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In-Laws and Outlaws

Larry Sawyer reviews

AsEverWas: memoirs of a beat survivor, by Hammond Guthrie

ISBN 0-946719-54-3. SAF Publishers/London

This piece is 550 words or about two printed pages long.

What a marvelous surprise lurking beneath the cover of this one. AsEverWas, by Hammond Guthrie is a trip to hipster Mecca, but this book is disguised as something else entirely. Guthrie is laying down something really valuable, because this book is something you’re probably unprepared for, living as we are in pre-packaged, fast-food times. This book is heartfelt and enjoyable just because.

Unlike a staggering, name-dropping, list of counterculture glitterati, Guthrie’s tome reads mostly like a heartfelt memoir that recounts a once magical time as remembered by an authentic member of the tribe. Tripping through southern California (literally, as an acid-test attendee), setting up boho camp in North Beach and rubbing literary shoulders with the likes of Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Allen Ginsberg, Hube ‘the cube’ Leslie, and Gregory Corso, Guthrie sets a drug-addled course for whereabouts unknown, namely swinging, sixties England and Amsterdam. All the while aspiring to become a member of the art sophisticate crowd, while perpetually dancing along the fringes, Guthrie has perhaps been saved by not achieving these perceived absolute heights. Achieving said heights might have inhibited his truth-telling genes, and we are thankful that he continually grounds his narrative in precisely articulated details that make his odyssey likable, enjoyable, and ultimately grippingly real. Guthrie is an accomplished storyteller indeed, and his psychedelic journey (prefaced as it is with the cautionary aside that describes what nearly became his suicidal end) leads us to a spot in the middle of some familiar woods surrounded by friends whom we’ve never even met.

Therein lies the art of Guthrie’s book. He tells a fantastical tale that, at its center, is pulsing with the rhythm of genuine life. Anecdotes of beatster hangouts and first tokes of marijuana lead, and are intertwined with, hilarious accounts of acid tests and all night freak-outs at Club UFO alongside the original Pink Floyd in fabled London. While hanging out with Simon Vinkenoog in Amsterdam, Guthrie is invited to read alongside Ginsberg and Amiri Baraka — too many adventures to name them all. Tangier, back to California, adding it all up and finally looking back on the good times, the bad times, all of it — and laughing.

Some of the details that seep over the page and leave you absorbed in Guthrie’s atmospheric memoir include the following — page after page of immediacy:

Sitting squat-legged on the ground, black-turbaned and clothed in greasy-looking rags of ebony-tinged cloth, and with a wooden bowl full of sticky black seeds in front of him, the oracle served as the human link in a gruesome chain, otherwise comprised of the rotting, bottlefly-covered bodies of seven decapitated ravens. Later I learned that this was the very same spot where the noted surrealist author Alfred Chester (Behold Goliath and The Exquisite Corpse), then in residence [in Morocco] had himself tied to a tree by the villagers of Asilah in a vain attempt to conquer his significantly paranoid delusions.

Guthrie weaves a fabulous pattern and leaves one imperfect bead . . . it is to be continued. Along with Ed Sanders’ Tales of Beatnik Glory, AsEverWas is a convincing second act of the artistic, underground, vagabond Twentieth Century.

Larry Sawyer, photo by Ron Padgett

Larry Sawyer has recently published work in The Prague Literary Review, Rain Taxi, Paper Tiger, and Exquisite Corpse, among others. He edits milk magazine online at

Photo of Larry Sawyer
by Ron Padgett

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