Bill Wheeler’s story about my coming to live on his land in early 1969

Bill Wheeler, hard at work on his land, in 1972

“Round, brown eyes, round, young body and round, curly brown hair, Alicia spoke softly but with assurance. After thinking quietly for a while, she asked me if I knew of any coffee houses where she could play and sing for money. Shortly before dark, she dressed warmly and set out to find a place to stay. My concern over her welfare that rainy night was unfounded as I discovered a few days later when she returned to the studio, bursting with merriment, and related her adventures. She had been welcomed at several people’s houses and was planning to go back to the city, get her things and come back to stay.

“Gray weeks passed before I saw her again. This time, Alicia wore the air of an established resident and nothing else. When most folks were still in warm sweaters, Alicia could be seen wandering around in the fog without a stitch of clothes, a book or some sewing under her arm. When the sun began to warm the air the following spring, she was in the garden almost every day, doing yoga and tending the vegetables. She was the only community member who gardened regularly that second summer. Without her care, the community garden would have never started. In those days she was also the only person on the Ridge who was neither ‘without income’ nor on welfare. She generated income from various creative projects which she sold, an activity then unique among Open Landers.

“Alicia began working on an intercommunal newsletter, describing in unpretentious script and with simple line drawings the basic skills needed by newcomers to live primitively in an isolated, rural community. She demonstrated with childlike fluidity how to build a shelter, shit in the ground, chop wood, have a baby, etc. The project took her over a year, during which time she left with the winter ’69 exodus that took many Ridge residents further north into Humbolt County.

“When she returned the next summer, she announced that the newsletter had grown into a book which was being privately financed and published by a Berkeley publisher with the title Living On The Earth. It turned out to be a phenomenon, the first edition of 10,000 selling out in three weeks. One copy found its way to Bennett Cerf at Random House. Delighted and impressed, Cerf bought the book and Alicia, now Alicia Bay Laurel, was sent on a national promotional tour to explain to America the joys of Open Land living. By the following Christmas, Living On The Earth had become a best seller with 150,000 copies sold. It engendered much sympathy and interest in a simple, non-technical life style. Whatever it was we were doing together on the land, people were hungry to know more.”

Alicia Bay Laurel, Wheeler Ranch, Bill Wheeler
July 31, 2017 – I visit Bill Wheeler at his homebuilt house and art studio on his land, six months before his death early the following year. Photo by Karin Lease.

How I learned 1960s-style no-computer graphic layout: My first job and my first boss

Wonderful Art Kunkin, when he founded the Los Angeles Free Press in 1964.

I first met Art at my first Renaissance Pleasure Faire, when it was still a fundraiser for Pacifica Radio’s Los Angeles station, KPFK, which was the soundtrack of my childhood, growing up with leftist parents in Los Angeles.

A couple of years later, he offered me my first real job – doing graphic layout at the Freep in the summer of 1966. There, based on conversations with friends also working there, I plotted my course to the Haight-Ashbury, where my real life began.

A letter I sent to these same friends from Ann Arbor, Michigan, which they placed in Letters to the Editor unbeknownst to me, resulted in a write-up by Joan Didion in the Saturday Evening Post in January 1967, titled “Alicia and the Underground Press.”

The no-computer layout skills I acquired at the Freep served me well in creating the first edition of Living on the Earth in 1970.

Art and I remained in touch over the years, and I saw him again when he was in his 90s in Joshua Tree, California.

Appreciation for, and from, the amazing Dennis Kucinch

In the 2003 and 2004, as the US invasion of Iraq was raging, I campaigned for peace activist, US Representative, and former Cleveland mayor Dennis Kucinich‘s presidential primary run on the Big Island of Hawaii, where I was living then.  That’s me in this photo, with one foot in the street, at a demonstration in Hilo.

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With my tribe of fierce peace and environmental activists, we offered voter information from booths we set up at farmers’ markets (“Dennis is the only necktie in Washington that represents YOU.  He’s anti-war! And he’s a vegan!”), got trained to offer voter registration and then offered it everywhere, including in the theatre lobby during a three-week screening of Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 at the Palace Theatre in Hilo, and, later, got trained to be a poll watcher at our local primaries.   While engaging in these actions, I wrote my rant/waltz, America the Blues.

Our campaigning worked!  People that had never voted before turned out in droves and swamped the normally tiny Democratic Party caucuses, giving Kucinich 60% of the vote in the Puna District, 50% of the vote for the Big Island (Hawaii County), and 33% of the vote for the state of Hawaii, which, along with the state of Washington, were the two states that sent Kucinich delegates to the 2004 Democratic Party National Convention in Boston.

Those of us that had organized this victory suddenly found ourselves officers of our precincts, writing resolutions and platform planks to present at the Hawaii State Democratic Party Convention in Honolulu, which I attended.

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I wrote nine resolutions – one to outlaw GMO crops in Hawaii, and eight for election reform.  One of these resolutions not only passed the vote on the convention floor, but also passed the vote in both houses of the Hawaii state legislature and was signed into law by the Republican governor, Linda Lingle.  That is why all forms of voting in the state of Hawaii must produce a hand-countable paper trail.  You’re welcome.

I had the pleasure of meeting Congressman Kucinich a couple of times during and shortly after the campaign.  Here’s a photo from 2006 in which he graciously posed with me after a giving speech in Kahului, Maui, on behalf of Senator Daniel Akaka’s re-election campaign, in which he ennumerated Senator Akaka’s achievements in limiting the use of nuclear weapons.

ABL meets Dennis Kucinich 2006 Maui

I then presented this brave peace activist politician with a poster print of my painting, Peace Girl, which he liked very much.

peace girl web-sized

Dennis ran again in 2007 and 2008. I would have liked to campaign for him again, but, during those years, I was responsible for my mother’s end-of-life care, and, afterwards, with addressing the various types of chaos she left behind.   Even so, I posted about Dennis’ campaign, his platform and his speeches on this blog during those years.

I was pleased to reconnect with Dennis Kucinich again in 2020, on Facebook.  I had replied to one of his posts on his wall that I had been a volunteer on the Big Island of Hawaii during his presidential primary campaign in 2003 and 2004.  I did not expect a reply, since I was one of thousands of volunteers and voters that he met during those busy years, but, to my astonishment, he sent me the following message:

Dear Alicia,

I treasure your brilliant, memorable art, and your support.

I still have it. It is extraordinary, incandescent, as are you. Yes, I remember.

Best wishes, Dennis



My Parents Died on the Same Day

Verna Lebow Norman and Dr. Paul A. Kaufman, at a holiday ball at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in Los Angeles, California in 1952.

Sometimes you just know something, and you don’t know why you know it.

My parents died on the same day, August 15, 2007, on the 59th anniversary of my conception.

They hadn’t seen or spoken to one another in over 45 years, and they lived 500 miles apart.

I’d been telling my sister (who was caring for our dad), that I thought they would die on the same day, for the past three years. I was caring for Mom, and a day didn’t pass when she didn’t talk about him. She was still mad at him for things that had happened in 1962. 

Mom was 87, complained of a stomach ache and went to the hospital, was diagnosed with diverticulitis and pneumonia, but died of heart failure. She’d only been acutely ill for a week. Before that, she’d been normal, that is, not particularly sick, just a couch tomato with a passal of minor complaints, for each of which she was taken to the Kaiser Clinic, scanned and blood tested, and sent home with yet another set of allopathic drugs. (She was NOT interested in natural remedies or health food.)

During the two days before she died, I visited her at the hospital and sat holding her hand in both of mine, just sending her love, since she mostly was too sedated with painkillers to speak. (When asked by the nurse, “Who is here with you?”, she managed to mumble, “It’s my daughter.”) Somehow, I did not realize she was about to die, or I would have continued sitting with her all night.

When the attending physician telephoned in the morning and told me her heart had stopped, I instantly imagined her beloved second husband Ralph, who had died 18 months earlier, reaching out his hand and asking her to dance, and she, stepping out of that old body riddled with IVs, catheter, oxygen tube and monitors, and the two of them tangoing off into the starry skies.

Mom met Ralph when she was 22 and he 25; he was her older brother’s best friend. Her parents disapproved of the match, and they each married someone else, had some kids, and afterwards were single for decades. I designed and presided at a wedding for them on Maui fifty years after they first met. They had a ball together for fifteen years. After Ralph died from lung cancer, Mom seemed tired of life.

The first person I called was my sister. I said, “Mom just died of a heart attack,” and she said, “Dad just went into a coma.” And I said, “Wow, looks like my prediction is coming true.”

Dad had wished to die peacefully in his sleep, without illness, at home in his own bed, and that’s what he did, at 96 years and 9 months, with my sister and her best friend, who had worked as one of his caregivers, holding his hands, what we used to call “dying of old age.” An auspicious and perfect death.

Now my sister and I are like mirror images, holding hands over the phone, arranging for cremations, coordinating memorials, executing wills, writing obituaries, sorting personal effects, and occasionally crying, or thinking about them.

We are blessed to have each other’s support and love through this time.

Last week she said, “All those times you used to say they would die on the same day, I just humored you. Now I wonder what else you know.”  “I’ve been wondering myself,” I replied.

Here are the obituaries:

Verna Lebow Norman
Nov. 2, 1919 – Aug. 15, 2007. Verna was an accomplished sculptor, painter and art instructor, and a Los Angeles resident since 1926.
The daughter of C.H. and Ann Lebow, Verna was pre-deceased by her husband Ralph Norman; and is survived by three children from a previous marriage, Alicia Bay Laurel, Roberto Spinoza Alazar and Jessica Anna Mercure.
A memorial is planned for October 7, 2007. Donations to Habitat for Humanity will be gratefully received.

Published in the Los Angeles Times on 8/28/2007.

Paul A. Kaufman, M.D., F.A.C.S. (96) Died peacefully in his sleep. Renowned breast disease specialist, Dean of Breast Surgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Paul’s excellence as a surgeon attracted patients and consultation requests nationally and internationally. He authored many professional publications, developed new safety devices for the OR, and took courses in pathology in order to diagnose his surgical patients himself. He made instructional films in his specialty and served as the Medical Attache to the Consulate of Chile. He saved many lives and prevented many children from an early loss of their mothers. Served 19 months in the Pacific during WWII, including seven beach landing battles. Received special commendation as the only surgeon managing 600 casualties after a kamikaze plane hit his ship. After retirement Paul served as an expert medical witness and studied computer technology and mathematics. He was a gifted photographer and an avid reader. In his last years his sense of humor, warmth and vitality in the face of illness made him many lasting friendships. He will be missed. Survivors include daughters Alicia Bay Laurel and Jessica (Wes) Erck, son Roberto (Melanie) Alazar and their daughter Rachel; nephews (including a close relationship with nephew Dr. Saul Sharkis of Johns Hopkins University), nieces and their families: grateful patients: devoted friends, colleagues and caregivers including Alicia Enciso, his housekeeper for 35 years. Goodbyes to be held September 29 in northern California; those who care about Paul may contact us at Donations in his memory may be made to the National Women’s Health Network,

Published in the Los Angeles Times on 9/9/2007.

Alicia Bay Laurel’s Music Bio

I sing at the opening party of “Dancing with Nature,” my multi-decade retrospective solo art exhibition at Sison Gallery in Shibuya, Tokyo on September 1, 2018. The event was filmed as part of a television documentary about my life and work for Asahi Television.

I am wearing a wool jersey dress printed with the pages of my book, Living on the Earth. Both the dress and the fabric were designed in 2007 by fashion designer Aya Noguchi, the owner of Sison Gallery

Marinated from birth in the world music, political folk music, classical music, jazz and Broadway tunes my parents played on the hi-fi, I succeeded (after two years of begging) in starting piano lessons at age seven, played a credible version of the Bumble Bee Boogie by age twelve, and was levitated into learning folk guitar and writing songs after seeing Bob Dylan play his powerful protest songs, shortly before I turned fourteen. A couple of years later, my cousin Jan Lebow married John Fahey, and one day I approached him when he was bored at a family party and persuaded him to teach me the basics of open tunings in the next two hours.  I practiced like crazy, and that became my sound.

Most of my musician friends played rock and roll, so I was overjoyed when I first visited Hawaii in 1969 and discovered that open-tuned guitar finger-picking was part of the national music.

In 1974, I moved to Maui. There I learned to play slack key guitar and sing Hawaiian songs in Hawaiian from the family of recording artist G-girl Keli’iho’omalu, especially her mother, legendary singer, hula teacher and choreographer, Auntie Clara Kalalau Tolentino. I learned slack key guitar from Clara’s son-in-law Jerome Smith in Hana, and from Uncle Sol Kawaihoa in Wailuku.

In the early ‘80’s, I began playing in restaurants and bars for tourists in Hawaii and in northern California. Over a period of twenty-eight years I studied vocal technique with seven teachers, including pop singer/songwriter Pamela Polland.  I also took lessons, at least one, and sometimes many, from an uncountable number of guitarists – including a couple of years of weekly lessons from renowned Hawaiian jazz singer/guitarist Sam Ahia.

My lifelong love of slightly sardonic vocal jazz (the first LP I bought at age 13 was “Local Color” by Mose Allison) led me to learn a repertoire of jazz standards and the jazz chords I needed to accompany myself. In the late ‘80’s I started playing at weddings and learned love songs of many genres. From 1988 to 1999 I owned a wedding business on Maui that put on 3000 weddings, and I sang at hundreds of them, sometimes accompanying a troop of hula dancers.

Pamela Smit DePalma's Maui wedding in the 1990s, with ABL serenading

In 2000, Random House released the thirtieth anniversary edition of Living on the Earth. I sold the wedding business and created for myself a national book tour: a twice-cross-country road tour for eight months, delivering 75 performances of Living on the Earth: The Musical, an original one-woman, two-act show of quirky, edgy stories about the birth and aftermath of my book, and some of the songs I wrote during these times.  I self-produced Music From Living on the Earth, a solo CD of the spiritual and nature-inspired songs I wrote while creating the book, to sell from the bandstand, and, to my astonishment, it was not only reviewed but selected as an album pick on All Music Guide. Then Gerald van Waes’ psychedelic folk radio show in Antwerp, Belgium, “Psyche Van Het Folk,” started playing it. Then EM Record in Osaka, Japan released it, as a CD in 2005 and as a vinyl LP in 2015.

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When I returned to Hawaii from the tour, I self-produced Living in Hawaii Style, a CD of half original Hawaiian-style songs and half historic Hawaiian songs, mostly slack key guitar and tropical jazz. The CD features my former teacher, Sam Ahia, arguably the best jazz guitarist/vocalist in the islands, and Lei’ohu Ryder, a reknowned spiritualist and chanter with a string of fantastic CDs of her own. This CD got airplay both in Hawaii and on the legendary Ports of Paradise radio show in California, was re-released by EM Records in Japan, and, in July 2002, I was the only woman headlining at the Big Island Slack Key Guitar Festival in Hilo, Hawaii.

07-21-02-HI-Hilo-Slack Key Fest-Alicia and Bobo onstage2

Two of my music mentors are avant-garde improvisational musicians. Ramón Sender Barayón, one of the founding composers of the San Francisco Tape Music Center in the early ‘60’s, and co-designer of the Buchla Box, the first synthesizer built on the west coast, who I met, during the time I was writing Living on the Earth, at Wheeler Ranch commune, co-authored a book with me, Being of the Sun, containing his wealth of knowledge about drones, modes and tunings, plus songs and chants we composed together and separately, celebrating the cycles of nature.  In 2013, I arranged to have the 1973 reel-to-reel recording Ramón had made of us performing music from our book digitized and remastered, and released it as a CD, Songs from Being of the Sun.

In the late ‘90’s, I began partnering with Joe Gallivan, a stalwart of the free-jazz world in New York and in Europe.  He developed a sound vocabulary for the MiniMoog synthesizer, worked with Robert Moog as the test driver of the Moog drum, and was among the first to play these instruments in a jazz setting, including in the Gil Evans Orchestra for two years and in a trio with legendary organist Larry Young for three years. Joe lead bands full of extraordinary players throughout his adult life.  An entire section was devoted to him in the 4th edition (1998) of the Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD.

While my first CD, Music from Living on the Earth, contains a choral arrangement of my song “In the Morning” by Ramón, and my sixth CD, Songs from Being of the Sun, is entirely a collaboration with him,  Joe’s influence is most evident in my 3rd release, What Living’s All About, recorded by Scott Fraser (audio engineer and producer for the Kronos Quartet) and a fabulous line-up of session players, notably avant-garde guitar legend Nels Cline (best known as the guitarist with Wilco, and who I met when his band opened for Joe Gallivan’s band at the Bell Atlantic Jazz Festival in New York City in June 2000), and John B. Williams, bassist for Nancy Wilson, the Manhattan Transfer, the Tonight Show Big Band and the Arsenio Hall Show Band. I co-produced the CD with Ron Grant, an Academy Award winning film composer, who arranged and conducted some of the material, but I also relied heavily upon the improvisational skills of these great players, and they surpassed my expectations.


From 2006 through 2019, I performed twelve concert tours in Japan, and produced/recorded/toured five more albums, bringing the total to eight (as of 2023).   Two of the albums, Beyond Living and Alicia Bay Laurel – Live in Japan, included tracks recorded in Japan with Japanese musicians and recording engineers.  Joe and I began living part time in Spain, and the 7th album, More Songs From Living on the Earth, included tracks recorded in Spain, with Spanish and British musicians.   Like my first album, Music from Living on the Earth, the songs were composed around the time I made the book Living on the Earth, but this recording is richly collaborative instead of solo, and the songs, more romantic and passionate. 

I also recorded by 5th album, Living Through Young Eyes, a solo instrumental guitar CD of songs I loved and learned during my first 25 years, as a memoir of my youth.  It includes four medleys of folk songs I sang during my childhood, one medley of early ’60s rhythm and blues tunes, one medley of hippie anthems, one medley of protest songs, and one medley of historic Hawaiian melodies. 

In 2021, I collaborated with Spanish filmmaker Luis Olano on the movie version of Living on the Earth: The Musical, which he filmed in November 2016 while gathering material for Sender Barayón: Viaje Hacia la Luz his documentary about the life and work of Ramón Sender Barayón, who makes a guest appearance in my show, singing with me for the first time in 43 years. 

In addition to the two songs Luis Olano licensed for his movie Sender Barayón (1966 and Surviving in Style), some others that I wrote have been licensed for movie soundtracks, including New Years’ Eve Party (aka Goodbye 1974) for S.J. Chiro’s dramatic film Lane 1974, and Sometimes it Takes a Long Time for Shinji Tsuji’s 2014 documentary Embracing the Seed of Life, about the life and work of environmental activist Vandana Shiva.


The Ishtar Rabbit

Happy Feast of the Great Earth Goddess Ishtar to you! May your garden and your mind be fertile as, well, …

I used to tell my lop eared bunnies, Nijinsky and Moonlight, that once a year, people worship rabbits. This never impressed them.

They had jobs. They were the recycling service in my wedding florist shop during the ‘nineties on Maui. Totally spoiled, they feasted on slightly imperfect lilies, orchids, rose petals, babies breath, gladiolus and all manner of green leaves, but distained iris, anthurium and protea.

Like cats, rabbits prefer to hide their excrement, and will use a litter box without prompting. Like the fisherman’s cat, the florist’s rabbit eats the most succulent leftovers from the work table, but, unlike cat poop, bunny poop is the fertilizer of choice for growing darn near everything. So they fertilized the exotic tropical greens in my garden that fattened my bouquets and arrangements, and they also fed the papaya, mango and banana trees. I used to refer to those excellent papayas as…um, bunny doo melons. (Sorry.)

They also entertained me while I worked, playing with my bare feet. Even though I weighed twenty times either of them, my feet were only twice as long as their hind feet, and shaped exactly the same way, which led them to suspect I was part rabbit. Truly, I felt honored to be trusted by someone so low on the food chain.

Why I Love Martha Stewart

What a resource on making and growing things by hand is Martha Stewart! She’s a goddess of DIY and recycling, two of the cures for the linear consumption outlined in  The Story of Stuff.

Look at her.  She even makes it look cool to keep chickens.

Yes, she is a billionaire media mogul with a reputed nasty temper who served time for insider trading. I personally that think she, of all the billionaires with nasty tempers who have done illegal things, was prosecuted was because over 98% of her corporation’s political campaign contributions went to the Democratic Party. I mean, compare her transgressions to those of, say, Dick Cheney. Nobody died. Nobody even got an ingrown toenail.

I gotta love a writer who reports that an unwanted square scarf, with four mismatched earrings or charms sewn to the corners becomes the perfect cover for a punch bowl on a hot buggy day. I made one immediately.

On March 9, 2003, the New York Times wrote about me:

“As the Martha Stewart of the hippie age, Alicia Bay Laurel wrote the book on living in do-it-yourself harmony with Mother Nature.”

That was not the first, nor the last time I’ve been compared to Martha Stewart, and that’s all right with me. Whatever else you may say about her, Martha Stewart brought self-reliance, organic gardening, up-cycling (craft-making from recycled stuff), folk art, goat cheese and wabi-sabi into the national conversation of a society drowning in its addiction to cheap and poisonous consumer goods.

Artists Who Influenced My Style

When I was growing up in the ‘fifties in Los Angeles, my family had lots of art, books, and art books. I pored over them, studying in particular ink line drawings of that were both naive and sophisticated, both organic and surreal. Here are eight artists whose art influenced my drawing style:

Henri Matisse showed me how to love color, women, plants, animals, and objects in a bebop sort of way.

Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince was probably the first spiritual book in my personal library.

Hokusai taught me to worship volcanoes and yearn to experience life in Japan. He mingled ordinary and extraordinary visions, flat planes and depth of field.

Sister Mary Corita Kent showed me the beauty of cursive script as a graphic element. My mother took art classes from her at Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles.

James Thurber’s work appeared monthly in our home in the New Yorker.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec showed me that distorted figures are far more evocative than photographic-perfect ones. He loved the night, and who wouldn’t in fin de siècle Paris?

I’ve long loved the cartoons, illustrations, wit and political views of Jules Feiffer, especially his famous interpretive dancer.


And last but not least, the great visionary, William Blake!

Painting – ‘Illustration to Milton`s L`Allegro and Il Penseroso’ by William Blake

A Great Day in Harlem

If one photograph could convey the jazz scene in New York City in the late 1950’s, this would be it.

Around ten one morning in the summer of 1958, 57 musicians representing three generations of jazz history showed up at 126th Street, between Fifth and Madison Avenues in Harlem to be photographed by Art Kane, a freelance photographer working for Esquire magazine. The photo was eventually published in the January, 1959 issue. This photo also became the basis of a documentary film produced by veteran radio producer, Jean Bach of New York. The film won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 1994.  It’s available on DVD and VHS. 

It was at a screening of this film in the spring of 1996 that I first saw avant-jazz legend Joe Gallivan, who had been part of the jazz scene during that time in New York City, in concert on Maui.  By the end of that year, we had begun to find our way as a couple.