The San Francisco scene started at the Red Dog Saloon, as much as you can say it started at any one place. Most of the elements were there: rock & roll, a sort of light show, the first psychedelic dance poster, the theatrical lifestyle and acid. Lots of acid. The best LSD in the world, in fact, the genuine Owsley.
When the Red Dog opened on June 29th, 1965, Owsley Stanley had been making LSD for about four months and the Berkeley contingent at the Red Dog knew him. Chandler Laughlin, the saloon’s entertainment director and manager of the resident rock band, remembers precisely the first night Owsley’s acid was available: March 5th. “It was the second night of the Fuck Rally at Cal,” he recalls. “Me and a Hell’s Angel named Gypsy and Neal Cassady and his old lady Ann Murphy and a bunch of other people drove down past the campus, where the students were shouting ‘Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!,’ out to where Owsley was, picked up the acid and went on down to the Cabale Coffee House to hear the Chambers Brothers rock & roll.”
Even before Owsley, acid had been spreading fast in the Bay Area for about two years, though at the time nobody had any idea just how fast. Even though LSD was still legal, the scene still seemed to itself a tiny fringe movement, probably not much larger than the circle of acidheads one happened to know. It was a buttoned up sort of psychedelic scene, with self-conscious religious or therapeutic goals.
But already down around Stanford University a novelist named Ken Kesey had a scene where people took LSD for adventure, just to see what would happen. And Kesey was pushing the limits of what could happen. He had opened his acid parties to the most notorious outlaw motorcycle gang, the Hell’s Angels, to whom he had been introduced by a journalist named Hunter S. Thompson. Furthermore, the British-sparked rock & roll revival had been going on for more than a year, and one way or another a lot of people were picking up on the fact that instead of spending your trip on a prayer mat or staring at a Zen rock garden, you could dance.
At the time, anybody would have thought the scene in the Bay Area was Berkeley. The Free Speech Movement the year before had made headlines all over the world and there was still a lot of political ferment there. The Berkeley Barb, third oldest of the underground newspapers, was just starting.
But the artistic community was restless, caught between the austere late-Fifties avant-garde tradition, the late-beatnik experiments with “Events” and “Happenings” and the Pop Art dalliance with simple fun. The directors of Berkeley’s Open Theater were tired of conventional art presentations. At the San Francisco Tape Music Center, where Steve Reich, Terry Riley, Morton Subotnick and others had been putting on New Music concerts for four years, codirector Ramon Sender felt the same way. The improvisational group called the Committee was reorganizing; the Mime Troupe was performing political satires in public parks.
By coincidence, the Tape Center was at the edge of a neglected San Francisco neighborhood known, from its principal intersection, as the Haight-Ashbury district. It was a quiet place, largely made up of retired Russians with a peaceful integration of blacks and Orientals. It happened to have the most convenient cheap housing for San Francisco State College students. Really cheap — $175 a month would get you two bottom floors of a beautiful Victorian mansion with four fireplaces and leather wallpaper. Like many obscure neighborhoods, it was the location of a discreet sprinkling of gay bars. It had attracted a few settlers from North Beach where media pressure and police harassment had closed down the Beat scene a few years before.
“For the most part, we were rejects from other towns,” remembers Rock Scully, a State College graduate student and integration-march organizer at the time. “We were pretty big swellheads who had stood out like sore thumbs and split. The Haight-Ashbury was a very beautiful place, the houses were nice and lent themselves well to us — the high ceilings, the gas jets that still worked.” In a setting of Victorian mouldings and scrollwork, in cheap rooms with stained-glass doors and window seats, a hip aesthetic developed around the art nouveau not-quite-antiques that were going cheap at secondhand stores. There were pads in the Haight entirely decorated in Victoriana, with gaslights instead of electric bulbs. In the same area as the Tape Center, on Divisadero Street, a tiny shop that opened in 1964 embodied the style. Magic Theater for Madmen Only was part art gallery, part hip artifact shop, part stash-box market, under surveillance as a dope-dealing operation; it established the pattern for later hip boutiques.
But the Haight was quiet, residential. There was no place to hang out in public but a donut shop or a laundromat — unless you wanted to go to a bar, and the dopers were self-righteous about booze. It was just a neighborhood where rather a lot of people were interested in art and getting high.
One sometime Haight resident was an actor turned folksinger named Marty Balin. Like everybody else in the Haight and Berkeley and Palo Alto he was listening to the Beatles. Like Bob Dylan, like the Los Angeles group that took the name the Byrds, like the New York group the Lovin’ Spoonful, he’d started thinking about breaking the first commandment of the folk music movement: thou shalt not “go commercial,” which above all meant playing rock & roll on electric guitars. Balin was part-owner of a folk-music coffeehouse called the Matrix, two and a half miles removed from the Haight on Fill-more Street: the perfect showcase for his idea. There were others “going electric” besides Balin and his Jefferson Airplane, like the band in Palo Alto that would take the name Grateful Dead and the future Quicksilver Messenger Service in Marin County.
To a psychedelic eye in the sky, the Bay Area would have looked like a maze of tiny puddles of acidheads, each ignorant of the others. The Red Dog Saloon was one place where people could get an inkling — from out in Nevada — of how big it was becoming.
The Red Dog was a sound commercial adventure, with its live entertainment and French cooking; at one time it was drawing 50 cars a night from Reno and Carson City. But the people who ran it were making a style out of it the way the Haight hippies were doing on their turf. ” ‘This is an old western town,’ we’d tell ourselves,” says Chan Laughlin. ” ‘And we’re more old western than anybody else. Just remember, when your feet hit the floor in the morning you’re in a grade B movie. This is that saloon down the street where the manager has his office under the stairs and all the gun hands sit around out front and periodically he comes out and motions a couple of them to ride away and rustle some cows. It’s that place, complete with fancy girls going around bending over tables and the music and people roaring and ordering more drinks and carrying on.’ ” One day somebody goosed their script along a little further by riding into the Red Dog on a horse.
The place had been conceived as a folk music club, but somebody’d heard of a rock & roll band in the Haight and they seemed pretty wild. The Charlatans, as they called themselves, had been organized as an art statement by a designer named George Hunter, who was a leading exemplar of the Haight-Ashbury Victorian hip trip, and they included Michael Ferguson, proprietor of Magic Theater for Madmen Only. So they became the Red Dog’s house band and moved straight into the Comstock Lode style. At one time they would come onstage carrying matched-caliber Winchester rifles and lean them against the amplifier before picking up their guitars. One week when money was short the club’s owner bought a load of rifles at a discount and paid everybody in Old West hardware. Art is art, sure — but a ripple of apprehension passed through the good burghers of Virginia City when they saw one of those strange young people walk down C Street with a double armload of rifles.
It wasn’t the only trouble the Red Dog scene was having. There were more and more people doing things like walking around at 4 a.m. giggling at rocks. The envious bartender down the street was spreading incredible rumors about drug use and underage girls. Once in a while some local cowboys would take exception to somebody’s Beatles-length hair and things got uncomfortable when some of the local teenagers got turned on to grass. The last straw came on September 1st when Laughlin and the Charlatans’ guitarist were busted for grass in Rodeo, California. The next day the owner fired the Charlatans; the day after that Ken Kesey showed up with a busful of his Merry Pranksters for a 24-hour party. The day after that, the owner padlocked the club.
It had lasted just over two months, an adventure seemingly outside of time.
But some were not reconciled to the end of the adventure — notably a group of people living in a bohemian enclave on Pine Street in San Francisco: Jack Towle, who had the reputation of having established ten dollars as the ceiling price of a lid of grass in San Francisco; an ex-Red Dog employee named Ellen Harmon; Alton Kelly, a collage artist who had helped build the Red Dog; and Luria Castell, a political activist who had dipped into a number of the local bohemias and the burgeoning Sunset Strip rock scene in L.A. as well.
They were living at a place called the Dog House in a curious no man’s land between the Fillmore black ghetto and the wealthy Pacific Heights district. There were half a dozen apartment houses full of heads and dealers in the neighborhood, not to mention the San Francisco Zen Temple. The Dog House apartment manager was Bill Ham, an artist who had been working with moving light projections — a “light box” designed by him had sat on the Red Dog stage behind the Charlatans.
For months Ham had been working on a different technique. He would manipulate liquid pigments in a glass dish over a spotlight, and the moving abstract paintings that resulted would be projected off an overhead mirror onto a screen. The usual evening’s entertainment for the half-dozen head houses on Pine Street was to go into Ham’s basement and watch the light painting in collaboration with a guitarist or flutist. By the end of ’65 Ham was doing public shows at the Tape Center.
Like most of the bohemians on Pine Street, like the nascent scene in the Haight, the Dog House was mostly supporting itself by dealing. But the border kept getting hotter and more heads kept getting busted and the Dog House crowd started casting around for alternate employment. Somehow the “dog” part stuck — maybe it was because there were lots of dogs running around the Dog House, maybe it was because Ellen’s dog had just gotten run over, maybe it was because they’d all recently tripped out on the idea of running a pet cemetery as an income scam. Take your pick of stories. They were now the Family Dog and they were going to put on dances.
They borrowed money and looked for a hall. From her days with Fair Play for Cuba Committee and other radical causes, Luria knew of one called Longshoremen’s Hall, a modernistic, dome-shaped union hall near Fisherman’s Wharf. Ralph J. Gleason, the San Francisco Chronicle jazz columnist who had already gone out on a limb to praise the Beatles, Bob Dylan and the Jefferson Airplane, gave them a mention in his column; a few posters went up in strategic spots around the Bay Area, advertising “A Tribute to Dr. Strange” for October 16th.
October 16th, 1965, was also scheduled for the biggest antiwar march to date, from the University of California campus to the Oakland Army Induction Center. It was an impressively large demonstration and it was also the end of a dream. After Ken Kesey had turned the Hell’s Angels on to acid, they’d started hanging around Telegraph Avenue. But when the chips were down and Sonny Barger, the president of the large Oakland chapter, decided to oppose the peace marchers, the Angels formed ranks behind him and the imagined shock troops of the revolution forcibly halted the march at the Oakland border. For one day in American history, Stewart Brand observed, nobody knew who the good guys were.
That night hundreds of people — some of them direct from the march and even a few Angels — converged on the peculiar dome-shaped building near Fisherman’s Wharf where the city’s premiere rock band, Marty Balin’s Jefferson Airplane, was sharing the bill with the legendary Charlatans and Bill Ham’s exotic show of flowing colored lights. Nobody was quite prepared for it. The people who weren’t stoned on acid looked stoned. Allen Ginsberg could be seen wandering around in his white hospital-orderly suit, staring around with a look of amazement. There were all these… crazy … people … wearing Haight-Ashbury Victorian clothes, cowboy ? Indian costumes, slinky antique gowns, paisley prints, spacesuits, with paint on their faces and feathers in their hair, dancing, dancing.
It was like this. If you thought something interesting might be going on at a rock dance named for a magician in Marvel Comics who could travel between dimensions by mind power, you were liable to find it was just what you’d always wanted but never realized it.
Say no more. A lot of little puddles had started running together.
A week later the Family Dog put on another dance named for a cartoon character, “A Tribute to Sparkle Plenty,” headlining the Lovin’ Spoonful. Word had spread and more people came. The Kesey seance band, for the moment nameless, came in to marvel after an afternoon of tripping; Phil Lesh accosted Luria Castell and confided, “Lady, what this seance needs is us!” The Beat poet Michael McClure, who’d been living in the Haight for four years, remembers “this vibrant scene, people really allowing themselves to be themselves — to be Jean Harlow or Billy the Kid or Napoleon or Jesus. I was used to seeing intense self-expression in poetry, or in someone’s painting. Here were people acting it out in their bodies — really bright, really real.
“But I didn’t see people jumping around aimlessly or pointlessly. I saw the whole thing organized — organized from each individual point. Whitehead said that at every point in the universe, the universe is its own organ of self-experience. I saw these individuals as highly organized points of self-experience, which is the experience of everything.” It seemed to take a historical moment to digest this phenomenon, which was not only an experience of incredible exuberance but a reinforcement of the generation’s sense of uniqueness, a more decisive one than even radical politics had been. Two weeks later the Dog put on “A Tribute to Ming the Merciless” with a crazy musician they’d heard about from the Sunset Strip scene named Frank Zappa. It was their third dance and the Family Dog was not a money-making institution; in fact, they were broke. Inexperienced wasn’t the word — they’d never gotten a dance permit, hadn’t even known you needed one.
The same night as “Ming the Merciless,” November 6th, there had been another show in town that had done quite well. The San Francisco Mime Troupe, recently busted for performing in the park without a permit, had put on a benefit called “Appeal I.” It featured, along with jazz, folk music and Allen Ginsberg, two of the acts that were playing Longshore that night: the Airplane (the Mime Troupe loft was the Airplane’s rehearsal hall) and Frank Zappa’s Mothers. Hundreds of people had to be turned away. The show was put on by the Mime Troupe’s business manager, himself an ex-actor, Bill Graham.
The discouraged Dog tried to interest Graham in teaming up with them but without success. Luria by this time had moved into a place in the Haight, managed by a guy named Danny Rifkin, where Luria’s acquaintance Rock Scully was also living. Rock and Danny helped her put on a fourth dance, which actually netted $1500. Meanwhile, on December 10th, Bill Graham had put on “Appeal II” for the Mime Troupe in a large hall in the Fillmore district, the original Fillmore Auditorium.
With the considerable boost of the public gatherings at these dances, the psychedelic scene — still quite legal — started going more public. On January 3rd, 1966, two brothers named Ron and Jay Thelin opened a shop on Haight Street they called the Psychedelic Shop to sell books, records, roach clips and an ever-shifting variety of things they felt were related to the psychedelic experience. Meanwhile Ken Kesey’s Acid Test parties had expanded in successive weeks from wild gatherings with the Angels at Kesey’s home in the depths of the San Francisco Peninsula to a private home in San Jose, a bar in Palo Alto, the Muir Beach Lodge in Marin County (where the Grateful Dead made the acquaintance of their future patron, the accomplished chemist Owsley Stanley) and to an Acid Test at the Fillmore on January 8th. The Family Dog was throwing a dance at California Hall the same night and there was an attempt to coordinate the two affairs — a single-ticket price that would get you into both places and a bus that ran between the two.
Scully and Rifkin phased out of the Dog and into the Grateful Dead scene at this point, on the introduction of the Dead’s new friend, Owsley. The rest of the original Family Dog people split to Mexico in despair and the business was left in the hands of Kelly, who was doing poster art for the shows; George Hunter, founder of the Charlatans; Stanley Mouse (Miller), a “hot-rod surrealist” from Detroit who’d made a name for himself painting monsters on T-shirts at car shows; and Chet Helms, a friend who’d been putting together a band out of public jam sessions at the Albin Brothers’ place at 1090 Page Street in the Haight.
Meantime, a really big event was in the works and publicity had already started. On New Year’s Eve afternoon there had been a small parade through Montgomery Street, San Francisco’s financial district, cheering on the office workers who were following the tradition of throwing their old calendars out of the windows. The parade was Ramon Sender of the Tape Center, Ben and Rain Jacopetti from Open Theater, and a biologist who’d gotten interested in Indians, Stewart Brand. “Be aware that you’re in a parade,” they told everyone they met, “and you’ll be as beautiful as what you do.”
Ken Kesey had given Brand the idea of putting on a three-day Trips Festival to gather avant garde and psychedelic arts into a show at Longshoremen’s Hall. It would feature Kesey’s Acid Test, of course. The Acid Tests were pushing the limit. A week after the “Be a Parade” parade, Brand ran into Neal Cassady — the legendary beatnik pillhead, nonstop rapper, manic madman of Jack Kerouac novels — at the Fillmore Acid Test, standing in the balcony of the Fillmore Auditorium looking down at the welter of self-interfaced microphones and TV circuits, the Grateful Dead playing at one end of the hall and Kesey’s own Psychedelic Symphony playing at the other. Brand had never seen Cassady so serene. “Total chaos going on on the floor, right? People wailing on Ron Boise’s thunder sculpture, taking their shoes off and counting their toes, and television cameras pointing at each other and general weirdness. And he’s just sort of nodding. Then he says, ‘Looks like your publicity for the Trips Festival is going pretty well.’ “
Along with the Acid Test the Trips Festival was going to feature Brand’s own multimedia slide-projection show, “America Needs Indians”; plays from the Open Theater; rock and jazz groups from Berkeley; Don Buchla from the Tape Center with his synthesizer; filmmakers, light shows, Neal Cassady, Allen Ginsberg and Chet Helms’s band, Big Brother and the Holding Company.
The festival was scheduled for the 21st through 23rd of January. On the 17th, Ken Kesey was found guilty of possession of marijuana and sentenced to six months in jail. Two days after that, he was busted on the roof of Stewart Brand’s apartment house with Carolyn Adams, known to fellow Acid Testers as Mountain Girl, and an inconvenient quantity of marijuana. It was front-page news.
The people putting on the Trips Festival decided to make the best of this scandal. There was another parade, this one ending up in Union Square with helium balloons being sent aloft carrying a banner that read “now.” A worried Stewart Brand went down to Longshoremen’s Hall to placate the union about the new notoriety of the scheduled event. “One longshoreman came out,” he remembers, “and said, ‘I see Kesey got busted. Is he all right?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I guess he’ll be okay.’ He said, ‘At least it’s good publicity for your show, isn’t it?’ It turned out that a number of the Hell’s Angels were longshoremen, and we were ahead of it.”
The handbill for the Trips Festival tells what people thought was going on: “The general tone of things has moved on from the self-conscious happening to a more JUBILANT occasion where the audience PARTICIPATES because it’s more fun to do so than not. Maybe this is the ROCK REVOLUTION. Audience dancing is an assumed part of all the shows, & the audience is invited to wear ECSTATIC DRESS & bring their own GADGETS (a.c. outlets will be provided).” The “trip” had been somewhat slipperily defined as “an electronic experience,” a “new medium of communication and entertainment.”
To handle the nuts and bolts of the operation they asked in Bill Graham, whose three Mime Troupe benefits had been models of efficiency compared to anything they knew. Graham for his part wanted to learn what this new scene was all about. He got a lesson during the Saturday night Acid Test, when he was hurrying around with his efficiency-expert clipboard checking whether everything was going according to schedule. To his horror, he saw a giant of a man — Kesey, whom he hadn’t met before — standing at the back door letting in Hell’s Angels. He was wearing one of the superhero costumes favored by the principal Merry Pranksters, more or less on the spacesuit model.
“Why are you doing this?” Graham pleaded, “I’m out there working my balls off to make sure this thing runs right, watching the doors, and back here you’re” — Kesey closed the mask of his space helmet.
Another novelty for Graham was the division of the spoils. By consensus it was agreed that the Acid Test with the Grateful Dead was the greatest success of the three nights. The Open Theater and “America Needs Indians” shows were out of scale in the huge hall; the Tape Center acts hadn’t caught fire. So after the show the principals decided not to split the profits evenly, but to give Kesey half.
But Graham had not only run the show well, he had carefully observed what got the most response. The artists who’d put the thing together, in the spirit of letting everybody join in, hadn’t been willing to sift out the less successful entertainment. Two weeks after the Trips Festival, Graham put on a dance that was, for his first time, not a benefit but a straight commercial dance: “Bill Graham Presents the Jefferson Airplane with Sights and Sounds from the Trips Festival.” There was music, a light show and an atmosphere tolerant of any amount of bizarre behavior. And Graham added an extra show on Sunday afternoon.
That first Sunday afternoon the saga of Ken Kesey’s multiple drug busts took on a new turn. The famous Merry Pranksters bus, with its collages and many layers of psychedelic paint, was found on a deserted beach in Eureka, California, not far from the border of Kesey’s home state of Oregon. In it was a rather literary suicide note, containing the lines, “Ocean ocean I’ll beat you in the end.” It was not a real suicide note, of course, and the planting of the bus near the Oregon border was a false lead too. Kesey had headed in the opposite direction — now with a warrant out for his arrest — to Los Angeles, where the Acid Tests had moved, and from there to Mexico.
The Family Dog was now in Chet Helms’s hands. At first he and Graham alternated weekends at the Fillmore Auditorium—nobody had ever liked the stiffness of California Hall very much. The trippy dance poster, stemming from the original Red Dog poster advertising the Charlatans as “The Limit of the Marvelous,” had become an integral part of the scene, and Chet found an artist to do his posters. For his February 19th dance, “Tribal Stomp” (for a while the idea of naming dances hung on), he had the young printer who’d done the Trips Festival handbill work something up. He was an ex-philosophy major from San Francisco State with a total of three months’ art training, Wes Wilson.
Wilson helped pioneer a poster style that went essentially unchanged as long as there were weekly rock dance-concerts in San Francisco. It was based on an ambiguity in design, like the optical illusions where a tree turns out to be a face or a staircase can be “read” as going either up or down. The real innovation was that the lettering of the poster was incorporated into this design: it was impossible to read the text unless you ignored the swirling artistic design, and vice versa. Ultimately, in the summer of ’66, Wilson discovered the lettering style of a turn-of-the-century Viennese artist named Alfred Roller. Roller had reversed the prominence of the strokes of a letter and the spaces between the strokes. Each letter was expanded to a roughly rectangular space with oddly angled strokes in it, which with a little refocusing you could read as the spaces between the now fat strokes of the original letter.
Chet Helms used Wilson first on February 19th and Bill Graham started using him a month later. Graham had known Wilson from the Mime Troupe days, when Wilson did occasional printing for the troupe because he was about the cheapest printer in town. He did posters for both promoters for a while, even after the dissolution of the partnership between Helms and Graham in April that led to Chet’s first dance at the smaller Avalon Ballroom. He kept on postering for Graham for another year, while Helms’s Family Dog went through various can-you-top-this combinations of Kelly, his Detroit buddy Mouse, a New Yorker named Victor Moscoso (the most highly trained of all these artists) and a Southern California surf-scene alumnus named Rick Griffin.
As the dance scene expanded, so did the Haight. When the original Family Dog people returned from Mexico, they were stunned. There were huge dances every weekend. More shops had started opening during the summer of ’66 and more people moved in; the Haight became the central grass-and-psyche-delic market for the Bay Area and there was a living to be made for hundreds of dealers. In fact, everybody was a dealer on one level or another, and most of the shops opening up were the product of spare capital in the dope trade. Life was cheap, life was aesthetic, life was stoned — particularly when a new batch of Owsley’s acid would hit the market and his lieutenants would walk up and down Haight Street passing out free samples.
Life was an adventure. There were intellectual adventures in books — yoga, occultism, Wilhelm Reich’s sexual liberation theories and Zen were established features of bohemian communities, and the Haight brought in the uniquely psychedelic elements of American Indian lore, the oracular I Ching and texts of Tibetan Buddhism, valued for their descriptions of acidlike visions. There were aesthetic adventures in crafts, folk music, psychedelic painting or just blowing soap bubbles. A stroll through Golden Gate Park might wind you up at the new Avery Brundage Collection of Asian Art. There were emotional adventures in the mercurial social relationships of psychedelic folk. There were existential adventures in the ever-paranoid world of dope dealing.
And always there was the weekly occasion to paint your face, rock out at a dance concert and be reminded of how many people were doing the same thing. The straight world had scarcely begun to notice anything was happening but in the Haight there was a momentum of excitement that was at least cosmic.
The adventure started getting unexpected outside verification. Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde came out, containing not only “Rainy Day Women # 12 & 35,” with its refrain “Everybody must get stoned,” but desperate psycho-dramas of unresolved relationships that any acidhead could relate to. And right around the same time that the Board of Permit Appeals was trying to close the Fillmore, the Beatles — those remote objects of adoration — brought out Yesterday and Today with an album cover that the record company rejected as being “in poor taste.” Everybody had to get a copy and steam off the “tasteful” cover that had been hastily glued over the original one, to see the Beatles in butcher coats holding joints of meat and parts of baby dolls. Far out.
But the paranoia potential of the adventure was just about to be given a fateful boost. Already there was a lot of pressure to make LSD illegal. As early as April 1966, the U.S. attorney general had been demanding laws against acid, even in the absence of studies showing it was dangerous. Federal laws against possession of LSD went into effect on October 6th, 1966. The Haight responded with a party — the Lunatic Protest Demonstration, the first big free concert in the Panhandle section of Golden Gate Park two blocks from Haight Street.
The intellectual adventure had gotten big enough that for six months there had been an attempt to start a newspaper. After an initial faction fight between the acid mystics and the Marxists, which produced one issue with cover stories on masturbation and concentration camps, Ron Thelin of the Psychedelic Shop threw his support to Allen Cohen, a poet who had dealt acid for Owsley and in fact had turned Thelin on to acid in the first place. Named The City of San Francisco Oracle, the paper lasted only 13 issues under Cohen, but by the time he abandoned it in 1967, it was selling over 100,000 copies worldwide.
“Our philosophy at that time was that newspapers are a lie,” says Cohen. “We were going to make in the newspaper format a judo that would show everyone that newspapers were destroying sensibilities, causing paranoia and fear. We were going to fill our newspaper with art, philosophy, poetry and attend to this change of consciousness that was happening in the Haight-Ash-bury and, we hoped, the world. Though none of us really had a program of exactly what we wanted to do, except that we knew that if we could keep control of quality, we could serve as vehicles for the forces that were emerging.”
The early issues retained some of the underground newspaper format: political news, a “What’s Happening” entertainment guide and stock low-budget tabloid format. But a new art director named Gabe Katz brought about a decisive change. Instead of setting the text in straight columns of type, he rearranged it in columns of varying width that turned the text into part of the design of the page. Colored patterns were printed over it, sometimes making the text as hard to read as a Fillmore dance poster — in fact, in 1967 the poster artist, Mouse, designed an issue. Starting with issue six the Oracle started experimenting with split-fountain inking, a technique that washed every page with blending colors. Incredible liberties were taken with magazine design, such as jumping the end of a story to one of six circles on a back page with the words “continued on p. 21 middle of a circle right center.”
The commercial adventure had already produced a body of merchants who were unacceptable to the Haight-Ashbury Merchants Association. They formed their own outfit, the Haight Independent Proprietors, HIP for short, and started holding press conferences to defend the community’s reputation.
The concentration of people walking around the streets — shopping, dealing, panhandling or just freaking out — was great enough to create a phenomenon of its own. In the late summer of ’66 a cabal of actors from the Mime Troupe, centered around Emmett Grogan, Peter Cohon and writer-director Peter Berg, started meeting to consider what to do about the Haight Street phenomenon. The Mime Troupe’s political satire was too formal, they felt; it didn’t use the dramatic potential of a situation where numbers of people were spending a lot of their time on the street — people who were alienated from society, had a sense that acid had changed all the rules and above all were waiting for something to happen.
Their first act was to mimeo some broadsides on colored paper. The best known attacked a somewhat fatuous campaign on the part of the HIP merchants to bring about peace between the hippies and the police which used the slogan, “Take a Cop to Dinner.” The Diggers, as these Mime Troupers called themselves, rudely equated this slogan with a suggestion to bribe the police, join in the general corruption of society and feed the cop’s “power to judge persecute & brutalize the streets of your city.” It was signed in the name of the famous Mad Bomber of New York, George Metesky. The Diggers and HIP were never to be on the best of terms.
In October the Diggers started serving free food in the Panhandle every day at 4 p.m. When the press found out, they represented these Digger feeds in all good will as a form of charity, a sort of secular Rescue Mission effort. The theatrical elements — the large rectangular wooden Frame of Reference everyone had to step through before eating, the nine-foot-tall puppets, the street-theater confrontations — probably didn’t register on them if they weren’t acidheads themselves.
But in fact the Diggers were promoting an acid vision of their own, against the prevailing quietist tendencies which found expression in the Oracle and among the HIP merchants. It was never consistently articulated and the Diggers insisted that each Digger had his own equally valid viewpoint, but the vision might be characterized as an attempt to act as if there had been an ideal revolution and everyone were free to do exactly as he wished. This utopianism made collisions with authority and material necessity inevitable, but against the prevailing Hobbit-like survival mentality, the Diggers advocated imaginative aggression. They were the first, for instance, to take welfare money as an act of “ripping off the System”: the original Haight Street people had made a point of not taking welfare or in fact of having anything to do with the System. The Diggers were also a little vague about the source of the food and clothes available at their Free Store; part was discards from markets but part was stolen.
The first Digger event to make the newspapers was the “Death and Rebirth of the Haight-Ashbury and Death of Money” parade on December 17th, for which the Diggers passed out hundreds of mirrors, pennywhistles, candles, incense sticks, flowers and posters echoing the balloon Kesey had sent up in January reading “NOW!” Partway through the parade two Hell’s Angels, “Chocolate George” Hendricks and “Hairy Henry” Kot, joined in and gave a lift to one of the Digger women, who rode standing in Hairy Henry’s motorcycle buddy-seat shouting “Free!” Letting somebody ride standing happened to be against the law and Hairy Henry was cited for it; Chocolate George took exception to the bust and both Angels were taken to jail. Within an hour the Diggers had raised enough money to bail them out and endeared themselves to the Angels. In gratitude, the Angels sponsored a large Panhandle dance with the Grateful Dead and Big Brother & the Holding Company on New Year’s Day.
The older Haight crowd was already at work on another event. It’s not clear where the idea came from — it had probably been on a lot of people’s minds when they remembered the thrill of the Trips Festival gathering a bigger crowd than any Acid Test or dance. Perhaps it came from Steve Durkee, Richard Alpert’s one-time roommate who later went on to found the Lama Foundation commune in New Mexico; he’d had a plan for a huge gathering to be held in Grand Canyon in the summer of ’66. Whatever, the Oracle and associates had come up with a plan for a Human Be-In.
It was subtitled “A Gathering of the Tribes.” The name signified that it was not simply meant to be a giant Acid Test but a union of acidheads with the Berkeley radicals, who had begun to feel themselves left out of things since the notoriety of the Free Speech Movement had died down. Jerry Rubin, who until recently had been denouncing drugs, along with Jack Weinberg of the FSM, Dick Gregory (who didn’t show) and the more political of the Beat elder statesmen — Michael McClure, Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder — were going to share the stage with the quite apolitical Alpert and Leary and rock ? roll: the Dead, Quicksilver, Big Brother and the Airplane. “A new concept of human relations being developed within the youthful underground,” the Oracle announced, “must emerge, become conscious and be shared so that a revolution of form can be filled with a Renaissance of compassion, awareness and love in the Revelation of the unity of all mankind.”
It took place on January 14th, 1967, an unusually clear day — the day picked by an astrologer — in the Polo Field in Golden Gate Park. Newspaper accounts of the time put the attendance at figures from 10,000 to 20,000. The actual figure scarcely mattered (in fact, the event did not entirely fill the Polo Field and a scheduled rugby match took place at the other end of the field at the same time). Even 10,000 was a huge gathering at the time. In the context of a nation insanely embroiled in a war in Vietnam and recently in actual race war on its own soil, the sight of thousands upon thousands of people committed to “peace and love” was overwhelming. (Also overwhelming was Owsley’s acid, which was distributed — among other ways — in the free turkey sandwiches the Diggers had made from turkeys Owsley had also donated.)
As for the “union of love and activism previously separated by categorical dogma and label mongering” that, it was promised, would “finally occur ecstatically,” little of Jerry Rubin’s or anybody else’s speech could be heard outside the immediate vicinity of the loudspeakers. Even there, most people were paying little or no attention, simply walking around and blowing their minds on all the faces assembled.
The Be-In was a great long stare in the mirror for the psychedelic community, both at the event and in the awed coverage given it by the news media — everybody was impressed by the fact that the notorious Hell’s Angels had stood guard over the generator for the PA system. The temptation to admire the image in the mirror was great. In the next issue of the Oracle the column titled “Aquarian Beat” revealed that “the scene that’s happening now is a double thing. Not only a new earth (Aquarian Age) but also a new man walking it (Sixth Subrace).” (But even non-Theosophists were expecting the best from this generation already; two weeks before the Be-In Time had chosen as its Man of the Year “anybody in the world under 25.”)
At the end of the Be-In Allen Ginsberg suggested that the crowd pick up after itself and the Polo Field was left clean. For a while there was a spate of projects planned to operate on “Be-In energy,” like the Haight Street “Clean-In” a week later. The press ran it for laughs — the “dirty hippies” being “introduced to a broom” — but the sidewalks were swept. ‘
A new element in the Haight had surfaced at the Be-in, the Communication Company. It was founded by a New York beatnik named Chester Anderson who, while visiting San Francisco around New Year’s, had walked into the Hell’s Angels dance in the Panhandle, stoned on acid, and decided to get involved. “In part,” he explains, “it was the lion lying down with the lamb bit. When a big burly Hell’s Angel staggered up to me and handed me a beer and then, seeing I had another hand free, handed me another one too — I said, ‘Wow.’ ” With a nominal job at Ramparts alongside ComCo partner Claude Hayward, he took a typewriter from that magazine, rented a Gestetner mimeo and electric silkscreen cutter and set up for business.
At the Be-In ComCo passed out fliers announcing that they would do job printing, publish anything the Diggers wanted to, supplement the Oracle as a community paper, do lots of community printing and be “outrageous pamphleteers.” As the Diggers had a unique theatrical situation on Haight Street, the Communication Company had a unique journalistic situation — though ironically Chester Anderson was a McLuhan enthusiast who repeatedly denounced “typeheads.” ComCo published announcements of events, calls for action, denunciation of informers, poems, whatever came up, and passed it out free to the crowds on Haight Street. The plan was to print anything submitted, a printed equivalent of the free-access microphones and TV cameras that were always lying around at an Acid Test. Anderson claims that while he was in charge at ComCo, only a few manuscripts were ever rejected and then on purely moral or aesthetic grounds, “only if they were gross.”
With their small-scale equipment and hand-to-hand distribution system, Anderson and Hayward were in a position to do exciting work. “Someone would be phoning in a story,” Anderson recalls, “and we’d be typing it out while they phoned it on a stencil and we’d have it on the press and off the press and on the street in 10 or 15 minutes.
“Since America is still conditioned to believe that anything you see in print is truth, this gave us a good deal more power than I realized.”
ComCo kept up the criticism of the HIP merchants started in the Digger Papers. The merchants felt stung; they truly believed they were community minded. Shortly after the Be-In they had visited the chief of police to improve relations and promised to help the police prevent any ugly mob scenes by having Allen Ginsberg devise them a mantra and a finger symbol meaning to disperse. (The mantra, for the record, was “Ikimasho ikimasho ikimasho go go.”) Earlier they had distributed police whistles on the street to be used in case of a hassle with the police.
And furthermore, the collective adventure had already so far surpassed anyone’s expectations that the HIP merchants, and probably the majority of Haight residents, believed that solutions to all social problems would present themselves in good time. Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead, for instance, was particularly annoyed by a Communication Company exposé of themeth-freak gang bang of a 15-year-old girl stoned on acid. “That kind of ground-floor negativism in terms of focus,” he remembers thinking, “was just shit. Just what we need — the East Coast mentality pouring into the scene and forming it into easy-to-identify bags. It’s reductive. What was going on there, because it was cosmic, or planetary at least, didn’t need any of that stuff.”
The Communication Company was able to point out that the Diggers had a Free Store, and everything they did was free. The merchants were at a disadvantage in the debate because pointing out that they couldn’t operate for free like the Diggers — rents on Haight Street storefronts were skyrocketing — was never a very resounding comeback. To make their situation more awkward, the merchants really did want to make bucks. Bobby Bowles, a relatively community-minded sandal maker whose shop had started as a corner of the first hip clothing store on Haight Street, remembers, “I read in a newspaper that 200,000 hippies, or whatever name you use, were expected to descend on Haight Street and I thought, ‘Oh boy! If I can get just one dollar from each of ’em …’ ”
Another new institution was the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, which opened the Radha-Krishna Temple at the end of January with the announcement that it had located in the Haight because rents were low, not in order to recruit hippies. They started making converts with a publicity boost from Allen Ginsberg, who reported that reciting the Hare Krishna mantra produced bliss and tranquility.
Ironically, the Krishna devotees were next door to the Diggers’ Free Store and Free Frame of Reference (an open room for the use of whoever was there at the moment). Relations were chilly between the rival reprogram-mers, both of whom were appealing to the hungry anticipation of Something, be it a piece of street theater or the parade of a Hindu festival chariot. And appealing to plain hunger: the Krishnas were also giving out free food. The publicity victory, though, was the Diggers’. In January and February they were all over the newspapers, piquing intense interest with their proclaimed anonymity, nonexclusiveness and lack of leaders. The original Diggers were intense and articulate and made good copy.
The Haight was populous enough to sprout such institutions and to attract some real eccentrics — such as Nathan Terre, who epitomized the Victoriana element by living in a pre-1913 house and neither owning nor wearing anything made after that year. Such as Thaddeus Ashby, an acid guru in his 40s who ran around in military costumes as commander of the Army of the Earth and claimed to have the Master Dope Map of Mexico. Such as Allen Noonan, owner of the Here and Now Coffee Shop, who acknowledged himself one of the Supreme Officers of the Galactic Command, not to mention World Messiah.
It was also populous enough to start driving people out. A lot of the original black residents had been driven out by the rising rents in the Haight. The population pressure and the hectic life it brought was getting to be too much for some of the psychedelic community too, and by March a move to the country was under way. The most important waystation for the diffusion into rural communes was a ranch near Sebastopol in Sonoma County known as Morningstar.
It dated back to the Trips Festival. Its owner was an ex-folk music star named Lou Gottlieb of the Limelighters, who had helped publicize the Trips Festival during a brief stint as music critic for the San Francisco Chronicle. He had invited Brand, Sender and the Jacopettis to hang out at a farm he owned if they ever wanted to, and in the summer of ’66 they’d taken him up on it. Brand went on to other projects such as an “awareness festival” at San Francisco State, called “Whatever It Is,” but Sender and the Jacopettis stayed on at the ranch (which they found from old records was originally named Morningstar Ranch) and pursued an intense study of mysticism and yoga.
In the spring of ’67 the Diggers visited Morningstar with a proposal to let them farm a few of the 35 acres to supply their free-food program, which was starting to look crucial for the months ahead because word of the Haight was spreading fast in high schools and colleges across the country. Gottlieb welcomed them aboard and at first Morningstar was known in the Haight as the Digger Farm. But for the Diggers it was not just a source of tomatoes, it was a place to practice Diggerdom in the country. And in theory anybody had the right to call himself a Digger; they were using the slogan “Glory Here, Diggers All.”
Gottlieb started treating Morningstar as nonprivate property, access denied to no one, and by July there was a regular bus from the Free Store every Thursday. As the summer wore on, the nudity and al fresco lovemaking were to get Gottlieb in trouble with his neighbors and the population problem of the Haight would be partly exported to his ranch. At one point a sign would appear on the Free Store bulletin board suggesting that not so many people avail themselves of the free access, since on a recent weekend they’d fed 350 people at Morningstar.
While the Haight was crowded enough in February for people to start moving out, the real invasion was just beginning. The Airplane’s second album was climbing the national sales charts, the jubilant and enigmatic Be-In had aroused press attention and now San Francisco newspapers were running story after story about kids — rich kids, from Hillsborough — running off to the Haight, living in bizarre apartments, going shoeless and braless, eating garbage, getting busted for drugs: the media discovered the “Hippie Haven” in California’s biggest tourist town. Between March and September 1967, virtually every major publication and certainly every TV network did at least one story on the “Hashbury.” Over and over they showed Hippie Hill in Golden Gate Park, trip parties, dancers and light shows, free concerts in the Panhandle, hippies holding flowers or panhandling, Timothy Leary looking solemn and stupefied or flashing his famous grin.
It was advertising, of a sort, but it advertised what the reporters saw and that was limited by their haste, their prejudices and story instincts, and the Haight community’s own fumbling attempt to put its best foot forward. So the stories dwelt on drugs, sex, dirt, insanity and something called “love and flowers.” These were all middle-class stereotypes about bohemians except the love and flowers part, which was novel. The insanity had a novel flavor too, as when a young man in his 20s jumped off a pedestrian overpass onto a six-lane traffic artery because his magic stone “told him to.”
As a result they made the Haight a magnet for people who were into drugs, sex, dirt, insanity and love in any combination, and for those who cared to exploit or just gawk. But what was really going on was mostly un-reported. How could anyone have kept track? Who noticed Charlie Manson when he lived at 636 Cole Street?
Even for the people who were there, it was going too fast to follow. The drug trade, still the economic base of the community, had reached unbelievable dimensions. Owsley had a widespread distribution network that controlled how fast his LSD reached the market and at what price. He kept ahead of imitators trying to peddle their acid as “Owsley” by maintaining high quality, investing in better pill presses and dyeing his product a different color every batch. By some estimates he made 4 million hits of acid, of which he may have given away as much as he sold — as promotion when a new batch was coming on the street, as subsidy to institutions that interested him such as the Diggers or the Communication Company, as a psychedelic gift to every musician he thought important. He was as much a fixture backstage at the Fillmore and Avalon as he was out on the dance floor.
A dealer named Larry got his first inkling of how big the drug market was one time when Owsley was releasing a new batch. As usual, the price was $4000 a gram (a dollar a hit, wholesale), and as usual Owsley’s lieutenants wouldn’t take any bills smaller than hundreds. This one month, Larry couldn’t find a bank within 60 miles that had any $100 bills to exchange.
With the swiftly increasing number of people on Haight Street, the Psychedelic Shop installed two theater seats in its window for anybody who cared to watch the show. Things started happening faster and faster.
February 1st: In a debate about the merits of the Haight community, a Dr. Alan Kringle maintains that we need special schools where youths could learn to have mystical experiences without drugs and “utopian living centers where a loving, permissive, contemplative life is possible.” Dr. Nathan Adler holds that “hippies” are alienated beings with no sense of community and potential fascists.
February 2nd: A Haight-Ashbury Fashion Show at the Blushing Peony on Haight Street makes the society pages of San Francisco papers.
February 17th: The Avalon’s “Second Annual Tribal Stomp” celebrates a year of weekly Family Dog dances.
February 23rd: A group calling itself the Psychedelic Rangers pastes the word “Love” over the word “Haight” on the street sign at Haight and Ashbury and promises to keep on doing so until the city changes the street name.
February 24th-26th: The Diggers and the Artists’ Liberation Front organize a sort of inner-city answer to the Human Be-In, an acid test with “love-making rooms” in a Tenderloin church, with the Communication Company showering the crowds with moment-to-moment flashes coordinated by the poet Richard Brautigan.
March 3rd: Five dance-concerts are presented in San Francisco in one night, plus one in Berkeley and sit-down concerts at four other auditoriums in the Bay Area. The same day the Berkeley Barb prints a letter claiming that the dried white fiber of a banana peel can be smoked for a high. Although an obvious hoax, referring to “narcs lurking in the fresh produce section” of a Berkeley market, it is treated half-seriously by newspapers. The same day a narc busts a dealer at 732 Ashbury who gives Green Stamps with a three-lid purchase.
March 9th: Bill Graham announces plans to have the Fillmore open six nights a week, anticipating 4 million young people visiting San Francisco during the summer.
March 15th: The San Francisco State College newspaper declares that hydrangea leaves can be smoked. This hoax has to be retracted when it is pointed out that hydrangea leaves may be toxic.
March 16th: A New York medical school professor claims to have found LSD-related chromosome damage that could lead to abnormalities in the offspring of acid users — conjuring visions of the pathetic monsters born to women who had used the sleeping pill Thalidomide in the early Sixties.
March 19th: The city provides pastel chalk for a Panhandle “chalk-in,” after weeks of busting people for chalking multicolored psychedelic designs on sidewalks.
March 20th: Happening House, a San Francisco State extension teaching crafts in the Haight, organizes “The Haight-Ashbury Easter Cosmic Egg Week Human Be-In.” It begins with a mass banana turn-on in the Panhandle. Asked whether this is a “Happening,” Allan Cohen responds that it is a “non-happening. Nothing is intended to happen.”
March 21st: A nonprofit company announces its formation to charter steamboats to an island in the Bay for kite flying.
March 23rd: Mayor John Shelley asks the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to issue a declaration that the expected “hippie invasion” is “unwelcome.” He suggests a step-up of health inspections in the neighborhood. At the same time, the Junior League has hired Wes Wilson to do the cover for its magazine.
March 25th: A Sleep-In in Golden Gate Park protests Mayor Shelley’s remarks.
March 26th: A spontaneous “Mill-In” takes place at Haight and Ashbury, with hundreds of pedestrians stalling traffic by circling the crosswalks continuously, chanting, “Streets are for people.”
March 27th: Citing the possibility of bubonic plague and infectious meningitis, the city health director announces inspections of the Haight. The official with the amusing first name and middle initial is Ellis D. Sox.
March 28th: City health inspectors, after checking 1400 buildings in the Haight-Ashbury, report having given notices to only 65 buildings, a mere 16 of which involved hippies. “The situation is not as bad as we thought,” declares Dr. Sox.
April 5th: The Gray Line tour bus company announces a “Hippie Hop”: “The only foreign tour within the continental limits of the United States.” The same day, there is announced a Council for the Summer of Love, consisting of the Family Dog, the Diggers, the Straight Theater (not yet open), the Oracle and two new organizations, the Kiva and the Church of One.
April 10th: Over the objections of the Juvenile Justice Commission, parents and police, the supervisors vote to lower the age limit at dance halls to 16, effective in 30 days.
April 13th: The Health Department condemns three pads in the Haight, including the Digger pad at 848 Clayton which has housed as many as 300 people.
April 15th: After bitter faction fighting between pro-NLF and anticommunist factions, the Spring Mobilization against the War in Vietnam holds its West Coast march in San Francisco. As it passes through the Haight to Kezar Stadium, it is inundated by young people who are utterly indifferent to the debate over the presence of Viet Cong flags. After Country Joe’s performance, 90% of the audience leaves the stadium without waiting for the ostensible star, Mrs. Martin Luther King.
April 22nd: Hippies “take claim” at Malakoff Digging s State Park, a hundred miles north of San Francisco, and camp out there for a “Human Be-In” planned to turn into a permanent community.
April 30th: United Fruit Company hires former Leary associate Dr. Sidney Cohen to research the psychedelic properties of bananas. “A mild sort of high,” he reports. May 8th: After prolonged vacillation, the Board of Supervisors agrees to resolve that hippies are unwelcome.
May 12th: Representative Frank Thompson Jr. of New Jersey introduces the Banana Control Act of 1967, aimed “at those banana-smoking beatniks who seek a make-believe land … described in the peel-puffers’ secret psychedelic marching song ‘Puff the Magic Dragon.’ ” The act would require bananas to be labeled, “Caution: Banana-peel smoking may be dangerous to your health. Never put bananas in the refrigerator.”
May 15th: A series of stories, bylined George Gilbert, begins in the San Francisco Chronicle under the title “I Was a Hippie.” After a few weeks of living in the Haight, Gilbert has become sympathetic to the movement and reluctant to write the kind of story his editors want; the stories that appear in the end are concocted out of thin air by Gilbert and Chronicle reporter and former beatnik Michael Grieg.
May 16th: An LSD factory is busted across the street from the San Francisco Hall of Justice.
May 26th: The Food and Drug Administration reports no mind-altering substances in bananas.
May 30th: The Barb pushes the idea that hippies should migrate to Nevada, where they would outnumber the registered voters and be able to run the state to suit them. The Grateful Dead play a benefit for the Haight-Ashbury Legal Organization, whose offices are across the street from the Dead house.
Sometime during May: A no-tuition, no-curriculum grammar school calling itself the Shire School is founded. A Haight Street bar called the Golden Cask has put in a concession styling itself “Lee Sam & Dick” (notice the initials) selling pizza; another bar, the Pall Mall Lounge, is selling “LoveBurgers.” On the Billboard sales charts a single by the Airplane, “Somebody to Love,” is Number Nine; the album, Surrealistic Pillow, is Number Seven.
June 7th: Two days after an unprecedented promotional splash of their first album, three members of the band Moby Grape are busted on a hill in Marin County for contributing to the delinquency of teenage girls.
June 9th: Dr. David Smith, who has been treating drug reactions at San Francisco General Hospital (then accounting for 100 beds a day), opens the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic at Happening House. The immediate crisis is the introduction of a new kind of psychedelic, related both to mescaline and amphetamines, known as STP. At first it is suggested that STP is “similar” to BZ, a military “incapacitating agent,” because the dosages available make for a 72-hour trip. Dr. Smith warns that Thorazine and similar tranquilizers are contraindicated for STP.
June 10th: An outdoor concert on Mount Tamalpais in Marin County features literally dozens of bands. Organized by an AM radio station, the Magic Mountain Fantasy Fair is to donate its profits to a children’s center in the Hunter’s Point ghetto.
June 18th: The Monterey International Pop Festival, organized by Los Angeles record-industry figures with San Francisco contacts, sells out completely after attracting 35,000 more people than the stadium can hold. The ones without tickets happily stroll among booths at the Monterey Fairgrounds and are treated to free concerts. Scott McKenzie sings his one hit, written by Los Angeles resident John Phillips,”(If You’re Going to) San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair).” “I feel the hippies are my friends,” says Monterey police chief Frank Marinello, “and I am asking one of them to take me to the Haight-Ashbury.”
June 21st: In San Francisco, the Summer Solstice party in Golden Gate Park officially begins the Summer of Love.
June 23rd: Ken Kesey goes to jail for the rooftop bust, prophesying an earthquake.
June 24th: The Mission Drive-In premieres a show under the title “Flickout,” featuring the Beatles’ Help! with Country Joe ? the Fish live. “Three awareness levels!” the ads announce: “1. 1000-speaker psychedelic sound show; 2. 50-foot-high Beatles for visual stimulation; 3. millions of electric frequencies.” Show is free to members of the American Airlines Youth Plan.
Early July: An agency is formed on the model of suicide-prevention groups, LSD Rescue Mission.
July 2nd: Lou Gottlieb is charged with operating an “organized camp” in unsanitary conditions. He pleads innocent to running an “organized camp.”
July 11th: At 3:30 in the morning ballet dancers Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev are busted with 16 others at a pot party at 42 Belvedere Street. The following night 200 young people snake dance outside the Opera House where the duo are dancing, the case against all 18 in the bust having been thrown out. “I guess there’s a lesson in this,” comments a DJ on the new FM rock station, KMPX, acidly. “If you’re going to take a fall, do it with a name.”
July 17th: A San Francisco art gallery hosts “The Joint Show,” an exhibit of works by dance-poster artists and makers of light-show boxes.
July 25th: The Diggers start work on the Reno Hotel, an old building in the Sixth Street skid row area donated to them as a free hotel. “We want a free theater, free movies, a free hospital,” announces Peter Cohon to the press. The media exposure brings the attention of city authorities who squelch the plan. Dr. David Smith estimates the hippie population of the Haight at anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000, with 700 more coming in every day.
August 3rd: John Kent Carter, an acid dealer who went by the name of “Shob,” is found dead in his apartment with his right arm severed at the elbow.
August 5th: One Eric Frank Dahlstrom, a friend and LSD customer of Shob’s, is stopped in Sebastopol, driving Shob’s car. In the car are Shob’s pistol and, wrapped up in a red and black suede cloth, Shob’s arm. Dahlstrom claims to have stabbed Shob in self-defense after an argument about bad acid, but adds, “I’m very, very hazy about that arm.” (The police have no explanation for the arm either, but dealers in the Haight remember Shob’s habit of keeping large quantities of money for deals in a locked briefcase, which he handcuffed to himself to prevent its theft.)
August 6th: William E. Thomas, a black acid dealer well-known in the Haight as Superspade, is found in a sleeping bag apparently thrown over a 250-foot cliff in Marin County, with a bullet through the base of his skull. He was last seen leaving to make a drug deal involving an amount of money variously estimated as $30,000 to $55,000.
August 7th: George Harrison and his wife Patti drive to the corner of Haight and Masonic and stroll down Haight with reporters. Dressed in hippie garb, including heart-shaped glasses, they are unrecognized until they reach Hippie Hill, where George borrows somebody’s guitar and plays for a few minutes. Then the Harrisons lead the crowd that gathers around them back up Haight Street before catching a plane back to Los Angeles for George’s sitar lesson with Ravi Shankar.
August 13th: One Jeffrey Allen Sacks, who styles himself “Supersex,” checks into the Free Clinic on a bum trip. Early in the morning he leaves with stolen disposable syringes, some penicillin tablets and a number of poisonous pills used in urinalysis. He is seen giving them away on the street; the Communication Company is informed and word is spread not to take any purple-speckled tabs.
August 14th: Supersex is found on Hippie Hill, where he denies taking or giving away the tabs and also occasionally that he is Supersex.
August 15th: Panhandle residents complain of the loud music of free concerts and the Recreation and Parks Department imposes a ban on amplified music in public parks.
August 20th: The Summer of Love Festival of Lights on Mount Tamalpais is shut down by Park Rangers as “unauthorized” and a fire hazard.
August 24th: The ban on amplified music is lifted after a march on the Parks Department’s meeting building, which is joined by members of the Methodist Youth Fellowship observing the Haight. The department denies that the march influenced them.
August 27th-September 1st: Daily dances at Muir Beach in Marin, to be followed on the 2nd by a Cosmic Car Show for psychedelically decorated cars.
August 28th: Hell’s Angels appear en masse for the funeral of Chocolate George, run over in the Haight by a tourist’s car. After a solemn four-block-long motorcycle parade to the funeral parlor they retire to Golden Gate Park for a stoned party with the Dead and Big Brother. Following the party a hippie is stomped in the Haight by Angels.
The Haight has been visited by personages as various as historian Arnold Toynbee and Hans Raj Gupta, mayor of New Delhi. There are reports of a grass famine, usual at this time of year. Chester Anderson has been purged from the Communication Company, which henceforth is strictly the publishing arm of the Diggers. A Hire-a-Hippie service advertises in the newspapers but reports no takers. Topless-nightclub owners across town complain that hippies are diverting tourists away from their clubs.
September 21st: There is a sparsely attended “Pow Wow” with American Indians in the Panhandle. The same day Lou Gottlieb announces a new gambit to allow people to stay at Morningstar despite the injunction against his “organized camp”: they are “potential customers” and Morningstar is on the market for an asking price of $7 million. The Free Clinic, which clocked nearly 10,000 visits in its first three months, is temporarily closed for lack of funds.
September 25th: The Straight Theater’s appeal for a dance permit — the only dance permit on Haight Street — is rejected. The same day the supervisors vote to make Haight Street one-way to facilitate traffic.
September 26th: The Straight announces it is going to be holding “dance lessons,” for which no permit is needed. The first musicians to play for the dance classes: the Grateful Dead.
The Airplane’s album is in its 25th week on the Billboard charts, currently at Number Five. The Number Ten single in the country is Eric Burdon’s Monterey Pop song, “Warm San Francisco Nights.” In the Haight, speed is becoming more popular than LSD, which is dropping in price from the long-standard two dollars toward an eventual low of 50-cents a hit.
October 2nd: The Grateful Dead’s house at 710 Ashbury is busted.
October 4th: The Psychedelic Shop closes its doors and puts up signs reading, “Be Free” and “Nebraska Needs You More.”
October 6th: Peter Berg of the Diggers (who induced Ron Thelin to close the Psych Shop with the argument, “Do you consider this art?”) leads a media-advertised “Death of Hippie and Birth of the Free Man” ceremony. A cardboard coffin containing stereotype hippie artifacts is cremated.
It was observed at the time that this ceremony was “without weight or sense of significance,” that the Haight was going on in the same direction regardless. But it marked an event that could have been pinpointed almost any time in the preceding months. For instance, a resident named Larry Blackburn says, “The Haight really died for me the day in 1967 I saw a 15-year-old girl eating a can of Calo dog food in front of the Psychedelic Shop.” Most of the elder hippies had moved out to the country or were planning to; a lot of the Diggers were moving on from Morningstar to communes in New Mexico, northern California, eventually Oregon and points north.
In the Haight the Diggers changed their name to the Free City Collective and carried on their politico-theatrical activities under that name. The atmosphere of violent crime, originally confined to Page Street east of Masonic, spread to engulf the whole area and after repeated robberies the shops started closing down or moving to other neighborhoods. Amphetamines were followed by heroin and a dealer who had been away from the Haight for a year returned to find that he’d “lost a lot of friends to smack and Jesus.”
What was that all about?
What it was probably couldn’t have happened without the famous Baby Boom, the great bulge of people born in the late Forties. And it probably wouldn’t have happened if it hadn’t been for the Vietnam war.
The two elements were connected because the Baby Boom generation was up for the draft and couldn’t skirt the issues of the war. Every few months the President’s Commission on the Draft would come up with some new project — drafting childless married men, drafting men as soon out of high school as possible, drafting according to an arbitrary lottery. In 1967 Representative L. Mendel Rivers of the House Armed Services Committee suggested that if war protests continued to take place on college campuses, the student draft deferment would probably be abolished. Six weeks later he and several colleagues on the same committee demanded that the Justice Department disregard the First Amendment rights of draft resisters and nobody on the committee raised a voice against the suggestion. (The draft had something to do with the Haight-Ashbury convention of taking a psychedelic name such as “Sunshine” or “Little Coyote.” Many a Sunshine’s original name was on file with the Selective Service.)
It seemed like a nation gone mad, at war with Asian peasants, with its own black citizens in urban ghettos and with its own white children. And lurking in the background of any war, for the past 30 years, has been the specter of atomic war and total annihilation. Technology itself was more suspect than for any preceding generation. Along with undreamed of wealth and power, it had created undreamed of potential for evil, and the potential for good was being used in only the drabbest and most cautious ways. Technology had proved a blind alley. The Haight was a pressure cooker of new thought, of a search for new ways to deal with the dangers of modern society.
It was the society’s spare wealth that helped make it possible, for that matter. At the time there was a theory, associated with a writer named Robert Theobald, that the wealth was just beginning, that the very dynamic of technology was to make human labor obsolete. The real challenge of the future would be to live in unending spare time, to achieve self-esteem, though useless. Even the conservative philosopher Eric Hoffer was quoted as saying, “A lack of a sense of usefulness can release tremendous creative energies.” The heroism of the future, it was rather widely believed, would consist of self-acceptance, self-expression and appreciation of life itself.
(The idea of a future of wealth without work is today somewhat in eclipse. In fact, the eclipse had already begun, for on December 23rd, 1966, the State Department announced that the U.S. no longer had the food surpluses it had enjoyed through the Fifties and could no longer afford to “feed the world.” The economically sterile expenditures of the Vietnam war effort certainly hastened the end of the “leisure challenge.”)
The Haight was trying new approaches to all the problems of the day and the tool was psychedelic drugs. LSD was a perfect drug for clearing the mind of preconceptions because it dissolves the ability to discriminate; that is, to focus on one thing and put the others in the background. In psychedelic thinking there is a constant shift in the terms in which things are seen, right up to the point of total, featureless bliss. It shows up, for instance, in the habit of making bizarre, noncomic puns, of which “Ahead of his time”/”A head of his time” is one of the more common.
This experience of seeing new relations between things is exactly what the mind goes through in solving a problem, appreciating beauty or falling in love. But the LSD trip’s eight-hour dose of wild surmise had unexpected consequences. One was a tendency to conclude that all discernible things are based on arbitrary distinctions, that the ultimate reality was consciousness itself, which could be entered by a special way of knowing. “There was a super curiosity on the street in ’66,” remembers a Haight resident named Greg Reisner. “We thought there was going to be a breakthrough, and that it was imminent. I thought, ‘There might be some room in this neighborhood where they’ve found a tunnel out.’ So I got into as many scenes as I could.”
They didn’t know it but they were going through the same thing others had on psychedelics. Michael McClure remembers that he and his friends had done much the same thing “just a fraction of a decade earlier. It was a kind of delusionary collusion — if we colluded with each other in our use of psychedelics we would come closer to the discovery of a Philosopher’s Stone; we would find ourselves in control of time and space. It was very Faustian. Along with the greatest alchemical aspirations would go the Faustian desire to become at one with the universe-as-Messiah, and crash through time and space and be everything once and for all.
“I can’t see in retrospect that anything was gained after the first couple of uses. Or whatever it takes to let that … awareness and appreciation of reality in its manifold dimensions come into being. To experience it over and over doesn’t seem to lend anything. It’s so beautiful and it promises so much, but there isn’t any more that way.”
Ultimately there was disappointment for nearly all who believed that being stoned on acid was the answer itself. At the time, that was the line Timothy Leary was preaching; that there is a “chemical door” through which you can leave the “fake-prop-television-set America” and find the Garden of Eden. Even by the time the first issue of the Oracle appeared there were those in the Haight who had become disillusioned with that. Greg Reisner had started taking another “chemical door” out — heroin.
The Christian theologian Tertullian observed of the Gnostics of the late Roman Empire that they had no orthodoxy and hence no schisms. They adopted the scriptures of existing religions and read them in esoteric senses or devised theologies of their own that differed wildly. What they had in common was a sense that this world is an illusion; that, as Yeats wrote in a verse that Richard Alpert quoted at the time, “This preposterous pig of a world, its farrow that so solid seem/Must vanish on an instant, did the mind but change its theme.” Likewise in the Haight there were no intellectual schisms. The only requirement was that you not “lay your trip on other people,” since that could cause painful conflict for anybody as vulnerable and suggestible as a stoned acidhead.
This intellectual laissez faire was clearly shown in the Oracle. The same issue that the Human Be-In was announced as a way of bringing about unity between the hips and the radicals, Richard Alpert was dismissing the radicals as being involved in mere “horizontal game playing.” Every guru who came to town got equal space, no matter what his stand on politics, sex, diet or yoga. The Oracle printed rumors that a flying saucer would land at the Be-In and that Tibetan lamas had petitioned to live in the Grand Canyon because they were aware that the western U.S. was going to be the scene of great spiritual happenings. “Mafia is a state of — let go of it!” read a memorial for Superspade. “Imagine a tree whose bole swells up to form a room,” wrote one futurologist, “when joined to others makes a cluster of rooms. Plants will do this for us if we only learn their language, their genetic code.” If anybody reading such things had doubts, his strongest reaction was likely to be, “Far out trip.”
In this spirit the community tended to ignore real, tenacious differences within itself. Someone who was there to search for the key to world peace would find that, after all, he and someone who had simply come to find some friends were on the same trip — peace and love, truly understood, being the same. It was a refreshing and inspiring experience for those who felt it, a truly religious emotion.
In the same spirit the community started early trying to practice nonexclusiveness. It often worked; there were plenty of successes with the technique of trusting the “tribal spirit,” the tendency to seek the level on which everybody was on the same trip, to handle troublesome situations nonviolently.
This nonexclusiveness, like the absence of leadership and hierarchy that went with it, was a novelty that the news media played up in their stories. As a result, the Haight attracted great numbers of painfully disturbed people and plain hustlers, and after a while there were too many of them for the supply of tribal spirit. Nonexclusiveness was the Achilles’ heel of the Haight, as well as one of its most potent spiritual elements, and the Diggers can be seen as an attempt to save the dream by playing the alienated-dropout motif to the hilt — their “ideology of failure.” Of course, to some on Haight Street, the Diggers themselves looked rather like hustlers.
“Slick talking, fast walking … boy, what talkers, man,” remembers Hillel Resner, who with his partners spent $65,000 trying to bring the Straight Theater up to code as a dance hall and then had to fight off numerous attempts to liberate it. “They’d just make you think you were hearing exactly what you wanted to hear or something, whoever you were. They were really politically hip for those times, it seems to me. They knew that once you got in there, then you were in control. Just do whatever you have to do to get in there.”
The actual composition of the Haight was diverse. Among the things that brought people were traditional bohemian impulses of artistic self-assertion and the romantic search for mystery and authentic experience; the search for nonviolent social forms; curiosity about the meaning of psychedelics; the lure of the drug marketplace, for both customer and dealer; rejection of a comfortable social upbringing; loneliness and rejection in other communities; uncertainty about goals; desire to evangelize, organize or bust the people already in the Haight; and the sheer momentum of the phenomenon.
“Have you ever been in a riot?” says Larry the Dealer. “You could be standing there minding your own business and all of a sudden this thing, this feeling or magnetic force from the crowd, just engulfs you and you actually start participating in the riot. There’s an opposite end of the spectrum. If everybody goes around with the love and brotherhood thing that they had in the Haight, when you walk into it you can be engulfed by it.
“That’s why so many people walked into that thing and within two hours had their heads so turned around they took off their wing-tips and put ’em down on the sidewalk and walked off. That happened hundreds of times a day. You got in that feeling and it was just like the whole world was revolving around this thing that was growing and you could see it grow.”
One study that attempted to analyze the population of Haight Street was carried out by the Haight-Ashbury Research Project. It involved 250 people, 65% of whom they were able to keep track of for up to four years. To its director, Dr. Stephen Pittel, there seemed to be three main divisions. The smallest, about 15%, was made up of religious obsessives and the psychotic fringe. About 40% were “believers in the mystique of the Haight,” people who saw it as a model for the rest of the world. The remainder were there principally because of the no-hassle lifestyle.
Pittel sees these three groups on different trajectories from the start. The psychotic fringe came from cold, authoritarian families and many of them ended up on hard drugs. Most were still living rootlessly in derelict neighborhoods when the study ended — the ones who hadn’t committed suicide or died drug-related deaths. The believers in the Haight, by contrast, came from supportive families and never felt they had completely broken contact with their parents. When they left the Haight it was relatively easy for them to go back to school or choose a career. The in-between group, the no-hassle party, came from families that demanded a lot of achievement from their children but actually discouraged their independence. These Haight alumni have migrated to semirural communes or quasi-communes and are still marginally employed, living a crafts-oriented, low-hassle life centered around the pleasures of family and friends.
As for what this study means, it is a matter of conjecture. The study began in 1968, when the Haight was already officially “dead,” and it involved fewer than 200 people in the long-term study. But it suggests the kinds of real differences between people that seemed infinitesimally small during that long moment of recognizing everyone’s common humanity.
Not much in the way of institutions developed at the time; institutions were dangerously close to what was being rejected. The dances and the dope trade were the closest thing to a center of activities and the other organized projects were always a little on the fringe of things. The Oracle would have been missed, but it hadn’t even started during the days of greatest wonder, the first six or eight months of ’66. The Diggers fed 200 people a day, a considerable achievement, but there were 20 or 50 times that number in the Haight who were getting along without the Digger feeds. The Haight was a crucible for experimentation and adventure, not a recruiting center for organized action. Many agreed with what Jerry Garcia says: “I never participated in the Haight-Ashbury on the level of, ‘Let’s do this with it, let’s organize that.’ I’ve never been a person who’s into that kind of stuff. It always wrecks the best of everything, so far as I’m concerned.”
But things definitely came out of it. Most obvious are the attempts to recreate something of the LSD experience without the drug: yoga, meditation, biofeedback and in some ways the interest in organic food and sensitivity training. Like the interest in occultism and astrology, they have spread widely into the society at large.
The arts are still busy, obviously the music. The adult-rock FM stations, inaugurated by KMPX-FM (the staff later moved to KSAN-FM) in San Francisco, are now an established feature of the music world. The poster artists have moved on to related fields such as album covers and T-shirts. Only the light shows, which never achieved a perfect synthesis with rock ? roll, seem to have sunk into obscurity.
A number of institutions developed out of community living conditions. The rural and exurban communes that stud the West Coast sprang directly out of the Haight, as have the crafts stores and fairs that often partly support them and the Food Conspiracies that buy their food cooperatively.
The institutions with the greatest claim to enduring importance are probably the ones that attempt to integrate LSD revelations into everyday life. The sense of the individual significance and universal interrelatedness of all things and people is the driving force in the ecology movement and the sensitivity-and-personal-growth projects.
The most widespread effect — one reinforced by Watergate and the cynical handling of the Vietnam war — is greater social tolerance of deviant behavior and belief. The great symbol of the times was long hair worn by men, a gesture that involved a progressive reevaluation of the meaning of masculinity for its wearer, which has been recapitulated in society at large as fashionable hair lengths have gotten longer. Marijuana, of course, is coming close to legalization. Our society’s conventional goals of accumulation and status have been leavened with hedonistic and idealistic currents as a result of the national youth movement.
To have this effect, the Haight had to be sacrificed to the mass market, to the news media and the swarms of unprepared people they lured there and also to the hustlers who quickly moved in on the community. “It had that thing of being a little creature, freshly born, and there’s gluttonous predators around trying to gobble it as soon as it springs out,” observes Jerry Garcia. “Like, in a sense the LSD laws were the first big gobble to turn everybody into criminals. And then the thing of not allowing what was good about all that stuff to develop better and better things and ideas, which I think organically it would have. It started to turn on itself and it took on the aspect of crime, so crime brought up the Tenderloin, the lurid possibilities — free love and dope.
“And shewwwww — flood, it was over. And the only thing that really remained was that thing that was there before, that happened anyway, which was this loose network of people who knew each other. Which still exists, really.
“Only it’s much larger.
“And it’s incredibly more secretive.”
Only a few institutions still remain from Haight Street from its glory days. One is Huckleberry’s for Runaways, which evolved into Youth Advocates and is still helping runaway youths and their parents. The Haight Switchboard is still operating, though the operators may not know the names of its founders these days. The Free Clinic has even expanded. It had to.
The Haight degenerated rapidly in ’68, particularly after the assassination of Martin Luther King and the exacerbation of race relations that resulted. Property values plummeted, storefronts were boarded up as businesses moved out after too many robberies, and the streets turned cold and vicious. After the amphetamine epidemic of the late summer of ’67, the neighborhood was flooded with heroin.
But miraculously the Haight has pulled through, saved by the existence of enough residents who had decided they were going to stick it out no matter what it took. They survived the junkies and fought off an urban redevelopment move and it seems to be paying off. In the last two years fresh coats of paint have appeared on neighborhood houses and a number of storefronts have reopened. There are probably as many counterculture shops on Haight Street now as there were in ’67, and the level of goods they sell is probably higher. There are definitely more and better restaurants and food stores. What’s missing, of course, is the mystique of the “Hashbury,” the sense that the neighborhood is surfing the crest of some historical wave. But the Haight has a new mystique.
Dr. Smith at the Free Clinic has been entertaining a number of visitors, many of them from foreign countries. He is fond of pointing out the local renaissance.
“I tell my visitors, ‘Look around,'” he says. ” ‘Have you ever heard of a neighborhood that has gone through a major heroin epidemic — and that’s what we had, a major heroin epidemic in 1969 — and neither turned into a slum nor got redeveloped?’ “
That is the new mystique of the Haight: that it’s gone through hell and pulled itself out. A chastened mystique, but still, like the old one, one of hope.