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The Birth of Organic, Polygamous Spiritualism

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The Birth of Organic, Polygamous Spiritualism

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The Birth of Organic, Polygamous Spiritualism

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This is Day to Day. I'm Alex Cohen.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

And I'm Madeleine Brand. Take a charismatic, handsome ex-marine, a psychedelic rock band, some natural foods, add in a bevy of beautiful young men and women, and you have the ingredients for, well, a pretty good story. It's one we'll tell in three parts, and it comes to us from Day to Day contributor Jennifer Sharpe.

JENNIFER SHARPE: I was interviewing an independent book publisher named Jodie Willie for another story when she suddenly digressed and lit up talking about a rare box-set she'd first seen at a friend's house years earlier.

Ms. JODIE WILLIE (Book Publisher): It was this very large, black box that said "God and Hair."

SHARPE: The band was called Ya Ho Wa 13 and, according to the friend, had been part of a 1970s Hollywood Hills cult family who had been followers of a man known as Father Yod.

Ms. WILLIE: And it was a picture of this guru kind of man with a bunch of people superimposed over his stomach area, and I just said, what is this?

SHARPE: After wondering about them for years, she'd finally managed to track down former members of the Source Family, as they'd been called.

(Soundbite of DVD player tray movement)

SHARPE: Inserting a DVD into her laptop, she showed me one of their home movies.

Ms. WILLIE: There's Djin. Oh, he's so gorgeous! Octavious! I'm, like, in love with these guys. They are the coolest-looking rockers.

SHARPE: In the grainy footage, a Rolls Royce pulls up amidst a crowd of long-haired young people who look like a tarot deck that sprung to life on the Manson-era streets of Los Angeles.

Ms. WILLIE: Father Yod exiting the Rolls Royce in his white robe.

SHARPE: Looking half wizard and half guru, a white-haired man steps out of the car alongside the band.

Ms. WILLIE: With his cortege of women in their hats and dresses behind him. There's Atla(ph), who was Tom Bradley's niece.

SHARPE: In one close-up, a woman smiles confidently over her shoulder. A few weeks later, on the very couch where I had watched the footage, I met that same woman.

Ms. CHARLENE PETERS (Former Member, the Source Family): Those were great outings.

SHARPE: Now in her mid-60s, Charlene Peters still prefers to go by the name she was given in the Source Family, Isis the Aquarian.

Ms. PETERS: We used to really enjoy them because we'd get all dressed up, and we knew we were going to blow minds.

SHARPE: Little did the people who booked Ya Ho Wa 13 realize, as she explained, that when the band showed up to play, it would entail...

Ms. PETERS: Two hundred people in robes and a man who looks like Moses with his 13 wives.

SHARPE: Isis had been one of his wives. They'd first met back when he was still known as Jim Baker, a pioneering health-food restaurateur considered by many to have been one of the fathers of Southern California's health-food movement.

Ms. PETERS: He started sprouts on sandwiches when nobody was doing them, in the '50s. I mean, Greta Garbo was his first customer.

SHARPE: As a highly decorated military man and world judo champion, he taught the martial art to the elite Marine Raiders during World War Two. But by 1969, he'd grown out his hair, became a renegade disciple of the popular guru Yogi Bhajan, and opened up LA's first raw foods restaurant, The Source.

Mr. JIM BAKER: My belief in vegetarianism came with the realization that the Creator has placed everything on this earth for us that we need without the necessity of killing another sentient thing.

SHARPE: Without realizing it, I'd always been curious about The Source restaurant. Ever since I saw the Woody Allen movie "Annie Hall" and wondered, what was that weird health-food restaurant she takes him to in Los Angeles?

(Soundbite of movie "Annie Hall")

Ms. DIANE KEATON: (As Annie Hall) I'm going - I'm going to have the alfalfa sprouts and a plate of mashed yeast.

SHARPE: Isis remembered walking into The Source for the first time and seeing the man she'd met years earlier now sitting at a corner table in a white robe proselytizing to his earliest disciples, his restaurant staff.

Ms. PETERS: And he got up, and I went, oh my God! You know, it was like, I was back into an incarnation with Moses.

SHARPE: As Charlene Peters, she'd been a beauty pageant winner and worked as a White House intern during the Johnson administration. By the late 60s, she was setting up Jimi Hendrix photo shoots and, on that particular day, had walked into The Source restaurant scouting for extras to pose for a "Jesus Christ Superstar" poster.

Ms. PETERS: And I basically within just a few days walked out on my whole life, walked out on everything.

Mr. BAKER: For I am the one known as wisdom and love. Yeah, I'm the father you all wanted. Never thought you had...

SHARPE: This recording made in 1973 at Beverly Hills High School is just the kind of thing Isis has been lugging around with her since the family disbanded in 1976. Early on, Father Yod designated her as the family's in-house documentarian.

Ms. PETERS: I watched this man leave the body through the lens of a camera. Now, how whacked is that?

SHARPE: In 2001, 26 years after Father Yod's death...

Ms. PETERS: We were pretty much flatlined, and I went, we have got to bring a pulse back. This is not good.

SHARPE: Isis enlisted her Aquarian brother, Electricity, to help her go through the rapidly disintegrating archives and put together a self-published book just for the family.

Ms. PETERS: You know, we have to somehow secure this legacy because, you know, we were a very unique thing that happened. And it needs to be told.

SHARPE: Seven years into their project, she got a call from a book publisher in Los Angeles who introduced herself as Jodie Willie.

Ms. PETERS: And she goes, we've got to do a book! And I go, yes, get here immediately.

SHARPE: Now, two years later, their book had come out, and Isis had arrived at Jodie's house with a suitcase full of old film clips and slides they'd be screening at an upcoming publicity event. An evening that would culminate in Ya Ho Wa 13's first performance in over 30 years.

DJIN THE AQUARIAN (Musician, Ya Ho Wa 13): I want to tickle the strings with an eagle feather.

SHARPE: Djin the Aquarian, Ya Ho Wa 13's guitar player, was one of over 30 former Source Family members who, over the next couple of weeks amassed, in Los Angeles for the first time since they'd lived together. I followed them with my microphone as much as possible.

Unidentified Woman #1: Barbara, this is Electricity.

Mr. ELECTRICITY: Hi.

Unidentified Woman #2: Hey, Mr. Electricity.

Mr. ELECTRICITY: Yes.

Unidentified Woman #2: How are you?

Unidentified Woman #3: We have a little gift for you.

SHARPE: Tune in tomorrow as Isis the Aquarian's coauthor, Electricity the Aquarian, arrives, and we revisit some of their old haunts.

Mr. ELECTRICITY: We had a teepee right there, and a bar that we hung upside down and did our exercises on, and our temple was in the back.

SHARPE: For NPR News, I'm Jennifer Sharpe.

BRAND: The Source Family band, Ya Ho Wa 13, has another reunion performance tomorrow night at the Knitting Factory in New York. And there is all sorts of stuff about Father Yod and his followers, including a photo essay narrated by Charlene Isis Peters at our website, npr.org.

NPR's Day to Day continues.

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