5. Freaks of the Village
Life was a lot happier after I moved to the Village. Even during the early days, when I occasionally rode the subways all night, life was better and I felt like I fitted in, like I was finally "home." I arrived too late for the golden days of the folk music scene, when Dylan played the coffee houses, but something new and exciting was brewing in the Village . . . and in Berkeley and San Francisco on the West Coast. It was a scene where members of the beat generation and discontented youths born during the 1940s converged via the mysterious powers of LSD.
It probably started in the Village during 1963, soon after Allen Ginsburg and Peter Orlovsky returned from a long pilgrimage to India, attired in sandals and Indian dress, with Benares scarves and beads, sporting long hair and beards, denouncing the war in Viet Nam and advocating the use of pot and LSD. Allen, who was the world's most famous living poet, whose Howl had became the best-selling poem of all time, claimed he would "eat shit" if it made him high.
We called ourselves Freaks — Acid Freaks.
That was a couple of years before the media picked up on the word, "hippie." There were also those we called "plastic people," people who superficially copied the look-and-feel of freakdom, who came to the Village on weekends, making the scene and going to happenings . . . sort of slumming it. The Village during the mid-60s featured a mixed demographic, but at the time I was chiefly involved with the emerging youth and counterculture scene. While not one of the youngest members of the scene — which included an endless stream of precocious fourteen year-old girls — at age seventeen or eighteen I was certainly one of the younger participants to be living on my own. Indeed, almost all of the young guys on the scene were living at home — which would be Long Island, the Bronx, the Queens or Uptown.
Allen Ginsberg in India, 1963 (above), and in New York during the mid-1960s.
In retrospect, one of the most remarkable features of the Village scene during the 1960s was its cross-generational character, a convergence of old beats and youths aided by the fact that during the 1960s, the music clubs and hang-outs of the Village had an "all ages" policy, and drinking age in New York was merely eighteen. It is not my intention here to document that wonderful scene and its participants in the detail they deserve, or to recall the many remarkable happenings and meetings I experienced during those years. Yet a few words can give a taste of the time-space.
The younger participants of the scene fell mostly into two or three demographics. The largest group were teen-aged boys and girls of middle and upper class families residing in NYC, Long Island and outlying areas. A much smaller, diverse group — the street rats — consisted largely of teenagers and early-twentysomethings, drop-outs and runaways living on their own in the Village, sleeping in crash pads or on subways. Kind-hearted locals and girls from Long Island often helped street rats out with a meal or a date to a rock show. There were also a few college students and young professionals working day jobs on the scene, but to attain the higher reaches of freakdom, you must be a drop-out dropping acid. Everyone seemed to respect differences, and most of the older people, like age twenty-eight, didn't mind teenagers hanging around . . . Though some did, and they used the term "teeny-booper" as a derogative.
The East Village scene, where rents were cheap and buildings slummy, wasn't what it was to become a year or two later, but there was already a movement in that direction. During 1965-66, the scene was still mostly in Greenwich Village, centered around Bleecker and MacDougal streets. The heyday of the beat and folk music scenes were a few years in the past, but the hang-outs and venues remained. Le Figuero Café, The Tin Angel, the Café Au Go-Go and The Garrick on Bleecker; Reinze's, the Café Wha?, The Gaslight, and The Basement on MacDougal, to name a few.
The Cafe Wha? and Players Theatre - The Fugs and Jimi Hendrix performed in adjunct venues. The Cock'N'Bull was in the building to the right of Players.
At first I crashed around or slept on subways, but it wasn't long before I established myself in a comfortable situation. I was soon befriended by a "hustler" (a call girl) who was about the age of my older sisters. Tina was very well connected and had a nice apartment in the building next to Reinze's. She put me next to some key hashesh and LSD entrepreneurs, who liked me and gave me opportunities.
During this wonderful era, I met and hung with virtually every Village notable. It never occurred to me to keep a journal or diary, but I probably attended almost every happening of the day, many of which occurred before October 1966, when LSD was outlawed. Both before and after October 1966, I tripped on large doses of acid (500mcg-1,000mcg.) a few times a week, and consumed pot and hashesh daily.
Ironically, and predictably, my intake of LSD substantially increased after October 1966, as did my involvement in the distribution of the substance. Amphetamines were also popular and easily available, and any slightly over-weight girl could get a "diet-pill" prescription. Although I liked writing on a speed, I much disliked the come-down, especially from potent "Black Beauties," so I didn't get much involved with speed . . . but a few years later I began a long love-affair with Mama Coca.
I tried in a not too ambitious manner to get involved with the poetry and songwriting scene, which involved a lot of late nights, hanging-out and drug taking. My day began sometime in the afternoon, when I would check out the street action, see who's hanging-out and what's happening. Pass by Reinze's and The Cock'N'Bull. Maybe make a deal, or hang with friends, or have a private meeting at Café Reggio. Then see what's happening in Washington Square Park and walk over to the East Village. Toward evening I would head back to Bleecker and MacDougal to take in the evening scene: The Garrick, the Tin Angel, the Café Au Go-Go, The Gaslight, The Basement, the Café Wha? and so on. See who's playing, who's working the door and where I can get in a show for free and hang in the back room. Maybe do some more business or meet a girl. Then, around 2am, drop into an underground after-hours place in the East Village featuring an open mike for musicians and poets . . . or hang-out with friends at someone's pad until dawn, listening to Dylan's Blonde on Blonde and trying to decipher the lyrics. . . . all the while, smoking pot and hash, taking a bit of speed and dropping acid.
Even though I was yet to discover that I was born when Uranus was in the seventh house, I met a lot of strange people along the way. One of the strangest was a transgender folksinger who seemed to be under the delusion that "he" was Bob Dylan. Indeed, with curly brown hair and of small stature, Bobbi bore a striking resemblance to Dylan himself. Bobbi sang and played guitar in a Dylan tribute act at The Basement Café, across the street from the Café Wha? Never dropping the Bob Dylan persona, Bobbi claimed to be a Gemini, traits which "he" seemed to embody. We shared an apartment on Bleecker Street for a couple months, where Bobbi taught me Tarot and talked a lot about sun sign astrology. Even at home, Bobbi never dropped the Dylan act.
There was a strong metaphysical atmosphere around the acid scene, it seemed to naturally accompany the psychedelic experience. "Cosmic" was a popular word and we were turning to various esoteric and Asian traditions for insights into our psychedelic experiences and for "the meaning of it all." Allen Ginsburg brought us the annoying "Hare Krishna" chant when he returned from India, and while there was something about Allen's upbeat Geminian energy that I liked on the few occasions we met, he seemed too talkative and I sensed something naďve and superficial about his choice of gurus and doctrines.
Many of the Beat Generation embraced Buddhism, and I found Buddhism in its Tibetan format compelling. There were not many books available on Tibetan Buddhism during 1965-66, other than the old translations of Evans-Wentz, which I found at Ram's Metaphysical Bookshop near the corner of West 3th Street and MacDougal. I became fascinated with Padmasambhava, the Lotus-Born founder of Tibetan Buddhism, with whom I identified. Psychic experiences were now so frequent that if I wanted or needed something, anything, it would somehow come to me within twenty-four hours. I would either find it on the street or I would meet someone who made it possible. "It" was also contiguous. "Things" happened to other people when I was around — often to key people in the psychedelic world — so I was taken in as a sort of mascot.
People on the scene were tossing a lot of I Ching coins. I noticed that some friends became dependent on — or addicted to — "consulting the I Ching" (and in a lesser degree, "throwing the Tarot") before making everyday choices and decisions. Even back then I thought it silly and excessive, that they were abusing the tool. I was beginning to realize that I was at once the "craziest" and the "sanest" freak on the scene.
A lot of acts played the Village, and I hung with innumerable musicians and artists, but The Fugs, The Mothers of Invention, and Jimi Hendrix (Jimmy James and the Blue Flames) loom large in memory, perhaps because they became fixtures on the scene during 1966.
The Mothers of Invention (Frank Zappa, front center). Not exactly the sort of guys most girls would bring home to meet the parents. The back room of The Garrick featured freaks and proto-groupies. And yes, parents, your daughters were safe with these gentlemen.
The Mothers stayed at the Hotel George while they played two, three month gigs at The Garrick during 1966-67. Back then, The Mothers of Invention weren't a typical rock band — they never were — but were more like a musical ensemble featuring of the freakest of musicians and an even freakier conductor, Frank Zappa. Every show would be different and anything could happen because the shows were experimental performance art, featuring strong elements of parody, irony and satire. Ironically, cigarette-addicted Zappa, an early drug culture icon, didn't use cannabis and would fine band members if he caught them smoking pot. But even back then there were rumors about Zappa being a closet acid head. Thanks to a track on The Mothers first LP, Freak Out, almost every girl named Susan in the Village suddenly became "Suzy Creamcheese."
The Mothers 1966 dubut LP Freak Out! and concert poster for The Garrick, 1967.
The Fugs gigged for years at the Player's Theater, between the Café Wha? and The Cock'N'Bull. Like The Mothers, The Fugs were musical performance artists serving their audiences strong doses of smutty, satirical lyrics of protest mixed with an outlandish stage act. I found the Fugs' ironic rock sound more powerful musically than The Mothers, who were then less electric driven. Ed Sanders, The Fugs freaky beat gen lyricist and vocalist, was a poet and owned the Peace Eye Bookshop in the East Village. He would go on to write a bestseller about the Manson Family. The Fugs also featured the lyrics and performance art of a senior member of the Beat Generation, poet Tuli Kupferberg, who was known as the world's oldest rock star. Indeed, Tuli was about age forty-two at the time and one of the most loved freaks of the Village. Tuli didn't play a musical instrument on stage during a Fugs performance — he simply performed, dancing and acting out while the band played on. A successful author, Tuli created a series of books featuring his words and art, including 1,001 Ways to Live Without Working and 1,001 Ways to Beat the Draft. Tuli was an early inspiration and role model.
Ed Sanders and Tuli Kupferberg of The Fugs (left) and Jimi Hendrix.
During mid-1966, a group known as Jimmy James and the Blue Flames gigged The Café Wha? The group's dynamic left-handed guitarist would soon electrify the world as leader of The Jimi Hendrix Experience, but back then Mr. James was a struggling artist and a local favorite. Over the decades, many have asked, "What was Jimi like?" Most seem surprised when I tell them Jimi was one of the humblest and most authentic people I've ever met, that he was actually a thoughtful and modest personality, much in constrast to his stage persona. Another remarkable thing about Jimi was that he didn't place social barriers between himself and his fans.
Jimi didn't have much money before Chas Chandler of The Animals discovered him at the Café Wha? and arranged for Jimi to come to England, where he became a star. One of the attractions The Cock'N'Bull held for Jimi was its juke box, and from the records it held he learned some of his cover songs. The same juke box probably figures in the Arrows song, "I Love Rock and Roll," and Alan Merrill, the guy who wrote the song Joan Jett later made famous, along with Harold C. Black, fed coins into the record machine while Jimi learned to play "Hey Joe."
Aldous Huxley died on the day President Kennedy was assassinated, which created an opening for Timothy Leary to assume the mantle of "High Priest of LSD." Dr. Timothy Leary started his psychedelic career as a Harvard professor researching psychedelics and the religious experience. It wasn't long before school authorities shut down Leary's work. But Dr. Tim didn't end up on the street, the Mellon-Hitchcock trust fund babies — big sister Peggy and twin brothers Billy and Tommy — came to the rescue, offering Leary and others the use of a large estate outside Millbrook, New York from which to continue their psychedelic research.
"Timothy Leary" soon became a household name, as he rolled out a successful PR campaign worthy of a Madison Avenue award. With his smooth voice and engaging yet shallow rhetoric, Leary urged us to "Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out." The media loved it, and Leary's sensationalism probably led to the outlawing of LSD in October 1966.
Some months before that fateful day, Sandra, a girl I knew from the Village, invited me to a happening at the Hitchcock estate. Her mother was an uptown psychologist and in with Leary's crowd — The League for Spiritual Discovery. Once inside the vast estate, we were able to go almost anywhere. Over the next couple years I would find myself at the Millbrook scene time after time . . . right up until its last grim days.
On this occasion, we were already tripping when we arrived at the happening in progress. There were two, and later three, psychedelic groups homesteading the huge estate. Tim Leary and The League had the big house — a sixty room mansion with gardens and a small meditation house. The League consisted mostly of older, academic and professional types, and young freaks weren't welcomed, unless they were friends of Jackie Leary, Tim's teenage son, or the kids of League types. The Millbrook scene was a web of intrigue and I soon got up to date on its complicated history, especially regarding Billy Hitchcock, who sometimes lived on the estate in the bungalow beyond the Big House and the the carriage house which would become the Sri Ram Ashram. Billy seemed like someone who acid doesn't change much, and it didn't seem to change his buddies, such as Bernie Cornfield and Seymour Lazar, much either. Guys who played with money.
The Millbrook Estate c. 1966. The Big House (top), Dr. Timothy Leary (left) and Billy Hitchcock (right).
I learned that the Mellon-Hitchcocks were old blue-bloods, their greatgrand-father was William Larimer Mellon, founder of Gulf Oil, and their uncle was banker Andrew Mellon. Their famous grandparents, Paul and Mary Mellon, were the early sponsors of Jungian psychology in America and the benefactors of the Bollingen Foundation, the publishers of Carl G. Jung's collected works. So Peggy and Billy were continuing an established pattern of patronization
It was at the Sri Ram Ashram that I first met a Nepali — Baliram, a dancer who Bill Haines met in India and brought to America with him. Bali Ram kept a goat and milked it every night. He was probably one of the first three citizens of Nepal to visit the United States.
During the winter of 1966-67, a new shop opened near the corner of E. Tenth Street and Avenue A. The Psychedelicatessen was the first headshop, a herald of a new era of openness to pot smoking and drug taking. The avant-garde shop was established by guys who were involved in a successful large-scale hashesh smuggling caper, involving the concealment of Lebanese hashesh in shoe soles. During the coming twelve years the shop's founder—flutist—would play an important role in my life and in my psychedelic career.
Michael Bowen in his studio. c. 1967.
The psychedelic scene created its own culture, a counterculture, which embraced art as well as music. One night I accompanied a friend from the Millbrook scene to the studio of the beat-freak artist Michael Bowen, a counterculture leader who knew all of the Beats and Psychedelians on both coasts. Michael and I had a sympathetic connection and he would continue to appear in my life for decades to come. After returning to California, Michael organized the First Human Be-In at San Francisco's Golden Gate Park on 14 January 1967. I got a ride out to the West Coast with others, and after four long days transversing a hostile cultural wasteland, where freaks like us were hated by all, we arrived in the City by the Bay for "The Gathering of the Tribes."
Timothy Leary (top) and Allen Ginsberg (lower left) at the First Human Be-In, and a poster promoting the happening by Michael Bowen, organizer of the First Human Be-In.
Everybody was at the First Human Be-In, which was a new form of happening. The early years of the 1960s featured large sit-ins and massive demonstrations in New York, Berkeley and elsewhere, but the Human Be-In was a step beyond. It was a cultural event where human beings could "be" together "in" peace and harmony, not merely in protest. Ironically, the event didn't make Michael Bowen famous, and that was far from his intent, yet Allen Ginsburg and Tim Leary seemed to turn the happening into a self-promotional photo op. I thought of the wonderful event as something of a show of numbers, as Grace Slick sang:
There are millions of you now
I mean it's not as if you were alone
There are brothers everywhere
Just waiting for a toke on your gold
- Grace Slick, Mexico
I headed back to NYC after checking-out the Berkeley scene for a few days, and I soon found myself stranded in Chicago during the worst blizzard of the city's history. Fortunately, my travelling companion and I were able to crash for a few days in the basement apartment of a New York acquaintance. The crash pad, located near Chicago's Old Town, was shared by a few other stranded travelers, including a young lesbian couple, who stole my boots and left town while I was asleep. I somehow found footwear and set off for NYC as soon as the highways opened.
Around late-1966 and early-1967 yellow daffodils became a symbol of "flower power" and it was common to encounter hippie chicks passing out free daffodils on the street . . . and if they couldn't find daffodils, Hyrodox Cookies made a good substitute. And then there was the smoking of banana peels — a silly craze started by some people in Vancouver and members of the Berkeley-based band Country Joe and The Fish. Hype had it that smoking dried banana skins could get you high, like pot. Popular songs, like Donovan's "Mellow Yellow" were attributed to this entirely bogus fad, which even captured media attention.
David Rosario was a guy in his early twenties who used to hang-out at a window table in The Cock'N'Bull on weekends, where he seemed to hold court with a coterie of younger guys from Long Island, as well as young Alan Merrill from uptown and ubiquitous Harold C. Black. David was friendly — overly so, I thought — and he often invited me to his table. I usually declined because I thought he was gay and dorky, and he didn't live in the Village. Indeed, in 1966 David worked on Wall Street and probably lived with his parents. I joined his table a few times to see if anything interesting was happening. Were they looking for some hash or acid? No, no nothing like that. David wasn't a head, he had never smoked pot, much less dropped acid. He and his friends were into the music scene . . . "Do they want to hear some of my lyrics?" I wondered.
One spring day in 1967, someone on the street told me in passing that David and Harold were going to do a happening at the Washington Square Park fountain, that they will perform the "Smoke a Banana" song. I dropped by Rienze's a few moments later, where I saw David Rosario and Harold Black at a north window table going over some chords. David said they would come to the park in a few minutes. As promised, before long David and Harold were at the fountain performing one of the silliest songs I've ever heard. "This is ridiculous" I told a friend, "if they were really cool they would be singing about smoking pot, not about smoking stupid banana peels."
And so, surfing the wave of a silly hoax, David Rosario became David Peel, the Village street musician. A year or so later David finally got around to taking a few tokes off a joint, only to be reborn as a street rat of sorts, and "Have a Banana" was soon retooled as "Have a Marijuana." During the late-1960s and early-1970s, David regularly hung out in front of the bookshop on the corner of MacDougal and W. Eighth Street. He hung there and played street music in the park until one day in 1971, when John and Yoko passed by . . .
David Peel (right) and Harold C. Black (center) in the park, c. 1968.
If you were to walk into The Cock'N'Bull one day during 1966 and announced that, "In five years John Lennon will move to NYC and one of you will become his best friend forever," most of us would have predicted that Jimi Hendrix was destined to be John Lennon's best friend . . . no one would have foreseen David Rosario in that place.
Read Chapter Six:
I Stood Up the Queen of Rock: Palo Alto mid-1967
The Summer of Love • The Family Dog • Owsley
The East Farthing Trading Company • Ms. Stevie Nicks