The Spare Change Tour!
By: Mike Marino
The Spare Change Sixties. The times? Well, they were a spare changin' Mr. Dylan. The East Village, Jolly Olde English London, Dandy Plum Street in Detroit and of course, the hallucinagenic vortex of the times..Haight Ashbury in San Francisco.
I had the good fortune to live in the Haight from early 1966 to 1968. This was all prior to the sociological penetration of the teeny bopper-tourist-hippie invasion of the Summer of Love. Before that the neighborhood was a true experiment of humanity, a mandala of art, vision and karma. Incense and marijuana filled the air, drifting thicker than the words on the page of pre-Soviet Russian novel. It was a fornication of Dostoevsky and Dharmabums. Jaunty Jack Kerouac had passed the cheap bottle of wine to a new generation of rucksack bums, who would venerate him even more than he was by his own generation. Jack, in the drunken fog of his last days, would in turn despise this new outcropping of young and their outpouring of adulation, and tell them in no uncertain terms..."Go find your own heroes!" Which translated is Kerouac for "Go Fuck Yourself!"
The Spare Change Sixties gave birth to a vibrant garden of flower power Eden in San Francisco's Haight Ashbury District. Half a world away, "the" war, the only one our generation knew, raged on in Vietnam, while the hands of the clock spun in reverse in a counter culture of dissent. We protested and played a childs game of hide and seek, searching for answers on the homefront. In America, and not the jungles, olive drab was replaced by colorful tie dyed robes, hats and shirts...peace symbols and beads, the new ammunition of the new left, replaced bullets and grenades...and bongs as big as mortars created sweet dream smoke that mingled with the San Francisco fog.
The Lone Ranger and Tonto, heroes of a prior generation were displaced by Cheech and Chong, and Timothy Leary told everyone to Tune In...Turn On..and Drop Out!! The cries of "Make Love, Not War" rang out loud, proud and clear, with many answering the call. They came from New York City...Fargo, North Dakota...Detroit, Michigan...Amarillo, Texas and from every small town and large city in between. Horace Greeley once said..Go West Young Man, and this time they came in droves, with many of them wearing flowers in their hair. The highways and two lanes of America were clogged like an old rusty drain with a rag tag army of hitchhikers, seekers, sinners and saints, prey and predators, drawn like a magnet by a force stronger than anything in a George Lucas movie. It didnt matter what road you were travelling on to get there either, afterall, it was 1967 and in Haight Ashbury it was The Summer of Love!
It was an urban starship, Jefferson, with a cast of characters that included hippies, yippies, Hells Angel's, Diggers, musicians, artists, seekers and searchers. Peace, Love and Spare Change became the battle cry of the generation in search of itself. If the Beat Generation was geriatric, getting old and gray, Haight Ashbury hit the scene like a tie dyed dose of Grecian Formula.
Lyndon Johnson had proclaimed The Great Society complete with social reform and welfare programs aplenty, however, in the Haight a group called the Diggers had declared The Great Un-society. They put on free feeds in the Panhandle during the week for the local resident weed whackers and foods such as rice and beans were elevated to the status of Haight haute cuisine. The Diggers also operated The Free Store at 1090 Cole Street. Downstairs were blue jeans and field jackets of every style and size and on the mezzanine balcony were shelf after shelf of books and magazines that resembled an underground version of the Library of Congress...nothing in the store was for sale..it was all absolutely FREE!!
During the Summer of Love, the park was the scene of pleasant afternoons of giant bubbles and kites flier higher than most of the area's residents and on January 14, 1967 the amplifiers of the Jefferson Airplane inaugurated the Human Be-In at The Polo Grounds that was attened by a veritable hipster's Who's Who including Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Jerry Rubin and Dr. Timoth Leary.
Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead are the undisputed crowned heads of the Deadhead Realm that was Haight-Ashbury. Originally known as the Warlocks, the name was changed and the rest is histoire!! The legendary group has inspired faithful legions to kick asphalt across the American continent to take in as many Dead shows as the braincells will allow. 60's MIA's on an inner journey for Garcia Nirvana singing along to worn 8 tracks to "TRUCKIN" and "CASEY JONES".
If The Grateful Dead were kings of the psychedelic kingdom then 710 Ashbury Street was Buckingham Palace!! After your pilgrimage to the Dead House go to Ben and Jerry's for a double scoop of Cherry Garcia ice cream.
Black leather jackets lived side by side with jeans and sandals. Two wheeled Darth Vadars lending an ominous air to a land of peace and love. The gangs name came from a legendary WWII fighter wing and although they gained true noriety at Altamont during a Rolling Stones concert they flew missions up and down the streets of the Haight. The Jedi meet the Dark Side. If you cross the street from the Dead House you'll see 715 Ashbury where the Angels called home. Home is where the heart is!
Every kingdom reveres it's court jesters and in the Haight Ashbury district that moniker has to be bestowed on Country Joe and The Fish. Their dark, musical humour cut right through the fabric of 60's social hypocripsy and scored a bull's eye each time out. The MacDonald family had long been a voice of social reform in the Bay Area and Joe carried on the tradition in a style that was Lenny Bruce mixed with Bob Dylan. The Fish Tank was located at 638-640 Ashbury. ...And its One..Two...Three..What are we fighting for? The reigning psyche-diva's of the day were Grace Slick and Janis Joplin. It was said that when Grace sang you could tell by her voice that she wanted to make love to her audience, however, when Janis belted out Little Piece of My Heart it was clear she wanted to do much more than that! Janis hit the Haight to take the vocal lead for Big Brother and The Holding Company on a rockinblues journey that began in her hometown of Port Arthur, Texas. Her star shined brightly for a brief time until it exploded and her raspy voice and plaintiff wails were no more a beacon in the 60's night sky.
Port Arthur has a bronze bust of the psychedelic era's musical version of Calamity Jane, but you can visit her homes away from home in the Haight. Two of them are located at 112 Lyons and at 635 Ashbury. To roundout your Joplin pilgrimage go north of Haight Street one block to Page, turn right and find 1090 Page, not only the site of one of the Haights early crashpads, but is also where Big Brother went full tilt boogie in between gigs. The truly experienced will want to kiss the same sky that Jimi did while living in a Haight Ashbury purple haze simply by heading back up to Haight Street and crossing Ashbury on your way towards Stanyan. Jimi was the favorite son of Seattle, Washington and is buried there overlooking the land of the Space Needle but his pre-wah wah Woodstock days were spent around the lava lamp at his apartment at 1524A Haight. You can almost hear the Star Spangled Banner ripping from the windows!!
Heading towards Fulton Street you won't run into any hookah smoking caterpillars but if you go to 2400 Fulton Street you will see where Alice would have hung out had she been around in the 60's. Grace Slick left the Great Society to join The Airplane and in their search to find somebody to love they left an indelible mark on the Bay Area sound that is legendary. Although the group has gone through many name changes and incarnations they truly were the group that built this city!
The bard of the beats called many places in the Bay Area home for a time including a poetic stint in The Haight. Follow Ashbury north and cross the Panhandle to Fell Street, turn right approximately a block and a half then HOWL with the delight of discovery when you reach 1360 Fell..ground zero for the literati of the 60's. If you pirouet your way to 1546 Waller Street you'll see where ballet got busted for smoking pot during the midsummer's night dream that was 1967.
Not exactly a Flower Child but for those who truly want to get gruesome you can visit 616 Page Street where Charles Manson lived for awhile content with his own dementia.
The good doctors also took the Haight Hippie-cratic oath and dispensed thorazine by the bucketload to many a bad tripper providing they could find there way to the Free Clinic at 409 Clayton Street near Haight. Tracy's Donuts at 1569 Haight Street just a half block west of Ashbury was open into the wee smalls to accomodate the homeless, the late night trippers, talkers, nodders and rappers..all singing along to the jukebox in the corner that always seemed to be playing Bob Dylans EVERYBODY MUST GET STONED!
Finally, no trip to the Haight would be complete without a visit to 1535 Haight Street, site of the Psychedelic Shop..The Grandfather of All Head Shops. Black lights, posters and enough patchoulie incense to fill the Taj Majal were its hallmarks. Sitar music greeted you as you entered the shop and zig zagged yoru way to the back of the shop where the beads parted and you gained entry to the womb room that contained the best poster art on the planet. Black lights added ambience and low, murmured WOWS and FAROUTS punctuated the air.
Ken Kesey and Company, including beatster Neal Cassidy and the rest of the Merry Pranksters tripped the night away to the music of The Grateful Dead, Big Brother and the Holding Company and The Loading Zone. The amplified party of all party's took place at the Longshoremans Hall at 400 North Point.
The Matrix at 3118 Fillmore St.has become known as the Airplane Hangar. This former pizza parlor was converted in late August - early September of 1965 by Marty Balin of the Jefferson Airplane to showcase the band. Anchovies and pepperoni had now been replaced by white rabbits and surrealistic pillows served up ultra cool.
The Avalon Ballroom, the words alone send shivers of nostalgia racing down the spine. Located at 1268 Sutter at Van Ness, it was operated from 1966-1968 by Chet Helms & The Family Dog. Originally built in 1911 as The Puckett School of Dance, by the farout 60's it had become the School of Cool. The first group to take to the stage was Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band on May 20, 1966. Today it's a multi-plex cinema and the faint odor of marijuana has been replaced by popcorn and milk duds.
The Fillmore Auditorium is the Holy Grail of rock venues. Located at 1805 Geary at Fillmore, it first saw dancing action in the art deco 30's and by the 40's zoot suiters and others roller skated the night away. The 50's brought rockin' rythym and blues with performances by greats like James Brown and Ike and Tina Turner and in the 60's the Fillmore would become the auditorium of choice and would be the locale for many musical firsts and some highly significant and culturally important lasts.
On December 10, 1965 Bill Graham put on his first show at the auditorium with the Jefferson Airplane and another Haight Ashbury group that formerly went by the name of the Warlocks. By the time they hit the stage that evening it's name had been changed to the Grateful Dead. The next three years brought wave after wave of psychedelia's best acts taking the audience with them on musical journeys that transported them onward, upward and inward.
Lenny Bruce who taught a generation to talk dirty and influence people gave his very last concert appearance on the stage at the Fillmore on June 24, 1966 sharing the bill with Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention. By July of 1968, Bill Graham like Elvis, had left the auditorium to take over the Carousel Ballroom at Van Ness and Market Street and would soon change its name to The Fillmore West. Bill Graham died in a helicopter crash in 1991.
The corner of Haight and Ashbury is symbolic of not only a particular summer but of a changing of the guard...an elevated social questioning and inner search. It is also the location where on October 6, 1967 it all ended with a procession that proclaimed The Death of Hip. Today the Haight has replaced beans and rice with nouvelle cuisine and there are now more ATM machines than roach clips.
Today you can still buy a tie dyed shirt..pick up a Jerry Garcia bumper sticker and on occasion the cries of Spare Change still ring out, but when visiting the Haight leave the flowers in your hair at home and bring your checkbook instead.
There are walking tours throughout San Francisco, and the Haight is no different, but to truly explore the neighborhood, leave the tours and crowds to the less adventurous, and discover this jewell on your own. Plenty of shopping and dining to do at some unique stores and shops not found elsewhere in the city. Peace and Love have been replaced by commerce but every now and then coming from some second floor bay window you can hear a CD blasting out a rendition of The Dead's CASEY JONES!!
Some vestiges of the Summer of Love remain but mainly it's been gentrified with walking tours, fern bars and bed and breakfasts, about as mainstream wannabe as it gets, and the old girl has been given a real Oprah makeover. Pseudo hippies haunt the Haight today, so when your walking down Haight Street and someone plaintiffly cries out for Spare Change and you don't have two nickles to rub together don't despair, chances are they'll accept most major credit cards! ...some things never change.