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.
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.