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San Francisco In The '60s

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This was the bus that was called "Furthur." And this was the bus that traveled all over the United States with the Pranksters leaping out making movies. They used to drive through the little midwest villages - all these crazed day-glow freaks with music, drugged out of their brains - with a big sign on top of the bus that said: "WE HAVE COME FOR YOUR DAUGHTERS!" That was one of the first nights that the pólice showed up. You had 15 crazed savages wrecked out of their brains on acid sitting out there try ing to howl. And the pólice could not come on the private property (like I said before). They could only come on the other side of the river. They became, for the first time, part of ourmovie. We were sitting there howling at whatever the heil we were howling at and all of a sudden there were these wonderful blinking red and blue lights from the top of the pólice vehicles going around and around and flashing in the trees and the music blasting. So those blue and red lights became part of whatever was happening and it made us howl even more. From that night on I was known as Howl. Neal Cassady was known as Speed Limit. Cassady was probably the greatest driver who ever lived. In his lifetime he probably stole or thousand automobiles - not to sell them or do things like that with them (even though it was still stealing) - but to ride back and forth across the United States in them. There are so many stories of Neal Cassady 's driving that I won't [go into them]. Owsley was naturally called The Owl because of his eyes and also because of his name. He was called Mr. Acid most of the time. He was a very secretive guy - paranoid as anybody I' ve ever seen in my life - and somewhat arrogant. But then again I guess if I made acid that good, I would be very, very arrogant. It was gorgeous stuff. THE FAMILY DOG Bill Graham was originally a member of a great, great group in San Francisco called The San Francisco Mime Troupe. They did street theater in the early '60s.Therewere about 20 people involved: They did juggling, they walked on stilts and did Marcel Marceau kinds of things. Bill Graham also founded the Fillmore. Now Bill Graham in the beginning had competí tionfrom a man named Chet Helms. It was called The Family Dog. The Family Dog was another communal group that believed in a leaderless family - no leader. The Family Dog is a good example of what happens in a capitalist system without a leader. The United States cavalry back in the 1 800s defeated the Indian tribes of the Plains in almost every battle except Little Big Horn - they chased them away because they did not have a leader. The Western world - the white man - operates on a pyramidal structure with one man at the top who tells two men next and they teil three men and that kind of thing. The Family Dog operated out of San Francisco - the Avalon Ballroom - and had no leader. In the beginning, from around '63 through ' 67, they drew as many people and made as much money as Bill Graham and the Fillmore West (later on he opened one in New York). It was The Family Dog that originally provided places for The Grateful Dead to play, and the Jefferson Airplane, and QuicksilverMessenger, and Steve Miller, and The Charlatans - oh shit, there were hundreds of groups. Two of the members of The Family Dog were Kelly and Mouse and they produced between them probably the finest of all the hundreds of psychedelic posters that came out of San Francisco and many of the album covers from those times. They were part of the Family Dog. The Jefferson Airplane were part of The Family Dog - it was another communal operation. The Dead were part of it. The only problem was that Cljeti Helms and The Family Dog ser.ved, sort of as a developer for Bill Gra ham. Almost anybody could play for The Family Dog. And Bill Graham would come along and piek off the best of them because at that time most of these groups did not have recording contracts and they needed money for houses and especially for dope. The Family Dog was run as a communal operation where there was no one person in charge of money. And that's always a problem because if there are 10 people in charge of the money and how it flows, then person number one does not know what person number seven did yesterday and slowly the money seems to disappear. Nobody is stealing it but the money gets lost and there's not enough money to continue. Once Bill Graham started to make a lot of money and pay good money to the groups, the Family Dog could not match the money. And with the exception of the Grateful Dead, the Airplane now and then, Country Joe, and Quicksilver sometimes - these groups started to go towards the money . Not that they wanted a lot of money. But they wanted a minimal amount of money. They wanted enough money to get a decent house in Marin County, across the Golden Gate Bridge where houses cost a little bit more. They wanted to buy a little better grass than some of that crap that was coming up out of Mexico which you had to smoke at least 1 5 joints of to get high! They wanted some of that fine stuff that was coming in out of Colombia and some of it coming out of Hawaii, out of Kona. And so around '67, the Family Dog started to fall further and further behind in the quality of the groups that they could get simply because they were not organized enough - and I don't say that is bad, that was their trip, that's what they wanted to do - but simply because they did not have enough organization to be able to continue a money flow so they could pay the groups and continue to get the good ones. When groups came from other parts of the country - out of L.A. and New York and Chicago and places like that - Bill Graham got them because Bill Graham could pay for them to travel from New York to San Francisco because he ran a business. Now I'm against running a business but there's got to be someplace in between running a Bill Graham operation and a Chet Helms Family Dog operation. And , vall the way to the end the Dead, especially the Dead, and this was Jerry's doing, well this was all of their doing, but Jerry especially - the Dead always played The Family Dog's operations. Always. They ne ver once turned them down . And at the end around '67-'68, the Dog did not even have money to buy them a hot dog or give them a pound of grass. BEATNIKS TO HIPPIES The word "hippy" was taken from the beatnik word "hipster " by Norman Mailer. Hipsters for Kerouac and Cassady and those guys in the late '50s and early '60s were black jazz musicians. That's where Kerouac and those guys first started to smoke marijuana. They were excited about the improvisation of black jazz musicians and they wanted to live a life that was solely improvisation. Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters were a direct result of the beatniks in their concept of using acid as a totally improvised situation. The beatniks - Kerouac, who was a French-Canadian, Ginsberg, who when I first met him was a small little round Jewish kid with a yarmelke on his head. He wore a suit and a vest and he was so straight that it was unbelievable! He wanted to get away from that Jewish god! He wanted to get away and he didn ' t know how to do it. And one of the things that got him away from that was marijuana. The beatniks were living in San Francisco in North Beach - it was an Italian community - and they got thrown out of there. Rents were being raised and the Italians were middle-class Americans - and guys were going around with dirty clothes and beards and that kind of thing - and they didn't want them there. And they finally threw them all out. So the beatniks moved into the Haight-Ashbury district, but they did not stay there long. By that time Kerouac's first book had been published - he wrote "On The Road" in the early '50s - but it didn't get published until 1961. The book became an immense success in the United States. Young people were starting to drift out of the middle-class environment, out of the Eisenhower years. (Dwight Eisenhower was president of the United States and even to this day is probably considered one of the dullest men - and they have had an awful lot of dull men as presidents of the United States.) The '50s was an amazingly dead time in the United States except for making money. Any way , the young people in the '60s followed directly in the beatniks' trail not only metaphorically and intellectually but physically by moving into Haight-Ashbury where the beatniks had gone after they had been thrown out of North Beach. From there the beatniks went south to Venice West, but then some of them drifted back up: Cosceau and Ferlinghetti were still living in the Haight-Ashbury district around '63. Ferlinghetti is the fellow who had a book store in San Francisco and published Ginsberg's "Howl." He was the first one to publish it and they got very, very lucky with that - boy did they get lucky with that! Allen had given a reading (in San Francisco there were poetry readings, it was one of the first times since the '20s that that kind of thing was happening in the United States) and Allen was sort of a really quiet little guy but when he read his poetry, ho-ho, and when he read "Howl" it was violent that night! You could sit there and you knew something was happening. Any way this man Ferlinghetti who published odd strange little things in the counter-culture was sitting in the audience and he asked Allen later on if he could publish "Howl ." Ferlinghetti ' s publishing company was in Britain because it was cheaper for him to publish in Britain and ship to the United States. And the U.S . Customs stopped the books when they came to the United States and arrested the books ! They got a lawyer and it got into the newspapers and that was it. "Howl" then became one of the bestsellers in the United States. the holy one The single most direct connection between the beatniks of the late '50s and the hippies of the early '60s was Neal Cassady. Neal Cassady, as I said earlier, was the protagonist for Kerouac's books. In fact Jack Kerouac was a straight sort of middle-class [guy]. He died an alcoholic at his mother' s home; his mother always handled his money even when he was "d big success. Even though he did a few things, he wanted to be Neal Cassady. Neal Cassady was the key to the Beatniks. Neal Cassady turned up in 1963-64 as Ken Kesey's bus driver.This was the bus that was called "Furthur." And this was the bus that traveled all over the United States with the Pranksters leaping out making movies. They used to drive through the little midwest villages - all these crazed day-glow freaks with music, drugged out of their brains - with a big sign on top of the bus that said: "WE HAVE COME FOR YOUR DAUGHTERS!" Neal was considered a "holy one," as Ken Kesey spoke of him. Neal was the connection. Neal moved beyond the beatnik thing - which finally disappeared because the beatniks got so wrapped up in their own thing. Neal was Kesey's driver. Neal stayed right to the end when Kesey gotarrested. Neal was thé connection. Neal was the single most-honored nonhippie among the hippies. YIPPIES In the beginning there were two basic groups. The ones with the famous names were all out of the East Coast. I'll give you two examples: Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin. I knew both of them well. We traveled together much of the time. I was in the South on the civil rights thing with Jerry Rubin, and Abbie was down there now and then. Both of them were middle class New York Jewish kids. Their background was basical ly that their parents were left-wing - - not necessarily communists - but left-wing organizers during the '20s and '30s in the United States. I was friends with Abbie and Jerry specifically because of their organizational abilities. One of the things the Indian people in the United States did not have was a concept of organization in the same way that the white man had that concept. And it made it very, very easy for a large organized group of white men to defeat a large unorganized group of Indians. You can do it today: I can go with four people who are well organized and defeat 25 people who are not. So Rubin and Hoffman were basically union organizers. That's what their parents were, that s what their grandparents were in the United States. They were alsocrazies. But initially, in the early '60s, they were organizers. They would come to rallies against the Vietnam War for example with their union clothes - with boots and work shirts. The other group was known as the "freaks" or the "heads." They were totally disorganized. They thought that if you could put a flower in the barrel of a gun you could change the movement of the world. Well, I think Mao Tse-tung was an asshole but Mao said it right: Power comes out of the barrel of a gun, not a flower. Ultimately, the flower people put their bodies in the way of the trains in Oakland to stop the Vietnam War, and the guns of the National Guard in 1968 at the Chicago convention. The organizers - Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman - created the Yippies. It was Abbie Hoffman who went to the New York Stock Exchange and got way up in the balcony - and the New York Stock Exchange at that time was, and probably still is, the most powerful and rich in the world - and these people on the stock exchange floor were probably doing deals in the hundreds of millions of dollars every hour - and Abbie Hoffman, and about four of us went up to the top level and started to throw dollar bilis off of it, lousy little dollar bilis and these guys on the floor with $500 and $5,000 suits and making millions and living on high - they started scrambling on the ground for dollar bilis! That's what happened to Abbie who was a straight-arrow union organizer who finally got acid, flipped out, came back in and founded the Yippies - and it was the Yippies that tore Chicago apart in '68 and almost stopped the convention. Jerry Rubin was in the south for a while on the civil rights campaign and he would always say "Don't talk about it - do it!" And I learned a lot from him. I learned how to organize and I think I learned a lot about "Doing It!" Jerry later became a consultant - a business man. He still is. He still runs around the city with his little suit passing out business cards. Abbie committed suicide after he got busted on a dope thing. Tried to sell cocaine to the man. They're all dead. Well, Jerry I think is still alive. But Abbie's dead and a whole bunch of them are dead. Their effect on the United States? Things are not good but things are different in the United States today basically because of the hippies. The beatniks did not change anything though they were the fathers of the hippies. Jerry Garcia's death a week ago is truly now the end of an era. That era ran from about 1965 to now 1995, roughly one generation. With Jerry dead, the Dead now will probably not be what they were. The Dead will probably, in the next few years break up, and that's truly the end of an era. ■


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