbard, Walt Whitman was already teaching us to see the world through evolutionary eyes,” Slade notes. “I’m tired of Richard Dawkins’ material universe. When you take the long evolutionary view, trends look better.”

With a lot of help from his friends in Ojai to bring “I Sing Walt Whitman” into the ready-to-go show it is today, Slade interprets Whitman’s insight and message as simply, “Love is the binding force of the Universe, and that human consciousness is surely headed somewhere.” Evidence suggests “I Sing Walt Whitman” is just as surely on that evolutionary path.


Some Time In Ojai

Ono And LennonJohn & Yoko Lennon’s Brief, Momentous Sojourn

By Mark Lewis

In the spring of 1972, as the school year was winding down, a University of Chicago graduate student named Jim Churchill contacted his parents in Los Angeles to ask a favor. He wanted to hole up in the family’s weekend house in Ojai that summer while he finished writing his master’s thesis. They said yes, and in due course he arrived in Ojai, prepared to think deep thoughts. But when he got to the house on Thacher Road, he found that someone had left a mess for him to clean up.

“Every ashtray in the house was crammed with a mountain of cigarette butts,” he recalled in an interview. “The garbage disposal was crammed full of chopsticks.”

Even more annoyingly, Churchill’s classical guitar, a gift from his parents handcrafted by the master Spanish luthier Manuel Rodriguez, had been left out in the sun by the swimming pool with its case open. Nonplussed, Jim called his mother, Mae Churchill, to find out who had left the house in such disarray.

“Oh,” she replied, “John Lennon was there.”

And Yoko Ono too: She had left behind a copy of her book “Grapefruit,” with a handwritten inscription: “To dear Mae, love and peace, Yoko Ono, ’72 June, Ojai.“

That was 43 years ago, and the Lennons’ Ojai sojourn has long since passed into local legend: While on the run from Richard Nixon, J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI, John and Yoko came here in secret to consult with the philosopher Krishnamurti. They hid out for months in East End seclusion, surfacing occasionally to astonish the locals by dining at the Ranch House, or by jumping onstage to play music in a Ventura bar. Then they disappeared, as mysteriously as they had arrived.

That’s the mythic version, more or less. And some of it really happened. But overall, as is so often the case, the myth has eclipsed the reality. The actual story of the Lennons’ visit is a bit different, although no less interesting.

Little of it can be gleaned from the many books written about John Lennon. A few of his biographers mention the Ojai episode, but only in passing. Most of them omit it altogether. Yoko Ono knows the full story, of course, but she has never been quoted about it, and she declined our request for an interview. Still, the gist of it can be pieced together from various published sources, and by talking to people who had dealings with the Lennons in those days. As it happens, some of those people live right here in Ojai.

Andy Warhol with John Wilcock.

Andy Warhol with John Wilcock.

Elephant’s Memory  

John Wilcock and Craig Pyes have never encountered one another in Ojai, where both now make their homes. But they have crossed paths in the past.

“I knew him back in the day,” Pyes said of Wilcock. “He was right in the center of things.”

Both men are veterans of America’s underground press scene of the ‘60s and early ‘70s, during a period when John Lennon and Yoko Ono were much in the news.

“I knew Yoko quite well,” Wilcock told the OQ. An Englishman who crossed the pond in the 1950s, Wilcock landed at the brand-new Village Voice in 1955 as one of the original editors and columnists. He first met Ono in the mid ‘60s when she was an avant-garde conceptual artist in New York, and he was editing The East Village Other and then launching his own underground tabloid, Other Scenes.

Wilcock remembers attending Ono’s seminal March 1966 event at the Judson Church in Washington Square, at which visitors were invited to climb into black bags that she had placed on the floor. Wilcock liked her, and he published some of her work in Other Scenes, but he did not regard her as a likely future star.

“She was just somebody around the New York art scene,” he said.

Later in 1966, he encountered her in London, where she had gone to further her career as an artist.

“She had just met Lennon,” he said. “She was very excited about what it might lead to.”

Everyone knows what it led to. Lennon married Ono in 1969 and left the Beatles shortly thereafter. He and Yoko launched their highly publicized “bed-in” campaign, deploying songs like “Give Peace a Chance” to urge an end to the Vietnam War. Their flower-power approach earned them scorn from the increasingly radicalized writers of the underground press — including John Wilcock, who gently chided their naiveté in the March 1970 issue of Other Scenes.

“My own column suggested mildly that John Lennon and Yoko Ono lying around in a hotel suite and renting billboards protesting the war was not the most revolutionary of actions,” Wilcock wrote in his memoir “Manhattan Memories.”

Lennon’s response to this sort of criticism was “Imagine,” the ultimate flower-power anthem and a huge hit in the fall of 1971, along with the album of the same name. By that point, John and Yoko had moved from England to an apartment on Bank Street in New York’s Greenwich Village. They had come to the U.S. because Yoko was seeking custody of Kyoko, her 8-year-old daughter by her previous marriage to an American named Tony Cox.

Within a few months of the Lennons’ arrival, Tony took Kyoko and went into hiding, pursued by John and Yoko’s lawyers and private investigators. As they waited for news of Kyoko’s whereabouts, the Lennons fell in with a set of New Left activists who began pushing them in a more radical direction. Among their new friends were Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Bobby Seale — and Craig Pyes.

Craig Pyes.

Craig Pyes.

Pyes was visiting New York from his home base in Berkeley to drum up support for a new magazine called SunDance. He and his colleagues wanted to offer a more authentic alternative to Jan Wenner’s Rolling Stone, which they saw as ripping off the counterculture. Their supporters included Rubin and Hoffman, who saw SunDance as a potential house organ for their anti-Nixon crusade.

At the same time, Rubin and Hoffman were trying to enlist Lennon in a Yippie-style concert tour that would disrupt the upcoming Republican National Convention (at which Nixon would be re-nominated for president). Ever the networker, Rubin brought Pyes to the Lennons’ Bank Street apartment one day, to see whether John and Yoko could be persuaded to write a column for SunDance.

Lennon played Pyes two new songs he had written — explicitly political songs about the Attica prison riot and about Northern Ireland, written for an album John and Yoko were recording with a New York band called Elephant’s Memory.

As Pyes was leaving, he asked whether the Lennons would write for SunDance. John replied that he and Yoko already had an offer from Esquire, an established magazine with a big circulation. Why should they write for a start-up instead of Esquire?

“Because they’re pig media,” Pyes said he replied. “And he says, ‘Well, OK.’ ”

When the first issue of SunDance came out in April 1972, it included a column by John and Yoko on the women’s movement. By that point, John already had been identified as an enemy by the Nixon administration and targeted for deportation.

The Immigration and Naturalization Service cited John’s 1968 conviction for marijuana possession in England as grounds to deny him a visa extension. Lennon hired a lawyer to argue his case.

“I don’t know whether there is any mercy to plead for because this isn’t a federal court, but if there is, I’d like it please,” John said on May 17, during an INS hearing in New York.

The Lennons now found themselves with some free time on their hands. The INS decision in John’s case was not expected for several months. The couple had finished work on their upcoming album, and they had abandoned the idea of mounting an anti-Nixon summer concert tour.  John and Yoko decided to drop out of sight and hit the road for California in their new Chrysler station wagon. They could enjoy a much-needed vacation, and see a bit of America while they were at it.

The Lennon's Chrysler Town & Country station wagon.

“I needed to go in some of the coffee shops at four in the morning and get a chocolate milkshake, that kind of thing, just do it normally like the rest of the people do,” John later told biographer Ray Coleman. “Yoko and I wanted to experience the heartland of this country.”

They also wanted to spend some time in a secluded place where they could wean themselves from their mutual addiction to methadone. They asked their lawyer to find them a rental house in Southern California, in a private setting where they would be safe from the prying eyes of the FBI agents who were always shadowing them in New York. Why Southern California? Because the Lennons recently had received a tip that the elusive Tony Cox was holed up with Kyoko somewhere in Granada Hills, on the outskirts of Los Angeles.

Thus it was that one day in the second half of May, John and Yoko piled into the back seat of their dark green Town & Country station wagon and headed west, with their assistant Peter Bendry at the wheel. The car had no built-in stereo system — instead, John played 45 RPM singles on a portable turntable, and the needle jumped every time the car hit a bump. Thus equipped, the Lennons embarked upon the cross-country odyssey that would deliver them to the hideout their lawyer had found for them, in an out-of-the-way town called Ojai.


Photo of the house on Thacher Road by Alan Barker

Photo of the house on Thacher Road by Alan Barker

East End Haven

The house on Thacher Road already had an interesting history. It had been built in the Craftsman style in 1905 for Charles G. Penney, a retired Army general and a Civil War veteran. After Penney died in 1926, the house eventually was acquired by a retired Vassar philosophy professor named Guido Ferrando and his wife, Erica, an interpretive dancer. In 1946, Dr. Ferrando became the first headmaster of the Happy Valley School (now the Besant Hill School), which he co-founded with Aldous Huxley, Krishnamurti, Rosalind Rajagopal and others.

The Ferrandos’ circle overlapped with that of the English actress-poet Iris Tree, a daughter of the famous theatrical impresario Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree. Iris had brought the former Chekhov Players to Ojai. They sometimes rehearsed their plays in a little studio behind the Ferrandos’ house. The Santa Barbara memoirist Erika Moore recalled a night she spent there just after the war, when the Ferrandos invited her to Ojai to hear Krishnamurti speak:

“Their house was filled with antiques, mostly from Italy. Angels and Madonnas prevailed. I fell into their atmosphere like into a soft cloud. Guests were appearing for dinner. Erika and Woody Chambliss, Alan Harkness and wife, he being the director of Ojai’s High Valley Theatre. Then there was the wandering poet-minstrel, Norbert Schiller,” Moore wrote. “Naturally, the talk was of Krishnamurti … “

By 1956 the Ferrandos had moved on and the house had passed into the possession of a Los Angeles couple, Robert and Mae Churchill. Robert was a Harvard-trained lawyer turned filmmaker, who specialized in educational films; Mae had an economics Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania and an activist’s commitment to liberal causes. Their daughter, Joan, attended the Happy Valley School; their son, Jim, attended the Ojai Valley School.

Photo of Mae Churchill (courtesy of Jim Churchill)

Photo of Mae Churchill (courtesy of Jim Churchill)

The Churchills moved back to L.A. in 1961, but they kept the Ojai house as a weekend place, and often entertained friends there. Mae’s guests tended to be fellow activists, one of whom eventually provided the connection that brought John and Yoko to Ojai. Jim Churchill identifies the intermediary as Ralph Caprio, a friend of Mae’s from Chicago.

“He knew the Lennons’ lawyer,” Jim said. “And he knew about the house. So he hooked it up. And my mom said yes.”

Thus it was that one day in late May or early June of 1972 — the exact date is unknown — a dusty Chrysler station wagon delivered a road-weary John Lennon and Yoko Ono to Ojai.


John at the Beach 

Dan Cole has lived in Ojai for most of his life, but in June 1972 he was living on Montauk Lane in Ventura and was a happy-hour regular at John’s At the Beach, a popular pub owned by John Blonder on nearby Seaward Avenue. Cole was at the bar having a drink one evening while local musician Trevor Jones held forth from a small stage. It was a Tuesday, so the crowd was sparse. When Jones took a break, a longhaired stranger got up with a guitar and started singing “Norwegian Wood.” No one paid much attention at first, but then some young women sitting near the stage took a closer look and sounded the alarm: “That’s John Lennon!”

Yoko was there, too, but she left the singing to her husband. He played a couple of songs and then they left. Cole looked out the window, perhaps expecting to see Lennon depart in a limo, or in something like the famous psychedelic, multicolored Bentley he drove in England. There was nothing of the sort parked on Seaward Avenue. “He drove off in a station wagon,” Cole recalled.

Two nights later the Lennons were back, and John played another brief set, this time backed by some local musicians. Cole wasn’t there that night, but he showed up the following night to find the place jammed with people. Word had spread about Lennon’s earlier performances, and everyone was hoping that lightning would strike a third time. But John and Yoko never returned to John’s At the Beach.

Back in Ojai, there were Lennon sightings at the Ranch House restaurant in Meiners Oaks.

“They ate several times at the Ranch House, mostly lunch,” recalls the restaurant’s former owner David Skaggs, who worked there at the time. “They enjoyed the table for two right beside the koi pond. They were a very quiet couple, but didn’t seen to get annoyed with any attention that came their way.”

From time to time, John sauntered forth from the Churchill house to explore the East End on foot. Local resident Cary Sterling was stunned one day when he stumbled upon the erstwhile Beatle on McAndrew Road near the Thacher Creek bridge.

That bridge in later years would be the setting for several legends arising from Lennon’s visit. In those days it had guardrails made with redwood posts on which people sometimes carved their names. At some point — whether it was Lennon in 1972 or another person at a later date — someone carved “John Lennon” on the top of the west-side rail, where passersby often stood and watched the sunset. When the bridge was replaced in the 1990s, one longtime Ojai resident (who prefers to remain anonymous) cut out the section with Lennon’s name, and kept it as a souvenir.

“I’ve got it still,” he told the OQ, “although there’s no way to authenticate it.”

Despite persistent legends, one place John and Yoko evidently did not visit was Krishnamurti’s East End complex. Krishnamurti was in Europe at the time, and his former (and future) home in Ojai was then in the hands of his estranged business manager D. Rajagopal and Rajagopal’s wife, Rosalind. Nor is there any evidence to suggest that Lennon and Krishnamurti ever met anywhere else. But people who cherish the idea of a connection between these two iconic figures can console themselves with this thought: Krishnamurti likely had passed some pleasant evenings in the Churchill house many years earlier, when it was still owned by Guido Ferrando. So in a sense, the philosopher and the Beatle did inhabit the same space in Ojai, just not at the same time.

For Mae Churchill, John and Yoko were less than ideal tenants. They annoyed the property’s caretakers, Charles and Mary Miller, by trying to order room service, as though they were staying in a hotel. According to at least two published reports, they hosted a large crowd  of hangers-on at the house and ran up an enormous phone bill. But Mae agreed to meet them for tea one day at the Pierpont Inn in Ventura. According to Joan Churchill, John and Yoko were intrigued by the books Mae had at the house, and wanted to meet their owner.

“All I remember Mae saying about the meeting was that John was phobic about handling money,” Joan said.

The Lennons hoped to talk her into extending their stay, but Mae refused. Her son needed the house to write his thesis, and that was that. They were out.

It should be noted that John and Yoko were not really “on the run” from Nixon’s FBI in June 1972. Their lawyer was waging an effective legal fight against the deportation order. They had gone on the Dick Cavett show as recently as May 11 to make their case to a nationwide television audience. And they were about to release a new album on June 12 — “Some Time in New York City,” the much-anticipated follow-up to “Imagine.” They were not being hunted — they were in fact the hunters, having come to Ojai primarily to track down Yoko’s ex-husband and daughter, with the help of a phalanx of private detectives.

On the other hand, John and Yoko did have high expectations for “Some Time in New York City,” and they might have been preparing for the possibility of a backlash.

Here was the immensely popular John Lennon, still wreathed in his Beatles halo, still basking in the afterglow of “Imagine,” and he was about to release an overtly political album that embraced a New Left agenda. The voting age had just been lowered to 18, enfranchising millions of teenagers who habitually took their cues from rock stars. Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin hoped that enlisting Lennon in their Rock Liberation Front might galvanize the left, possibly enough to derail Nixon’s re-election campaign. The Nixon administration evidently feared that possibility enough to seek Lennon’s deportation. So John and Yoko could be forgiven if they thought they were about to detonate a bomb that might in some sense change the world. When it went off on June 12, they would look on from their Ojai hideout and see what happened.

It’s not easy to publicize a new album while in hiding, but the Lennons gave it a shot.  They sent their chauffeur, Peter Bendry, to the Music Box store in the Arcade to have an advance copy of the LP converted into an eight-track tape. Drew Robertson, who worked at the Music Box at the time, recalls being unimpressed by the Lennons’ new music.

“I just heard parts of it,” Robertson told the OQ. “It didn’t really appeal to me.”

The Lennons also placed a call to an L.A. radio DJ named Elliot Mintz, with whom they already had a long-distance telephone relationship. When Mintz came on the line, Yoko carefully pronounced the name of the obscure little town she was calling from.

“One day they called me and said, ‘We’re in California and we want to meet you,’ ” Mintz told the OQ. “And they said, ‘We’re in a place called O-hi.’ ”

Mintz already was familiar with Ojai, having come here to hear Krishnamurti speak and to dine at the Ranch House. (It was Mintz, apparently, who turned the Lennons on to the legendary restaurant.) Eager to meet the famous couple in person, he drove up from L.A. on June 9. Evidently as a security precaution, they did not give him the address. Instead, following their instructions, he met them at a pre-determined rendezvous spot, then followed their station wagon to the house on Thacher Road.

“It just seemed to be a house in the middle of nowhere,” he said.

At one point that day, the Lennons drew him into the bathroom, turned on the faucets, and whispered that they feared the house had been bugged by the FBI. They also gave him an advance copy of “Some Time in New York City.” Mintz drove back to L.A., played the entire album on his radio show without commercial interruption, and was promptly fired. This was a promising start for John and Yoko (if not necessarily for Mintz). It seemed as though they had struck a nerve.

Meanwhile, they and their detectives continued to look for Kyoko. Albert Goldman, in his controversial 1988 biography “The Lives of John Lennon,” portrays John and Yoko and their minions as Keystone kops chasing Tony Cox around the San Fernando Valley:

“This was Tony’s first hiding place, and this is where the Lennons sought to trap him, their house in Ojai being only a half-hour’s drive [sic] from Granada Hills. Like most amateur adventurers, the Lennons were very clumsy with their cloaks and daggers. After a month of vain endeavors to snatch their elusive prey, during which they trashed the beautiful house in which they were staying and were expelled by its irate owner, John and Yoko got word that Tony was in Sausalito.”

Goldman’s biography has been widely dismissed as a mean-spirited hatchet job, but at least one person in Ojai vouches for its accuracy — John Wilcock, who worked for Goldman as a researcher on the book, and who defends its author as “a first-rate biographer.” In any case, Goldman was right about the Sausalito tip. The Lennons left Ojai in a hurry in mid-June, which may explain why they left such a mess behind. Apart from the overflowing ashtrays, the chopsticks in the disposal, and the guitar left out by the pool, they also left a lot of clothes in the bedroom they had been using.

“I remember in particular a pair of pale buckskin boots with long fringe,” Joan Churchill said.

The Lennons headed north in their station wagon, and they took the newly unemployed Elliot Mintz with them. (Lennon to Mintz: “Pack a bag and join the circus.”) That marked the end of the Lennons’ Ojai sojourn. It had lasted three weeks at the most, and possibly less than two.


The Chase Continues 

After arriving in San Francisco, John and Yoko telephoned their SunDance editor Craig Pyes and pressed him into service.

“That first time we met, we talked nonstop for five or six hours,” Pyes said. “It’s etched in my mind as one of the greatest experiences of my life.”

“To be with [Lennon] was just an overwhelming experience,” Pyes added. “His personality was intense. There was this incredible openness.”

The Lennons rented a house in Mill Valley and spent a lot of time in the back seat of Pyes’s Volkswagen Beetle, roaming Sausalito in another fruitless search for Kyoko. In mid-summer they went back to New York.

They continued to hobnob with Jerry Rubin, but they were not really committed to radical politics, at least not in any practical way.

“Absolutely not,” Pyes said. “They were artists. Politics [to them] was just another form of art.”

Lennon inscribed this copy of "Some Time in New York City" for Craig Pyes.

Lennon inscribed this copy of “Some Time in New York City” for Craig Pyes.

Alas, art and politics do not always mix well. “Some Time in New York City” had turned out to be a humiliating flop. Even left-wing rock critics condemned its songs as artless agitprop. The record-buying public agreed; the album rose no higher than No. 48 on the U.S. album charts, spawned no hit singles and had no discernible impact on the career of Richard Nixon, who was overwhelmingly re-elected in November 1972.

In 1973, John and Yoko separated, and John took up with Yoko’s assistant May Pang. He moved to Los Angeles with Pang and commenced a 15-month bender that in retrospect he would characterize as his “lost weekend” period. There are stories told in Ojai that Lennon and Pang passed some time here during this period. But Pang, through a spokeswoman, told the OQ that she has no memory of ever being in Ojai.

By 1975, John was back in New York and back with Yoko. In the wake of the “Some Time in New York City” debacle, he had retreated from activism and released three non-political solo albums (“Mind Games,” “Walls And Bridges” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll”). All of them sold reasonably well; none was considered a masterpiece.

When Pete Hamill interviewed Lennon for Rolling Stone in June 1975, he asked John how his ealy ‘70s radical phase had affected his music.

“It almost ruined it, in a way,” Lennon said. “It became journalism and not poetry.”

Then Lennon lapsed into silence. He won his INS case, got his green card, fathered a child with his wife, and devoted himself to family life. For almost five years, he released no albums, delivered no live performances, led no protests, granted no major media interviews.

Many onetime admirers felt disappointed, even betrayed. In November 1980, the writer (and future Ojai resident) Laurence Shames published a cover story in Esquire depicting Lennon as a pathetic sell-out who had let his admirers down by withdrawing from public life. Formerly the “emblem and conscience of his age,” Lennon now seemed to have abandoned his idealism to embrace the cossetted life of a self-centered millionaire:

“The Lennon I would have found is a 40-year-old businessman who watches a lot of television, who’s got $150 million, a son whom he dotes on, and a wife who intercepts his phone calls,” Shames wrote. “He’s got good lawyers to squeeze him through tax loopholes, and he’s learned the political advantages of silence.”

Lennon would not grant him an interview, so Shames posed a rhetorical question in his article: “Is it true, John? Have you really given up?”

Shames could hardly have anticipated the effect his words would have on Mark David Chapman, a mentally unstable security guard from Honolulu who idolized Lennon. Reading the Esquire article helped persuade Chapman that his hero was a phony.

As the article hit the newsstands, Lennon already was preparing to return to public life, and in a big way. In early December, he and Yoko released a new album, “Double Fantasy,” which shot up to No. 1. One of its songs, “Watching the Wheels,” contained an answer to his critics: “No longer riding on the merry-go-round — I just had to let it go.”

While doing publicity for the new album, Lennon (in a Rolling Stone interview) delivered an explicit riposte to the Esquire article:

“That guy is the kind of person who used to be in love with you — you know, one of those people — and now hates you — a rejected lover. I don’t even know [Shames], but he spent his whole time looking for an illusion that he created of me, and then got upset because he couldn’t find it.”

Lennon said some fans wanted him to be a martyr for their unfulfilled dreams: “What they want is dead heroes, like Sid Vicious and James Dean. I’m not interested in being a dead fucking hero.”

Three days later, Chapman gunned him down.



In the fall of 2001, writer Kit Stolz was preparing an article about Lennon for the short-lived Ojai Magazine. Stolz requested an interview with Ono, but she did not respond, so he went ahead and published the piece.

“Six months after it was published, she calls me up and says, ‘Oh, I hear you’re writing a story,’ “ he told the OQ. “I was stunned.”

Caught off-guard, and with his article already in print, Stolz did not ask her many questions about her time in Ojai. But he did ask if she planned to write a memoir one day.

“She said, ‘No, I’m not going back,’ or words to that effect,” Stolz recalled. “She was really nice. She said, ‘Well, have a great life,’ and hung up.”

Ono recently celebrated her 80th birthday and is still going strong. True to her word, she has not published a memoir.

2001 was also the year John Wilcock moved to the Ojai Valley. Unlike Ono, he did publish a memoir — “Manhattan Memories,” which came out in 2010. At 87 he is still posting material on his website, ojaiorange.com, which he bills as “The Ongoing Journal of John Wilcock, the Peripatetic Patriarch of the Free Press.”

SunDance magazine folded after only three issues, but Craig Pyes went on to a notable career as an investigative reporter, winning two Pulitzer Prizes while at the New York Times. He later became a licensed private investigator, moving to Ojai in 2010 and setting up shop as Pyes Only, a boutique firm specializing in human-rights, missing-persons and public-interest investigations. He has yet to write his memoirs.

Laurence Shames went on to write many books, both as a ghostwriter and (under his own name) as the author of mystery novels set in Key West. A longtime Ojai resident, he recently moved to Asheville, N.C. He declined to comment for this article. “Sorry, but I have nothing to add to what’s in the Esquire piece, and the subject is a painful one for me,” he told the OQ via Facebook.

Mae Churchill died in 1996, and was eulogized in The Los Angeles Times as a prominent activist “for privacy and other civil rights.”  The house on Thacher Road now belongs to Joan Churchill, a distinguished documentary filmmaker and cinematographer based in Los Angeles. The house is available as a vacation rental, and its website highlights its history by mentioning its former owners General Charles G. Penney and Dr. Guido Ferrando. The website makes no reference whatsoever to John Lennon or Yoko Ono.

Jim Churchill returned to Ojai in the late ‘70s. He and his wife, Lisa Brenneis, are founding members of the Ojai Pixie Tangerine Growers’ Association. He still has the guitar that Lennon left out by the pool, and the copy of “Grapefruit” that Ono left behind for his mother. In her inscription, Ono quoted from one of her songs on “Some Time in New York City.”

“We’re all water from different rivers,” she wrote. “That’s why it’s so easy to meet.”

Jim Churchill, upper right, with the classical guitar (lower left) that John Lennon left exposed to the elements. Upper left: Yoko Ono's inscription to Mae Churchill of her book, "Grapefruit." Lower right, cover of "Grapefruit."

Jim Churchill, upper right, with the classical guitar (lower left) that John Lennon left exposed to the elements. Upper left: Yoko Ono’s inscription to Mae Churchill of her book, “Grapefruit.” Lower right, cover of “Grapefruit.”