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Ah, Youth

Spiritual Smart Aleck

In 1966, after my first year of college, my parents and I had a disagreement which led to a parting of the ways. I ended up living in San Francisco, in a stairwell on Oak Street in the Haight-Ashbury.

In 1966 the Haight-Ashbury was still San Francisco’s open secret. There was a mix of attitude and drugs and music, oh the music! Mostly at the Avalon Ballroom (hosted by the Family Dog) and the Fillmore Auditorium (hosted by Bill Graham. Free apples!), played by all those bands: Big Brother and the Holding Company, Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, to name but a few, and the blues gods: Bo Diddley (whose bass player told me we could make beautiful music together), the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Charlie Musselwhite, Chuck Berry.

The music, the attitude, and of course the effects of using marijuana and LSD were central to the Haight-Ashbury zeitgeist. Grass was $10 a lid, the best LSD was made by Owsley, and it was still legal.

I was 18 and had acquired one marketable skill in my education: typing. I signed up with a temp agency, and was a lucky college dropout wandering through what was then the coolest place to be in the whole world.

In 1966 I encountered a lot of people who were famous or about to be – Jerry Garcia sitting in the laundromat on Haight Street waiting for the dryer to finish – Alan Ginsberg in flowing robes wafting up the stairs to the Avalon Ballroom with his retinue of young people – Neal Cassady and Ken Kesey (who was on the run from the law) dressed in white jumpsuits, walking down Page Street to a dance put on by the Hell’s Angels (free oranges!), stopping to chat and share a smoke.

In the winter of ’67 I went back to college, making one more attempt to reconcile with my family and color inside the lines, but darn, the Haight-Ashbury was so much more interesting than college. At the end of that school year I hitchhiked up through Big Sur to Monterey to attend the Monterey Pop Festival. When I got home and was dropped off by the carload of hippies that gave me a ride, my parents could see that I had not changed much from the summer before. We fell out. Again.

So I landed in the Haight-Ashbury again, working for the temp agency again, sleeping on various friends’ couches and floors until I found a room in a flat on Clayton Street.

It was the “Summer of Love,” and the world turned its attention to the Haight-Ashbury. By that time there were tourist buses, and crowds of tourists and curious young people who had come to see what the Summer of Love was all about.

George Harrison and his then-wife Patti Boyd came one day and stayed until he was recognized. Then they walked back to their limousine which was parked on Masonic Street as fast as they reasonably could with hundreds of hippies trailing along singing, “We all live in a yellow submarine!” I can only imagine the fear that must clutch a famous person’s heart when being pursued by a mob like that. At the time I was part of the mob. George and Patti graciously stopped and shook a few hands, including my friend Bob’s, before saying good-bye and ducking into the limo and getting the heck out of there.

I was impressed with how short and slight George Harrison was, an observation I would make again a couple of years later when I saw the Rolling Stones. Man, those British kids who grew up on rations and shortages after World War II did not get very big.

The flat on Clayton Street was across the street from Chet Gurley’s house, and Big Brother and the Holding Company rehearsed there sometimes during the summer of 1967. Janis did not have a rehearsal volume – she was full tilt, all of the time.

My friend Bob looked out the flat window one day, and said, “Shel Silverstein is sitting on the curb across the street.” I looked out the window, and sure enough, there he was. Bob and I went down the stairs and across the street and struck up a conversation. He was polite, even friendly, to us. He was sitting there doing an ink drawing of the San Francisco skyline as it looked from where he was sitting. That drawing appeared a couple of months later in Playboy Magazine, along with the article he wrote about the Haight Ashbury.

A lot of water has gone over the dam since 1967, friends. I’ve dropped a lot of heavy names here (thud, thud, thud), and so many of those people are gone now - Janis Joplin and Chet Gurley, Bill Graham, George Harrison, Alan Ginsberg, Shel Silverstein, Jerry Garcia, Neal Cassady and Ken Kesey. All those voices and instruments that moved us so, gone silent. Mick Jagger is still around, for some reason. Go figure.

I walked through it all oblivious, a lonesome kid looking for love and attention and getting on a lot of peoples’ nerves. Bad things happened in the Haight, but for some reason they didn’t happen to me. Did I mention I was lucky?
Never was much one for drugs – I had too much on my mind and drugs got in the way. Went to LA to become a rock star in 1969, and came crawling out looking for some peace and quiet in 1971. Moved to Vashon Island in 1973, and soon settled down and became remarkably conventional, at least for me.

Growing up on the farm I thought life was so boring and I couldn’t wait to get out of there and get a life where things happened. Now I look at life since the farm and think, you can’t make this stuff up. As it turns out, life is more exciting now than it ever has been.

I didn’t see that coming.