Chapter 6: In the Book of Love's Own Dream
Page 104, top; more on the SF poster artists:
Some of the best poster artists would become nearly as celebrated as the musicians: Wes Wilson, a former S.F. State art student, designed many of the first posters for both the Family Dog's and Bill Graham's productions, and helped pioneer the instantly recognizable "psychedelic" style of lettering. Alton Kelley, who worked as a motorcycle mechanic in Connecticut before coming to San Francisco in 1964, lived in the Dog House and worked on many of the early Family Dog posters, usually in tandem with Stanley Mouse, a Detroit native who was renowned for airbrushing hot rod designs on T-shirts. Rick Griffin was an art school dropout who became one of the principle artists in the Southern California surfing scene before becoming psychedelicized and moving to San Francisco in the fall of '66. New York transplant Victor Moscoso, who became famous for juxtaposing vivid, even jarring colors, and for taking poster lettering to new heights of deliberate illegibility, had the most formal training of them all — he'd completed a master's program at Yale and even worked as an instructor at the S.F. Art Institute before getting involved with the nascent San Francisco poster movement.
"Posters and handbills are a particularly democratic form of self-expression," Chet Helms said in Paul Grushkin's book The Art of Rock. "Posted in public places, they are available to virtually everyone at little or no cost. The parallels between the belle epoque poster [in turn-of-the-century France] and the psychedelic poster are obvious, but the 1960s posters were also rooted in the American free speech tradition of political and social pamphleteering. The central issue of the 1960s was civil liberty and personal freedom. The posters were vehicles for both, incorporating new graphic techniques and juxtaposing colors that traditionally were never printed side by side. ... The eye is not equipped to perceive red and blue simultaneously, so vibrant red-green, red-blue combinations served to simulate the shimmering world of the psychedelic experience. The values of this emerging culture were conveyed through verbal and visual double entendre, sexual innuendo, drug innuendo, and sometimes merely by placing two images near each other on the page and allowing the viewer to draw his own conclusions. In this way the unspoken was spoken, forbidden topics were discussed, suppressed feelings held in common were acknowledged.
"Having grown up in the Eisenhower years, the era of the gray flannel suit, we had a great thirst for color and reclaimed it as a mode of expression. The joyless headlong rat race to the top was supplanted by the joyful, sensuous curves and gyrations of the dance, expanding in all directions."
"It was fun looking forward to posters and seeing them on the street and then trying to figure out how to read them," Garcia said with a laugh in 1987. "The first thing that would happen with a lot of the posters would be everyone standing and staring at them — 'Let's see, that's an "E."' 'No, no, that's an "E" up there. That's an "M" and the "E" is coming through that part down there!' That was a big part of it — the neo-cryptographic whatever!"
The most famous image associated with the Dead, the "skeleton and roses," was created by Kelley and Mouse for a pair of September 1966 Avalon Ballroom dances featuring the Dead and a group called Oxford Circle. As Kelley remembered, "I was just thumbing through some books, and I had The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam with the illustrations by E.J. Sullivan and I came to that picture. I said, 'Look at this, Stanley. Is that the Grateful Dead or is that the Grateful Dead?!' So we did a bigger drawing of it, worked up the lettering and the ribbon and made the overlays. We didn't really know what it was going to look like, but when it came out it just floored us. I remember putting it on the side of our truck and driving around town and stopping at a gas station on Geary Boulevard and the guy who worked there looked at it and said, 'Wow! What's happening? Who's the Grateful Dead? Where's the Avalon?' It was like, 'I'll be there!'"
Page 104, middle; the Dead return from L.A.:
As the spring wore on, the Dead landed more and more gigs, and as Owsley points out, "when we left for L.A. the band was worth $100 a show, and three months later they offered $375 for a show, so we'd moved up the ladder a bit, though I couldn't tell you why." In late April, the group headlined a three-night event at Longshoreman's Hall dubbed "Trips 196?," but most people agreed it was a pale shadow of the original Trips Festival; more a concert than a "happening," it featured neither the Pranksters, who were in Mexico, nor Stewart Brand.
Page 105, bottom: Garcia on psychedelics:
"My psychedelic experiences were sequential," he said. "They started at a place and they went through a series of progressive learning steps. When they stopped happening it was like, 'This is the end of the message — now you're just playing around.' That was when psychedelics stopped having the relevance they originally had. It lasted for about a year, I'd say."
"My trips began to take a different kind of form [as time went on]," he said. "The first ones were visual. You know — patterns, colors, profound revelations. 'Yeah, I get it!'— The standard stuff. Then I started going to the Acid Tests and experiences were happening to more than one person at a time. They had this telepathic quality. Then into that stepped another level, which was between and amongst the telepathic explosions. Between the flashes and surprises was this 'You're almost getting it.' An urging.
"Then there was the presence which I think of as The Teacher, which represents a higher order. There would be this feeling of deja vu. All these little bits of input — people talking, certain sights — would start to coalesce: 'Damn, you got it! BOOM!' It took on this teacher-pupil relationship: me and my other mind! Instead of outside reality, there was a whole other substance — other smells, other sounds, other tastes...
"It scared the shit out of me, man. It was like, 'What do you believe?' It removed everything I was certain of. And in its place was a new set of circumstances. And these circumstances were like pages in a book. They started moving until I was living out a whole lifespan with all the intricacy of one's life, all the way up to the moment of one's death — the final realizations, the summation.
"I was simultaneously experiencing all these slightly different versions of my life until they got to be very different and finally completely and utterly different. I remember being a hive of bees. I was the whole damn hive! Instead of hands and fingers and feet and nerve endings, I was little bee bodies. I was a field of wheat. And then I was part of these archetypes that involve everybody. It was like a dream in which you know somebody by their identity, not by their looks. You know — when somebody looks like Father Time but is in reality your mother.
"There'd be like a whole epoch — planetary evolution, starting from nothing and going through the whole life of a planet with all the life forms, all the civilizations, all the consciousness and going all the way until it burns out. And one of them would be like a pastoral trip. Another would be warlike. Another would be an incredible, multi-sensory life.
"Cosmic is the only word for it. Nothing has happened in my life since then, man. Nothing was as climactic, as complete as that. ... I can go back and visit bits and pieces of it, but it's all here, in the foreground of my mind."
"This stuff is coming from somewhere," he said in another interview. "If it's not out there, it's coming from me, it's coming from my mind, my brain, and that means my brain has an infinite amount of capacity in there that I had no sense of; I didn't know anything about it. But there it was, and I've seen it. I not only saw it, but I walked around in it. I had a million incarnations in it. I lived and died in it. I had experiences beyond anything I've ever experienced. More real than anything I've experienced in this world."
Page 107, middle; more on the influential Butterfield Blues Band:
Once a self-described "folky Jew boy," Bloomfield played with Dylan on Highway 61 and, like Garcia, was also influenced by the more country-oriented early rock pickers like James Burton and Scotty Moore. The Butterfield Blues Band was harder-edged than The Yardbirds or the other great white blues band of the era, the New York-based Blues Project, and in Bloomfield they had a guitar player who not only loved to jam out on standard blues tunes, but in late '65 also co-wrote (with Nick Gravenites) one of the greatest "psychedelic" instrumentals, "East-West," which combined long modal passages of raga-inspired jamming with bright riffing that was two parts South Side strutting and one part Memphis juke. Bloomfield was a player of exquisite tastefulness and a finely developed melodic sense, but he also had a reckless musical spirit that made him take chances in his playing — over the course of more than 13 minutes on the album version, "East-West" finds him (and Bishop) following several different paths to some wild, unpredictable places. The track features one of the first true twin-lead guitar jams on a rock record: The two guitar lines become entwined and grow in an upward spiral like some mutant jungle plant. It's a style Garcia and Weir would develop further a year or so later, and which the Allman Brothers would take to its furthest limit in '70 and '71. The freaks in the Haight loved the Butterfield band, and loved "East-West," which was widely regarded one of the first great "tripping" songs. (Appropriately enough, Bloomfield said he was inspired to write it after an acid trip.)
"I remember at the old Fillmore Bloomfield had a fire-eating act that went along with 'East-West,'" Elvin Bishop remembers. "He'd use one of those mallets or whatever that you dip in lighter fluid and then you set it on fire and put it in your mouth somehow. We'd play a while and take solos and then the beat would go on behind him and he'd do this fire-eating act. It drove people nuts! It got pretty crazy there.
"Arriving in San Francisco with the Butterfield Band was a mind-blower," he continues. "The hippie thing was in full swing. I think the first place we played was the Fillmore, and just seeing all those people dressed up the way they did and with the long hair, and the chicks were so friendly — they didn't have to be talked into anything. Coming from the Chicago blues scene, we still had on our continental suits and little narrow ties and Italian shoes. And in Chicago, you're used to watching your back at all times. We came out here and it was instantly so much more loose and free; it was really amazing. I didn't understand the appeal of the music so much, because I've always been pretty much a straight blues guy, but what I liked about the Dead was Pigpen. We'd sit around and drink together and listen to blues and play blues. I hung out with Pigpen quite a bit, and I actually ended up staying at the Dead's house for a while when I first came out." Both Bishop and Bloomfield settled in San Francisco in 1967, and each led bands in the area for many years after the breakup of Butterfield's groundbreaking unit.
If Bishop was basically a good-vibes country boy happy to be footloose and free in San Francisco, then Bloomfield represented the darker side of city life; more street, as befit a guy who'd paid his dues in Chicago's Southside dives. And though he, too, loved San Francisco and became an integral part of the music scene there, he always stood somewhat apart from the local bands, and was openly disdainful of them on occasion: "I think San Francisco music isn't good music," he said in early 1968, "not good bands. They're amateur cats. ... I don't dig 'Good Morning Little Schoolgirl,' by the Grateful Dead. I don't dig Pigpen trying to sing blues; it don't sound like blues. It sounds like some white kid trying to sing blues. It drags me; they're not funky. They don't have a good beat; I can't explain it. It's not the real shit and it's not even a good imitation. It's not even like the Stones. I don't dig the Airplane — I think they're a third-rate rock 'n' roll band. I don't dig Country Joe & the Fish. I find them an abomination, a fraud perpetuated on people. I don't dig Big Brother; I dig Janis, but I think Big Brother is just a wretched, lame group of cats who she carries for no reason at all."
Page 110; middle; the bands and their fans, circa '66:
"At the Avalon you'd see people who were either hippies — freaks they were called then — or who were going to be hippies," David Freiberg says. "Some already had long hair, but a lot didn't, too. There were a lot of teenagers who couldn't quite do it all the way yet, so there were always a lot of people who looked halfway straight. But then you'd see them change over the course of six months and they weren't very straight-looking anymore.
"It was so easy to meet all the musicians in those days," said Eileen Law, who started working for the Dead in the early '70s. "You could just go out on the dance floor and they'd be there watching the other bands playing. I remember at the Avalon, the dressing rooms were off the dance floor and they'd leave the doors wide open. You'd look in and see Janis sitting in there and everyone hanging out. Pig would be in the dressing room hanging out with a lot of people."
Page 111, top; more on Pigpen's role:
"I saw Pigpen pretty much as the front man for a while; absolutely," Danny Rifkin said. "He did a lot of the singing and he was the most dynamic-appearing character of the whole group. I remember one of those early gigs, we had these big Voice of the Theater speakers, and I hurt my back carrying them and I had to stand in the [equipment] truck going to the gig. I remember standing in front of Pigpen at this gig and he blew my mind — he kind of made me dance and got my back healed; it was that kind of experience. He had an almost shamanistic quality. Kind of a revival tent meeting-type thing. I liked those grooves — "Midnight Hour," "Good Mornin' Little Schoolgirl," "Love Light" — kind of tribal, primal, great to dance to. He had a nice round voice and he played the crowd like a preacher. You knew Jerry was a great guitar player, and he could really move you, but it was a subtler thing. Pigpen was right out front."
From the beginning, though, Garcia also attracted a sizable following of fans who recognized his inventiveness, and who clearly thought of him as the musical leader of the band — which he was. As Steve Brown put it, "I was interested in Jerry because, like a lot of people at the dances, I just loved the electric guitar and wanted to see who was doing what. A lot of the music that came out of San Francisco was based on guitarists' taking big chunks of each song and really getting their licks in on it and taking the solos someplace. I remember seeing Jerry and thinking, 'This is a guy who's in the same league as Bloomfield and a few others of being able to step out and do the lead thing and take over for a while.' That's what I used to like about surf bands and people like Freddy King — lead guitar. So before I even focused on the rest of the band — although Pigpen would draw the attention as the singer/performer of the group — I was interested in what Jerry was doing because it was clear that he was developing into one of these new guitarists. Jorma, Cipollina, Gary Duncan, Barry Melton, Jerry — they were all on an equal level there for a while, and you'd go see any one of them and you'd always hear great stuff."
Page 112, middle; more on the Haight and the SF bands:
"If you walked down Haight Street in late '66 there were like one or two hippie stores — places that appealed to the counterculture — in just about every block," says Steve Brown. "Dress shops, the Psychedelic Shop, an incense shop, book shops. There was a whole little mini-industry providing the accoutrements of the lifestyle — black lights, color wheels, incense, cigarette papers. You'd see the dance posters for the Fillmore and Avalon up in all these stores, taped to the windows and on the poles. And there was a lot more than just the Fillmore and Avalon, too. I imagine the band people pretty much hung out with each other at their various houses, but for the regular people, the meeting places were along Haight Street, in the Panhandle and Golden Gate Park, and of course the Fillmore and the Avalon, because the music was always the big thing that everybody was into.
"The Avalon was a really great place," Brown continues. "It supposedly had a spring suspension floor, so it was a wonderful place to dance. It had a bunch of old couches, it had its own food. It was very much a hippie, Diggers, coming-from-within type of environment; really the epitome of what the San Francisco scene would be in a lot of ways. Bill Graham's shows at the Fillmore, even though they had some of the same bands and he incorporated some of the same niceties, didn't have the same feeling that the Family Dog, and the Avalon Ballroom particularly, had. It was a different kind of a vibe. The Fillmore was great for music — you could really get lost in that because it was so small and the sound was so great — but at the Avalon you felt like meandering around more and being more social and letting loose even more. It was one of those places you could get really fucked up and not worry about it. Maybe because the Fillmore was in a district that was predominantly black, and it was during a time when there was a lot of shit going on in the inner cities everywhere, the Fillmore had an edge to it. You were sort of holed up in there when you were there and you hoped your car didn't get broken into while you were in there. The Avalon wasn't in a great neighborhood either, but it felt a lot safer.
"The bands at the Avalon were definitely what you'd see as the first or second bands [on the bill] at the Fillmore, and then another local band or regional band would be added. Whereas the Fillmore would often have a touring act that was a national act, or a British band, and have that on the top and then be supported by a couple of local bands. Bill was out there grabbing every national act he could — 'You gotta play for me!' — and Chet Helms [of the Family Dog] was happy doing what he was doing, because he could sell it out on the weekends."
Many city authorities were openly disdainful of the burgeoning rock 'n' roll scene, and did everything they could to block permits for dances and keep city-owned venues rock-free if possible. Fortunately for the musicians, they did have one very vocal advocate who wielded tremendous power: San Francisco Chronicle music critic Ralph Gleason, who primarily wrote about a jazz, but completely embraced the rock underground almost immediately. He championed many local groups, including the Grateful Dead, and he wrote often and quite enthusiastically about the local rock 'n' roll dance scene, and openly mocked those of his (older) generation who couldn't appreciate the anarchic spirit of the young bands and the crowds who danced ecstatically to the highly amplified music.
"One of the things about this society is that it's immoral to be young," Gleason said in a 1966 radio interview. "The most illegal people are those under 30 from the standpoint of the society — everything you do is wrong. The activities of the young are viewed with horror, suspicion and ultimately hatred by the elders of the tribe. People want to dance. It's a basic human activity. Dancing has become immoral in this country. The reason that the San Francisco Board of Supervisors is worried about the dance permits and defining under what conditions you can run public dances in San Francisco, is that they have the a priori assumption that dancing is, by definition, immoral, and that your getting out on that dance floor and prancing around adjacent to a young female is going to lead to her moral deterioration. And that if I, at my age, was present at this, I'd probably kidnap her and sell her into white slavery in Argentina. They cannot understand that the movements of young people on the dance floor are not basically sexual. And one of the reasons they can't is during the time when they grew up, dancing was an excuse to get next to a broad, and it was one of the few places they could get next to a broad without having to go through all sorts of conniving. It was easier than the back seat of a Ford. At this point in history, this is no longer necessary, and they have to struggle with that. This dancing is not dancing by the definition of people who did the foxtrot to Benny Goodman . And they're shocked, amazed and horrified and convinced you're all immoral because you do this.
"We live in a very a very technological, complicated society," Gleason continued. "There's too much noise, too much motion, there's too many things going on. There's too much to read, too much to hear, too much to look at and a result of all this is you're so busy doing those things that you don't have a chance to look at yourself. And I think the Fillmore and the Avalon become a trip — in absolutely the best sense of that word, like getting on a boat and going to Honolulu — where you're isolated from the whole of this enormous roaring hysterical society for a period of one hour, two hours, three hours, in which your mind is cut off from all that. You're not standing there thinking about the milk bill or what you're going to do tomorrow. You're experiencing in a very sensual way, in a very fundamental way, a very Dionysac way, as a matter of fact, and you can sort of learn to get with yourself in this. The noise of the bands sometimes repels people, but the noise of the bands really is part of a sound cocoon which supplements the light cocoon."
Page 113, top; Kesey's return from Mexico:
"What happened was the visas ran out after six months and Ken was antsy to get back," Mountain Girl says. "Faye had come down with the kids, but everyone was tired of being down there after a while. We took the long way back, then Ken panicked about going through the border, so we let him out at Nuevo Laredo and he caught up with us on the other side. He was pretty paranoid, but that's understandable — he was a fugitive." Actually, Kesey's trip across the border near Brownsville, Texas, was an inspired bit of theater worthy of the onetime drama student: he claimed to be Singing Jimmy Anglund, fresh from a gig just over the border, and damn if his I.D. hadn't gotten lost somewhere along the line! He produced a Bank of America credit card with the name James C. Anglund on it, and the border police waved him across.
Page 113, middle; the Love Pageant Rally:
From the letter to the mayor of San Francisco: "Our Love Pageant Rally is intended to overcome the paranoia and separation with which the state wishes to divide and silence the increasing revolutionary sense of Californians. Similar rallies will be held in communities such as ours all over the country and in Europe. You are invited to attend and address our rally. Thank you."
The freaks may have been a tad naive, but no one could accuse them of not being polite and inclusive. Many of them really did believe that the mainstream culture could be reasoned into submission — that if people in the straight world really thought about the state of the planet and of society, they would choose love over hate, freedom over repression, community over isolation, expanded consciousness over paranoia.
To no one's surprise, Mayor Shelley didn't make it out to the Panhandle that cool autumn day. If he had he would have seen the Grateful Dead perform on a makeshift stage near the corner of Masonic and Oak streets for several hundred dancing people, many of them tripping, and heard a few of the Haight's leading lights extolling the magic of the community. And he could have personally busted Kesey, who was viewed by the authorities as a rabble-rousing troublemaker and a threat to public order. But the mayor had other worries that week, including four days of rioting in the largely black Hunter's Point and Fillmore districts, following the police killing of a young black man suspected of stealing a car. Even city officials had to admit that what was happening in the Haight was more an affront to their personal morality than an actual threat to the public at large — so far.
Page 115, top; Sara Ruppenthal on the Anonymous Artists of America:
"The idea behind the group," she says, "was everybody is an artist, and we can bring out the artist in everybody through consciousness expansion. We had grandiose plans of a stately pleasure dome on the Hudson River with a clear Plexiglas floor and 360-degree projection of visuals, and costumes that people could buy [and wear there]. We made outrageous costumes. Dick Alpert was our benefactor and funded us for a Buchla sound machine, one of the early ones. It was moisture-sensitive so when we performed outside, sometimes it would play itself. We were a very far-out band. I remember when we played at the Avalon one time the manager of the place came up to us after we'd played and said, 'Wow, you were fabulous. There were people throwing up in the bathroom!' We were really bad," she adds with a laugh.