Getting Back to the Bay
(Fever Tree “San Francisco Girls (Return of the Native) – (April, 1968)
“Strobe lights beam create dreams
Walls move minds do too
On a warm San Franciscan night
Old child young child feel alright
On a warm San Franciscan night
Angels sing leather wings
Jeans of blue Harley Davidson’s too
On a warm San Franciscan night
Old angels young angels feel alright
On a warm San Franciscan night.”
(The Animals “San Franciscan Nights” (July 1967)
“For those who come to San Francisco
Summertime will be a love-in there
In the streets of San Francisco
Gentle people with flowers in their hair”
(Scott McKenzie “San Francisco” – 1967 (before the Monterey Pop Festival)
I didn’t make it San Francisco until it was well a done deal. My wife, Janet and I occasionally found our way over to the Bay area in 1971 from the fertile valley town of Merced, about an hour away. On one of these excursions we decided to finally see “Haight-Ashbury” for ourselves. Not much happening. Just a shell of it’s former self. Still some hangers-on going through the motions.
What I do remember clearly is that when we were riding on the edge of the adjacent Golden Gate Park with a couple of cheap bike rentals (very cheap as we had very little money) Janet took a spill. About 20 feet away was a small group of youngsters, sort of masquerading in dress in the manner of their “Haight” ancestors from a couple of years previous.
They all started laughing at her. And she was obviously injured. Cant’ remember what I actually said to them. But they shut up and moved on. Times had changed.
Gentle Thursday in Colorado
Like millions of others, I experienced what was happening in San Francisco from afar. The first inkling that something was up came in the Spring of 1965. I was attending Colorado State University, a college-in-transition from “Aggie” (agricultural status) to a full blown University. Located 60 miles north of Denver in what was still a sleepy and considerably small rural town.
I was sitting in the school’s student union cafeteria one day with some friends. One corner of the café was a gathering place for a very small band of students who were referred to by everyone else as “the beats”. “Hippie” was a term that was still nearly two years distance. This group of students were generally anchored out of the Philosophy department, a curiosity in itself at a college steeped in a tradition of agriculture, forestry and veterinarian medicine degrees.
Well on this particular day, three or four of “the beats” were strolling through the noon-time crowd handing out a small piece of paper. They finally made it over to our table and handed us one: “Gentle Thursday is Coming”, was the message – nothing else.
We didn’t have a clue and that was that. Back to class. I can’t recall that “Gentle Thursday” actually ever arrived at CSU. If it did it was probably celebrated by five or six students, and perhaps received a few columns in the school newspaper “The Collegian”.
In time we would begin to hear about those bands “out there” with the strange names, and then finally, the nation’s media caught wind of strange goings on in “the city by the bay”………
Here is a little “trip through the Haight” for those of us who experienced it from afar….
Life in The “Haight”
“They came from Haight-Ashbury, the area with wealthy Pacific Heights to the south and the black Fillmore neighborhood to the east that they were gradually colonizing for themselves. It was only a couple south of the Panhandle, the long thin park that led to Golden Gate Park itself, and the University of San Francisco was just two blocks further north. It had always been a cheap student area.
“In San Francisco hippies were seen as a new, younger, inexperienced version of the older hipsters – hence the name, which some people claim was given them by the older, hipper North Beach residents.”
City Lights Book Store
“Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s City Lights bookshop on Columbus Avenue remained a gathering place (in the 60’s) for writers and poets and there was also a very active presence of Neal Cassady, who had been Jack Kerouac’s great hero – celebrated as Dean Moriarty in ‘On the Road’.”
Death of a Hippie
Golden Gate Park & The Panhandle
Golden Gate park – lying adjacent to the Haight-Ashbury community was a natural gathering place for the residents and the general hippie community. The Panhandle is a narrow but long running section of park adjoining Golden Gate.
“Known alternatively as ‘A Human Be-In’, ‘Pow Wow’ and ‘A Gathering of Tribes,’ the event was held on January 14, 1967 in the polo field of Golden Gate Park. All day people drifted to the park. The crowd was not there to protest anything, they had no demands to make, it was simply a celebration of being together.”
Concer Poster Artists
“1966 was the year that psychedelic posters really took off. The poster artists worked for both Bill Graham and Chet Helms. — By May of 1966 Bill Graham was realizing that, as fast as he could put up his posters, people would tear them down to take home for their walls.” And thus some of the earliest collector’s items were born…. and today they sell for considerable bucks.
The Acid Tests
“The first Acid Test was held on November 27th, 1966 at Ken Babbs’ place near Santa Cruz, a chicken ranch known as The Spread.” Three more primary “tests” were to follow. After the 4th test (Ken) “Kesey, however, did not have a good time and at dawn he announced to the (Merry) Pranksters that the Acid Tests were over. ‘No More’ he declared. They were getting to big and there were too many bad vibes. No one listened though, and they carried right on planning the next one.”
Ken Kesey* & The Merry Pranksters
“Timothy Leary was not at Millbrook when they arrived; the bus roared up the long drive, around the lake, American flags flying all over it, rock ‘n roll blaring from the speakers.
“As they drew near to the giant 63-room Victorian gothic stone mansion, the Pranksters began lobbing green smoke bombs, expecting the members of the League for Spiritual Discovery to run out and welcome them with open arms as fellow travelers. But nothing happened…..
“Really, the names said it all. The League for Spiritual Discovery meets the Merry Pranksters; two more different approaches could not be imagined.”
Timothy Leary on the occasion: “The genius of the tribal system is that each one has its own totem and its own gods. When you get into merging tribes you get into feudalism.”
“The principal driver was Neal Cassady, who had his own microphone in front of him so that he could keep up a continuous amphetamine-inspired monologue as he drove, smoke joints, made faces, crashed his way through gears and hallucinated that the gas pedal had turn to spaghetti or that he was being attacked by phantom cockroaches.”
*Kesey – probably in saner moments – authored the novel later a motion picture “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” in 1962 and “Sometimes a Great Notion” novel later movie in 1964.
“The Diggers thought they could only be free by drawing the line and living outside the nexus of profit, private property and power that was the premise of Western culture. They did not believe that you could change anything from within…..”
From a Digger flyer circulated when tensions with law enforcement were mounting: “And so, if you own anything or you don’t, take a cop to dinner this week and feed his power to judge, prosecute and brutalize the streets of your city.”
And a poster in The Haight from The Diggers: “Free Food: At Oak-Ashbury Panhandle. 4 pm everyday. Bring a bowl and spoon. It’s free because it’s yours. The Diggers”.
“Wavy Gravy spent two years working at Cal State by day and running a pig farm on a mountaintop in the San Fernando Valley in the evenings and weekends in exchange for rent. More people began to arrive and colonize the nearby shacks and put up tents, and the Hog Farm was born…..
“Wavy Gravy: ‘The Hog Farm is an expanded family, a mobile hallucination, a sociological experiment, an army of clowns. We are 50 people on a perpetual trip, with six converted school buses, some vans and pickups, one for our pet pig, Pigasus.'”
(Wavy Gravy went onto 1969 hippie fame at Woodstock where his band of clowns the “Please Force” monitored the happenings and Wavy made announcements from the stage).
After the Haight subsided, Communes sprung up in isolated areas – especially in California and other western States, mainly in 1968 – 1969 – some hanging on longer.
Timothy Leary & LSD
“Leary’s approach to the LSD experience was about as far from of the Pranksters as could be imagined. He thought it should be taken in a peaceful setting to produce a personal, contemplative, spiritual experience. The intention being to cause a ‘brain-change’, or to use on of Leary’s slogans, ‘You have to be out of your mind to use your head.”
“They (Pranskters) thought LSD should be taken in an atmosphere where anything could happen and went of of their way to organize tricks and scary, edgy situations for themselves to encounter while on a trip, just to see what would happen.”
Angels from Hell
“The woods were filled with the roar of Harley Davidson’s as forty or so Hell’s Angels descended on the Kessey spread. The Pranksters had food and beer ready, and after a few joints, the Angels were persuaded to try LSD. Soon they were tripping wildly.
“The party lasted for two and a half days and continued on and off for months ….The septic tank at la Honda had backed up and there were too many Hell’s Angels around even for the Prankster’s liking.”
“Death” of a Hippie
Ironically, when the rest of the U.S. was just getting into the swing of what was happening up in Northern California, the first final bells were beginning to toll for the flower children, and for the “Haight” itself.”
“To commemorate the anniversary of making LSD illegal, an alliance of Haight organizations including the Free Clinic, the Switchboard, the Free City (Diggers) and others announced a Death of Hippie ceremony for October 6th (1967) —- The medical section of the Free Clinic had already been closed and someone had embezzled the Switchboard, so it was deeply in debt. The Free Store had been damaged in a night-time burglary – they could have come in the day and everything would have been free, but junkies and speed freaks will do anything, and even the Psychedelic Store – one of the leading HIP merchants, was in debt”…
The narrative concludes, “Nothing was ever the same again on the Haight as hard drugs decimated the community….The hippie era was over. It had lasted little more than two years.”
More Sights and Sounds of “The Haight”
The Summer of Love
The “Summer of Love” (1967) and inspired by The Monterey Pop Festival down a bit south on the Coast, inspired gatherings around the world – many scrambling to mimic what their San Francisco brethren were living daily.
“The term “Summer of Love” originated with the formation of the Council for the Summer of Love during the spring of 1967 as a response to the convergence of young people on the Haight-Ashbury district. The Council was composed of The Family Dog, The Straight Theatre, The Diggers, The San Francisco Oracle, and approximately twenty-five other people, who sought to alleviate some of the problems anticipated from the influx of people expected during the summer. The Council also assisted the Free Clinic and organized housing, food, sanitation, music and arts, along with maintaining coordination with local churches and other social groups ….” (Wikipedia)
Hardly a night went by the in the Bay area without a concert or several concerts being staged. The two main players were Bill Graham’s Fillmore Auditorium and Chet Helms Avalon Ballroom, where a who’s who of the local music community and many from far beyond, paraded through until 1968 for the Avalon. The Fillmore relocated in 1968 as “The Fillmore West” to a better building with better capacity. The Fillmore West finally closed it’s doors in July of 1971.
Other hip venues included “The Matrix” – “The Inn of the Beginning” – “Alameda County Fairgrounds” – “Winterland Ballroom” – “Longshoreman’s Hall” and even the “Bandshell” a public venue in Golden Gate Park where many free concerts were staged.
“In America (especially The Haight) light-show teams operated independently, as if they were groups themselves, and would be hired to provide a show for all the groups playing that evening.”
Some of the show providers were “Light Sound Dimension” – “Brotherhood of Light” – “The Heavy Water Light Show” – “The Pig Light Show” – “Little Princess” – “Abercrombe Lights” and “The Liquid Light Lab”
The San Francisco Mime Troupe
“The San Francisco Mime Troupe was founded by Ronny Davis in an old church on Capp Street in the Mission. In many ways they were the intellectual end of the scene. They performed what came to be known as agitprop; radical political plays in the tradition of Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty, but rendered in the form of the commedia dell’arte.”
“Believing that the parks belonged to the people and that they (Mime Troupe) had a right to perform on the principle of free speech (their permit had been revoked by the city of San Francisco), they defied the law and, naturally got busted.”
The Family Dog
(From the Family Dog web site)
“In 1966, a free-spirited rock promoter named Chet Helms teamed up with a bunch of hippies and started putting on some of the greatest rock events of all time. They called their commune/promotions company, The Family Dog.
The Family Dog’s weekly dance hall revues gave the local bands a forum to perform their groundbreaking music. It was here in places like the Fillmore Auditorium and the Avalon Ballroom where the philosophies and ideals of a counterculture revolution found their voice.”