In keeping with Ed Dehn’s May, 1970 remembrance, and Linc Baxter’s account of Headmaster Arthur Kiendl’s uninvited counsel, I offer this:
My run-in with the Headmaster had nothing to do with marijuana and everything to do another potent and wonderful intoxicant of the time – politics. Specifically, the politics of revolutionary anti-imperialism. In the wake of the U.S. invasion of Cambodia and the murders at Kent State and Jackson State, many of us were lost and angry as we faced graduation and the draft. If memory serves (and too often, I’m afraid, it serves only itself . . . so don’t hold me to the particulars), the school invited us to congregate in small groups and to address the crisis and its increasingly lethal impact on us. I was entrusted, I think, with writing our group’s report or some version of it.
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It was the beginning of a lifelong “Che! Live Like Him!” period for me. I undertook the project with revolutionary gusto, applying the syntax of rage I’d picked up from folks in the Amherst College chapter of SDS. I was proud of the resulting manifesto.
But as I was leaving the library late one afternoon a couple days before graduation, I encountered Mr. Kiendl, who had apparently been waiting for me. He was wearing a black fedora and he ordered me into a black Lincoln Town Car. (It may have been an invitation, not an order, and it may have instead been a brown trilby and a blue Buick . . . but I prefer the former version.) The Headmaster then took me for a ride, a long one, circling the campus three times along every path and dirt road from Gill to Bernardston.
As he drove, Kiendl patiently explained to me that political manifestos are like love letters: they need to be allowed to ripen overnight and to be reconsidered in the light of day before being released into the world. And, as he drove, I patiently explained to him that I had no experience whatever with love letters and even less patience with reactionary restraint when it came to manifestos, an area in which I considered myself to be something of a ringer.
He then dropped me off outside the library, exactly where he had picked me up. It was silent. I remember thinking that the world had just changed not-even-a-little-bit.
I have written many militant manifestos since then. In every instance, I have remembered Arthur Kiendl’s advice. And in every instance, I have gleefully disregarded his advice and released my rants into the world without delay or caution. I have taken the same approach, incidentally, with love letters.
I’m not sure that Mr. Kiendl, who died in 2008 in Castine, Maine, ever fully appreciated (or acknowledged) that Mount Hermon was an incubator for – and not a bystander in or victim of – the politics of revolutionary engagement. For some of us, it meant a new direction and a new set of priorities, dedicated to social justice and direct action. I think, for instance, of alum Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who graciously yearned “for the war to be fought which will make the world safe for anarchy.”
For others, it went further. It meant assuming an entirely new identity dedicated to struggle . . . to “live like Che” in heart of the beast. Here, I think of Willie Wolfe of the class of 1969. I sat directly behind him in chapel for an entire year. We heard and celebrated the same revolutionary incantations and jeremiads from the pulpit. Eventually, Willie went to work in the California prison system, and then founded the Symbionese Liberation Army . . . and then, as “Cujo,” he died in LA in a shoot-out with the law on May 17, 1974. I can still see the back of his head as we sat in chapel. Once to every man and nation . . . Gotta Revolution!
Photos: A personal evolution in social justice and direct action, spawned at Mount Hermon, 1971-present. Che 1967-Hasta la Victoria Siempre Photo: Alberto Korda
Wesley Blixt lives in Greenfield, less than 15 minutes from the Gill campus’ South Farmhouse. He can be reached directly at email@example.com or at 413-773-8783. Or texted at 413-775-3553.