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San Francisco Carnaval parade.

May 31st, 2003

The Studio Lights
In 1969, after the army, at the age of 26 I came to San Francisco and lived, in that first year, in a small apartment just off California Street. I had a large stereo system in the living room that I'd bought while in the army in Japan and not much else. When two friends from Seattle arrived, they crashed on the living room floor in sleeping bags.

Now this was 1969 and some would say the freak culture had already come and gone, this, after all, was two years after the Summer of Love and you only had to drive down the ragged streets of the Haight to see what they meant. Still, it was a late sixties summer in San Francisco and the city was alive with mystery and long haired adventure. My friends, again, somewhat older, had come to San Francisco on many a summer in the sixties looking for their own holy grail in the culture of the Beats, buying tickets with every visit to see The Committee in North Beach, hanging out in the famous bars in sport coats and skinny ties. By 1969 things had changed.

"What do we tell them we did all this week when we get back?", I'd been asked. "We rolled our sleeping bags out between the speaker columns in your living room and listened to rock and roll on KSAN smoking dope? That we'd get it together if we were hungry and stumble down to the Strand, where two old British ladies parcelled out inexpensive Fish and Chips wrapped in wax paper and old newspapers? That we didn't even go to North Beach for a show, for a drink, just a run through City Lights book store?"

Yeah. The world had changed. It was more exciting than I ever imagined. The days, the nights, the people I'd met were not like the people with whom I'd gone to school, at least high school. The music had changed, the music had set us up with folk and now it sucked us down the rabbit hole. Folk was dead, long live rock and roll.

Which brings me to the point of this ramble on a late afternoon, the sun shining, here in Oakland. I have Cowgirl in the Sand playing in the background. If you can't stand Neil Young, substitute something from your own salad days, something that still stirs your blood. The music puts me uncomfortably on edge. Or is it that I only listen when I'm on edge? Hard to say. I can hear it as clearly now as I could then, it reaches me now as it reached me then, but it brings back feelings, if not memories, that are not altogether pleasant, like a late night come down off an acid afternoon.

Tom Donohue's KSAN turned Country long ago. I don't even know if it still exists. Those friends from Seattle are but a memory, I hope they're still alive. Times change. This is not a complaint, I've been a loner since I can remember, since my earliest days in Seattle, since my early days in New York, a loner lives a loner's life cause that's what a loner does. There's worse and there's better, there's warm and there's cold. I'm told.

So the music no longer seems to attract, at least not the way it did. So what? I still have those same old speaker columns, still have some of the same old stereo components. They were the best you could buy once, a foolish expenditure, better to have used it for a down payment on a house. I could replace them one of these weekends, a project to piddle with, but what to play? I've been experimenting with music I listened to in my high school and college years, pre Beatles, pre Rock and Roll, the stuff you listened to when it was OK to listen to anything, and some of that's been interesting. I don't expect, even if the world explodes in another music revolution like the revolution of the late sixties - and one's out there, one's coming, you can tell - that I'll be carried with it. You do change with age, I guess. The toys change, the interests change. I guess.

Smoke dope, write, shoot photographs? I still have old friends who smoke weed to avoid alcohol, but it's long lost any inherent attraction for me. No music, no weed and the fish and chips shop down the way - an old Welsh couple runs it - doesn't call my name. What's to do?

The funky head dizzy thing has been keeping me inside, but there are things going on in the neighborhood. Oakland, I suspect, has an undercurrent not unlike the San Francisco I knew in the late sixties. There's probably an Avalon Ballroom happening in a warehouse right now. Maybe San Francisco too, although it's expensive. There are all these small clubs around, late night happenings in lofts, warehouse parties (we did our share) playing music you never hear on the radio, because radio is dead. Fucking dead. It was every bit as dead before its rebirth in the late sixties, before progressive rock, and it will live again, over the Aether or the Internet, doesn't matter.

And I will sit here at night, not every night, but at night, thinking, what to do? And I will have a drink and then I will have another drink and I will stop at two. For now. Gotta watch the alcohol. It will seduce you. And I will listen and I will search within, because this getting older bit is not all clutched heart and bad transmissions. It has its seductions. It has its time and its place, I suspect it has its music, I suspect it has its writing, I suspect it has its magic nights, if not in the city, then in the hospital.

So, have you ordered the studio lights?

Not yet.

The photograph was taken at the San Francisco Carnaval parade.