From March 24th through March 27th, The Runaways Lab Theatre will be presenting The Doing Drugs And Dying In Space Ritual: a psychedelic compilation of fourteen short plays of depraved psychedelia. In honor of this momentous occasion, The Runaways is proud to present a true-life account of The D’dyas Space Cult, its history recorded here for the first time.
I asked Laura how a person might contact Tom. Laura said that at the party he made a point of giving his email out to everyone, and that he’d been talking about how he’d never had one until recently and was pretty excited about it. Apparently, Tom had been living off the grid since the early nineties.
I shot him of an email asking more about the cult, and was shocked when I received his response within the hour. We made plans to meet at his house three days later.
After about an hour of driving to Santa Cruz, I pulled off the freeway onto a dirt path. Following his emailed instructions, I drove another twenty minutes into a remote clearing of in Santa Cruz forests.
Tom lives in a small, sturdy house that resembles a Lincoln log cabin. It’s surrounded by a crummy fence: a bunch of posts in the ground linked together by string. (I still wonder what that fence was intended to keep out.) There were a couple chickens wandering around the front, and I could see he had a pretty active garden peeking around the back of the cabin.
There was were no phone lines, wires, or any of the hallmarks of connected society. Asked him how he answered my emails so quickly. Apparently from time to time he drives his truck into town for the local library’s internet connection. Luckily for me, my email got to him right as he logged on. Otherwise, he told me he keeps the house lit and warm with a small generator he has rigged up on the side of the cabin.
I sat on Tom’s couch (really more of a cushioned bench) and drank mint tea, trying to keep things comfortable, making easy introductory small talk. Tom was distracted, clearly nervous, his eyes never managing to hold on anything for more than a few seconds. Periodically he would stand up and look out the window, imitating a casual glance, but clearly to reassure himself we were not being watched.
At one moment early on, Tom picked up a copy of the Best of The Doors double CD from his cluttered coffee table and put it into a 90’s era boombox plugged into the wall. As the baseline for “Break on Through” kicked in in, he asked me what I thought of the band. I swallowed my hatred of The Doors and said “Jim Morrison is a genius.” Tom nodded with approval. “I’ve always been attracted to the free ones, I guess.” He said. Then he asked me if I wanted to see a picture of Frank Golbotti.
He walked to the back of the cabin and brought an old photo album. He opened it to the first page, revealing a photograph of a formally dressed couple in their 50s or 60s sitting on a float with an American and a Swiss flag painted on the side. I tried to take a picture, to that Tom slammed he book shut and screamed: “What the hell are you doing?” He told me that if this man was identified as Frank Golbotti, we’d both be dead. That statement struck me as overdramatic, but I wanted a good interview. I complied.
I asked him if I could at least sketch Golbotti’s face for reference. Tom agreed to the compromise. I only had a few minutes to sketch – as rough as it is, I’ve included it here:
Frank Golbotti, founding leader of the D’Dyas Space Cult, is pictured here with his wife Arlene Golbotti. He wears a suit, a dark hat, and thick rimmed glasses. This photograph was taken at a Swiss Pride Parade in 1962, two years before the first official convergence of D’Dyas.
I moved to turn Tom’s hostilities and learn what he knew about Golbotti before he was high speaker of the cult.
There’s not a lot we know about Golbotti before the beginning of D’Dyas, and frankly, it’s little dry, so I’m going to try to address it and move to the cult happenings a succinctly as I can:
Frank was born around 1915 in the San Joaquin region of California to a family of Swiss immigrants. He was born with a case congenital cataracts, and for the rest of his life he wore large, thick lensed glasses that magnified the size of his eyes. It can be assumed that his family was of some means, because he was well educated during a period of great economic turmoil. Around 1933, he married Arlene Matheson. Around 1938, he obtained an MFA in physics, possibly from the University of California. In 1939 Arlene gave birth to their daughter, Samantha Golbotti. He attempted to join the army to fight in World War II, but was denied for his vision impairments. He claims to have spent the time either designing bombs or researching airplane engines – accounts differ. In 1955, the Golbotti family moved to Santa Cruz County
By all accounts he was known in the first fifty years of his life as a quiet, thoughtful man of a conservative temperament and a doting affection for his wife and daughter.
Golbotti’s quiet life changed drastically when he met self described “burnout loner” Kramer St. John in 1962.
As sparse as information as I can find about Golbotti, he’s practically Abraham Lincoln compared to Kramer St. John – no photographs, no written documents. If it weren’t for the accounts of four different ex-D’Dyas cult members, I have guessed St John was figment of Golbotti’s imagination. I asked Tom if he had any photographs of Kramer. Tom didn’t, so I asked him to sketch a picture of him from memory. This is what he drew*:
Kramer St. John lived a fast and heavy life from the get-go. He was born around 1940 in Milwaukee to a single mother. At the age of 14, he ran away from home, hitchhiking all the way to Laguna Beach, California. From there, he spent the next 10 years making his way up the California coast to Santa Cruz. He was a voracious surfer, and treated the sport as a communion with god.
“In the crest of the wave, at the moment when the momentum of the wave overtakes the board and two possibilities suddenly come into existence: one is the hanging on, one is falling off. And some of these waves, some of these beaches, to fall would be death, flat out. Obviously, I hang through and stay on, but I don’t surf for the ride – I surf for that middle moment. That is the moment I commune with my god, that is the moment I commune with death.“
– Kramer St John**
The other ex members of the D’Dyas cult described him similarly: that he was effusively charismatic with an off kilter and nervy energy. He was also known for making massive claims about his exploits and adventures. He claimed he once murdered a drifter for can of pork and beans. He was also fond of telling people about how he’d been a human Guinea pig with Project MKUltra, the CIA’s illegal LSD experiments. From a smaller personality, these would be totally implausible, but from Kramer, nothing was impossible.
Kramer met Golbotti answering a classified ad for a lab assistant. Golbotti’s longtime assistant had found a job opportunity in San Fransisco. The two met at an Italian coffee shop, where their conversation turned from introductory formalities very quickly. Kramer told Golbotti that he considered interviews to be bunk and that they are inessential for giving the information needed to know a man.
“I was looking at him and I said to him, ‘the purpose of this interview is to find out if I’m smart enough, right? Smart is the capacity to learn and I got that in spades, so there’s nothing for you to decide here.’”
– Kramer St. John**
Kramer announced that he was unsure of Golbotti’s character and that this interview was more for Golbotti to convince Kramer that of his own character. Kramer slammed his elbow on the table, challenging Golbotti to arm wrestle saying: “The only way you can tell the nature of a man is combat, and I’m sure as hell that I can beat your ass.”
Golbotti accepted Kramer’s challenge and won him with little effort. Kramer was stunned: here Kramer was, a young man soundly trounced by this fifty-something stranger. Golbotti must have been equally impressed, because from then on Kramer served full time as Golbotti’s lab assistant.
The two became close very quickly. They would have long philosophical discussions, lasting from their arrival at the lab to the end of the work day. They had a rooted similar outlook on life, but were opened by the other’s opposite tendencies: Golbotti’s pragmatism and Kramer’s brutality. Kramer challenged Golbotti to be more than introspective, to engage physically with the world around him. Likewise, Golbotti encouraged Kramer to turn his intensity inward, to become more thoughtful and his actions calculated.
In spring of 1964, after the lab had shut down and they were the only ones present, Kramer offered Golbotti a tab of acid. Accepting the challenge, Golbotti took it. Golbotti described the trip as a harrowing, surreal experience:
“I saw a space shuttle. It was long and made entirely out of human flesh. I saw it floating in silence for a moment, then it exploded. At first, the flames (which did not burn triumphantly, but rather coagulated with ferocity) thrust out in silence. Then a single, punctuated cluck, the same sound you might make if you clucked your tongue. It was a horrible experience. And yet I was sure I was witnessing total power.”
– Frank Golbotti
Golbotti returned home from the lab at 4 am and recorded everything he’d seen in his journal. He referred to the flesh spacecraft as “The Prophet,” and the clucking sound first as “the Dedias,” then later as “D’Dyas.” Golbotti defined “Dedias” that night as “the echo of power.” He would come to consider every one of his psychedelic trips as the effect of this “echo of power.” This unknowable power would become a major focus for the space cult.
The trip was such an affecting experience that Frank went on to take psychedelics with a great frequency. From that week until the end of his life, Frank would trip three to five times a week, always under the supervision of Kramer, who would later become the first speaker of D’Dyas.
Kramer soon started tripping alongside Golbotti, and often would act as a confrontational force, rather than a reassuring presence. On many accounts he would grab Golbotti by the lapels and scream into his face “Justify your existence.” On a few occasions, fights broke out between the two. Arlene was no doubt horrified when Golbotti returned home those nights, dried blood around his nose and his suits torn and scuffed.
After one such trip turned to violence, both Golbotti and Kramer were sitting on opposite sides of the lab, tending to their wounds, still tripping. Golbotti stood, wrote something down in his notebook and turned to Kramer.
“I see it now,” Golbotti said, “The nature of life is simple. There is everything, and there is nothing. There is nothing and there is more.”
This would become the rallying cry of the D’Dyas space cult: “Nihil Et Amplius: There is nothing and there is more.”
After that day, Golbotti and Frank would invite people from their circles of friends to join them in these psychedelic excursions. This collection of intellectuals and beach bums would become the first acolytes and speakers of the D’Dyas space cult.
*When I asked Tom why he drew him in a speedo he told me most of his memories of Kramer were of him walking around the compound in his underwear.
** Quotes obtained from minutes of D’Dyas meetings 1964 – 1965