Haight Ashbury: The Spare Change Tour
The Spare Change Tour!
By: Mike Marino
The Spare Change Sixties gave birth to a flower power Garden of Urban Eden in San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury District. Half a world away the war raged on in Vietnam while a counter culture of dissent protested and searched for answers on the homefront. Olive drab was replaceed by tie dyed robes and shirts…peace symbols and beads 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 and clear and many answered 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.
The highways and two lanes of America were filled with a rag tag army of hitchhikers, seekers, sinners and saints 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!! The generations that wore flowers in it’s hair and preferred to make love and not war poured into the Haight Ashbury vortex in droves.
It was an urban starship 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 getting old and gray, Haight Ashbury hit the scene like a tie dyed dose of Grecian Formula. Today the Haight has replaced beans and rice with fern bars and there are now more ATM machines than roach clips.
Some vestiges of the Summer of Love remain but gentrification has given the old girl a real Oprah makeover. 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!
The Spare Change Tour
The Haight is a repository of rockin’ 60’s landmarks but it can also boast that it is the gateway to one of America’s most spectacular urban green areas and also one of the Bay Area’s more awe inspiring views. The Deadhead Haight deadends at Stanyan and there before you like a green friendly sentinel is the the gateway to Golden Gate Park.
The park is the west coast version of Central Park in NYC and hosts a variety of attractions. There are botanical and Japanese gardens to inspire and calm the tourtured travellers soul…a planetarium to study the skies and contemplate the Big Bang…recreational activities galore and the world famous Steinhardt Aquarium. Ball fields and buffalo paddocks share the park with picnic area’s and small ponds. If you look carefully you might even see the ghost of Don Quixote as he does battle with a very real giant windmill located in the park.
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.
TWIN PEAKS: Portola Road is the Bay Areas portal to one of the city’s more spectacular views and vista’s. During the mid 60’s Twin Peaks was the scene of many mind altered sunsets and sunrises enjoyed by the Peace and Love generation. Today its an easy ride in your BMW to the top and like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow you’ll be rewarded with a sweeping view of the downtown area of Ess Eff thats a high in itself.
THE GRATEFUL DEAD: 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.
THE HELLS ANGELS: 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!
COUNTRY JOE AND THE FISH: 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?
JANIS JOPLIN: 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.
JIMI HENDRIX: 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!!
THE JEFFERSON AIRPLANE: 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!
ALLEN GINSBERG: 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.
RUDOLPH NURYEV AND MARGOT FONTEYN: 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.
CHARLES MANSON: Not exactly a Flower Child but for those who truly want to get gruesome you can visit 616 Page Street where Chuck lived for awhile content with his dementia.
DIGGERS, DOCTORS AND DONUTS..OH MY!! 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!!
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.
THE TRIPS FESTIVAL: 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 STRAIGHT THEATER: Located at 1748 Haight and torn down in 1981, it opened on July 21, 1967 as an alternative to the more commerical venues offering rock n roll. The opening night performance was by Neal Cassidy who performed THE STRAIGHT THEATER RAP.
THE MATRIX: (3118 Fillmore Street) The Matrix 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: (1268 Sutter at Van Ness) The Avalon 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.
WINTERLAND: (Post and Steiner) On May 30, 1966 the slick sounds of the Jefferson Airplane graced the stage of this former ice skating rink. Amplifiers had replaced ice makers and a litany of rock royalty challenged the halls acoustics. Jimi Hendrix recorded his critically acclaimed Live At Winterland at the venue in 1968, and Martin Scorcese immortalized performances by Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, Eric Clapton and The Band in his film The Last Waltz filmed entirely at Winterland.
THE FILLMORE AUDITORIUM: (1805 Geary at Fillmore) The Fillmore 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 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.
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!!
Also, make sure you have a pocketful of spare coins..some things never change.
Mike Marino is a freelance writer and author of the pop culture cult classic, The Roadhead Chronicles
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