What were The Jaynettes singing about anyway? It was the hottest song on our scene up at the Langley Porter Psychiatric Day Care Center for Mind-Blown Freaks, Hysterical Teenagers and Proto-Hippies, and that included me, Peter B. and Loretta W. We’d play that weird kids song, Sally Go Round The Roses, over and over. That and Buffy Sainte-Marie singing “I’ll reel and I’ll fall and I’ll rise on Co-dine“
It was September, 1964. I was in the bughouse after finding myself hanging by my thumbs out the bay window of our flat on Golden Gate Avenue, Hayes Valley, San Francisco. Laughing.
It hadn’t been such a bad summer, really. For one thing, A Hard Day’s Night came out, and everyone I knew was busily revising their opinions about rock n roll. The Beatles were, you know – far out! Actually though, I’m not sure we were saying “Far Out!” yet in the summer of 1964. But we definitely would not have said they were “Totally cool!”. ‘Totally’ was still the province of as yet unheard of Valley Girls.
Maybe we said the Beatles were hip to the jive! Hep to the haps! I will go look in my 1964 journals. Meanwhile…
Top 40 was the steady background noise on our totally cool underground midnight hi-fi radios just like on every other young person’s radio in America – squares and coolguys, beatniks, accountants, soldiers, FBI agents, we all listened to the same 40 songs over and over. That was all there was, except for KJAZ and KIBE, our jazz and classical stations, and KDIA, the r&b station across the bay in Oakland. In San Francisco, Top 40 was KYA, the Boss of the Bay, and the hippest DJ was Russ “The Moose” Syracuse, who had the midnight to dawn slot.
Oh sorry, I digress. I was plugging Hard Day’s Night. The Beatles had been around all year but it was the movie that changed everything among the hippies.
I didn’t know quite what to make of it when Bill Laird, my bearded beatnik photographer friend, told me I HAD to see A Hard Day’s Night. A teenager movie? Well, OK…But as soon as the Beatles split into the baggage car and started singing “I Should Have Known Better” and John whipped out his harmonica and all the little birds were grinning in the boxcar too – Linda Lovely and Bill and Muttsie and I were all hooked, dazzled, thrilled. We stayed to watch it three times.
Hey, they were the Fab Four, and they were just as cool as we were! How could that have happened?
The Beatles blew into our lives and nearly took over. I dreamed I was friends with John and Paul. The 1964 presidential election was coming up – and on our bay window we posted a sign, RINGO FOR PRESIDENT. I bought a Beatles fan magazine. We cut out the photos and got stoned and made Beatles collages. The sound track from Hard Day’s Night never stopped. Even Bach’s Suites for Unaccompanied Cello, my previous favorite record, was gathering dust. We all listened to Russ the Moose with fresh ears. Even Peter and Gordon sounded cool. They were English! They had Beatle cuts!
“I don’t care what they say, I won’t stay in a world without love…”
Another song I was mad about, now forgotten, was Shirley Ellis’ “Let’s Get Down To The Real Nitty-Gritty.” Oh man, I can still hear those horns in my head doing their downslide. They thrilled my insides.
“Some people know about it, some don’t.”
I guess I know about it, I thought as I hung out the window by my fingernail fragments. Enough of grim reality. Enough of suffering. I’m shutting my mind off as of this moment. Here I go! Into the great eternal Now! Yes!
Having made my decision I climbed back in through the bay window and waited expectantly for the Great Now to appear. What would it look like to live with no past to remember, no future to groan over? No future left or past. The Zen moment. Ah! An apple! Shall I touch its blistery skin?
So, the next day I’m sitting cross-legged in Washington Square, North Beach, talking to an older friend about my newfound decision to eliminate the negative, discard the past and refute the future. I’d forgotten Chuck was studying to be a psychiatrist. And that he had a part-time job in the same office as my Dad.
Next thing I knew it was Thorazine and “Sally, don’t you go downtown.” I was in the Langley Porter Psychiatric Institute, the bughouse, with Peter B., later one of the founding Diggers, also having a momentary lapse of judgment, and Loretta W., the first dyke I ever knew.
Hey, if I called her gay — that would be an anachronism too. In September 1964, the sexes were divided into straights, dykes (butch or femme) and fags. And I was totally blind to the offensive, dehumanizing implications of those words. Peter B., on the other hand, saw them perfectly clearly. I was a little in awe of him. He had a lofty intelligence. He stood on the sidelines, thinking, smiling ironically. He was a Ponderer.
Anyway, Loretta and Peter and I were pals. After a hard day at the bughouse, Peter and I would adjourn to a Divisadero Street r&b bar for a quick shot of red-eye. I studied his words, his facial expressions and his half-smiles. I wanted some of that east coast hipster cool, too.
Loretta taught me all about committing suicide and how it might get you into Langley Porter. She was older than me – at least thirty – and had had a sad awakening in the shower with her Marin County ex-lover.
“Saddest thing in the whole wide world – see your baby with another girl.”
Loretta looked just like George Harrison. Pixie cut. Rail thin. Blue jeans, scuffed tennies and a man’s dress shirt with the tails hanging out. Screwy as a loon but much funnier than a loon. We played badminton together and went roller skating together and laughed at each other’s cracks in group therapy. We drove to LA over Christmas and slept at her other ex-lover’s house in Coldwater Canyon. There was nobody home so we drank the lady’s scotch and looked out over the LA lights and played the brand new Beatles ’65 continuously and non-stop. And had a fine time, just the two of us.
“Oh dear what can I do – Baby’s in Black and I’m feeling blue, tell me oh what can I do?.”
Peter never laughed. He was New York sardonic. But he was funny too. And he saw deeper than me or Loretta. We were sad clowns but he saw the truth about the corruption of the world. Or at least he had thought about it, while Loretta and I were more thinking about the Beatles and the ouch inside our respective hearts. When we felt anything at all. Which was hard to do when you’re loaded on Thorazine.
I gave up on the Thorazine after a couple of weeks. Decided I’d rather suffer than feel nothing. Than I checked out and moved to the Haight-Ashbury, not ready to face my future, but definitely ready to get into my present. Seems like all the hippies were migrating into that neighborhood – and that’s where I wanted to be too. Knowing the Beatles were coming along with me. I never saw Loretta no more. But Loretta, if you’re out there, thanks for being my pal when I really needed a pal. I never have forgotten you.
Langley Porter pic from their web site.
Hard Day’s Night LP cover from Blogcritics Magazine
Sally Go Round The Roses 45 from Head Heritage.
Nitty Gritty 45 from my collection
Baby’s In Black from Beatles Sheet Music