Wednesday, November 8, 2023

Books: "To the Temple of Tranquility...And Step On It!" By Ed Begley Jr.


To the Temple of Tranquility...And Step On It!

By Ed Begley Jr.

Hachette Books; hardcover, 256 pages; $29.00

Ed Begley Jr. is one of the most recognizable actors of this time, from his roles in Christopher Guest mockumentaries including "Best In Show" and "A Mighty Wind," as well as "Portlandia." Early in his career, he played Dr. Victor Ehrlich on the television series "St. Elsewhere" from 1982 to 1988, and he earned six consecutive Primetime Emmy Award nominations and a Golden Globe Award nomination.

Since 1970, Begley Jr. has been an environmentalist, well known for his travels in an electric car, reducing trash and recycling, and becoming a vegan. It was the subject of his own reality show, "Living With Ed," which featured his wife Rachelle Carson. He is the author of Living Like Ed: A Guide to the Eco-Friendly Life and Ed Begley, Jr.'s Guide to Sustainable Living: Learning to Conserve Resources and Manage and Eco-Conscious Life. Begley Jr.'s "green" bona fides have also been spoofed on "The Simpsons" multiple times, including the episode where his solar-powered car stalls out on the train tracks, but is saved when the train tracks, but is saved when the train is revealed to be an "Ed Begley Solar-Powered Train."

In his engaging memoir To the Temple of Tranquility...And Step On It!, Begley, Jr. shares hilarious and poignant stories of his improbable life, with a focus on his relationship with his legendary father, who was also an actor; adventures with Hollywood icons, the origins of his environmental activism, addiction and recovery, as well as his lifelong search for wisdom and common ground.

Begley Jr.'s uniquely honest voice comes across in this revealing book, which has as its foundations family, friends, addiction, failure, and redemption, all part of the wisdom he seeks to impart to the reader.

One of the candid stories Begley Jr. recounts is one when he was summoned to Marlon Brando's house to discuss the practical uses of electric eels. In another, he takes Annette Bening to to the Oscars in "an oddball kit-car that had gull wing doors, and was nearly impossible to get in or out of, unless you were a yoga master, which fortunately she was." He also gives insight into encounters with The Beatles, Monty Python, Richard Pryor, Cesar Chavez, Jeff Goldblum, Tom Waits, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Carrie Fisher.

In this excerpt, Begley Jr. writes: “THIS IS IT.

I could stop there and be done with this chapter, or this entire book for that matter, as that is probably the truest thing I have ever said, or heard.

It is also the title of one of Alan Watts's many fine works, and I would urge every reader to stop reading my humble effort right now (you already paid for it, right?) and pick up a copy of any of the many books written by the great Alan Watts.

But before you exit the bookstore and hop on your bike to head home and read it (I can dream, can't I?), I'd ask you really open your mind to what those words might mean.

This is it. 

This moment, right really all we have.

Though planning for the future and learning from the past have value, many of us spend far too much time focused on what has been, and what is to be, and in so doing, we fail to fully engage and commit to this moment, here it comes again...this one...right now.

...where we can make a conscious effort to embrace bliss. That 'the spiritual is not to be separated from the material, nor the wonderful form the ordinary,' as Alan Watts so ably put it.

But in my attempt to put his teachings into practice, I quickly realized that I could experience serenity more easily up at Big Sur, or in a yurt in Topanga. But I wasn't so good at it standing in line at the DMV. Or waiting for the agent's call after testing for a series.

I also then realized that the unthinkable had occurred...I had become my father's son. I ate fast, moved fast, and lived fast. Yes, I wanted serenity, but I wanted it quickly.

To the Temple of Tranquility, and step on it!

And rather than put in the actual time to learn and implement the teachings of Alan Watts, Sai Baba, the Maharishi, or any of the spiritual masters I had become aware of at the time, I found it was much quicker and easier to find enlightenment under the gentle guidance of Messrs. Walker and Beam.

Johnnie Walker and Jim Beam, to be precise.

Why spend all that time (and fuel) to drive up to Tossjara and sit Zazen. A comfortable barstool could get you there so much quicker, and oh, the enlightened souls you'd meet along the Alan Watts!

You'd have as good a chance of spotting him at a local pub as you would an ashram. The man liked his gargle. And so did I.

I wanted serenity in a bottle. And the truth is, it worked. I was such a wreck in my teens that alcohol probably saved me before it nearly killed me.

So this chapter on enlightenment and Alan Watts includes a lengthy quest to find tranquility in a tumbler. A quest that lasted from 1971 to 1979.

The student was ready, but would the master appear?

Appear he did. I soon became an eager disciple of Alan Watts's teachings as interpreted by one Harry Dean Stanton, who, like me, was on a nightly quest for the right combination of serenity and Stoli.

I first met Harry Dean at the Troubador bar in 1972, and we became instant friends. Harry was a fine singer and an able guitarist, so we both were drawn to the Troubador for its target-rich environment of available ladies, as well as the great music a few yards away in the showroom.

For a $4 cover, two-drink minimum, you could sit within a few feet of Elton John, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, the Eagles, and hundreds of other huge stars from the sixties, the seventies, and beyond. And if you knew Bob Marchese or Kenny Saint John at the door, you could get one of those prime seats close to the stage.

But I sat in every part of that club, and there was no such thing as a bad seat. 

And I wasn't always in the audience. I did stand-up comedy for several years in the sixties and seventies. I opened at the Troubador for acts like Don McLean, Dave Mason, Canned Heat, and Neil Sedaka.

I performed for eighteen thousand people at the Nassau Coliseum as the opening act for Loggins and Messina, John Sebastian, and Poco.

I played at Max's Kansas City and the Bottom Line in New York. I played clubs and colleges and concerts all across the country, and was even part of a comedy duo for some time with Michael Richards. We appeared at the Troubador together in 1969, and Doug Weston, the owner of the club, wanted to manage us.

And if the Troubador wasn't enough to lure you to Santa Monica and Doheny, just two doors to the east sat Dan Tana's Italian Restaurant, where the kitchen was open till one a.m., and the bar till two (even later, if they got to know you). It was also a place where you could rub elbows with those same Troubador artists after they finished their set next door.

So, like my dear friend Harry Dean Stanton, I went to Dan Tana's every night from 1971 through 1978, and like Norm on Cheers, we had both earned our seats at the bar there."

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