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Weeping Angel

[whitespace] Claudia Kraft

Interviews with friends and a review of Claudia Kraft's diary reveal, among her many troubles, an obsession with New Age pianist Gary Lamb and a struggle with the darker side of Santa Cruz's Golden Gate Records.

By Kelly Luker

IN A TOWN FILLED with spiritual explorers, Claudia Kraft was the quintessential seeker. Torn between addiction and God, Kraft sought guidance from swamis, 12-step programs and, finally, from what seemed like the perfect employer. It was never clear whether the young woman with the beautiful smile was looking for an escape route from her demons or a spiritual path to a higher calling, but one thing was clear--she found both for eight years through a New Age musician named Gary Lamb.

A charismatic man who synthesized what he learned from Alcoholics Anonymous into a hypnotic blend of New Age bromides, Lamb recruited dozens of people like Claudia to work promoting his music and his business, Santa Cruz-based Golden Gate Records. This was more than a job, they were to learn, it was a cause--a mission to bring about world peace by promoting Lamb's piano music.

When Lamb's world began crumbling last year, so did the dream. In August 1997, Lamb's ex-wife, Adrienne*, accused him of molesting her teenage child during the previous two years. Few in the company believed the charges at the time, convinced that Adrienne was using her child from a previous marriage to take revenge on Lamb.

Last May, when Lamb pleaded no contest to one count of misdemeanor statutory rape and was sentenced to 45 days in jail--in exchange for having the other 59 counts dropped--his closest followers were shaken. The case resulted in a series of spectacular headlines in local papers and, eventually, Lamb's disappearance out of state.

Former employees of Golden Gate Records have come forward to describe a business that provided a family for the lost, a social network for the lonely and a higher calling for the seekers. Often--though not always--it even provided paychecks. In the end, it left some with broken lives and a long process of sorting through a web of betrayal, confusion, grief and bitterness. For Claudia Kraft, however, it appears to have left nothing. And friends and family are trying to sort out why.

Write Livelihood

    I laugh today, especially with the support of Gary's love and music in my life. ... [I]s there something more I can do to encourage others to obtain this music? I love you, Gary.
    --entry from Claudia Kraft's diary, Dec. 4, 1990

CLAUDIA HAD CHRONICLED her thoughts, dreams and feelings since she was a child. Her sprawling longhand paints a portrait of a troubled young woman who believed she had finally found God in the flesh.

Her brother Marc has flipped through the pages of his sister's diary repeatedly, looking for clues to the puzzle of Claudia's life. "Claudia was an interesting girl," he says of his sister when she was younger. Born in Philadelphia to an attorney mother and a father in the printing business, Claudia was the fourth of seven children.

"She was a beautiful child," Marc recalls, "real smart, talented--almost a child prodigy."

He points to a photograph of Claudia as a giggling toddler waiting to be pushed on the swing. Another shows a teenage Claudia, freckle-faced and with a wide smile. But there is already a shadow of sadness in her eyes, foretelling the depression she would battle for the next two decades.

Claudia Kraft Childhood's End: As a laughing young child Claudia Kraft shows no hint of the doubts that would buffet her later in life.



Blasting Through

    Gary says we can only truly love when we become love and learn to give love. Gary is so completely love. I giggle and laugh around him like a silly teenager or child.
    --diary entry, Nov. 25, 1990

CLAUDIA HAD LOOKED for transcendence--or perhaps freedom from depression--long before she met Gary Lamb. She was a devotee of Gurumayi, and wrote of "blasting through" to new levels of consciousness in the group intensives of Siddha Yoga.

Trying to find help for her various addictions, she attended meetings of Overeaters Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous, Codependents Anonymous and Alanon. It was in this last organization--a support group for people who are involved with alcoholics--that Claudia found a sponsor, someone who guides a newer member through the 12 steps of recovery. That sponsor was Adrienne (who declined to speak on the record for this story). And Adrienne, it turned out, had her own sponsor in Alanon: Gary Lamb.

Describing himself to potential followers, Lamb would regale them with tales of his wilder youth. Handsome and charismatic, Lamb never lacked for girlfriends. Hard living and substance abuse pushed him to find help with Alcoholics Anonymous. It was by working through the 12 steps of recovery, Lamb would tell others, that he found God. Like many of those who find help in one 12-step program, Lamb also attended others. It was at Alanon that he met Adrienne and agreed to be her sponsor.

The sponsor relationship can be both gratifying and problematic. In its purest form, it is merely one member leading another through the process of working the 12 steps. Yet because it places people together through the sharing of intimacies--with a power imbalance--it can be a relationship potentially ripe for abuse. Traditionally, 12-step programs have tried to minimize that conflict by dissuading members from sponsoring--or being sponsored by--the opposite sex. Members of 12-step programs are also advised not to mingle sponsor relationships with business. However, not everyone heeds that advice.

In addition to being charismatic, Lamb was also a gifted musician. He could often be found playing his own compositions on the piano in the early '80s at Shadowbrook, Crow's Nest and other restaurants around Santa Cruz. Neither complex nor particularly original, Lamb's music was nonetheless soothing, reminiscent of George Winston and other New Age pianists.

Lamb started Golden Gate Records in 1987, and by 1992 it was listed as the fourth top-selling independent record label of instrumental music by Billboard. Lamb's music would eventually be used as soundtracks behind many popular TV shows, on airline in-flight programming and as a helpful tool in the education market.

But in 1989 and 1990, Golden Gate Records was still struggling and people were needed to sell Lamb's tapes at craft fairs and industry shows. Members of 12-step programs are also advised not to mingle sponsorship relationships with business, but Adrienne wanted to be part of Gary's "vision" and became his strongest supporter. She eventually set up Lamb's company in her home and proved to be his best recruiter.

Adrienne convinced others they could find enlightenment--and make money--by promoting Lamb's music. Not only did she find willing participants in Alanon meetings, but Adrienne's neighbors in Scotts Valley also listened to her selling his virtues. Two of those families--the Meachens and the Davidsons--also bought in.

Denise Davidson says that she became involved through Sue Meachen, who was being sponsored by Adrienne. "I guess I was looking for something in my life," Denise admits now.

Sue Meachen worked side by side with Claudia at Golden Gate Records for at least eight years. "[Adrienne] would talk about how wonderful [Gary] was and how much he was teaching," recalls Meachen, who, like Denise, admits, "I was searching for purpose and meaning in my life."

Meachen decided to share her "fifth step" with Lamb, the first of many moves that would further enmesh her in the organization. In Alcoholics Anonymous, the fifth step encourages a recovering person to reveal his or her deepest secrets, fears and harmful activities from the past to another trusted individual. It is considered one of the most difficult steps and demands an enormous amount of trust.

"Adrienne let me know that [Gary] was an enlightened being," Meachen says. "That was the beginning of me buying the whole package."

"I totally understand why Claudia did what she did," Meachen continues. "Everyone else had more reservations than she and I. We trusted and loved [Gary] completely."

Family Ties

    I think of when Gary says something to me it is Gold. I melt inside. I feel everything. He is taking us out to dinner. ... I'm going to find a really nice dress to wear.
    --diary entry, Nov. 28, 1990

'WHEN I FIRST MET Claudia she was not feminine at all," Meachen says, thinking back. It was in Claudia's guru devotee days, and she was a little overweight, with no interest in material things like makeup, nice clothes or a car, for that matter.

"I think functioning in society was always hard for Claudia," she continues. "She didn't have much self-esteem or self-confidence."

Meachen pauses. "It's really hard to talk about who she was, because Claudia didn't 'have' Claudia at all," she finally says. "She gave up her soul for someone else."

Claudia blossomed in those early years with Golden Gate Records. She lost a few pounds and began to take a little better care of herself. Photos show a radiant young woman emerging. She clearly struggled with a love for Gary that was both spiritual and carnal. "It's really a test for me to remain nonphysical," she writes in one entry. "And yet it's not at all. Our love is of a higher nature."

Those were also heady days for Meachen. A social network, a respite from her troubled marriage, a source of income and, most important, a higher purpose to life came bundled together at Golden Gate Records. Soon, she convinced her husband, Forrest, to join the group. However, he says he did not join willingly.

"The hook they used was my kids," Forrest recalls. "I thought if I said no, I'd lose my family."

Bob Davidson echoes Forrest's ambivalence. Like the Meachens, the Davidsons were at a troubled time in their relationship.

"Denise said she wanted a 'man of God' in her life," remembers Bob. For Bob to achieve that, he was told by Denise that he must call Gary and use him as a sponsor. "I had no desire to call him, but my reward was to have my family," he says.

The children of all three families--Adrienne's, the Davidsons' and the Meachens'--played together and soon shared a baby-sitter: Claudia Kraft.

"She watched my kids and the other kids," says Denise, who left the organization last March. "It was difficult for her, but we made her do it because it was 'part of her growth.' " She pauses, and her eyes fill with tears.

"I have to own that," Denise says softly. "I was a victim, manipulated, and then I passed that down."

At least a half-dozen people involved in the organization describe similar experiences. As new acolytes got involved, they became convinced they were involved in a higher calling. They were constantly stroked and made to feel special.

As one former member who requested anonymity recalled, "They were encouraged not to have contact with 'normies'--people outside the group were not 'spiritual' enough or 'clean' enough."

Another employee, Lillian Foster, remembers how she was urged by Gary to cut ties with the outside world. "He'd tell me not to talk to others because they wouldn't understand," Foster recalls.

Gary Lamb Golden Touch: In the early 1990s, Gary Lamb's Golden Gate Records was listed as the fourth top-selling independent instrumental record label.



The Prize

    Dinner tonight with ... man of God and Gary Lamb, son of God. (The original.)
    --diary entry, June 21, 1995

MARGARET HUGHES WORKS as a marketing consultant and has known Lamb for about 15 years. Never part of the organization itself, she contracted to help package and market the music. She recalls occasional social functions with employees of Golden Gate Records.

"There were no outsiders invited," Hughes recalls. "Everyone was happy, everyone was almost trancelike."

Lamb's tapes were marketed through small craft shows, trade shows and business fairs throughout the West, and many employees found themselves on a grueling schedule of nonstop traveling and setting up shows. One of those working hardest was Claudia.

"Claudia was the one that got sent every weekend to the places that no one else wanted to do," Foster recalls. It is difficult for those outside the group to understand what motivated the members of Gary Lamb's entourage. Most involved admit that greed had its share in the mix, since they were convinced that the company would be huge one day.

"We were all going to be wealthy and have everything we wanted," Denise says.

But stronger than the mercenary instincts was the opportunity to be close to Gary himself. "There are people in that group that thought he was the Messiah," Denise explains.

"Gary was held as the prize," adds another member, who spoke anonymously. "If you worked the program good, you'll get to spend time with Gary. He was seen as God by everyone, especially by my friend Claudia."

Eventually, Claudia began to refer to Gary by the nickname "Mister."

    Mister asks what he should do [about another employee]. I don't know. She needs disciplining from Adrienne. She's the disciplinarian. He's the lover.
    --diary entry, Sept. 27, 1995

As in any relationship, the honeymoon phase began to ebb. Verbal abuse started to find its way beside the strokes and promises. "There was a lot of disciplinary action," Denise says. "If things weren't falling into place, who was to blame? You."

She recalled the typical progress for members. "You come in as this new, fresh, eager-to-learn person, your ego is brought up, you're feeling good about yourself. But then you do something wrong and you would get totally annihilated--yelled at and ostracized.

"And for some reason, you'd sit there and take it," Denise continues. "You'd feel so bad about yourself, but you'd think maybe you could learn something from this."

Claudia often played the role of scapegoat--particularly at the hands of Adrienne. The woman who was once her sponsor now posed a barrier between Claudia and Gary. Claudia's diary reveals how she grew to resent Adrienne:

    I am weakened by my association with her and so I must draw the line.
    --diary entry, July 1, 1995

But Claudia would shrink beneath Adrienne's wrath over and over, no matter how many lines she drew. The alternative could be expulsion--and being ostracized by Lamb and the group was the worst fate of all.

"Being pushed out by him meant to be pushed out by God," Sue Meachen says. "All your joy was about being loved and accepted by this person."

It is this relationship with Lamb and the group that those interviewed find hardest to explain, even to themselves. According to Anthony Pratkanis, professor of psychology at UCSC, that's not unusual. Pratkanis is an expert on social influence in situations ranging from workplaces to telemarketing techniques to cults. "The group tends to be isolated in terms of limited social networks," Pratkanis notes. "Group members are highly dependent on the group--physically, financially and especially dependent on the group for their self-esteem and identity. They're 'special' because they belong to the group.

"The most important thing is for the leader to establish a myth or a story that sets that person apart," Pratkanis adds. "The easiest way to be special is to be God or be a messenger of God."

Vulnerable, Not Weak

    Mister and I have shared on a verbal, emotional level. I guess some of my fear around Adrienne's return was that I would no longer have a relationship with him and that he would dispose of me.
    --diary entry, July 27, 1995

BY EARLY 1994, Adrienne's obsession with Gary had become complete. She had been his earliest and strongest supporter and helped launch his business out of her home. He continued to be her employer and her sponsor. Eventually, after several stormy arguments and tearful confrontations, Adrienne had convinced him to marry her, according to the Meachens and Davidsons. The marriage, which took place in April 1994, lasted just a year.

In the summer of 1995, following her separation from Gary, Adrienne left for Southern California only to return within a few months and rejoin the company. The drama surrounding this dysfunction only served to heighten the verbal abuse.

"Gary never did any of the dirty work himself," Denise says. "He would always have go-betweens."

Claudia withstood working long hours, verbal abuse, living with people she did not want to live with and baby-sitting children she did not want to take care of--anything was preferable to losing Gary. When she could not make it, she went back to her teenage coping mechanism--bingeing and vomiting. Through it all, her diaries reflect simmering resentment and growing unhappiness mixed with a devotion to Lamb so desperate that the distinction between heaven and hell had vanished:

    Mister you are the one who has given me back my life. ... He thanks me for helping him with the cause. Excuse me, Mister, you have taken me from the depths of hell.
    --diary entry, July 2, 1995

    Hellish day #2. Headache all day ... You don't have to work like a dog anymore--if you want to be with him, just say so!
    --diary entry, Aug. 6, 1995

The Fall

SEVERAL FRIENDS recall that Claudia's greatest desire was to have a husband and children. But as she approached her 40th birthday last April, friends say she became convinced that it was getting too late for either. She had leased an expensive car and apartment, yet she also writes in her diary that Golden Gate Records had cut her commission from 30 percent to 10 percent. It looked as if the business might fold. It was worth it as long as she could stay close to her savior.

However, her savior's own problems were beginning to mount as his stormy relationship with Adrienne unraveled. Months after Adrienne was fired a second time in December 1996, she accused Lamb of molesting her underage daughter.

After pleading no contest to statutory rape, Lamb was ordered to serve 45 days in jail. Upon his release last June, Lamb abruptly left town and cut off all communication with the organization.

"[Claudia] couldn't believe he moved without telling her," Sue Meachen remembers. "Golden Gate records was her financial and emotional support. I don't think she was feeling anything solid, and it was all falling apart for her."

Meachen remembers one of her last phone conversations with Claudia. Claudia was on the road, as usual, calling from a motel room. During the two-hour conversation, the fragile shell of denial began to crack and Claudia started to see Gary in a different light. For years Claudia figured that it was Adrienne who had kept the organization in turmoil, but that night Claudia told Sue, "I realize that Gary and Adrienne were the same."

Sue urged Claudia to look for something else, but Claudia had no idea what she could do, what she would want to do outside Golden Gate Records. Then she mentioned a recent visit to a therapist. "She told me I don't have a self," Sue remembers Claudia telling her.

"She said she couldn't do it anymore," Sue continues, looking tearful. "I turned to my husband and said, 'She's not going to make it.' "

On the afternoon of Sept. 6, Claudia called her sister Vicki Enright in Boston. She was in a motel room in Sacramento, finishing up another craft show. Claudia told her sister she was thinking of committing herself to an institution. Enright, who had also struggled with depression and an eating disorder, was worried, but had asked her sister several times over the summer if she was suicidal. Each time Claudia had answered no. Enright had no way of knowing that Claudia had a business card in her wallet from a gun shop, or that when Meachen had talked of feeling suicidal, Claudia had asked pointedly, "How would you do it?"

That evening after arriving home, according to Enright, Claudia called a co-worker to ask if she would like to take a walk. The co-worker declined. Sometime early Monday Sept. 7, Claudia hanged herself from the exposed beams in her home near the ocean.

"My sister had a number of problems in her life," recalls Claudia's brother Marc. "But if she wasn't with Gary Lamb, perhaps she'd be alive today."

Another sister, Andrea Scott, argues against making Gary Lamb the scapegoat. She outlines a family history of depression that has affected all but two siblings--herself and Marc. Another of the seven Kraft children committed suicide 22 years ago.

"I know people like to point fingers when there's a suicide," Scott says, "but it had nothing to do with Gary Lamb. She loved him and respected his music and his wisdom.

"Depression is something people don't understand," Scott continues. "Claudia created the problems--even Gary tried to help her. I say, give the guy a break."

Gary's brother, Ken Lamb, agrees. "Everyone was well aware of Claudia and was aware of her depression," Ken says. "Nowhere can I see a connection between the suicide and Golden Gate Records."

Ken will not answer any questions about the business of Golden Gate Records prior to February, when he says he took over the company. Nor will he answer questions about Gary.

"I represent Golden Gate Records and sell music," Ken replies. "I don't sell the musician. We at Golden Gate Records feel very deep sorrow at Claudia's suicide. We are respecting the privacy of her family and have nothing further to say--other than she was a great worker and we held her in high esteem."

Gary Lamb has reportedly moved to Nashville. He maintains a phone number there, but it is unlisted. Ken refused several requests to put Metro in touch with Gary for this story. In addition, a half-dozen calls and an email were sent to Gary Lamb's attorney, Paul Meltzer, in an attempt to reach Lamb.

Although they do not want to go on the record, there are supporters of Gary Lamb who are convinced he was a hapless victim of Adrienne's manipulations.

Margaret Hughes laughs bitterly at this. "Adrienne wasn't who she became without Gary. Believe me, Gary gives directions and other people do it."

Endgame

'THE BEST PART was you didn't have to make decisions," Denise says of those years with Golden Gate Records. "Everything is cut and dried, and if there was any questions, you'd get on the phone with your sponsor." For an example, she notes that since Gary was vegetarian, everyone became vegetarian.

"So you look at a menu and out of a bazillion choices, it gets narrowed down to two," she says with a small smile.

Bob says that some friends from before his involvement with Golden Gate Records still want nothing to do with him.

"I had lifelong friends that disowned me [since my involvement in Golden Gate Records], and they still absolutely hate Denise," he says.

    Today everybody called on Mister. His body is racked [sic] with all our worldly burdens. Mister is all things to all people.
    --diary entry, Oct. 25, 1995

"I've always been idealistic," Sue Meachen says, thinking over the last several months. "It was something that I never wanted to lose.

"I always thought that things work out in this world," she adds as her eyes fill once again with tears. "But then I look at Claudia and realize it doesn't."


*Last name withheld to shield the identity of a minor.

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From the November 5-11, 1998 issue of Metro.

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