BY JOEL GION
I decided it couldn’t just be an audio hallucination due to the LSD. From off in the distance I was hearing what sounded like some sort of giant escaped animal’s mating call, or even more frightening the hunting horns gorilla soldiers blew while herding wild humans in the original "Planet of The Apes."
Actually, for me, in the mid-‘90s seeing these types of things would almost seem possible.
Only a few moments ago, I had ventured off the main road that runs through Golden Gate Park and into "the wilderness." I was now away from the concrete jungle of San Francisco and frolicing in pigeon-toed orange peel abandon as my own private space nature commander. I’d been on this trip enough times to know that environment is everything, so I'd staged my happening on the original playground of the Summer of Love, tripping at a level worthy of the grand traditions of these sacred lands.
Hidden away within the mass of bush and trees, I held a leaf and examined its veins. They pulsed within it and as I watched further they began to spread out and into my own hand. I did recognize this as an electric cliché, but still, I truly did feel connected with the entire universe through my leaf conduit.
I was safe, at least for the rest of daylight when then the effects of the LSD would be due to start wearing off.
The night before had begun by performing with the band I play in, the Brian Jonestown Massacre, followed by a little after party at my friend’s apartment. I’d been crashing there from time to time and currently crushing out on a girl who after enough drinks to know better talked me into dropping acid with her. This was at 4 a.m.
We had only enough time to seal our trip pact with paper to tongue before she was abruptly dragged off by her neglected male friend who had been turning progressively grumpier. The 45-minute ride back down the highway home to Palo Alto was held over her head and she reluctantly gave in. Subsequently, the move then succeeded in tipping the rest of the party dominos and within minutes I was alone sitting in the soon to be living living room.
The inevitably of my friend and his other roommates waking up to find me sitting there peaking with all heads on deck had me quickly going over my escape options. Golden Gate Park made the most sense for someone in my position. Further bettering that vibration was that the Brian Jonestown Massacre had recently played the 30th Anniversary of the Monterey Pop Festival, which had been held on the original event grounds. So, in turn that also made it the 30th Anniversary for the Human Be-In, which was a seminal moment leading into the Summer of Love, and had also taken place in Golden Gate Park.
I calculated that if I left immediately, I could walk from where I was now in SOMA and get up to the park in about 30 minutes before I started to trip the light fantastic. With a mile and a half of vast nature to hide in, what could go wrong?
The wailing calls got louder and nearer. What was happening? Why was it happening? Was it happening?
All I could feel for certain was that it certainly wasn’t "a happening" as the very un-groovy bellows got closer and louder still. So close now I could no longer ignore whatever the impending invasion was. I crept back up to the road’s edge, still remaining hidden behind the thick brush. As the ever-increasing loudness grew, other noises were revealed and morphed into a swirling soundscape mixing into 500.1 3-D audio channeling into the mixing board of my mind with all knobs twiddling. Rising low rumbles of many drums banging out of sync with high pitched whistles clattering atop like hard rain on a hot tin hangar roof.
The rising sounds of absolute chaos and they were coming for me. I spread the bushes apart slowly and turned my head sideways to peer down the road. My kaleidoscope eyes bloomed beyond their sockets while my mouth spiraled into a vortex of terror.
In the distance, I saw an army of thousands upon thousands of marathon runners in a swirling mass of forward motion lumbering straight towards me. The 1997 Bay to Breakers Marathon was in full swing, an annual foot race of over a 100,000 strong with a course that runs straight through the center of Golden Gate Park.
Not just a massive celebrated foot race for serious runners but also a day for additional thousands of normal people to wave their freak flags that only come out once, maybe twice a year.
Here they all came wearing their red numbered flags: the ugly naked people, a pink gorilla, a port-a-potty wearing sneakers, comic book super heroes of questionable physical authenticity, giant human centipedes, a monk, the grim reaper, British Red Coats, jocks blowing stadium horns & rolling beer keg carts, botched body paint jobs, a fat suit man, half Elvis-half dude bro, Ronald Reagan, unintentional Huey Lewis lookalikes, ninjas, a human head atop a bunch of grapes that could run, and on and on.
The head of the nightmare was now almost right in front of me, a running and sweating and bulging mass getting closer and closer and louder and louder.
With the noise now at ear splitting mind bending pitch, I recoiled back in terror into my now peaceless shire, stumbling back up against a tree. I watched through the brush as the gigantic lame-wave began to spill past. The whole park had been instantly flash flooded like a massive "normo" dam broke.
With leaves stuck to my back and twigs in my hair I retreated backwards through the brush out of the side of the park onto Fulton Street. I was not only cast out of eden, but as it turned out done with LSD.
To me, those ‘90s in San Francisco put one foot back in the ’60s and the other towards where now in the modern techie boom. It was back then during the first dot-com bubble that I’d been introduced to the concept of fresh money people implants looking for some sense of "Freaky San Francisco" abandon.
In turn, though not on the world stage like in the ‘60s, the rock ‘n’ roll music scene here was thriving. Even just in our little psych/garage/shoegaze scene, we had about 30 bands all gigging together in interchanging combinations. We also had drugs. I mean the fun ones, in the right environment, but then I’ve already covered that little detail.
Inevitably, just like in the ‘60s, after a few short years everything changed, and these days there are very few of us left that were able to hold onto the same dreams we had back then.
In a unanimous vote recently, the San Francisco Recreation and Park Commission denied promoters a permit to throw a large free concert in Golden Gate Park celebrating this year’s 50th Anniversary of the Summer of Love.
So at least for now a commemoration of the Human Be-In has been shot down by The Man.
Confusing, as the Haight Ashbury District was just granted Landmark Status joining Fisherman's Wharf, Telegraph Hill and several other districts in the city with Landmark designation. City documents state:
"The district is significant for its association with the events of the counter-culture movement, when this area of San Francisco served as the nation's epicenter for 'hippies' and their anti-establishment lifestyles, which included psychedelic drugs, rock music, free love, and an anti-war ethos."
If you were there and remember it, then you weren’t really there, man.
While the SF Rec & Park Commission’s argument was for better organization, and despite the inevitable hoards of young homeless blow, it’s that would surely come en masse, shouldn’t we still be able though proper organization "Come Together" and iron out the issues?
The music, the protests, the extreme need for change, it’s all still here.
Shutting down the commemoration of the Human Be-In would be a nice trophy for the bullshit peddlers who just got back in power. Like with the recent Women’s Marches around the world, we could again bring back out that old school positive style of mass gathering.
We’re ready for it. We need it. Let’s celebrate yesterday and tomorrow today.
Joel Gion is a longtime member of the San Francisco psych-rock band The Brian Jonestown Massacre. He is currently working on a personal memoir.