by Jerry Waxler
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Based on the title, Bohemian Love Diaries by Slash Coleman I looked forward to reading an exciting memoir. The word Bohemian drives me crazy with curiosity because in the 60s I was infatuated with the people who were trying to live their lives as a work of art. I hoped that Slash Coleman’s memoir would offer a modern version. And to add to the mystique, advance notices mentioned his grandparents who had been artists in France before the war. That was exactly the period I wished I could know more about. I wanted to jump in and join this man’s life. So I took the book with me on my silent retreat, looking for some interesting entertainment to pass the time between sessions of meditation.
When I left for my retreat, I also brought another book, Trickster Makes this World, Mischief, Myth, and Art by Lewis Hyde. The two books don’t seem to have much in common. One is a coming of age memoir and the other a scholarly treatise on a type of mythology with which I was not familiar. But when I started reading, I kept finding wonderful surprises, each one adding value to the other.
Because of my longstanding love affair with the Hero’s Journey, I love to apply mythology to the meaning of stories. According to Joseph Campbell, this universal myth portrays a protagonist who travels to the world of adventure to find transcendent meaning. Until my weeklong retreat, I assumed that this simple structure could explain just about every meaningful story.
This coincidence of reading these two books together changed the way I think. In Trickster Makes this World, Lewis Hyde highlights the importance of a different type of myth. In a trickster myth, the protagonist stays right here, in the thick of mundane life and shakes things up. The trickster tests limits, mocks rules, and allows us to face the absurdity, and even futility of human experience. The goal is not destruction but rejuvenation.
Hyde then goes on to show how in modern society, artists are our tricksters. Hyde offers the example of Marcel Duchamp, the Frenchman who created an international stir by submitting a urinal as a work of art. The work was later touted as a major landmark in 20th century art. Duchamps was constantly looking for ways to break the boundaries. He didn’t even like his own art, relentlessly searching for the next breakthrough, eternally dissatisfied with the last.
Slash Coleman’s memoir offers an even better example. In Bohemian Love Diaries, he ceaselessly moves from one art form to another, from music, sculpture, performance art, street theater, and of course story telling, bending boundaries, breaking rules, looking for truth within truth within truth, like a hall of mirrors that can only truly be represented by the next work of art.
By reading Lewis Hyde’s book at the same time as I was reading Slash Coleman’s memoir, I had accidentally concocted a two-book self-study class that showed me a new way to look at art, and also an insight into the surreal social upheaval that I lived through in the sixties.
As children, my generation grew up listening to stories about the GIs who went overseas to conquer evil. But by the time we were teenagers, we had become infatuated with the wisdom our heroes had brought back with them. We fell in love with the anti-art of the theater absurd and other avant garde forms that attempted to show the meaninglessness of beauty and the beauty of meaninglessness. Those Bohemian ideas inspired our generation. Instead of coming of age as heroes we would tear down the rules of society, and demonstrate their absurdity.
As hippies and radicals, or as Ken Kesey called us, pranksters, we attacked the status quo in order to shake everyone up. We hoped that by disrupting the existing order we could make room for a better way to live. LSD also known as “Acid” was the perfect trickster tool. When acid was thrown up against the mind, the veneer of reality melted and left only the absurd essence.
Slash Coleman followed the same model. When he wanted to alter the consciousness of his intensely middle-class conservative audience he threw the acid of his own naked dancing on the veneer of their staid, stable lives. His life became a street performance, dressing and undressing in any way he could to turn life into art that disrupted the status quo.
Even the book’s structure is the work of a trickster. By shifting focus at the last minute, he plays with the classical meaning of the character arc. Instead of seeing his character arc alone in his own mirror, he takes a step back and as his field of vision widens, he sees previous generations standing over his shoulder. Brilliant. Iconoclastic. Disturbing. This is why I love memoirs. Stories of our lives are the acid that destroys the illusion that our own view of life is the only one. We are not alone.
I’m not suggesting that to read Slash Coleman’s book you need to read Lewis Hyde’s. On the contrary, Bohemian Love Diaries is a fun, easy, seditious romp through one troubled young man’s search for meaning. I love it on its own. I just love it more because of the way in one fell swoop, the combination of the two books helped me understand my generation’s crazy attempt to unseat order in the 60s, my deep-seated fear of story-endings that cause despair, and my own desperate passion for seeing life as a work of art.
Article about Art in Trickster Makes this World
Bohemian Love Diaries by Slash Coleman
Another article about mythology in memoir
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