(February 1974, pp 62-65)
Guru Blisses Out on Synthetic Grass
Bliss and Bones
in the Astrodome
with Artie Traum
This premie with washed-out eyes is offering a handful of rose petals to me. He's insisting I touch them, even though I'm hauling 60 pounds of equipment on my back. He's giggling constantly and pushing them under my nose. "Do you know who touched these? The Lord of the Universe." He giggles some more and wanders off slowly.
There were about three thousand people at the airport at this point. The Guru had swept through, given a quick speech and left in a flower-bedecked Rolls Royce. It was all over so fast that I was reduced to taking a photograph of his empty throne being carted off the stage surrounded by premies reaching out to kiss it.
Behind me, a thousand or so other premies - True Believers who do service for the Guru - are sitting on the airport tar mark. They are ordered to meditate until their buses arrive, and they do so obediently, covering their heads with shirts and jackets. The other press people are as bewildered as I am. We look at each other sagely … "What's going on?" No one has a coherent impression of what's happening, but it all seems really weird.
As I enter the Astrodome, a friend rushes up to greet me and leads me onto the football field. He points to the spot where a maintenance man had fallen 212 feet, from the roof, and landed three or four feet short of the 50yard-line. It took twelve hours to dig his bones out of the Astro-turf.
At one end of the dome a multi-tiered stage is being constructed for the three-day appearance of the 15-year-old Perfect Master. The premies are working like crazy to construct a real counterculture event: sound system by Hanley, full-scale video projection, a Panavision film and a reflecting pond and fountain, as well as thrones for the Royal Family. The stage reaches the 22-yard-line, and the rest of the football field is being covered with red carpet.
At the other end of the Dome a uniformed Astro-ette is leading a regularly scheduled tour of tourists, telling them the arena's size and history. She mentions briefly that the current spectacle is Millenium '73. I ask her what that is, and she says, "I hear some boy is going to bring peace to the world …"
The Astrodome was conceived as the Eighth Wonder of the World and is only part of a complex called the Astro-Domaine. This concrete city consists of the Astro-Hotel, the Astro-Parking Lot and the Astro-Hall (in which a teachers' convention was taking place), and it covers about 100 acres. The entire area was dominated, at the time, by Astro-Consciousness.
Inside the Dome one hears 70 decibels of air-conditioning noise at all times; something like the sound of a 747 warming up. When the main gate is opened, the air pressure causes the enormous roof to lower about 8 inches. And behind the scoreboard, the Grand Duke of the Dome, a local judge who owns the place, has built himself an apartment.
It's a bizarre setting for an event designed to initiate Everlasting Peace in a troubled world. It has obviously been conceived as a media event, which is why the relatively small turnout is unimportant. (They were shooting for 200,000 attendance and fell only 180,000 short.) Stax Records is recording it, and Jacques Sandoz has a five-camera crew shooting in Panavision. Sandoz, it is said, is a premie. The film, as far as we can determine (no one will speak clearly to us about it), is about a drug addict who finds God at Millenium '74 (that's next year).
I'd been trying to get to interview a member of the Holy Family all day. There are really five important members: the four brothers and the mother - the mother of God, that is. All of a sudden, as we're wandering around, we see this Indian kid on the stage, obviously one of the brothers. We run up there, out-maneuvering the guards, quickly kick off our shoes (the stage is an ashram and therefore holy for the weekend) and realize … we have no questions for him. But since security was so tight, we considered it a coup for a press crew to actually reach one of the Holy Family.
"How's it going?"
There was a long pause, while he politely waited for our next question.
"What's your favorite food?"
"What's it like to have a younger brother who is God?"
"His word is God's word."
"Do you feel you get enough attention?"
"I am nobody," he said. "I come to watch."
Outside of the Astro-Hotel, crowds of people gathered, waiting for the Guru to descend from the "Celestial Suite," which costs, the hotel manager says, $2500 per day. The suite had its own elevator which was always besieged by Guru groupies. The Guru, in turn, was constantly protected by an entourage of WPC bodyguards (the World Peace Corps) and public relations people. All of the WPC people wear well-cut suits and ties, have short hair and an intense personal manner. Many of them are from England and seem to have stepped out of a Michael Caine movie.
Organization people tried to lead the press around, and though they were generally polite, they kept covering lenses with their palms and denying access to touchy areas. Some of the WPC were almost sinister when they said, "You have to go by the rules, laddie." But, as the Guru says in his own book: "If everyone really knew that God is Omnipresent … there would be no need of sheriffs; no need of policemen . . ."
I asked one of the WPC men about the celebrated incident when a man threw a cream pie in the Guru's face. He said that if he'd been present he would have slit the man's throat immediately. When I said that sounded like the statement of a fanatic, he looked surprised.
He told a story about how a photographer had been tripped into a swimming pool while trying to take a picture. This was sort of "Divine Play," he said. I pointed out to the bodyguard how thoughtless I thought it was for him to describe this when I was standing with a brand new $30,000 color video camera on my shoulder …
Of the 20,000 believers who actually showed up, most were premies and individuals who have received The Knowledge. The Knowledge is given in a secret all-night ceremony by a mahatma, or a member of the Holy Family. There are about 65 mahatmas, and they are all Indians, apparently followers of Maharaj-Ji's father. They seem to be genuinely holy - they are high - but I got a sense that they were present because of the momentum.
There's one American mahatma; he's not a real mahatma, but he's called Mahatma Sunshine. He looks like a young and hesitant Bob Dylan, and wears a cowboy hat.
We did interview one middle-aged premie and her husband and asked them what their favorite food was. The husband answered, "I used to like steak."
Most of the premies, with the exception of one very self-aware young man, seemed weak and pallid. They were willing to give up their self-determination to an organization which seemed to hold them together. They would chant "Jai Satachadan" in a mindless manner any time a leader would yell it. One person, a former radical, described it as being a little fascistic, but, he added, "It works."
This one premie, a plumber, was the only one I could relate to. He was from Florida; he had driven up alone in his pick-up truck, leaving his wife behind because she wasn't into it. I asked him what he thought of the organizational aspect of the scene.
"The organization people are just ego tripping. Just like any organization. But being on the lower levels, being blissed-out, dancing … that's all positive. I used to be a junkie … I need the structure."
He was consciously aware of how it fit into his life. Everyone else seemed to have fallen into the Vat of Perfection.
An NBC cameraman was standing outside the Astrodome commenting about the Perfect Master. He was telling his camera what the press generally thought: namely, that the Guru was a sham, that the people were inflatable, and that there was a Nixonian atmosphere to the event. The security, for example, was similar to that which surrounded the President. He and other members of the press were annoyed by that.
The Guru held a press conference on the second day, and it was in the basement of the Astro-Hall. After waiting for 20 minutes in an oppressive room, we watched the Perfect Master sweep in.
Someone asked, "If he's perfect why is he late?"
We soon realized that when the Guru would give an answer, members of the audience would all answer "Jai Satachadan." The few press people looked around and realized that the conference was packed with premies.
In about the tenth row was a middle-aged woman who kept getting up to ask questions in Spanish. They were translated as "When will the Guru come to Argentina to bring peace?" or something equally obvious. One of the reporters got up and protested the sham questions. When he asked, "What happened to the man who put a pie in your face?" the Guru answered, "You will have to find out for yourself…" The entire press conference reminded us of the Nixon-Ziegler approach.
OK now, picture this: On the stage
of the Astrodome is the Astro-scoreboard, which says in big letters, "Blue Aquarius." Then the P.A. system announces: "And now, the dynamic Lord Bhole Ji and his 55-piece big band, Blue Aquarius!" In the spotlight waddles a fat kid dressed in a silver sequined suit. He begins wiggling his hips and waves his hands to lead the band, not always in time. They play a medley of 1960s tunes, in no way dynamic, and often flat. The audience loves it.
Bhole Ji is the second youngest of the Divine Family; he mouths the words to the songs (for example, "Satisfaction") into a dead microphone while a real singer, 20 feet to his right, belts out the lyrics. His pained expression is a grotesque parody of American pop culture. When he's not on stage he giggles a lot.
We asked one premie if she liked the band.
"Oh yeah," she said. "They were great."
"Did you ever meet another rock star?"
"I once met Mick Jagger."
"How did he compare?'
"Oh, they're about the same."
Then she blissed out.
Over a period of days, the event became more and more dreamlike … nightmarish. There seemed to be endless rules and regulations about places we couldn't go, people we couldn't photograph. There seemed to be no logic to it, so we couldn't even learn to play their game. We all went slightly berserk.
In order to counter the Divine Presence I went on a personal anti-bliss campaign. I went out and bought $70 cowboy boots and packed away my Earth Shoes. I ate meat twice a day. You have to realize I was working my ass off. I was feeling like a human tripod, carrying around all this equipment on my back. My temper started to slide the more I heard appeals for Peace, Truth and Tranquility. It seemed that everyone there was deathly afraid of emotion, and there was a sexual density that went right along.
On the last day, I was standing by the side of the stage, trying to get close in to photograph - the Maharaj-Ji's speech. I had gotten permission to do this, but one of the WPC guys wouldn't let me through. He hadn't received the word about my permit. He said: "You have to play by the rules, laddie." Finally, I just blew up.
"Look, I have a job to do. I'm trying to do it. This is no goddamn game to me…"
He really seemed shook up. I kept screaming. My producer was saying: "Look, I know you're not supposed to let us through, but I can't hold him back. He's slightly mad, you know …"
I was screaming, as loud as I could:
"Let me through!"
In the meantime, the Perfect Master was doing satsang on the stage above me, and the Indian women, with Instamatic kits on their laps, were all looking down, wondering what was going on … I was getting angrier all the time.
The yelling worked, because they let us through. I realized they couldn't handle the high intensity of my emotions. They wanted me to be blissed-out and peaceful, but the cowboy part of me pushed through their lines.
The entire show - platforms, thrones, red carpets and flowers - had to be torn down on Saturday night. As soon as Maharaj-Ji finished speaking they began working with the intensity of the days before. They worked all night, to get the place ready for Sunday's football game.
I had been invited to go to the game with some rich Houston friends who had a special box. I came into the Dome, which I had known for a week as a loony spectacle, during the fourth quarter. What was the day before one-tenth full to see the world's Perfect Master, was packed to see the worst football team in America.
On the way out of Houston we stopped to get gas. As the attendant filled our tank, we asked him what he thought of the Guru's people who had come to his town. He thought for a moment, rubbed his chin, and said: "I guess you could say they were all about one quart low …"