Thursday, August 25, 2005

Bobby writes a Preface

Katrinka posted the following on Deadnet- pretty cool!

Introduction to The Haight-Ashbury: A History by Charles Perry
Reprinted 2005

by Bob Weir

We haven’t seen the end of what happened in the Haight. Actually, we’re seeing a backlash from it now, forty years later, which confirms how powerful it really was. The dark minions who can’t abide natural buoyance or the notion of self-generated enlightenment never tire of trying to stamp out the fire we got started there, but that won’t happen.

What happened wasn’t an accident. When that huge balloon of baby boomers got to the age of being out and about in the world, it was inevitable that certain kinds of them would find places to gather.

The kind of people who look for order and authority in their lives – a great many of them ended up in Vietnam, following orders being handed down from a different generation. The ones who were looking to follow their own instincts, and perhaps find a new Order, congregated in a number of places like New York, L.A., and San Francisco. San Francisco’s collection of baby boomers was particularly happening, in the term of the day. There were a few special ingredients that made for that particular stew. One was the artsy heritage of San Francisco; one was the laissez-faire, left-leaning political and cultural climate of San Francisco, and one was the music.

Then there were the drugs, of course, but I’m not sure that they had as much to do with it as legend would hold; the aforementioned cultural factors were more pivotal to it all. We weren’t all stoned all the time. But we were all artists, musicians, and freaks all the time. I wasn’t stoned for all that much of it – and I was very much a part of the scene. The drugs were there, and they were visible, like the frosting on a cake. On a cake, all you can see outwardly is the frosting, but the cake has a shape and mass, the great bulk of which is not the frosting.

The bulk of what was happening in the summer of love was the exchange of ideas and attitudes and feelings. It wasn’t drugs that made me decide I wasn’t going to let the powers that be send me to war. It was the reality of war and the wrongness of war in particular.
Let’s back up a bit. I grew up in a nice, normal suburb of San Francisco. I didn’t see myself as a revolutionary, although it was something I could have aspired to if I’d seen the opportunity arise. But I never stopped long enough to see that the opportunity had in fact arisen, or to see that I was, with my brothers and friends, in fact doing revolutionary work. Like the rest of everyone in the Haight at that time, I instinctively was always my own person – I followed my nose. Hair, for instance. In 1963, even pre-Beatles, I let it grow because that’s what it did, and because I had a feeling, among other things, that the girls would like it. By the look of things, most of the guys who had settled in the Haight by early ’66 had followed their noses to the same conclusion.

By the time I was fifteen, music and song had become the focus of my life. In 1964 I by chance met Jerry Garcia and we found ourselves jamming together. We had more fun that night than we could just walk away from, so we decided to make a go of it. That chance meeting turned into a folk group – a jug band called Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Champions, which eventually evolved into a rock and roll band called the Warlocks and then the Grateful Dead.
The first time I saw a large group of freaks, I was on the glide coming down from an acid trip I’d taken with Jerry and the other members of our shiny new band. We ended up at Longshoreman’s Hall for one of the earliest Family Dog Dances, walked in, and saw a hippie costume party/carnival/circus/jolly dream. It was like coming home.

At that time, things were bubbling along for our gang, and our previous engagement at the In Room, a roadhouse on the Peninsula, would occasionally see its Saturday night audiences erupt with a visit from Merry Pranksters’ Acid Test precursor parties. So at Longshoreman’s, the audience wasn’t all new to us, but it was startling to see that many people in altered states. It was a much larger version of the earliest acid tests, although softer, not so spiky and crazy.

On the other hand, we were a pretty spiky bunch, and shortly after the Longshoreman shows, in December 1965 and January 1966, we left the conventional music business and took part in the chronospatial synclastic vortex called the Acid Test. They hit a nerve, grew like crazy, and peaked in size once again at Longshoreman’s Hall at the Trips Festival in late January 1966, at which point we (the Dead and the Acid Test, along with our new sound man/backer, Owsley “Bear” Stanley), hit the road for Los Angeles. When the Acid Test continued on south to Mexico, The Dead holed up in Watts, to woodshed new material – and go for the big time, LA style. How, we had no idea. But since we were there . . .
The Big Time eluded us, so when we returned to the SF area in June, we took up residence at Olompali, a wonderful old ranch house in Marin County, and later at a former summer camp in Lagunitas, also out in the country of West Marin. Finally, in September 1966 we moved in to our co-manager Danny Rifkin’s rooming house at 710 Ashbury Street. It was becoming clear by then that the Haight-Ashbury was more than just a special place at a special time, and now we were an integral part of it. We had been drawn into its coalescence.

The Haight-Ashbury was everything and more, most all of the time – and a lot of it happened at 710 Ashbury. It was a regular stop for all the folks: the Diggers, the Oracle people, the Thelins from the Psychedelic Shop, the bands, the Hell’s Angels, the street people. They’d come by to network, in today’s parlance, to kick up a fuss, or just to hang. My roommate there was Neal Cassady, space-cow-boy transdimensional-buckaroo-hero of the Kerouac books. Pigpen lived in the back room, Jerry across the hall. I never knew who or what I would wake up to find had moved into my room with me, let alone in the parlor or kitchen. We never knew how we were going to handle the rent. That was my little corner of The Haight; everyone had their own.

I always had a tough time with the ideologues, like the communists who came around, or Emmett and the Diggers. They were trying to impost their rules and order on a totally, and necessarily, fluid and amorphous situation. I didn’t see the point – nor the future – in that. Not much of the ideology survived, but the music, the art, and the feeling behind it flourished.

710 was great. Our visitors ranged from George Harrison and Paul Simon to the people you’d only know if you live there, like Willy the Doorman, who always came in through my window. The street was always a scene. I recall when the National Guard marched down Haight Street, bayonets fixed, I made a tunic out of a North Vietnamese flag and went down to the street to wear it. They didn’t see the humor in it, but at least this time I didn’t land in jail
On October 6, 1966, when acid was declared illegal, we figured that made us all outlaws. That called for a party, and that evening we all slid down to the Panhandle for some music. At some point – I forget who was playing – I climbed a tree to look around and found a guy up there, a black guy, kind of good-looking and well dressed. We exchanged pleasantries, observations, and yucks, and when I had to leave to go play, I said “Hi, I’m Bobby,” and he said his name was Stokely. I figure there could only have been one of them.

As much as I loved the Haight, first things come first: I was a musician. San Francisco was made for music at that time. AM radio then offered anything you could want to hear. Rock, pop, blues, R&B, jazz, and classical – and what we called Businessman’s Bounce – big band and such. Growing up a musician in the Bay Area, what we would do was set the buttons on our car radios to five or six favorite stations and just keep the variety coming. When FM came on out of the bag, KMPX presented that diversity all in one station, and it became insanely popular with all us musicians and the general public, too. You could never tell what you were going to hear on the radio, but it was probably going to be great. That freedom didn’t last long, but it lasted long enough to set fire to the musical tinderbox S.F. had already become. And that fire burned for years; it still burns.

Our working homes were the Fillmore and Avalon, but the great thing was that there were so many places to play and hear music. We were working a lot, so we usually knew where we were going to be on a given night, but it must have been tough for the average hippie to figure out where to go, who to catch.
A lot of great stuff that happened in the Haight Ashbury seemed like a dream to me – the parties in the Panhandle, the human Be-In, the scene on the street. I think it was that way for most folks. Specific events or occurrences paled in comparison to the overall dance. We were living just a half tick in some grand time continuum from that impending moment we all could feel coming, when the gate would swing open and the town would transcend for good.

The Be-In and Monterey Pop were the full flower of what was growing there – dream-like, buoyant, and utterly blissful. That flower was so vibrant and delicious that the mainstream could no longer discount or overlook it, and that, as you will read, was the end of it.

There will always be more. The dream beneath it all is still there.

Charles Perry’s work honors that dream, and I salute it.

Like the RatDog song (“Two Djinn”) goes:

A short while back,
The door flung wide.
We all saw good luck
on the other side
The door blew shut
But here’s the deal:
Dreams are lies, it’s the
dreaming that’s real