Why did I make up that stupid John Coventry name anyway?
The nice Social Security lady wants to know why do I have two names?
I told her that at the time I applied for a second SS number, I wanted to pay taxes. I wanted to have a stage name and be younger to get acting jobs. I sometimes call ‘John Coventry’ my “slave name” and that I took it so I could be white.
I did not change my name to commit fraud or avoid prosecution. I used some of my parents' names on the application and I submitted, as I recall, a library card; letters adressed to me; and proof I had searched for a birth certificate in the alleged hometown.
If there were any problems with the Selective Service Act, I had no knowledge of any indictment or of being a subject of a grand jury investigation. As far as I know, I showed up to all physical exams and inductions, and I had applied for a conscientious objector status when I moved to California. Even if there was some problem with the draft, I was pardoned by President Jimmy Carter's blanket amnesty.
When I applied as John Coventry to get a SS card it had been maybe 5 years since I had spoken to my parents. I had spent those years from say '69 to '74 as a pauper artist crashing or sleeping in various communes throughout the Bay Area. And to say that I was a "Hippie" would be an understatement. EVERYBODY had a made up Hippie name. NOBODY wanted to be his or her parents. All the cultural and entertainment heroes had pseudonyms.
I was doing Shakespearean plays. I had last resided in Coventry, Connecticut. As an Elizabethan character name I would have been John of Coventry where Lady Godiva rode naked through the streets on a horse in protest to her governments actions. Coventry, England is a place that when "sent to Coventry,” means as a soldier you are going to a town where the women don't fraternize with military personnel.
I know that the question important to the Social Security Administration is, "At that time, did I change my name to avoid the draft?”. Somewhere in my 40 years of records is a letter from attorney Stephen Ronia stating that if there was a problem, there wasn't one anymore. I found the envelope yesterday but not the letter yet. But I will find it. I am also traveling to Connecticut in the fall to gather more evidence and statements relative to this issue.
More important than the draft to "why" I changed my name would be the drugs and the street life I was living. From 1965 "LSD" days to the date of my application to the SSA in Berkeley, California and for years later I was mostly homeless, crashing with friends; and I was using any and all illegal drugs available. By 1973, I had had enough of "Tune in, turn on and drop out." I wanted to be legitimate. And as a postscript to anyone ... I never sold drugs in my life. I used them but never sold them.
As I dig through the boxes of crap looking for proof that even while I was a broke stoned-out artist I wanted to pay taxes, I do keep finding proof in the form of pictures, letters, names, films, music, art and memories. They all are definitely proof that I was, at one time, to say the least ... not thinking too clearly. And I am sorry.
OK, I found the letter from Glitliz, Ronia & Berchem that says: "Our conclusion is that if there was any indictment outstanding against you by the United States Government, it has been dismissed. " and "Furthermore, the Presidential Proclamation grants you a full pardon. Therefore you should have no further problems with the United States Government." ...March 11, 1977 signed Stephen E. Ronia.
Why am I feeling like Social Security is treating me like I'm guilty until proven innocent? It's cool … I'm into proving that for over 15 years I was the poorest, most homeless but greatest artist on the block.
Dan Shanok on the roof in NYC