When Frank lived in Santa Fe in the early 1970s, one if his friends was Godfrey Reggio, who later became a filmmaker, most known for his trilogy of films Koyaanisqatsi (1982), Powaqqatsi (1988), and Naqoyqatsi (2002). After Frank died we had Corey (Nicholl) contact Godfrey about doing an interview about what he remembers of his time with Frank and the scene in Santa Fe at that time. Here is the complete interview:
Corey: Hi, is this Godfrey?
Corey: Hi, this is Corey.
Godfrey: Hey, Corey. Thanks for taking the time.
Corey: Well, thank you. I really appreciate it.
Godfrey: I’ll do my best, Corey.
Corey: OK, I’ll do my best. Yeah, I was a student of Frank’s for almost 20 years, and at a certain point we went over a lot of his history and he talked about his time in Santa Fe and he talked about you. So I guess my first question would just be, how did you first meet Frank?
Godfrey: Oh boy, what an incredible event. I was at … this is in the early ‘70s. I was at the infamous bar called Claude’s, which allowed all different cultural strands of Santa Fe from machismo to hippy to homosexual to lesbian to straight guys in the bar. It was quite a raucous place. The bar was divided into two parts, one part where you could sit by the bar and tables and talk, and the other was a huge room where music, usually by a live band, was played. I walked in – not sure of my state at the time – but I walked into the big room and there I saw this gorgeous woman with Frank Unicorn dancing in gyrations on the floor. Frank, of course, was dancing in his chair, but I have never seen someone so animated with such a liability. Also his face was beaming with … with delight. It just blew my mind. And he was with the woman at that time who was, I don’t know, like his surrogate mother. Let me say that, I hope that’s not wrong. Called Louise Scott.
Corey: Louise, yes.
Godfrey: And I recognized in Frank, an extraordinary person at that point, someone who took a liability and made it an enormous asset in his life. During the course of him being in Santa Fe and me being here, I had countless “discussions” with him. He had an enormous sensitivity and brilliance, which was shown principally through his humor. Of course, Frank – I say “discussion” in quotes – Frank talked to me with his arrow pointer on his brilliant board, and after a few rounds of that, I got to pick it up quite quickly. And I would see in his eye when I connected with what he was struggling to tell me … a great delight. I just loved the dude. I felt he was an extraordinary human being and one that was a light for all of us, actually. His courage in the presence of such a, let’s say difficulty, was beyond admirable.
Corey: He talked about the way that everyone would get together and talk. He sort of – we had at a certain point went over and spent some time with Father George and Louise in San Francisco and just spent an evening talking with them. And afterward he said, “That’s the way we all talked back then.”
Godfrey: Right. It was like a free, open discussion of not just chatter or how’s the weather or, you know, can we get any more drugs? It was meaty and full of brilliance. It was a delight to be with him. A true delight.
Corey: Do you remember George and Helen and Phoenix?
Godfrey: Oh, yeah, I do. Yes, I do. I remember his beautiful wives that were certainly in love and devoted to Frank and all of his enormous talent.
Corey: Right, so he was there first in about 1970 and ‘71, and then he left for a little bit and then he was back again. And I was actually gonna ask you, were you still in contact with him when he came back?
Godfrey: Yes. When he came back.
Godfrey: Now I’m not sure where he went, but I know he picked up a degree at the University of New Mexico. Or I thought he did.
Godfrey: And I also know that he sold papers on the Plaza.
Godfrey: And he was a very smart boy. He knew that people seeing him, his condition, would pay dearly for the paper. And they did. So he really had the showman, he had a showmanship. He was not, you know, running away from his infliction. He was embracing it and using it for not only himself, but all those people that were fortunate to be in his light.
Corey: Did you actually see him out there selling papers?
Godfrey: Indeed. At that time the paper cost a quarter. I don’t think anybody paid less than a one dollar bill for it. He got a great, great joy out of that. And he used that. He was a supporter of his community.
Corey: How do you mean supporter?
Godfrey: Well, he worked, he had to work and get money. And, you know, money was used in a very, let’s say, minimal way to support the basic needs of life, but mainly to give joy to the, as it were, the leisure that he lived his life by.
Corey: He said … he talked about the cop patrol, and he said he went – did you remember him going on a cop patrol with you?
Godfrey: I remember him being very interested. Louise Scott and Frank realized that the coming of the hippies in the late ‘60s, early ‘70s into New Mexico was a bit like oil and water. They became the object of … they became the lowest, as it were, on the totem pole. And it was all during that time he lived in a place called the Jose Street compound, which was a very funky part of town on the north end, which had a little plaza in the middle of it. And I remember Louise and Frank put on a fiesta there to invite all the local Chicanos, Hispanics to that event. They had a greased pig event. I remember Frank was like the ringleader of the entire thing with Louise. During that time, I was working as a street organizer with barrio groups. We had a thing, we had a group called La Gente. And we were at that time, police were, you know, running roughshod over the poor and – because they had no access to legal care or legal advice, etc. After trying to talk to the police and getting nowhere, we decided to follow them around. Having access to the ten code through nefarious means, we were able on police radios, two-way radios, which were sold at … where was it … what’s the … I can’t remember, one of the electronics stores in town, were able to hear all their conversations and drive with people following the police and would actually get to the location before the police did, to be there to make sure that nobody was, nobody’s rights were trampled. Frank was a great admirer of that and was just blown away by the audacity of that act.
Corey: Of doing the patrolling.
Godfrey: Right. And we always patrolled not just with gang members. These were all gang members who were taking their energy from fighting each other to helping their community. We always rode with either a lawyer or a news person in the car so that the police couldn’t plant us with drugs or guns or anything like that and then accuse us.
Corey: Wow. What is a greased pig event?
Godfrey: Well, if you go to a fiesta sometimes they’ll grease up a pig, meaning put lard all over the pig, let the pig go and you have to run and try to catch the pig. Of course you have to dive for the pig. But what you get is grease on your hand, body, face, clothes, and the pig squeals away. It was a, you know, a tradition that was adopted by Louise and Frank for this occasion with the Hispanic community.
Corey: He also talked about the Motherfuckers.
Godfrey: Who are they? That I’m not sure.
Corey: The motherfuckers … they were like … He said – at some point – he related you to them in some way and at some point that they had, you know … Do you remember Father George’s center?
Godfrey: Yes, I do.
Corey: And then at some point, there was some kind of, not exactly enmity, but I guess it was sort of like the way you were talking about the hippies coming in and being …
Godfrey: There was an enmity between some of the Hispanic community and the hippie community. The hippie community rolled into northern New Mexico. It became like the rural epicenter of hippiedom in the United States. By putting in communes and arriving as if they had just come off an operatic stage in Paris, dressed in all kinds of used clothes and made up clothes. However, some of that brilliance that they brought with them lacked the sensitivity to the local culture. And there was a divide between the cultures initially. And Frank and Louise with Father George and some others, talking to me and working with me, helped bridge that gap by putting on fiestas, cooking food, not just coming out of expensive homes to do charity, but actually living in the presence of the barrio.
Godfrey: There was a, you know, they were socially conscious people, not just there for their own enjoyment.
Godfrey: I think that bears out … I remember … can’t remember when, but I remember being in New York for something to do with the film. I was there probably trying to raise money. And I got this call in the middle of the night from one of his wives saying that Frank and some others had taken over the federal building in San Francisco. And would I please make every effort to come out immediately? Frank wanted to talk to me. So because I loved Frank and knew that he wouldn’t make a ridiculous request, I got on a plane the very next day. Went out to San Francisco. I arrived. There was a huge crowd of people in front of the federal building, police, etc. Somehow I was cleared right through the lines and got up to Frank, who went ballistics when he saw me. You remember, Frank, he’d almost levitate out of the chair. And we sat and, you know, did conversation and a lot of analysis on what was going on. And I tried to give him my best point of view about what they might do. I think Frank has a lot to do with this, he called, his effort, a movement for the Crips.
Godfrey: And they wanted to be recognized in terms of their disability and how the law could help support the infirmities they had. Like proper access on street corners so they don’t have to go over curbs, all those kind of things, etc.
Godfrey: And I think largely because of his efforts and those that surrounded him, a lot of laws were passed not only in California, but all over the country.
Corey: Yeah. Yeah, I was going to ask you if you had – how much contact you had had after that time in Santa Fe with Frank.
Godfrey: Not a lot. I lived in a kind of a closet world of making films at that point working with street gangs, an activist. And I’d go occasionally to San Francisco, especially after he moved there, and would see them occasionally, but not that often. I wanted very much to catch the crip revue [The Outrageous Beauty Revue] in North Beach, but somehow that schedule eluded me. But here is a guy that, you know … he knew, he had a power of a limit which gave him an enormous capacity to use that, not only in his personal living and I guess a commune in Berkeley and his deep mind, but also, you know, for the good of other people.
Corey: How do you mean that – “the power of the limit”?
Godfrey: Well, he had a severe limit. His limits were severe, having been injured at birth. And that limit became his power. Rather than feeling sorry for himself or ending up as a helpless person somewhere, he became an active and lightening rod presence in his community. He took that limit and made it his power. A lesson for us all.
Corey: Right. He had said back when we were doing this that the people he was telling me about, like you and Louise and George and others, are all connected still. And were doing the same things they were doing then, and the same kinds of things that Frank was still doing. Do you feel that same connection with that time and that kind of continuity?
Godfrey: Well, you know, if I forget it, it remembers me. It watermarked me. It was the most dynamic period of my … I’m now just about 75. And that was in when I was in my 20s, early 30s. And everything afterwards has been like a faint glimmer compared to the intensity, the camaraderie and the intellectual provocation of the moment. So as I said, if I forget it, it remembers me. It’s in me.
Corey: Yeah. He mentioned that you had started a free clinic also back then? Was he involved at all in that?
Godfrey: Not in a direct way. We had La Clinica de la Gente. There were … the city at that time was about 40,000 people, maybe a little less, and fully 40 percent of the population was in very poor condition and had no access to primary medical care. The medical community did nothing about it. Through the Office of Economic Opportunity, we got the city declared as a medically indigent area, which caused the medical community to go ballistic because it reflected on their lack of care, and we were able to get funding to the National Health Service Corps to set up a community clinic run by the community who employed the doctors from the National Health Service Corps. That clinic lasted for probably close to 15 years in two locations for an average of maybe 30,000 people a year, which is incredible. And went under for all kinds of reasons, probably as much to do with the complete exhaustion of those who spent a large part of their life doing nothing but that.
Corey: Were you involved with it?
Godfrey: It became a model. And now there are medical clinics all over New Mexico. That clinic in Santa Fe and the one up in Rio Arriba County and Tierra Amarilla were the first two in the state. Of course, they were set up by activists and had to fight for the objectives they declared. Now, it’s part of the institutional structure of the state.
Corey: Wow. Were you involved in those through that time?
Godfrey: Well, I helped with the gang members to set up the first clinic here, my La Clinica de la Gente. I was very involved. I was an ex-Brother, Christian Brother. And I must say my time at this period was infamous rather than famous.
Corey: How do you mean that?
Godfrey: Well, we were following police around. We were having huge demonstrations. We were organizing poor people, which is anathema to anyone in authority. And we were having impact. We were against the urban renewal program, which we call the urban removal program, and played quite an active political role in the community, even set up a political party called the – what was it called …? The Citizens Coalition for Responsible Government. And fielded a group of candidates. And while we didn’t win the election, we made certainly the difference between the two principal candidates who were, let’s say, of the established order. And some of the candidates that we fielded went on to become prominent, very, let’s say, liberal politicians that are still active today. Like Senator Jerry Ortiz y Pino.
Corey: Wow. Was Frank involved in that?
Godfrey: Not that I’m aware of. No, he would have been gone by that time. I’m not sure when he moved to the Bay Area.
Corey: Right. That was around 1974-75.
Godfrey: Yeah. Well this would have been right after that. Around ‘76.
Corey: Did you know that he ran for president?
Godfrey: No, I didn’t know that. (laughs) Doesn’t surprise me though.
Godfrey: I didn’t know that.
Corey: Yeah. We got him as a certified write-in candidate in 25 states.
Godfrey: Wow …
Corey: And he got votes all over the country.
Godfrey: Well he’s a very bright guy. I mean, one has to go beyond appearance into the clarity of a bright mind, which he certainly had. He was a genius kind of guy.
Corey: Can you talk about how you got Frank on the rent board in Santa Fe and about the rent strike?
Godfrey: Ah, well, I don’t want to make that up, so I can’t remember. I just can’t remember. We had all kinds of activity going on. When urban renewal came in, they moved hundreds of people out of their properties to nowhere, and of course no one cared who had any power, to make room for corporations like big hotels and legal offices. And all these people had to go out wherever. So there was an enormous amount of organizing around that.
Corey: Yeah, he said that it was resolved in some way by your and his involvement in it.
Godfrey: Well, it could have been. I just can’t remember. My group, La Gente, were regular and painful members for the city council at their monthly meetings. We were not just there screaming and having demonstrations. We came with enormous amount of research and diligence. And of course, we were hard to accept because we were considered militant at that time. I guess if it were this time, we would be called terrorists. A politically convenient term created by authority to give itself legitimacy. But we went in extremely well researched and prepared for anything we did. So, for example, one of the larger barrios in the west side, the city council wanted to change the housing ordinance from home use to multiple use, which means that people could set up businesses there. Well, of course, that took the property rights up through the roof. A lot of people were hoodwinked by real estate people into accepting very bad deals for their property, not realizing that if they missed one payment after they moved to another location, they’d lose all the benefit they got from their properties. So that was all part of the activity at that time, and Frank was involved.
Corey: Do you still live in Santa Fe primarily?
Godfrey: I do. I’ve lived here now for 55 years. I travel a lot. And when I have a film, I usually go to New York or somewhere in Europe to make the film.
Corey: How has it changed since that time?
Godfrey: Well, you know, it’s become the center for the hip-“eoisie”, as it were. And it has an enormous Mexican population now, of probably over 15-18,000 people, the most industrious people I’ve ever seen in my life, who have to constantly deal with their legal status. The local community, the local Hispanic community, the Chicano community, however you want to call it, there’s nothing happening in terms of any kind of community organizing. The only thing that’s happening is institutional service, which in my opinion, does very little for people other than keep them, you know, with hands out at the trough rather than letting them see they can control their own destiny. But I see little or none of that here. Now that might be limited by my, you know, lack of involvement compared to what it was years ago. But it’s become a very wealthy community and an extraordinarily poor community at the same time. It’s also pretty violent.
Corey: I was going to ask you, you know, because of the way you talked about the way you all talked together back then, and I was going to ask you how you would compare just the way people were with each other at that time to the way you see people with each other now, just in, you know, relationships?
Godfrey: Well we lived in an, for me only within that context and I’m sure for others, in an extraordinary period, the ‘60s and the ‘70s. Many people, most of them younger, decided to leap and then that will appear. They were willing to create a whole new existence for themselves, didn’t buy into the acquisition of power or money, rather, into the convivial relationships between people. That was extraordinary. Today, young people, you know, probably have not that opportunity. It’s not in the air. The culture is different. Everything that was real during that period is somehow been co-opted by corporations and put into the, you know, the enigma of a commodity culture. So it’s a different time. I must say, regretfully, that a lot of the people of that period that I knew, found an easy transition into the more dominant world and left behind, except for nostalgia, that very vital period of life.
Corey: How, why do you think that has happened?
Godfrey: Well, hmm, that’s a good question. It’s a very good question. I guess the, you know, the communities broke apart. They were idealistic communities, many of them not dealing with the, you know, with the, as it were, that which makes for the clarity of really living together. It’s like if you first meet your love in life, everything is rosy, everything is beautiful until the consistency of life takes in. And that which was so rosy now becomes ordinary and habitual. And it takes a strong person to break through that and find the real value of a relationship or the real value of the work they do. I think a lot of people couldn’t handle that and went back to, dare I say, a straight life, and now only look at what they did in the past from a nostalgic or “Gee, I did that. But, you know, that was when I was young.” That’s not to say that’s for everybody, but certainly we don’t have that same kind of cultural activity in this country now. More about conformity then about … I mean, in that time, our flag was our shadow. We were here to recreate another way of living, which is at once insane and admirable. But we all felt we lived in an insane world, so … I think we still do now. It’s on steroids.
Corey: That first place you mention where you actually first met Frank is called “Quad’s”?
Godfrey: Claude’s Bar. It’s not there anymore. It was on Canyon Road. That’s before the Art Mafia took over the art scene in Santa Fe. Real artists lived on the road with no money. They hung at Claude’s, it was like their church and it brought together all aspects of our community in a very convivial and at times raucous and dangerous way. It was a real center for nightlife, started by a woman named Claude James, herself a lesbian who was the daughter of the editor of The New York Times at that point.
Corey: Wow. Do you recall the Water Street Coffee House?
Godfrey: Yes, I do.
Corey: That’s another place that Frank mentioned.
Godfrey: The Water Street Coffee House was kind of a hangout place where music took place, a lot of drinking and talking. I didn’t hang out much there. I was much more active in the barrio, but that was right off the barrio. But my time was involved more as an organizer.
Corey: There’s a film script that we read a brief section of together that he had started writing when he was there with a part for Belle Carpenter.
Godfrey: Oh, gracious.
Corey: Do you remember anything about that?
Godfrey: No, but I used to live with Belle Carpenter for a very long time. And, you know, we share a daughter and a stepdaughter. But no, she was a very vivacious, generous and beautiful person. So I can imagine that Frank was quite taken with her. She was more than generous to people. She opened her house up for a lot of people. When I lived there, it was like a, you know, a hippie campground.
Corey: You met her at that time in Santa Fe?
Godfrey: Yes, I met her in the very early ‘70s. 1970 in Santa Fe.
Corey: Did you ever talk about girls in relationships with Frank?
Godfrey: Not that I’m aware of. No. I knew that he had a beautiful girlfriend at the time, and then two, and they were totally devoted and in love with Frank. I can never remember talking specifically about relationships with Frank. Our conversations were meaty, metaphysical, having to do with the culture of the moment and what was not happening with it and how we could do something about it.
Corey: Yeah. He talked about how … well when he was first there, he hadn’t really had like a girlfriend or, you know, a real …
Godfrey: There was Louise, who was like, I guess a –
Corey: A friend–
Godfrey: – a big sister, a momma.
Corey: Yeah. And then when he left, he ended up in a commune in Massachusetts and that’s where he met Debbie.
Godfrey: Right. And I met them here somehow.
Corey: Yeah. When he came back, he was with her and then they ended up being with Jo. There were several of them.
Godfrey: Both of them. Met both of them. Debbie first. Then Jo.
Corey: Yeah. But when he was first there and when I guess when he first met you, he really hadn’t … he said that he saw, there were so many opportunities, he just didn’t think that it could be for him.
Godfrey: Well he just – he was being modest I think. (laughs) I think he thought it could be, just had to find out how. And he certainly did that. No I think a lot of people’s lives were enlivened by knowing Frank. He’s an extraordinary person. And he cast a very large patina, as it were, over all of our lives. Incredible person.
Corey: How do you think that – how does that – like, how so? You know, what is it about …?
Godfrey: I mean, because of how bright he was, how sensitive he was, how creative and innovative he was, how the liability that he had became a real asset for him. How he didn’t let that prevent him from living a full, better than full, life. I mean, he lived a life that probably most straight people would be envious of.
Godfrey: I found him to be an extraordinary person. He had shine on him.
Godfrey: And his sense of humor was like contagious. To me, humor is a real sign of superintelligence. He played the contradictions. He knew what to do. He had a good guardian angel. As he became the guardian angel for many other people.
Corey: Did you know that he took on students in the late ‘80s, early ‘90s?
Godfrey: Not really. I lost contact with anything specific other than the love I had for him and … and I think vice versa. And I would go to the Bay Area occasionally and would look them up. But I really lost any daily contact with Frank after he left here.
Corey: Yeah. Did you stay in contact with Louise or any others from that time?
Godfrey: Oh Louise I stayed in contact with more, but she moved away as well, moved to Mexico. I know all of her children. I knew all of her children really well. I watched them grow up to be wonderful people. And I know that she had serious health problems and went to Mexico and then came back to the States. But then I lost contact with Louise as well.
Corey: She’s here. She’s north of us, here in the Bay Area. And we visited her recently, with her daughter Denise.
Godfrey: Oh, yeah.
Corey: And she’s, you know, she’s doing well. They’re both doing well.
Godfrey: How old is Louise now? Do you know?
Corey: I’m not sure. I think she’s in her mid-‘80s.
Godfrey: OK. She was, you know, like Frank: a watershed event. I mean to be around Frank was like being around an act of nature. It was astounding. And the same for Louise with her compassion, generosity, willingness to – you know, there’s a difference between giving money to the poor and bringing people into your life, into your home. And she was that kind of beautiful person. People loved her.
Corey: Yeah. This has been amazing, but is there anything more you can say about that?
Godfrey: Oh, I’d just be repeating myself. I wish I had more detail, but his presence looms very big in my imagination and my soul. I feel fortunate to have known Frank Moore.
Corey: Well, thank you so much.
Godfrey: You’re very welcome. I hope you get something out of this for what you want.
Corey: Oh, yes, definitely.
Godfrey: OK, well, give my good regards to any of his family that are still around. And Louise, if you see her again. Well, thank you so much. And let me know when you’re finished. Send me something.
Corey: Yes, definitely. So thank you so much, Godfrey.
Godfrey: Good luck for doing this. Thank you for taking on this.
Corey: Thank you.
Godfrey: Bye bye now.
Corey: Bye bye.
Listen to the interview here:
Louise Scott & Denise LaCount interviews,
recorded April 26, 2014, Graton, California