The photo gallery for William Gedney has been substantially updated to include the first high-resolution images of the first Digger Free Feeds. Check it out: https://diggers.org/william_gedney.htm
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.”
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.
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.