Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Heart Of The San Francisco Fillmore Night, Circa 1967

From The Pen Bill Bradley  

A YouTube film clip of The Jefferson Airplane performing their classic wa-wa song Someone To Love to give a flavor of the times to this piece.

Scene: Brought to mind by one of the songs in After Bathing At Baxter’s, The Jefferson Airplane’s Fillmore West-driven classic wa-wa song, Someone To Love.


It wasn’t my idea, not the way I was feeling then although I had “married” them under the stars one night, one late June night, in this year of our summer of love 1967. Married Prince Love (a.k.a. Joshua Breslin, late of Olde Saco High School Class of 1967, that’s up in Maine) and Butterfly Swirl (a.k.a. Kathleen Clarke, Carlsbad High School Class of 1968, that’s down south here in California), my “family” as such things went on the merry prankster yellow brick road bus that brought us north to ‘Frisco. I had “adopted” the Prince here on Russian Hill one day when he was looking for dope. Before that I had traveled all through the great western blue-pink night, as my old North Adamsville corner boyfriend, Peter Paul Markin, would say from Ames, Iowa where  I got “on the bus,” the Captain Crunch merry prankster bus.


I had brought Butterfly and Lupe Matin (her Ames “road” name then although more recently she has been going under the name Lance Peters. No, don’t get the idea she has gone male, no way, no way in freaking hell and I have the scars on my back to prove it.  It’s just her, well, thing, the name-changing thing, and her real name anyway is Sandra Sharp from Vassar, that’s a high-end New York college for women, one of the seven sisters, Ivy League, okay) up here for a serious investigation of the summer of love we kept hearing about down in Carlsbad where we camped out (actually we looked out for the estate of a friend, or maybe better an associate, of our “leader,” Captain Crunch, as care-takers). Yes, the “old man,” me, Far-Out Phil (a. k. a. Phil Ballard, North Adamsville Class of 1964, that’s in Massachusetts, okay) married them but I was not happy about it because I was still not done with Butterfly myself. Only the residual hard-knocks North Adamsville corner boy in me accepted, wise to the ways of the world, that Butterfly had flown the coop on me. 

It was all Captain Crunch’s idea, although Mustang Sally (a. k. a. Susan Stein), if she was talking to the Captain (a. k. a Samuel Jackman) just then, which was always a sometime thing lately since she had taken up with a drummer from one of the myriad up-and-coming “acid rock” bands that had sprouted out of the Golden Gate night, The Magic Mushrooms, and the Captain was not pleased, not pleased at all, probably was the real force behind the idea. The idea? Simple enough, Now that they, the “they” being the thousands of young people who had fled, fled a millions ways, west, were about creating a merry prankster yellow bus world on the hills of San Francisco the notion that Prince Love and Butterfly Swirl were “married” under the sign of “Far-Out Phil” and would have now have a proper bourgeois “wedding reception” was impossible. Celebrate yes, no question. Celebrate high and hard, no question. But the times demanded, demanded high and hard, some other form of celebration. And that is where the Captain (or, as seemed more and more likely once more facts came out, Mustang Sally) hit his stride.    

Here is the “skinny.”  The Captain knew somebody, hell the Captain always knew somebody for whatever project he had in mind, connected to the Jefferson Airplane, a hot band that was going to be playing at the Fillmore that next Saturday night. And that somebody could get the Captain twenty prime tickets to the concert. [Everybody suspected that the deal was more nuanced than that, probably the tickets for a batch of Captain-produced acid, or in a two-fisted barter, a big pile of dope, mary jane most likely, from somebody else for something else and then a trade over for the tickets. That high finance stuff was never very clear but while nobody worried much about money, except a few hungry times out in some god-forsaken desert town or something, there usually was plenty of Captain dough around for family needs.] So the Captain’s idea was that this concert would be an electric Kool-Aid acid test trip that was now almost inevitably part of any 1967 event, in lieu of that bourgeois (the Captain’s word, okay) wedding reception.   And, see, the Prince and Butterfly, were not to know because this was going to be their first time taking some of that stuff, the acid (LSD, for the squares, okay). And once the acid hit the Captain said, and the rest of us agreed, there would be no sorrow, no sorrow at all, that they had not had some bogus old bourgeois wedding reception.     

Saturday night came, and everybody was dressed to the nines. (Yah, that’s an old Frankie Riley, North Adamsville corner boy leader, thing that I held onto, still do, to say hot, edgy, be-hop.)  Let’s just concentrate on the “bride” and “groom” attire and that will give an idea of what nines looked like that night. Butterfly, a genuine West Coast young blonde beauty anyway, formerly hung-up on the surfer scene (or a perfect-wave surfer guy anyway), all tanned, and young sultry, dressed in a thin, almost see-through, peasant blouse. According to Benny Buzz, a kind of connoisseur on the subject,  it wasn’t really see-through but he lied, or close to it, because every guy in the party or later, at the concert, craned his neck to look at the outline of her beautiful breasts that were clearly visible for all to see. And while she may have been “seek a new world” Butterfly Swirl she was also an old-fashioned “tease,” and made no apologies for being so.  She also wore a short mini-skirt that was de rigueur just then that highlighted her long well-turned legs (long flowing skirts were to come in a little later) and had her hair done up in an utterly complicated braid that seemed impossible to have accomplished piled high on her head, garlands of flowers flowing out everywhere, and silvery, sparkling, starry mascara eyes and ruby-red, really ruby red lips giving a total  effect that even had the Captain going, and the Captain usually only had his eyes, all six of them, fixed on Mustang Sally.                  

And the “groom”? Going back to Olde Saco roots he wore along with his now longer flowing hair and less wispy beard an old time sea captain’s hat, long flared boatswain's whites, a sailor’s shirt from out of old English Navy times and a magical mystery tour cape in lieu of the usual rough crewman's jacket. A strange sight that had more than one girl turning around and maybe scratching her head to figure out his “statement.” That didn’t however stop them from looking and maybe making a mental note to “try him out” sometime. (By the way, I told the Captain later that the Prince had no idea of making a statement, and being more than a little stoned on some leftover hash that he found around, he just grabbed what was at hand).

Now back to the action. In order to “fortify” everyone for the adventure the Captain proposed a “toast” to the happy couple before we left the merry prankster yellow bus to make the one mile trip to the Fillmore. So everybody, including the bride and groom toasted with Dixie cups of Kool-Aid. The Prince and Butterfly were bemused that, with all the liquor available around the bus, the Captain proposed to use Kool-Aid for the toast. Well, we shall see.  And they shall see.         

And they “saw,” or rather saw once the acid (LSD) kicked in about an hour later, more or less, just in time for the concert to rev them up. Now what you “see” on an acid trip is a very individual thing, moreover other than that powerful rush existential moment that you find yourself living in it defies description, literary niceness description, especially from a couple of kids on their “wedding night.”  So what is left? Well, some observations by “father” Far-Out Phil, now a veteran acid-eater, as I hovered over my new-found “family” to insured that they made a safe landing. 

The first thing I noticed was that Butterfly Swirl was gyrating like crazy when the female singer in front of Jefferson Airplane, Grace Slick, started up on their acid rock anthem, White Rabbit. Some of Butterfly’s moves had half the guys in the place kind of male hippie “leering” at her (mainly giving her a sly nod of approval, and making a mental note to check her out later when the dope hit her at the high point in another couple of hours or so). Remember she had on that diaphanous peasant blouse, and also remember that sexual thoughts, leering sexual thoughts or not, did not fade away when under the influence of LSD. In many cases the sexual arousal effect was heightened, particularly when a little high- grade herb was thrown into the mix. I thought nothing in particular of her actions just then, many guys and girls were gyrating, were being checked-out and were making mental notes of one kind or another. It is only when Butterfly started to “believe” that she was Alice, the Alice of the song and of wonderland, and repeated “I am Alice, I am alive,” about thirteen times that I moved over to her quickly and gave her a battle-scarred veteran’s calming down, a couple of hits off the Columbia Red that I had just coped from some freak.       

And where was Prince Love during the trial by fire honeymoon night? Gyrating with none other than Lance Peters, who you may know as Luscious Lois or seven other names, by who was my main honey now that Butterfly has flown my coop. But don’t call her Lance Peters this night because after a tab of acid (beyond her congratulations Kool-Aid cup earlier) she is now Laura Opal in her constant name-game change run through the alphabet. Prince Love had finally “seen” the virtues of being with older women like I had learned back in Ames, Iowa time, an older voluptuous woman and although she was wearing no Butterfly diaphanous blouse Prince felt electricity running through his veins as they encircled each other on the dance floor. Encircled each other and then, slyly, very slyly, I thought when I heard the story the next day, backed out of the Fillmore to wander the streets of Haight-Ashbury until the dawn.  Then to find shelter in some magic bus they thought was the Captain’s but when they were awoken by some tom-toms drumming out to eternity around noontime found out that they were in the “Majestic Moon” tribe’s bus.

No hassle, no problem, guests always welcome. Yah that is the way it was then. When I cornered, although cornered may be too strong a word,  the Prince later all that he would commit to was that he had been devoured by Mother Earth and had come out on the other side. That, and that he had seen god, god close up. Laura Quirk, if she is still running under that name now, merely stated that she was god. Oh yah, and had seen the now de rigueur stairway to heaven paved with brilliant lights. She certainly knew how to get around her Phil when the deal went down, no question.  

And how did the evening end with Butterfly and me, after I “consoled” her with my ready-teddy herbal remedy? After a search for Prince and Lance, a pissed off search for me,  we went over into a corner and started staring at one of the strobe lights off the walls putting ourselves into something of a trance-like mood. A short time later, I, formerly nothing but a hard-luck, hard-nosed, world-wide North Adamsville corner boy in good standing started involuntarily yelling, “I am Alice, I am alive,” about ten times.  Butterfly though that was the funniest thing she had ever heard and came over to me and handed me a joint, a joint filled with some of that same Columbia Red that settled her down earlier. I, like Butterfly before me, did calm down. Calmed down enough to see our way “home” to Captain Crunch’s Crash-Pad where we, just for old time’s sake, spend the hours until dawn making love. (I send my apologies to those two thousand guys at the Fillmore who had made notes to check on Butterfly later. Hey, I was not a king hell corner boy back in the North Adamsville be-bop night for nothing. You have to move fast sometimes in this wicked old world, even when the point was to slow the circles down.)  Asked later what her “trip” had felt like all Butterfly could utter was her delight in my antics. That, the usual color dream descriptions, and that she had climbed some huge himalaya mountain and once on top climbed a spiraling pole forever and ever. I just chuckled my old corner boy chuckle.  

And what of Butterfly and Prince’s comments on their maiden voyage as newlyweds? They pronounced themselves very satisfied with their Fillmore honeymoon night. They then went off for what was supposed to be a few days down to Big Sur where Captain Crunch had some friends, Captain had friends everywhere, everywhere that mattered, who lent them their cabin along the ocean rocks and they had a “real” honeymoon. A few weeks later Prince Love, now a solo prince, came back to the bus. It seemed that Butterfly had had her fill of being “on the bus,” although she told the Prince to say thanks to everybody for the dope, sex, and everything but that at heart her heart belonged to her golden-haired surfer boy and his search for the perfect wave.    

Well, we all knew not everybody was built for the rigors of being “on the bus” so farewell Kathleen Clarke, farewell. And just then, after hearing this story,  I thought that Prince had better keep his Olde Saco eyes off Lannie Rose (yes she has changed her name again) or I might just remember, seriously remember, some of those less savory North Adamsville be-bop corner boy nights. Be forewarned, sweet prince.   

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