By 1968, sexual mores, and the amount of information about sex had changed considerably. Pioneers of sex education and research began loosening myths and prejudices. Human Sexual Response by Masters and Johnson had been published in 1966, shedding a scientific light on sexuality and reducing some long-held myths to ashes. Though Planned Parenthood had been in existence for a long time, by the early 1960s they had opened many clinics around the country, providing sex education and reliable birth control. The Pill was now in wide use. Underground newspapers in the Bay Area featured sex advice columns by “Dr. HIPpocrates,” Dr. Eugene Schoenfeld, who discussed a wide variety of questions about sex openly and with good humor. Interracial couples were slowly becoming more widely accepted.
The first glimmerings of the gay rights movement started in the Sixties. In the early days of hippiedom there was still widespread homophobia. However, in the wake of attitudes towards sexual freedom and acceptance of wider varieties of behavior, a movement was slowly beginning to gather force. The 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City transformed the gay rights movement from a small number of activists into a national protest for equal rights and acceptance. By the late 1960s, San Francisco’s Castro district became one of the first safe havens for gays to live openly and freely.
As always, there were contradictions and different ideas at work at the same time. In an era regarded historically as one of sexual license, some people and hip groups advocated celibacy. Early psychedelic literature by Timothy Leary’s group eschewed sex as a distraction during LSD experiences. The Hare Krishnas advocated celibacy. A movie, Rainbow Bridge, featuring Jimi Hendrix and produced by his manager, shows a hippie couple discussing true love as being more spiritual than sexual love.
In Berkeley High School circa 1968, virginity was a liability—a terrible weight to be cast off at the drop of a birth control pill. I had an extremely bad case of virginity, and felt certain that it would prove to be an incurable condition. I was sixteen years old. I had been kissed twice. I had been on one date, and that was with a boy who asked me out on the recommendation of a girl who had turned him down. For the most part, Berkeley High School hippies didn’t go on dates; people paired off into strictly heterosexual couples, and drugs made intimacy all about discovering a new law of thermodynamics in a wallpaper pattern while contemplating the deeper meaning of “Knights in White Satin”—together.
The coolest Berkeley High chicks didn’t hang out with goofy, inexperienced sophomore or junior boys; they aligned themselves with the seniors: the cats who came to school tripping on acid and hung out in Provo Park at lunch time, cigarettes dangling from lower lips, looking indifferently away from their girlfriends—their chicks, their ol’ ladies—to show how much they didn’t care. It was not cool to show strong emotions. An attitude of detached disdain was de rigeuer—and totally irresistible in a guy. I would never attract one of those boys. I felt things too deeply. I was too shy, introverted and self-conscious. I cared way too much. George was definitely my Beatle.
My godfather, who was head of the Drama and Literature Department of KPFA, the local cool non-commercial FM station, worked with a boy named Warren Van Orden. He would suggest to me that Warren would make a great boyfriend. He would tell me about the girls that Warren was going out with, and when he had broken up with them. Furthermore, I was good friends with his younger brother from Berkeley High School. I felt like I already knew him.
We finally met at a Christmas party when I was sixteen. I had gone to see Warren’s brother, who was home for Christmas from his conscientious objector alternative service job. However, his brother ignored me for the most part, which infuriated me. Then Warren walked in. He was very stoned and I was poised to get back at his brother. Within about fifteen minutes we were making out on the couch — heady stuff for someone who had only been kissed a couple of times.
Warren called the next day for a date. We were to go to the Fillmore hear Procol Harum. However, I was so nervous about it that I decided to go to the radio station’s office to see him first. As soon as everyone left the room he slammed me up against a control panel and kissed me passionately. He suggested that we go to a place where he was house-sitting (the family home of a former girlfriend, I learned later). I never considered that he just up and left the radio station in the middle of work, but it must have been okay.
When we got to the spacious house, Warren ushered me into a bedroom. The speakers for the record player were on either side of a big double bed. I freaked out inside. “Isn’t this seductive?” Warren murmured. Oh yes. After putting on the Procol Harum album, he boldly reached to take off my clothes. I was terrified. A girl wasn’t even supposed to kiss a boy before the third date, according to the magazines that catered to teenage girls. I had to say no. I should say no. I really should say no now. It was time to get out of there. But I was so curious. No! Yes! No! Yes!
As I debated this point we were suddenly both naked. I had never seen an erection before. In fact, I didn’t even know that they existed. I had been taught the basic mechanics of how people have intercourse, but I could not figure out the engineering of how part A could possibly fit into part B when it pointed in the wrong direction. Now, suddenly the small detail omitted from my sex education classes became clear. So that’s how people do it!
We did not have intercourse that day, mindful of the lack of birth control. But as I lay in a state of fascinated terror, Warren touched and kissed parts of my body that had never been handled before, not even by me. Slowly my brain stopped whirling around so fast as I responded to his touches. Then he did the unthinkable. He put his mouth down there. How could anybody put his mouth where I peed? The afternoon was an event of revelation, terror, liberation, shock, horror and utter fascination. We goofed off and rolled around on the bed. No, no, no I shouldn’t be doing this but oh, it was fun.
That evening, before the concert, Warren took me to Sam Woh’s, a notorious restaurant in San Francisco’s Chinatown. You would enter through the kitchen and walk upstairs to the dining areas, where food was sent up via dumbwaiter. The main attraction was a waiter named Edsel Ford Fong. He was a tyrant, constantly yelling at the customers. He ordered us to a table. He snarled while taking our order, and slammed the plates down on the table with the food arrived. My feeling of having entered an alternate universe that day catapulted upwards.
Since it was Christmas vacation from school, I saw Warren every day for the first week. He occupied all my waking thoughts. I simply could not believe my good fortune. Warren Van Orden was out-of-the-ballpark cool. He was far, far beyond the most unattainable boy at Berkeley High School cool. He had a superior, sarcastic put-down for anyone and anything kind of cool. Warren wasn’t even a senior—he was twenty years old and had graduated from high school eons ago. Warren Van Orden had everything a lonely, inward girl could ever dream of: silky shoulder-length hair, a thatchy-scratchy-sexy beard and blue bedroom eyes that sent me into an altered state. He owned an endless collection of record albums, possessed an encyclopedic knowledge of rock music, drove a fabulous VW beetle and had a good working relationship with a supplier of excellent marijuana. Best of all, Warren worked for KPFA. I could turn on my radio late at night and attune my ear to the very guy who was would soon be sticking his tongue in mine every weekend.
My stock went soaring at Berkeley High School. Members of the hippie elite who had never given me the time of day suddenly realized that we ought to be good friends. Oddly enough, the newly minted attention of these folks, whom I used to admire from afar and longed to be accepted by, really turned me off. Such glaring shallowness and hypocrisy! Who needed high school heavies any more?They were nothing more than big, smelly fish patrolling a miniscule puddle now that I was part of Warren’s very grown-up world.
Every weekend I donned black lace stockings and a skin-tight purple leotard, then shimmied into a wide-wale corduroy miniskirt. I set and combed and beat my hair into submission until it fell lanky and straight. I meticulously circled my eyes with black eyeliner and rubbed purple shadow onto the lids. A pair of peacock feather earrings and some knee-high black boots and I was good to go. Warren would pick me up in his VW and point its curved hood towards San Francisco. He would extract a joint from his pocket and light up as soon as we were safely beyond the reach of the men in uniforms manning the Bay Bridge toll booths. By the time we arrived at our destination we were flying high, kissing and giggling as we floated through the heart of one of San Francisco’s notorious ghetto areas, the Fillmore district. We were ready to rock at the Fillmore Auditorium to whatever musicians Bill Graham was presenting that week.
At the Fillmore, Winterland and the Avalon we heard blues gods such as B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Britain’s finest such as The Who and Traffic, and all the hometown heroes. There were many lesser lights who appeared as the third stringers. Bill Graham was heavily pushing The Ultimate Spinach, announced as the vanguard of the up-and-coming Boss-Town (Boston) Sound that would soon sweep the country. For all we cared, The Ultimate Spinach could wilt.
Other bands offered as first and second-stringers, alas, are no longer well remembered, but were so nice while they lasted, including Mother Earth, The Chambers Brothers, H.P. Lovecraft, the Youngbloods, Moby Grape, The Sons of Champlin, Captain Beefheart, the Fugs, and Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen. There was the Ace of Cups, an all-woman band that Denise Kaufman, one of the Merry Pranksters with Ken Kesey had organized while in a psychiatric ward to which her parents had taken her in mid-acid trip. There were also the predecessors of the Jefferson Airplane, the Charlatans and the Great Society, and the Airplane’s antecedent, Hot Tuna. There was the local hippie rhythm and blues band, The Loading Zone. There were second and third stringers with local followings, such as Berkeley High School’s house band, The Purple Earthquake, the Joy of Cooking, The Flamin’ Groovies and The Harbinger Complex. A sort of folk/jug band, The Cleanliness and Godliness Skiffle Band, graced local fundraisers. Blue Cheer was a highly amped attack force of noise. Another ancestor of heavy metal, the Salvation Army Band, was forced to change their name by the real Salvation Army and ended up as simply Salvation. They employed egg cartons as acoustical tile on the walls of their cheap San Francisco apartment, the better to practice all night.
If Warren and I liked the music we’d listen, enraptured. Occasionally we’d dance amidst the strobe lights and light shows. If we didn’t like a band, we’d neck through their set with the single-minded enthusiasm of the very stoned. After each show, we’d float back to the car through the dark, seedy streets of San Francisco’s inner city, protected from harm by the invincible power of music.
On week nights, if I could convince my parents that I had really truly finished my homework and please-please-pleaaassse let me go—we went to clubs to hear groups in more intimate settings. In my fishnets and finery, hanging on the arm of an almost famous radio engineer, I was never once carded. After every evening together we’d say goodnight by steaming up the car windows for a half hour or so before I snuck into the house, sticky, panting, disheveled, and in total awe of this miraculous god who had descended, deus ex machina, into my pathetic little life. Considering that we both lived with our parents, we somehow managed to make love very often, doing “everything but.”
I adored Warren with the laser intensity of someone who has never had her heart broken and doesn’t know that you need to protect yourself—that you must always hold back a part of yourself for safe-keeping. I loved him with all the passion of a vulnerable, insecure girl who never thought any boy would ever want her for a girlfriend. However, I could barely talk to Warren. I was afraid that if I opened my mouth I would say the wrong thing, the uncool thing, the unwittingly uttered Berkeley-in-the-Sixties’ equivalent of Rumpelstiltskin! that would shatter the spell and cause him to awaken and see the frog he had mistaken for a girl. I was overly conscious of the different universes we occupied—he lounging on Olympus amidst the gods and goddesses of the airwaves and me slinking across terra firma in Berkeley High School with shoulders hunched and head down.
Warren was the man I desperately wanted to rid me of that terrible cross to bear, my virginity. I knew what I was and was not proud of it. I left school early one day, pleading a doctor’s appointment to pay a visit to Planned Parenthood in Oakland. In those days, you needed to be over eighteen to get birth control without a parent’s consent. I therefore lied about my age in order to get a prescription for the Pill. However, the examining doctor was nonplussed when he discovered an intact maidenhead. He proceeded to treat me like an alien species, asking me in a booming voice whether my “poor, frustrated boyfriend” knew that I was here and referring to me in the presence of all the nurses and administrators as “our shy virgin.” In exchange for a couple of hours of humiliation I received a few month’s worth of birth control pills and, in a voice that boomed out into the waiting room, a hearty invitation to come back if I had any trouble having orgasms.
At a pre-arranged time, Warren arrived to pick me up from the clinic. He casually greeted one of nurses by name, prompting me to drop my books all over the waiting room. If anyone didn’t know I was underage before, a This is Our American Government textbook splayed across the rug bore silent witness to the truth. We drove to my house in giddy triumph, as if we’d just pulled off a major sting operation. Warren leaned across the gearshift at every red light and stop sign to kiss me and to tell me how much he loved me.
A few days later he broke up with me.
The universe cracked. Music wailed out my pain. I needed the concentrated bits of heartache doled out in two-minute segments: “Only the Lonely.” “Heartbreak Hotel.” “The End of the World.” Longer, artier ballads might lead to suicide. One week later he was back; don’t complain, don’t explain. I barely acknowledged my anger at him for putting me through that eternity of misery. (Did I take him back? Did Janis Joplin swill Southern Comfort?) However, I started feeling increasingly anxious and crazy and desperate. What if he broke up with me again next week?
A horny, nervous girl’s gotta do what a horny, nervous girl’s gotta do. Strike while the guy is hot. I staged a really lame seduction. The opportunity presented itself when my parents went out for an evening. I waited for the man of experience to take the lead. My hormonally turbo-charged boyfriend had always given the impression that he had passed this particular milestone many chicks ago. Now, when the actual moment of truth arrived, the boy-man who had been thoroughly and skillfully exploring all of my surfaces and most of my orifices for the past few months…hesitated. His lovemaking seemed nervous and distracted. Did he actually blush? Were those some strong emotions that flashed across his face? Was I observing some, gulp, vulnerability?
For a brief moment I actually felt repulsed. I’d been had! My hunka hunka burning love was morphing into a Kama Sutra kamikaze right in front of my eyes. The emotional confusion surrounding this rite of passage I understand. That I was unprepared for the physical pain, which no one—not a single girl in school nor that goofy doctor at Planned Parenthood nor anyone else had warned me about—I understand. That I was too love-struck and insecure to tell Warren—maybe he wouldn’t like me if I told him he had hurt me—I understand. I understand why Warren was nervous afterwards, making wisecracks and sarcastic remarks to put some emotional distance between himself and what had just happened. I understand why he couldn’t wait to get away. To this day, however, what I still don’t understand is why we were listening to “Town Without Pity” on a Top Forty station instead of having the radio tuned, per usual, to an underground FM station.
Over the next five months, Warren gave me a crash and burn course in rock ‘n roll romance: hopeless, one-sided adoration, the manic highs and lows of being a teenager in love, the gorgeous, panting pleasures of breaking a few pages worth of sex and drug laws at one crack, and the duplicity and lying that one lover can inflict upon another. He simply disappeared from my life without warning. I heard that he had been seeing a fifteen year-old, even during a month or so of the time that he was with me. Warren dedicated a mean-spirited song to me on his radio show.
I would meet Warren again when I was sixty. All was forgiven. We had both lived lives with vastly different experiences. But part of us were still those kids from 1968.