But Now We Are Sixty-Six

Oh boy, 1948, the year I turned six. First of all, for my birthday I got a pull-dachshund on a string whose legs moved as I pulled him along. And it got even better! We went to the Russian River for a week that summer and my brother showed me how to play Cruisin’ Down The River On A Sunday Afternoon on his uke. I got to go down the dusty road to the general store all by myself and I could buy any funny book I wanted. Except no horror or crime comics. But that was okay – I could read those on the comic book stand until the owner got wise.

Now I’m sixty-six, and what do I get? I get to chop ice all day. Shovel snow. Oh well, I shouldn’t complain. For birthday dinner my German mother-in-law made her famous beef roladen, red cabbage, mashed potatoes and gravy, and for dessert my favorite home-made creme caramel as only my mother-in-law knows how to make it. Smooth, creamy and wonderful with that rich burnt sugar syrup slooshing down its sides to make a little lake in the bottom of the bowl. And we polished off a bottle of top-notch Cabernet, grown in my current home state of Washington. Then we watched a French movie called A Very Long Engagement. It stars Audrey Tautou, the actress who played Amelie.

You probably won’t like it. It’s relentlessly melancholy, like me. About a young woman who, also like me, knows to the depths of her being that love is forever. She refuses in the face of all evidence to believe her lover was killed in the Great War. For the Pig Of The Grey Skies And Rain, her performance and her character provides the penultimate revelation of a true heart. In fact, I’ve got to go watch it again right now.

(Two hours later) Where was I? Oh yes, I was about to start complaining.

You know me, the Complaining Pig. I’ve made a career out of never being satisfied. So here’s what I’d really like for my birthday. I’d like to know what happened to all the loved friends and befriended lovers of my youth. All the kiddos who are wrapped in gold in my heart and whom I can never and will never forget. Here, for the third year, is my birthday roll call, with updates since last year…

Was Anyone Left Alive?

Bess Farr, AKA Lisa Farr, AKA Lisa McFadden. Dear friend and troublemaker, we were friends throughout the Sixties. The last time I saw her, she dosed me with MDA at a party. I wasn’t mad at her – she just made made me realize how fed up I was with the life I was leading. But I’ve always felt like I deserted her when she was in trouble. And I wish I hadn’t. You okay, Bess? 2008 update: Eva Wilson told me Bess died of ovarian cancer about 1992. I never got to see her again. I always thought one day we would have lunch together and she’d tell me her life had turned out okay. Bye, Bess. I wrote about you in It’s Too Late, She’s Gone…

Bob Gill – brother beatnik, peyote brother and card carrying YPSL. In my mind’s eye, he’s up on the barricades somewhere waving his ancient rifle defiantly and the Nationalists are closing in.

Bob Kaffke – diabetic Communist who rode horseback through Mexico. News: Bob is gone. Died of pneumonia in 1983 on a houseboat in the San Francisco Bay. Leo Sadorf found this link put up by his son. 2008 Update: I wrote about Bob in Kaffke of the Comsymps.

Bob Kuehn – Another of the SF State peace warriors. Ban the Bomb!

Danny Rifkin – So funny and creative. The first on our scene besides me to notice the Beatles were Something New. And he laughed at my poetry (that was good, not bad). News: Danny’s still out there hitting it. I found this article about him in the San Francisco Chronicle.

David Miller – Carpenter of Walrus and Carpenter. My singing partner and best friend until I betrayed him. Last time I talked to him he called to say good-bye. He was moving to Tennessee. Funny how I still miss him after all these years.

Don Auclaire – leader of our pack, the Dirty Peaceniks, 311 Judah Street, San Francisco. 2008 Update: Solveig told me she visited him in the Mexico City jail in 1963. George Howell told me he was living in the Haight-Ashbury with Teresa Sweeney in the spring of 1964. After that he fades from view like dust on cracking film emulsion.

Donna Conroy – Tom Conroy’s beautiful beat street wife from the Delaware horse country. Tom spent half his time fighting off the pimps who wanted to sign her up. Last time I saw here she was great with child.

Ed Ginsberg – comic peyote brother, photographer and a great heart. News: Someone told me last year he is living in Budapest.

Eva Bessie – Bess’ best friend, daughter of Hollywood Ten screenwriter Alvah Bessie. She was immortalized on two Fillmore posters done by her husband Wes. Still living in the Ozarks somewhere last I heard. 2008 Update: Eva is a psychologist in Missouri. Happily married these long years and now with grandchildren on her knee. We’ve talked and corresponded several times. God bless that little piglet who made a success of her life.

George “The Beast” Howell. A legend in his own time. A friend ran into him ten or fifteen years ago in the rugged mountains of Northern California up by the Oregon border. He was on a buying trip looking for high quality virgin wool. Something about Persian rugs. He’d picked it up living in Asia. 2008 Update: Peter Albin gave me his phone number. With awe and trepidation I called George just before Christmas. To hear again after so long that voice of legend, my North Beach comrade George the Beast, King of the Baby Beatniks…it was like watching ice melt around a mammoth frozen aeons ago with daisies still hanging from his mouth and waiting for him to trumpet once more. George lives with his sister near Clear Lake, California. He’s got emphysema and can’t get out much. Still appraises rare and valuable carpets. But he is still here, still on the ground, not in it. God bless you forever, brother. I wrote about George in Famous People I Never Knew #1: Neal Cassady.

Joe Novakovich – Fingerless Joe himself. He had warped fingers due to a birth defect, yet became a masterful autoharp player and stalwart of the San Francisco folk scene. 2008 Update: I’ve heard sad stories about Joe I will not relate until I know if they’re true.

Johnny Chance – Saintly drummer for The Final Solution and first guy on our scene to notice the Beach Boys were cool. Funnier and smarter than anyone, yet he dressed like a Catholic schoolboy. He joined the Moonies and I never saw him no more. I miss his goofy smile and cracked sense of humor and Petaluma intelligence.

Laurie Sarlat – with the Long Island accent, thick black hair and blue-green eyes, she was poet Allen Cohen’s consort and Wendy to this lost boy. She left town with a guy I didn’t know and I never saw her again. Allen told me years later she’d joined a Christian cult. 2008 Update: She’s living in Arizona. I don’t know where.

Leslie Hipshmann AKA Leslie Van Gelder. Most beautiful and sweetest of the teenaged hangers-on at 311 Judah Street (funny, I was a teenager myself!). She split for New York and I never saw her again. Leslie, I still have the letters you wrote me from the East Village.

Margarita Bates AKA The Bitch. Unforgettable. News: An anonymous tipster wrote to tell me she is alive and where she is living. Thank you. 2008 Update: I wrote about Margarita in Chet Helms, Margarita And Me

Melanie Kinkead AKA Lanie da Kink – as dear a girl as I ever knew. I wrote about her in Famous People I Never Knew #2: Janis Joplin. I am back in touch with Mel thanks to the blog and she is still just as funny as ever, and still the best. 2008 Update: I visited Mel in Sacramento last summer and it was like we had been apart for five minutes. What a pal!

Michael Rachoff – Page Street friend of years but we lost touch in my wanderings. 2008 Update: I’ve talked to Michael on the phone several times and hope to see him in a few weeks. He still lives in San Francisco.

Peter Kraemer – Virgina City filmmaker and leader of the Sopwith Camel – the first San Francisco band to hit the charts. 2008 Update: I recently heard Peter is living in Mexico and planning another reunion of the Sopwith Camel.

Peter Walters – my boyhood best friend who lived at 47th and Balboa. Peter didn’t care if I was sick in bed much of my childhood. He’d always come by and play games and make puzzles and draw battleships with me in bed and him sitting in a chair beside me. What a great kid!

Peter Weiss –tough kid from the Bronx who danced with Ann Halprin’s Dancer’s Workshop. Last time I saw Peter he and his girlfriend were heading for Japan.

Riley Turner – holy tennies street kid from Lowell High School. I wrote about him in Song For Relay Tornfoot.

Solveig Otvos, AKA Solveig Rimkeit, AKA Ruth Weissinger – the beautiful Latvian. Where are you, Solveig? I still hear you laugh in my dreams. 2008 Update: I’ve talked to Solveig, now known as Rochanah at her home in Chico, California. She claims she remembers nothing but she remembers everything. Her laughter still brings joy to ice.

Tom Conroy – the North Beach street kid cartoonist who got me busted in Oakland. Tom dealt in Prince Valiant and Flash Gordon comic strips and could spot newspaper insulation in every blowndown ghetto redevelopment Victorian we broke and entered. 2008 Update: George Howell told me Tom lives in New Mexico and has a successful business running a stock photo archive.

I know where too many of my early friends are today though – in the ground.
Here’s to you, Rodney Albin and Chet Helms and Allen Cohen and Wendy Norins and Tom Hobson and Bess Farr and all the rest of you – friends forever.

I have a lifetime of stories to tell just about these guys. There they are through my window: young and sunburnt and storm-tossed – the best of the best, the San Francisco kiddos of the pre-invasion Sixties – my generation.

Badfinger

You know what I hate? Wondering what happened to everybody. Cause usually what happened is that everybody died. Or went south in some other way. Or ended up in a skid row hotel in Palm Springs looking out at the golf courses across the street.

The new member, apparently, of our little Pondering Pig entourage, Jinx the Cat, mentioned Badfinger in one of his ringing declamations last night and I thought, “Geez, I haven’t thought about Badfinger in over one million years. I wonder what happened to those guys?” So I looked them up.

For those of you who came in late, power pop forbears Badfinger came to fleeting fame in the late Sixties and early Seventies. They were the first in a line of many bands who were supposed to be “the next Beatles.” Paul MacCartney discovered them and Apple backed them big time. They had one or two hits but then quickly disappeared. Into cultdom, I suppose. But not my cult. I just forgot about them.

What happened to the guys in Badfinger? Did they go back to dentist school? Become traveling preachers? Head for the south of France to write novels, each with his own villa? So I looked them up.

Peter Ham: hanged himself. Age 27.
Tom Evans: hanged himself. Age 36.
Mike Gibbins: moved to Florida. Died in his sleep in 2005. Age 56.
Joey Molland: still a working musician. Mainly touring with pickup musicians under the Badfinger name.

Crikey. Where’s the part where they all live happily ever after?

Right now on my Itunes, the rock singer with the most melancholy rock voice in known history — Chrissie Hynde — is asking me the musical question “Why look so sad? Tears are in your eyes.”

Chrissie, hang in there, girl. I don’t know what your lifestyle is like but I pray it’s filled with joy and love and health and some form of performer’s inner peace.

For now, I think I have to go back up in my pear tree with a skull and meditate on it like St. Francis did.

Did Anyone Get Out of Here Alive?

Gosh, here it is my birthday again. Sixty-five!

I can’t believe it. Me? Eligible for Medicare? You’ve got to be kidding. I never thought I’d make it to thirty and here I’ve outlived Kerouac by eighteen years…

Must be the love of a good woman.

Anyway, last year on my birthday I put up the following list, in alphabetical order, of friends of my youth (I’ve added more detail this year). They’re all people I knew and loved but who were lost in the swirl of the hurricane. Most are still lost, but some were found last year. Maybe this year I’ll find some more…

Bess Farr, AKA Lisa Farr, AKA Lisa McFadden. Dear friend and troublemaker, we were friends throughout the Sixties. The last time I saw her, she dosed me with MDA at a party. I wasn’t mad at her – I was just fed up with the life I was leading. But I’ve always felt like I deserted her when she was in trouble. And I wish I hadn’t. You okay, Bess?

Bob Gill – brother beatnik, peyote brother and card carrying YPSL. In my mind’s eye, he’s up on the barricades somewhere waving his ancient rifle defiantly and the Nationalists are closing in.

Bob Kaffke – diabetic Communist who rode horseback through Mexico. News: Bob is gone. Died of pneumonia in 1983 on a houseboat in the San Francisco Bay. Leo Sadorf found this link put up by his son…

Bob Kuehn – Another of the SF State peace warriors. Ban the Bomb!

Danny Rifkin – so funny and creative. The first on our scene besides me to notice the Beatles were Something New. And he laughed at my poetry (that was good, not bad). News: Danny’s still out there hitting it. I found this article about him in the San Francisco Chronicle.

David Miller – Carpenter of Walrus and Carpenter. My singing partner and best friend till I betrayed him. Last time I talked to him he called to say good-bye. He was moving to Tennessee. Funny how I still miss him after all these years.

Don Auclaire – leader of our pack, the Dirty Peaceniks, 311 Judah Street, San Francisco.

Donna Conroy – Tom Conroy’s beautiful beat street wife from the Delaware horse country. Tom spent half his time fighting off the pimps who wanted to sign her up. Last time I saw here she was great with child.

Ed Ginsberg – comic peyote brother, photographer and a great heart. News: Someone told me this year he is living in Budapest.

Eva Bessie – Bess’ best friend, daughter of Hollywood Ten screenwriter Alvah Bessie. She was immortalized on two beautiful Fillmore posters done by her husband Wes. Still living in the Ozarks somewhere last I heard.

George “the Beast” Howell. A legend in his own time. A friend ran into him ten or fifteen years ago in the rugged mountains of Northern California up by the Oregon border. He was on a buying trip looking for high quality virgin wool. Something about Persian rugs. He’d picked it up living in Asia.

Joe Novakovich – Fingerless Joe himself. He had warped fingers due to a birth defect, yet became a masterful autoharp player and stalwart of the San Francisco folk scene.

Johnny Chance – Saintly drummer for The Final Solution and first guy on our scene to notice the Beach Boys were cool. Funnier and smarter than anyone, yet he dressed like a Catholic schoolboy. He joined the Moonies and I never saw no more.

Laurie Sarlat – with the Long Island accent, poet Allen Cohen’s consort and Wendy to this lost boy. She left town with a guy I didn’t know and I never saw her again. Allen told me years later she’d joined a cult.

Leslie Hipshmann AKA Leslie Van Gelder. Most beautiful and sweetest of the teenaged hangers-on at 311 Judah (funny, I was a teenager myself!). She split for New York and I never saw her again. Leslie, I still have the letters you wrote me from the East Village.

Margarita Bates AKA The Bitch. Unforgettable. News: An anonymous tipster wrote to tell me she is alive and where she is living. Thank you.

Melanie Kinkead AKA Lamie da Kink – as dear a girl as I ever knew. I wrote about her in Famous People I Never Knew #2: Janis Joplin. News: I am back in touch with Mel thanks to the blog and she is still just as funny, and still the best.

Michael Rachoff – Page Street friend of years but we lost touch in my wanderings.

Peter Kraemer – Virgina City filmmaker and leader of the Sopwith Camel – the first San Francisco band to hit the charts.

Peter Walters – my boyhood best friend who lived at 47th and Balboa. Peter didn’t care if I was sick in bed much of my childhood. He’d always come by and play games and make puzzles and draw battleships with me in bed and him sitting in a chair beside me. What a great kid!

Peter Weiss –tough kid from the Bronx who danced with Ann Halprin’s Dancer’s Workshop. Last time I saw Peter he and his girlfriend were heading for Japan.

Riley Turner – holy tennies street kid from Lowell High School. I wrote about him in Song For Riley  Tornfoot

Solveig Otvos, AKA Solveig Rimkeit, AKA Ruth Weissinger – the beautiful Latvian. Where are you, Solveig? I still hear you laugh in my dreams.

Tom Conroy – the North Beach street kid cartoonist who got me busted in Oakland. Tom dealt in Prince Valiant and Flash Gordon comic strips and could spot newspaper insulation in every blowndown ghetto redevelopment Victorian we broke and entered.

I know where too many of my early friends are today though – in the ground.
Here’s to you, Rodney Albin and Chet Helms and Allen Cohen and Wendy Norins and Tom Hobson and all the rest of you – friends forever.

I have a lifetime of stories to tell just about these guys. There they are through my window: young and sunburnt and storm-tossed – the best of the best, the San Francisco kiddos of the pre-invasion Sixties – my generation.

Ooh, ooh, ooh, what a little blogging can do…


Back in February I posted a little story about my life in the Haight-Ashbury in 1966 and how I didn’t meet Janis Joplin. But actually most of the story focused on my zany, totally original roommate, Melanie Kinkead.

You know, when I’m writing about someone I haven’t seen in a long time, I often give them a similar but different name. I figure they may not WANT people to know how much dope they smoked in 1966 – or whatever makes them worth writing about to me.

But in Melanie’s case it was different. I think somewhere deep in an obscure heart corner I was still worried about her. You know what I mean? I wanted to know she had had come through those times all right, and I was afraid she didn’t, and it was just a little shadow of a doupt emanating from 1967, the last time I saw her.

Do you ever feel that way about friends you have lost touch with?

Well, I do – so I used Melanie’s real name in the story, just in case someone saw it and took the time to write in.

Monday someone did – and sent the link to Melanie – and folks, here she is right now – my honored Pigsty guest – the one and only Miss Melanie Kinkead, blithe spirit of the Haight when it was the happening place to be. My dear, strange but delightful friend. Here’s a link to the Janis story if you want to check out her comment.

Counting on my trotters, I think it has been thirty-nine years since I’ve said Hi to her. Melanie has a shop on Ebay, and if you would like to experience the company of a delightfully unreconstructed original hippie selling exactly the same things that made unreconstructed original hippie girls gaga, I recommend her site to you.

Here’s the link to: Dolphinarts. Just her charming prose product descriptions are worth the (free) price of admission. Buy her stuff. It’s not that easy to find a genuine 1950s Elmer the Cow Bar-B-Q apron any more.

I am just so thrilled I have to share this. Solveig, you’re next!

PS: I guess that headline is a little obscure. It’s from a Billie Holiday song where she discovers the joy of blogging. True! I’m listening to it right now!
PPS: The pic is by Gene Anthony and he retains all rights, okay?

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Reprise: We Shall Not Be Moved

Still looking at this picture. The guy with the intense expression and Buddy Holly glasses is me, Christopher Newton. I’m playing the Spanish guitar Don Auclair gave me because he felt bad about sleeping with my ex-girlfriend before she was an ex. Today it’s sitting in my daughter’s closet gathering dust but with every molecule in its cracked sounding board and warped neck still charged with power.

My current girlfriend Linda Lovely – she’s sitting behind me. Linda at 20 is a true innocent heart in her own way, but not very happy today – she just found out she’s going to have a beautiful baby who has given both of us joy ever since – but it’s a bit unexpected, and she’s not used to the idea.

The soulful intellectual pondering my kazoo is Joe Pratt, subject of a lost short story Joe Pratt at Stinson Beach. The hair in the foreground belongs to Solveig Otvos, nee’ Rimkeit, and as good a friend as I ever had. We are sitting in Golden Gate Park’s Rose Garden on a foggy day in the summer of 1962, four friends and a nameless photographer.

Linda and I are still tight and see each other several times a year. Joe wandered off into another life as friends of our youth tend to do. Perhaps he became a wandering kazooist. Solveig followed a spiritual path, Subud, and changed her name to Ruth. We lost touch as I got deeper into it and she climbed further out. She’s the one I miss most — sensitive, loyal, able to see bullshit for what it was and laugh it away. And that sexy Spanish/Latvian accent!

We’d all met through the San Francisco State Student Peace Union. It’s hard to remember now just how imminent the end of the world seemed in those Cold War years. But it just absolutely freaked my generation (this was a couple of years before Viet Nam). Russia and the US were playing a galactic game of poker called brinkmanship and the whole world could explode in cosmic fury at any time. Hey – we were young. We didn’t want to die in flaming fission because one player called the other’s bluff. Would you?

The Peace Movement at San Francisco State coalesced around the immediate issue of atmospheric testing of H-Bombs, which had started up again in 1961, the year I transferred to State. The Air Force was exploding them in the Nevada desert to learn how to kill more people and the fallout was drifting across the desert into California and eastward into Utah. The breeze was full of a radioactive substance call Strontium-90 that was getting into mother’s milk among other places. (Where is this stuff today? Has it decayed by now?)

And it made me mad. That was my politics. Still pretty much is, I’m afraid. It was just one more, but the worst example yet, of an adult world I wanted no part of running amok and preparing to cremate the world to make it safe for freedom or something. But to me and Joe and Solveig it was just cold death leering at us in an unpleasant way.

The FBI thought we were all working for Nikita Khrushchev, or else Communist dupes. The best thinking of the era had decided that Communists were like demons and had supernatural powers over the minds of all young people who didn’t prefer nuclear destruction.

I’m not saying the Commies weren’t trying to use us to their strategic advantage – but I had met members of the San Francisco Communist party and they were tired, worn-out. Their time has passed. In our snotty youth we thought them laughable and knew nothing of their struggles in the hunger-wracked Thirties.

There was a song we used to sing at demonstrations. The chorus ran “Just like a tree, standing by the water, we shall not be moved” and we would make up the first line. The head local Commie was a guy named Archie Brown, and we used to sing “Archie is our leader; we shall not be moved” just to bug the FBI guys who were usually wandering harrumph with little cameras at the demonstrations.

For Joe and Solveig and Don Auclair and my ex-girlfriend Carmen at least this was not a political issue – demonstrating was an existential fist in the face of our imminent demise. Maybe there was nothing we could do to stop it – but we weren’t going to go peacefully. To the barricades!