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.
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):
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:
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:
GOLDIE GLITTERS: JANUARY 8, 1970
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!
LOVE PROBLEMS HONEY?
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
Comment by Ed.: I find the mention of several queer/freak communal households very interesting. How many were in existence pre-Stonewall?
Part of a tribal historian’s role is collecting and preserving that history in all its formats — oral histories, street posters, miscellaneous ephemera, accounts of the moment, etc. There are many sources for this material. Here is a recent acquisition of the Digger archive.
This is a poster I’ve seen reprinted in various places but never in person until last week. It’s the main poster that has come to be associated with The Orkustra, a musical group that fashioned themselves the “first psychedelic electric symphony orchestra” and performed in San Francisco from the fall of 1966 to mid-summer, 1967. After a process of soliciting musicians, holding auditions and rehearsals, the group forged a “comprehensible form of improvisational music” and began performing in local venues, offering what the founder of The Orkustra called a “counter-culture musical adventure.” The group performed at the Love Pageant Rally, one of the defining events of the Haight-Ashbury on Oct 6, 1966 (commemorating the outlawing of LSD on that day). They performed at the New Year’s Wail in the Panhandle on Jan 1, 1967, the event that the Hell’s Angels threw in appreciation of the Diggers and the inspiration for the Communication Company instant news service. The Orkustra (the shortened form of their original name “The Electric Chamber Orchestra”) played at the Invisible Circus on Feb 24, 1967. One of the (many) interesting things about this event was the life-changing moments that took place for many of the participants. I’ve written about Cecil Williams and his epiphany about the Church that the Invisible Circus provided. Another person whose life was affected was Bobby Beausoleil, the young musician who had formed The Orkustra as a result of a vision he had in Golden Gate Park. Kenneth Anger, the underground filmmaker, approached Beausoleil after the group performed the opening set at the Invisible Circus, and offered Beausoleil the lead role in his film “Lucifer Rising.” Beausoleil accepted and moved into a different orbit. The Orkustra would continue as a group until mid-summer.
Here’s an account by Beausoleil of the band’s involvement with the Diggers:
Our first significant performance, and a defining one for the band, took place on a Sunday afternoon in the Panhandle section of Golden Gate Park. It was the very first in a series of free concerts that would take place in that location, organized by the notorious Diggers. By this time, hundreds of young people had already migrated to the Haight community, and more were arriving every day. Many of them had but recently left the homes of their parents on a wing and a prayer, arriving in the Haight with little or no money, no street experience, and ill-prepared to provide themselves with the necessities of basic survival. The Diggers had declared it their mission to coordinate relief efforts, finding and providing essential food, clothing, communal housing, and medical treatment to the migrants, all free of charge. The free Sunday concerts in the park were urban guerrilla theater events staged by the Diggers, all in the spirit of fun and good times, to bring a sense of harmony and unity to the growing throngs of erstwhile hippies. In addition to live music, huge pots of savory vegetable stew were on hand for anyone who might be hungry. The Orkustra’s association with the Diggers was initially an outgrowth of simple proximity to one another. The old warehouse on Page Street that we used for a rehearsal studio was located directly across the street from a row of derelict wooden garages that the Diggers had procured and made into their headquarters. Above the doors of the garages was a whimsical sign proclaiming them to be “The Free Frame of Reference,” the Diggers’ free store, where second-hand clothing, blankets, kitchen utensils, and sundry household items could be had for the asking. As members of The Orkustra and some of the Diggers encountered one another on a daily basis, a casual relationship was formed. Emmett Grogan, one of the Diggers’ founding members and chief instigators, took a particular shine to The Orkustra. He liked our free-form musical style and devil-may-care attitude, being so much like his own nature, and invited us to play the first of the free concerts in the Panhandle. A makeshift stage was set up under the trees and a generator was brought in to provide electricity to power the amplifiers. As we began to play, a crowd grew quickly around us. Our performance was very well received by everyone save for the cops who showed up to inform us that the crowd exceeded the number of people who could lawfully be gathered in a public park without a permit. We were allowed to play one more song before we had to shut it down. We made it a long one. Thereafter, the Diggers made prior arrangements with city officials to obtain permits, and with a flatbed truck to serve as a stage and power source, the weekend concerts in the Panhandle became a regular feature of life in the Haight for some time. The Orkustra played that venue several times, along with The Grateful Dead, The Charlatans, Big Brother, and other San Francisco rock band luminaries of the period. We played so many of the Diggers’ events, in fact, that we became known in some circles as The Diggers’ band. One of the most memorable of those events was the inaugural ceremonies that launched the infamous Invisible Circus festivities at Glide Memorial Church, wherein The Orkustra performed musical accompaniment for a troupe of half-naked female belly dancers who had been brought in for the expressed purpose of kick-starting the event. Our collective efforts were a rollicking success from my point of view, but the church fathers and city officials saw it from another perspective.
The Orkustra’s outlook fit neatly with the Diggers emphasis on autonomous group spaces. Beausoleil explained why the group preferred nightclubs to the Fillmore auditoriums. “Smaller venues are more intimate, increasing the likelihood that the energies of the audience and the performers will become commingled in a transcendent experience.” Just as happened at the Invisible Circus.
P.S. There’s another connection to the Diggers. The image of Emmett Grogan appears in the poster. Anyone find it?
Source of Beausoleil memoir: https://ebay.to/2m1hsZB (it has appeared elsewhere but this one is dated June 2003). After his involvement with Kenneth Anger, Beausoleil ended up in Los Angeles where he became involved in the Charles Manson coterie and was subsequently arrested and convicted for the group’s first murder ordered by Manson. He is currently serving a life sentence in the Oregon prison system.
The poster here is announcing the “Peace Illumination Walk” held in New York City on Friday Dec 23 1966, one month after the “Love & Peace & Freedom” walk that was announced in the companion poster (pictured in the previous posting). Another early Peace March in opposition to the Vietnam War. As my previous discussion mentioned, there was a small window where a jubilant ecstatic tenor outweighed an angry and vengeful tone that slipped into the “movement” of the 1960s. This is that moment.
Historians (and other social scientists) think and work and research in two dimensions. There’s the vertical. And then there’s the horizontal. Take Pompeii as an example. The vertical aspect is the moment in time that was frozen with the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD. Archaeologists (primarily) and historians study the ruins to reconstruct that lost moment. The graffiti on the walls, the perfect frescoes in the long-ago atria, the petrified corpses in last gasp poses. Each remaining artifact has a place in the reconstruction. The deeper you go into the analysis the fuller the picture of that one moment. Vertical thinking digs deep.
On the other hand, horizontal thinking casts its nets across far distances — both of time and space. Wikipedia has adopted this approach with its “List of Years” pages. Each page documents known events that took place around the world during the same year. Historians need to keep both perspectives in their work. To ignore the larger context runs a risk of missing a key element in the story.
That brings us to the image above. This was a poster designed for a protest of the American Vietnam War. The protest took place on Nov 5 1966 starting at 11am in Greenwich Village in lower Manhattan, New York City. It was a march through city streets. The protesters eventually ended up in midtown Manhattan for a rally at 2pm. This was 1966 — three years after the first protest against the war organized by the War Resisters League. And seven years before all U.S. combat troops would be pulled out of a war that a generation of American youth had come to loathe.
What’s so interesting about this poster — from a horizontal historical perspective — is the moment in time. Fall of 1966. Think of what else was happening on the radical social and cultural landscape of America at that moment. In September, the Artists Liberation Front announced their program of Free Fairs in San Francisco. The Black Panthers formed in Oakland in October and issued their revolutionary Ten Point Program. The Diggers formed in the same month as the Panthers, issuing a series of street manifestos and offering the first of a series of Free community services. Lenore Kandel’s Love Book would be busted along with three booksellers in November in San Francisco, leading to the coalescence of resistance by a community that would embrace the concept of love as their siren call the following year — the Summer of Love. And as this poster clearly evidences, the American Peace Movement had fully surfaced.
The fall of 1966 thus was a moment in which the politics of ecstasy was in ascendancy. Soon, the winter of discontent would seek to erase the memory of this moment of hope. The Peace Movement would become the Anti-War Movement. As such, perhaps it was inevitable — in confrontation with societal powers, the blush of hope is soon burnished. But just as rivers can flow underground before surfacing in unexpected places, so can avant-garde culture fade then reappear. Who knows when? Who knows where? Keep a horizontal perspective to know the answer.