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CONFESSIONS OF A HIPPIE QUEEN

Posted by on Aug 7, 2013 in Reflections | 5 comments

So, what’s this “Hippie Queen” bit?

Hey, hippies don’t have queens! Well, that’s the point, really.

I discovered I was not really a Beat chick.  Sure, I had some long black stockings, but they reminded me of the brown cotton lisle stockings my mom made me wear to school in the wintertime. Garter belts, uncomfortable, necessary in snow country because girls couldn’t wear pants to school for many years yet. And those stockinged legs ended in sensible brown oxford shoes, too. Ugh! I used to wear them almost to the bus stop, then hide behind a tree to take them off and stuff them into my book bag. Then, on with the ankle socks. Cold legs were better than fake (or real) nylons for a budding fashionista!

So, what was I? During the Beat days the thing to be was HIP.  “Hipster” was from the black music and arts culture, derived itself from the zoot suit era of “hep” and “hepcats.” These hipster dudes dressed cool, had their jive down, and were probably how the weed started leaking into the Beat culture. They actually thought they were hipper than they were — or, than I thought they were. They seemed to stand around talking trash and looking good. Hipsters were a step up from jive-asses or what came to be called hippies — until that term got appropriated by Herb Caen, the San Francisco columnist, for the new, more colorful baby boomer kids who bloomed as flower children in the mid-sixties.

Ben and I and that baby I was pushing in the stroller, now turned 4, had made a stab at being ex-patriots in Paris early  in1962. We returned to the Bay Area, unsuccessful at cracking the Parisian lifestyle, settling in Berkeley that summer. On our return, a long-term friend, Morgan Upton (who was from our SF theater days and later a member of The Committee improv comedy troupe), brought us a copy of “Bob Dylan” to hear. This was the young Dylan’s first album, out in 1961. By the time his second one, “Freewheelin’ ” was out, we were listening to his new brand of folk and blues with avid ears, enhanced by mind-altering drugs.  “Blowin’ in the Wind” blew our minds. Joan Baez followed closely on the heels of Bobby and the music began to take us on a whole new trip.

Morgan Upton from 
<http://www.avleyman.com> 

Yes, the music. There really was something “blowin’ in the wind” those days. Things started changing rapidly. Politically, everyone was set on their heels in 1963 when Jack Kennedy was assassinated, followed by more. What was happening to us all? We got hold of our first LSD. We started demonstrating against the Vietnam War. We began to see ourselves as even more alien to the world we lived in.  So much seemed so wrong. We started collecting “trips,” bringing them to each other. Jerry Wainwright, my dear friend and later the photographer for Native Funk & Flash, was our inventor and finder of strange devices, adding to our tripping bag of tricks. (More on the Godbox later.)

Wainwright

Wainwright in his Dr. Godbox persona

Folks like Allen Ginsberg, Ken Kesey, and Lenore Kandel spanned the Beat generation and made it across the borders into the Sixties Counterculture. I really arrived in the gap. My sense is that much of the thinking or mindful set-up for the Sixties happened within that 1960–66 period. The term “hippie” showed up when Herb Caen reported on the Summer of Love in 1967.  By then I was self-identified in the hip art scene, but never did consider myself a hippie. They seemed to be derogatorily described as barefoot and unwashed, rather purposeless. These were unfair generalizations, but when people called me a hippie, I couldn’t relate.

Much later, when it became apparent that the entire period in which I was embedded was clearly designated that way, I had to give in, though I always felt a bit of reluctance. So, maybe 20 years ago I took up saying, in response to the question, “You were a hippie, weren’t you?” or the like, I compromised by saying “Well, I was a Hippie Queen.” What I’m acknowledging is the hubris, the snottiness, really, that made me hold myself apart.

I hope it’s apparent I own the attitude. A Hippie Queen, self-appointed: Hmmph!

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WHAT DOES PERSONAL FREEDOM LOOK LIKE?

Posted by on Jun 6, 2013 in Reflections | 3 comments

If you do internet searches for the Beatniks, you mostly get the guys: Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady, William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, who were mostly bi or gay. They were the ones advertised in the windows along Grant Avenue. Only occasionally do the women show up:  Diane Di Prima or Lenore Kandel for instance. Those times weren’t kind to acknowledging the women, a state that lasted well into the Hippie era. Indeed, it didn’t shift until the Women’s Movement of the Seventies — brought to you through the workings of the Counterculture, thank you very much.

 

Lenore, who became a friend by the mid-‘60s , did show up in a Kerouac novel as a girlfriend of Lew Welch (both under different names). He described her as “intelligent, well read, writes poetry, is a Zen student, knows everything.”  Her importance in my story is her fearless attitude toward sex and the body, and publishing it in poetry. Her best-known work, The Love Book, put it right out there. By then she was married to Billy Fritsch, a younger wild man, poet and Hell’s Angel.

lenorekandel lenoreandbillysmall

               Lenore Kandel                                                            Lenore & Billy

These photos are in Kelly Hart’s new book just out September, 2012, THE SAN FRANCISCO PSYCHEDELIC SIXTIES, a wonderful photo collection. Available from Amazon.

 

One poem in The Love Book, “To Fuck with Love”, got her in hot water with the cops who seized the book when it was banned in 1966.  My brother, Kelly Hart, took photos of her and of both of them to use as illustrations for one of her books of poetry. Still black and white, of course. Thanks, Kelly, for sharing these with me. Folks like Ginsberg, Kesey, and Kandel spanned the Beat Generation and made it across the borders into the Sixties Counterculture. Kandel said, tellingly, “When a society is afraid of its poets, it is afraid of itself. A society afraid of itself stands as another definition of hell.” Note that artists and poets tell us about ourselves.

 

In those days we thought a lot about personal freedoms. I still believe what we do with our bodies, as long as it doesn’t hurt others, is our own affair. Showing them, hiding them, playing with them and with others’ (consenually, of course), imbibing or feeding or dosing ourselves: all should be decisions made for ourselves. This is a basic freedom.

 

One of the big run-ins between convention and personal choice came with marijuana.  The arts, music, and Beat communities all were smoking clandestinely. Very privately and carefully. I recall Lew Welch showing up at our North Beach upper Grant apartment with a healthy stash, sitting and rolling joints that we promptly gave trial to. This would have been about 1961. I didn’t know who he was at that point — just a scruffy Beat poet to me.  What I learned then was that in spite of the health and legal authorities’  protestations, this was good medicine. It promoted creativity, good humor, relaxation and camaraderie. More fuel for the growing mistrust of entrenched authority!

 

Fortunately, the group wisdom was that, while weed wasn’t habit-forming, the non-psychedelic popular drugs like coke and heroin definitely were. I was always in the camp of using these aids for sacramental or spiritual reasons, so I was never caught up in the harder stuff. We inherited the clandestine use of marijuana, mostly from the musicians but also the artists, but we were interested in how to make a shift into a better, more cheerful, connected world.

 

It wasn’t until early 1966 when we put on the Trips Festival that there was any sign of a large number of grass smokers or psychedelic use. This story, however, is for a later blog.  For now, suffice to say that I want to establish the early underpinnings to the quest for personal freedom that underlies my own journey and the Counterculture of the Sixties and Seventies.

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DISCOVERING NORTH BEACH

Posted by on May 20, 2013 in Reflections | 0 comments

So, just what was it that was so intriguing, so satisfying about North Beach, the air and vibe of San Francisco? Of course, I was ripe for launching into life and the discovery of who I would become. I longed for a place and social situation in which I could really be myself and further learn what that might mean. From this perspective more than 50 years later, I wonder how is it that we choose how and what to think — whether to fit ourselves to the people around us (for security or anonymity?) or choose to stand up, be ourselves, and dare to stand out. I longed to fit in enough to have people I respected and loved around me at the same time I fiercely wanted to be uniquely myself, whatever that might be.

City Lights 2  City  Lights 1 copy

What City Lights looked like in the Fifties, (above left) http://www.webexhibits.org/poetry/home_business.html Looks like a cadre of Beats — from Tony Dushane’s “From Paris to City Lights Bookstore”, a memoir:    (above right) http://www.thenervousbreakdown.com/tdushane/2010/03/from-paris-to-city-lights-bookstore/

 

Browsing the offerings of Ferlinghetti’s City Lights Bookstore  and Grant Avenue, soaking up the Beat perspective of both nihilism and existentialism, began a layering of new ideas and attitudes over the ones I carried in with me. The Beats’ nihilistic exhaustion with the Fifties’ mainstream culture matched my own sense of where I was coming from.  And the authenticity of individuality and spirit of their existential outlook buoyed me up with hope for a different kind of future. I’d thought I was coming to California to go to Stanford but, instead, I found the learning I was seeking provided directly by Life. Letting go of preconceptions became another layer in growing me.

 

As you can see, fifty years ago was recorded most frequently in black and white. Beatnik women in SF mostly dressed in black, emphasizing that “beat down” aspect of their generation  — long black stockings, long black skirts, long black tops, long serious faces. So interesting how hairstyles, clothing, art, and music seem to carry a culture’s attitude, a bit like waving a flag: Pay attention! Something different is happening here and we want you to notice!   I did get some black stockings, and more or less identified with the Beats, but it was the color and verve of the mid-Sixties, once we got there, that really turned me on.

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Beginning the Search for Freedom

Posted by on Apr 5, 2013 in Reflections | 7 comments

You can’t imagine what it was like for this 18-year-old now-single mom to step onto her first airline flight in a snowstorm in Salt Lake City and off again into San Francisco. Of course it was the famed mild coastal California weather and my first sight of the ocean (!) that captured my immediate attention. But I was headed toward North Beach, home of the Beat Generation.

Me at about that time

Me at about that time

A new acquaintance in SLC took about an hour after meeting me to say, “You belong in San Francisco. Go look up the Beatniks!” And only a month or two later, here I was. Out of my old, confining and potentially depressing life as a runaway non-Mormon from a culture designed to reject me and into the unknown, where being different from the crowd was touted to be desirable. What a concept!

My first explorations of hundreds, taken on foot or by cable car, were wandering the hills near downtown: Nob Hill, Russian Hill, Telegraph Hill. I was struck by all the overhead wires and cables of the communications and transportation systems and sketched them arching over the streets to send images home to mom and dad. It smelled different: a mix of the sea, big city, foreign food, coffee and cigarette smoke — all unknown, but these last two among the many no-no’s in Mormon land.

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My Hart grandparents, my grandmother on left. Ca. 1945

Inevitably I pushed the baby stroller through Chinatown, across Columbus and into the Italian section — North Beach at last. City Lights Bookstore at the gateway, Grant Avenue stretching north with Italian coffee shops and bakeries interspersed with artisan silversmiths, art galleries, poetry in nightclubs that sold wine and liquor (!) — but only to those at least three years older than I. I pushed the baby carriage outside, peering in the windows, imagining what it would be like to drink beer in the Coffee Gallery and listen to the poetry of Allen Ginsberg or the rantings of Jack Kerouac.

Soon enough I had hooked up with Ben Jacopetti, later Roland, and later yet, my husband. He was an actor in small theater productions, pulling in audiences of, say, ten to twenty souls. I got reports from him on what went on inside those bars since he had just passed his 21st birthday. Still, I pushed that stroller up and down outside. Ben was connected to friends in Ronnie Davis’ San Francisco Mime Troupe, where Bill Graham got his start once they were sufficiently successful-seeming to warrant a manager. San Francisco North Beach was a haven for artists and I had a native San Franciscan on my side to show me the ropes. Ben’s grandfather had been a bail bondsman in the Italian quasi-underworld of SF, so we had credentials that fit us into the real San Francisco.

My name, given at birth in a small, rural southern Idaho town by my unconventional folks, was Rain. Ruth and Newell Hart were both born to second wives in polygamous Mormon families. They had somehow managed to find their own inner freedom and taught me from the beginning that adherence to the truth and more importantly my own truth was the direct path to liberation.  And now, I was launched on my trajectory toward the Arts and well on in my own pursuit of personal freedom.

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