Sleeping Where I Fall by Peter Coyote
Sleeping Where I Fall - a memoir of the sixties by Peter Coyote published April 15, 1998 by Counterpoint Press.

Many strange journeys lead to stardom in Hollywood, but none, I believe, is as strange or as honestly chronicled as that of actor/activist Peter Coyote.  From “just-arrived” upper middle class life in suburban New Jersey (with ties to Wall Street) to college days in Iowa at Grinnell in the early 60s to San Francisco and the post-beatnik pre-hippie art, acting and poetry scene in the City by the Bay, Coyote sets the stage for the series of evolutions that he and thousands of other young counter-culture adventurers experienced.  It is a journey from the world of convention to a world without any guideposts.   A founding member of the San Francisco Diggers, Coyote takes the reader along as he and an entire culture-in-transition struggles to define living free in America in the latter half of the 20th century.

His work in the Diggers, The San Francisco Mime Troupe and the Free Family is examined in exacting detail, especially the politics within these semi-socialist societies, which Coyote lays bare, often at his own expense.  This many years later much of what fueled the controversies may seem petty to some, but Coyote’s sincere examination transports most past that and into the very heart of the struggle.  There are failures aplenty as young idealists try to live outside the laws of conformity, but there are victories as well.  There are friendships and families and spiritual journeys and of course, it’s all mixed together in a wild casserole of drugs, sex and rock ‘n roll. 

Coyote persisted in commune life work long after most had moved on, long after middle class America saw the fictional communes of Easy Rider and  Billy Jack.  Coyote and members of an informal network of communes from California to New England, struggled to live free in an undefined new world that co-existed, but largely ignored the outside world of Nixon, Vietnam, et al.  Often living without electricity, plumbing and the other conveniences of modern America, the “commune-ists” sought to create a world without leaders, a world without property rights, a world free to define itself as each new issue arrived.  Not only was the notion of leading highly suspect, the idea of being led was wholly abhorrent.  This is where Coyote, a reluctant but natural leader, finds himself and ultimately finds the need to once again evolve.  Land-based societies, especially those seeking to be self-sustaining, sooner or later came face to face with the problems of property ownership and property responsibility and that led to an increasing interest in the politics of ecology and the issues of stewardship.  This isolated world without steady income streams, this world of continually redefined family units, this world of haphazard childrearing, gradually transforms, gradually becomes more and more conventional.

The journey back from nearly a decade of living outside the norm is just as interesting as Coyote’s tale of how he entered into that world in the first place.  He carefully builds the foundation for the changes that propel him back to those things that he held in such contempt.  It is a fascinating examination of a man reinventing himself as he struggles to survive.  It is an honest man’s story.  For those who have forgotten, and for those who were never there, this is an essential history of America in the 1960s and beyond.     

See also and Tracking Bob Dylan by Peter Coyote.
Bob Dickey
West Linn, OR