Chapter Five, Berkeley: the Center of the World, Part 4

Before there were hippies

Although the full-blown counterculture complete with newly-invented hippies was yet to come, the roots of it could be seen all around me from day one in Berkeley. All of the anthropology students I knew smoked pot, being careful to not let it interfere with their academic careers. I was soon doing the same, especially since my source was located conveniently across the hall. My alcohol intake, never very large by academic standards, was limited to wine with dinner when Gale took me out, an occasional beer at Robbie’s on The Ave, and an Irish coffee now and then after sailing, but I smoked pot pretty much every weekend and once I had taught Gale to smoke pot, he did, as well. Actual hallucinogens did not enter my personal picture until years after I first came to Berkeley. But, I was certainly aware of its presence and influence in the Bay Area before that.

My earliest contact with psychedelic culture was an event I attended with Dennis, again on the clear understanding that we were going as friends and it was not a date. Dennis billed it to me as a big party in San Francisco where there would be bands. We went to the Fillmore Auditorium and I found that it was, in fact, a benefit for the San Francisco Mime Troupe. We had shared a joint after parking his car and, being then still somewhat new to marijuana, I was still a little bit shaky about being stoned and walking around in public. I was trusting to Dennis and his vast experience to guide me through this, whatever it was going to be.

It was while standing in the long line to get into the Fillmore that I had my first experience of what would later be known as the counterculture. I was trying to be quiet and demure, afraid that someone would notice that I was stoned. I was new enough to smoking, my New York Fabrics experience notwithstanding, that I still could not really quite believe that you could be stoned and walk down the street looking unstoned. It had occurred to me to get stoned before the party while we were coming over the bridge and I had thought it was my own singularly brilliant idea, but had been too anxious to make the suggestion to Dennis, who always had a joint on him, until he pulled one out of his pocket and said, “Smoke?” Now, in the line, I began looking intently at the people I was standing with and I realized that every single person as far as the eye could see was just as stoned as I was. I looked up and down the line and saw nothing but colorful, interesting-looking people, including some faces I thought I might have seen at political gatherings. People were very upfront about their appearance and their state of mind and I suddenly flashed, “We’re no longer hiding this. There’s something going on inside our heads and we’re not going to hide it anymore.”

The Fillmore auditorium, scene of my hippie epiphany and many subsequent memorable experiences.

The Fillmore auditorium, scene of my hippie epiphany and many subsequent memorable experiences.

There was no need for me to pretend to be anything other than exactly what I was. It occurred to me then that if anyone wanted to get rid of a large number of Bohemian lefties at one time they needed only to attack this line. The paranoia soon passed, however, as we moved inside and a beautiful young man with curly blonde hair and marvelous blue eyes walked straight up to me smiling, handed me an orange and then kissed me in such a sweet and welcoming way that I was not insulted but felt blessed. The same cannot be said for poor Dennis, who had lost me in a way similar to the way in which he had lost me to Gale at the last party he took me to. The Mime Troupe Party was memorable but, I do not exactly remember why. I believe this may be the single instance in my life that corroborates Robin Williams’ famous dictum that “if you remember the Sixties, you weren’t really there.” I only remember the line and the beautiful young man. From there, it is all color and music and movement and belonging and returning home late at night both tired and exhilarated.

A rare photograph of me dancing in the 60s. I am here demonstrating to my amused family in North Carolina "The Jerk", a dance I would never otherwise have done, since I was freestyle all the way.

A rare photograph of me dancing in the 60s. I am here demonstrating to my amused family in North Carolina “The Jerk,” a dance I would never otherwise have done, since I was freestyle all the way.

Not long after that came Ken Kesey’s “Trips Festival,” which I attended with Gale. Again we had gotten stoned after arriving in San Francisco but this time I was much more confident and much less paranoid. What I remember most about that party is the strobe light. Gale had left me watching things from some vantage point while he explored. He came back to get me, very excited, saying come do this, you have to do this. He pulled me by the hand into an area where people were all dancing in an old movie. I could make no sense of it at all. Somehow, we were all dancing around like the flickering figures in an old-time silent movie and laughing as if we would never stop. Eventually, I began to feel dizzy and pulled Gale out of the light, asking breathlessly, “what in the hell was that?” Whereupon he, the former Yale researcher in physics, explained strobe lights to me.

Strobe lights and light shows crossed the bay into Berkeley sometime after that. There was a dance on campus sponsored by the Student Union in one of the gyms that continued the psychedelic style of the Trips Festival. I went to this dance alone, wearing a pair of bell-bottom pants I had made from very modestly psychedelic print fabric I found at New York Fabrics. Few people in Berkeley were then wearing psychedelic bell-bottom pants and they were not yet in stores in Berkeley. I had used a regular pants pattern I had and simply flared the bottom of the legs on my own. I was a big hit. At least a half a dozen people came and asked me where I got my pants. As one who had always felt looked-down-upon for wearing homemade clothes because I could not afford store-bought clothes, I found it very gratifying to be so far ahead of the fashion curve and to be able to say, as would become de rigeur later on, that I had made them myself.

It is this dance that Governor Ronald Reagan so disingenuously disses in footage seen in Berkeley in the 60s. Reading from notes allegedly taken by his spies at the dance, Reagan makes some hilariously ridiculous claims. He says that there were two bands playing simultaneously at the dance. There were two bands, Credence Clearwater Revival and the Chambers Brothers, but they did not play simultaneously. If they had, I would have run shrieking out of the place immediately and so would everyone else have. What he is failing to describe is that there were two stages and they were both set up beforehand so that as little time as possible would be wasted in setting up the second band. I had never seen this done before or at least I had never noticed it before but it certainly did not mean that the bands played at the same time. They played consecutively and well and have been two of my favorite bands ever since.

In describing the light show, Reagan mentions nudity as if that were the entirety of the light show. Well, it would not surprise me if the light show contained some artistic nudity, such as one might find in Art History 101, but I have no memory of offensive or tasteless nudity. When he mentions the “bittersweet smell of marijuana” in the film, it always produces a hearty laugh from any young and/or hip audience watching the film—he says it with such an actor’s portrayal of disgust at depravity, suggesting that the dance was some kind of a drugged-out orgy planned and hosted by Satan.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Because it was on campus, there was no drinking, which fact alone made it less like an orgy than your average frat party. I experienced it as good clean fun, made much safer for me by the fact that it was only three blocks from my apartment and I could walk home in relative safety, escorted by a friend. Fillmore right down the street from me was definitely better than Fillmore an hour away through heavy traffic in a less genteel neighborhood. The dance was the first Berkeley event I can point to as a harbinger of what would later become the hippie influence in Berkeley.

My second favorite local band, the Chambers Brothers.

My second favorite local band, the Chambers Brothers.

Do you believe in magic3

To say that music was a big part of my life in Berkeley is not really saying much, since music has always been a huge part of my life. But, there are musical experiences I had there that could only have happened there and there is music so specific to Berkeley for me that I cannot hear it without it producing some kind of mind snapshot of a time when I heard it in Berkeley. When Eric Luft writes that the moral spirit of the 60s was born from the music,4 I can only agree with him that, without the music, whatever moral spirit of the 60s there was would never have reached the consciousness of the general public on the scale that it did. For me personally, and for many activists I knew in Berkeley, the music did not generate the moral spirit but it certainly in the hell sustained it. That being true, I would feel remiss if I did not contribute my take on what the music looked and sounded like from Berkeley, to me and my friends.

My favorite non-local bands in the 60s were the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, but I only cared about bands in terms of dancing. My musical tastes in general were quite eclectic, running from folk and classical through the blues and blues-related gospel to flat-out, blatant rock and roll. To me, the measure of a band was can you dance to it. I am a dancer. I can’t help it. I never did get into acid rock and, if someone put on a Jimi Hendrix record at a party, that party was over for me. That would be the signal that the dancing was over with and people would now be laying around stoned and crashing from that point forward. Better to leave it to the real stoners and seek another party where there was dancing, hie myself to the Steppenwolf for some conversation or go home and listen to my own record player.

At parties with recorded music, I loved dancing to The Rolling Stones until I actually heard the words to “Under My Thumb.” That one song, with its sexist and sadistic lyrics, put me firmly into the Beatles’ camp from then on, although I continued to be amused by “Your 19th Nervous Breakdown” and “You Don’t Always Get What You Want” and to enjoy certain other selections like “The Under Assistant West Coast Promo Man.” Though I am not especially a music critic and much too busy to remember details about bands and I rarely knew the names of any of the musicians, I did like some bands more than others. If the band were too loud or just too unstructured, as the Grateful Dead seemed to me as well as Jimi Hendrix, I would not attempt to dance to them, nor put up with them for very long.

When I was being interviewed as a talking head for Berkeley in the 60s, Director Mark Kitchell tried a little experiment with me. He was going to just list random artists and song titles from the 60s and ask me to say if that artist or song produced any particular memory for me. The experiment was an immediate dismal failure because the first artist he mentioned was Janis Joplin and I had actually met Janis, so I associated to her rather than to her music and my memory of Janis Joplin was slightly negative.

Janis Joplin, whom I met across a crowded room in the Haight in about 1966.

Janis Joplin, whom I met across a crowded room in the Haight in about 1967.

I had met her in the Haight-Ashbury district probably around 1967 or 68, when John and I had gone to his ex’s apartment there to pick up his children. His ex, an African dance teacher named Gloria, was in the very middle of the hippie culture and her apartment often was filled with rock musicians and other Haight-Ashbury VIPs. Gloria introduced John and I to Janis from across the room but she was so surrounded by her admirers that it was impossible to become acquainted with her and her personality was such that I could see that she would overwhelm me, anyway, and I was avoiding that.

She waved at us and probably would have responded if we had conversed with her but I was distracted by the need to get the children and I was also uncertain how to conceal the fact that I really was not a big fan of hers or Big Brother and the Holding Company, her band. They had always seemed untogether and out of tune to me and, for me, the quality of the music has always been more important than the show. Janis was mainly a show and her singing technique was hard for me to bear. I really did not understand what was so special about her at the time but I think I do now. To me, she just looked like another freaked out hippie, one who did not sing very well.

I did come to admire her story somewhat later, after seeing Bette Midler in The Rose, which caused me to feel great sympathy for another Southerner who had escaped after much pain. When she is depicted considering a celebrity return to Port Arthur, Texas, her home town, I wanted to yell, “Don’t do it, Janis, don’t do it.” But, at the time that Mark conducted his experiment, this was not the kind of memory he was looking for, so it got dropped quickly. However, it was not such a bad idea and I would like to complete it here by listing some of the music that is associated for me with specific memories of Berkeley, even though some of the music is not of the genre Luft is discussing when he speaks of the collective moral spirit of the 60s, just as another way to approach the zietgeist and because, gee, it might be fun.

THE LIST

Marvin Gaye, Heard it Through the Grapevine: I am in the snack bar downstairs from The Terrace with a very cute museum co-worker and others on lunch break, discussing whether to eat here or on The Ave, while he dances to this song playing on the speakers, and says, “Hey, let’s just stay here, we got food, we got music, there’s a table” and looks very cute in his new hat.

Beatles, Tomorrow Never Knows, from their first psychedelic album, Rubber Soul: I am lying on my bed in my Kittredge Street apartment in the arms of the same cute museum co-worker. I had run into him on The Ave, carrying his newly-purchased Beatles’ album and looking forlorn. He had said he was anxious to hear his new album, but he had just broken up with his wife and she had the record player. “Oh, well,” I had said. “Do come over to my house, I have a fine record player.” It was a great six hours, though I failed to seduce him until years later.

Chambers Brothers, Your Old Lady: I am in the Greek Theater at the filming of a TV music show that had something to do with colleges. Each show would be at a different university campus. Word went out that they were going to be at the Greek Theater and the act was the Chambers Brothers. Much as John and I ridiculed the TV show, as did all our friends, for being so rah-rah, we had opted to go. It ordinarily would have been very uncool for us to participate but it was the Chambers Brothers and it was free. So John and I and a group of anthro students went to the Greek Theater, which was packed to capacity that afternoon. There, the announcer comes out and announces the show and tries to start a cheer spelling out Berkeley. He yells, “Give me a B.” In a split-second thousands of people, as one, shout back “F.” He yells, “Give me an E.” The crowd shouts “U.” The guy yells “R.” The crowd yells “C.” Now he sees where it’s going and stops in confusion while everyone cackles with glee, having made their statement about rah-rah TV shows. He leaves the stage. There is a pause.

A few minutes later, one of the Chambers Brothers comes out, takes the microphone and makes a personal plea on behalf of the group that we cooperate and understand that it is a big chance for them. The announcer returns and commences the cheer, to an enthusiastic response with not one voice of dissent. I am very proud of that moment. I am proud of Chambers Brothers fans. I was not on the plaza when the police car sit-in happened during the FSM but I always thought the Chambers Brothers moment, thousands of people thinking exactly the same thing in the same split-second, twice, must have been a similar feeling.

Credence Clearwater Revival, Born on the Bayou: I am at the dance that so outraged Reagan, dancing in a circle with my friends, including Mr. Cutie from the museum. It is a new thing to dance in a circle rather than in pairs and in moments all of us will be dancing singly, as well, starting a tradition that releases me and heals me from my teen years as a wallflower. When I am later asked by Mark who was my favorite Bay Area band, I tell him, as did probably many other people, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and am delighted when he chooses their “Run Through the Jungle” and “Fortunate Son” as background music to the Vietnam War footage.

Rolling Stones, I Can’t Get No Satisfaction: I am at one of the after-parties to a Kroeber Anthropological  Society meeting. These parties, started by the society’s new president, Billy Clewlow, who claims he is doing it to draw in more students when we all know he’s only doing it because he loves a good party, have been viewed with alarm by some members, but they always somehow manage to stick around long enough to get a peek before they scurry out the front door with a view to preserving their dignity. I am dancing with a gay guy in a manner that shocks some of my lingering fellow graduate students so badly they are still talking about it in the Anthro lounge the next day, to the great amusement of Billy and his coterie.

Taj Mahal, She Caught the Katy: I am at the home of Professor Robert F. Heizer, who has left it in the care of his graduate students while he attends a conference. Billy, I assume with permission, has invited some friends over for the afternoon and we have all dropped some LSD, in my case my first LSD. Billy has put his new Taj Mahal record on and I believe it is the most wonderful music I have ever heard. I will use a line from Taj Mahal later on as a subtitle to a chapter in my book on the counterculture, “If you ain’t scared, you ain’t right.” You said a mouthful there, Taj. We play it over and over, singing along in the backyard, as the sun sets spectacularly behind the roses.

Peter Paul and Mary, Blowing in the Wind: I am in Wildwood, New Jersey, earning the money that will take me west and scarcely able to believe my ears at the words to this song. I am hearing what should be an obscure folk song, but it’s playing on the top 40 and jukeboxes everywhere. I just know its Top 40 status has got to mean something.

Ray Charles, You Are My Sunshine: I am in Tallahassee, listening to my little white plastic radio which I am now allowed to have because, unlike the Georgia college, there are no dorm rules against it. I am reveling in the freedom to sing along with him, at least while my roommate is out. Five minutes later, they play Ray Charles again, “Hit the Road, Jack.” My roommate comes in, frowning. I turn off the radio before she can say a word, but I won’t stop smiling for quite a while.

Mose Allison, They Always Told Me There’d Be Days Like This: I am in a smoke-filled jazz night club in San Francisco with Gale, hearing Mose live. Since Bob Dylan is still writing very serious folk songs, these are the edgiest lyrics I have heard so far, the most cynically humorous. “Sirens screaming, panic and disorder, I tried to get some whiskey, got salt water. There goes the bus I missed. They always told me there’d be days like this.” Gotta love Mose. Years later, he will alleviate my fear that I have left culture forever by moving to Humboldt County, by playing the first jazz concert held there and I will have the opportunity to exchange smiles with him in a Garberville restaurant. Out of the very deepest respect, I refrained from annoying him at breakfast by playing the gaga fan, though I would have dearly loved to shake his hand.

Bob Dylan, Blowin in the Wind; Don’t Think Twice, Its Alright; Visions of Johanna; Love Minus Zero; The Times They Are Achanging; Highway 61; She Belongs to Me; Like a Rolling Stone; Mr. Tambourine Man; It Ain’t Me, Babe: And, oh, so very many more, every one of which has the potential to evoke some crucial situation in my life that was made easier by Bobby’s words.

My relationship to the music of Bob Dylan will require much more than a one-memory stream-of- consciousness association.

Of all the musicians of the 60s, it is to Bob Dylan that I owe the most in terms of Luft’s “moral spirit.” How very often did it happen that something blew up culturally all around me, resulting in some gut-wrenching downer for me and then, shortly after that, I would hear a song or a phrase from Bob that hit that experience right on the nailhead and helped me claw my way up from the pit—maybe on an album I had been listening to already for a while.

I have been asked at various points in my career if I was influenced by Bob Dylan. The answer is no, I feel like I and my generation were, if anything, influencing him. We were all influencing each other, I am sure, but I have no hesitation in saying that I am not sure I would have made it through the 60s sane without Bobby. He pulled me up from the depths on many and many an occasion. And now, right now, I still sing the ones I know by heart with my closest friends and they feel just exactly the same way to me. Prophet of my generation, as some have suggested?5 In a certain sense, yes, though there were others, but there was none so right on so all the time as Bob Dylan.

Like a lot of musical people, I had to be strapped down to a chair and forced to listen to a complete album before I got Dylan. This favor was done for me by my dear folksinger friend, Charles Bird. Shortly before he died, Charles bought Dylan’s first all-originals album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. I only knew of Dylan because of “Blowing in the Wind,” beautiful words, unlike any I had ever heard before on the radio, but it ain’t Dylan singing them. Him singing was hard for a trained singer such as myself to bear. Charles beseeched me, as a boon to him, to be still and shut up and listen to the whole album. By the end, I got it. It is poetry set to music, more than it is music with words. Maybe he is not the prophet of my generation but, by God, he is definitely the poet of my generation.

When, decades later, President Barack Obama presented him with the Medal of Freedom, I just felt years of debris falling off of me. So much of the pain, the insults, the discrimination, the lies, the harassment we got from our leaders, was now balanced and/or erased by the formal recognition of the guy who put into words what so many of us had no words for. I was briefly afraid he would turn it down, just to preserve his reputation as a cantankerous old cuss, but he didn’t. I am so proud of him. I am so proud of us. He got that award on behalf of all of us, not just how he walked us through it, but what it was we were walking through and the changes that came because of it. Watching the ceremony on TV, I could only think, “Good for you, Bobby, good for you.” I cut out the picture from the newspaper, had it laminated and it hung in glory on my refrigerator door for years before I took it down and stuck it into one of my notebooks of song lyrics, where I see it every time I get out my guitar.

Admittedly, some percentage of Bobby’s words, even now, sail over my head, but I do not mind that because the words that do not have been so valuable to me. I am not the only one to have questioned whether some of Bobby’s words make any sense at all. My anthropology colleague, Pat McKim, going through his flirtation with the counterculture (he ended up a professor at Cal Poly), once did an experiment for his linguistics class involving Bobby’s lyrics. I remember it because I was interested to see if he would get away with it.

Pat maintained that Dylan’s popularity, given the incomprehensibility of some of his lyrics, lay in their value as Rorschach tests. He said much of it meant nothing, but provided people with a screen upon which to project their angst. He made a list of some of Bobby’s more obscure phrases and then walked down The Ave stopping people randomly and asking them what the phrases meant. Then he threw in a few anthro students as informants, for good measure, including me. I was not a very good informant, since I found the whole exercise so hilarious that I found it hard to focus on the problem. Berkeley was then at the height of its Theater of the Absurd period. Pat, a leading light in the department, was, at that point, experimenting with making hippy bags from carpet samples and selling them to tourists on The Ave. We were all in danger of taking leave of our senses.

I am sad to report that I never knew the outcome of Pat’s experiment, though I do suspect he did get a grade for it, since I probably would have heard about it if he had not. I remember asking him if more people could explain the Dylan lyrics then could not and receiving only a mysterious smile as he stood there holding a stack of bags made from carpet samples. It is a precious memory, one among many that I could only have made in Berkeley.

————————————————————————————————-

1Woolf, Virginia. A Room of One’s Own. New York: Harcourt Brace & Co., 1989. First published in 1929.

2From Bob Dylan, “Like a Rolling Stone.”

3From The Birds. Do You Believe in Magic?

4Luft, Eric. Die At the Right Time: A Subjective Cultural History of the American Sixties. North Syracuse, New York:Gegensatz Press, 2009, p. 61.

5cf. Rogovoy, Bob Dylan: Prophet, Mystic, Poet. New York: Scribner, 2009. Although this book contains the word “prophet” in it, I know the idea of Dylan as a prophet was floated much earlier. I first came across someone analyzing the Dylan phenomenon in those terms in the 1970s. I had a book that made a structural argument that, however Dylan may have felt about it and he has famously said “I ain’t no prophet,” I found quite compelling. It did not describe him as a prophet in the sense that he could foretell events, but compared him, as a Jew, to the Old Testament prophets who would fast for a time in the desert, then return to lambast the Jews, often their leaders, for their sins. I do not know about the fasting, but I have no problem with the comparison to lambasting leaders for their sins. On a structure-function level, I see Dylan as fulfilling exactly the role of the ancient prophets, using modern technology. Unfortunately, I no longer have the book and cannot find that original reference, so I offer this one just to confirm that I did not make the whole prophet thing up.

© Jentri Anders, 2016

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