1998 publication



2009 Publication

Published by Counterpoint

Out of the Sixties counterculture explosion came a radical street group called the Diggers who became the heart and soul of the Haight-Ashbury experience. Among its founders was Peter Coyote who has taken his memoirs of this anarchic and psychedelic era and woven them into a collection of stories from his life in San Francisco to communes and gypsy years on the road becoming part of the Free Family. It was during this time that Coyote developed his political consciousness continuing to define and refine it through the years.

Named after a group of 17th century free-thinkers in England, the Diggers dedicated themselves to building a new morality in place of the money-hungry capitalistic society, cutting through the cultural propaganda via the medium of both street theater and "free" programs. They began to distribute free food, provide free medical care and sponsor free rock concerts in Golden Gate Park featuring musicians like the Grateful Dead. They burned money, left its ashes and set out to create the condition they described.

"We imagined a world in which we could live authentically, without the pressures of economics dictating all personal choices. We made it real by acting it out." - Peter Coyote

Sleeping Where I Fall describes the stories behind that pursuit of absolute freedom, stories which are not only entertaining but a testament to the human spirit and the dreams of that generation and the groundwork it laid for the future. As a storyteller of countless tales with a cast of characters that often seem more fictional than true, Coyote also recounts his friendship with fellow edge dweller Emmett Grogan, who in 1972 wrote his own memoirs in Ringolevio.

Coyote has already received recognition for his writing having won the prestigious Pushcart Prize for Carla's Story, which was published in the '93-'94 Pushcart Anthology, a collection of short stories, essays and poetry often referred to as the "best of the small presses." Though no longer a separate chapter, the story of Coyote's relationship with Carla can still be found in his book.

Reviews & Interviews:

Ralph Magazine, Mid-Fall 1998, review
Salon Magazine, 4/17/98, review

San Francisco Examiner, 4/19/98, interview
NPR:Fresh Air, 4/28/98, interview via transcript
San Jose Mercury News, 5/24/98, review

Los Angeles Times , 6/4/98, interview
Omnibus, review
New Age Journal, July/August issue, interview
Houston Chronicle, 7/5/98, review

Townonline.com, 7/21/98, interview
Shambhala Sun, November issue, interview
Page One newsletter, 2/99, interview
La Pagina, 3/14/99, review


Library Journal:
Coyote not only survived the excesses of the Sixties and Seventies but emerged from years of journeying through the counterculture to achieve success as an actor. Considering the numerous casualties among radicals, who, like Coyote, were heroin junkies living on the edge of society, this is a rare feat. In this frank yet sensitive memoir of those years, Coyote contradicts romantic notions of communes by recalling the discord and petty disagreements typical in his own communal living experiences at Olema ranch and Red House. He describes the chaos created by the Diggers, an antiestablishment group of which he is usually considered a founding member and leader, famous for their stores where everything was given away free, and he remembers his stoned life in Haight-Ashbury. Eventually, he surfaced to work with the San Francisco Mime Troupe, for which he received a special Obie Award. Coyote's thoughtful, articulate writing displays a compassionate wisdom that puts this chronicle in a class above the typical actor's autobiography. Highly recommended for relevent subject collections in academic as well as public libraries.

Film actor Peter Coyote recounts his exploits in the 1960s and '70s in this literate insider's account of the San Francisco/Northern California hippie scene. As a member of the San Francisco Mime Troupe and, later, the Diggers, Coyote (the name is totemic) was at the center of the action and a witness to many of the era's countercultural events. He colors the historical perspective of those events with highly personal memories of his life on the road and in various urban and rural communes. He also resurrects long-dead ghosts: Emmett Grogan, Janis Joplin, John Lennon, poet Lew Welch, not to mention the idealism that propelled the whole movement. While avoiding the pitfalls of nostalgia, Coyote reflects on the serendipity of his own life, from upper-middle-class upbringing to heavy drug-user to Wall Street broker to chairman of the California Arts Council to respected and sought-after film actor. He is at once contented and optimistic, and occasionally apologetic; the zeitgeist that informed Coyote 30 years ago has not abandoned him.

Publishers Weekly:
Actor Coyote's articulate, thoroughly absorbing chronicle of his life in the 1960s and '70s portrays a pioneering communard who is highly aware of the interdependence of all life. Describing his pilgrim's progress from the San Francisco Mime Troupe to founding the utopian group, the Diggers and its offshoot, the Free Family, Coyote emerges as a man inextricably connected to others.

Beginning in 1964, when he arrived in San Francisco fresh from Grinnell College, Coyote (ne Cohon) traveled from riches as the son of a difficult, talented Wall Street stock trader to deliberate rags as a committed member of the countercultural movement that challenged reigning materialistic values and assumptions. Two years after Coyote joined the San Francisco Mime Troupe, a radical street theater company, the visionary raconteur Emmett Grogan breezed into audition and changed Coyote's life. With Grogan and several other Mime Troupe members, Coyote formed the Diggers, a group committed to "liberating the imagination from economic assumptions of profit and private property..."

The author (who renamed himself "Coyote" in honor of a coyote vision he had while high on peyote, and who has gone on to appear in films ranging from E.T. to Bitter Moon) experienced all the indulgence and the idealism that came with living free. Offering glimpses of the Grateful Dead, the Hell's Angels, Gary Snyder and other color characters, his honest tale portrays a grand social experiment with rare clarity and heart, persuading readers that its spirit lives on in many whose lives it touched.

Paul Hawken, Whole Earth Catalog:
Peter has recreated a tableau of some of the most Felliniesque characters ever to grace the pages of a nonfiction work. What works here is the utter lack of varnish, for this is neither a defense nor an apologia for the 1960s. It is a description of Peter's odyssey through some of the important players and communities that flared briefly and then burnt out. By pulling back the curtain on the stage, wings, and dressing room of the sixties, with the sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll intact, he reveals a world without a trace of glamour. This is the world that Tom Wolf and Joan Didion only glimpsed and interviewed, the one George Leonard skirted. Were flowers placed in gun barrels at the Pentagon? For sure. But guns were also placed next to people's temples and fired. It is as if an entire urban village became a nonstop Commedia Del Arte for several years, until the sheer intensity destroyed or scattered all but the hardiest. Not until the laughter died off were the bodies counted. This is not the hero's journey. Having read it, no one will pine to have been in his shoes, on his chopper, or in his body. This is the survivor's tale. Peter's opportunism is not hidden. His hustling gift of the gab got him into the worst and "best" of the sixties. He uses the same gift to take the reader back.

Review by Coymoon:
Peter Coyote has already made a name for himself as a film actor, political activist and narrator, whose voice can be easily recognized in an infinite amount of commercials, documentaries and audiobooks. Now comes his best and most challenging narrative of all - "Sleeping Where I Fall" - his own story based on the years when he was part of the Sixties counterculture explosion as one of the founders of a radical street group called the Diggers. Peter has taken his memoirs of this anarchic and psychedelic era and woven them into a collection of stories from his life in San Francisco to communes and gypsy years on the road as part of the Free Family. Says Coyote, "We imagined a world in which we could live authentically, without the pressures of economics dictating all personal choices. We made it real by acting it out."

What few people know is that Peter has always thought of himself as a writer first and foremost since his college days pursuing a master's degree in creative writing. Now with the release of this book, he further fulfills a dream by entering the literary world as a gifted writer, evidenced by the reviews of Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, Omnibus, San Francisco Chronicle and many more.

His story is told with great humor, candor and self-critical analysis. Peter is not afraid to reveal himself giving accounts of both his generosity of spirit and his character flaws. Ironically, the very first chapter starts out with "While still an undergraduate at Grinnell College, I had fallen in love with Jessie Benton, a captivating woman I met one summer on Martha's Vineyard." This passage alone is a premonition to his perpetual attraction to women, a beguiling enchantment which could culminate in euphoric days and nights but, also, in broken relationships often bringing hurtful and destructive consequences. There's poetry in his descriptions of nature as witnessed in some of his music - "all the splendors of creation set the marrow trembling! in my bones." (from "Rainbow Woman") His prose has lyrical clarity dotted with clever metaphors and similes that bring his images to life and convey a myriad of experiences and feelings from peyote and heroin highs and camaraderie in communal living to his bitter conflicts with both the mother of his daughter and his overbearing father.

"Sleeping Where I Fall" is an extremely personal account of his search for truth, understanding and wisdom. Though he rode with the Hell's Angels and lived a life of dangerous drugs, you will come away still sensing an innocence about Coyote, a man who wanted to dream the future because, as with all youthful idealism, he believed there was something more to be gained in this world other than materialism.

His accounts of this pursuit of absolute freedom are often seductive, always fascinating. He writes objectively, careful not to romanticize or glorify the times. He's very frank, darn-right earthy as in his example of pearls of wisdom. He shares tales of living with drug-crazed friends whose demons sometimes propelled them to an early death. One comes away with the feeling of having spent time at Red House, Black Bear Ranch or Olema, becoming intimately acquainted with a whole host of colorful characters, such as Moose, Natural Suzanne, Ron Thelin, Sweet William, Nichole, Carla, Rolling Thunder, Chocolate George, as well as their inventive modes of transportation like Dr. Knucklefunky.

There is as much sadness as there is laughter, but it's a book you'll find hard to put down. It's not only entertaining, but a testament to the human spirit and the dreams of that generation, and a tribute to the groundwork it laid for the future. As a masterful storyteller, Peter succeeds in bringing more honest illumination to the Sixties, an historic period in our country that has not always been defined or treated fairly. If any fil! m critic hasn't yet understood the charisma, the complex persona and intelligence that Coyote brings to his screen roles, they should definitely read this book.

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