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Our Minds Were Young and Blown

Tales of the late great Haight from our sixth experiment in participatory journalism

Hippies, psychedelic rock, San Francisco

Hippies dance at a psychedelic rock concert at the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco, California, in early summer, 1967.

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

We have opted to present as many shared perspectives of the Haight-Ashbury as possible, and that has meant trimming some of our readers’ stories. There were many points of view: we have run those stories representative of commonly shared impressions. This was in lieu of rugged individualists like the remorseful (self-described) hippie-come-lately George Gilbert, who wrote the “I Was a Hippie” exposé series for the ‘San Francisco Chronicle’, or Michael Brown, head of the Northern California American Nazi Party at the time they “invaded” the Haight in 1966 and 1967 (“We gleeped seven Viet Cong flags and put four people in the hospital”). We also decided to stay out of the cross fire between special interest groups like the panhandlers and the people who took food from the Diggers, each group thinking the other was scum.

There were a lot of grisly tales among the 130 responses, presumably because most people who went to the Haight did go when it was too late and were part of the nightmarish Summer of Love that brought too many people, dope droughts, speed and smack — but that’s another story.

Naturally there are a lot of alumni who are not represented here — those who, for one reason or another, have gone permanently nonlinear and nonverbal, including both, those who got fried in the Haight and those who figure trying to verbalize the whole experience is ridiculous and beside the point.

Nevertheless, we heard from jails, communes, mental institutions, farms, suburbs — and from people living in the Haight today. Geographically, they set out from many places, but most seem to have settled on the West Coast. We did hear from other continental states and Hawaii, though, and France, Tahiti and Mars. What follows are 13 tales of the Haight-Ashbury circa 1965-1967 — based on the reports of random readers who responded to our sixth experiment in “Participatory Journalism.”

[“It’s Not like ‘Life’ Magazine!”]

I was 14 when John Kennedy was elected. I was 17 when he was killed. In the interim, I smoked my first marijuana, experienced my first orgasm and marched my first picket line. These things happened in the Haight.

I lived in San Francisco from September 1963 to June 1965 … no less than the discovery of What Life Is All About occurred….

There were flashes from time to time that something different was going on:

At a party in a house on Oak Street, some people started rock dancing to Dylan and our ideas about music were changed.

Naively brave college students, holding their breath and their money, waited to score in the Fillmore’s seamiest nightclubs; the thrill of dope and the righteousness of liberalism coursing through their newly sensed beings.

Artists were students were activists in a synthesis that the bohemian beats apparently never wanted to dream of (and yet the seed is theirs).

Around the last month of my residence, people started getting busted a lot, the Haight Street theater stopped showing movies and incense glutted the air ….

Four years later, back in Los Angeles, a friend of mine was experiencing acid for the first time. Recalling the media saturation and four-color spreads on that particular substance and the folk who used it, she careened around the house yelling. “It’s not like Life magazine! It’s not like Life magazine!”

Well, it certainly wasn’t. I didn’t even know it was called the “Haight-Ash-bury” until after I left.

It was a charged, glowing, enormously important time for me. I grew there.

Janet Jacobson

Santa Monica, California

[For Once There Wasn’t a Program to Follow]

… In many ways all who took that “trip” could never return to “normalcy.” Haight was too heavy a thing; it was a commitment to a new existence — whatever it might be.

It was mind-altering — thought-altering, psychedelic and mystical yet real because one never knew what happened next. For once there wasn’t a program to follow. Many of us are dead now, or straight, or living in communes far from cities, or in prison, or freaked out for life, but it was worth it. We couldn’t deny ourselves that opportunity….

D.C. Vea

Vacaville, California

[The Neighborhood Itself: Strange and Magical]

By the time that most people had heard of Haight the creative energy which had generated its life had already begun to deteriorate. It is not easy to explain the genesis of that energy.

Even so, certain aspects remain which we can look at, perhaps together they can give a kind of picture that will help to make clear some of the reasons why people gathered together in that particular spot. LSD was an important aspect which contributed the change of lifestyle and a sense of community. The feeling of optimism and joy that the music of the Beatles generated tied people together.

The physical character of the neighborhood itself was very important. Unlike other parts of San Francisco, the Haight-Ashbury district was built on rock, not sand or clay. Many of the old town houses survived the 1906 earthquake and fire. These fantastic Victorian mansions with their delicate ornamentation and high ceilings evoke a special kind of feeling, strange and unique. The proximity of nature in Golden Gate Park added a magical, almost cosmic quality to life in the neighborhood. Exotic and beautiful plants had been brought from Australia and New Zealand at the turn of the century. The park was a kind of fantasy world which seemed to have been created for afternoons of leisurely discovery.

In the early days the quality of life was very pleasant. There was a new atmosphere of energy and excitement which was free of paranoia. Something was happening, yet people felt no inclination to name it or analyze it. A friendly and harmonious atmosphere prevailed in the neighborhood until the media provided a name, an identity, and began to contrast its life to the life of the “straight” world around it….

Larry Blackburn

Marin City, California

[Vampire of the Avalon]

There really was one of those vampires in San Francisco in those days. In those days there was one of everything. I would have verified it except I got distracted. My best friend was the one who told me about this vampire. My friend was now a hippie society lady. Lauren was very beautiful and her blond hair was long enough at the right time and her aura, fairy child, enveloped everyone for all those years.

Lauren had heard the tale of this vampire fellow and seeing him one day on the streets made her shudder and whisper it to me. He was a vampire, a devil person, and he had driven his old lady mad and she was in an institution. But he just walked around normally because not many people knew about it. He certainly looked normal to me, short, pale-skinned, ponytail, beard, nothing strange, but of course I didn’t get a chance to see his eyes from across the street. Did he see us talking and staring? He acted not. He was the mailman for our neighborhood, very cool he was.

Lauren said he worked on the light show at the Avalon Ballroom and we decided to try and see him in a mirror there. Big Brother was going to be there that night and we could go and expose him to ourselves and know for sure, him touching people’s mail. It was very exciting. We didn’t even have time to get dressed up, we rushed to the bus. I took my lipstick which had a little mirror on it to watch what you were doing.

It was a good night and things were humming along. Big Brother’s set would be next and I wandered around very nervous about what we were doing there. I watched the puppet show upstairs for a while. I was the only one watching, it was a very complicated dialogue, I didn’t get it. So weird to think it was Dimitrius in there making puppets jump around and his ex-wife one of my good friends and I stood there knowing why they broke up. There were egg rolls and fruit and tables and chairs to lounge on the balcony all around to watch the show if you didn’t want to dance or were dealing. There was the ladies’ room which was always jammed and feeling like the Forties debutante ball, everyone shimmering and beautiful to themselves in the bathroom mirror.

Lauren and I felt sort of strange, not with men, we just wanted to find out. Down on the dance floor we mingled around. The light show was on now to the music, playing on the ballroom walls, antique movie clips, pictures of flowers and sea creatures and mountains with bubbles and swirls over the top all moving around, pulling you around. It came from the balcony where the light show guys were working their equipment, their eyes always on the walls. The vampire was there right in front, short, gentle-looking. I felt foolish to peek at him in my mirror now.

We were far away to the opposite wall. I turned my back and held up my lipstick and tried to find him. But I couldn’t. Between us and him was a strobe light hanging down flashing. And the music and color and walls moving around and I couldn’t get him in view over my shoulder. I decided to go closer but Lauren was afraid. When I got almost right under the balcony where he was, it put me under the influence of the strobe. I turned up the mirror and caught my own reflection in it. I blew myself right away.

My face looked very ghastly, I was a lizard woman, my freckles were luminous splotches, my eyes were laser beams, painful. It was a blow, a second ago on the other side of the room I was in control, looking fine, now I was a variegated creature. People dancing nearby would flash on me and say nicely, wow, you sure look freaky, isn’t it weird? But I was learning to be pretty rational and strong in those days and so it didn’t destroy my head. I began to dig it, to see me in the glass a stranger, a friend, a reptile. I smiled and laughed, dancing around to the light and the lipstick and Lauren came over and said did you see him, and I said no. I forgot. We looked up and he was gone.

Phyllis Fisher

Mt. Charleston, Nevada

[I Wish There Was Some Place Where It Is Still 1967]

I went to the Haight-Ashbury in March ’67. At that time I was 15 years old. I left home because it was fucked up, so I took a bus from New York to San Francisco, it was the best move I ever made. The people there are Beautiful, every person there was good, nobody ripped people off. If you had nowhere to stay like me somebody would put you up for a while. There were places to eat for free and it was good food. If you wanted to get high you went to Golden Gate Park, to a hill called Hippie Hill and there would be about 200 or 300 freaks there doing acid and smoking grass and hash.

I learned to love your brother and sisters who were there. I wish today there was some place in this country where it is still 1967 and the hippies were running around stoned out of their minds, it was the greatest time in my life.

Billy Vellon

New York, New York

[Hip Today, Hype Tomorrow]

Eight years. After eight years, I feel like I should have my recollections of the Haight together — but I don’t. My memory banks are unsorted. The external stuff — “The Haight” — is fragmented and jumbled, a sloppy collection of old news-reel shots….

Every morning on FM, the I Ching: prognostications for the (DJ’s) day…. The dealing couple who live next door: free samples. They had an old Healey with infinity symbols sprayed on the doors … Sandoz acid, then Owsley’s … $85 kilos of reg, $250 kilos of supergrass. Kilos…. On sunny spring and fall days, dozens of glowing, barely clad “hippie chicks” hanging out…. A lot of hustling, at first joyful and reciprocal, later intense and one-sided….

I hung out a lot too, in the Haight, waiting for something to happen — to me. I thought that whatever “changes” were going to happen to/in my life would come from out there: the forces of change were outside. I tried to stay laid-back and nonjudgmental, ready for anything, hanging out, watching….

Shit-food wrappers — that didn’t seem like the Revolution … thousands of dog turds … a totally collaged VW van, a paisley sedan…. The first hip businesses opening up when acid became illegal: dope-dealers going legit and using force and violence to protect their capital investments…. Crowding, fastrapping black men; “Say, hippie, gimme your dope/money/chick….”

Dope. For all the burns and false leads and missed connections (“Ah, man, Jack’s gone down to Big Sur, he’ll be back next week”), there was plenty of dope. Grass, acid, hash, like the street-dealers’ mantra. Without dope, the Haight was grim — foggy, dirty, jammed with aimless people…. Stoned, it was all that. But different….

I know about two dozen people who moved into the Haight in the early/mid-Sixties. They don’t seem like the Founding Freaks. We are all struggling with ourselves and our lives, still earth-bound. I’m trying to affect change in my life, only just using my own resources rather than hoping some magic movement or neat new chemical will do it for me….

The Haight started spontaneously, a happening. By the time the media picked up on it and spread it around, the spontaneity was gone, and the Haight wasn’t much more than another hustle … Hip today, hype tomorrow….

Peter Webster

Ashland, Oregon

[We All Wanted to Be Everything That Was ‘Yes’]

Deb gazed at me and said, “We are there.” The magical land in the middle of San Francisco. Incense filled the air, sunshine faces abounded, flutes, saxes and axes, sitar playing spiritualizing the very air that we breathed. Such a yin/yang attraction, so many smiles. How can one place on earth include many other places on earth at once? So free. Low-key police foot patrol slowly walking towards Golden Gate Park with flowers stuck in their holsters. We felt as if we found something that would last forever.

There were the finest drugs ever to awaken my being. No burns. No busts. No rip-offs. No fronts. They hadn’t seeped into the Haight as yet. Electric kool-aid in glass milk jugs passed from winos’ hands to hippie heads along the water in Golden Gate Park.

“Got any spare change?” rang out at every corner. We asked for change just to get the feeling. Folks arriving in carloads. People with love eyes. Flowers smiling. Dogs laughing. Babies singing. So much learning took place. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the children. We all wanted to be everything that was “yes.” For those few short months many of us were.

Rev. Marti Lanham

Burton, Washington

[It Was like Being Pulled Apart by Demons]

I came to San Francisco from London, England, in the summer of ’66 and ended up in the Haight-Ashbury district….

It was a two bedroom apartment just off Haight Street, there must have been about 14 people there at one time from all over the world it seemed, but it didn’t really matter. We smoked a lot of dope and slept in late, there was one big bed in the living room made up of everyone’s sleeping bags put together and a lot of us slept there, sometimes spent whole days there, balling and getting high, listening to music.

Sometimes we’d go to the park and hang out and it was really beautiful for a while, it seemed like everyone was part of the same family, I was getting closer to people that I didn’t know than I was to my own family. And the idea of having a girlfriend was blown apart ’cause we all seemed to be making love together and holding on to one special one was out of the past, when I crept back into my own old skin sometimes (after a weird trip or something, and I needed security) I’d get to feel that I was going crazy, it was like being pulled apart by demons or something and there was no going back, I used to get really frightened sometimes. But somehow or other I stayed there the whole summer, staying high most of the time, I was feeling like the changes were doing me good, we all knew that it was a revolution and kinda didn’t care what happened to ourselves as long as we were free.

There was one time at the apartment though when a lot of us were there on the bed listening to the Beatles and drawing in this book, when one of the girls came in crying her eyes out, she was in a terrible state, she had blood all over her right arm and on her leg, and she was hysterical. We were all very high but even when you’re stoned out it’s still possible to come around to help someone, sometimes, one of the ladies took her into the bathroom, and everyone went in too, it was like we became one great big love body and just poured out this love to her without even stopping to ask why, etc.

She calmed down and told us that some guy in the park had tried to turn her on to some heroin but she’d freaked out and ran off when the needle went into her arm but she couldn’t stop the blood and it was all over her clothes. She must’ve been already high on acid, anyway a few of us just got right into making her feel good again, we took off all her clothes and threw them away, and washed her down in the bath, and wrapped up her wound. She was smiling and happy again when we’d done, it was far out, it was that love that I saw that I’d come there for. Things got pretty weird though after the summer, and a lot of people split to live in the country, including me….

Stuart Wright

Lagunitas, California

[She Had a Pad and It Was a Free Screw]

To begin with, I went to Haight-Ashbury because I was hearing so much about it clear back in Peoria, Illinois, and I had to see what it looked like.

It took me 39 hours to get there, and after I got to San Francisco, it took me about 2 1/4 hours to find my way up there on the hill. As I was parking my car two girls came up to me and asked if I could give them some money so they could get some food, and I gave both of them $2 apiece, and I asked if they could tell me where all the fun was up here, and they said, “Man, it’s all over.” As I started to leave one of the girls said that I better lock up my hog if I didn’t want to find somebody in my back screwing.

I was up there on the hill for eight weeks with this chick I met the first hour and at all times we enjoyed ourselves, and we lived together because she had a pad and besides I knew it was a free screw, and to this day I still think of her. But to get back to Haight-Ashbury, the only thing that I saw and didn’t like was the kids, because if one of them could he would rip you off, and they would for a dollar or for some pills or some grass, and I thought that would bring the pigs down on us, but they were there all the time, and most of the time they wouldn’t do anything for anybody, and also I thought it was a place where people could go and enjoy themselves at any time of the day or night, and a lot did. Anyway, we both did.

And in our three weeks together, we were coming out of this store next to a flower shop and these two guys had this old man up against the flower store window and they were giving this old man a hard way to go, or they were going to rip him off, and he was cursing them to death and I didn’t like it, so I put my nose in their business, which I don’t do too often because I got knifed once for it.

Anyway, I told these two punks to let the old man alone, and that’s when the shit hit the fan, because one of them pulled a knife on me and said, “Get lost,” and I said, “Get fucked,” and this chick I was with, she jumped in front of me and said something to this guy and I was trying to watch both of them, and this other guy turned around with a knife in his hand, and I seen what was going to happen and I moved fast because I had to get this chick out of the way, and as I pulled the chick away I pulled my .357 mag that I carried with me, and that put the shoe in my side and I told both of these punks to get lost and both of them did because I think they knew their time was up or they thought I was the pig.

Anyway, they split; and I was glad of that too. I was carrying the gun because I came out to Haight-Ashbury with $6000 and when I went back home with only $500, and besides I carry a gun all the time and will use it if I have to.

Anyway, for those two things happening to me while I was up in Haight-Ashbury, the rest of my time up there was cool, and I enjoyed myself and if I could do it all over again I would, and I know a lot of the kids and the adults did enjoy themselves too.

But you must remember up there people didn’t care about you one way or the other, and someone was always getting ripped off, because the name of the game was free love, and free rip-off too, because a lot of it went off my people who didn’t give a damn about free love, they saw the money end of it.

And in 1969 I went back to Haight-Ashbury again and there wasn’t anything left as I remember, it’s all gone forever.

Well, that’s about all, but this last reminder, to me it was FUN CITY and I enjoyed myself because you could do anything you wanted just to be happy, and I did.

Donald D. E. Buttram

Menard, Illinois

[All That Music Made People Glad They Showed Up]

When I got to the City that summer of 1967, I was a visitor, an outsider, and that’s pretty much how it went. To me the Haight was a neighborhood gone bananas, a meat grinder full of too many people. Don’t get me wrong. I know that there were a lot of people on the scene working hard to hold it together, but the “summer of love” was a heavy load.

I hung around for eight or nine weeks, cutting some serious trails between my place and the old Fill more, and the Park and North Beach and anywhere else I could get my body and soul next to some rock ? roll. I do believe all that music made a lot of people glad they showed up, whatever else may have been going down. Yes, just open up those sluice gates at the end of Haight Street and thousands of hairy freaks would roll into the park, ready to get down, ready to get up, ready to get off. The flatbed trucks would pull up on the edge of the green, and for the next few hours there was a lot of grinnin’ going on. I got a lot of what I came to get, and it went something like this:

Function at the Junction the Dead Country Joe and the Fish the Doors the Airplane Quicksilver Buffalo Springfield James Cotton Jimi Hendrix the Who Gabor Szabo Paul Butterfield Janis and Big Brother the Yardbirds Bo Did-dley Mose Allison Chuck Berry the Steve Miller Band Sam and Dave Ramblin’ Jack Elliott Santana Blues Band Jesse Fuller Muddy Waters the Loading Zone … and maybe some more I’ve forgotten. Believe me, this ain’t just a list, but yes, you had to be there. When I shuffled off to Buffalo I was kickin’ myself all the way down the road, because I was going to miss Cream and the Electric Flag and….

Well, I’ve still got that boogie-woogie like a knife in the back, and those “good old days” of $3 tickets for three bands and five hours of music are gone but not forgotten.

Mark Powers

Buffalo, New York

[I Lost My Clothes, My ID, My Weight, My Mind]

I was 18 when I came to San Francisco. I left Los Angeles in April of 1966 with $35 and the address of a friend of a friend on Ashbury Street. It was my first trip away from home and the first time I had ever been in a city.

My first contact with the Haight-Ashbury was the Number 7 Haight bus from Market Street after a night in a sleazy hotel in the Tenderloin. I got off at the end of the line, Golden Gate Park, and walked down Haight Street looking for Ashbury. 408 Ashbury was my first commune. I felt quite sophisticated having taken LSD frequently since my 18th birthday, hitching alone up the coast, reading all of Jack Kerouac’s books and being aware of how Zen it all was — and then there was 408. My fantasy and a sensory overload; dog shit everywhere, the kitchen disguised as garbage, a bathroom long since out of use and the people, my new family… and and and….

The Pall Mall where you could get two eggs, toast and hash browns for 45°, Tracy’s Donut Shop open all night, the Psychedelic Shop and fresh off the press dance posters — the old Fillmore on Fillmore and Geary, the Avalon, the Family Dog. Living off the street, I learned to panhandle standing barefoot in a short dress so I could buy food, wine, my way into dances; the dope was free and there seemed to be so much. Everything was free for a price; I lost my clothes, my ID, my weight, my birth control pills, my mind. The Human Be-In was the beginning of the end…. People began pouring in from everywhere, looking for whatever it was we were supposed to have. I worked in a store selling posters, beads, bells, buttons and “hippie” junk…. My friends started to leave or to get offed. Superspade and Shob went in the same week, murdered and forgotten and suddenly it was serious and not very much fun. anymore….

I went to the Haight almost by accident and I stayed because it was fun and exciting and really magic. I guess it has affected my whole life and how I live and look at things. I was in the center of the universe for a while and now I look back and it was over too soon. I’m still trying to figure out what happened and why. It was the best time of my life and also the worst. I was full of fear much of the time but I kept on in the Haight because I thought I might find some answers.

Shelley Nolan

Bellingham, Washington

[The Ass-End of the Summer of Love]

The ass-end of the summer of love was upon us. Winter was due…. One night, as I entered Haight on another stoned “goo run” for candy and cokes and cookies, people came running through the fog with shouts of, “Go back, get inside, the pigs are busting everything in sight!” I peered through the fog to see heavy leathered helmeted figures approaching — paced by a wagon with its headlights off — beating with bored swings of their batons all figures they found huddled in doorways and stores, dragging them into the wagon. It was all very businesslike. All done under cover of darkness. I hurried back inside.

There was plenty of “free love.” But very little privacy. You got used to balling in silence while others watched TV. I got crabs three times in one month.

Soon we didn’t go outside much anymore. Especially at night. We huddled together. We stayed stoned. We had our roof as access to the world, lots of dope, food stamps too.

Those mad, funny characters of Haight. I can still see the man wearing the heavy plaster body cast, fresh from some emergency clinic, stumbling towards me through the crowded sidewalk one hot sunny afternoon. His cast formed a Frankenstein shape of square points about his head and shoulders. He looked immense. Layers of bandages trickled out from under the cast to float behind him. He seemed a fusion of two myths: Frankenstein and the Mummy. He had remembered to tie his shoelaces but had forgotten to put his feet into the shoes; now the string was wrapped about his bare feet and he labored to keep his shoes under his soles. He kept idly wiping blood off his face as it rolled down from his bandages. His eyes wandered, dim, dying….

Richard Stayton

San Francisco, California

[Like an Extravagant Love Affair That Ended Savagely]

… “So what?” you say. I’ll tell you. This seemingly superficial Candyland saved America. We had more then than affluence and naiveté. We also had a fossilized society that was at the end of its collective rope. It’s getting harder to remember Lord of the Flies, The Lonely Crowd, et al. When I nurse my son, I sometimes think of the picture I first saw in the Oracle of a naked woman breast-feeding her baby. That I can tune into that image with love is a gift of the Haight. Before Haight Street that picture would have been shocking, obscene.

The current popularity of the word “lifestyle” is a measure of what Haight Street gave all of us. When that phrase was first born of the Haight mentality, it was “alternate lifestyle.” Now even the nine-to-fivers would have to think a minute about “alternate.” Alternate to what? Legal reform, welfare reform, reminders that society serves people and not the other way around, these are all ways in which the Haight still lives. Maybe most important of all the gifts of Haight Street is the now overt recognition that it is all right to feel all right and to be the best you can be.

I’m expecting the Sixties Revival any decade now. My miniskirts and granny glasses aren’t in the closet for nothing…. When that Revival happens, I hope it will have as part of it the joy and feeling of adventure of those times …. It hurts to remember them because they were so horribly buried; it’s like remembering an extravagant love affair that ended savagely.

Carol Taylor

San Rafael, California

In This Article: Coverwall, Sixties

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