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Table of contents
- A National Journal of Literature & Discussion
- The Loss of Innocence - Farmboy to Playboy
- Willa Cather: A Literary Life | Willa Cather Archive
- Popular Games this Week - 116
- PDF The Loss of Innocence - Farmboy to Playboy
When I pressed him on this, he got angry: "Why are you making such a big thing out of this? It has a lot to do with my karma, my family, my sense of being able to take on big projects, not small projects, you know, get things done. If Rennie had accepted the 4-H scholarship offered him to study animal husbandry at Virginia Polytechnic, he might have joined a fraternity and gone on to become a bright young face in Kennedy's agricultural program.
He went instead to Oberlin on the advice of his father's friends, who were active liberals and thought Oberlin was more "with it. Rennie's first political guru was Paul Potter, who was a year ahead of him and who later became head of SDS. Paul was putting together a campus political party that soon became the center of action at Oberlin. Rennie chose to be the "behind the-scenes organizer" who put the party's election slate over the top. Then the sit-ins began in the South, and his next guru appeared: "Tom Hayden came to town and talked about our organization's becoming part of SDS.
From there it has been uphill ever since - from then I would say I have been full time in the movement. That's where my head was at up until now.
Rennie's entry into the movement was at the top; "I was national from the beginning. One of my first acts was to organize a national conference of campus political parties.
A National Journal of Literature & Discussion
It was a heady time and no one was likely to question the ability of a confident young upper-middle-class white male to save the poor and the blacks. The older generation of radicals that had knocked about since the Thirties was dismissed as square, and its ideas as needless intellectual baggage: "I didn't study Marxism and felt that those groups which did were stuffy. They were out of the mainstream, they were old and we felt - I think there was even a touch of arrogance in our style - we were the wave of the future. When he chose the path of the New Left, it was definitely with the sense that it was an upbeat career: "We didn't feel unequal to anybody in the society, including the top executives we could have been.
If anything, we tended to look down on them. We didn't suffer from any class problems - you know what I mean? Rennie now recalls those days as times of selfless puritanism. At one point, we were talking in one of the back rooms of the gurus national headquarters in Denver, an old tombstone of a building honeycombed with bustling offices. I had spent a week with this vegetably holier-than-thou crowd and was by then having lecherous fantasies of beer and pizza. I confessed to Rennie that I've generally thought of myself as being in large part "corrupt," or at least petty.
It occurred to me that Rennie seemed to have more ambitious proportions in mind - that he thought of himself as 90 percent noble and virtuous. With total seriousness he corrected me to say that he had generally tried to keep it at percent.
I felt my life was getting to an office early and staying there late, working very long hours. The appetites I had were for the movement.
The Loss of Innocence - Farmboy to Playboy
Anne Weills, who worked with Rennie in Chicago, recalls a very different history: "Rennie needed women. He couldn't be alone for a day without a woman to take care of him. He drank more than anyone I knew in the movement. Later he changed to dope and then to acid, but whatever it was, it was always much more than the average person. He was an addictive personality. I think he was terrified of being alone, of confronting himself and seeing who he really was.
The Chicago demonstration and trial of was the time of his time. Rennie was the grand mediator of the political left and the Yippies, between the old and the young. Never offensive, all things to all people, he came to be known for his ability to hold things together, even when they should, perhaps, have come apart. It all began to come visibly apart after the trial. For Rennie, it was a break with his guru, Tom Hayden. Hayden's memoirs of the trial recall this debate: "During and after the trial, we argued over the future of the conspiracy.
Differences emerged around whether we should become a permanent leadership group in the movement. The Yippies wanted a kind of American Apple Corporation: conspiracy books, posters, records, sweat shirts, and so on.
They and Rennie wanted the conspiracy to be a kind of high command of the revolution. This time he chose a Vietnamese: Madame Binh, the spokeswoman for the N.
Willa Cather: A Literary Life | Willa Cather Archive
She was, conveniently, a woman, which helped undercut criticism of his leadership from the women's movement. He made no fewer than 15 personal visits to Madame Binh and, in what must be the ultimate derogation of women's political leadership, came to see her not as a political revolutionary but as his mother. It was Rennie's particular arrogance to parlay his Vietnamese contacts into a unique pipeline, so that when he spoke, it was of "their" mind, not his.
Attack him or his latest scam and you attack the Vietnamese. I recall coming back to New York after almost a month in North Vietnam to be met by Rennie at the airport, breathless to get in on the act. Ignoring the fact that only days before I had been in Hanoi, he pressed me to endorse his latest scheme - because the Vietnamese wanted it, he said - and was unaffected when I said I had spoken to Pham Van Dong and he'd pointedly told me that it was not their business to direct the activity of American radicals.
The national antiwar movement reached its apex after the Chicago trial in the spring of with the huge Cambodian-invasion demonstrations and a final massive mobilization that fall, but even then the time had passed for that style. People seemed generally burned out by the big march, the national action with its media build-up around key personalities, and were searching for more meaningful, less elitist forms of organizing.
The next few years witnessed the fitful and increasingly desperate attempt by Rennie to lead a mythical youth army into a nationally spotlighted Armageddon. There was enough momentum left for the May Day action in Washington, where 13, people were arrested. But after that, any attempt to rally the troops failed. Even May Day saw Rennie increasingly isolated from his older friends and peers and working for support with a weird mixture of teenagers, police agents and Yippies.
Rennie was searching for funds for May Day, so the story goes, and heard about a rich freak - Canada - who had married an heiress to the Lilly fortune and lived on a communal farm in Indiana.
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He was heavily into the hippie scene and definitely nonpolitical, but Rennie went to the farm and, according to one confidant, "sold Larry on the excitement of May Day as a military Happening. He was one of the geniuses behind the plan to "invade" Washington via the Potomac with a fleet of canoes.
As he passed his 30th birthday that same May, Rennie began to adopt all the trappings of the youth culture. The boy-next-door image was simply dropped and the acid freak, stringing necklaces of corks and beads, emerged. Rennie took his first acid at the time of the Chicago trial, having put it down for a number of years. According to many who worked with him on May Day, he was high most of the time, a practice that continued up to the time of his religious conversion almost two years later.
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Predictably, he turned to Yoko Ono for his next guru figure. Elaborate plans were made to launch a nationwide touring company.
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Jerry Rubin would play in the band, there would be a light show and Rennie would speak. But Yoko tired of his plans and abruptly dropped him. By his account, the central problem in Rennie's life then was the intrusion of the women's movement into his relationship with Sue Gregory, the woman he "had been searching for all my life and finally found. What followed was one of those sad, bizarre jokes of the movement's worst times. There would be fitful attempts at role reversal; Rennie would stay home and watch Susan's seven-year-old son while Susan went out and gave speeches.
To be accurate, it should have been called reverse elitism, Susan's claim to expertise being that she lived with Rennie. And, indeed, her speeches would center on such phrases as "When Rennie last spoke to the Vietnamese. All such tensions, it appears, have now left Rennie and Susan's life.
Susan converted soon after Rennie.