Welcome to my blog! These first posts come from a book I have been working on for over ten years, entitled Sixties Chick. It contains stories — many of them autobiographical — and essays about the Sixties in the San Francisco Bay Area. I interviewed many musicians and people involved with Sixties music and arts, including George Harrison, Donovan, Pete Seeger, Bob Weir two members of Big Brother and the Holding Company and many more, some famous, some not-so-famous but very significant for the time.
This first post includes a Foreword written by Richie Havens. I had the great honor of spending time with this kind, compassionate, creative, deeply spiritual human being. I miss him. Next up is an autobiographical story. I hope that it captures the flavor of the time and place.
Comments and questions are welcome. Dialogue is more satisfying than a monologue!
With hopes that you will find something enjoyable and of value here,
FOREWORD by RICHIE HAVENS
After reading this book I realized that Miriam and I were comrades: we both had independently tried to express our lives as we were dealt them. I believe, like me, she was indelibly surrounded with the nature of everyday life and its compounded levels of human expression.
We both read that music which surrounded us as the first multi-generational primal scream. We both had lonely personal opinions and expanding consciousness of the mythological possibilities of the whole world seeking itself… and we were part of it. It has always amazed me how several generations shared the same top 40 and the FM revolution across the USA, subliminally living out our concerns, dreams and fantasies of being directly instrumental in global change for the better. This book reveals the paths millions of us traveled to find our way.
We all shared something… without having to know each other personally, we always recognized each other immediately. Miriam has written her life story, and in doing so has also traced mine, and many others as well.
For anyone who reads this book, the way this story is told, accompanied by the well of all genres of historically embedded lyrics, gives us the timelines of our lives here in the still emerging new world.
This is near past history at it’s best. Simply astounding.
NEW YEAR’S EVE 1966–1967
On New Year’s Eve, I lay on the gritty floor of the Fillmore Auditorium with hundreds of other freaks, as hippies called themselves, in a happy, sleepy, slightly stoned haze of contentment. By three A.M., the entire dance floor was awash with bodies at rest. My head rested on a gauzy Indian shirt-covered tummy, and a head with a tangle of hair rested gently on mine. And the bands played on at the first of what would become Bill Graham’s annual New Year’s Eve bashes. The Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead and The Quicksilver Messenger Service alternated sets from nine PM until morn. Because it was an all-night gig, the price was an unusually steep five dollars. However, admission also included breakfast. As usual, each reveler would also receive a psychedelic poster for next week’s concert. We could also select an apple out of a big box with a sign, “take one or two” on the way out. Ron Schaeffer, videographer and archiver for Bill Graham Presents, recalled that at the Fillmore’s twentieth reunion, the staff resurrected the original apple barrel and filled it with red apples. When Bill Graham saw it he bellowed, “The apples were always green! Get rid of these red apples and get green ones!”
I had primped for hours for the event at which I now lay splayed on the dirty floor, my hair sprinkled with confetti and reeking of cigarette smoke and my clothes sweaty and crumpled from dancing for hours. How much time had it taken to layer on all that black eyeliner, clumpy mascara and thick purple eyeshadow, to arrange the leather miniskirt to hit at just the right place on my thighs, and the boots to land just below my knees so that the black lace stockings would show just enough? I had beaten my hair into submission until not one tiny curl might dare speak out against a united front of long, straight hipness. I was fifteen years old. My friend Lindy and I had bounced into the back seat of a VW beetle with a couple of girls from Berkeley High School. They had cranked the radio on loud as we headed for San Francisco: four chicks ready to rock around the clock with our boundless enthusiasm and exploding hormones. Lord knows I had enough to launch the entire Apollo space program.
Inside the Fillmore the air was thick and smoky-sweet with a heady combination of marijuana and cigarette smoke (Camel unfiltered was the puff of choice for the macho-hip), incense, patchouli oil, and the musk and pheromones emanating from sweaty bodies gyrating close together. I danced with boys with hair down to their waists and with girls with hair down to their waists. I danced with various creatures of nonspecific genders and ages, with nonspecific amounts of chemicals coursing through their veins. I danced with buzz-cut servicemen having one last night on the town before shipping out to Vietnam. Their short hair was a big-time turn-off, but I felt sorry for them. One very serious-looking serviceman asked me for a slow dance. He put both arms around my waist and I wrapped mine around his shoulders and rested my head on his collarbone. We swayed slowly on the floor, holding each other very tight. Afterwards he politely thanked me for the dance, and we both melted back into the crowd. Sometimes I’d dance close to the stage to get a close-up look at the bands. The huge banks of amps on each side of the stage blasted so loudly that my hearing would go fuzzy for a half-hour.
Dancing in the ballrooms had nothing to do with the tight, choreographed moves of the Jerk, the Philly and the Swim, the dances popular earlier in the era. Mario Cipollina, Quicksilver Messenger Service lead guitarist’s brother and bass player for Huey Lewis and the News remembers when the dance halls had opened their doors at the beginning of 1966, “At the beginning at the Fillmore, people were still line dancing like in high school dances.” However, that had changed virtually overnight as San Francisco’s new vibe inspired highly individual body language. Dancing to psychedelic music was about freedom and originality, about expressing your divine inner vision with your body in whatever way you felt inspired to move. Good coordination had nothing to do with it; everyone was a great dancer, whether or not it showed on the outside. Furthermore, the ballrooms were dark, illuminated only by the occasional strobe light and by colored kinetic swirls reflected from the light shows projected onto the wall behind the stage. A revolving ball covered with hundreds of tiny mirrors hung from the ceiling above the center of the room, showering little moving pinpoints of reflected light onto the crowd. You could barely differentiate individuals in that array of swirling colors. The dance floor most often looked like one big gyrating amoeba. If there was any one move that was common to ballroom dancing it was to slowly wave your arms around in front of you so that you could groove on how trippy they looked in the rat-tat-tat of the strobe light.
What music was I dancing to? The bands were just beginning to write their own material, and they largely played folk music, rock ’n’ roll and rhythm and blues, albeit in their own trippy way. The Jefferson Airplane sang the hit written in 1960, “Tobacco Road.” Quicksilver riffed on Bo Diddley’s “Mona” with soaring, improvised guitar solos and The Dead took a jug band tune, “Viola Lee Blues,” out of the 1920s and into the 1960s.
At midnight, The Grateful Dead struck up Wilson Pickett’s 1965 hit, “In the Midnight Hour.” Jim Haynie, a beatific young man with long, curly hair who worked for Bill Graham, reclined on a palanquin borne by six black uniformed security guards. A wreath of flowers encircled his curly locks and a diaphanous white diaper covered his loins. A sash emblazoned with the year, “1967” was draped across his smooth chest. The baby New Year was tripping on acid. He smiled and blew extravagant kisses as he was carried unsteadily through the crowd. When the palanquin reached the stage area, Haynie stood up and danced on it so enthusiastically that he stomped the contraption to bits. From that night forward, Haynie would do the honors at each New Year’s Eve concert, even long after he had stopped working for Graham. In later years, for a grande finale he would take off his diaper and toss it to the screaming crowd.
Sometime in the earliest hours of 1967, Country Joe and the Fish showed up to join the party. They had been playing at the Avalon Ballroom. However, the night was young, and what’s a Fish to do after their set but head for the Fillmore to jam with John Cipollina, Jerry Garcia and their other band brethren? A wit among them crowned the impromptu group, “The Dead Silverfish.” The light show crew got into the groove and projected onto the wall behind the stage a drawing of a dead bug lying on its back with its legs skyward.
With the fortitude granted to the young I stayed awake all night. In the morning, big food service trays filled with scrambled eggs and hash browns appeared for the revelers. I polished off a trucker’s amount as befit a ravenous fifteen year-old who had been more or less dancing since nine the previous evening, and was slightly stoned on an ever-increasing amount of pot fumes in an enclosed area and therefore had an ever-increasing case of the blind munchies.
Somehow Lindy and I located each other in the crowd, and somewhere we located our ride. We all floated home across the Bay Bridge to Berkeley, a titch high, a tad weary and very, very happy. It looked like 1967 was going to be a far-out year.