AND RAVIN' WITH MIKE
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Oh, you cats and kitties, you brethren and sistern, young and old, rich and poor, I'm standing here before you to bring you the gossippy syllables of his hallowed badness, Eddie Owens Martin, Georgia's own bigmouth bogeyman, redneck hippy, suicidal self-proclaimed saint, fantastic foreman of the nuttiest, sluttiest, saintliest bit of architecture in or maybe out of the lines of that joyful state of mind, Georgia on or off our minds.
Pardon me, but I have set myself a real task this time. How can I possibly communicate to you in mere English the sin and song, the din and dong, the yin and yang of most likely the brightest, craziest, just possibly most sane Georgian of all time--St. EOM, as he called himself? I may have to stretch out my language just a little, just the way his sinful saintliness himself stretched and starched his hair and beard to reach up to the life-giving sun.
St. EOM in Pasaquan
St. EOM began his seventy-seven year visit to this beautiful, sometime bedraggled planet on the Fourth of July 1908 in an area of central Georgia that has served as the entrance to this world for Flannery O'Connor, Jimmy Carter, Koinonia Farms (a Baptist preacher's effort to create a color-blind first century Christian commune in a very segregated place and time, the forerunner of Habitat for Humanity). Growing up pretty much on the line that divides red clay Georgia from white sand Georgia, he suffered poverty, violence, and sexual abuse. The one element missing from the standard southern eccentric's background is religion, the kind of sweaty, gutsy religion that most likely most of my readers now know only from the film The Apostle.
But, he would change that, creating his own one-man religion in which he was the number one and one and only saint and sinner. While still young, he ran away to New York City, and so began the pattern of his life, living in the cotton fields of home until the boring life of hard work there was unbearable, then moving to various little apartments and sometimes street corners in New York City, until, "I was sick of New York anyway, to tell you the truth. It gets old after a while." He continued, "Glad I had a place to get out to. I wouldn't be alive now if I hadn't."
And what a place it was, a few acres with a tin-roofed house and a few nondescript outbuildings. But, that was just the beginning. Over the years, responding to interior instructions from unseen beings, Eddie Owens Martin turned himself into St. EOM and his little cracker cottage into a place just about literally out of this world. "I built this place to have something to identify with,'cause there's nothin' I see in this society that I identify with or desire to emulate," he explained. "Here I can be in my own world, with my temples and designs and the spirit of God."
Drawing inspiration from architecture and mythology from around the world, he created near Buena Vista, Georgia--of all places--a wild, technicolor paradise in which religious symbols and proud nudes melt together into a gaudy sideshow of the soul, a joyful dance of life and love, which is regularly rumbled by planes from nearby Fort Benning. (I leave the irony and allegory to braver beings.) In 1986, his health failing, facing and fearing the prospect of leaving the hip-mythological paradise he had created, St. EOM decided to take his leave of his own magic garden on his own terms... and with his own pistol.
Me in Pasaquan
I never met him, but in December 1989, I visited Pasaquan the first time it was officially opened to the public after his death. It was the kind of cold, clear day that in many places might be autumn, but which in my neck of the south Georgia woods is full-blown winter. I went with a couple of friends, one of whom did the driving. For some reason, I always regret that I was not driving, that I was not making a pilgrimage.
We went through the little town of Buena Vista ("good view" in Spanish), which looks like so many other little old has-been or might-have-been towns scattered across Georgia, not like the vital and vibrant little home town of your humble correspondent and our lively Peanut.org. I remember that the driver asked someone for directions, but we finally followed some crudely lettered signs that had been put up for the day.
In the three years since St. EOM had committed suicide, the place had obviously deteriorated, but it had suffered no vandalism. Rumors were that he had trained rattlesnakes to guard Pasaquan, and some of the walls were undulating, with large serpents painted along the tops of them--somewhat like the serpents on the great pyramid of Chichén Itzá.
When we got there, I was struck by the incongruity of the thing. I still have a vivid impression of the smell--the dry clean autumnal air tinged with the burning of trash out back. So much of what I saw was familiar: the land, the plants (the inevitable pecan trees and pines), the little farm house and outbuildings, the dog pen. These things I knew. But superimposed was another dimension, another reality, which I doubt if anyone but St. EOM himself knew: wild, vaguely mythic figures, all in garish enamel paint. Well, the cool white statues of ancient Greece were originally painted, so who knows?
As I've mentioned, Pasaquan is on the line between red clay Georgia and white sand Georgia. It is on other lines as well, on a San Andreas Fault between here and there, between the rather boring young couple I went with and the mad prophet who had created the place.
Even by the time I got to Oxford, Mississippi in 1992, it was still permeated with a Faulknerian effluvium. Faulkner's little postage stamp was like a fantastic Victorian recipe I once read, in which a whole succession of fowls were stewed and simmered in one pot, so that a single small serving contained an essence of many birds. Faulkner kept on boiling and stewing his town until it became more southern than any place could be.
St. EOM's achievement was just the opposite. I can imagine Pasaquan rising up from the desolate plains of Texas or stuck down a mountain road in Colorado. He boiled down the essence of a place beyond place, boiled down many religions, traditions, spirits, into a hearty broth that owes its high flavors as much to EOM's fortune-telling and alleged drug-dealing as to his meditations and soul-surgery.
After his journey to the Maya ruins of the Yucatán peninsula, St, EOM said, "But I had already seen them ruins from the travelogues and travel adventure films, and it was really more interesting to see 'em on the screen than it was to be there."
To me, his remark about seeing the ruins on film is telling: one can experience the essence of the place without the distractions of--from my memories of the Maya ruins--bugs, big lizards, smelly busses, loud tourists, to see the ruins as the ruins themselves would like to be seen.
It's nice, but is Pasaquan art? St. EOM had odd ideas about hair and beard, that they are repositories of power, but that to take advantage of this power, they must be pulled upward, so that the energy flows upward. Once he started growing and tying up his hair as can be seen in some of his sculptures and paintings, he could no longer work as a prostitute. His many tattoos kept him from being a dancer. So, he created his body in the image of his choice, even if it involved making sacrifices. Perhaps Pasaquan is an extension of his body, or, perhaps, his tattooed body is an extension of Pasaquan.
His project was not so much about creating art, whatever that is, as about creating a place, a space, a refuge for himself. Once, again, to quote the one and only Pasaquoyan, "Here I can be in my own world, with my temples and designs and the spirit of God." There he performed ritual dances in his sacred sand pit, and it there were others to dance with him, good, and it he was alone, then, perhaps, so much the better.
Pasaquan down to earth
Since that first day that I went there, the first day there had been any public opening of the place, very well meaning souls in the area have paid the back taxes and raised funds to restore and maintain the property, which is now open on a regular schedule, complete with an admission charge and a gift shop where you can buy tee-shirts. (2004 update: Check the website for current information. This paragraph is outdated.)
Would the more Pasaquoyan response have been to film the place extensively, post the photos out here in cyberspace, and then blow up the hollow shell of Pasaquan which Eddie Owens Martin left behind, uniting the badboy saint and his place beyond space? I ask the question, but I cannot know how these not so ancient but already timeless ruins want to it to be answered.
All the quotes in this article are from Eddie Owens Martin himself, as recounted in Tom Patterson's book of photos and memories, St. EOM in the Land of Pasaquan. For more information on St. EOM and Pasaquan, consult that wonderful book, which you can order from the Pasaquan Preservation Society, c\o Fred C. Fussell, 2217 13th Street, Columbus, GA 31906. You can begin your journey to and through Pasaquan on the Internet. Keep your feet dry, your heart full of noble thoughts, and like Eddie Owens Martin, your soul open to the possibility of making yourself a saint.
If you would like to see the picture from Pasaquan (above) without movement, here it is.
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