Cults and their leaders

If you want a good read, you should take up “The Lyman Family’s Holy Siege of America” by David Felton. The Lyman Family was a cult led by a harmonica player named Mel Lyman in the 1960s and ’70s. Its members included Jim Kweskin (of Jug Band fame) and Mark Frechette (star of Zabriskie Point). And boy did they ever love Mel, even though he had no teeth.

Mel would do things like give his followers large doses of acid and make them listen to recordings of sirens blaring for hours. One time he made them build a state-of-the-art studio called the Magic Theatre. Just before it was finished, he changed his mind and made them tear it all down. Still they loved Mel, and they also loved beating the shit out of people who didn’t love him quite as much.

While Felton was writing the piece, a bunch of these guys came to his office to intimidate him. One even smacked him in the face for telling Mel’s beloved elementary school teacher that her former pupil thought he was God. Felton was played by Rainn Wilson in Almost Famous and he went on to co-create Beavis and Butthead.

Now you know something new about Beavis and Butthead.

Let’s talk about cult leaders for a second. I think lots of them start out as dweebs with egos. Being disliked makes so little sense to them that they find it easier to believe they are God. One way they convince other people of this is giving them drugs.

I knew a guy like that. He had a really high-pitched voice but a large penis (we knew this because he wore pleather pants). At first he just wore a trench coat and wrote poetry. Then this girl he’d been chasing for a long time agreed to go out with him, and something changed.

He started predicting the end of the world all the time. When the world didn’t end, he’d give it a week, and then try again (it’s gotta end sometime). He dropped out of school and hung out in the Annex all day with a bunch of alternative school kids who never had to go to school. He talked a lot about Aleister Crowley and whenever you’d run into him or his people they’d try to talk to you about Aleister Crowley, as if The Book of the Law were The Catcher in the Rye.

Over time, he stopped wearing a trench coat and grew himself a ponytail. I don’t think he ever got a cult off the ground, but I’m sure that’s for the best and I hope that he is happy.

I will never start a cult. You heard it here first. I think being worshiped would make me pretty uncomfortable; I’m always afraid of disappointing people.


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