Friday, April 7, 2017

Summer of Love, etc.

You know the Robin Williams line—even if he didn't say it: if you remember the 60s, you weren't really there. But we were really there. What my classmate Robin should have said: Remembering the '60s is tricky, at best.

I grew up between worlds and times in the San Geronimo Valley, a rural enclave in West Marin which was rapidly becoming an alternative lifestyle destination. A lot of interesting folks who shunned the cities and suburbs wound up in The Valley, as it was called. It was an uneasy marriage of radically different worlds.

I attended Lagunitas School District—LSD (I know, 'splains a lot). I was straddling the old redneck ranchers' world (living with my Irish Victorian grannie), and the Flower Children dancing in the dawn of a New Age—and me, trying to toe the mutable line. Not an easy task.

During the late 60s, I attended Sir Francis Drake High School—the only high school (emphasis on the word high) in the nation to shut down a local draft board.  We were a pretty radicalized group of kids.

Our student body president was Jared Rossman from Fairfax. That last name should ring a bell—as his older brother, Michael Rossman, was a key figure in the Free Speech Movement at UC Berkeley in 1964. On the eve of The Summer of Love, we marched to town and shut down the San Rafael Draft Board. Our school made the cover of Time Magazine and the 6 O'Clock News. And we gave the FBI a new client list.

When the school district took away our buses, I was the roadside kid hitching home from school. This is how I met most of the rock musicians of that era, Ken Kesey and his cast of Merry Pranksters, and boarded Further, etc.

During the Summer of Love, I was pretty straight, I was also very young. I was 14—a mere 'tweenie. Between worlds. What I remember most from that era was the original 1967 "A Gathering of the Tribes Human Be In" in Golden Gate Park. It was a protest gathering to counter a new California law to make LSD illegal. Timothy Leary famously said from the stage, "Turn on, tune in, drop out" and then came tripping out through the audience to give my mom a hug.

A Beatnik and a Project Artaud painter, my mom was one of the first artists to embrace the hippie movement. She was at the epicenter of The Summer of Love. Mom dragged me through the Haight early and often. Sometimes our worlds intersected. I was a wide-eyed kid trying to take it all in. A vicarious bystander. Sure, there was fallout, growing up like that in unchartered territory. But I survived the social revolution more or less intact.

I didn't know it at the time, but I was meeting future mentors of our generation: Richard Alpert ("Ram Dass"), Allen Ginsberg, who chanted mantras, Gary Snyder, Lenore Kandel, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Jerry Rubin. Most of the bands who played in the parks were our near neighbors in West Marin: Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead, Big Brother and the Holding Company, and Quicksilver Messenger Service.

For some reason, though we lived in the epicenter of this sociological turmoil, it's hard to write about it so, from time to time, I whittle away at it, in search of the through line. Memory's always a work in progress.

I told former Sonoma County poet, Colorado Arts Commissioner Art Goodtimes, a mushroom aficionado, that I had a wild mother who claimed I was an amanita child. As if that explained things. We laughed and blamed the drugs.

I was living out in rural West Marin and commuting into the suburbs to go to school, holding onto a dual life between worlds while most of my friends were defecting, tuning in and dropping out, and running off with bands or the circus. It was some crazy times. Somehow we grew up between the Be-in, The Summer of Love, and the Kent State Massacre. This was our legacy.

Yes, we were really there. And we do remember. Robert Frost wrote: The best way out is always through. We survived the 'tween years—we could see no other way out but through. What a long, strange trip it's been.

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