All you savers of Whole Earth catalogs
Kings of the prairie dogs
Success is survival
We’ll all tough it out
Yes, we’ll all tough it out.
— the prophet michael murphey (no martin)
I keep pondering how to describe the Whole Earth Catalog, but I’m not very smart. So I enlisted Google, and of course Steve Jobs nailed it (which is likely why he created Apple and I did not):
When I was young, there was an amazing publication called The Whole Earth Catalog, which was one of the bibles of my generation … It was sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along. It was idealistic and overflowing with neat tools and great notions.
I wish I could remember exactly when Rick brought the catalog home. We were wayward souls in West Texas, a couple of teenagers trying to figure out where we belonged. And then, thanks to a huge volume of tiny type, we discovered a different world altogether.
It was filled with goods and ideas and philosophies, a blueprint for becoming a hippie or saving the world or at least finding our little place in it. I was smitten.
Trips to the Whole Earth Provision Company in Austin led to the Magic Mushroom and the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers and the girl on the Drag whose guitar strap I still possess. The mountains, Steal This Book, the hope that journalism could make a difference — they were all to be found in this ridiculously large tome if only you looked closely enough.
It’s the 1973 version of the catalog, so I’m guessing he got it around then, as I was entering my senior year of high school and clueless about life. He has had it since, one of those essential elements that survived moving purges and life changes.
These days, he doesn’t know its importance. Dementia is a bitch, indeed. We were destined to be desert rats, living off the land, turning to the catalog for advice on survival skills and philosophy and chickens and international cinema. But that’s gone now.
What’s not gone is that Last Whole Earth Catalog. Rick’s beloved copy arrived in the mail from the peeps in Oregon over the weekend, a reminder of a bond that can never be destroyed by distance or disease. Success is survival. Even if you have to squint a bit to call it success. Or survival.
I have been entranced by the catalog since, marveling at its neat tools and great notions, drifting back to those days when the world stretched out so far ahead of us. Where did it go?
Not to worry: The answer must be in here somewhere. “We can’t put it together,” the catalog says in closing on the back cover. “It is together.”
Thanks for opening my eyes to the world, Rick.
Wherever you are, I’m there for you. Whoever I am.