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.
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.
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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!