Out of the mouths of former hippy babes comes this history of Fountain of Light, the monthly counterculture tabloid published in Taos from 1969-1970. Jim Levy, editor for the last three issues, and author/journalist Phaedra Greenwood talk a little about the people who founded and worked on this now-legendary review.
— Tradiciones editor Virginia L. Clark
Greenwood: A fountain of light. It is a beautiful image, like an exploding star. It was also the name of a hippy rag which Wikipedia describes as “an underground newspaper of the 1960s published monthly in tabloid format.” The Fountain of Light was hardly “underground.” Our open-aired, counterculture magazine was proudly published and distributed aqui en Taos from May 1969 to June 1970.
Levy: The 1969 Anno Domini was a crazy year: the war in Vietnam, the moon landing, gay Stonewall riots, the Woodstock peace and love concert on one coast and the Stone’s “Sympathy for the Devil” concert on the other. Amidst all that uproar, communes were sprouting up all over Northern New Mexico, adobe walls rising out of the mud to house the barefoot entrada of idealists and dopers.
Greenwood: A young man whose name has been lost to history asked Charles “Chick” Lonsdale if he could use the old IBM Selectric typewriter (the one with the ball) that was languishing in a storage shed. He said he wanted to type up recent events in the hippie world. Lonsdale said sure, threw in a hundred bucks, and Fountain of Light was born.
Levy: The paper was part of a larger enterprise funded by Lonsdale. A graduate of Stanford in psychology and economics and a Jungian therapist, Chick came to Taos in 1968 at the age of 25 and generously devoted an inheritance of $250,000 to found Lorien commune, an Information Center, a hippie health clinic, a general store and a counterculture magazine. The first issue of the paper cost 10 cents and included a poem by a Dawn E. Light and articles about the Church of Microbiotics and the Tibetan Book of the Great Liberation. The graphics were curlicued and psychedelic, many of them lifted from other magazines.
Greenwood: By the third issue the price had gone up to 15 cents. In an essay, “Why Taos?” an anonymous writer explained that the next generation (the future of America!) was coming to Taos “earnestly seeking new values and honest land on which to nurture tender shoots … it is a tribute to you Taoseños that we are looking to you for our example.” The paper carried practical pieces about collecting herbs and wild foods and one called “Potato Cultivation” by hans p. vom dorp (lower case was de rigueur). Reynaldo “Reggie” Cantu contributed a poem and I turned in an essay advocating the return of sacred Blue Lake from the government to Taos Pueblo, an action that was long overdue. Several months later, President Nixon signed the order – justice at last!
Levy: Very few of the articles or photos were signed because signing them was considered an EGO TRIP (caps were just as popular as lower case). And the paper was openly sexist. Piece after piece referred to mankind, men, man, he, him. If it weren’t for the excellent articles by some women, you would have thought the entire hippie phenomenon consisted of bachelors with long hair and leather vests.
Greenwood: Except for one cover that celebrated two joyfully naked young women, bellies swollen with babies, dancing in the sunlight. The women’s movement was just beginning to challenge the BROTHERhood of MAN in HuMANity.
Levy: Classified ads were free. “Wanted: Groovy hip chick to help sell art and creative crafts.” And, “Wanted: Laying chickens, any number, any color, any age. Contact Moonbeam.” And, “We are all such a tight, close-knit loving community. Oh, by the way, why not stop in at La Clinica for a free blood test?” There were also heartbreaking letters from parents: “Dearest favorite 3rd daughter Vicki (Cinnamon) known at times as Betty or Mary. PLEASE Vicki, Come home now, it’s been so long honey and we miss you so very much … ” (continues for over 700 words).
Greenwood: By March 1970 the paper had reached a turning point. The editor, Will Jennings, had flown off to Hawaii, leaving his notice in green felt tip scrawled on the toilet seat:
I’m going to where the grass is greener ’cause staying here is making me meaner.
Some funds were missing. Or not. No one seemed to know for sure. Chick offered me the editor’s job, but I was working on a novel about my waltz with the Merry Pranksters at Woodstock, which I thought I could easily sell. (It’s still lying in the trunk.) Also, I couldn’t imagine being the boss, especially over men. Roger (pronounced Ro-jhah) Thomas, the graphic designer, who was a philosophical Frenchman and the most talented of the staff, said he knew a writer, someone local, who might give us some advice about where to go from here.
Levy: I sauntered into the office to offer the staff some ideas about expanding the content of the paper and staggered out as the editor. One of my first acts was to tell the only reporter, Phaedra Greenwood, that since everyone else on the paper was now volunteering, she could no longer be paid. She went right on writing articles, including a long piece about Earth People’s Park.
Greenwood: The planning meeting for Earth People’s Park was held in a large white teepee at Lorien Commune. An idealistic investor imagined a Utopia of tens of thousands of people living on 50 acres “where all our sisters and brothers from Woodstock can come and be together in peace, love and harmony.” The idea died when one of the locals spoke up: “There isn’t enough water.” To make sure people got the message, The Fountain of Light published a long message from El Grito, the Chicano newspaper out of Española, that ended with a command to in-bound hippies: “DON’T COME.”
Levi: Roger redesigned the paper to look more professional. He replaced the psychedelic images and motifs with a clean, elegant layout that was both eye-catching and easy to read. He used Harvey Mudd’s photographs to document the stories. We started printing on solid white paper and the black ink popped.
Greenwood: Jim transformed The Fountain of Light from a hippie paper into an alternative newspaper covering news for the broader Taos community. He published a prescient account of the ills of the planet by Harvey Mudd; an article about the upcoming statewide elections; excerpts from Baba Ram Dass’ “From Bindu to Ojas,” which became “Be Here Now”; and “The Vision of Anarchy,” a diatribe against conventional consciousness by “joseph belhomme,” the pseudonym of Joseph Rynear, who morphed into “Joseph the Starwatcher and His Cloak of Many Colors.”
Levy: The paper covered the endemic violence that was rocking Northern New Mexico. One afternoon around 2 p.m., five or six very drunk middle-aged men staggered out of the bar in Arroyo Seco and beat up three hippies. The men were not impressionable youths but the owner of a Taos clothing store, an assistant manager of Safeway and several other upstanding citizens. After their labors, they lolled around and offered to demonstrate their prowess to the police. Charged with assault and battery, they were each fined $5 by the magistrate judge.
When the windows of the General Store were shot out, we moved the paper to my house in Arroyo Hondo.
Greenwood: The price of the paper rose to 25 cents, or $3 for 12 issues. By July 1970 over 2,000 copies were being distributed throughout New Mexico, and some libraries were also carrying it.
Alas, just as it was taking off, it came to an end. Chick Lonsdale had blown through his inheritance. He shut down the paper after 14 issues, as well as the General Store. Ben Hatcher corralled most of the goods from the store and opened what became Amigos Food Co-op. Only the health clinic survived and it served the community for years to come.
Levy: The influx of young people into Taos County had a mixed reception and a mixed result. One Hispanic man said to me, “I’m glad they came; they brought even more diversity.” More often the response was fear and anger. Although hippies thought they were bringing new, even radical ideas to New Mexico, they ended by learning from locals the profound truths of traditional life.
Greenwood: The so-called “hippie invasion,” which had started as a stream, dried to a trickle. The communal life expired when the women and children left and the men who stayed behind were eating rattlesnakes and playing with their guns. Fifty years ago, the Fountain of Light whirled away like a leaf in a dust storm. But the ideals that we embraced – a simple life in harmony with each other and the Earth – remain to this day a wellspring of truth, like a jet of pure water leaping toward the sky.
Phaedra Greenwood and Jim Levy are co-authors of “Those Were the Days: Life and Love in 1970s New Mexico” Greenwood has published two memoirs, a book of photos and a collection of women’s poems and essays about nature. Levy has published books of poetry, memoirs, literary essays, travel writing and a book about two dogs.