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