Jim Mazzeo inhabited a stretch of land that he and fellow artist James McCracken had given the name Star Hill Academy for Anything. Sixteen hundred acres of redwood forest surrounding an abandoned sawmill, Star Hill wa presided over by a young conservative named Jimmy Wickett, whose freethinking father had donated the land for an artist’s community.
Star Hill was an extraordinary place, with all these weirdoes up there,” said Johanna Putnoy, who later lived in a geodesic dome on the property. She recalls one of the unique power sources for the enclave: a methane-gas generator.” They got this big canister with a hole in the top, and you’d sit on this canister overlooking the hills and everybody took their shit in this big canister. One night it blew sky-high. Luckily no one was one hit but there was shit all over the place.
The first inhabitants were Mazzeo and McCraken , who moved to the property in August 1968. A hulking giant in wire-rimmed glasses who would soon reak havoc in everyone’s life, including Young’s. McCracken was “the greatest artist I’ve ever known said Mazzeo. “he was able to create thunder in the middle of a sunny day.’ The pair created all manner of art together, McCraken carving giant faces out of wood and Mazzeo forging gnarly sculpture out of scrap metal.
Mazzeo also managed to con the phone company into putting a pay phone on the wilderness property, then pirated the electricity for a number of abodes, including a seven-room and rope cable car very tenuously made its way from one of their workshops up to the tree house, and it was Neil Young’s bad luck to show up the day after the contraption had been completed.
(cover by Mazzeo)
Young had already made a couple of neighborly visits to Star Hill, and Mazzeo-aware that Young was an aficionado of odd art-led him to the trolley. “He didn’t know it was a gondolier car, he thought it was some kind of sculpture, some kind of art. I go, “Hop in. Check it out. Ya gotta sit in it. Neil was taking’ all kinds of medication-he was really frail, really weak, his back hurt, so he’s being real careful. I go “Click!,” the walls swing open and Wham! We launch him! Mazzeo watched as a terrified Neil Young shot up through the air, griping onto the car for dear life . “he spent about four hours in the tree house before he took the cable car back.” Such was the chaos Sandy had to offer, and he and Young became fast friends.
(Taken from Shakey by Jimmy McDonough)
Neil Young moved into his ranch in the fall of 1970.
(Taken from images of America La Honda) by Bob Dougherty
Star Hill would soon become more of a bona fide commune rather than a retreat for oddball artists, and when Young added another six-hundred acres parcel to his ranch, Mazzeo moved to Broken Arrow, converting an old blacksmith shop into a welding studio where he made Young stoves, art and, recalls Larry Johnson, “weird chandeliers that are great to look at but still don’t work. You shock yourself trying to turn them on.”
One woman has captivated Neil Young like no other. She was a beautiful blonde California girl who was a waitress at Alex’s on Skyline not far from Young’s ranch, and lived in a tepee close by. Pegi Morton had been friends with Young for some time before they got involved in 1979. They would marry on August 2 of that year at Young’s Malibu home. Son Ben was born on November 28, 1 978, and daughter, Amber Jean, on May 15, 1984.
Pegi is the inspiration for some of Young’s most intense ballads. “Such a Woman.” “Once an Angel” and “unknown Legend,” which is perhaps the most empathetic portrait of a woman he’s ever created. He has dedicated two albums to her, and virtually everything else since their union thanks Pegi first.
Jim Wickett, who ran the Star Hill Academy for Anything at his father's old lumber mill in the 1970s, is now living in Atherton and is a venture capitalist with Bay Partners in Cupertino. But he still has the ranch, where he raises llamas and emus. He recently sold his yaks.
I was in the Floating Lotus Magic Opera Company (  ) in 1969. In the late summer of that year, the elder Wickett invited us to move onto his land at the mill, which we did. We inhabited that place and even built a few houses, but moved back to Berkeley when the weather got bad in the fall. It was quite an exalted place while we were there, but the Lotus brought exaltation with it wherever we went.
It could be very trying on the weekends though, as that was when a motorcycle club from San Jose or somewhere would show up and from first light to last on Saturday and Sunday would go roaring over the trails all over the property. It was always a relief when they finally left and peace descended once more.
One time when I was walking the trails, I came across a face carved into an earthen bank that formed a wall on one side. I suppose that must have been one of McCracken's works. I walked that way several times and was always struck by that face. Looking back, those times and the people who inhabited them are so much larger than anything nowadays.