Joe’s Party


J Campbell-3It is the most watched series in the history of Public Television! Bill Moyers interview with Joseph Campbell called – The Power of Myth: Campbell’s fascinating analysis of ancient cultures and mythology, and their relevance to modern day.

But this world renowned mythologist – to whom psychologists turn for understanding, and whom George Lucas used as a fundamental source for his Star Wars motion pictures, is not nearly as well known as two of his friends from California’s Monterey Bay area – and a now famous party.

By the early 1930’s, the young scholar (and athlete) with an interest in marine biology had already formed some fundamental ideas about the nature of things. Not yet 30 years old, Campbell had already traveled widely and was a recognized scholar as well as college and AAU track star. He set the Columbia University school record in the half mile, earned Bachelor and Masters degrees; and dropped out of the PHD program about the same time his well off family lost much of their money in the 1929 stock market crash.

During the ensuing depression, the young scholar in search of himself, made his way across America and settled for awhile in Carmel. A friend had introduced him to a young writer and his wife. They found him a cheaper place, known as “The Canary Cottage,” in Pacific Grove. Next door lived another friend; a marine biologist who ran a laboratory down on Ocean View Blvd in Monterey. The writer and his wife were John and Carol Steinbeck. The biologist was Edward Flanders Robb Ricketts. The world had not yet heard of any of them.

John’s first commercially successful novel (Tortilla Flat) was still a few years away. And, it would be well over a decade before the world would come to know Ed as “Doc” Ricketts; and his little Lab, in the midst an industrial sardine fishing slum, would become a world famous tourist attraction.

Right now, John Steinbeck was working on a book called To a God Unknown (See Harvest – The Valley of Our Lady) Campbell, who fancied himself a fiction writer too, offered some help.

Both were fascinated with ideas, nature, and what they saw as a great connection between all things. Both had become caught up in the legends of King Arthur at an early age. Both saw the relevance of myth and philosophy to the fundamental human psyche and the modern world.

One day, according to Joseph Campbell, he and John were in the Carmel library. Campbell was reading one of his favorite philosophers – Oswald Spengler.

“Suddenly,” said Campbell, “something jumped off the page and hit me like a ton of bricks!” The words were: “Young man! If you want to be in the wind of things to come – put down the poet’s pen and the paint brush. Pick up the monkey wrench and the law book.” In other words, get involved. Go to work!

And how did the nearly 30 year old “professional scholar/athelete” take these words? He had, in fact, never “worked” a real day of work in his life. He had, in effect, led a “sheltered” existence. And now, here was this philosopher whom he so highly admired – in effect telling him he was out of touch with the world.

It was a dismayed and disillusioned young Joseph Campbell who went to Ed Ricketts and announced that he had “missed life.” “All my life,” said Campbell, “I’ve been in training for athletics or scholastics. Always training. And now,” said the sad, young scholar, “I’ve missed out on life!”

The mentor listened intently and said: “Well Joe, if you want to start experiencing life, the first thing you’ve got to do is – Get Drunk!” Campbell said, “This was real Ed talking!” And then Joseph Campbell described in detail the “exquisite” party that followed. The home brewed liquor, visit by the police, midnight sojourn to the department store sales promotion in Pacific Grove… All elements surrounding Joe’s Party – that was to become world famous.

In the book, “Mac and the Boys” arranged the party for “Doc.” In real life, said Joseph Campbell, “That was My Party – to start me out on life!”

You may have read about the party. Millions have. And each year, they come from around the world to see where The Party took place. “Doc’s Lab” is still there; but the street has been renamed – after John Steinbeck’s best seller that became a movie and then spawned a sequel that became a Broadway musical. It all started with Joe’s Party at “Doc’s Lab” on – Cannery Row.

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