The Secret and Sublime
How many times in your life did you do something so radical that, when you think back on it, you either gag, wondering how you ever lived through the experience, or you simply laugh out loud at the absurdity of it all. You might be standing in a crowd of people, and they turn and look at you strangely, as if you’re crazy, then turn away and go on with whatever they’re doing. You, on the other hand, return to your memory, alone, chuckling to yourself. You revel in the sublime, the secrets lost within yourself.
Haight-Ashbury was such a time and such a memory for me, vivid and compelling, scary and dark at one point, but a memory that made my life richer for the experience. It will last as long as I live. Or as long as I have the memory.
The day after Brendon disappeared, I rode my bike over to Buena Vista Park to listen to Jefferson Airplane. In 1966 Gracie Slick joined the band, taking over for Signe Anderson, who left the group to take care of her newborn child. I’ll never forget her and her voice that day. The sun was strong and it was still warm, inviting. It was hot and dreamy, haze in the air—a purple haze. When I saw her two years later at Woodstock, she seemed more frayed at the edges, but the group had come on early in the morning at sunrise, so that may have contributed.
The Great Society
Here, in the golden rays of the afternoon sun, she looked new and fresh, filled with an energy she didn’t have at Woodstock. In those early days, Jefferson Airplane went from folk music to a psychedelic rock, especially with her addition. Before Jefferson Airplane she was part of a rock group in San Francisco called The Great Society. She penned “White Rabbit” and “Somebody to Love” and was featured for the first time on the Airplane’s second album, Surrealistic Pillow, which was released in early 1967. I had played it over and over in my dorm room until the vinyl was completely worn out.
The park was filled with flower people sitting, strolling, just being there. I saw no police, nor did I sense any narcs. Seemed they decided to leave us alone with our love and flower power, our music. As I listened to Jefferson Airplane and grooved to the sounds, I felt at one with myself and at peace. An eclectic good vibe filled me until I was overcome with another feeling: dark, bottomless. I got up and walked around. I had taken some acid earlier and was suddenly shaking, the good vibes taking a turn for the worse. I escaped the hordes, which seemed to be closing in around me, ghosts trying to touch my hair, whispering in my ears that something wicked was coming to spirit me away. I fled through the swaying host of people, but couldn’t shake my gossamer-like pursuers. I inadvertently stepped on a few individuals sitting in the grass. They angrily chided me, but I kept going, thinking they were part of the plot to kill me.
I made it to the edge of the press of people and escaped into a wooded area. But I figured that I wasn’t safe there, either. Shadows began to emerge in force, a dark bulge pulsing. I ran out onto the street and was nearly run over by a delivery truck, which I mistook for a hearse. I glanced at the driver as he blew his horn. I could see right through him. Nothing was as it seemed. I was a ship going aground, inside out. The streets started to rock like I was in heavy seas. The asphalt started to rear its ugly head over me. I couldn’t escape. The dead were closing in, coming to take me away. Where could I go? I found a doorway and sat down, tried to get a hold of myself. I grabbed my knees and gasped deep breaths.
A black cat entered my space and sat on my lap. I flinched, but began to pet it. The cat purred. I leaned back and relaxed. The cat looked up at me, its amber eyes shining. Then it stopped breathing. I gave the cat a shake, but it was dead. Rigor mortis had set in. I pushed the poor animal away, and then it flashed, opened its eyes. The cat came back, ‘cause it couldn’t stay away. It jumped off my lap and pattered into the daylight, looked back at me and turned into my dead sister who had died of cancer the year before. She vanished in the rays of sunlight. I leaned back again in the cool of the shade, closed my eyes, kept breathing. I keeled over on my side, closed my eyes, trying to calm myself. My breathing evened out. Then blackness came.
I woke up. Was it a few hours later? Two thousand years later? I didn’t know. I tried to clear my head, to no avail. The evening was in full-blown red sunset, bleeding down the sky. Or was it morning and the dawn was washing over me? I had to shield my eyes with one hand. I tried to keep myself calm. I looked around for my bike, then remembered I had left it in the park. Had to get to it. It was my only way out. I made my way back to the park. Jefferson Airplane was still playing. I found my bike and took off, back to Haight-Ashbury. I didn’t stop, though. Headed straight for Hippie Hill in the Botanical Gardens due west. I had heard George Harrison was there. Maybe I could get a glimpse of the great man himself, maybe hear him play. I didn’t know what to expect. I needed healing.
When I got to Hippie Hill, flower people were parading about like peacocks, their tails fanned outward. Colors emerged from their heads, trailing in the warm breezes like kites bobbing on strings. I was obviously still tripping, but felt calmer. I parked my bike and filed into the crowd. Hippie Hill has been the venue for many great concerts. More recently, it hosts 420 every April, celebrating marijuana and the hippie movement that started it all.
I tried listening for music, but only heard the soft murmur of the crowd. Then I heard it, that distinctive sound. George Harrison. I moved past the celebrators, some dancing, others sitting, smoking, drinking, taking in the sun and music. I sat down next to a woman when the going got rough—couldn’t go any farther, the people were packed in tight. I reached into one of my pockets and grabbed my stash, rolled a joint, took a hit and handed it to her. I was still ragged at the edges. The bad acid was wearing off, however. Still, remnants of shadows danced menacingly at the edges of my eyes. The pot helped. I started feeling better. And then I heard the music more clearly. It was, indeed, George Harrison. I stood up with the crowd and got a glimpse of him playing his acoustic guitar. The crowd closed in around him and all I could hear was the music. I don’t remember what he played, but it was enough to take me over a bridge into another time and space. It was radical and sublime. The place I wanted to be. Where I belonged.
Next Up: The Merry Pranksters