Luminaries of the Haight-Ashbury: Good-bye To All That

Big Brother guitarist James Gurley’s demise in mid-December got me thinking about the Haight-Ashbury again, that world that so dominated my early life and still follows me today like a puppy that refuses to become a dog.  What gets me, when I let my mind roll back, is not the music, not the LSD, not the teenyboppers dancing topless in the Panhandle, no – it’s my horrible optimism, the shiny beckoning utopian vision grinning like The Joker.  I believed a new age was coming where we would live in love, in harmony, in peace, in the country.  No one would have to work unless they wanted to, and there’d be apples cheery red in every orchard.

I wasn’t the only fool on the hill.  Remember the Beatles?

All you need is love.  Love is all you need.

In the beginning I misunderstood, but now I’ve got it – the Word is good.  Say the Word and you’ll be free.

You think they wrote that with cynical commercialism?  They didn’t.  They picked it up out of the zeitgeist, just like I did.

Blind Jerry

Here’s a page from my address book of those days.  See the guy on the bottom left under the green ink smear?  Jerry Sealund.

Jerry was a go getter.  A high energy guy.  Had a vision for the future and got the bread together to open the first health food store in the Haight-Ashbury.  I forget the store’s name because we all called called it Blind Jerry’s.

Yeah, Jerry and his wife Ethel were born both blind.  That’s how I got to know Jerry in 1963.  San Francisco State hired readers for their blind students and I got the gig for Jerry.  I used to go over to their house off Market Street, read Albert Camus out loud for a few chapters, then Jerry and I would drive around and get stoned.  Jerry didn’t want Ethel to know about his pot smoking activities.  It was still the early days.

Jerry was an optimist, you know?  It didn’t occur to him that being the blind proprietor of a retail establishment might present problems of a shoplifting nature.  We original hippie were all friends, we had high ideals, no one would rip off a blind guy, right?  Did anybody notice the rough beast slouching towards Bethlehem?  I didn’t.

How could we be so naive?  We weren’t in a cult, we had no charismatic leader.  Tim Leary was good for a laugh, that’s all.  If there were enemies, they came from the straight world — the fuzz, LBJ, television.  Acid had opened the frontiers of our consciousness and let in the white light that would guide us to bliss and the knowledge of how to truly love each other.

But Blind Jerry’s health food store got nibbled and chewed and shoplifted into oblivion in three years.  In his history of the Haight-Ashbury, Charles Perry says Jerry was robbed twelve times in eleven months.

Are we humans inherently good until civilization corrupts us, like the Romantics thought?  Or are we inherently evil, as Christianity teaches?

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

That’s what it comes down to, and I’m voting with the Christians.  We see our best chance and take it.  Raping the weak, robbing blind guys, smacking little kids around, punching and bleeding and stealing from people who can’t fight back, that’s the human way, that’s our potential and I wish it wasn’t.  It makes my stomach hurt.

We’re smart, but not smart enough.  We love but we don’t love enough. We hate terrorists and child molesters and Republicans and Obama and Sarah Palin and climate deniers and global warming kooks and we never notice they are just us in another form, with another history.

If you’re a cynic, congratulations.  I wish my skin was a little thicker.

*    *    *    *    *

My archivist assistant, The Pondering Chicken, asked me to put in a little note about the other names in the address book scan.  For the record, Jim Smirchich was a photographer in those days.  Later he moved to Oregon where he learned to make the most beautiful handmade beads you ever saw.  http://www.smircich.com/index.html

Melinda Scotten, Melinda Scotten.  Hmm, did I meet her at a party?  Must have been a short friendship.

Stephany Sunshine of Cosmos City blew in and out of my life like the original flower child.  I wrote a song about her that began

“Pretty little, pretty little Stephany,
Now your head’s been opened and it’s my oh my,
The thought’s you’re thinkin’ seem mighty strange to me…”

She deserves a post of her own.

Skip Shimmin eventually became a recording engineer and worked for Fantasy records, I think.  Maybe Skip is out there somewhere and can tell us.

My New Year’s resolution was if I can’t say anything nice, then I won’t say anything at all.  But don’t worry, I’ll be back one of these days, more fun than a barrel of monkeys!

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10 thoughts on “Luminaries of the Haight-Ashbury: Good-bye To All That

  1. love these posts!
    you paint such a real picture of the romanticized version we see in the media…
    and i agree, we as humans aren’t good by nature. i wish we were. but we’re hurtful, selfish beings. it’s our way. total bummer, right?

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  2. AND! you were soooo right about those beads! i’m a bit of a jewelry maker myself, but i don’t blow or fuse glass myself. But i have seen my fair share (not as much as you, i imagine ;)) and those are the best i’ve ever seen. they’re amazing. just really breathtaking work; i gasp when the page opened. no joke.

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  3. I had to smile when I saw your address book and the memories it brought back for you.I haven’t kept much regarding collections of stuff from this world..but for some reason, I’ve kept my address books. Everyone who has touched my life is in those pages,I have movies of the times running in my head when I visit, always with a smile~
    Not a cynic..

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  4. NOT a cynic! 😉 I know i was way too late for the Haight scene that you remember, but i wish i had been there. And i believe a time like that will come again someday…
    Glad to see the Pig back, wish he were around more often! I really love reading the stuff you write about.

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  5. My New Year’s resolution was if I can’t say anything nice, then I won’t say anything at all.

    That maxim, applied across the Net, would eliminate like 90% of writing of Blogville, P.

    Writers should avoid kvetching and whining ala Sally Fields-o-crats, but be cynical and morose, with style and wit!– As Miss Didion was at times (and also w/o shall we say avoiding a type of low grade gonzo–the HS Thompson wannabe school, which has overrun the liberal sites). That actually requires work.

    Tho’ Haight was before my time, I agree with you in regards to the naivete of many of the participants. Naivete–and hypocrisy as well. Though you have stated you don’t care for Pynchon’s writing, Pynchon’s novel Vineland captures much of that, sort of the failed dreams of the 60s–and there’s a faint hint of noir…even a Dantean vibe. Thanatoids, man. You might see a few in the shadows around Mission.

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  6. All you need is love…great song. I wish there had been a verse about integrity in it, but I guess it doesn’t scan. I’m currently gnashing my teeth at a suggestion made by lobbyists for the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association that the government should send trailers to Haiti to be used for clinics or emergency housing. Trouble is, these are the formaldehyde-laced trailers that made Katrina victims housed in them sick! An AP story in today’s paper writes that the RVIA is worried that the government’s auction to sell the trailers at bargain-basement prices will reduce demand for new products, and of course, that’s bad news for the RV industry. Hence it’s brilliant idea to use trailers relieve the suffering in Haiti. Isn’t that a nice humanitarian gesture? But what about the health issues? we might ask. Tut tut…don’t worry. RVIA spokesman Kevin Broom says the majority of the trailers are “perfectly safe,” even though FEMA requires buyers at the auction to sign an agreement not to use the trailers for housing. I suggest that Mr. Broom bid on the trailers and give them to his kids, grand kids and neighbors’ kids to use as play houses, and use a few himself. How about for his office? Guest quarters? A summer cabin? (Some reports say hot, humid weather – kind of like Haiti’s – boosts the release of the chemical.) Thank goodness neither the Haitian gov’t nor the U.S. Agency for International Development are interested. But I’m watching for further developments. Lobbyists have a knack for getting their way. Cynical me.

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  7. Thought you might like to know that your friend Jim Smircich did an Avalon Ballroom poster with Wes Wilson: FD139 (“Holy City Service”), September 27-29, 1968. The bill that weekend was Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, Flatt & Scruggs, The Sons of Camplin and Country Weather. The poster features a large B&W photograph of an old gas station emblazoned with the legend Holy City Service. Presumably, the photo was taken in Holy City, which is in the hills between Los Gatos and Santa Cruz. Never been there myself, but I have driven past the Holy City exit sign on Highway 17 innumerable times during the past 45 years.

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  8. jerry’s wife is the sister of our friend matt of course. i met jerry one day as he and some friends were preparing for a road trip. jerry wanted to drive the car on the straight stretches. the others weren’t sure if that was a good idea. this was before we had weed.

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