Long before Umi was a Zen master in the Santa Cruz Mountains, he was a seafaring rock radio pioneer who riled the establishment and ushered in the British Invasion. In this spirited interview, he shares tales of his colorful journey and sheds light on the nature of Zen.
As I approach the end of the long driveway on Empire Grade that leads to Stillpoint Zen Community, Pink Floyd’s “One of These Days” is blaring from the nearest building. With its relentless, menacing bass line and its maniacal, howling pedal steel guitar, it’s a far cry from the soft sound of bells and wind chimes you might expect to hear at a spiritual center in the Santa Cruz Mountains. But taken in context, it’s not an unfitting welcome: From 1964 to 1968, Stillpoint’s focal figure, now known to the members of his community as Enlightened Master Umi, served as DJ and program director for Britain’s first offshore pirate radio station, Radio Caroline. During those years, the station’s crew sailed the English Coast, defying the establishment by broadcasting the rock & roll music of the day. In so doing, they played a key role in sparking the British Invasion and bringing color and life force to a staid, button-down society. Their exploits are echoed—albeit in highly sensationalized form—in the film Pirate Radio, currently on the New Releases shelves of video stores.