I told Katie when she was offered the job here in East Bay that the last place on earth I wanted to live was San Francisco, California. At the time I couldn’t quite put my finger on why. I pointed out that I didn’t like that the area was uber-expensive, crowded, lived off the ghosts of hippies, and never really got warm yet never really got cold, a lukewarm feeling I felt best described the place. At the time I also felt a rivalry to their tech community. And that was true. Still very much is true. I’d love to see Chicago & Indiana get their shit together and whoop them. But in the end, I knew the answers I gave wasn’t all I was feeling.
It took a YouTube video of Hunter S. Thompson on Letterman in ‘87 to shake me up
The viewing of this video was seamlessly followed by Hunter S. Thompson on Letterman in ‘88, and then again sometime in the 90’s. But that wasn’t enough. Enter the fourth video in the playlist: Johnny Depp on Letterman reminiscing about the life and legacy of his friend, Hunter S. Thompson, shortly after Thomson’s partaking of the Hemingway remedy. This lead to a late night screening of “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” on Netflix while finishing up some late night AdWords. Now I’m on to ”Gonzo: The Life and Work of Hunter S. Thompson”. The beginning of “Gonzo,” depicts Thompson getting on bike in San Francisco and heading down the coast to Big Sur in order to clear his head. And by, “riding,” it was hitting 100-mph and above to get into a trance.
I stopped working on AdWords when they got past his work on Hell’s Angels and started talking about his inspiration of the 60s movement and the things happening in San Francisco.
In that moment, revelation why I loathe San Francisco hit me like how the wind would have bitch-slapped Thompson on those thrill-a-dead-man’s-curve ocean rides.
There was a San Francisco I grew up learning about. It was the San Francisco of Janis Joplin and Haight / Ashbury & The Dead, and whatever-it-was Morrison and The Doors were trying to accomplish. It was peace and many definitions of love, and it was realizing what was important: who you were with. When the Dead was willing to introduce bluegrass and folk songs to their cutting-edge audiences, everything changed. Live music was allowed to, once again, be more than wa-wa pedals and acting tougher than the other act who released their latest single the week before.
Whichever, whatever the movement of the 60s was supposed to be, it was somewhat united. It was disjointed, unstructured, but if it was anything, it was impassioned.
The few times I’ve walked BARTed and hung out in San Francisco since I’ve been here, I can see where the spirit used to be. There’s an ashened residue on the buildings that had witnessed those more-enlightened days. Haight Ashbury appears to be frozen in a moment but for a fucking Ben & Jerry’s that appears to have slipped through a crack in time & space. What’s left of appears to be accent pieces, tourist traps, and excuses to keep the party going.
But I’m told the Heart and Soul of the San Francisco I seek is still there if one knows where to look
Once in awhile if you hit the hot tub out here on the right night, you’ll come across an eccentric, enthused Eastern European music writer whose 20 years older than I. A few minutes later you’ll typically find draped on his arm is a girl a couple years younger than Katie. That madame is typically adorned in whatever she wore underneath clothes.
When you can steal a few moments between when the security trucks come to kick us out and when he’s shuffling between Flogging Molly and U2 on his iPhone & bluetooth speaker combo, the writer will tell you about several of the music haunts in San Francisco that still keep the spirit alive. Through the spotlit saline steam he lauds tales of the kind of places in San Francisco where you need to wear lead in your shoes to stay on the cutting edge of the night without going over, so we’re lead to believe. He’s told us where they still shine the light. To paraphrase Garcia, they’re found in the strangest places, if we look at it right. But, he insists, they are there. And they’re growing, again.
I want to go find that San Francisco
I want to find the San Francisco where you can ride 100 MPH along the coast all the way to The Big Sur without getting stuck behind a paupers’ line of Hondas, Toyotas, and Nissan all hoping to make it to Half Moon Bay in time for the Sunday brunch specials. I want to see the Haight Ashbury filled with music, and see if they do more than get stoned and take magic carpet rides on the coat tails of 1967 as is if proximity in itself is a rite of passage. I don’t want to be told where the clubs are; I want to know where they are. More so, I want to be so in-tuned that I just know where to go to hear the latest.
But mostly, I want to see if that music is still as vital as my writer friend claims.
A little more Dead, a little less Train. Music that, unlike most of the tech from here to Silicon Valley that aggregates and merges services together into smartphone apps and claims innovation like gold diggers called claims along these lands a few generations back, actually inspires. Art that actually pushes the envelope instead of sitting and spinning the kaleidoscope while pulling on our purse strings before giving us a glimpse of what might be, someday. I want innovation that comes before every last penny has been squeezed out of forcing us to buy, again & again & again, the things we already have.
I want to find that San Francisco that attracted Kerouac and Thompson for stints. I want to find that passion that inspired Carlos Santana & Tupac. I want another Monterey Pop Festival like the one where immortal acts Otis Redding and Jimi Hendrix finally received mainstream attention. I want to find the fervor that helped Berkley catch people off guard with their movements instead of having the masses satirically expect it as they do now. I want fresh. I want new. I want now to show tomorrow in 4/4 time, or better. I want to find that San Francisco that changed the world. I want to see, between the seemingly endless layers of landscaped, misplaced palm trees, unconscionable rent hikes, hordes of fascist tech-addicted yuppies, and bastions of stuffed-shirt execs, if that San Francisco does still exist.
Then again, the Dead did it for the money
Perhaps the lesson to be learned from all this. At least this concert of the Grateful Dead Love at Robertson Gym, UC Santa Barbara 1977/02/27 on the Internet Archive is still free to listen to while I edit up the last of these thoughts.
I look forward to the savage journey to the heart of San Francisco
Until we can find more time away from our computer to traverse the hatchback jungle of the Bay Area highway system, there’s 70 wineries, like, right, over there. Yosemite is right down there. Tahoe is up behind me on the right. You can’t spit in the wind without hitting a new craft brewery popping up around here. And Mt. Shasta, oh, you beauty.