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

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11 thoughts on “Glamorpusses of the Haight #2: Lori Helms

  1. Oh my god, what a treat. Beautiful! But who was the first “Belles of the Haight” – Pigpen? Or would it have been the elderly woman at his side?

    That elderly woman, was probably the same age then, as your 1960’s babes are now. I bet they (we) look a lot more promising. Thank you, thank you for this backward glance. And Lori, who are you now?

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  2. I love reading all your posts about life in the 60’s… man i wish i had been around for all that! I’m sure every generation has it’s complications but it just seems like life was so much simpler back then…
    But of course the grass is always greener, right?

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  3. Actually life was simpler then, way simpler. Rents were under $100.00 per month, and although income was a fraction of what it is now, there was still far more disposable cash. There was a lightness in the air following the repressive ’50’s. It was fun and free and things seemed new and possible. Of course the fact that I know these things, means that I was young then, and now I am not. But still, I understood even then, just how fortunate I was to be in San Francisco in the early ’60’s. Yes indeed!

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  4. Scuze me, but unless you have something more specific regarding Loris alleged “grief” — which doesn’t seem to be the case — why are you trashing Chet? For all you know, whatever pain she may have been hiding had been long extant and had nothing to do with Chet.

    Valium generation? What the hell were you smoking?

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    • Hey Alby – why would I trash Chet? I didn’t say or imply that Chet was the cause. And I have no idea if she was personally using Valium – I am saying that there was a lot of Valium being swallowed in the Haight-Ashbury. It wasn’t all sun and roses, believe me, especially for women.

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  5. Lawdy, what’s with Alby? He’s seeing things that no one else can. I didn’t know Lori (I was in the Denver/Boulder scene of that time, and did attend the Family Dog in the former, but…) or Chet, but you’re spot on regarding that kind of lost and pained look abounding back then with lots of the women.

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  6. Lori and Chet.The last time I saw them together they were dancing alone in the Panhandle, with music blasting from a distance.They looked so sad. When my wife and I walked by they barely acknowledged our greeting. I wish now we had stopped. “What the hell! Come on you guys. We’re old friends. Come have dinner with us!” But we didn’t. At the time, we felt to respect their privacy
    and walked away.

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  7. RICHARD DAVID FAHRNER aka: "THE PSYCHEDELIC RELIC" FALLEN ARCH BISHOP of THE FIRST CHURCH OF FUN on said:

    THE CHET AND LORI WEDDING INVITE WAS ONE OF WES WILSON’S EARLIEST PSYCHEDELIC ART WORKS. THE WEDDING INVOCATION WAS BY J.C.BURRIS (NEPHEW OF SONNY TERRY). MIKE WILHELM (AS A YOUNG MAN) STUDIED GUITAR WITH SONNY’S STAGE PARTNER BROWNIE MCGHEE.

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