Mental health, Music and sound

‘It’s about connection’

Jenny Boyd’s autobiography – Jennifer Juniper: A journey beyond the muse – checks in at some of the best-known events and places of the 1960s and 1970s, including inspiring Donovan and travelling with The Beatles, before going ‘back to school’. Ian Florance heard from her on how studying psychology can inform and change lives.

03 September 2020

In the first ten chapters of her recently published autobiography, Jenny Boyd describes working as a model in ‘swinging London’, experiencing the ‘Summer of Love’ in San Francisco, and working in the Beatles’ Apple boutique before travelling to India with them. The Scottish singer-songwriter and guitarist Donovan’s song about her, ‘Jennifer Juniper’, provides the title of her book. Boyd was married to Mick Fleetwood, the founder and drummer with Fleetwood Mac, with whom she experienced the often-damaging lifestyle of 1970s LA. Jenny writes about her extraordinary life with humour and an unusually clear-sighted honesty.

In the final two chapters of the book, we hear about a fundamental change in Jenny’s life. She became involved in therapy, particularly related to addictions, and has written two books. Among the influences on her later life is a postgraduate degree in counselling psychology taken at Ryokan College in LA.

In these socially distancing times Jenny talked via Skype from her house in Norfolk, where she lives with her husband, the Architect David Levitt OBE. I first asked her what event had triggered her move away from a rock’n’roll lifestyle to such a different one.

‘My life was wrong’
‘In 1984, I was on honeymoon in Maui with my second husband, the drummer Ian Wallace. I hadn’t taken any psychedelics since the 1960s but we took synthetic mushrooms and swam out to sea… which suggests something about my state of mind, since I have been scared of the sea since childhood. Anyway, to cut a long story short, I started to believe I could breathe underwater. I could easily have drowned. Even though I got back to shore, I was terrified I would do it again. It was something like a near-death experience which, next day, made me realise my life was wrong.

‘A conversation that afternoon with Bonnie Raitt, the great blues guitarist and singer, reminded me how interested I was in alternative health and this led to a degree course in holistic health. I gave up drinking and took a three-month course with a drug and alcohol prevention team which talked to 10-year-olds in local schools. Realising I had no voice of my own was one of the reasons I changed my life. The fact was, I was painfully shy. We used to go out to schools in pairs and my buddy would do the initial talking. I dressed in a flamboyant way, wearing lots of coloured bracelets and the girls would come up to me afterwards and ask questions. That was, perhaps, the beginning of me finding my voice. After being refused one job after another as a shop assistant in the Beverley Hills designer stores I realised that I needed qualifications to get a job and earn money while Ian was touring with Crosby, Stills and Nash. So, after that I did the degree course in holistic health at Ryokan college in LA.’

Jenny describes her ‘brain creaking’ during the course, she was so unused to study. Her kids suggested she was getting ‘so serious’. ‘I started a journal which, in retrospect, was a form of self-therapy.’

Her psychology tutor was Dr Ron Alexander – a charismatic psychotherapist, coach, trainer with links to organisations such as Esalen, who still practices. ‘This was far and away the most fascinating part of the programme so I began a Master’s in counselling psychology which involved 12 month-long modules, each one involving a paper. In addition we counselled at a local centre… I loved that. During the course I really thought I was going to be a therapist.’

‘The right sort of relationship is central’
Jenny finished her Master’s and was accumulating points to become a licensed Marriage and Family therapist. So, what happened? ‘One of my clients at the counselling centre was an artist. He did a drawing and gave it to me as a present before he left for university. The immediate reaction was, “You should never have accepted that”. Some other therapists criticised me very harshly. I didn’t agree with them because to me the relationship in counselling situations is of paramount importance. Of course you need to know certain techniques but in the end the establishment of the right sort of relationship is central. It’s about connection. So, I re-evaluated and transferred to a PhD in Humanities. As part of that I wrote a dissertation which was the basis of my first book.’

After writing that book she applied for a job in marketing at Sierra Tucson, an Arizona-based residential treatment centre for addictions and mental health. ‘Everyone who worked there had to go through the programme. I sat in on group and family sessions. This inspired me continually and reinforced my understanding of the importance of relationships. At one session a psychiatrist asked me if I was in recovery and I answered that I didn’t know. He assessed me and suggested that I wasn’t an alcoholic, as at times I’d suspected, but had the tendencies. But, after attending all the groups and lectures at the centre, I became aware of, and could identify with, a behavioural condition called co-dependency, when a person is reliant on other people’s approval for their sense of identity.’

The final chapter of Jennifer Juniper is titled Purpose Found, and describes moving back to England, introducing Sierra Tucson’s workshops to the UK, setting up her own company Spring Workshops to do this. She marketed the services of Cottonwood de Tucson – including their family programmes. ‘Their approach was not that different from Sierra Tucson but was important in modernising the UK approach to addictions. Cottonwood didn’t just treat the addiction but also underlying causes. And, as the services got more popular, they asked me to facilitate the after-care group for people returning from the treatment centre, many of whom I’d seen for an assessment before they went and had been able to convince them of their need for treatment at Cottonwood.’

After 22 years in the addiction field and organising the workshops, Jenny retired from most of her therapeutic activities and settled down to be a writer.

Addiction is a family affair
I wanted to investigate some key psychological themes Jenny writes about in her books. The first is creativity.

Jenny had written since she was young ‘but, having been surrounded by so many creative people I didn’t feel creative’. Her first book, published in the UK as It’s Not Only Rock ‘n’ Roll, is based on her dissertation and involves interviews with over 60 musicians about the sources of their creativity. It deals with topics from the influence of the unconscious to the motivation to create and the role of stimulants in creativity. One strong aspect of creativity Jenny identifies is the ability of the musicians to never quite grow up, to approach what they do with a seeming childishness.

I asked Jenny whether she had come to any conclusions about what creativity is. ‘Firstly my book is based on an unrepresentative sample. All of the people I interviewed are musicians, all are successful and many of them are world-famous. Some of their answers were very varied but they had more in common than I thought. There were two strong themes. Firstly, most of them had supportive parents who encouraged them to follow their interest in music. This might be quite a surprise for people who buy into the “teenage rebellion” account of rock culture. Secondly, most of the people I interviewed had experienced Maslow’s peak experiences, though they might call them something like “the muse”. To many of them this experience linked to spiritual views or beliefs. I found this very encouraging since I was experiencing something similar to a peak experience in writing the book: as soon as I started to talk to the musicians it seemed like the most natural thing in the world. It was more like being inspired to write a poem than working on an analytical study.’

Reading the interviews in that book it’s fascinating how eager the musicians are to talk and how honest their answers are. They resemble the transcription of therapy sessions. ‘Yes, what I learnt in counselling psychology informs those interviews: when to keep quiet; when to talk; acknowledging; letting relationships develop.’

I asked Jenny about addiction and family. In Jennifer Juniper she writes that addiction ‘is a family affair’. I wondered what she meant by that. ‘Working in Sierra Tucson had led me to greater understanding. A psychiatrist there explained co-dependency to me: the extent to which I had been dependent on my first husband Mick’s and my sister Pattie’s approval. I was addicted to my family. My grandmother, who died when I was young was, I think, an alcoholic. My father had PTSD and the sort of emotional absence he displayed can be akin to alcoholism. My mother had six children and the three sisters – Pattie, Paula, and I – were all wild with the ability to overdo things. The rock world facilitated that so both Pattie and I were what I would now call heavy drinkers and Paula was an alcoholic and used heroin. So, in my family’s experience – and in that of the families I met during therapy workshops – family history and dynamics affect individual addiction.’

One of the most moving parts of this chapter is the account of Jenny and Pattie’s gradual reconciliation meetings with their father at the end of his life.

A spiritual quest
One other issue pulls together all the topics we discussed: a spiritual quest. ‘It started when I was young and was fostered by my experiences in India and in San Francisco.’

Some of the key figures in 60s San Francisco had trained as psychologists. One of these was Richard Alpert, also known as Ram Dass, who Jenny became aware of at that time and who is a very influential figure in modern spirituality. Her spiritual interests underlie the narrative of Jennifer Juniper and some of her key relationships, not least her long friendship with George Harrison.

What’s next after such a packed life? ‘Jennifer Juniper grew out of an attempt to understand events in my life by writing about them – a sort of therapeutic accounting. I had drafted some of a novel but put it aside when I decided to turn those fragments into an autobiography. The novel covers some of the same ground but I’m re-reading the drafts and seeing how I can adapt and finish it.’