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.

Saint Jack

Impossible to overestimate the influence Jack Kerouac had on my generation.  Here’s how I put it in the story, “The Baby Dharma Bums.”
"Although The Dharma Bums purported to be a novel, I could tell it was written by a guy who had actually done all these things and was just writing down what happened. I decided in an instant that I was going to do those things too. I had found my calling. I was 16. I had joined the Beat Generation."

Jack Kerouac fire escape 1

Here is the iconic photo of visionary Jack as we imagined him then, taken by Allen Ginsberg on a Manhattan fire escape in 1953. But he built his own fire and he couldn’t escape it.

The First Few Friends I Had: love stories from the gone world

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

Carmen in the Morning

 

Born in San Francisco, nineteen forty-two
First thing my Daddy say was, “Son,
that Carmen O’Shaugnessy gone make a fool of you.”


uc hospital 2

Whenever I think about getting born, I think of UC Hospital, where they dragged me from my mother’s womb one rainy morning, and whenever I think of UC Hospital, I think of how it looks from Children’s Playground in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco,

DCF 1.0

and whenever I think of Children’s Playground, I think of Carmen O’Shaughnessy.

margaret o'brien

Carmen was more beautiful than Margaret O’Brien, the famous child star, and she wore her honey-blonde hair in braids like Margaret O’Brien did. They streamed out behind her when she got going on the swings, which was the only way she ever swung, getting higher faster than any of the boys and laughing with joy and pride. Except sometimes she let her hair blow free. Then I couldn’t look away, even when she made faces at me.

1948 rabbitville childens' playground

In my memory, it’s always Saturday morning. Chickens are running round the playground because they haven’t been scared back into their safe little barnyard yet. Carmen is wearing brown corduroy bib overalls with a striped tee-shirt under it, and Keds. In those days, Keds meant black high top basketball shoes.  They were for boys only. Girls were supposed to wear white lace-ups or black patent-leather Mary Janes with a strap across the top. But if you tried to tell that to Carmen, she’d grin at you and run away. So I didn’t say anything. Who would want Carmen to run away?

I dreamed about Carmen again last night, for the first time in years. In the dream I spent long hours inventing carefully nuanced speeches so sincere she would finally love me and never leave me anymore. I spent night after sleepless night like this when I was twenty-three. But I’m old now.

I woke alone in the darkness with my mother’s voice in my ear. “Chris! Watch out!” She was trying to wake me up. That was part of the dream too. But I did wake up, and I was too spooked to go back to sleep. I was sure I’d heard her.

Carmen, why won’t you leave me?

 

 

Rabbitville photo courtesy of the San Francisco Public Library.

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.