I never experienced Theodore Sturgeon in person, but I still feel a warm joy in having known him through phone conversations and postcards.
[Edited from an Interview of deejay Ted Alvy by drummer Alex Cline for The U.C.LA. Center For Oral History Research with hardbound copies at the U.C.L.A. Library and U.C. Berkeley Library]
I'm living with legendary deejay B. Mitchel Reed and his wife and his two sons while I act as Producer of his KMET FM Rock radio program in Los Angeles. In 1974, we all move from Malibu Colony to Trancas Beach on Broad Beach Road. Neil Young has a rustic cabin down on the beach. One day I answered the phone, "Is Mitch there?" "No, he's out, yadda, yadda, yadda..." "Who's this?" "This is Ted Alvy, I'm his producer." "I'm Theodore Sturgeon."
The science fiction writer, More Than Human was his all-time classic that came out in 1953. Now, I read an interview, either read or heard, Phil Lesh of the Grateful Dead talking about how More Than Human was like the Grateful Dead. What it was, was it was five different personalities that got together and the whole was greater than the sum of its parts. He said that's basically how the Grateful Dead is. He says, "There's times that we 'blesh,'" which is what Theodore Sturgeon's term was.
Okay. So I'm on the phone with Theodore Sturgeon and he gives me his home phone number, so we're talking. What I find out later was "Wooden Ships," the song that was written by David Crosby and Stephen Stills on the Crosby, Stills, and Nash album, which if you were in the know you knew it was actually co-written by Paul Kantner of the Jefferson Airplane, but the credits, this was going on where record companies wouldn't let you record on other people's works if you had a certain clause in your contract and yadda, yadda. People like David Crosby and Paul Kantner and people like that, who not only had ties in the San Francisco hip scene but in the Venice scene as folk artists, were breaking down the barriers. Like jazz artists would all get together. In fact, jazz artists would release albums with groups of musicians that might just be together for that one session. So eventually, when "Wooden Ships" came out on the Volunteers album, the Jefferson Airplane album, you see the credit that Paul Kantner was actually a co-writer.
What was happening was they were trying to get Theodore Sturgeon to write a movie script out of "Wooden Ships." So that's why he talked with B. Mitchel Reed, who had lived in David Crosby's house in 1968 behind the Beverly Glen Canyon Store. I used to hang out there. Gram Parsons would hang out there. It was David Crosby's house. He'd have a little house on the side that he'd stay in occasionally, but he was renting it to B. Mitchel Reed.
So I get to know Theodore Sturgeon. AJ the DJ (brother of B. Mitchel Reed's wife Carole) not only gets to know him, he visited him near Los Feliz [Boulevard] and said, "Hey, Theodore Sturgeon is a nudist, did you know?" I said, "No." So I talked to him about it.
Okay. So, Theodore Sturgeon. I'm living in the Humboldt County college town of Arcata [north of Eureka, California]. We did a hippie FM radio station in Eureka during 1972. There's North Town Books in downtown Arcata, which is a very leftwing-type bookstore. It's a very hip bookstore. I guess it would be sort of like the City Lights of North Town in San Francisco. They had these three science fiction books by Russian authors that had been translated into English, and they had imported them directly. These were real rare. So I bought two sets of each of them. One I kept for myself and ended up having to sell them in Santa Barbara, plus my original Zap Comix, when my rent was tripled or something like that.
I sent the other set to Theodore Sturgeon and he loved them. He ended up bringing these guys Arkady and Boris Strugatsky to America. He published their books here. He wrote an introduction for them. And he ended up sending me a hardcopy first printing by them. And the neat thing was he not only sent one with the introduction he wrote for these guys, with a thank-you note, he did not autograph it, which was cool, because that was like it was more personal. It wasn't like, "Here, guy," you know. So I ended up turning him on to these Russian science fiction writers, which is a trip.
So they came out with a third edition of Another Roadside Attraction by Tom Robbins, and in either the foreword or the introduction, Theodore Sturgeon wrote how Tom Robbins' book Another Roadside Attraction really didn't classify as Science Fiction, but it did classify as Fantasy. So he reviewed it in a science fiction and fantasy magazine. Okay. I've read Another Roadside Attraction. My best friend Mike Robinson has also read it. We both turn other folk on to the book. It came out in 1971. It's like this great hippie book.
I write the publisher, who forwards my letter to Tom Robbins. I'd like to get the film rights, and I'm just working for B. Mitchel Reed so I figure, who knows, maybe I can call his good buddy Lou Adler to produce the film, as he produced the Rocky Horror Picture Show play and film, after his success producing the Mamas and the Papas. Who knows. So I get a letter from Tom Robbins and it's handwritten and it's real hard to read, and it's to me saying, "The rights are out. Someone already has the rights temporarily." If it ever comes back to him, he'll let me know. "Sorry about my handwriting, but I was stung in the ocean by a jellyfish," yadda, yadda.
So I'm in contact with Tom Robbins, and then Even Cowgirls Get the Blues comes out, then Still Life With Woodpecker, then Jitterbug Perfume, then Skinny Legs And All, then Half Asleep In Frog Pajamas, then Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates, and then Via Incognito.
Well, anyway, so now I'm in touch with Tom Robbins. In 1997, on Summer Solstice, Saturday, June 21st, at the Wadsworth Theater, next to UCLA, the UCLA Wadsworth Theater. There's a Celebration. Tom Robbins appears. Paul Krassner appears. The Firesign Theater minus David Ossman appears [Peter Bergman and Phil Proctor and Phil Austin]. Tom Waits sings. Among the others appearing are Jack Nicholson and Johnny Depp and Laura Huxley and Ed Sanders of the FUGS. There's a videotape shown from William S. Burroughs, who's about to die. Basically, it's a Memorial Celebration for the Poet who wrote the legendary Beat poem "Howl," Allen Ginsberg. It's sort of like a "gathering of the tribes" thing.
I called Paul Krassner, the publisher of The Realist and a counterculture catalyst, and I gave him some extra tickets that I had bought, so I ended up starting a relationship with Paul Krassner. He gave me permission to put stuff from his great magazine The Realist on my web pages. In 1985, after being closed down in 1974, he started The Realist again, and he started it with an interview with Jerry Garcia, which was rare for Garcia to do an interview like that, and he let me put it on my website and I have been in touch with him ever since, Paul Krassner.
So now I'm in touch with Tom Robbins in Seattle, where I had lived, actually, summer of '76 to summer of '79, when he was living in La Conner north of there, writing and stuff. He's still up in the Skagit Bay area. He's appearing at the Allen Ginsberg Soltice Celebration, so I leave a letter for him with Paul Krassner, who gives it to Tom Robbins. I receive a letter a week or two later saying, "Thank you for the letter. My publisher and I are thinking about putting out a book of short stories and short articles that I've written." What I'd asked him in the letter was to put a story by him on my website, and I said Paul Krassner has let me put his rare Jerry Garcia interview online, "I'd like to put online the piece you wrote in the Seattle Weekly," when I was up there. The Wallendas were going to appear inside the Seattle King Dome and walk across either the baseball or football field. I think at that time it was a baseball field. Right before that, in Puerto Rico, Karl Wallenda had died [falling from the wire]. So Tom Robbins wrote this piece about Karl Wallenda that was just mind-blowing. So he said, "Other than that, thank you. Otherwise I'd let you do it."
His latest novel, Via Incognito, which came out Spring 2003, Karl Wallenda is mentioned because there's a thing in Laos or Thailand or wherever, where they're walking like Karl Wallenda across a wire. To get to a certain thing, these expatriates who had crashed there during the Vietnam War, you had to walk across this wire like Karl Wallenda, like the Wallendas, which was real interesting.
So now it's great because I was able to turn on Tom Robbins to some Blues music on CD. And it's through meeting Theodore Sturgeon, who I turned on to Russian science fiction, and that was through knowing deejay B. Mitchel Reed, who would get phone calls from Theodore Sturgeon, who not only was working on the "Wooden Ships" movie possibility, Theodore Sturgeon wrote two scripts for Star Trek, including the one that has Pon Farr ["Amok Time," 1967] where Spock goes into almost heat because of the sexual Pon Farr thing, plus the "live long and prosper" sign was first brought into that one. So Theodore Sturgeon, I mean, amazing.
The book that came out after he died was Godbody, and what he did was, it's written with all the characters, I believe six or seven characters, are written all in first person, which is hard to do. This is a very spiritual book. I would suggest Godbody. 1986, it came out after he died. Ted Sturgeon had died in Spring 1985. Mitch Reed died in Spring 1983.
I put together Tom Robbins and Theodore Sturgeon. They ended up having dinner together because one wrote me that he, Tom Robbins said, "I love to read Theodore Sturgeon." I called Ted Sturgeon, and I helped get them to meet, as they had dinner together, and then when I wrote Tom Robbins about wanting to run the Karl Wallenda piece after the Summer Solstice gathering in 1997, I mentioned how I had put them together for dinner, so he knew exactly who I was, even though it had been a long time since we had conversed together via snail mail.
The Theodore Sturgeon Law, Sturgeon's Law, still applies today. He said, "Ninety Percent of Science Fiction writing was junk," (or something like crap). They changed it into Sturgeon's Law: Ninety Percent of Everything is Crap. Now, he actually agreed with that, because it really seemed to be true. It was the excellent Ten Percent of Literature and everything else that mattered the most to the universe. I agree.
Peace, Ted Alvy
October 2008, Los Angeles, California