by Charles S. Goldman

michael mcclure play collection
Michael McClure’s collection of short plays – Charles Goldman
designed the poster and appeared in “2 or 3” of the plays. Note McClure’s
signature in the lower right.

I. Meat Spirit Creature

With a resonant voice, a raw physicality and not much else, in 1967 I got into live theater as actor and poster artist for the Magic Theatre, a Berkeley experimental group. Into a trashcan of dadaism, surrealism, existentialism, absurdism, Stanislavski, and psychedelics, we tossed a molotov cocktail of countercultural radicalism, all with the aim of expanding awareness, stirring the masses and celebrating sexual ecstasy in a very public way – at least for the 100 or so adventurous people looking for something mind-blowing on a Friday night. As one reviewer put it, our stuff “spill[ed] over the stage like hot grease.”

Enter Michael McClure, not too long after a run of his sensational, groundbreaking play, The Beard. He came to us through his connection with Allen Ginsberg, who had read some poetry at a combined performance with my group at the UC Berkeley student union. Michael – movie-star gorgeous, super cool demeanor, Brando motorcycle jacket, model beauty Joanna hanging on his arm.  Celebrity incarnate! Michael had written a set of one-act plays featuring characters like a half-spider, half-rabbit; a panda family; giant worms, frogs and snails; a grotesquery of naked, intertwined humans, etc. The overriding theme: humanity has lost its natural way and was no longer living in harmony with all other life.

The Cherub was our first presentation of Michael’s work. During one rehearsal Joanna, watching me go through a bunch of antic expressions, whispered to Michael something like “It’s a Gargoyle Cartoon!” Thus the collection of plays was named.

The Cherub opened during the 1969 Siege of Berkeley. National Guard troops fired live ammunition overhead, helicopters dropped teargas into trapped crowds of demonstrators, and one death (James B. Rector) resulted from a county Sheriff’s bullet. Michael wrote a startling elegy in memory of Mr. Rector that we passed around at performances. An excerpt:

. . . And matter is spirit! And men, women and babes are meat spirit creatures! . . .  We are the hunters of protein grail, nuevo alchemists, man, woman, and babe, deer, bear, and virus . . . .

meatball chuck by marc olmsted
Portrait of Charles Goldman from “The Meatball” by Marc Olmsted

Well, that was it for me. I knew I was a meat spirit creature. A year later we put together Michael’s next big show, a foursome including The Meatball. I played Geek, one of two enormous round furry balls with skinny white arms and legs, comic-book four-fingered hands in white gloves, large white foam penises. Michael’s stage directions called for our faces to be covered in fur as well, but we actors (egos all aflutter) insisted on having our own faces appear. Michael relented, and we made a big hit out of it with dialogue like this:

Geek (peering into a big lump of raw ground beef): A Universe! There’s a Universe in there and magic music to go with it! Oh wowee! It’s really beautiful, man! Oh, Heaven! Heaven! . . . Zut! Presto! Eureka! Fiat Lux!

Sleek: That’s my Meatball, man! You found my meatball! Hey, that’s neat, you found my meatball!

Geek: Universe! It’s a universe! OH WOWEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE! YOW!

I’ve been a meat spirit creature ever since. I wasn’t ready for Jack’s, Allen’s, and Michael’s budding Buddhism yet, but somehow I found my way there – here – inspired by Michael McClure’s conscious bliss inspiration.

[Quotes from poem and play are not in Michael’s format due to space limitations]

II. On McClure Bringing Jim Morrison to my Pad

I think it was a mutuality of failed expectations. It’s not like Michael and I ever got close. He saw me at rehearsals and performances; he would disappear afterward, so there was very little small talk or even big talk about the play. On stage, I was the wild one with Ginger Baker hair and outrageous nonsense. Otherwise, I was pretty straight arrow. I wondered why they even wanted to visit me; I didn’t have the top-notch stereo system, I didn’t have coke or downers or psychedelics on hand, and our artistic director (who must have arranged this) knew I was pretty stick-in-the-mud most of the time. I didn’t think in advance about intelligently discussing poetry, music, art, philosophy, or anything else really interesting. So I didn’t bring anything to the table (literally and figuratively — we sat opposite a coffee table in my apartment). For them, it was probably just a wasted afternoon that they would never bother to remember. But I refused to fawn on them like a groupie; I was expecting them, especially Jim, to be interesting or charismatic, but they just sat around saying practically nothing; Morrison seemed particularly wasted, maybe my projection on his then-current public appearance. So I was bored too.

III. Coda

I’ll give this to Michael’s memory — many years after that meeting and the inevitable breakup of all the Gargoyle Cartoon participants, I met Michael at a San Francisco memorial celebration for Allen Ginsberg. He remembered me when I reminded him. He wanted to know where all the people had gone after the breakup. “All over the place,” I said, “I’ve lost track of some. I know some are still in theater, a few are doing TV in L.A., and some went completely other ways.” 

“That’s so sad,” he said. “Such creative energy, gone. You really brought those plays to life.”

Yes, more than what shows on the printed page. I still consider his view a great inspiration.


Charles S. Goldman concentrates on his art and Buddhist practice.  To see his work: