A Poster For Bo Diddley

Here’s a poster Alton Kelley (and Stanley Mouse) did for Bo Diddley, the pioneer rocker who followed Kelley into the great unknown yesterday. Bo Diddley was already legendary in 1966, one of the legends of our youth. He invented the bo diddley beat. It sounded so simple when you listened to it, but it was hard or impossible for aspiring rockers to pull off — that relentless driving cross the night.

I was still in high school in 1959 when my more intelligent Palo Alto girl friend introduced me to its grinding, insinuating rhythm, although we were sitting in her parent’s living room with all the lights on. She flipped on her new LP and swung it into “Hey, Bo Diddley”, then the one I couldn’t get out of my head for weeks, “Diddley Didlley Diddley Diddley Daa-aah-die”. Bless you, girl. By 1966, when he appeared at the Avalon Ballroom in San Francisco, he’d already finished his first brush with fame, and was on the comeback trail. Actually, Bo wasn’t particularly rave among the hippies and promoter Chet Helms took a chance by booking him. But the Paul Butterfield Blues Band had blown the hippies away when they arrived in San Francisco the preceding spring. The Chicago masters soon followed in their wake – Muddy Waters and James Cotton became San Francisco regulars, and an unknown named Steve Miller (The Steve Miller Blues Band in those days) showed up a little later. So by the time of this July concert the pump had been primed to go beyond Chicago blues…and into the Chicago bo diddley beat.

Images From Alton Kelley’s Pen

It’s hard to know exactly what Alton Kelley did all those years. It’s not that he wasn’t productive. He was wonderfully so. But nearly all of his most famous work – the Grateful Dead’s skeleton and roses logo, the Zig-Zag man, were done in collaboration with his long-time partner Stanley Mouse. Together with contemporaries Wes Wilson, Victor Moscoso, and Rick Griffin (and scores of nearly forgotten others) , they visually defined a way of being.

Which notes did Mick write? Which notes did Keith contribute? What about John and Paul? It’s same with Kelley and Mouse. Maybe they remember, except Al is gone.

Here are some Kelley-Mouse images from the summer of 1966. They’re from my personal collection. I’m putting them up in their yellowed glory, keystoning and all – just as I shot them.

I don’t know who owns the copyright to the images, but these photographs of the posters were created by me.


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Last Days of Playland-at-the-Beach

Note: This is Part 3 of the Playland Story. It’s full of occult hippies and glamorous pop stars and stuff you’ll want to read about — but if you came in late, you might want to start with What Happened to Playland at the Beach? just below.

By the mid-Sixties, Playland at the Beach had lost it’s magic, even for me, and certainly for the Whitney family who owned the park. After George Whitney Sr., its entrepreneurial genius and founder, died in 1958, the family business slowly disintegrated in law suits and ill will, with the children — able people in their own right — battling their mother who still controlled the park and who finally forced them out of management roles.

If I ever went to Playland, it was late at night, probably with a carload of hippies who had the munchies. The Pie Shop still sold fourteen kinds of pie, and the Hot House next door still sold enchiladas we could eat sitting on the seawall across the highway. Skateland, the roller skating rink across Balboa Street from the Midway held on, and George Whitney’s collection of Victorian fortune telling mechanical gypsies, peep shows, steam pianos, and a working toy carnival made entirely out of toothpicks were still on exhibit, but somehow they weren’t trippy any more.

Yet, in 1969, as the old world of Playland ebbed, across the street the brave new plant of San Francisco pop culture was sending out a hot tendril.

The Family Dog, the rock dance commune centered around original hippie Chet Helms, lost its lease on their Avalon Ballroom headquarters and moved west, out to the beach, out to a rickety wooden building where generations of San Franciscans had come to eat fried chicken, roller skate, play with their slot cars and now…dance to the Grateful Dead.

Soon longhaired freakos, velvet swathed teen heart throbs, spotty faced boys and undercover narcs were converging on the fog-shrouded building across the street from the kiddie sailboats dripping in the foggy night dew. The guys running the ski-ball concession looked at each other incredulously as Pigpen’s blues organ drew the few lingering drunks across the street.

Monday nights acid guru Steven Gaskin was filling the same hall with a kind of revival meeting for hippies called the Monday Night Class. I can’t beat Albert Bates description: “Monday Night Class became a weekly pilgrimage of throngs of hippies from up and down the coast, from high schools and university campuses, from army bases and police academies, from mountain communes and Haight Street crash pads. Thousands of people, in various states of consciousness, came with tamborines and diaphanous gowns, love beads and bangles, Dr. Strange cloaks and top hats with feathers. The open-ended discussions ventured into Hermeneutic geometry, Masonic-Rosicrucian mysticism, Ekenkar and the Rolling Stones, but opened with a long, silent meditation and closed with a sense of purpose.”

Gaskin was teaching the kids the original Huxley-Alpert-Leary hippie vision of LSD as a life-changing sacrament, not a thrill ride or a Friday night high. Challenging them to change their lives, not just trip. And the continued success of The Farm after nearly forty years implies he was to some degree successful at it.

I could never take him seriously though. Not his fault – but to me he was just good old Steve Gaskin, my hip grad student acquaintance at SF State who had a teaching assistantship in creative writing, I think. I remember when he came back from Mexico absolutely charged with psychedelic adrenalin. The guy had had a life-changing experience down there and he was telling everybody who would listen. But I wouldn’t. Like Jesus said, “A prophet is not without honor, except to his old pals.” Or something like that. But basically I thought Steven was okay.

But there were all those other guys climbing onstage at the Avalon. OK, I’m not a big swami fan, and my prejudice colors the rest of this picture. I was at the Avalon the night Allen Ginsberg introduced Swami Bhaktivedanta on stage. He was the guy who introduced the Hara Khrisna movement to the West. The two of them chanted Hare Krishna together for a while, and clicked their little bells and Om-ed it. I thought “Hmmmm… is there something in this?”. It was interesting. I’ve still got the poster for that night in a box under my bed along with a lot of other remnants of that life.

Well, it turned out there was something in it. There was macrobiotic food and colon cleansing and kundalini force for the masses and Esalen Human Potential Seminars, Khrisna Consciousness with extra child abuse for no charge, The Children of God, Werner Erhard, transcendental levitation and the whole soggy descent into dopey earnest astrological unreason that has plagued the rest of the twentieth century. Thanks a lot, Allen. Thanks a lot, Chet, for letting that fakir onstage.

Hmm, I seem to be wandering off here. Just to wrap up the obvious, the hard beat Sixties I had entered as a seventeen year old kid were over. Playland would be closed and ripped down in 1972. The Family Dog was going broke. And the soft and goushy, it’s-all-about-me Seventies were on us. Help! Run!



Photo 1: Playland’s End. September 24, 1972. Photo by Patrushka.
Photo 2: Site of Playland today. Photo by Patrushka.

Famous People I Never Knew #2: Janis Joplin


(Here’s Janis as a normal person, shot by my friend Herb Greene about 1966 and rights owned by him.)
In the Fall of 1966 I was living with a bunch of freaks at 626 Clayton Street, about four doors up from the circus that was San Francisco’s Haight Street. I didn’t actually want to go to the circus everyday. But Haight Street was home. All my friends were there and where else would I go?

I’d walk down to the corner to get a sandwich or a bran muffin or something and get engulfed in a sea of strangers, kids from LA and Vermont and all points in between, spare-changing like I’d done just a few years before and looking bedraggled and innocent, foolish as lambs.

Where was my nice Haight Street of the year before when you could walk in the red neon fog at midnight and see maybe two or three other freaks on the street? Where I knew everybody and everybody I knew was cool? Where nobody was checking if it was true smoking dried banana peels could get you high.

“Hey, Donovan said so, man…”

The Diggers, a radical, anarchical, poetical offshoot of the San Francisco Mime Troop, were already beginning to give away free food in the Golden Gate Park Panhandle just to bless the sixteen year old runaways a little bit. Somebody had to.

The Pondering Pig is not a cynical pig but he was beginning to wish the newspapers would stop writing about hippies all the time.

And the Summer of Love was still nine months away. Gad!

I split the Clayton Street flat’s rent with Melanie Kinkead (I use her real name because I hope someday she will read this and write back, “Here I am – I’m OK!”) — I loved Lanie, so sweet and sad and vulnerable. She affected the ultra-feminine side of hippie dress, with frills and flounces, hair in a tumble of curls, masses of eye shadow, miniskirts with white tights and and possibly even Mary Jane shoes. Or I may be hallucinating here – my memory doesn’t really extend to Lanie da Kink’s shoes. In any case, think Mary Pickford circa 1915. Mel was the daughter of a San Francisco travel writer and PR guy. Robin and his wife didn’t know what to make of their ultrafeminine (can a heterosexual girl be described as effeminate?) daughter. Once they invited me to their swank Pacific Heights flat for dinner and to discuss what could possibly make her tick. I hadn’t a clue either. I just loved her like a big dumb older brother. Just not enough to protect her from her fate.

Besides Lanie, we split the rent with Diane W., who was already exploring the joy of putting crystal amphetamine in her arm; Alice, a pleasant plump stranger with a big dog; and some kids in the front – I had no idea who they were — Teens from LA who were here to drop acid in large quantities and wear striped bell-bottoms. Well, it takes all kinds. I think Way Out Willy and his dog Arthur lived there too.

Alice’s major weakness was she let her big black lab shit in the hallway or kitchen or wherever the dog happened to be and then let the dogshit lie on the floor for days until somebody, usually Melanie, cleaned it up. Taking a dog for a walk involved walking, which was often physically impossible.

Kvetch kvetch – what’s a little dogshit? “Peace, man. Don’t be so uptight.”

I think my trouble was I was getting older, and, at 24, I had seen a lot. I had decided to finish school and, with Revolver spilling sitar notes full volume down the hall, I was trying to write a paper on William Wordsworth or somebody. I burned Japanese incense all day and covered the doorway to my room with an Indian print bedspread. I had a daughter lived up the street with her mom. I was hoping to get back together with Linda if we could just stop fighting continuously and every minute.

I thought literary criticism was the world’s most stupid activity but a great introduction into the absurdity of life, – hey, just read the book! But I did tend to prefer the company of Will Wordsworth to the kids in the front.

So I wasn’t in, like a totally psychedelic place, dig?

Groan. But sometimes Haight Street was still cool. It wasn’t the Summer of Love yet and I still could run into cool people whenever I walked out. I suddenly remember talking to Phil Lesh like that one night, so excited about his new life with the Grateful Dead and just boiling over with enthusiasm. Or Chet Helms walking up the street handing out posters for whomever was appearing at the Avalon that weekend and we’d talk briefly about his split with Bill Graham or something.

Or like Janis Joplin. One day I was standing in line at the Hibernia Bank around the corner on Haight Street and there was Janis standing in line a couple of people ahead of me. She was carrying a bag of groceries. I had no impulse to run up saying “Oh Miss Joplin, I just love your ultimate forever take on Take it, Take Another Little Piece of My Heart Now Bay-bay.” Although I did, and do. I was cool. Cool people stayed cool. It was still just a normal day, even though Big Brother was already the hottest attraction at the Avalon because of her. We were still all just young people sorting out our lives and her way led to an exploding burnout nova death. Bah, humbug. I’d rather remember her standing in line at the bank with her little bag of groceries and all the future ahead.

I was cool but when I got back to the pad, I still said to Melanie, “Hey Mel, guess who was standing in line at the bank with me today – Janis Joplin!”