YaHoWa13: A '70s Spiritual Rock Commune Reunites Source Family members camp out in a house in Los Angeles together for the first time in 30 years. They revisit the meaning of their organic, polygamous commune and spiritual leader Father Yod's death.
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YaHoWa13: A '70s Spiritual Rock Commune Reunites

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YaHoWa13: A '70s Spiritual Rock Commune Reunites

YaHoWa13: A '70s Spiritual Rock Commune Reunites

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


I'm Madeleine Brand. This week we've been looking back at a group of people who formed a commune in 1970s Los Angeles. People with names like Isis.

Ms. ISIS (Member, Source Family): We'd get all dressed up, and we knew we were going to blow minds.

BRAND: And Electricity.

Mr. ELECTRICITY (Musician, Ya Ho Wa 13): It was cosmic. It was awesome.

BRAND: They were followers of an ex-Marine turned natural foods pioneer who fronted a rock band and called himself Father Yod.

FATHER YOD (Spiritual Leader): Yeah, I'm the Father you all wanted. Never thought you had...

BRAND: Father Yod died in a hang-gliding accident, and the Source Family split up. Last year, a new book about them was released, triggering a reunion. Day to Day contributor Jennifer Sharpe attended.

(Soundbite of spiritual chant)

JENNIFER SHARPE: I had taken a sleeping pill the night before so I could wake up in time for the Source Family's pre-dawn meditation. Former members of the long disbanded spiritual commune had come back together for the week and were camped out in a LA house together for the first time in over 30 years. That night over 30 former members of the Source Family would converge on the silent movie theatre on Fairfax Avenue.

Mr. ELECTRICITY: This is the night we're having our first public presentation in 33 years.

SHARPE: In celebration of the book Electricity and Isis had just published, they'd be screening slides and footage from their vaults that almost no one outside the Source Family had ever seen before.

Unidentified Man: About three years ago Yod started a health food restaurant called The Source at Sunset Boulevard and Switzer, and with the facility for feeding the bodies of his followers he started feeding their minds and spirits as well.

SHARPE: Members of the Q and A panel started arriving, like Doctor Elaina Michaels (ph).

Dr. ELAINA MICHAELS (Member, Source Family): I'm doctor of natural health and a psychotherapist.

SHARPE: Who'd been known in the family as Elektra.

Dr. MICHAELS: The bottom line is he was a 53-year-old guy, and he had 13 and 14 and 15-year-old girls running around the house, you know? There might have been a lot of things there that I see now as inappropriate. However, I'm very glad I was there. It was like a Ph.D. in spirituality.

SHARPE: Also on the bill that night was the family's mysterious space rock band, Ya Ho Wa 13, who had recorded 65 now mostly lost albums. They'd be making their first appearance in over three decades.

(Soundbite of drum)

SHARPE: While the band's drummer Octavious ran through the sound check, his 33-year-old daughter Libra Welch (ph) sat watching him from an empty row of seats.

Ms. LIBRA WELCH: I was born in the music room and my dad put me in the base drum.

SHARPE: Though she'd been one of the family's 52 at-home natural childbirths, she hadn't seen anyone since not long after she'd been born.

Ms. WELCH: I was actually the baby that got really sick that gave the impetus for everybody to move to Hawaii.

SHARPE: Avoiding attention from the health department, Father Yod moved the family to Hawaii. Six months after they'd settled, the 53-year-old robed guru stepped off a cliff in a hang-glider having never been up in one before.

Ms. ISIS: All of a sudden the wind just stopped and the kite nose-dived.

SHARPE: The theater was test-projecting part of an old documentary, "Aliens From Spaceship Earth." Suddenly there was a close up of Isis.

(Soundbite of documentary "Aliens From Spaceship Earth")

Ms. ISIS: The cause of death was listed as unknown. They did the autopsy, (unintelligible), it was released and he left the body spiritually.

SHARPE: As the doors got ready to open I checked in with the box office. Outside, I found people like organic chef Michael Mandel (ph), who had followed in the footsteps of the family's seminal vegetarian restaurant on Sunset Boulevard, The Source.

Mr. MICHAEL MENDEL (Organic Chef): It was called I Love Juicy.

SHARPE: I Love Juicy?

Mr. MENDEL: On Melrose.

SHARPE: Did you come up with that name?

Mr. MENDEL: Yes I did.

Mr. ELECTRICITY: Can we listen, Isis?

SHARPE: Meanwhile, backstage, Electricity, who had now changed into a long white robe, was getting everyone focused.

Mr. ELECTRICITY: OK. Make sure that you're very professional, very concise, very quick. No running on...

SHARPE: Taking charge had been a familiar role for Electricity as the audience would soon see in a low-budget TV commercial the family made in Hawaii.

(Soundbite of TV advertisement)

Mr. ELECTRICITY: By now you surely heard of Father and Son United Labor Force. I am Electricity and I am managing the Labor Force.

SHARPE: He had formed a family labor force in Hawaii, who stood behind him looking like an occult football team.

Mr. ELECTRICITY: Our creed is to do every act with life, mind, truth and love.

SHARPE: But by 1976, a year after Father Yod's death, they'd lost their financial footing and broke up. Many of them, like Dr. Elaina Michaels, returned to a Los Angeles they no longer knew how to relate to.

Dr. MICHAELS: I remember coming to LA, and I was hitch-hiking down Sunset Boulevard in a nightgown nursing my oldest son, and a woman stopped and she said, you cannot hitchhike with your breast hanging out!

SHARPE: But the L.A. they came back to this time in the 21st century, with all of its organic fruits and vegetables, yoga mats and businesses gone green, had brought to fruition so much of what they always believed in.

Mr. ELECTRICITY: We're going to teach you the Star Exercise.

SHARPE: So when Electricity invited the audience to learn the Star Exercise, the entire crowd of yogis, rockers and rabbis alike got up out of their chairs, stretched their limbs into a starfish position and took 108 breaths of fire together.

(Soundbite of breathing)

SHARPE: After the last exhales, Ya Ho Wa 13 launched into one of their famously unrehearsed sets of spontaneous music. As Djin the Aquarian played his guitar with an eagle feather, Electricity danced by the fire exit.

(Soundbite of cheering)

SHARPE: A few days later they'd all be gone.

Ms. ISIS: This is Jen, who works at National Public Radio, who has been recording us. It started out a one-day recording, and it's been two weeks later.

SHARPE: In the couple of months it's been since their pre-dawn meditation where I was given an Aquarian name...

Ms. ISIS: Genesis the Aquarian.

SHARPE: I've noticed that no matter how late I fall asleep at night, my eyes always seem to pop open just before the sun comes up.

Ms. ISIS: And the password for tonight is may the Source be with you.

SHARPE: And as I lie there staring up at the stars through my skylight, I find myself wondering is this me waking up, or is Genesis the Aquarian? For NPR News, I'm still Jennifer Sharpe.

COHEN: You can listen to all three parts of Jennifer Sharpe's series on our website, plus we have a ton of photos, videos, music, and a slide show narrated by Isis the Aquarian. It's all at npr.org/daytoday. Day to Day returns in a moment.

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