Glamorpusses Of The Haight #3: Marilyn Jones

The Great Lemming Migration to San Francisco was still a few years away in 1965, the year this photo of Marilyn was taken. In those days, if you were young in the Haight, you had probably been born and raised, in descending order of likelihood, in San Francisco, Marin County, the Peninsula, Los Angeles, or New York City. Wanderers from other climes were not unheard of, but they weren’t common. Marilyn was part of the important LA contingent.

She was a seamstress, a costume designer and she lived upstairs from the Pondering Pig at the Page Palace along with Beatle Gary (this was so early that a Beatle haircut was an identifying mark), a drummer named Johnny Chance who refused to deny his collection of Beach Boys records, a pimply guitar player whose name I’ve forgotten but who wrote a song about the ‘moire patterns of his mind’ – very op art, and Al Nieman, who deserves a blog post all on his own.

Marilyn was the lone chick, and as such had a certain flurry of activity around her at all times. Besides, as you can see, she was a babe.

I lived downstairs with a much grungier assortment of beatniks and proto-hippies, including Allen Cohen, who later became editor of the San Francisco Oracle.  He was one of the significant influences in my life and well deserves his own post.

I took Marilyn out to dinner one evening, to Connie’s West Indian Restaurant, the only cool, but a little bit nicer place on Haight Street.  Whatever I had hoped to gain from the evening, if anything, came to naught when I discovered I had not the wherewithal to pay for the meal. How embarrassing! Fortunately, Marilyn had funds of her own and saved the day, but at the cost of any coolness credential I could claim. Especially when I forgot to pay her back.

What a scuzz. I had a lot to learn about how you treat a lady.

Anyway, Marilyn was a class act. She’s wearing one of her creations.  Check out that Nehru collar – sleek, elegant, minimalist, very mid-Sixties.

The photograph, by the way, was taken by an interesting young Spaniard named Paco Bautista.  He grabbed Jackie DiNapoli, one of our own, married her, and hustled her back to Europe where I heard they became rad filmmaker revolutionaries, but I never seen either one again.

Glamorpusses of the Haight #2: Lori Helms

Ah, Lori Hayman Helms.  So beautiful she was.  And probably still is.

Lori was Chet Helm’s wife, but he got all the glory.  Chet was the outgoing, easygoing impresario with the Texas accent who founded Big Brother and the Holding Company, then went on to pioneer the weekly rock dances at the Avalon Ballroom.  Without Chet and the Family Dog, the Haight-Ashbury as we remember it never would have happened.  So Chet got all the press, all the glory.  Lori got nothing but grief.

I remember their big wedding bash in December, 1965.  Chet rented a hall in the Mission somewhere and everybody was there in their finest thrift store finery.  What a scene! My date Linda Lovely wore the black beaded flapper dress I’d scored for her at a thrift shop in Virginia City.   I knew only my belted maroon velvet smoking jacket, my striped bell bottoms – wool, very classy – my high collared, mod navy blue shirt with its tiny white flowers scattered in every direction, my long flowing Pondering Pig locks and, of course, my shiny black Beatle boots, de rigueur in the era, only these could match the splendor of the occasion.

The hippies’ own rock band, The Charlatans, were on form that night, playing the most danceable rock ‘n roll in the City That Knows How, and all the hippies were sweatin’ it out on the dance floor.  I ran into my pal Peter Kraemer and he introduced me to his new guitar-playing friend Terry MacNeil. They were writing songs together and getting ready to start a band called the Sopwith Camel.   Peter had never sang a note in his life as far as I remember  – he was an aspiring filmmaker – but why should that stop him?  He was clever, he wrote funny lyrics and, hey, George Hunter, leader of The Charlatans, couldn’t even play an instrument.  He’d taken up autoharp so he could hold something onstage.  This was 1965, man.  Possibility was rife!

What a party! Chet was floating, pot was smoking, pigs were dancing, punch was drinking – where was Lori?

I hope she was smiling.

Lori was a sweetheart and as beautiful as Jean Shrimpton (for those who came in late, The Shrimp was the most famous English Supermodel of the era) but watching Lori was like watching a living Antonioni film –  quiet, with big lost eyes. She was hurting inside, even I could see that – but what it was I never knew. She kept her heart hidden. Lori wasn’t unique – it’s funny how many gorgeous bohemians I knew with hearts like that  – the Valium generation.

Oh, one more little memory – about eight months earlier I moved into a two-story flat on Page Street. Chet and Lori were living in the attic, the nicest room in the house, and Chet was running the place.   What I particularly remember was their cat – a fat tortoiseshell named Hecate. Hecate – the goddess of witchcraft, right? Appropriate for a cat. And you could also pronounce it, “Heah, kitty.”

I’ve heard vaguely that today Lori is a Shakespearean scholar of some renown. I wouldn’t know, I haven’t seen the kid in forty years. God bless her – and that goes for all you Haight-Ashbury girls.

Photo by Marilyn Jones McGrew

Glamorpusses Of The Haight #1: Pigpen

We’re starting a new series on The Pig today, but I’m not sure what to call it yet.  We will be featuring  photos of the remarkably lovely women who graced the streets of the Haight-Ashbury in those halcyon days of yore.  (The above is not one of the babes, by the way.  That’s Pigpen.  We asked him to stand in for the babes until we find a name for the real Babes, and he reluctantly agreed.  Which explains his expression.)

With the Pondering Pig as your guide, we’ll revisit those charming fashion dissenters of the mid-Sixties – before the fashion pundits taught everyone what was truly psychedelic and what was not.  Here’s a psychedelic fashion pundit now:  “Paisley!  Paisley is  SO psychedelic – look at all those swirling things that look like cells of consciousness expanding.  Swirling things that look like brain cells are so now! But you must never wear checks – they’re…absolutely…square!”

Plus, our Babes will be topped with the finest Swiss treble cream milk chocolate and served on a bed of cherry surprise.

What shall we name this new series?  I like Babes of the Haight-Ashbury. It’s classic, you know?  It’s the  word that never went away, just as current today as it was 150 years ago.  It leads to lovely adjectives like “Babe-a-licious”  In fact maybe we should call the series “Babe-a-licious Babes of the Haight-Ashbury.” Or is that too Wayne’s World?

The only problem with the word is – it’s slightly offensive.  I can already see my in-box piled high with notes from irate women shouting, “You only love me for my body!”

So, how about “Belles of The Haight-Ashbury”?  That’s not offensive in the least.  Trouble is it sounds like rich girls wearing muffs while they ice skate in Central Park in 1892.

Twentieth Century Foxes? Nah. Too LA.

Piglet of the Month?

How about “Slum Goddesses of the Haight-Ashbury”?  Allen Cohen, editor of the super-psycho-spirito-conscious-o-turnon-o-San Francisco Oracle, actually considered this name for an Oracle series. It comes from  the song “Slum Goddess of the Lower East Side” by the seminal anti-psychedelic pychedelic group, The Fugs, and I’ve read the Village Voice actually ran a series by that name.  So it’s got the period flavor.  But the fact that Allen ultimately nixed the idea gives it an aura of failure, certainly not appropriate for the Pondering Pig.

I’m running out of ideas.  So I need help.  Please improve on my suggestions with comments below by next week or we’re going with “Babe-a-licious Babes of the Haight”, okay?

Photos of lovely Haight-Ashbury maidens (matrons okay too) may be sent to ponderingpig@yahoo.com.  My Assistant, The Pondering Chicken,  will start tabulating this afternoon! Stay tuned.

(Photo of Pigpen by the dependable Herbie Greene and swiped from his Book of the Dead.)

The Sad Story of Everpresent Anxiety

Continued from last time…

Back in ’66  me and a couple of pals got this idea for a power trio.  Nobody was doing power trios then, I guess because nobody was good enough – but not being good enough didn’t stop us!  No way!  I practiced up on fife,  Jascha figured out how to play fiddle and of course Prackers held down keyboards.  After a few weeks, we were rockin’.  Unlike most of the bands of that era, we were so hot we didn’t even need drums.  Jerry Garcia used to always say he was going to drop by to jam with us one of these days.  So that’s how we knew we were good.

I liked it when we practiced.  Pretty soon the police would be breaking down the door and it got really exciting.  Plus the free publicity!

We decided to call ourselves Everpresent Anxiety.  Jascha was into this Kirkegaard thing so each of us took one of his books and wrote songs out of them.  I worked out Fear and Trembling – did a Chuck Berry thing with it with some folk-rock mixed in.  Did you ever read Fear and Trembling?  It’s really long! Truth is I couldn’t remember all the words, so when I got stuck I would just wail on Tra La La!  Tra la la! Really spontaneous, you know?

The high point was our version of Is There Such a Thing as Teleological Suspension of the Ethical? Oh, our friends all told us it couldn’t be done, the teenyboppers wouldn’t get it, and on and on, but we just took that as a challenge.  It was a time of experimentation, new frontiers,  breaking the boundaries – and we were breaking Kirkegaard!  Philosophy Rock!

Finally we were ready.  We took the bus down to the Avalon to audition.  We started off with one of our strongest numbers, Sickness Unto Death, and Chet Helms said he thought we had something.  Maybe we should all go home and rest.  But finally he came around.  He said if we stuck to Rolling Stones covers we could have a Sunday afternoon slot.  The only thing was – the name had to go.

“What’s wrong with Everpresent Anxiety, Chet?  It’s perfect for our new sound.”

“Yeah, but it sounds too much like Everpresent Fullness. “

“So?”

“They’re a band!  They playing on the same bill with the Sir Douglas Quintet next week.  That’s their name!”

We couldn’t believe it.  How dare they!  Probably from LA too!  We rode the bus back to the Haight shaking our heads.  Why would anyone name a band after a digestive problem?

But Practical thought maybe bands named after digestive problems would be the new thing and we should have one too.  Prakky always had good ideas so we worked on it.

Jascha said, “Well, how about Duodenal Ulcer?  That’s a digestive problem.”  Prac thought about it while we transferred to the Haight Street bus.  Pretty soon he said it was good but he thought Peptic Ulcer would be even better.  Sounded peppier, you know?

Me:  “Ulcers Schmulzers.  Lets call ourselves Heartburn!  It’s got everything!  Romantic desolation, rage against the system and digestive problems all in one!”

But we never could agree so after a couple of weeks we gave up and just called ourselves The Three Pigs.

I think it was the name, but maybe hippies just weren’t ready for three guys wearing sailor suit jackets and no pants.  Our big Sunday afternoon tryout fell apart.  The hippies didn’t even want to hear Teleological Suspension.  They just kept shouting Off The Pigs! Off The Pigs!  It was a debacle.

Finally, we fought back.  Improvised an incredible Who’s Afraid Of The Big Bad Wolf?, chanting the final Tra la la  Tra la la like we were Vanilla Fudge.  Show them!  Chet finally had to cut the power and the rent-a-cops led us off stage in handcuffs.  It was so embarrassing!

I don’t know.  We tried to regroup, and we got a few gigs around the Bay Area, mostly playing nursery schools and zoos.  Finally we threw in the towel and went back to building houses out of sticks and things.  All because of Everpresent Fullness.

I Remember Love

Did you ever look at an old rock poster and wonder who the acts advertised actually were?  Like this one for instance…

Some ugly looking poster, huh?  Actually it’s a handbill, but that’s no excuse.

Love.  Rock scholars and sixties people will recognize the name right away. They were from LA, came up to San Francisco from time to time to try to break into our In Crowd,  and finally went on to rock and roll glory with their 1967 album, Forever Changes. It’s a great album. In fact, it’s the best of all the American takes on Sergeant Pepper, and possibly the only successful take ever (The Rolling Stones’ shot at it, Their Satanic Majesty’s Request was grim- their biggest mistake of the sixties).  But Forever Changes is pretty damn good.  I listened to it regularly until my turntable gave up and I gave all my LPs away – oh whadda fool!

Even their early single, My Little Red Book, deserves a three-decker rock and roll cake.  It blasted pure rock and roll fervor at a time when the music was getting just a little too flabby for my taste.   I downloaded the song from Itunes just now to check and, yes, it’s still drives like a 1966 Batmobile.   But in 1966 to my piggy ears they were just another okay band from LA.  Let them entertain us if they choose, but never shall they be invited into our superior society, he sniffed with snout held high.

At the time of this concert, Love’s first album was in the stores.  It was regularly seen in Haight-Ashbury collections because, unlike the  the Jefferson Airplane’s boring first album was and the Grateful Dead’s first outing – which, not to put too fine a point on it, stunk, Love’s first wasn’t half bad.

But who in heck was Everpresent Fullness?  Therein lies a story…

Next: The Pig’s Sad Story

A Birthday Party in the Haight-Ashbury, 1967

By 1967, the original hippies were already raising their kids in the Haight. Here’s documentary proof. While the Summer of Love was going bonkers on Haight Street, two blocks away Bill and Barbara Laird were cutting cake and dishing out cherry vanilla ice cream for their four year old’s birthday bash. That’s the Pondering Pig wondering what’s become of his shoes while his erstwhile wife Linda Lovely decides whether to stick him with her fork. The blondie in the flowered dress with her back to the camera is our daughter Jenny – already four years old.

On Meeting Chet Helms

I suspect most readers will recognize the name Chet Helms. He was a seminal figure of Sixties San Francisco and a friend. Unusual for The Pondering Pig, we’re turning over the space today to a reminiscence of Chet written by another friend, Greg Hoffman of San Mateo, California. I met Greg one night nearly three years ago when he called to interview me about my early memories of Chet. Since then, he has interviewed nearly two hundred sixties survivors and family members as he researches the first authorized, authoritative biography of the man. Here’s Greg Hoffman…

At precisely 6:00 p.m. on November 9, 2004, Chet Helms closed the door of his small, cluttered, ground floor apartment on the corner of Bush and Mason in San Francisco and stepped out into the damp, bone-chilling air.

He was wearing a pair of thick-soled, black shoes; baggy, wrinkled khakis and a heavy black coat that was buttoned up to his neck, around which was wrapped a bright red scarf. A black bowler was perched atop his head which was ringed by his flowing, white hair and long, white beard. He looked like someone who might have fallen out of the pages of a Dickens novel.

Chet crossed Bush Street and continued down the steep Mason Street hill to Sutter, where he turned left. A half-block later, he entered the Hotel Rex and walked past the reception desk into the spacious, dimly-lighted lobby that doubles as the hotel’s bar in the evening. There were a dozen people, mostly couples, scattered throughout the room, talking quietly. Several of the patrons nodded at Chet and he acknowledged the greetings with a smile and a small wave.

He carefully folded his tall frame into a straight-backed chair at a small, round table near the center of the room and crossed his legs. Once settled, he slowly unbuttoned his coat and removed his scarf, which he draped across his lap.

A few minutes later, a young, Asian barmaid approached the table. Chet ordered a cup of hot tea and honey. His soft, deep voice carried the hint of a Texas accent. His enunciation of each word, of each syllable, was impeccable.

The waitress soon returned with a delicately-patterned, ceramic tea pot, a matching cup and saucer, a spoon and a small container of honey.

“Thank you,” Chet said, almost inaudibly, but with unmistakable sincerity. He didn’t just say it, he meant it.

He spent the next several minutes meticulously preparing his cup of tea. His movements, from pouring the water to spooning and stirring the honey, were excruciatingly deliberate and almost hypnotically graceful. It was as if he was performing some sort of ancient, sacred ritual that required a precise choreography.

When he finished, he encircled the tea cup with his large right hand, raised it to his lips and took a small, exploratory sip. Satisfied that he had achieved the desired result, he gently placed the cup back onto the saucer, leaned back and laced his fingers together across his ample stomach.

Then he did something he loved to do, something at which he was well-practiced, masterful and indefatigable.

Chet Helms began to talk.

He began to talk about himself.

Greg Hoffman is inaugurating his own blog. He”ll devote it to tales of the people he meets and stories he hears on the research trail. It’s got to be good – The Chet Helms Chronicles: Documenting A Life.
Better bookmark it.