Editor's Note: The following email exchange between Gil Markle and John Peters, the producer of the Don McLean albums in the early seventies, has little to do with Don McLean. Arguably, it has little to do with John Peters either, but instead with Gil Markle and his recollections of the early years at Long View Farm, when there was a special magic in the air, and the reports of ghosts in the belfries. John Peters became an inspired and inspiring painter shortly after leaving Long View, crediting in part the magic and the ghosts for the change in his life's direction. The artwork featured here is his.
Sent: Tuesday, November 14, 2006 9:46 AM
To: Gil Markle
Subject: Your Thoughts....
Gil....Are you aware of the work by Daniel Pinchbeck...if so I would be curious on your thoughts.
Hi again John,
You have asked me what I think about Daniel Pinchbeck. Frankly, I have to tell you that, until receiving your Email this morning, I knew nothing about him at all. However, having now devoured his web site, the Wikipedia posting, and the recent Rolling Stone article, I feel that I have known about him for years. Here, many hours later, are the thoughts you have asked for.
First of all, a bit of background information about me. My father was an audio engineer; my mother was a big-band singer and a mystic. She claimed regularly to be in contact with extra-terrestrials and with other realms of experience. I believe that she was. My father believed that she wasn't.
My own life ever since those formative days in New Jersey is best understood as a playing out, or admixture, of the scientific and the technical on the one hand, and the philosophical and extra-mundane on the other. I went to R.P.I. and got a degree in Physics. A Fulbright study grant took me to Paris, where I did a French doctorate writing on a positivist (scientific) philosophy of time. Le Caractère Operationel du Temps, it was called.
From there, I went to New Haven, and did an American PhD at Yale. As a dissertation topic, I chose the "identity theory of mind and body," writing critically about the suggestion that thoughts and sensations were nothing over and above brain processes. I felt that psychic events were something special.
It was about this time, in the mid-nineteen-sixties, that I came under the influence of Carlos Castaneda and Timothy Leary, who taught a close friend of mine, who then taught me, about psychedelics. I was a young university professor during this chapter, teaching Philosophy at Clark University, in Worcester, Massachusetts. I received considerable attention (and was teaching hundreds and hundreds of students) because of my introduction into the traditional lecture hall of moving visual and acoustic images, it being my thought that the creation of affect, or mood, would bring about a learning environment in which much could be said, and great ideas imparted. I used 35mm slides, pioneering video, and quarter-inch magnetic tape running on Studer audio tape recorders. It was a great show, which I was doing very much for my mother, using machinery that made my father proud.
I was appointed an Associate Professor, received tenure, and then confounded my supporters and critics alike by giving it all up and buying a large farm in central Massachusetts for the purpose of creating a "reality simulator." It would be in this farmhouse and large red barn that I would assemble devices so advanced as to create sensory experiences indistinguishable from those encountered in the "real" world. I borrowed a lot of money in order to do this. (A contemporaneous successful career in the student travel industry did not hurt.) The place was called Long View Farm.
It was at Long View that this interplay between the scientific and the technical on the one hand, and the other-worldly and metaphysical on the other hand, took on an importance in my life that I could not ignore. As for the scientific and technical side of things, I built this place, and built it to specifications which, even then, were extraordinary. I began with the audio — with the storage of acoustic images which, on playback, would be indistinguishable from the parental events. This was a fine scientific exercise, and it was successful. I could now make long-playing records which sounded terrific.
But I was soon to be distracted from this success by another sort of thing which was happening. A very eerie, confusing thing that wasn't scientific and technical at all. This place Long View Farm had a strange magic about it which would shortly derail any further experimentation in "virtual reality," replacing this experimentation with the need to deal with the outside world, and with people coming in from the outside world very much like the three wise men did — bearing alms and chanting in soft voices and leaving incense in the corners. Sometimes these people did not know why they had come. Sometimes they would ask me.
Geoff Myers and John Farrell arrived in this manner. One day they were in Provincetown; the next day they were in North Brookfield. "And here, there shall be a room of plants, looking towards the East, with wires of copper in the walls." They would then set about to construct such a room. I would provide the copper wires.
Kathleen Holden and Kent Huff also appeared one day out of nowhere. "Let this building be devoted to the animals, who shall eat fresh hay." They would then, without any instruction from me, and in accordance with some unwritten but very precise plan, busy themselves not as employees, but as artists articulating a vision. And then the animals came, and they would low in their stalls at nighttime, gently shuffling their feet.
Long View Farm began to take on a strange glow, which was best seen out of the corners of one's eyes. Not looking at it straight ahead, but obliquely. It somehow seemed to vibrate when you looked at it askance. I was not the only one to observe this. Others did too.
It was at this point time that strange, illogical events started to occur. Events demonstrating fantastic and unlikely coincidence. A frequent one was the "redemption at the last possible moment." For example, there came a day when all the financial accounts had been over-spent, and no additional borrowing from the banks was possible. In fact, the main bank, which held the unsecured mortgage on the real estate, had announced their intention to foreclose, to evict us all from the premises, and to sell it all off for whatever they could get. The foreclosure went into effect, and we were told one Monday morning to await a telephone call from the sheriff, who would be coming by with the iron bars and padlocks. We all huddled in the kitchen, counting the seconds until the phone rang. It rung. On it was a long distance operator saying that I had a person-to-person phone call from one Juan Consilatore, from Buenos Aires. Juan gets on the line, and says that he's a music publisher in Argentina, and that he has just wired $20,000 to our U.S. bank account in favor of a Flamenco rock group called Carmen, presently lodged in a motel outside of Boston, and that the band with our permission would arrive before the end of the day in order to record a long-playing record album — an LP which turned out to be The Gypsies. The band members arrived before the end of the day. The sheriff did not.
And then the evidence of a "friendly haunting" began to assert itself. It was during the early morning hours, late one night, that a great puff of air blew through all the bedrooms, rattling the windows and skewing the hanging curtains, and that the iridescent chiming of something like the theme from The Twilight Zone was heard. All feet were on the floor immediately, both in the farmhouse and in the barn, carrying their owners as fast as they could to the living room in the farmhouse, in front of the fireplace, where essentially the same report was given by all. Right in front of the fireplace we stood, shaking in the cold. Except for our feet, which were strangely warm. The floor in front of the fireplace was hot. A shout went up, and we all raced down into the cellar where all the spiders lived, and where a large wooden beam directly under the fireplace was smoldering, red hot, and just about to burst into flames. We doused it as fast as we could with pails of water, causing a great cloud of steam to rise. There were five of us standing there in the steam. Five of us that could be seen, I mean.
Editor's Note: Reports of the haunting of Long View Farm in North Brookfield are rife on the internet — these accounts given mainly by visitors to the premises. Although claiming not to be Satanists, the members of the band Grim Reaper have a natural authority on these matters. Click here.
It was a month or two later that Kent Huff was sent down to New York City to collect the original and priceless Jimi Hendrix two-inch tapes from a vault, and to return them to the Farm for mixdown. An incredible opportunity, everybody thought. A real chance for us to put ourselves on the map. Collect the tapes he did, and then, hoping to take a shortcut back to the Connecticut Turnpike and to Massachusetts, he found himself in a dilapidated section of the Bronx, well after dark, at a long red light that didn't want to change. Too late to do anything about it, Kent sees in his overhead rear-view mirror that the rear gate of the rented truck has been jimmied open, and that the stack of twelve Jimi Hendrix two-inch tapes is no longer there. He bails out of the driver's door of the truck, and sees the twelve boxes of master tapes, each in the arms of a different would-be basketball player in sneakers, each headed in a different direction and into the night. On Kent's account of things, he then pulled the van over onto the sidewalk, to let the honking horns all get by, and he meditates. He meditates projecting an image of the twelve tapes, stacked neatly in the back of the truck as they were before. And, then, still on his account of things, the tapes started to come back. The first one was brought by an eight-year-old boy in a baseball cap, the second was tossed down from a landing of a tenement fire escape just across the street, caught safely by an old woman, and repatriated into Kent's shaking hands. Then the rest came back, appearing each of them out of the dark in the careful embrace of the would-be basketball players, without comment or apology of any sort. They were all brought back, and stacked neatly in the back of the truck, just as they were before the light turned red. The last guy, apparently a man in command, gave Kent not just the box of tape, but a high-five, and then a large, hand-rolled cigarette which Kent later smoked on the Connecticut Turnpike on the way home, contemplating his strange lot in life, and this place called Long View Farm. No scientific explanation for Kent's adventure in the Bronx has ever been offered.
Editor's Note: Kent Huff, reviewing this text thirty years later, has claimed that this telling of the story is inaccurate in certain respects. Those who have heard Huff's most recent account of that day's events say that it is equally fantastic.
I called a state-run agency several days later, with the request that they provide an exact stipulation of the longitude and latitude coordinates for the "old Stoddard place" on Stoddard Road, in North Brookfield. This was at the suggestion from more than one friend that these coordinates, given over to a numerologist, might provide some clue in explanation of these strange events. As, for example, that the coordinates were all sixes, or something like that. However, the coordinates turned out to be ordinary, and the gypsy numerologists could only shake their heads and shrug their shoulders.
An ancient old man with long, straight white hair came by one day, and was preparedto be more helpful. He got out of his rusty old pickup truck carrying a walking stick, nearly stumbling over a stranger who had sat himself in the swing with his guitar. This stranger was typical. He said that his instrument almost "played itself" when he was sitting in the swing, and did I want to hear his rendition of an original composition which, if recorded properly, would go straight to the top of the charts. I declined, and paid attention to the old man instead. This old fellow was waving his walking stick, pointing out the three big hills between which the farmhouse and barn were nestled. On that one, over there, that is where the teepees used to be erected. On that one to the East, is where they used to grow the "trees of magic." Over there, to the North, is where the goat was sacrificed whenever the moon was full. He was talking about a peaceful tribe of Mohawk Indians which inhabited this spot four hundred years ago. They chewed the bark stripped off the magic trees.
"And here," he said, tapping his stick on the ground beneath his feet, "is where they were buried when they died. Right here."
I ran into the farmhouse to get somebody, anybody, to witness this extraordinary news, and found Kathleen Holden. I dragged her out onto the driveway, but the old man had already gotten back into his truck, which was now sputtering off down the road. We never saw him again, since he was an angel. The guy in the swing was still there, however, playing his hit single.
"Are you sure you don't want to hear this tune?" he asked.
This takes us pretty much into the period of time with which you are yourself familiar, having visited with us for the first time during the spring of 1976. You were the most handsome of them all, John Francis, and you endeared yourself to us instantly. Even then, knowing very little about us, and about none of the events that had just transpired, and were transpiring, you spoke of a "magic in the air." You were right.
It was on one of those days — you might even have been there at the time — that a jeep was driven up from Woodstock, New York, in it being a disheveled sort of fellow who introduced himself as an attorney for Motown Records, and who let me know right away that he ate only grapefruits. He reached into the jeep, and took out such a grapefruit, cutting it in half with a pocket knife and burying his face in it. He came up for air a minute later, dripping grapefruit juice and spitting grapefruit seeds out onto the driveway. "Nice spread you got here," he said.
Johanan (his name was Johanan Vigoda) stood out there on the driveway with me for several minutes, looked around, sniffed the air, and said finally that he had two issues to discuss. As for the first, he asked if I had ever thought of making "this place" into a church. "It's got the right feel to it, and you'd pay no taxes that way," he volunteered. (Two years later, this same attorney got into a serious scrape with the IRS, and was then calling me asking me for advice.) As for the second topic, he asked me if I could charter a jet for 250 people. "You know," he said, "the kind with four engines on it." I said that I could, this being the sort of thing we did regularly in the student travel business. United Airlines had a lot of them.
"Well," he said, "do so then. New York to Worcester; then back from Worcester to New York the same day. We'll be bringing the people here. One day only. Get on the horn and let me know about available dates. Then I'll tell the artist."
Astonished, I promised immediate action. "Artist?" I asked. "Who? Which artist?"
"Steveland Morris," Johanan said. "Stevie Wonder."
You were in the control room that day, mixing the Solo album for Don McLean. Don had left things pretty much in your hands, and was out horseback riding with Kathy Holden.
It was the arrival of that United Airlines stretch jet two months later, in September, 1976, which pretty much signaled the end of my control of events, and its transfer to some higher authority. In the jet were 250 reporters, representing newspapers and print periodicals from all over the world. They all returned to their desks, and wrote about Stevie Wonder's album Songs in the Key of Life, which they had just heard for the first time in a "magical" recording studio in central Massachusetts.
This resulted in a far greater number of strangers coming to see us. Not unannounced any more. Letters in the U.S. postal mail would arrive first, sometimes months in advance, with money in them. We often would hear not from the strangers themselves, but from their agents, or "managers" instead. Sometimes we would hear only from the record companies involved. But the theme was now always the same. "So-and-so the (famous) artist wants to come and live there for a month and write songs, and it would be nice if you could record these songs for us while he (or she) is there. Only infrequently did it transpire that the artist arrived with a demo tape of songs which had been approved by Management; they came there to write the songs. They had heard about the magic.
For some of these writers-on-the-spot, things worked out very well; for others less well. I, for one, think that the long retinue of jazz fusion recording artists would have made better records if they had only rehearsed the tunes once or twice before making us record them. However, that is not for me to say. Many others did very well indeed.
Seth Justman, the keyboardist and song-writer for the J. Geils Band, came out here for lunch just two weeks ago, and asked me if I remembered what he had to say 25 years ago, when they were making "Freeze Frame" at the farm. "Writers' cramp," he reminded me. "Musician's writer's cramp." He then told me again how, many times, he would remain sterile and unproductive for days on end in Boston, and would stay that way until the front tires of his car hit the pebbles down at the bottom of the studio driveway in North Brookfield, at which point in time he would begin to hear melodies, and hallucinate musical arrangements.
"Magic," he said. "It was always like magic."
Keith Richards said the same thing to me in 1981. The Rolling Stones had heard about Long View from Pete Wolf, also of the J. Geils Band, and Keith had arrived to check it all out. We were in the darkened Control Room, and Keith was slicing up white powders on a mirror. "I'm Keith Richards," he said. "You think I could do anything I wanted, right? Well, I can't. But I can here." He then gave a loud "Sniff," and went out into the recording studio and played the Steinway piano for me for three days, singing jazz classics. I recorded most of them. I called this collection of songs Solo, having taken a notion from you several years earlier. You can hear them on Studiowner.
The rest of the Rolling Stones came shortly thereafter, and spent six weeks rehearsing songs for their Tattoo You performance tour. It was a day or two after they left that I got up one morning and read in the Boston Globe newspaper that I was living in "the rock 'n' roll capital of the world."
And so it's now 25 years later, and I am asked by you on a Tuesday morning what I think about this fellow Daniel Pinchbeck, who said two months ago in Rolling Stone magazine that "people are becoming more and more cognitive that something is going on in our world that is not explicable by any of the maps and matrixes we have." It's Tuesday night now (it's taken me a day to write this Email to you), and I've pretty much spelled out an answer for you. I think he's on to something.
All original material copyright © Gilbert Scott Markle. All rights reserved.