Sleeping Where I Fall

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Actor Peter Coyote has always managed to embrace the times he has lived in. In the sixties this included the exhilarating highs of breaking the rules of staid, status-conscious America. It also included the material and spiritual wear that a personal and thorough research of drugs can produce. In this memoir, Coyote relives his fifteen-year ride through the heart of the counterculture - a journey that took him from the quiet rooms of privilege as the son of an East Coast stockbroker to the riotous life of ...
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Overview

Actor Peter Coyote has always managed to embrace the times he has lived in. In the sixties this included the exhilarating highs of breaking the rules of staid, status-conscious America. It also included the material and spiritual wear that a personal and thorough research of drugs can produce. In this memoir, Coyote relives his fifteen-year ride through the heart of the counterculture - a journey that took him from the quiet rooms of privilege as the son of an East Coast stockbroker to the riotous life of political street theater and the self-imposed poverty of West Coast communal movements. He performed on the barricades with the San Francisco Mime Troupe, then went on the road with the Diggers, a radical collective that was seeking nothing less than the transformation of American values. Here too the blunt, affectionate, and often comic portraits of the counterculture's stars, Paul Simon and Janis Joplin, Emmett Grogan and Peter Berg - and of Natural Suzanne, Sweet William, Moose, Gristle, and Carla, those who moved along quietly, leaving no indelible marks. Coyote's road through revolution taught him to be a player and a strategist: he began as a radical communard and became chairman of the California Arts Council; he apprenticed in improvisational street theater and became a motion-picture star in such movies as E.T. and Jagged Edge, working with directors from Steven Spielberg and Barry Levinson to Pedro Almodovar and Roman Polanski. This memoir is his attempt to understand the road he traveled, and the distance between the extremes of a life spectacularly well-lived.
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Editorial Reviews

Megan Harlan
Considering. . .that actor Coyote. . .spent the '60s in the Bay Area's drug-hazed hippie counterculture, this memoir. . .is surprisingly lucid. . . .he confesses, in hindsight, the 'value of limits.' -- Entertainment Weekly
Sarah Vowell

It's hard to imagine a memoir situated around the period of 1965 through '75, whether told by the allies of the right or the left, as anything other than a cautionary tale. Because of that decade's extreme fluctuation between high ideals and high treason, sex and death, love and war, genius and idiocy, any honest remembrance of the era is bound to range from the bitter to the bittersweet. Actor Peter Coyote's autobiography of those years, Sleeping Where I Fall, falls into the latter category, fondly reminiscing about long-lost loved ones of the underground while offering an unblinking critique of their hardships and failures.

Coyote crosses paths with the famous and the infamous. There's a delightfully hard-ass bitch session aimed at Easy Rider, an oddly nonchalant bit about Altamont and some complicated commentary on his friends/enemies in the Hell's Angels. But mostly, the book is a tribute to Coyote's unknown but colorful cohorts. He's astonished that "people so visible in the moment, can be invisible to history, can have left no indelible mark."

Fresh out of college, Coyote moved to the Bay Area in 1964 to study acting. And though he became involved in experimental theater as practiced by the San Francisco Mime Troupe, he quickly ditched Art for the sake of Life, hooking up with an anarchist group called the Diggers. Their chief tenet involved the idea that the only way to subvert capitalism is to get rid of money -- to make things free. This took the form of agricultural communes engaged in the backbreaking work of subsistence. Coyote paints a picture of city kids with stars in their eyes, trying to make a go at gardening, honey-harvesting, even geodesic dome-building. As he puts it, "Inventing a culture from scratch is an exhausting process." His descriptions of group living read like a hippie "Real World," tales of gentle flakes and violent assholes that convey the claustrophobia of collectivism, inspiring even a maverick like himself to tape up rules at one farm: "It's fine if you want to take speed, just don't talk to me!" Ultimately, though, Coyote sticks by his faith in friendship. "There did not seem to be any better place to be than with them at the edge of the world," he writes of his Digger fellow-travelers.

For all the movement's purposeful, utopian stabs at unity, the finest moment in Coyote's book recounts a random encounter with a waitress. Coyote's little band of broke idealists and their starving small children stop at a pancake restaurant on the road. The grownups carefully debate their money situation. The second they realize they only have enough cash for some hot water and ketchup to turn into "soup," plates of pancakes appear before the children. Hot chocolate and coffee and orange juice are served. The waitress, whom minutes before Coyote had dismissed as a square, looks him in the eye as she refuses payment and says, "I got a kid out there somewhere too." And in that anecdote Coyote captures unity's natural, anarchic state: momentary empathy between strangers. -- Salon

Library Journal
Coyote not only survived the excesses of the Sixties and Seventies but emerged from years of journeying through the counterculture to achieve success as an actor. Considering the numerous casualties among radicals, who, like Coyote, were heroin junkies living on the edge of society, this is a rare feat. In this frank yet sensitive memoir of those years, Coyote contradicts romantic notions of communes by recalling the discord and petty disagreements typical in his own communal living experiences at Olema ranch and Red House. He describes the chaos created by the Diggers, an antiestablishment group of which he is usually considered a founding member and leader, famous for their stores where everything was given away free, and he remembers his stoned life in Haight-Ashbury. Eventually, he surfaced to work with the San Francisco Mime Troupe, for which he received a special Obie Award. Coyote's thoughtful, articulate writing displays a compassionate wisdom that puts this chronicle in a class above the typical actor's autobiography. Highly recommended for relevent subject collections in academic as well as public libraries.Richard W. Grefrath, Univ. of Nevada Lib., Reno
San Francisco Chronicle
"Eloquent....Beyond his personal story, Coyote documents [the '60s and '70s] and its participants as few others have."
Kirkus Reviews
This autobiographical look at 1960s hippie culture from the point of view of actor Coyote (E.T., Outrageous Fortune, etc.) tends more toward observation than introspection. Coyote began his sojourn in the counterculture with the San Francisco Mime Troupe: a ground-breaking experiment in political theater that led almost immediately to Coyote's long-standing association with the strongly antiestablishment Digger group, which preached a sort of Emersonian self-reliance based on the philosophical freedoms of mankindþwhich included the freedom, for instance, to steal what you think is yours. Coyote wandered from commune to commune, all the while crossing paths with the famous and soon-to-be-famous, including music promoter Bill Graham, the musician Michael Bloomfield, and the Beat poet Gary Snyder. In the meantime, he also made the acquaintance of several members of the notorious Hell's Angels motorcycle gang, and these connections and other societal pressures led Coyote into a heroin habit that was "cured" only after he was treated by an Indian shaman. Still, after this "cure" Coyote continues to abuse drugs. Because he never does fully address the matter of his drug dependence, or his complex relationship with Sam, his lover and the mother of his daughter, the book never seems to have much heft as a self-excavation. It's really only Coyote's troubled relationship with his abusive but brilliant father that gets the attention from the author that it requires. Equally disturbing and unexamined are Coyote's friendships with the openly racist Hell's Angels, as well as the frequent appearance of guns in what many might assume had been a peaceful subculture. (A part ofthis book, under the title Carla's Story won the 1994 Pushcart Prize for nonfiction.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781887178679
  • Publisher: Counterpoint Press
  • Publication date: 4/1/1998
  • Pages: 368
  • Product dimensions: 6.31 (w) x 9.34 (h) x 1.27 (d)

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