North Beach; Weather Resonance

The past several days have brought snow accumulations to the San Francisco Bay Area rarely if ever seen — Mt. Tamalpais, Mount Hamilton, Mount Diablo ring the Bay like crystal jewelry suspended in memory. A friend forwarded an article about Gary Snyder which was a joy to read (“Man. Verses. Nature” by Hillary Louise Johnson, Sactown Magazine, Sept-Oct 2022, Though the writer mentioned several of Snyder’s best known works, there was one that was notable for its absence. This was a broadside published in 1975 which is a paean to that neighborhood in San Francisco with some of the best weather on the planet. “North Beach” resonates with places of the mind, places where synergy combines to further human consciousness of the natural world.

In thinking about the history of the Sixties, North Beach takes on a significance similar to the outcroppings of limestone that dot the surface of that neighborhood. The truths that the Beat poets uncovered in the 1950s became the ground on which the 60s radicals continued the social assault.

Here then is the (semi-anonymous) manifesto/ode/paean to “North Beach” (published by Canessa Gallery, 1975).


North Beach

In the spiritual and political loneliness of America of the fifties you’d hitch a thousand miles to meet a friend. Whatever lives needs a habitat, a proper culture of warmth and moisture to grow. West coast of those days, San Francisco was the only city; and of San Francisco, North Beach. Why? Because partly, totally non-Anglo. First, the Costanoan native peoples — peoples living around the Bay for five thousand-plus years. Sergeant Jose Ortega crossed sand dunes and thickets to climb a hill (Telegraph) there around the first of November 1769. Later, Irish on the hill (prior to Quake and Fire) and tales of goats grazing those rocks —

Tellygraft hill, Tellygraft hill
Knobby old, slobby old,
Tellygraft hill

— then Italian, Sicilian, Portuguese (fishermen), Chinese (Kuangtung and Hakka) and even Basque, down from Nevada sheepherding on vacation.

When we of the fifties and after walked into it, walk was the key word. Maybe no place else in urban America where a district has such a feel of on-foot: narrow streets, high blank walls and stairstep steeps of alleys and white-wood houses cheap to rent; laundry flapping in the foggy wind from flat-topped roofs. Morocco; or ancient terraced fertile crescent pueblos.

A tiny watershed divide is at the corner of Green and Columbus. Northward a creek flowed, the mouth of which, on the little alley called Water Street (now some blocks up from the Fisherman’s Wharf coast — all fill) is under the basement of a friend’s apartment. The easterly stream went down by what was the Barbary Coast and Geodetic Survey offices on Battery. Storms come out of a place in the north Pacific, high latitudes, pulse after pulse of weather (storms deflected north in summer). San Francisco, North Beach, like living on the bow of a ship. Over the dark running seas, from November on, breaking in rains and flying cloud bits on the sharp edges of Telegraph hill.

A habitat; midway between two other summer-and winter-ranges, Berkeley and Marin county . Who would not, en-route, stop off in North Beach? To buy duck eggs, drop into Vesuvio, City Lights, get sesame oil or wine, walk up Grant to this or that place. Or living there; the hum of cable-car cables under the street — lit-up ships down on the docks working all night — the pre-dawn crashes of the Scavengers’ trucks. Spanning years from a time when young women would get arrested for walking barefoot, to the barebottom clubs of Broadway now tending tourist tastes from afar.

A habitat. The Trans-America pyramid, a strikingly wasteful and arrogant building, stands square on what was once called Montgomery block, a building that housed the artists and revolutionaries of the thirties and forties. Kenneth Rexroth, many others, lived there; foundations of post-war libertarianism; moves that became publicly known as “beat” in the middle fifties. This emphasis often neglected the deeply dug-in and committed thinkers and artists of the era who never got or needed much media-fame; who were the culture that nourished so much. Many people risking all — following sometimes the path of excess and not always going beyond folly to the hoped-for wisdom. Yet, like the sub-Aleutian storms, pulse after pulse came out of North Beach from the fifties forward that touched the lives of people around the world.

I worked the docks in those days. “Down to Pier 23 to work, Smith-Rice cranes, and Friday a white egret that fluttered down on the pier, dwarfing the seagulls, riffled its wings and feathers delicately a few times then flew off back in the direction from which it came.” 23.Xl. 52

“It is of no particular significance that I sit writing Chinese characters and practice pronouncing them in Japanese; it’s all here: vines in the Mediterranean, taro-patches in Melanesia, the clover yards or Vancouver island – the eye sees, the hand moves, the world moves in and through; like a complex spiral shell. ” — 4. II . 54

And, a Peoples World headline from October, 1958

Outmoded Capitalism
Threatens Humanity
With Multiple Perils

— while walking to Gino and Carlos, another place we met and drank (Jack Spicer gave me a whiskery hug) —

“The necessity to roam at wild . . . large, useless, and nowhere scenes, to follow the city cat-track down, ‘out of my head’ etc. — we need the big gamble of a physical economic urban Void in which you have to dive … ” — 3, XI. 58

That close, loose, circle of comrades, lovers, freaks, and friends (how many we mourn already!) in the rolling terrain of North Beach (virtually the only place in California that didn’t freeze out plants in the cold snap of December 1972, in fact, warmer than any place else in San Francisco except for Noe Valley, and having the most frost-free days per year of any place in the U. S. short of Florida) is the rich soil of much beauty, and the good work of hatching something else in America, pray it cracks the shell in time.

Gratitude to the Spirits of the Place; may all Beings flourish.


Billy Digger Needs Our Help

Many people know me as the Digger archivist. I have the website, Digger Archives (, which has been up and running since 1992. Lots of folks have used the primary source materials that are archived there to inspire and get inspired by the fascinating social revolutionaries who took the name of the 17th century Diggers to carry out a program of autonomous collective actions in the Haight-Ashbury starting in 1966. Many people have read the rip-roaring account in the 400-page book Ringolevio by Emmett Grogan, one of the two people who started publishing street manifestos and soon began a series of programs all without charge, including Free Feeds in the Panhandle, the first Free Stores ever, the Free Bakery at All Saints Church, the Free Medical Clinic, the Free City Bank, etc. The name Emmett Grogan became widely known, even to the point that some people doubted such a person existed. What was not widely known was the name of the other person responsible for founding the Diggers. In the Digger Papers, Emmett called him Billy Landout. He was known as Billy Digger to many. Eventually, his true identity became known. Billy Murcott was as elusive as Emmett Grogan was recognizable. Billy never grabbed the limelight. To this day, he tries to maintain the anonymity that the Diggers initially espoused. It was the idea of his friends to set up this GoFundMe page.

In mid-December, 2022, Billy had a stroke that put him in the hospital for two weeks. He’s back home now (on the same Brooklyn street where he and Emmett grew up as childhood friends). He is in rehab and is doing well. All his friends have finally been able to breathe a sigh of relief. What we want to do now is help Bill with his medical bills. Bill never made a cent on his stake to fame as the co-founder of the San Francisco Diggers. He drove a cab until his early 80s when Covid made it impossible. His financial situation is, like so many octogenarians, not prosperous. Please help if you can. Thanks.

“Tattoo on the skin of time”

Serendipity is always lurking around the corner to jump unsuspecting into the path of daily routine. This past week the spirit jumped out once more to provide a jaunt into the historical dimension.

I made contact with Lucas Natali who is researching Tie-Dye in the counterculture He is interested in the origins of tie-dye among hippies, culminating in its first public prolific splash of color at the Woodstock Festival in 1969. In searching through my notes on the Diggers and their role in the introduction of tie-dyeing into the Haight-Ashbury scene, I ran across a reference to Luna Moth in one of the bibliographic listings of Peter Berg’s writings. Luna Moth was one of the key people who brought the ancient art of Tie-Dye to life and taught people at the Trip Without A Ticket free store in 1967 how to create the beautiful fabrics that became the hallmark of the counterculture.

The reference in the bibliography of Peter’s writings was to an article titled “Trucking Into New England” and it was included in Jodi Palladini’s (aka Luna Moth’s) book Roll Your Own (co-edited with Beverly Dubin). I had never heard of this piece of writing by Peter so I was eager to track it down. Fortunately, the Summer of Love Archives book collection had a copy. Looking through it at first I was stymied. None of the chapters are attributed to particular authors. I didn’t find any chapter with the exact title “Trucking Into New England” but finally at the very end of the book is a listing of “Credits” and in the smallest print that these septuagenarian eyes can discern was this notation: “Newsletter, pp. 167-9: Peter Berg.” Here is what is on those two pages:

If the Credits were hard on the eyes, this was worse. No wonder I passed it by the first time through looking through the book for Peter’s piece. If you read it (see enlarged images of the individual pages, below) indeed it does sound like a newsletter. The title that was transcribed for Peter’s bibliography is actually the first part of the first sentence: “Trucking into New England with video letters from the planetarian West!”

Here then is a most rare document. Peter’s four-page letter back to Luna Moth is a first-person account of the caravan that the family of Diggers undertook in 1971 heading out from the Red House in Forest Knolls to points easterly and roundabouts. Coyote talked about this in his book. But I had never seen an account written at the time. The “Homeskin” manifesto, yes. But “Trucking …” is not so much a manifesto as a journal account of some of the scenes they encountered. Read it to understand the idea that would eventually lead back to San Francisco and the founding of Planet Drum as one of the Bioregional Movement’s nerve centers.

I will post all four pages below at high enough resolution that even septuagenarians can read the content easily. But here is the one paragraph I want to highlight in this celebration of serendipitous moments:

“Showing tapes the next night was an enormous-sized intimate event. Video tape reflects the real-time surface of life processes and events, and unedited tape stretches past the usual span of filmic attention to make a tattoo on the skin of time. We watched tribal home movies pulling together consciousness from both sides of the continental divide.”

That’s IT! “Tattoo on the skin of time” is a perfect description of Peter’s cinematic sense of everyday “life processes and events.” Not only is it the apt description of the video letters that Peter was filming on the Homeskin Caravan in 1968, but it can also be seen as the underlying aesthetic to describe the other important film project that he produced—NOWSREAL. That was the movie that Peter Berg and Kelly Hart filmed in 1968 in the last three months of Free City, three years before the Homeskin Caravan. I finally have the perfect description for NOWSREAL to use on that page in the Digger Archives—”a tattoo on the skin of time.”

Remembering Diane

Diane di Prima left our plane of existence this past Sunday (25 Oct 2020). I recently came across the attached document in my researches, and wanted to share it with everyone. This is an early printing of Diane’s Revolutionary Letters, soon after she moved to San Francisco in 1968 and joined in Free City. Free City was the Digger project that wove together dozens of communes that had formed out of the Summer of Love.

These are the first fifteen poems of what eventually were sixty-three published by City Lights. This set of fifteen was originally printed by the New York Communication Company which was inspired by the SF Communication Company which itself was inspired by the Diggers. The NY Com/Co publication of the Revolutionary Letters was then reprinted widely in the underground press (such as the attached excerpt from the underground literary journal Quixote, thanks to Independent Voices).

In Revolutionary Letter #11, Diane mentions going on a free food run with Kirby Doyle to supply the Free City Convention which was held at the Carousel Ballroom on May 1, 1968. This was one of the Digger events that inspired the Sutter Street Commune to set up the Free Print Shop and start publishing the inter-communal newsletter Kaliflower the following year.

These poems seem eerily reminiscent of the present as our democracy is under attack by many of the forces that Diane foresaw half a century ago.


Madeleine Stern’s quote about the the Prince of Serendip (one of the Praxis passages on the Digger web site) came true this fall. The COVID pandemic has been conducive for uncovering missing sources, apparently. I was looking through boxes of ephemera that had not yet been scanned, one of which was Freeman House’s archive that he donated in 1980. One sheet caught my eye, titled “term paper.” Perhaps because it wasn’t signed “Diggers” I had not paid it close attention before. But the first sentence jumped off the page:

the relationship between poetry and revolution has lost its ambiguity—gregory corso’s poem POWER was the sole reason behind the concept of the Diggers: autonomy.

—”term paper” (Digger street sheet, 1966-7)

I immediately looked for Gregory Corso’s poem POWER. Peter Berg referred to one of Corso’s plays in a remembrance of Gregory on the Planet Drum web site:

It was easy to feel brotherly toward Gregory. I knew his Gasoline poems and some others, and was especially impressed by a one-act play titled Standing on a Street Corner. It exuded the spirit of a wise clown epitomized in the line, “Standing on a street corner doing nothing is power.” I used the script in a weekly play study class in my Haight-Ashbury apartment for fellow San Francisco Mime Troupers. It helped inspire the concept of guerrilla theater that was incubating then for future pieces performed in Sproul Plaza during teach-ins, at a bus station, and on actual street corners.

—Peter Berg, memorial speech for Gregory Corso (2001)

But “term paper” didn’t say “one-act play”—it specifically said “poem.”

Then, this past month, my communal zoom group suggested that I give one of our weekly presentations on “The Life & Times of Irving Rosenthal (to 1971)” to uncover the hidden connections in the lives of anyone who was influenced by the Kaliflower network (comprising the hundreds of communes in the SF Bay Area in the 1960/1970s).

In researching the presentation, I came across a most interesting reference. In early 1959, Irving Rosenthal was putting the final touches on Big Table 1, the literary journal that he founded with Paul Carroll to publish the Beat writings that the University of Chicago had banned after the Chicago Review scandal in late 1958 (Naked Lunch by William Burroughs, Old Angel Midnight by Jack Kerouac). Rosenthal wrote to Allen Ginsberg that he had decided to add three poems Gregory Corso had just sent him: “Power (for Allen Ginsberg)”; “Army”; and, “Police.”

So here then was the missing link. Corso’s poem “POWER” (in all caps, just as the Digger sheet titled it likewise) was published in Big Table 1 in March 1959. It became the inspiration for Digger autonomy. And notice the slight shift in wording from Corso’s play that Berg referenced. See images below of both items that were uncovered.

“term paper” Digger street sheet (1966-67):

“POWER (for Allen Ginsberg)” excerpt from Big Table 1

“Standing on a street corner waiting for no one is Power”—the missing link between the Beats and the Diggers.

The John Dillinger Computer

This is a presentation that I gave at the Tenderloin Museum in San Francisco in 2017, the 50th anniversary (approx.) of The Invisible Circus at Glide Church. Click on the image below to be taken to the page on the Digger web that displays the slides and corresponding notes.


“Some thoughts on capitalism and the virus”

Richard Woolf is a marxian economist who has had a stellar academic and popular career. Currently he is teaching at the New School in New York City. He also continues his career as a movement activist in his work with the group Democracy@work. Woolf wrote the following communiqué on the state of world capitalism confronting the COVID-19 (and various other names) virus pandemic. What is striking is that many of his arguments will likely resonate with a much wider range of citizens than they would have six weeks ago before the virus had spread everywhere. The question occurs to what extent are the arguments Woolf is making reflective of leftist analyses during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Below is an image of Woolf’s letter (and a PDF is available here):



The Bard Speaks

Today (March 24, 2020) Lawrence Ferlinghetti is 101 years of age. Let’s pause to consider the moment. We have a poet, a living poet, whose fame will reverb through the corridors of time. Here he is reciting his poem “Trump’s Trojan Horse” to reignite our passion:

ferlinghetti trojan horse

Cockettes pre-Anniversary

For my contribution to the Cockettes pre-anniversary celebration tonight (unfortunately a paid event) I offer the following: the first transcription of the first article that mentioned the Cockettes, a column by Goldie Glitters written for Kaliflower (volume 1, number 38, Jan 8 1970) as well as mentions of Fayette, Scrumbly, Miss Lulu, Harlowe, Fantasia, Diviniie and several of the communal households by name. [See the transcription after the image below:]


Transcription of article:


Dahlings, as you know last week was New Years and I hope that all of you had a happy one.

Now for a look at what has been going on around this mouldy hick town:

There seems to be a new Repertory Company that is getting themselves together called “The Cockettes” and Boy are they hot stuff. After all when a group of thirteen girls can get together a chorus line in a few hours and then take over an entire theater they are really going somewhere. So remember that name, “The Cockettes”, because they have already been asked by a Sugar Daddy to do a film ….. need I say more?

After this beautiful happening there was a great party at “The Villa Satori”, where fourteen people live under one roof, which is amazing how they could give a party of 80 guests and have it run so beautifully. Why it kept going until around 9 AM New Years Day .. . All I can say is, Thanks Boys for the most enjoyable New Years I have ever spent.

Now to bring everyone up to date as to what happened over the weekend:

Last Saturday night there was a party thrown in the honor of Fantasia and Davinnie at Miss Lulu’s which was a Royal Smash! There were approximately two hundred guests and the following bands: The Yellow Submarine, The Holding Company’s Band, also the West Bushy Cunt. They served Hot Red Wine Punch that gave me diarrhea for two days.

Now let us view some of the exquisite fashionables:

Prunella was adorned in a beautiful violet gown with Black lace. Miss Fayette of Bush & Baker had a gown of ribbons, and on her head in feathers and flowers a headdress which she made in the shape of a peacock. Shanghai Lily was also in magnificent feathers and Royal Golden cloth which was tied around the bodice. Then there was the Super wreath with garlands of feathers and flowers intertwined with each other to make a beautiful glowing crown.

Also among the other guests were the very English-looking Christopher of the Jackson Street house and also Scrumbly with his original face paint and Harlowe whom most of us know because of the same furs and feathers that have been worn to party after party after party!


To the Rest of my readers: if you have any questions or want any parties or gatherings covered send your letters and/or invitations to: Goldie Glitters c/o KaliFlower

And Remember: Stay high with Goldie and Glitter in San Francisco

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Comment by Ed.: I find the mention of several queer/freak communal households very interesting. How many were in existence pre-Stonewall?