It's 1971, the world is looking pretty goddamn messy and new religions are on the rise. You’re young, American, curious and feeling disenfranchised, so the thought of finding your place in a new, enlightened community is pretty attractive.
This is where the Source Family came in, and where not long after their inception, they began to thrive. A true spiritual collective - a cult, if you will - of what ended up being about 140 members, they were a new age dream. Most of them were under 30 and good looking, they ate raw food and home-schooled their home-born children; they dressed in floaty robes and made “right on” sounds with their house band. At their head was Father Yod - a hairy individual who cruised around Los Angeles in a sweet Rolls Royce, was keen on “nice things” for the “life trip” and believed that money was “magical green energy that will produce anything for you instantly.” It was a winning formula for kids looking for an escape route, and they flocked to hear his every word.
The controversial restaurateur-turned-spiritual leader with thirteen wives and his own psychedelic rock band led his family through a life of enlightenment and hedonism that included 4 a.m. meditation sessions invigorated by “Sacred Herb”, sex magic and psychedelic jam sessions resulting in some very collectible records. His family of followers lived in a mansion and helped operate a popular restaurant on the Sunset Strip, serving vegetarian cuisine to musicians and movie stars, pioneering a national trend. For a while there he and his crew were on a winning streak, and reaped the benefits.
Before he was Father Yod however, he was Jim Baker, a judo master and decorated Marine. In the early 1950s, he reportedly abandoned his first family to ride to Hollywood on a motorcycle and audition for the role of Tarzan. He didn’t get the part, but he did eventually kill a man (in self-defense) with judo, then kill a man (again in self-defense) with judo and a gun; marry and eventually leave a second wife, cure a Samoan chief’s daughter through dietary remedies and rob a number of banks to fund his health food restaurants. Eventually he married a 20-year-old hippy and began holding meditation classes for a growing group of devotees, eventually completing the transformation into Father Yod. Pretty impressive CV, yes? And the reason why he.’s the compelling main subject of tonight’s documentary on Rialto Channel,THE SOURCE FAMILY.
Directed by Maria Demopoulos and Jodi Wille, the film acts as both an oral history of Baker’s teachings and The Source Family itself, and makes for an interesting watch. From the early scenes we understand the appeal of Baker’s teachings for sixties era, Californian youth – everyone is healthy, young and good looking, and by god, they seem to be having fun. Luckily, someone in the Source family documented it so we could share the sun-drenched vision, if only for a little while.
Unlike similar stories, there are not too many disturbing secrets unearthed. There are hints of under-aged girls being initiated into the ways of womanhood but no one is claiming force, and at times babies, as well as adults, got dangerously sick due to Yod’s disbelief in hospital treatment. Things really start to go wrong when Baker moves the group to Hawaii and starts facing some significant grief from the locals, but I won’t spoil things for you by going into further detail.
People have called Baker “Manson without the madness”, and it’s fair to say that yes, a little brainwashing went on. Despite that, he was really just a run-of-the-mill megalomaniac who enjoyed peace and (free) love, and lived life to the fullest. For the full story, tune in tonight at 8:30pm – you won’t be disappointed.
THE SOURCE FAMILY premieres Thursday 18th August at 8.30pm on Rialto Channel.