Sunday, December 16, 2012

Why the early Sixties?

Well, as Don asked, why the nostalgia for the mid-Sixties, pre-1968 when everything went to hell?

It's a good question, which I can't answer.  I can only attest to the feelings for the era.   I've often said that if I could go to any period of time and have the resources to enjoy it to the fullest, I'd go to San Francisco in 1947.  I'd see the beginning of TV's road to dominance over radio.  I'd see the end of the great Pacific Coast League where the quality of play was so high it was often thought of as a third major league.  I'd hob nob with a young Herb Caen, and sip martinis and good scotch among the wealthy as well as who passed for hip in those days.

I'd be there for the great poetry reading at Six Gallery in 1955 and listen Ginsberg recite "Howl" for the first time in public; a poem written when he lived in Berkeley with Kerouac, or so I once read.  I'd wallow in the glory days of North Beach; the beginnings of City Lights Books, The Hungry I for Phyllis Diller's early stand up routines among other things; Vesuvio where I'd hang with Jack Kerouac while he got drunk and blew off his visit to Henry Miller in Big Sur.

I'd also witness first hand how segregated SF was at the time.  The Sunday Chronicle today had an article discussing a bunch of guys who get together every year to celebrate their youth in SF.  He made a point of mentioning their whiteness; all Italian and Irish boys who went to Sacred Heart and St Ignatius and Riordan high schools, the on to USF.  All good Catholic boys.  Willie Mays had well-chronicled difficulties buying a house in a posh district when he arrived with the Giants in 1958.  That's an indication of how different the world was then.  Allegedly, that wouldn't happen now.  Allegedly.  I've seen it happen with my own eyes in El Cerrito in the early 90s.  I saw and heard an older Asian woman tell my younger Black friend that there was no apartment available in a place where a vacancy was being advertised.  Maybe it would've been different if he'd been sports hero.  Right.  How much better would that have been?

Could I, a product of Berkeley in the Sixties and Seventies, tolerate the narrow world of SF and CA in general in the immediate postwar era?  For all the nostalgia I feel about things I never actually experienced, could I really enjoy myself while all that injustice was taken for granted and accepted?  Perhaps I would find a way to justify it in enjoying the "bizarre" behavior of those who decided that being different was their mainstream.  People like Don Sherwood.  The occasional Lenny Bruce show could be on the agenda.  It could be that I would justify everything by telling myself that at least I go to see rebels like Lenny Bruce, and I hang out with the Beats.  That would be tantamount to saying "You know, some of my best friends are Chinese!" in order to show that I don't discriminate against Asians. 

Are the beginnings of change in that thinking the reason why I am so captivated by that world?  I think that may be.  The people that most fascinate me from that era are the ones who bent the agenda somehow.  The events that I read about most enthusiastically are the moments of protest.  It's the breaking out from the uniformity that I want to see, as well as the good life as experienced by those who set the pattern.  Yes, I definitely want to have my cake and eat it, along with a martini or two, and some straight Camels, all while cruising along Highway 1 in my 1955 MGTF 1500 with a beautiful wealthy Asian woman doctor, just to frighten and dismay people along the way.  Hey, we'd have fun on those surfing beaches way down south, on our way to Mexico. 


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