Review: ‘More Than Friends’ shares stories from the Brotherhood of the Spirit commune during the ’60s

By TINKY WEISBLAT

For the Recorder

Published: 01-20-2023 3:53 PM

“More Than Friends”Edited by Patti SmithLight Publishing

I am old enough to recall that there were communes in our area in the late 1960s and 1970s. Indeed, these groups still exist to some extent. I am not old enough to have felt the siren call of communal living or to have experienced the cultural revolution known as the Sixties.

I was therefore fascinated to read “More Than Friends.” This book discusses the experiences – and shares the voices – of 15 women who were part of the Brotherhood of the Spirit.

One of the largest communes in the United States and possibly the best remembered, the Brotherhood started in a tree house in Leyden in 1968. It eventually grew to encompass several large houses in Franklin County and several local businesses, among them the Shea Theater in Turners Falls.

The book’s writers share stories of their paths to becoming involved with the Brotherhood, their experiences while living in that environment, and their lives after they left the group.

Many of them ended up working in social services or the arts. Their aptitude for those fields was nourished during their time in the commune.

They arrived with ideals and frustrations with the world around them. They learned to cook food from the land, to paint and to hammer. Many of them had babies and shared childcare while living in the group.

Most of them eventually became disillusioned with the Brotherhood. Its founder, Michael Metelica, went off the rails in the 1970s, losing his focus on a better world. Some of the stories describe abuse of women, and even some children, by the commune’s men.

Indeed, the women who tell their stories clearly found that whatever the group’s ideals might have been, it was not the egalitarian dream they had hoped for, particularly when it came to relations between the sexes. This pattern wasn’t new in history, but it obviously rankled.

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Nevertheless, it is clear from the book that the women of the Brotherhood generally valued their time there. They gained skills, made friends, and embodied ideals to which many of them still adhere.

The book starts by describing a reunion a number of them attended years after leaving the group. There, these women enjoyed meditating, cooking together, and catching up with friends with whom they had shared a unique bonding experience.

That retreat — and the experience of putting together this book — reminded them that the word “spirit” in the title of their commune was entirely appropriate.

These are spiritual people working, in the past and the present, toward more meaningful lives.

“More Than Friends” is a beautiful book to look through, with high-quality paper and photographs. It is also a moving book to read. The book is available at the World Eye Bookshop and at Boswell’s Books, as well as Butler Books online (www.butlerbooks.com/more-than-friends.html).

For more information about the book, visit www.mtfriends.org.

Tinky Weisblat is an award-winning author and singer. Her latest book is “Pot Luck: Random Acts of Cooking.” Visit her website, TinkyCooks.com.

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