The Ringo Summer

 

1980 Golden Gate and Scott In the summer of 1964 I was leading a double life in a cavernous Victorian flat at the corner of Golden Gate and Octavia in the antediluvian City by the San Francisco Bay. 

By day I appeared to be an earnest, bespectacled college student with longish hair and a beard, trying to catch up at San Francisco State’s summer session.  By night I was a screaming Beatlemaniac, free dancing to “Can’t Buy Me Love” with the unbuyable Linda Lovely, learning Beatles harmony parts for pothead jollity, rolling more joints and swallowing more grim Red Mountain burgundy as the moon peered down at her dancing and sleeping children of the Fillmore District.

The mutation happened quickly.  When Linda and I moved into that flat in late spring, we ascended the long stairs for the first time to the sound of Janos Starker’s take on Bach’s Suites for Unaccompanied Cello.  The mood was serenely floating icebergs in the northern sea.  marienbad Cool was all.  At parties, guys danced little hip barely perceivable movements with slight toebend and careful handtouch and cool smiling into some beauty’s eyes with smooth seduction. 

Don Brasher (or was it Brazier?) sat in his room reading Rainer Maria Rilke by candlelight, a glass of Spanish sherry by his side, his pipe of bohemian sunload ready to carry him to deeper intunement with the German meister, while his other German meister, Johan Sebastian,  was ascending to old heights of calm untouched forever chills.

Down on the corner under the streetlight young spade guys were singing The Temps in four part harmony and drinking from a paper bag and laughing at something we didn’t know.

Rock and roll, rhythm and blues, oh yeah, that was long ago and far away in another world.  I listened to it in the car because I’d listened to it the car since I was fourteen and there was nothing else on except Sunday mornings when the black Oakland churches gave out Hammond organ zeal.  Or the Spanish language station where I tried to understand what the mariachi guys were singing. So I knew about Love Me Do and I Want To Hold Your Hand but so what?

I saw The Beatles on the 6:00 news one night at my parents’ house in San Mateo and thought they looked pretty cool with their long hair and wise mouths, but so what?

We found out What in late August.  My photographer friend Bill Laird, an ultimate Bohemian with sad transparent Scottish face, green corduroy sports coat frayed at pocket and long straggly Chinese black beard told me he and his old lady had seen A Hard Day’s Night and they had stayed to see it again and I had to see it too.

The Beatles were not what I thought they were.

So, incredulous but not wanting to miss anything, Linda and I got stoned and braved the SRO crowds of teenagers at a Saturday matinee at the Metro Theater on Union Street.  It was true about the non-stop screaming that made it impossible to hear the songs, but…but…I had to agree…these guys were so cool!

a-hard-days-night By the moment, early on, when they make their first escape on the train, hide out in a mail car, and John whips out his harmonica and cuts into Love Me Do and Ringo is playing on a little trap set that somehow materialized among the mail bags and London birds wearing John Lennon caps are popping into gleeful existence laughing and joyful, my heart and mind were ready to be won over.  Their pothead humor was unmistakable.  We knew they HAD to be heads like us.  We shared their secret from the get go.

And A Hard Day’s Night was in black and white, too.  So cool, like the hippest movies always had been and ever would be.

The next day I went down to Woolworth’s on Market Street, and bought the soundtrack LP.  Hippies were trekking down there from all over the Western Addition and the Mission.  And  that is how the old bohemian world came to its end, in a matter of weeks, in San Francisco, how John Coltrane was moved to the middle of the record stack and The Beatles, then The Rolling Stones, then The Kinks took their place at the lead and a new era began, the era of the dance concerts and the rise of the Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and The Holding Company and The Grateful Dead – the great acid rock San Francisco bands.  Pop culture was interesting for a moment at last.

Here is a clip from the San Francisco Chronicle of that momentous summer so long ago, a record of Ringo’s impromptu visit to the San Francisco Airport on June 13, 1964, when I couldn’t have cared less…

Ringo Stops By—Near Riot
By Larry Fields

1964 06 13 Ringo Exactly two hours after San Francisco was jarred by a mild earthquake yesterday it got an after-shock. A really big one.

Shaggy Ringo Starr, en route to join the other Beatles in Australia, landed at San Francisco international Airport at 7:42 P. M. to change planes.

He was greeted by 800 shrieking, singing, swooning, crying teenage fans. One 16-year-old girl was so thrilled at the sight of her idol that she fainted.

Ringo’s Pan American World Airways flight was three hours late. But the delay only heightened the enthusiasm of his adoring admirers.

They spent the time listening to radio reports of his expected arrival time, comparing notes on how much they loved him, and singing:

"We love you, Ringo, yes we do.

"We love you, Ringo, we’ll be true."

1964 06 13 Ringo Page 2 Forty San Mateo County deputy sheriffs and airport security officers were on hand to try to control the yelling teenagers, but they weren’t certain they could handle the hazardous assignment.

Plans were made to sneak the drummer — who was traveling under the name R.. Starkey–into a private room and keep him away from his fans.

The teenagers, who threatened a reporter who said he wasn’t convinced that Ringo was something of a deity, said they would quote tear up unquote the airport if couldn’t see their darling.

And when their darling’s plane finally landed, a tremendous shout went up and police lines strained to keep the hysterical fans from pouring onto the runway.

WARY

Ringo’s blue eyes squinted apprehensively as he was rushed into a private conference room to meet the press.

"I loved them," he said of the screaming fans, "as long as the police don’t let them catch me."

Ringo, very short and thin, speaks much as he sings. And newsmen had difficulty understanding him.

He wore a tight black suit, a striped lavender shirt, shiny black boots, four gold rings, a gold bracelet, a gold watch and gold-and-ebony cufflinks.

TONSILLITIS

He said he thought he had recovered from the recent attack of tonsillitis which prevented him from starting the Australian tour with the rest of the group.

Only once did he lose his composure. A reporter asked him a question and called him "John."

"Who is this guy?" Ringo asked, quote doesn’t he know my name isn’t John?"

Ringo said he was looking forward to playing the Cow Palace in August and said: "I hope they won’t get let any cows in."

GIFTS

He was introduced to the presidents of two of his local fan clubs, who presented him gifts. Then he was lugged into the crowded lobby where he waved at his fans.

They waved back. They screamed. They cried.

One girl touched him as he passed, then wept as she stared at her palm and said: "My hand is numb. I can’t feel my hand."

Other girls surrounded her and kissed the hand that touched the Ringo.

Then he was whisked to his plane but the girls continued crying and shouting.

"I’m crying because he’s a darling." Sniffed Jeanette Ford, 14, of San Mateo. "He is more than I expected. I didn’t used to like him. But he’s my favorite now."

Beatup Victorian Fillmore District flat copyright 1980 Dizzy Atmosphere. Existential alienation from 1961 film Last Year At Marianbad

 

 

 

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6 thoughts on “The Ringo Summer

  1. Oh man, I laughed my head off at that article. Great stuff. It’s a good thing I wasn’t a teenager then. I don’t think I would have joined the sobbing crowds but I might have swooned over Don Brasher!

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  2. Beatless, eh. Bach’s Suites for Unaccompanied Cello: Yay. YoYo’s CD’s around here somewhere. #5 ranks among greatest musick…ever, ah believe.

    What brought about the Beatles sensation, P? I think it was the moptops, mostly, and the british fashion, though moptops with a catchy beat (or at least …new, like hula-hoop new).

    Coltrane & Co. were, even in ’64, producing music quite beyond any rocker’s dreams (until maybe Hendrix showed up: but Jimi had a wild tone, but hardly a Coltrane), and the Beatles and Stones weren’t exactly cutting edge, musically (and alas, same for most in Haight scene, tho’ at least the Dead tried); the Beatless now seem sort of tame compared to the Stones’ r & b and Chuck Berry
    influenced rock (and Charlie Watts a real stixman, compared to Ringo’s inspired amateur…)
    Rock was a visual thing, cinematic, related to TeeVee, media.

    The music mattered to some degree–at least the bubblegummers could shake to it, and they couldn’t dance to sappy pop of the 50s, Sinatra, etc (tho’ …they could dance even to Elvis, perhaps…)–but it was about the pop-spectacle, as some fancy postmodernist would say.

    Again, I’m tempted to quote from Ms Didion re the Beatless and most Rock Inc phunn (or Adorno, though’s hardly as witty).

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    • Aw, you misunderstand me, friend. My desire is to recreate what I saw and felt in those early years in such a way that others can see and feel the same vicariously. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. Any judgments in the memory pieces will be the ones I made then, not now (unless I forget). The Beatles and The Stones just flipped us out, in a matter of speaking. Jimi Hendrix didn’t exist yet. I never stopped listening to Bach and Coltrane and play them in my office today. But in the summer of 1964, the Beatles were fresh, funny, never heard before, playing music for joy that we could dance to. We loved them!
      But always appreciate your interesting take. Peace.

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      • I didn’t mean to diss your writing, P., which I enjoy (as with your Bach ref.). There’s a dark side to the 60s, however (and to SF): the Beatles and hippies result in Manson & Co, really (tho’ the moptops or hippies are not really personally ..responsible for Charlie, Katie, Tex, etc…but whatevs. Manson gal thread! wooo-hooo).

        Do you recall Ringo along with Peter Sellars (as Guy Grand) in Terry Southern’s the Magic Christian. 60’s Creepodelic. Not so faithful to text (sort of Gonzo ‘fore gonzo took off), but a interesting, strange flick (especially the, er, nasty ending, which the UK wouldn’t allow to be filmed…)

        Pax

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  3. Never thought you were dissing me, man. I don’t remember the dark side on the scene I inhabited until after the Summer of Love. By 1968 it was full force, Manson was one more horror in a season of horrors. By 1969, the scene was over as far as I was concerned.

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  4. By night I was a screaming Beatlemaniac, free dancing to “Can’t Buy Me Love” with the unbuyable Linda Lovely, learning Beatles harmony parts for pothead jollity, rolling more joints and swallowing more grim Red Mountain burgundy as the moon peered down at her dancing and sleeping children of the Fillmore District.</i.

    Cool. Really, however nefarious rock stars or hippies or countercultural types seem, they're amateurs compared to the corporate barons (and baronesses, say Di Feinstein) who now control the Bay area and silicon economy, such as Jobs, Ellison, the Google mobsters, Yanghoo, Forbes, Steinford U, etc. I wager Larry Ellison's headed for a deeper pit in Perdido than a Charlie Manson…

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