One day in the spring of 1970, completely out of the blue, I received a letter from Oklahoma College of Liberal Arts offering me a scholarship. I had never heard of it. Soon afterward my mother and I drove to Chickasha to check it out. From the very moment the campus came into sight I had no doubt that the place was meant for me and I for it. I could not imagine myself at a large university, so its small size attracted me, as did other aspects of the college: no fraternities/sororities, no sports (unless one counted as "organized sports" the intramural games of pick-up football played on the mall in faded jeans and T-shirts), the stately old magnolia trees. A strange older man walking his dog stopped and watched as we parked, then berated us for locking the car doors. Soon I would come to know Calvin Good as the resident gadfly and enjoy his pointed observations in classes he audited and out.
Most of all, the curriculum was a renaissance ideal. The experimental multi-disciplinary approach, the team-taught classes coupled with small group discussions -- OCLA was a model nation wide and attracted students from across the country. Many liberal arts schools adopted the concept. Today there would be no thinking outside the box had OCLA not exploded that box almost 50 years ago.
I arrived for student orientation that fall expecting to be among strangers, when I turned to see Steve Vanlandingham walking toward my seat. Steve and I have known each other since 2nd grade in Ardmore, OK. Richard Coe, whom I have known since 9th grade, did a brief OCLA stint as well. I had known Gerry Scott-Moore in high school, and would come to know his sister Kathi (Ambrogi) at OCLA, and through these connections I would meet Don Gettinger and Dirk Rowntree who together, within days of my arrival, sat me down to introduce me to the music and poetry of Leonard Cohen, whom until then I had known only through covers. Others have written of the wonderful music that came out of Truth I also remember, a couple of years after I graduated but returned to Chickasha, recording sessions of Debris made up of Charles Ivey, Oliver Powers and Johnny Gregg. With a little quickie research, Anopheles' editorial review on amazon.com tells me that Static Disposal is now regarded as "A Dada/punk/psych masterpiece recorded in just under seven hours in Dec. 75, the LP and the individuals who created it have long been the subject of a great deal of mystery and conjecture due to their elusiveness, the mindblowing quality of the music as well as the provocative negative image bondage LP sleeve design." The design was Dirk's; I still own a mint copy. I don't know that anyone involved actually worked at elusiveness, but it's a nice idea. The point is that music was very much our glue and continued to be as we moved in and out of Norman, in and out of graduate school.
In 1995 I organized an unofficial gathering in Davis, OK, for the Ardmore/Chickasha/Norman connection at connection at an old motel called Canyon Breeze run by a couple with names like Jolene and Dwayne. I referred to the little event as the 15-Year Reunion More or Less. Steve Van., Richard, Gerry and and his wonderful wife also a Nancy, Don and several other friends originally from Ardmore also came. I rented the end unit with the kitchenette and catered. Everyone had brought instruments. Saturday it rained, as they say, cats and dogs all day long so "Dwayne" pulled one of the barrel BBQ's to the door of the kitchenette so that I could grill shish kebob. We ate and played all day and into the night. At some point a group of Hell's Angels took two or three rooms next to us, of which we were unaware until they complained that we were too loud!! How great is that? We were too rowdy for Hell's Angels!
I began OCLA as a music major, and though I studied voice throughout my tenure, I became an English major and philosophy minor. I sometimes took 21 hours a term in order to get into every course of Jerry Holt's and every course of Ingrid Shafer's. The possibility of missing one was simply not acceptable. Then there was that phenomenal core curriculum that has, astonishingly, survived. In an age when K-12 education is required to teach to the test and colleges and universities are increasingly pressured to teach to the job market, USAO has preserved the rigorous liberal arts core curriculum developed for OCLA: The Individual in Contemporary Society, The Natural World, The Community and the Nation, and especially, the World Thought and Culture sequence. There was also a spectacular performance series, headed up when I was there by another musician friend Doc Holliday, that brought in, among others Ravi Shankar.
OCLA laid the foundation of my cultural and intellectual life. Though I don't remember what I was researching, I recall that upon one of my first visits to OCLA's exceptional library holdings, I was dismayed with myself because a number of the books on the topic I was investigating were in French, and I suddenly had a profound sense of my ignorance. I have never made measurable money, but I have been fortunate, with the exception of the last four years, to have worked doing what I love. I had the privilege to teach as an adjunct English professor for over 20 years, and the cherry on that cake was to regularly guest lecture on film. I worked for almost 35 years as a curator and arts administrator, and I had the great good fortune to sing in the Johnstown (PA) Symphony Chorus for six years. Though I do still curate exhibitions free-lance, for the last four years I have simply gone to a job, but I remind myself that many people have not been as fortunate as I have undoubtedly been. I am grateful I came of age when I did -- when it was cool to carry around dog-eared copies of Catch-22 and Sidhartha and Thus Spake Zarathustra, to discuss literary and theological existentialism, to pay attention to and care about Bob Dylan's and John Lennon's lyrics, to believe that activism could and would make a difference. I am also grateful that a number of the people with whom I shared ideas and convictions then have remained friends through the years.