Sixties Survivors #6: Signe Anderson

When I knocked off this little piece back in 2008, I never imagined it would grow such long legs that it would still be striding along in 2014.  I can’t remember a week that’s gone by since without a note from someone who, like me, remembers Signe with admiration and honor. She had a short run, but an unforgettable one.

Here’s the post as it ran in 2008:

This is a rock star? You’ve got to be kidding! She looks like a normal person.  Shouldn’t a mid-sixties rocker have big hair like Dusty Springfield?  Or long bangs like Cher?  Rock stars aren’t supposed to wear pigtails, especially with little ribbons like Petunia Pig.  And her teeth aren’t even capped.  Girl rock stars are supposed to look glamorous, not like somebody’s sweet cousin from Astoria.

Signe Anderson had a couple of attributes, though, that sort of worked.   First, she was a terrific singer.  She could raise blisters on her microphone while sending chills down your spine.  Second, we hippies loved her.  She was real.  She was one of us except she could sing like Aretha.  Well, maybe not like Aretha – but she could sing really good.

After a year or so with the Jefferson Airplane, Signe got pregnant, but she was married, so it didn’t count as shocking rock star behavior.   She sang right through her pregnancy up there on stage at the Fillmore, getting a little bigger each week,  still belting it out out with her finger in her ear.  She was breaking all the rock star rules, but not in the approved shocking way.  We could hardly wait to see what would happen next.

(Side note: The finger in the ear posture was standard for San Francisco rock singers in those days, it was so they could hear themselves.  In 1966, onstage monitor speakers still had a ways to go.  And, after you got used to it, it actually looked kind of cool.)

What happened was, after Signe had her baby, she decided to move back home to Oregon.  Suddenly, she was gone, leaving behind only that one so-so album, The Jefferson Airplane Takes Off.

Then the Jefferson Airplane stole equally talented Grace Slick from The Great Society, and really took off for fame and fortune.  But I never could warm up to Grace, not that she cares.  I can’t fault her fabulous singing or her appropriate rock star looks and shocking rock star behavior – it’s just that she wasn’t Signe, and  Signe was the cat’s meow.

Signe had a rough road in her later life.  In the early seventies, she was diagnosed with uterine, cervical, and bladder cancer.  She has spent much of her adult life trying to beat them, plus other other physical problems that cropped up along the way, including an eighties bout with breast cancer.  The thing is, she’s still out there fighting…and singing.

Her old band mate Marty Balin was up to see her in August and together they played a benefit billed as the  Jefferson Airplane Family Reunion.  Fans came all the way from San Francisco for the event.  If I had known about it, I might have dropped in myself.

Happy 67th Birthday, Signe.  You’re a gas.


1090 Page: The House Where the Haight Began

Sometime in the spring or summer of 1964, Rodney Albin’s uncle acquired a twenty-two room Victorian boarding house on the corner of Page and Broderick Streets in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district. The place had seen better days. Built in the 1880s by the owner of a high-toned downtown haberdashery, it had all the modern 1888 conveniences – speaking tubes, a doorbell that rang on each floor, and gas lighting sconces on the walls for when the electricity went out. Its pearl, though, was in the basement: a full-sized ballroom with a stage in one alcove. The entire room was lined with glowing virgin redwood panels.

But in the 1940s, 1090 Page Street was downscaled from a mansion to a boarding house.  Life Magazine mentioned it in a 1961 story titled “The Irish in America.” It featured a full-page photo of thirty ‘typical Irish’ working stiffs and Mrs. Minton, their landlady, all leaning out the windows of 1090 Page waving madly.

For Rodney’s uncle, the building was strictly a business investment.  He was planning to tear it down and replace it with federally funded senior housing.   But the deal was bogged down in Washington somewhere, so Rodney approached him – he knew a way his uncle could make some money on the place while he waited to finalize the deal.  Why not rent rooms to San Francisco State students? Why, it happened that Rodney himself was a State student.  With his connections he could easily fill the place with the most respectable type of student, earnest and studious.   Rodney guaranteed him $600 a month, and was soon installed as landlord of what would become possibly the most renowned proto-hippie/scruffy student  pad in San Francisco’s short history.  By fall, the place was jumping.  Since rooms began at $15 a month, it was affordable,  to say the least.

Experimental filmmaker Loren Means lived there during those first few months.  “The psychedelic thing and rock and roll hadn’t really happened yet.  1090 was more a community of artists and students.  We supported each other and took an interest in what each other were doing. I was in the Film Department at State and also was about to teach a class on Non-Objective Literature at the students’ new Experimental College. I planned to assign Finnegan’s Wake.  I was talking to Rodney about it and he said the Wake was a failure. That brought me up short. I’ve never heard anyone else say that about Joyce.”

That was part of the fun of hanging out with Rodney: He would spout that stuff out continually.

Loren told me about another time on campus.  “There was some kind of protest going on against the new Student Union because the administration had rejected the architect the students wanted. The protesters started selling hamburgers in competition with the cafeteria.  They claimed it was overcharging. Rodney bought hamburgers from both sides and weighed them, and said that the cafeteria hamburgers were a better deal because they weighed a few grams more than the protesters’ hamburgers.”

Dammed iconoclasts, anyway.

Sixties rocker Peter Kraemer told me about the night at 1090 when a critical moment in modern cultural history took place: “Jim Oshita, who used to drive around SF State in a golf cart full of TV sets, supposedly dropped one of those from the top of the great central staircase (he lived up there somewhere); must have been at least five floors down to the ballroom level. This might have been the seminal TV drop; the next one I heard about was in ’66 when The Blues Magoos threw one out an upper window of the Albert Hotel in NY.”

I wonder where Rodney was.  He may have been playing his banjo for musical accompaniment.  More likely, he wasn’t there.  As the landlord, he was supposed to look askance at these irregular and potentially destructive activities.

It’s funny how freaks hated television in those days except, maybe, the Smothers Brothers.   Television was the insidious voice of the enemy whispering to America what to buy next.  Good riddance!

Rodney, to keep the house full, began renting to people from the local hipster community as well as students.  For instance, there was George Shea.

George was an actor.  One afternoon, he taped up a poster in the kitchen advertising “Social Realism Tonight — in The Ballroom!”  He was working up a one man production of Clifford Odet’s 1930s play Waiting For Lefty. The play, about a taxi drivers’ strike,  required actors in the audience to shout out questions and rude remarks to the actors onstage.   Since this was a one man show, George had to portray all the characters on stage, then quick hop off the alcove into the ten or fifteen people who’d come down to see the fun, scream an obscenity, then rush back onstage to answer himself.  It was a memorable performance, but George’s true fame came a little later.

One morning, George and his girl friend Marilyn woke up bored.  So they decided to rob a bank.  What the world needed now, clearly, was an Art robbery, a Dada robbery, a Happening robbery.  They planned it over a nice cup of Folger’s Instant, then strolled down Divisadero Street to the local Bank of America branch.   They had the foresight to scrawl a note that read “Put the money in a bag.” They walked into the bank, waited in line, and when they got to the window, shoved the note through.  Of course, they didn’t think they’d actually need a bag.  They had other, more interesting plans.

Unfortunately though, we’ll never know what those plans were.  The branch had endured a spate of robberies lately, and this morning the teller was a cop.  He took one look at the note and pulled his gun.

“Wait!  You don’t understand!  This isn’t really a robbery.  It’s living theater!  Help!”

After a couple days in jail, Marilyn’s family paid their bail, hired a lawyer, and eventually got the charge against them reduced to malicious mischief.  The story ends even more sadly: the Examiner ran a front page story about the robbery – and spelled George’s name wrong.  You just don’t do that to an actor.

Then there was Jones.  Jones  was a pork pie hatted cool guy who lived in one of the basement rooms off the ballroom.  He was older, in his thirties, had fought in Korea, smoked a lot of dope, and, memorably, Jones was a ping pong shark.  He never lost!  He could have been a champion if they’d had Olympic table tennis in 1965.

“Hey, let’s play some ping pong.  Maybe for a nickel…hey, I know, how about twenty-five cents?”

“I don’t really feel like playing tonight, Jones”

“Aw, c’mon, man – I need the exercise.  But we have to have to play for something here.  How ’bout fifty cents?”

Then, if the unsuspecting resident gave in,  Jones would ram ball after ball down his throat.  After a while, everybody knew Jones was invincible.  But somehow he would manage to wheedle them into one more game.

What did it feel like to be a vet in your thirties surrounded by kids from an entirely different background?  Big Brother and The Holding Company’s Peter Albin lived at 1090 Page in Jones’ time.  He told me Jones was a kind of big brother himself to the younger, less experienced kids.  He taught them how to not get mugged when they were out on the streets late.  How not to get rousted when they were holding.  How not to get rousted at all if possible.  We needed guys like Jones.  We didn’t all grow up on the mean outskirts of the Fillmore District, but now we were there.

Next door to Jones lived a big girl from Eureka.  She found a good way to make a living but she wouldn’t tell anybody what it was.  Arlene (we’ll call her) would eat dinner in the ballroom with everybody else, then put on a nice dress, say “Well, I’ll see you guys later…” and head out.  Where did she go?  It was a subject that entertained people for weeks until one night she came back to the house in tears.  She’d been busted!  For hooking!  She had to pay a fine.  Turned out crime paid, but it was against the law.  Who knew?  That was the end of her prostitution career.

1090, in spite of contemporary rumors, was never a crash pad. Street people found snoozing in the bathtub were shown the door, forcefully if necessary.   One morning Peter Albin got up and headed for the bathroom.  There he found a scuzzy-looking stranger sleeping in the bath.

” Hey!  Wake up!  You can’t sleep here.”

“Huh? Whadayamean?  Allen Ginsberg told me it was okay!”

As if that clinched the deal.  Somehow Ginsberg had gotten the idea 1090 was open housing for poets and street people who came his way and was sending them to 1090 find a snoozing corner.  It probably was quite a helpful stratagem for Allen, but it completely ignored the facts.  Bathtub sleeping accommodations were not available at 1090 for complete strangers.

Part of the issue, aside from the fact they might be creeps, was –  Rodney had to come up with $600 every month.  Besides freeloaders, from time to time he found himself in conflict with deadbeats.

Peter told me about one time his brother had to get serious. “Somebody in the house stole my Martin 000-18. It was a beautiful pre-war guitar.  We suspected a guy on the third floor had grabbed it and sold it to buy drugs.  He was a deadbeat, hadn’t paid his rent in months, was stoned all the time, and, small problem, he carried a knife.

“Finally, my brother went upstairs and literally kicked the door down. I don’t where he got it – but Rodney borrowed a rifle somewhere, pointed it at the guy and told him to get out of the house right now. He obeyed quite meekly, he was so stoned some people had to help him down the stairs.”

Rodney Waiting By The Door.  1090 Page Street. 1965.

One night in, I guess, early ’65, I walked over to 1090 to see what Rodney was up to.  I found him in the big front room with Skip Henderson, a folksinger I knew slightly from State, and three or four other folksingers I’d seen around.  They were practicing to sound just like the Limelighters, an energetic and hugely successful folk group of the day.  Rodney was tired of being a scruffy old-timey musician.  He and Skip and the rest of the hopefuls were jumping on the bandwagon to fame and fortune.

They called themselves the New Tradition Singers. Rodney was singing in his usual thin, nasally voice and playing fiddle and banjo.  Actually,  I despised the Limelighters –  they sounded like a group you might hear at a Barry Goldwater rally — but I admired the New Tradition Singers’ dead-on commercial instincts.  Why not cash in?  What could go wrong?   And tonight they were extra excited.  Somehow they had scored a demo tape of Bob Dylan doing his new song  Quinn the Eskimo.  Bobby had decided not to record it.  It was being shopped around to other groups.  Could they do something with it?

They sniffed it long.  A successful Bob Dylan cover would be a feather in their cap right at the beginning of their career. Look what it had done for The Turtles!  You couldn’t get bigger than The Turtles!  But, darn it, the song just wasn’t  “Drill Ye Terriers, Drill!” (This was a popular folk song about fierce fox terriers.  The lead fox terrier is urging the others to dig their way out of a dog show.) It wasn’t “This Land Is Your Land'” either.  Or any of the other crowd-pleasers the Limelighters were known for.  It was Quinn The Eskimo! It was about an Eskimo who would make you jump for joy when he got here.  No, this won’t play well in Peoria.  They wouldn’t know what we were singing about.  Neither do we.  Sorry.  We pass.

It was a group decision and normally Rodney would have been unhappy, because he liked the song.  But at the moment there was something even more exciting in hand.  They had suddenly obtained an agent.  Somehow the agent had heard their demo tape and decided they really were going to be the next Limelighters.

And amazingly, she was able to book these unknowns onto baritone John Raitt’s upcoming concert tour, purely on the basis of their demo tape.  This agent must be good!  They got down to serious rehearsing.  They not only practiced the songs, they practiced their banter, they practiced jokes and they practiced comments to the ‘critics’ in the audience.

Loren Means told me about one night when he was alone in the house. “Around midnight the phone started ringing.  It must have rang thirty times.  I knew it wasn’t for me but I finally forced myself to get up and answer it.  Turned out it the woman who was their supposed agent.  She had to speak to Rodney right away! I told her Rodney wasn’t there and she just flipped.  Eventually it turned out the woman was insane.  John Raitt had never heard of her — or them.”

Meanwhile, jamming in the ballroom was becoming a regular ad hoc activity.  For one thing a pretty good jug band named the San Andreas Faultfinders was practicing there and they attracted other players, including Pigpen McKernan.

Loren decided to hold a premiere screening of his new experimental film in the ballroom.  He invited a lot of people besides the 1090 regulars, and it was going to be a big night.  Jack Welpott, a well-known photographer from the SF State Art faculty said he’d come, and –  very cool – artist and fellow filmmaker Bruce Conner said he was coming.  Conner’s star was high at the moment, so Loren and Peter – who knew who he was – were pretty jazzed.  Loren spent the afternoon setting up his 8mm projector and getting the details right.  It would be interesting to see the film, if it still exists, because in a way it was the seed for Big Brother and the Holding Company.  Loren had cut together an ancient short subject (He described it to me as about ‘a chimp who saves a child from drowning’.) with footage from a nudie film he’d bought in one of those sleaze stores on Market Street.  I think you had to be there.

Peter suggested it would be cool if  the film had live musical accompaniment.  That sounded like a good idea to Loren.  Chuck Jones, a  surfing style drummer who lived  at 1090, already had his drums set up, so Peter grabbed his new electric bass, then called his friend Sam Andrew, who lived a block away.  When Sam got there, they both plugged into brother Rodney’s Gibson amplifier, the only one in the house, and fiddled around with Chuck for a while.  Then they were ready.

Funny to think.  As the three improvised to the flickering images, the spirit of Janis Joplin might have been seen by one of those psychic kind of people.  She was whispering very loudly, “Go, you guys!  I’ll see you next year.”

That night Chuck became the so far unnamed Big Brother’s first drummer. And it was the earliest rumbling of the partnership between Peter and Sam, which has endured, by my count, some forty-four years.  They still tour today.

Calligraphy by R. Albin

According to Chet Helms, a hippie named Chris Newton had the idea to formalize the jams, and make them a weekly event.  The Wednesday Night Jam Sessions.  Charge a quarter.  (Jones said, “How ’bout fifty cents?”)  Put up signs.  Invite everybody.

Chris was good at ideas but, typical hippie,  terrible at follow-through – so Chet ran with it.  Rodney drew up the 49-cent discount coupon on a ditto master.  Chet ran it off,  and handed it out down Haight Street.  Sam, Peter and Chuck became the house band.  If you were a singer or a harp player, they would back you up.  If you had your own guitar, you could plug into their amplifier.  If you were a singer, you’d better be a shouter, because no one owned a microphone, and if you brought your own, you’d have to plug it into the same amplifier the guitar and the bass were already overdriving.

In the summer of 1965 the Warlocks (soon to be Grateful Dead) were based in Palo Alto.  The Jefferson Airplane was already playing every night at their house club, The Matrix.  The Charlatans had gone to Virginia City for the summer.  But the other musicians who would create the anti-commercial, improvisatory San Francisco Sound were showing up at the 1090 Page Jam Sessions.

The music got so hot in fact that Chet risked raising admission to seventy-five cents.  And the hippies kept coming.

It was fun, but it was short.  Teenagers from the Avenues crashed the parties, they got rowdy, they tried to start fights with the longhairs, they broke beer bottles on the sidewalk.  It got to be a drag. Chet began looking around for the next big thing.

Chuck, Peter and Sam decided to form a real band.   Chet Helms was looking for the next big thing and, he decided, it just might be managing this exciting new rock band, soon to change their name to Big Brother And The Holding Company.

Chet brought a couple of interesting contacts along with him.  First, he knew a very interesting, self-taught, and slightly bizarre lead guitar player named Jim Gurley.  Local legend had it Gurley had taught himself by locking himself into his room and learning John Coltrane solos off a record.  He sounded like he had, anyway.  Second, Chet knew Bill Graham, and Graham agreed to help them buy equipment.  He cosigned the loan.

They went back to practicing in the ballroom, except now they had two really big, really cheap Danelectro amplifiers.  Peter hated those amps.  “We bought Danelectros because The Great Society had them, and we wanted to be just like the Great Society.  But they had stupid little heads that kept falling over.  What a pain they were.  My bass and one mike went through the first amp.  The guitars and the other mike went through the other.   We weren’t getting many jobs yet, but we were practicing a whole lot.”

Rehearsal with the two Danelectros was now twice as loud as before.  After a few weeks of this, Rodney had enough.  “One night we were so loud Rodney got pissed off,” Peter said. “He came down to the ballroom in his shorts and a tank top with a Superman logo on the front.  He was waving  a pistol.

‘You guys are so fucking loud!  You better stop now or I’m going to kill you all!’

‘But Rodney, we’re just playing music’

‘You call that music? I call it driving me insane!”

After he stomped back upstairs, we all just looked at each other.  We had to find a new place to rehearse.”

Had all this time Rodney (gasp) secretly disliked screechy rock music played over cheap amplifiers  by guys who were still figuring out how to do it?

Peter Kraemer of another early San Francisco Sound band, The Sopwith Camel, had this to say.  “He (Rodney) was one of our earliest players, I think he was playing bass but we had dreams of him playing hot viola. He was a wonderful guy and great player, and had either fear or loathing (or both) of rock and roll. He also said he had an ulcer and wouldn’t consider going “on the road”. We of course being younger and brash were raring to go.”  So they ended up with a young Londoner named Martin Beard on bass.  And Rodney went back to playing folk music.

Looking back on it now, it seems Rodney’s establishment of 1090 Page Street created a center of gravity for the underground that had been missing since they were priced out of North Beach years before, and re-established it in the Haight-Ashbury.  Until then,  the hippies had lived scattered across cheap neighborhoods of the city – the Fillmore, the Mission, Potrero Hill, Bernal Heights.  But once 1090 was in place, the kids who would live out that foolish, divine vision a psychedelic Aquarian Age – and the music that went with it –  began to congregate within walking distance of each other.

Take The Pondering Pig for example.  In the Fall of ’64 I was looking for a place to live.  I dropped in to see Rodney.  He told me 1090 was full at the moment, but he knew a guy named Allen Cohen who had a flat six or seven blocks further up Page Street.  He thought Allen had a room available, try over there.

Allen did, I moved in, and, I was ‘in’ in a much bigger way – as one of the first denizens of the burgeoning Haight-Ashbury, I would take part in its wondering adolescence, its creative full bloom, and its untimely demise.

There’s a lot more to 1090 Page Street’s story, but I won’t tell it here.  The house followed the arc of the neighborhood.  It climbed higher and higher, but then, its descent was brutal.  By the last days of the Summer of Love – only a few bricks in a vacant lot showed where the famous building had stood.

Graphics credits: 1090 God’s Eye: Dennis Nolan; El Teatro Campesino poster: Wolfgang’s Vault; jam session ticket: Pigfiles; Photo Rodney in the doorway Peter Albin; Photo pre-Janis Big Brother and the Holding Company © 2008 Michael Rachoff; photo 1090 Page St. SF Pub Library.

My Heart Belongs To Joanie

joanirasproul

Here’s the Joan Baez I first came to love – 21 years old, raven-haired, fearless, with a soprano that could raise goose bumps and holy hell simultaneously.

It’s how she looked the first time I saw her perform – on the steps of San Francisco’s main post office in June 1962.

The Federal District Court on the third floor of the building was getting ready to try three crew members of a trimaran that had tried to sail directly into the Pacific waters where the Air Force was dropping different kinds of H-bombs to see how they worked. Radioactive strontium 90 and iodine 131 was blowing all across the four winds and the crew of the Everyman didn’t like it.

Everyman trimaranI didn’t like it either and neither did the hundred or so other demonstrators who were picketing up and down Seventh Street.

The San Francisco Television Archive has newsreel footage of the Everyman event, a collection of sound bites and B-roll, not a finished piece, but interesting.  It did take me back to the spirit of those times::  KRON-TV news report from 1962 in Sausalito on the Committee for Non-Violent Action’s construction of the trimaran sailboat ‘Everyman’

The guy standing behind Joan in the picture at top of the post is Ira Sandperl.  He clerked at Kepler’s Books in Palo Alto when he wasn’t teaching principles of non-violence for the Committee for Non-Violent Action and to anyone else who would listen – including a Palo Alto high school kid named Joan Baez. Their friendship stuck even after she became an overnight sensation.

Ira was acting as the unofficial spokesperson for the picketers, and I suspect he urged her to come down.  In any case, she arrived unannounced, no entourage, no sound system – just unpacked her guitar and started singing.

It’s hard to explain the effect Joan had on us in those days.  In 1962, she was in the second year of a skyrocketing career.  There had never been a folksinger who came close to her commercial success.  Yet she hadn’t sold out.  Her principles had stayed as pure as her music. And here she was, proving it again. In a world where the distinction between straight people and underground people was far more clearly defined than today  – she was OUR star.

And tonight she was on our steps without a police escort.

So anyway, the next day, after the trial got underway, the protesters decided to stake new ground within the post office itself. Arrests followed. People went limp, as would be seen over and over as the Sixties revealed itself.  I still have the clips.

1962 06 9 SF Ex Girl Picket's Gentle Roust

The guy in the checked jacket in the picture is Peter Weiss.  I wish I knew where he was today. One  long weekend, we hitched to Big Sur together, and slept on the beach below Nepenthe. Next to him is Bob Cummings, a poet and aspiring playwright. Both of them were in the circle I call The First Few Friends I Had

1962 06 09 SF Ex Photo-Picket

Dennis Crain, if you’re alive, show yourself! I need to hear your stories. 311 Judah Street was a kind of unofficial nerve center for the emerging San Francisco peace movement, and there’s a place inside me that never left. The dusty halls of that drafty flat still haunt my dreams.  It’s all in the book.

Wes Wilson on The First Few Friends I Had

Wes WilsonThe great poster artist Wes Wilson sent me this note about my new book, The First Few Friends I Had:

First Few Friends Cover005"What a wonderful set of personal reflections and recollections of San Francisco from the sixties! It was like reliving so much of it all over again through author Christopher’s keen senses. Thanks are due our friend Christopher – for recharging so many cool memories for both Eva and myself in this intricately fascinating book! Thanks Chris! – Wes Wilson"

It’s getting good reviews all round, and I’m looking forward to YOUR comments too!.  Check the current reviews out at Amazon.

Tarantula Girl

tarantula posterI’m sitting at our local ex-auto repair shop, now a coffee house, sipping black coffee   and wondering what I should do after I grow up which is bound to happen pretty soon, when I glance up at the grungy wall and, glory, there’s a poster for the 1950s monster movie Tarantula!   Well, you know how one thought leads to another when you’re not gainfully employed and I says to myself, “Hmmm, I saw that movie.”

Slow dissolve to a rainy night on 25th Avenue, San Mateo, California,  January 1956.  I’m thirteen years old, a freshman at San Mateo High School, and I’m  standing in a line with my big brother and the other cats and chicks in front of the Manor Theater.  We left our umbrellas in Dad’s car because we despise umbrellas and all they stand for.  So we were getting drenched.

My brother Noel and I are the new kids in town.  We were from the city, twenty miles north.  Our folks had bought a house out here in the stix only two months ago.  I recognized a few kids but mostly I didn’t.   There were a lot of high schools around here,  Burlingame, Hillsdale, Serra, Carlmont – they could be from  any of them.  One thing I knew, I was a Bearcat and I wasn’t sure who else was.  Put me at a disadvantage if some guy decided to chooz me.  The kids weren’t hostile or anything but you had to be careful when you were a new kid.  Fortunately, my brother was tough, a hood.  Nobody messed with Big Red.  I didn’t hate him any more, not like when I was younger and he would practice Indian rubs and full nelsons on me.  In fact, I was growing my hair into a D.A. so I would look more like him.  Pretty soon, the kids would start to call me Little Red.

This was my first monster movie and I could already see why they were so popular: only teenagers went to see them. Everybody in line looked like they were between twelve and eighteen.   Past the ticket booth, kids swarmed into the lobby, into the theater, out of the theater into the lobby, run up to the balcony to see who’s there, run down again and into the theater, oh, it’s still the boring part, back out to the candy counter.

I hope you won’t be disappointed to learn that the best thing about Tarantula! was it’s name.  Mainly the mad scientist and his morally correct daughter sat around the command center in the Mojave somewhere and talked how dangerous it was to have a giant spider walking around in black and white.   The only good part was when the Air Force sent out Sabre Jets to blast the giant spider because it was heading straight for Los Angeles with evil intent. (Or was that the one about the giant ants?),  I guess it could have been okay except for the boring script and crummy actors and bad direction and worst of all, cheap process shots of a spider supered over a desert backdrop.  Hey, just because I wasn’t fourteen yet didn’t mean I would fall for that shit.

No, Tarantula! was a great movie because we might pick up chicks!  What could be more likely?  Actually, what could be less likely?  I might be going on fourteen but I looked like I was going on twelve.  But it didn’t stop me from wanting to pick up a chick if I could.  Girls!  So beautiful!  So desirable!  So impossible!

The trick was not to set your sights too high.  I figured since I looked like 13  (this was optimistic), I just needed to find a chick who looked like 11.  Then I’d sidle up to her row and just happen to sit down beside her.  From there, fate must take its course.  Maybe I’d just be really interested in that spider eating the jet planes but the, gosh, I just have to get more comfortable, so I would just casually throw my arm over the back of her seat.  Then, when she started screaming in terror at the sight of a ninety foot tall black furry spider eating the LA I could comfort her.  “Oh don’t be afraid little one” and then my arm would slip reassuringly down around her shoulders.  After that, fate must take its course.  Who knew?  I certainly didn’t.

Trouble is, she just looking at the movie and ignoring me.  She never looked like she was about to start screaming. I think she even laughed!  What was she, some kind of monster?  Or worse than a monster, maybe she really was 11.  Maybe she was just a kid!  Yuck!  Who would want to make out with an eleven year old kid.  Especially one who is totally ignoring you.

Meanwhile, the spider was marching on Los Angeles and the kids in the front rows started throwing popcorn boxes at it and then the kids in the back rows started throwing boxes at the kids in the front rows and the kids in the balcony started dropping popcorn on the kids in the back rows and it was lots of fun.  Then the manager, Mr. Petanuchi, had to stop the movie and come out onstage and threaten to kick everyone out if they didn’t settle down right now so everybody did and we got to watch the stupid tarantula get burned up by napalm or maybe they dropped an atom bomb on it, and it was a pretty good evening even if not a great evening because I never did pick up a chick, although my big brother said he did and I didn’t know if he was telling the truth or not.

We drove home in our Dad’s brand new 1956 Plymouth down the rain-streaked El Camino Real and talked about the new one coming next week, Invasion of the Saucer Men!  That’s GOT to be scary!

Invasion Saucer Men_full

The First Few Friends I Had

First Few Friends Cover005

The Pondering Pig is relieved to announce his long-sought collection of stories about being young in San Francisco during the maelstrom of the early 1960s – is finally done, published and available on Amazon.  Here’s the link:

The First Few Friends I Had

and here’s what I said about it:

Someone asked me who the first hippies were, those unknowns who kicked off the psychedelic era of the 1960s. Were they born-too-late beatniks who arrived at the party after everybody had gone home? Or were they something else? Something new?
I actually knew some of those first freaks. In fact, they were the first few friends I had.
This trip starts in Nineteenth Avenue Park, San Mateo, California, winter of 1958, muddy raw subdivision streets, brine shrimped salt flats stretching to the Bayshore Freeway and beyond to sorrowful tract houses of Norfolk Street. The ground I sprung from.
But we won’t tarry. We’ll hit the road through the vast Sonoran Desert on solitary two-lane highways spring of 1961 to adventures in Mexico, then on to steaming East Village summer to swirling fog over North Beach, broken hearted spring of 1962.
Along the way, we’ll stop at the corner of Seventh and Judah Street in San Francisco’s Inner Sunset to watch a girl named Solveig rush out our door with ‘Ban the Bomb’ placards banging against her shoulder. We’ll scene shift till midnight to watch Peter Weissinger swing over the stair rail into teens crashing our big peacenik party and whomping on them in peacenik joy. We’ll contemplate a ghostly Carmen O’Shaughnessy stride through the archway in badass logger boots, tawny lionhair in long braids, brassy confident smile and my handmade Mexican chaleco.
Snow is falling over Long Island, the first winter rains are pouring into the sewers of Lily Alley, San Francisco. Carmen has jumped off the bus in Barstow, hitched home across the desert and there is not a damn thing I can do about it.
Summer 1964 in the Langley Porter Psychiatric Day Care Center for Mind-Blown Proto-Hippies and Hysterical Teenagers, the passengers are unraveling hidden meanings within Sally Go Round the Roses by the Jaynettes. They hear the Bomb, the war, the police dogs attacking demonstrators, fire hoses of death, J Edgar Hoover vs the Commies, peyote, pot, fear, angst, and – hey everybody, it’s Mashed Potatoes Time.
Look, the sky has gone blue, the golden city beckons. It’s spring again. Let’s stroll down to the North Beach Arts Festival to find my friends. Come on, they want to meet you. The First Few Friends I Had.

It’s been getting great reviews so far – so I hope you have a chance to check it out soon.  PP

On The Pondering Pig’s Unexplained and Really Quite Mysterious Disappearance.

For a long time I thought the Pondering Pig might be sort of like King Arthur. If I looked, eventually I’d find him in a cave over in Cornwall somewhere, thinking deep thoughts for two thousand years, and then he would come out and explain everything to everyone, including the whereabouts of the cheese.

So I waited around until one day it occurred to me he might just be taking a very long afternoon nap up on the slopes of Mt. Tamalpais, while his readers waited hopefully, and those snooty little dwarfs pitched their bowling balls down the mountainside.

So I decided to go looking for him.

It didn’t take long. I knew all his haunts from the old days. I figured he’d be over on the west side of the mountain, where it’s sunny and breezy and you can look out over the Pacific as you doze off. But he wasn’t around anyplace, so I wandered up Bootjack Creek toward Laurel Dell and those jolly camping spots above the fog line.

1974 05 SF fr Mt. Tam_edited-1

Being as it was a warm day, I sort of sat down to think some deep thoughts myself, and, when I awoke, I distinctly heard the sound of typing nearby. Somebody was using an old-fashioned manual typewriter and was going blue blazes, except for the occasional shout of "Oh Fiddle!"

Ponderpig has built a little cabin in a clearing up there, or, more likely, he moved into one that happened to be available, and he is up there even now, working on everything he always wanted to write. He’s writing longer pieces that won’t fit on the blog, and, as I figured, they will finally explain everything about everything to everybody.

While I was sitting there he knocked off 11,000 words about his old friend Solveig Rimkeit, and her adventures in the American South during the freedom rider era, and how she hitchhiked across America in 1962 and how Piggo used to sit around and eat pickles with her when he wasn’t moaning on and on about his mean girl friend, Carmen O’Shaugnessy.

He actually gave me a copy.  I have it here in front of me and I’ve been wondering who might publish it, because it explains exactly what it was like to be young in San Francisco in 1962. Pig calls it "Solveig Hitches Home."

Then he showed me the novel he’s been working on.  It’s about three Haight-Ashbury kids in 1965 who find an old-fashioned kitchen radio in a dumpster at the corner of Page and Clayton Streets and when they turn it on to see if it works, well, the results are unexpected, to say the least.

I scanned it while the Pig was out rooting up his dinner. It’s already 35 chapters long and it’s funny and exciting and really deep, but the Pig said I couldn’t tell anybody about the details until he’s finished it.

So he is actually working on a lot of projects, none of which he is yet is ready to publish. The next time I go up to Mt. Tam, I will ask him if I can post a few pages from “Solveig Hitches Home,” so you guys can take a peek at it.

Oh, that reminds me. He also asked me to say thanks to his readers, who continue to log thousands of views each month at his site, even though it has been untouched by porcine hands for quite a while. And a special thanks to all the fans of Grace Slick, who refuse to believe that was really Linda Ronstadt up there with the Jefferson Airplane at Woodstock.