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The Autumn of Love: Chet Helms Tribal Stomp 10/31/05

It was a day-long (free) musical tribute to the guy who ran the Family Dog concerts in San Francisco in the '60s. Bill Graham was a businessman, but Chet Helms was a believer, and his concerts at the Avalon Ballroom were the best. I got into the city late, no way I could handle 8 hours of spectating, parked my truck a mile away from the park and rode my bike to Speedway Meadows, You could hear the music from blocks away. As I got closer I recognized Summertime Blues, being played by Blue Cheer, probably the first heavy metal group (1966), so named, fueled, and inspired by Augustus Stanley Owsley's LSD-of-the-year of the same name. Sounded pretty much the same.

It was a pretty big crowd, although I doubt it was the 20,000 the SF Chronicle said this morning. A bright beautiful day, I was ready for a knockout event, like the two '67 classics, the Monterey Pop Fesitival, and The Human Be-in. Well, not exactly. First impression: it was a party, and a lot of these people had been here 40 years before. There's something touching about the 60-year-olds who are still shakin' it, even if no longer with the fluidity and grace of youth. The next band up was Paul Kantner and the Jefferson Starship, with two female singers doing the Grace Slick bits. Pretty bad, I'm afraid, and while I'm at it, here are examples of what I thought was sub-standard '60s music — even though I usually feel like a '60s cheerleader.

I never really liked the Jefferson Airplane. I didn't care for — forgive me, folks — the Greatful Dead. B-o-r-i-n-g, for the most part. And this will get me in even more trouble, I never thought much of Janis Joplin as a singer. In fact I liked Big Brother and The Holding Company better before she came along. As the music went on, and people danced, I was a little bummed by the realization that there's an audience for mediocrity. Wavy Gravy started emceeing, and again pardon the observation, I know his heart's in the right place, but his shtick is stale and annoying. Is there anyone I haven't antagonized by now?

So I started shooting pictures. There were great costumes, lots of happy mellow people just glad to be in the park on a beautiful day, surrounded by like-minded. The music went on, a different group every 20 minutes. Then fiddler David LaFlamme and his wife Lynda and their group It's A Beautiful Day came on and things notched up to a whole different level. A tight great band. Whooo-wee! Maybe this was going to be OK.

Then 90-year-old (!) folksinger Faith Petric with her acoustic guitar charmed everyone. Talk about good vibes. People stopped boogieing, and swayed back and forth, smiling. The remnants of Quicksilver Messenger Service were OK, fronted by Dino Valente's son, in white suit no less. Canned Heat did a rockin' version of Amphetamine Annie ("…amphetamine kills…") Nick Gravenites has still got it, doing Goodnight Irene, very fine. Blues singer Annie Sampson, with a powerhouse voice, did It's All Over Baby Blue. Oh yes. Good music was making the day. Squid B. Viscous, a bunch of guys from the old Steve Miller Band, were great. The tight band Zero played as the sun went down. When asked how many people were native San Franciscans, half the audience raised their hands. When I left, the grass was just about spotless; people had gone around picking up cigarette butts and trash. Money was collected in white 5-gallon plastic buckets. Rock and roll.

Mom is 98, Mt Shasta, Frank Sinatra, The Great Outdoors, Learning to Smile

Mom is Almost 98

Virginia Kahn

First stop as I left on my trip in September was to visit my mother, who will be 98 this February. She lives in an apartment and two women help her out during the day, but she still gets herself into bed at night and up in the morning. It's getting increasingly harder for her to move around but she's fiercely determined. If my brother or I try to help her get out of a chair she'll threaten us with her cane. "Leave me alone!" She knows she's got to keep doing it herself. That afternoon I watched her slowly pull herself to her feet, and she said, "Look, I'm getting stronger." Born Virginia Essie Jones in Salt Lake City in 1908, she's a Christian Scientist and has never been to a doctor. She believes health is all mental and by gosh, who can argue? I was the oldest of 6 kids, had a lot of energy, and got in a lot of trouble. Now she looks back on my pranks and scrapes with amusement.

Close Encounters on Mt. Shasta

I headed north up Hwy 101 and got as far as Mt. Shasta around midnight, found what looked like an empty lot on the outskirts of town, pulled in and slept in the truck. Around 6 AM someone knocked loudly on the window. It was a middle-aged silver-haired man walking his dog and I was on his property and he wasn't pleased. I apologized and said I'd get going right away. OK he said and walked away. I scrambled into my clothes and was about to pull out when he came back. "Would you like a cup of coffee?" he said. Sure, and I followed him to his house and spent half an hour with him, got a house tour, gave him a signed copy of HOME WORK, and was on my way. Nice. I wanted to take a run, so drove part way up the mountain (a magic one, as you know if you've been to Mt. Shasta.) I went down a dirt road to a pretty remote place, parked and ran across country. In the woods I came across a guy camping and we chatted. Turned out he'd built his own house and our book SHELTER had been one of his influences; when I left he said "Thanks for the inspiration." Trip off to good start.

Working With What You've Got

For weeks I hung out with a bunch of self-reliant builders. These guys designed, invented, and constructed a huge amount of stuff out of what was lying around. For example, Lloyd House wanted me to view his slides but had no slide projector. So he hung a blanket from the ceiling so it formed like a voting booth (to block the sunlight). He put a stool and table inside it, with a cardboard box on the table with a light inside it. He cut a slide-sized square in the box, taped a piece of wood at its base, and had me rest each slide on the wood to view through the hole, illuminated by the light. Since I've been back, I've been looking around at what needs doing at my home and in my life, and what there is to do it with. I went running on the beach last night and lugged home an l-shaped weathered piece of driftwood I'm gonna use as a shelf bracket. It's catching.

Music of the Week

Old Blue Eyes: My friend Sherman Welpton turned me on to Fats Domino when I was 19 and it changed my life. (It had been the Mills Brothers up until then.) In the last few years Sherm and I've been swapping CDs and he's turned me on to lots of musicians and records I didn't know of. Today at his house we watched a tape of a Frank Sinatra recording session he's wanted me to see for some time. Frank was in his later years and the big band consisted of Quincy Jones, Lionel Hampton, George Benson, Ray Brown, and others - wow! Instead of laying down the drums and then the horns etc. and later combining them, this was live, one take, and it was classic. Frank was perfect; the band awesome. A commentator pointed out that as with all singers, you lose some of the higher notes as you age, but Frank had gained some lower notes and he knew how to use whatever he had.(Kinda like the carpenters mentioned above building with what's lying around.)
The White Stripes: Brother and sister from Detroit, great music, hard to believe it's only two people. 21st century rock & roll.

The Great Outdoors

It's just starting to rain and I love it. In recent years I've reveled in being outdoors, on the magic mother mountain of my area, Mt. Tamalpais, and on the beaches. Maybe it's got something to do with all the time I have to spend messing around with a computer. Moving around in the woods and beaches is the antidote. Physical activity keeps the body alive in these sedentary times. The hills and ocean refresh the digitally-bombarded brain. More important than ever. Every time I push myself out the door I end up exhilarated and feeling more alive.

Learning to Smile

Maybe 10 years ago, I learned about smiling from a Chi Gung teacher. He taught us how to relax facial muscles - good for the organs, promotes harmonious relations with others. I started noticing how natural smiling is with most women, but it's pretty much never a cultivated item with guys. (When you walk down the street, notice how many women smile at you, and how few men do.) I practiced in front of the mirror, and then on the streets, and it was like a magic key. It's become a more and more powerful tool, especially when I'm on the road. I'm having wonderful relations with people and it's so simple to start a conversation with a smile. (Duh!)

Blog Parameters

I post stuff whenever I can, but not as often as most bloggers. I try to get stuff posted at least twice monthly.

The Autumn of Love

It's now a sunny Sunday morning and I'm about to head into San Francisco with my camera to check out a big celebration in Golden Gate Park, celebrating the life or recently-deceased Chet Helms, head of The Family Dog, which promoted rock & roll concerts in the '60s. I have a feeling this might just be good, and I'll report on it later.