My latest project, Street Song, is a memoir—the story of my journey from a comfortable middle-class life in the suburbs in the Pacific Northwest to a life as a homeless seeker on the streets of San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood. When I was 19, I began to develop a theory that wisdom and love could be found only through a hard, direct experience of reality. It happened either on the road or on the street, where there would be nothing to protect you or mediate the experience—no money, no job, no home, no friends. You weren’t supposed to make any plans, but to follow fate moment by moment. I understood it as the true way of the artist, which I thought I wanted to be then. But my belief in my theory was always tentative. I worried I lacked the courage to go forward with it. But bit by bit, it happened, which takes up the bulk of the story—the events and ideas that led me to the moment when I suddenly found myself on the street, utterly bereft. When I was developing my “theory,” I envisioned the journey lasting a few months at most. I ended up living as a homeless seeker for 14 years. During that time, I learned things that changed my life forever. Decades later, I’m still learning from it. For reasons that the book itself makes clear, I go into detail on the route that took me to the street, but only my first months actually on them. The remaining 13 years are summarized.
Street Song has been a difficult, laborious project that took me nearly 17 years—more than twice as long as I originally projected. As of this writing (October 29, 2023), the manuscript is in the hands of my agent who is looking for a publisher. It might be difficult to find one. I’ve never read or even heard about a book like it. Someone will have to be willing to take a chance on something that lies well outside current publishing trends. But people who’ve read the manuscript have been favorable. It’s an unusual story, but a true one. A lot of writers live by the maxim “don’t the truth get in the way of a good story.” But I’ve never believed that. The better story is always the truth; that’s where the universal poetry—the astonishing coincidences—exists. The book will be accompanied by a collection of songs, called Street Songs. The recordings are finished as well—mixed and mastered. I’m not sure yet how it will be distributed.
The two photos on this page show the world in which I lived my homeless existence. As you can see, it’s rather charming. There are more brutal places in which to the experience the street. As a setting, North Beach adds a richness to the story. In those days, San Francisco was, in the words of the hippie spiritual teacher Stephen Gaskin, “the beatnik preserve.” People were tolerant of the type of life I was leading, which helped. But it was never easy. The title, Street Song, has twin meanings. Just prior to landing on the street, I was a street singer. But the book is also a song to the street—at times a hymn, at times a dirge.