Steve Allen's Son Brian Saw God on An Acid Trip: It Turned Him into Logic Israel
04/02/1979 at 01:00 AM EST
I was really lucky in many ways. I grew up getting a very unusual look at society. My father always planned great vacations for us. I visited China and Russia, met Khrushchev and traveled all over Europe. I went to Vietnam during the war. By the time I was in college, I didn't know anything I could sincerely strive for.
If Brian Allen were still Brian Allen, he would have celebrated his 32nd birthday this month. Perhaps, as the son of Steve Allen, he would have followed his famous father into show business. He might have joined the Navy, as he once planned in high school, or become an artist. Brian did none of these things. Today, as an elder of the Church of Jesus Christ at Armageddon in Seattle, he has been reborn under the name Logic Israel. He no longer reckons his age in years ("Our spirits have existed since the Creation"), and has become a humorless refugee from conventional values. Heeding the teachings of his mentor, Love Israel (né Paul Erdman), he does not smoke or eat meat, own any clocks, watches or mirrors, read magazines or books (except the Bible), practice birth control or indulge in unauthorized sexual relationships.
Logic's family is both troubled and bewildered by his transformation. "What he has done is a rejection of all of us," says his brother, Steve Allen Jr., 34, now a doctor in Elmira, N.Y. "Maybe we weren't helping him enough." (Steve Jr. adds: "We both stood in our father's shadow, and it was a long one to climb away from because he was so good at so many things.") Brian, he says, gave little warning of his alienation. A cheerleader and a B-plus student in high school, he played off-key guitar and hung out with his brother. "My parents were separated when I was 6 and he was 3," Steve Jr. recalls, "so we grew up away from show business, in the San Fernando Valley. My mother remarried a couple of times, and we visited my dad during the summers. When Brian finished high school, he decided to join the service. But that was the start of the Vietnam war, so my father and I talked him into college."
Brian enrolled at little Yampa Valley College in Colorado but later transferred to California State at Hayward before dropping out of school and into Haight-Ashbury. There he encountered Erdman, a former real estate salesman. The two dropped acid together and then, to hear them tell it, saw God. "Our separation was over," says Logic, recalling the moment. "We had conquered fear of each other, conquered death. We felt joy and celebration."
He and Erdman rented a house and began to spread the word of their vision. Then, with the draft closing in, Brian decided to go back to school. "I made a real effort and I did good, but I didn't feel good about it," he says. He earned his degree and spent a year as a construction worker, but couldn't reconcile his way of life with his values. "I felt I had been touched by God, but I didn't know what to do," he explains. "I couldn't figure out how to live an unselfish life. I got down to eating just fruits and nuts, but then I thought, 'What right do I have to eat a plant?' And no matter what I did, I couldn't please anybody—my father, my brother, my boss or my friends. Finally I just had to take off."
Joining Erdman in Seattle, Brian quickly became one of the flock. "Then they came down to get his bank account and all his possessions," Steve Jr. remembers. "They didn't want his clothes—just what they could hock for cash." At first, says his brother, the Aliens were unable to contact Brian. Then in January 1972 police found two members dead in the church's sanctuary, their heads wrapped in plastic bags containing a chemical used in varnish remover. A church spokesman said the sniffing was part of a religious ceremony, and Brian's concerned father hurried north to Seattle. "My dad spent several days there and was convinced that people saw it as a mistake," says Steve Jr. "He felt that Brian was all right and reasonably sane." Logic says the sniffing has been abandoned and the only drug used is marijuana, in moderation.
Today he is one of about 300 members of the Church of Armageddon, each of whom has been named and baptized by Love Israel. As third in command of the sect (outranked only by Love and Serious Israel), Logic presides over one of the church's seven properties in Seattle, a tidy six-bedroom home that accommodates eight adults and five children. "There is a head of every house, but it's not imposed authority," says Logic. "We believe that everyone can live by love instead of by a bunch of laws."
The communards' freedom, however, is bounded on all sides by Love Israel. Even the most intimate personal decisions are made only with the leader's approval. "There is definitely no screwing around," says ex-member Carol Seckel. "You don't have sex with anybody unless it's sanctioned. Love decides when a man and woman are supposed to be together." In Logic's case, Love approved unions with both Simplicity Israel and a previous mate. Logic has fathered one child by each of them, and Simplicity is pregnant again. Marriage is out of the question, he says, "because we are all married to each other."
The church's reluctance to observe social conventions has led to numerous clashes with the law. The Israels do not have driver's licenses, and several have been arrested for driving without them. To complicate matters, they have refused to promise to appear in court on specified dates. ("God has told us to live in the present," explains Logic. "He doesn't want us scheduling our future.") Yet the group's reclusive-ness is somewhat selective. They take advantage of a city ordinance that allows them 250,000 free gallons of water a month as a charitable organization, and have elected representatives to a neighborhood council. Logic has enrolled in a federally subsidized course in energy conservation.
Though they habitually rise before dawn, none of the Israels has a wage-paying job. "We live by faith mostly," says Logic, "from week to week." Fortunately, faith has provided abundantly. All who join the church must consign their property and possessions to Love, who serves as chief officer of the sect's holding company, Jesus Christ, Inc. In addition to its houses and a 240-acre ranch near Arlington, Wash., the church owns a 26-acre farm in eastern Washington, a ski retreat near the Canadian border, a converted minesweeper that serves as a fishing boat, a seven-passenger airplane and a mini-fleet of buses, vans and trucks. Logic, a skilled carpenter, oversees the church's construction crew, while other family members raise livestock or run the church's cannery, sawmill and lumbering operations. To defray the cost of making their own wine, they sell raw honey and organic grape juice.
The community's women, however, are relegated exclusively to housekeeping chores. "We're building sex stereotypes here, making sure that ladies are ladies and men are men," says Love. "We've eliminated the need for women's liberation by being righteous with each other." Church women bow whenever they enter a room occupied by a man, don't speak unless spoken to and serve the men first at all meals. Still, Logic's mate, Simplicity, seems as dedicated to the church as he is and answers no questions about her life before joining. "It's a point of honor that nobody here is going to dig into anyone's past," explains Logic. "We don't try to figure you out by what you used to be because that's not who you are anymore." Such a cutting of all bonds with the past, Steve Allen Jr. realizes, is more than a matter of ritual—it is his brother's way of saying goodbye. "I'm still upset," says Allen, "partly because I wonder what he's doing to himself, and partly because I'm one of the folks he left behind. He was a good friend—and it's always sad to lose a friend."