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.
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.