A while back, maybe three years ago now, I was sitting in the Sunnyvale Grille in Boston where I was visiting my old time merry prankster friend, Allan Jackson, where we got into a hot and heavy discussion about the kind of songs that turned us on back in the 1960s when we had come of musical age. We had young kids’ stuff grown up on the classic Elvis-Jerry Lee-Chuck-Bo-Roy stuff but that was mainly copped from our older brothers and sisters, the ‘60s sounds and their attendant political connections were our real age time. I had met Allan out in California after I had hitched out there in the mid-1960s just after I had graduated from high school up in Olde Saco, Maine. He was going under the moniker Flash Dash then , don’t laugh, for a while I was the Prince of Love, those monikers used in abundance as a way to break from our traditional-bound pasts, to break from the old neighborhood corner boy stuff, on the a way to make our own newer world. (Allan would later in a fit of nostalgia or something go back and us Peter Paul Markin as his moniker on the Internet in honor of his our fallen comrade so it wasn’t just in seeking new worlds 1960s where alias worked their magic.) That night Allan had a couple of his recently reunited North Adamsville High old corner boys, Jimmy Jenkins and Sam Lowell, and a guy he met after he had just graduated from high school, Frank Jackman, who was from Hull about twenty miles south of North Adamsville all of whom I had previously met one time or another out in the “Garden of Eden,” which is what we called our search back then and which came up California for all of us then whatever happened later.
Now the reason that I have mentioned who was in attendance at that “meeting” (really an occasion to have a few drinks without the bother of womenfolk around for a short time and without the lately more pressing need not to drink and drive impaired since Allan was in town for a conference and had been staying at the Westin a short walk down the street) is that each and every participant was a certified member of the generation of ’68. That generation of ’68 designation meaning that all were, one way or another, veterans of the political wars back then when we tried to “turn the world upside down” and got kicked in the ass for our efforts and, more importantly here, veterans of the “hippie” drug/drop-out/ communal experiences that a good portion of our generation imbibed in, if only for a minute. And thus all were something like “experts” on the question that was pressing on Allan’s mind. That question centered on what music “turned” each guy there on. Not in the overtly sexual way in which the question asked might be taken today but while they were being “turned on.” Turned on being a euphemism plain and simple for getting “high,” “stoned,” “ripped” or whatever term was used in the locale that you frequented, for doing your drug of choice.
See Allan, full name Allan Chester Jackson but nobody in his old high school corner boys crowd called him that, nor did I or do I here, had this idea that rather than the common wisdom Beatles, Stones, Doors, Motown influence that when the deal went down the Jefferson Airplane was the group that provided the best music to get “turned on” by. By the way since she will enter this story at some point the only one that I can think of who called Allan that three name combo was a girl, what we call a young woman now, whom we met, or rather he met, and then I met and took away from him, Cathy Callahan, out in La Jolla in California, who went under the moniker Butterfly Swirl back in the 1960s. She thought, clueless California sunshine ex-surfer guy girl, the three name combo was “cute” like Allan was some Brahmin scion rather than from his real working-class neighborhood roots. But that was a different story because as he said, she “curled his toes,” curled mine too, so she could call him (or me) any damn name she wanted.
Naturally there was some disagreement over that premise but let me tell you what the mad monk Allan was up to. See, as a free-lance journalist of sorts, he had shortly before our meeting taken on an assignment from a generation of ’68-type magazine, Mellow Times. A ’68-type magazine meaning that it was filled with full-blown nostalgia stuff: New Mexico communes where kids strictly from suburban no heartache homes tried to eke, the only word possible for such exertions, an existence out of some hard clay farming; outlaw bikers who guys like gonzo writers like Hunter Thompson and Tom Wolfe made infamous, or rather more infamous; acid head freak-outs in the Fillmores of the East and West sipping weird drug concoctions out of Dixie cups and getting twisted to the high decibel music up front; merry pranksters riding shotgun to the new dispensation taking more than a few over the high side with them; the Haight-Ashbury scene from the first “all men and women are brothers and sisters” days of sharing on the soup kitchen lines to the gun, drug shoot-up bitter end; Golden Gate Park days when that park had more kites, more bubbles, more wha-wha than any other park in the world; psychedelics from drugs to art; retro- art deco styles like the lost children were channeling back to the “lost generation” Jazz Age jail-breakers as kindred; and, feed the people kitchens in the good days and bad, Sally or Fugs, that kind of thing from that period.
Allan, well known to a select audience of baby-boomers for his previous work in writing about the merry prankster hitchhike road, what he had called in one series that I had read-The Search For The Blue-Pink Great American West Night- in which he had used me as a stick drug-addled figure from Podunk who didn’t know how to tie his own shoes until he came under the god-like Jackson spell, was given free rein to investigate that question under the descriptive by-line- Those Oldies But Goodies…Out In The Be-Bop ‘60s Song Night -that was to head the series of articles the magazine proposed that he work on. Here is Allan’s proposed introduction to the series that he gave us copies of that night:
“This is another tongue-in-cheek commentary, the back story if you like, in the occasional entries under this headline going back to the primordial youth time of the 1960s with its bags full of classic (now classic) rock songs for the ages. Now many music and social critics have done yeomen’s service giving us the meaning of various folk songs, folk protest songs in particular, from around this period. You know they have essentially beaten us over the head with stuff like the meaning of Bob Dylan’s Blowin’ In The Wind as a clarion call for now aging baby-boomers back to rise up and smite the dragon, and a warning to those in charge (not heeded) that a new world was a-bornin’, or trying to be. Or better his The Times They Are A-Changin’ with its plaintive plea for those in charge to get hip, or stand aside. (They did neither.) And we have been fighting about a forty year rearguard action to this very day trying to live down those experiences, and trying to get new generations to blow their own wind, change their own times, and sing their own plainsong in a similar way.”
And so we, his Jack Slack’s bowling alleys hometown corner boys, Frank, and I were the “masses” for the purpose of Allan’s work. Free labor if you like for his little nostalgia music piece. And here is his rationale, or at least part of it that he sent in an e-mail trying to drag me from Portland down to Boston to beat the thing over the head with him:
“…Like I said the critics have had a field day (and long and prosperous academic and journalistic careers as well) with that kind of stuff, fluff stuff really. The hard stuff, the really hard stuff that fell below their collective radars, was the non-folk, non-protest, non-deep meaning (so they thought) stuff, the daily fare of popular radio back in the day. A song like Out At Pooh’s Corner. A song that had every red-blooded American teen-age experimenter (and who knows maybe world teen) wondering their own wondering about the fate of the song’s narrator. About what happened that night (and the next morning) that caused him to pose the comment in that particular way. Yes, that is the hard stuff of social commentary, the stuff of popular dreams, and the stuff that is being tackled head on in this series”
And so after succumbing to his blarney we sat at that table in the bar of the Sunnyvale Grille sipping high-shelf scotch and trying to work through this knotty problem that Allan had put before us. This problem of what moved us though the squeeze that we put our brains through back then. Allan brought something up that kind of set the tone for the evening. He mentioned that coming out of North Adamsville in 1964 he, Jimmy, and Sam, if they had been prophetic, could not have possibly foreseen that they would, like about half of their generation, or so it seemed, have imbibed deeply of the counter-culture, its communal values, its new-found habits, its ethos, its drug-centeredness, or its music. He explained (and Jimmy and Sam chimed in with comments as he proceeded) that in strait-laced, mostly Irish working- class neighborhoods like where they grew up in North Adamsville anything other than working hard to get ahead, “getting ahead” being getting some kind of white-collar city civil service job and finally breaking the string of factory worker generations, since they were in some cases the first generation to finish high school and have enough knowledge to take the exam to white-collar-dom, getting married, maybe to your high school sweetheart or some such arrangement, and eventually buying a slightly bigger house than the cramped quarters provided by the house you grew up in and have children, slightly fewer children than in the house you grew up in, was considered scandalous, weird, or evil.
But as Jimmy said after Allan finished up it wasn’t so much the neighborhood ethos as the ethos of the corner boy life, the life in front of Jack Slack’s bowling alleys up on Thornton Street. That life included plenty of under-age drinking, plenty of talk, mostly talk, of sex with pretty girls (certainly more talk than any activity that actually happened-except in bravado Monday morning before school banter with every guy lying, or half-lying about what was done, or not done, after the weekend’s exertions), and a view of the world perhaps slightly less rigid than the parents but still scornful of people of the opposite sex living together unmarried (and in high Catholic North Adamsville even divorced people were subject to comment, and scorn), scornful of guys who didn’t want to get married, sometime, and of the opinion that those who did dope, that dope being heroin, opium, or morphine which they knew about and not so much marijuana which just seemed exotic, were fiends, evil or beatniks. Not the profile of those who would later in the decade grow their hair longer that any mother’s most outlandish nightmare dream, wear headbands to keep the hair back, grow luxurious and unkempt beards, live in communes with both sexes mixing and matching, smoke more marijuana, snort more coke, and down more bennies, acid, and peyote buttons, and play more ripping music than the teen angel, earth angel, Johnny angel music heard down at Jack Slack’s jukebox. Everybody laughed after that spiel from Jimmy.
Those old time references got me to thinking about the days when we had headed west in the mid-1960s days, Markin first and then later Allan with various combination of corner boys including Sam, Frank and Jimmy, me, the first time solo and thereafter with Markin and others, the days when we were in search of Pooh’s Corner. Thinking along the lines of about Allan’s “theory” of the great turn on song for our generation, thinking about the search for the “garden,” the “Garden of Eden,” that we had picked up from a line in a Woody Guthrie song, Do Re Mi (meaning if you did not have it, dough, kale, cash, forget California Edens although at our coming of California age money was not a big deal, nobody had any and so we didn’t worry about it, unlike now). Of course everybody then knew the reference from the Jefferson Airplane’s song which contained those Pooh Corner references. I remember I first heard the song one night at the Fillmore, the rat’s end concert hall where everybody who had any pretensions to the new acid-etched music either played or wanted to play, and that was the Mecca for every person who wanted to think about dropping out of the rat race and try to get their heads around a different idea.
We had in any case all headed west maybe a couple of years after the big summer of love 1967 caught our attention. Markin had already been out there for a few months having hitchhiked from Boston in the early spring, had wound up in La Jolla down by the surfer Valhalla and had run into Captain Crunch and his merry band, a band of brothers and sisters who had been influenced by Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters to drop out, drop acid and “see the world” and their legendary former yellow brick road school bus, Further In, earlier in the decade and whose adventures had been the subject of a Tom Wolfe book. That Kesey-led experience, especially noticeable on the California coastal roads was multiplied a thousand fold once the jail-break hit full speed and Captain Crunch and his companion, Mustang Sally, had followed suit. It was never clear whether the Captain actually knew Kesey but he sure as hell was knee deep in the drug trade since the reason that he and the bus load had been in La Jolla was that he and his crew were “house-sitting” a safe house used by one of the southern drug cartels while the Captain was getting ready to head north to San Francisco and find out what was happening with the scene there. Markin had “signed on” the bus (in those days a common expression was “you are on the bus, or you are off the bus,’ and you were better off on the bus) since he had wanted to head to Frisco town from Boston anyway but the vagaries of the hitchhike road, a couple of long haul truck driver pick up the first which left him in Dallas and the second San Diego had brought him farther south. (In those days as I well knew you took whatever long haul ride you could get as long as they were heading west and got you some place on the California coast. I remember telling Markin, and he agreed that, I had never realized just how long a state it was, had been clueless, until I had my first San Diego ride when I was looking to get to Big Sur several hundred miles up the coast which took me a couple of days of rides to get to.)
This is the time when Allan (via Markin by the way) met Cathy Callahan, Butterfly Swirl, from Carlsbad up the road a few miles from La Jolla and who was then “slumming” in La Jolla after breaking up with her perfect wave surfer boyfriend and looking for, well, I don’t know what she was looking for in the end and neither did Allan, maybe just kicks, momentary kicks to see what she might be missing because after she got through with us she went back to that perfect wave surfer boyfriend. Go figure. But then people like Butterfly Swirl, ex-surfer boy girls, working-class guys like me from Podunk, Maine, ex-soldiers unable or unwilling to adjust to the “real world” after Vietnam, hairy-assed bikers who had taken some dope and mellowed out on their rage trip, college professors who saw what they were teaching as a joke , governmental bureaucrats who knew what they were doing was a joke, or worse, con men getting all worked up seeing all the naïve kids from nowhere who wanted to be hip and were easy marks for bad dope and bad karma , corner boys trying to break out of their corners looking for easy girls , the derelict doing what the derelict always do except not being castigated for it by those seeking the newer world, hot-rod junkies tired of their midnight runs and death, and the like were all taking that jail-break minute to see if they fit into the new dispensation so maybe it was just that. Most of them went back to whatever they were doing previously once the ebb began to catch up with us, once the bad guys put on a full-court press.
So Allan and Butterfly Swirl met, met at a party Captain Crunch was throwing at that safe house, a mansion from what Markin had told me. This Butterfly Swirl was all legs, thin, blonde a then typical California surfer girl waiting on dry land for her surfer guy to get that perfect wave and then go ball the night away before he/they got up the next day to look, he, for the next perfect wave. Definitely in the normal course of events not an Allan-type of young woman, his running to sad- sack Harvard Square intellectual types who broke your heart a different way when they were done with you, or mine either, French-Canadian or Irish girls, all virginal and pious for public consumption any way, also heart-breakers, but chalk it up to the times. So they met, got turned on to some great grass (marijuana, for the squares) and hit one of the upstairs bedrooms where she “curled his toes.” And they were an item as the Captain and crew ambled north for the next few months until they hit a park on Russian Hill where they parked the bus for a few weeks.
And that is where I had met Markin, Allan, and eventually Butterfly Swirl. I had stopped off at the park because somebody I met, a guy who had been on the Haight-Ashbury scene for a while, on Mission Street said that I could score dope, some food, and a place to sleep if I asked around up on the hill where the scene was not as frantic as around downtown and in Golden Gate Park. There was the bus, painted in the obligatory twenty-seven day-glo colors, just sitting there when I walked up and asked about a place to sleep. Allan, looking like some Old Testament prophet long unkempt hair and scraggly beard, army jacket against the chilled Bay winds, bell-bottomed trousers as was the unisex fashion then, beat-up moccasins, and looking like he had hit the magic bong pipe a few times too many, said “you can get on the bus, if youw want[A1] .” But mainly I remembered those slightly blood-shot fierce blue eyes that spoke of seeing hard times in his life and spoke as well that maybe seeking that newer world he was seeking would work out after all, he no longer has that fierce look that “spoke” to me that first time. That introduction started our now lifetime off and on comradely relationship. I think for both of us the New England connection is what drew us together although he was a few years older than me, had seen and done things that I was just getting a handle on. And strangely I think that being older helped when I “stole” young Butterfly Swirl away from him one night at the Fillmore where the Airplane were playing their high acid rock he was mad, mad as hell, when he did find out about us but he did get over it (and I, in my turn, got over it when she about a year later she went back to Carlsbad and her surfer boy).
The “strange” part mentioned above came about because Butterfly Swirl and Allan had been “married,” at the time, no, not in the old-fashioned bourgeois sense but having been on the bus together for a while one night Captain Crunch in his capacity as the head of the band of sisters and brothers “officiated” at a mock wedding held under his authority as “captain” of the adventure ship. While this “marriage” ceremony carried no legal weight it did carry weight on the bus for it meant that the pair were to be left alone in the various couplings and un-couplings that drove the sex escapades of all bus dwellers. Moreover Captain Crunch, a rather strange but upfront guy who was all for couplings and un-couplings at will, oh yeah, except when it came to his own barnyard and he would rant and rave at Mustang Sally, his longtime companion who as a free spirit in her own right made a specialty of picking up young guys who played in one of the burgeoning rock bands of the times, “curled their toes” and too made connections to get them gigs and stuff like that. The Captain was fit to be tied when Sally got her young guy wanting habits on. But what could he do, if he wanted her on the bus.
In any case the Captain who was not only mysteriously connected with the drug world, knew the mad max daddy of acid, Owsley, himself as well as the hermanos down south who trusted him as much as they could trust any gringo, but also had connections with the rising number of rock promoters on the West Coast decided to spring for a “honeymoon” for Allan(who was still going by the moniker Flash Dash at the time) and the Swirl. The honeymoon was to be a party before and during the Airplane’s next gig in San Francisco where had copped twenty tickets from the promoter for some service rendered, maybe a brick of grass who knows. But here is where things got freaky, this was also to be something of an old time Ken Kesey “electric kool-aid acid test,” particularly for Swirl who never had done LSD before, had never done acid, and was very curious. So the night of the concert a couple of hours before it was to start Captain gathered all around the bus then headquartered in Pacifica about twenty miles south of the city at another cartel safe house and offered whoever wanted to indulge some blotter. Flash and Swirl led things off, she trembling a little in fear, and excitement. Then one and all, including me, took off in the bus for amble the Airplane show. (An amble which included picking up about six people on the Pacific Coast Highway road up, offering them blotter as well, and on the in-bus jerry-rigged sound the complete (then) Stones’ playlist which had people, including me, dancing in the back of the bus.
That was a very strange night as well because that was the night, the “honeymoon” night when Swirl freaking out on the acid trip. Good freaking out after she got over the initial fear that everybody has about losing control and about the very definite change in physical perspective that are bound to throw you off if you are not used to that pull at the back of your head, or you think is at the back of your head, after seeing gorgeous colors which she described in great detail, feeling all kinds strange outer body feelings as well. See she and I got together as I helped bring her down after Flash took off with some woman. Well just some woman at the time, although he eventually married her (and divorced her), Joyell, Joyell of the brown-eyed world. He had met Joyell initially in Boston but he had been seeing quite a bit since she had come to Frisco, come to get her Master’s degree at Berkeley, and whom he had run into at the concert. Yeah the times were like, a guy or gal could be “married,” or married and then have a million affairs, although usually not on their “honeymoon” but that was Allan, Allan to a tee, and nobody thought anything of it, usually, or if they did they kept it to themselves. We tried about six million ways to try to deal with breaking from our narrow pasts and I think we saw what would be scandalous behavior back in the neighborhoods as a way to do so, although in the end all Allan (and I) got was about three divorces, a bunch of love affairs and many, too many, flings. Here’s the laugher though the thing that brought Swirl back to earth that night was her “grooving” (yeah, we had our own vocabulary as well and you can check Wikipedia for most of the meanings) on the Airplane’s music, on Grace Slick’s going crazy on White Rabbit and assorted other great music from After Bathing At Baxter’s. (Swirl said she felt like Alice-In-Wonderland that night.) So in a way I have to agree with Allan about the effect that band had on us but I will be damned if fifty years later I am going to side with him after he left his “bride” standing at the altar. Even if I was the guy who caught her fall. Yeah such was life out in Pooh’s Corner, and I wish it were still going on, wish it a lot.