What A San Francisco In The '60s Trip!
Editor's Note: The following is an abridged text of an interview by Mare Barthelmy with Sa-el Shunk Manitu. It was broadcast on Radio ARA in Luxemburg (Europe) after the death of Jerry García in 1995. Sa-el Shunk Manitu is a Lakotah Indian and a writer of novéis and screenplays. Ifirst met Jerry Garcia in 1963 or '64. He had just started a band, they called themsel ves The Warlocks.Itreally wasn't Jerry 's band, it was Pigpen's band. Pigpen played keyboards and he was a blues singer. He was really good, too! I had a friend named Neal Cassady. Neal was the protagonist of Jack Kerouac's fïrst book, "On the Road." Moriarty was the name of the character but it was really Neal Cassady. In fact, the basis of that book, "On the Road," was a 40,000-word letter from Neal Cassady about his trips across the country - stealing automobiles and all of that kind of thing. I was living in San Francisco then and I had known Neal a long time. One night Neal asked me if I wanted to go down to Palo Alto to see a blues band. So we went down there and we were sitting there and they were pretty good. The guitar player was Jerry Garcia, Pigpen was playing keyboards - the original group who later (in a about a year) became The Grateful Dead. We were sitting there - Neal and I - and all of a sudden I heard a man with Pigpen on the stage saying that they had a special attraction that night: Neal Cassady and Shunk Manitu. Neal played harmonica and I played a little bit of piano, not very good and not very much. Neal and I had worked out a couple of songs we used to play in the car. So that night we went up on stage. Neal would play on the harmonica and I would sing. There were two songs that were put together and I would sing one and then when 1 stopped Neal would start singing the other and I would bang triplet chords on the piano because I couldn't do much. And so that night I met Jerry Garcia but I didn't spend a lot of time with him. THE MERRY PRANKSTERS In 1965, I was living at Ken Kesey's place in La Honda. Kesey was the author of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" and "Sometimes a Great Notion." Kesey had been living at Stanford University in a little bunch of cottages. In fact Kesey was a wine drinker and Jerry Garcia was a beer drinker. Now Jerry was pretty young - he was a few years younger than I was - and for about two years Jerry had tried to hang around the cottages at Stanford University and Kesey and the wine drinkers kept throwing him out because they drank wine and they were sort of sophisticated literary people and Jerry was trying to play banjo and drank a lot of beer. Somewhere in the middle of the year I had moved to La Honda with Kesey and Mounrain Girl. In fact she was our big connection - Jerry and I. Mountain Girl was a woman who lived at Kesey's place at La Honda and she and I became real good friends and then later on she moved in with Jerry after it all broke up in '68 and she had a baby by Jerry: Sunshine! Mountain Girl was originally Kesey's friend. Kesey's wife - what was her name? - Faye! Wow, my memory's great! This is 30 years ago. I am amazed that I am remembering it - Faye wasn't too happy about Ken sort of living also with Mountain Girl who is a great great woman - who is just so totally out front. Anything that was on her mind she would - whack! - just let it go and that was it! It was wonderful, wonderful. Kesey and the Merry Pranksters decided, because Hunter Thompson - Hunter Thompson was a writer who wrote a book about the Heli's Angels; he went and lived with them and they finally ended up beating him into little pieces, but it's a great book! - Hunter knew Kesey and had mentioned the Heli's Angels at a time before Hunter had been beat up and Ken Kesey went to meet them and then got all excited about them and decided to invite the Heli's Angels down to La Honda. Now, the Heli's Angels at that time [had a reputation], especially the San Francisco group. About four months earlier they had gone into the city of Monterey and they had destroyed it. For eight or ten hours on a Sunday afternoon they had raced theirmotorcycles up and down the street. They smashed bars. They scared the middle class to death! La Honda, which was south on the península of San Francisco, was a middle-class community. And the Merry Pranksters, Kesey 's group of crazy people, they put up a huge, huge sign. To get into Kesey 's place you had to cross a little river. There was a little bridge that went across the river and on the other side of the river, on the private property , they put up a huge sign that said: "THE MERRY PRANKSTERS WELCOME THE HELL'S ANGELS!" Oh, jeeze, that was great! And somewhere around seven o'clock that night carne about 25 motor bikes down the main highway from San Francisco, just rolling along - all these dirty looking guys with funny clothes and nasty, nasty looks. And on the other side of the river, on the public side, were about eight or ten pólice cars with their little blue lights going around. And all the pólice were out and thcy were trying to stop the Heli's Angels from crossing into Kesey ' s property and attendi ng this party. The Heli's Angels were known mostly for their parties and as i'aras the middle class of America was concerned the most interesting thing about their parties - and the most disgusting thing for the middle class - is that they had an awful lot of sex. So the people at La Honda were waiting because that's what they figured was going to happen. Usually with the Heli's Angels, after the sex carne the riot. They would then start punching everybody and busting windows and doing all that kind of thing. And so the pólice were thcre to tiy to prevent them from crossing on to the private property. Öfii'iffljëy had no grounds for it. One Heli's Angel, as I recall, was stopped because he had a parking ticket or something that was on the books so they were able to take him away. But the rest of them were able to cross over. All the time this was being filmed. The Merry Pranksters ultimately produced a movie that cost over $70,000 (back in 1965)justto develop the film. It was a movie of their tour across the United States and their involvement with various pólice forces. The Pranksters believed that everything in life was a movie. And the winners were the people who could get the other people into their movie. They feit that the pólice had a movie and that was always marching around and stopping people from doing things and all. And the Pranksters had a movie. Their movie was to do things - to do crazy things. So if they could get the pólice involved in their movie then they had won a great victory. And in this case they did. They had all those flashing lights and policemen with big pumped rifles, with helmets on and guns drawn and all of that. It was great! one great big year There was music there that day and the music was provided for the first time for Kesey by the group known as The Warlocks, which was by '65 Garcia's group. Jerry had really gotten good with the banjo and Pigpen was getting sick. That was the first of the parties. The Angels got wrecked on acid - LSD - and turned into sweet little cookie boys. They were laughing. Everybody was making jokes. Mountain Girl had written a song. Now Kesey's place must have had 250 speakers and they were spread everywhere. They were inside automobiles. They were on top of trees. They were buried in the ground. And they had one of the most sophisticated systems - you could say "helio" and almost stantly you would hear "helio" again, your own voice coming out of the floor or maybe out of the ceiling. Almost all of that equipment was bought by a guy named Owsley. Owsley was the acid king of the world. One of the reasons the Grateful Dead beame so good, I mean beside their music and everything else, was they had at one time the finest sound system in the world: better than the Beatles, better than the Stones. Owsley spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a sound system for the Grateful Dead. I think it was on the 5th of December that the Grateful Dead played at the First Acid Test at a house in San Jose.The Pranksters tried to get a hall but they were never good at that kind of thing: getting a hall or getting things arranged or getting things on time. It was diametrically opposed to their concept of life. Things were supposed to just happen in life. It just happens. And if everybody had the right vibe it would happen perfectly at the perfect time. But when you're dealing with about 25 people, never once did everybody have the right vibe so never once did anything happen on time - by white man 's concept of time. They were outside the concept of time. That night was the first time, I think, that the Grateful Dead were known as the Grateful Dead. It was the first time, I am definite, that Jerry and Professor (Phil) did acid. And it was also the first time, I think, that Jerry realized that he had some kind of affection for Mountain Girl. The years between December 5th, 1965 - the first Acid Test - and 1968 were like, at least for me and almost all the people involved, one Great Big Year because I can not divide them up and say, "Well this happened then and this happened then." leaderless families In those three years the Dead must have played a minimum of 1 00 free concerts. And that' s something that's important because the Dead did not believe in doing benefits. Benefits were usually the kind of thing where you paid to get into a concert and the money went to the Diggers, who were a group who provided food, or to one of the free clinics. The Dead did not believe in that. The Dead believed in FREE concerts. They didn't care about money or where it went or who got it. They liked concerts where there was no money involved. And that was a big difference between the Dead and almost any ... well, the Airplane was like that in the beginning but then the Jefferson Airplane started to play a lot of benefits. And at that point - that was about ' 67 - the Dead and the Airplane started to sort of split away from each other. At one time, out in Marin County , almost all the Dead, Grace Slick, Pearl (Janis Joplin) and sometimes even a guy named THE GRATEFUL DEAD IN 1966 try Joe McDonald all lived in the same complex of houses as a lcaderless family. And this is important. This was Jerry's idea and this is what Jerry fought real hard to maintain after Janis dicd. One of Jerry's reasons was that they all knew they. were pretty good musicians - you know, better than pretty good - and they all knew what happened to Janis. Janis played with a group called Big Brother & the Holding Co. and the record companies didn't need the Holding Co. Janis was so good they could put anybody behind her to play the music and the records would sell. So they didn't need these guys who had some kind of reputation and who they would have to' pay more. They went in there and cut Janis away from the Holding Co. Now, Janis was at fault too because she was very happy to do, but they identified her as a leader - as the leader of the group. In their billing when they went on the stage they were Janis Joplin and Big Brother & the Holding Co. Originally it had been Big Brother & the Holding Co. Then it was Big Brother & the HoldingCo. with Janis Joplin. Then finally it became JANIS JOPLIN and in very smal! words Big Brother& the Holding Co. And a great part of that - almost all of that - was a resultof the record companies defining Janis as a leader, convincing her that she was, and then very easily separating her from the group. The white man did the same thing to the Indian people. He identified certain Indian people as "chief ' - a white man 's word, from the French chef. And many of these Indians thought, Ah, that'sgood ... lam "chief - which is a word that did not exist in any Plains Indian language. There were no chiefs. There were no bosses. There was nobody with authority. There were people with influence but nobody with authority. Nobody could say to you, "Do this." Jerry was a big believer in that. No one in the family could say, "Do this." All right, sometimes it did not work, but most of the time it did work - for the Dead. But when the Airplane started to get chiefs then the complex (there were, I think, three houses in it) in Marin County broke up. Only the Dead, and primarily because of Jerry, maintained that concept of a leaderless family. They worked hard at it, hard not to identify a leader so that the record companies or anyone else could not use that title to sort of separate one from the other. KEN KESEY'S UTOPIA When Ken Kesey left Stanford University sometime in 1963 or '64 he had already written "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest." It had been a stage play (I don 't know if they had made the movie yet). But somewhere around that time Kesey had discovered acid. And by the time he had finished a second book, "Sometimes a Great Notion," Kesey feit that language was no longer fast enough to teil stories with - that stories had to be told in actions. To do acid . . . everything speeds up. I don 't know how to explain that. It's not like speed - which is a killer, which makes everything go fast, your body and everything else. Acid speeds things up, but not in the same way. You get a huge volume of images all at once. Your brain processes them a million times faster than you normally process things or it sees them faster or something. I don't know how it works exactly, but it's marvelous stuff. What happened down at Stanford was Kesey found acid and a building contractor found the cottages, bought them from the University and was going to tear them down and build stores and parking lots or something . There were about 14 or 15 cottages and everybody had to leave. Kesey found this property in a place called La Honda. It had one huge big log cabin in which Kesey and his wife Faye andtheirchildrenlived. Kesey invited almost everybody he knew to come and live at La (FROM PREVIOUS PAGE) Honda, to build something. He had a huge amount of property. As far as you could see, he owned it. And you could go up there. He wanted anybody - all the people from Stanford, the people from down in Palo Alto who would go to the clubs where the Warlocks were playing, all these people that he knew, Hunter Thompson, the Angels if they wanted to - to come to La Honda. They could live under the trees because he had a big forest which was part of his land or they could build a house or they could put up a tepee or put up a tent, anythingatall: You come and live. And that's how the people started to come together. FROM COYOTE TO HOWL Nobody used their real name. Not that they didn't want to but there was this kind of thing where everybody was given a name that sort of indicated something about the person. Kesey was known as - which was kind of strange - Chief, even though he did not function as the normal chief functions. Mountain Girl is another one. I was very, very good friends with her for a long time and we slept together and all and I never knew her real name. Her name was Mountain Girl. Originally I was called Coyote, because that is my Lakotah name. Later I was called Howl because one night, when everybody must have done a couple of thousand mies, somebody asked me to leach them to howl like a coyote. Well, coyotes don't really howl like wolves but they make a sound. And while I was never very good at producing that sound it seemed that night on acid I produced it real well because there were about 1 5 people for about three or four hours out in the back of the cottage just howling into the night!