6. I Stood Up The Queen of Rock:
Palo Alto mid-1967
One day in The Cock'N'Bull on MacDougal Street I heard Jimi exclaim, "That Gemini chick did a number on my head . . ." Back in 1966, Jimi Hendrix was the leader of a little known band billed as Jimmy James and the Blue Flames, and somehow the phrase stuck in my head. I could relate to it, by then I had known quite a few Gemini females. Indeed, I seemed to attract them.
The following summer found me on the West Coast. A couple days after arriving in San Francisco, I got an authentic fringed buckskin jacket, which happened to be nearly identical to the one Owsley wore. The jacket, plus my very close resemblance to early San Francisco rock promoter Chet Helms, gave me access to all things cool in The City, and helped create an instant connection with Janis when we first met in a laundromat on Haight near Masonic.
"I didn't know Chet had a younger brother," she said, leaning against the door.
"Neither did I," I replied and smiled. Looking her over while she stood by the open front door, smoking a cigarette and watching the action on the street, I noticed that she looked and acted much like how my older sister J. would if she were a freak. They shared the same body type, similar faces and a certain coarseness. "I don't have a brother," I added, "but you remind me of one of my older sisters."
After that, Janis always called me "little brother" whenever she saw me.
Purple haze all in my brain
Lately things just don't seem the same
-Jimi Hendrix, Purple Haze
It didn't take long for the media to exploit San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury scene, and a flood of misfits and tourists invaded the street. Tiring of nouveau hippies (not true Freaks) crowding the scene, and fed-up with having my photo snapped by tourists in cars, I began hanging in Berkeley and spending time a bit south of San Francisco, in the nearby Palo Alto area. Palo Alto had its own subtle scene, mostly in the past tense. It was the site of the early government LSD experiments in which Ken Kesey had participated as a guinea pig. Jerry Garcia and The Dead got started in Palo Alto, Kesey had his scene in nearby La Honda, Joan Baez and Grace Slick had been classmates at Palo Alto High School. Neal Cassidy and Kenneth Patchen lived in Palo Alto. The Free University was very active, and the area was a major pot and acid source point. I was welcomed and connected . . . except for that time on 14 July 1967, when Quicksilver Messenger Service kicked my friend C. and I out of their limo at the gate of the Continental Ballroom in Santa Clara. It was their loss, we came to see Big Brother and the Holding Company, featuring Janis Joplin.
Chet Helms (left), early San Francisco Rock Promoter and Founder of the Family Dog. c.1967. Owsley Stanley (right), renowned LSD chemist and acoustic engineer. At his arraignment in 1967.
C. was a girl I knew from the Village scene. We unexpectedly met-up a few days after I arrived in Palo Alto, at the Be-In in El Camino Park, across from Stanford University. A few weeks earlier I had seen her at a free Dead concert in the Golden Gate Park Panhandle, she was hoping to acquire Monterey Pop tickets. C. was staying with her older sister in nearby Atherton, a small, affluent community adjunct to Palo Alto and Menlo Park. Being New Yorkers of the same age, we found ourselves spending a lot of time together that summer, exploring the area and inner space. C. was very insightful, intelligent and articulate, with a solid personality which had passed the acid test . . . and she knew all the British invasion bands and the lyrics to all of Bob Dylan's songs. Soon we were tripping together on a couple hits of Owsley's purple two or three times a week, and it was during this time that my fundamental outlook and life direction assumed more distinct features. It was a magical time. It was "The Summer of Love," and we Freaks didn't much like being called "hippies."
Berkeley's famous Telegraph Avenue.
Palo Alto didn't have a street scene like the Village, Berkeley and the Haight, but there were a few cool places to hang — Kepler Books, Lytton Plaza, East-West Books, the Free U. at the Lytton House, the Poppycock. The Tangent and St. Michael's were no more, but during June 1967, The East Farthing Trading Company reopened in a big house on Cowper Street. C. and I had a look inside the night before it opened. The place was really something — a combination head shop, concert ticket outlet, psychedelic poster gallery, and vintage clothing shop. C. found a French military officer's cape in the vintage clothing room, and returned to buy it the moment the shop opened the following day. With her big curly hair and cape, C. let her "freak flag fly."
They're hoping soon my kind will drop and die,
But I'm gonna wave my freak flag high . . . HIGH!
-Jimi Hendrix, If 6 Was 9
Jimi Hendrix performing at the Panhandle concert (left) June 1967. Denise Kaufman of The Ace of Cups (right) 1967.
Jimi played the Fillmore a few days after Monterey Pop, and while in San Francisco he gave a free concert in the Golden Gate Park Panhandle at Masonic Street. Jimi had recently returned to the U.S. after becoming a star in England, and his performances at Monterey Pop and at the Fillmore were even more dynamic and colorful than what we had seen in the Village. Stardom hadn't changed Jimi though, he was the same friendly guy everyone loved back in NYC. I passed Jimi on Haight Street the morning before the free concert. He was wearing his light-colored coat with the tarot Sun painted on the back, and he had an attractive brunette on his arm, so I didn't want to interject myself, but Jimi smiled and said, "It's good to see a familar face."
A female rock group, The Ace of Cups, opened for Jimi's free concert in the panhandle, and his performance was delayed due to technical problems. I recall there were some disturbances in the fringes of the audience and that it wasn't one of Jimi's greatest moments. The Ace of Cups featured Denise Kaufman — also known as Mary Microgram of The Merry Pranksters — a girl associated with the Palo Alto Free University and an activist in the Free Speech Movement, with whom I was acquainted. Denise was someone I wanted to get closer to, but I was unsuccessful at gaining her special attention. Besides, it was understood she was close to a member of the Grateful Dead. It would be a reoccurring life-theme — the ones I want don't want me, and the one's that want me I don't want . . . it would take a lot longer to get through issues of acceptance.
During that summer I spent a lot of time hanging out at Lytton Plaza, which was on the South-East corner of University and Ramona in Palo Alto. It was there, late one afternoon during the early summer of 1967, that I first met the girl C. and I would refer to as "the Gemini chick."
Lytton Plaza, University Avenue, Palo Alto, California. c. 1967.
She had probably noticed us before, I'm pretty sure of that. She came up to C. and I and started talking, came right out and said she wanted to be friends. I was impressed with her proactive approach and charmed by her efflorescent personality, otherwise she seemed much like the other immature local kids, and I wondered if she had any notion of what it meant to hang with a couple NYC acid freaks. Yet she and I had an immediate connection, and we launched into a dynamic conversation. It didn't take long before I figured her for a Gemini. I recognized the edgy, stimulating connection I sometimes sense with Gemini women — and I had recently learned it had to do with Gemini and Scorpio being 150 degrees apart in the zodiac, between the trine and opposition aspects — that there was a creaative tension, an attraction-repulsion going on which was exciting, compelling and self-perpetuating.
She asked our ages (she and I were 19, C. would turn 19 in a few days), told us she was a Gemini, and asked what signs we were. Scorpio and C. is a Cancer, which happened to be her parents' signs, except the other way around — her mother was Scorpio and the dad's sign was Cancer. Then the Gemini chick and I went off on a tangent about how the reversal is also sort of a Gemini thing. I realized that although the newcomer seemed a bit naïve and "not so cool," I liked her and found her appealing . . . there was something about her energy, her magnetism that drew me in. She had an odd name for a girl — Stevie.
Eventually, C., who had hardly spoken and was not much amused, reminded me that we had "something to do."
Buffy Sainte-Marie (left) was a prominent singer-songwriter of the 1960s. She still performs today and is best known for "The Universal Soldier" and "Until It's Time for Your to Go." Maria Muldaur (right) performed with the Jim Kweskin Jug Band, and later went solo, realizing success during the mid-1970s with "Midnight at the Oasis." Maria still performs.
Growing-up with three sisters — two older, one younger — I could easily relate to both younger and older girls. I was beginning to have a better notion of what I was looking for in a girlfriend, but I still had a lot to figure out. I was confused about what to do about Stevie, which meant I would do nothing. I was still quite shy about making advances on girls, unless I was certain I wouldn't experience rejection. So, my tendency was to fall in with girls who would make the first move. My response was also conditioned by social ambitions, I wanted to get tighter with key people on the rock scene and in the psychedelic movement . . . and I was beginning to set my sights on older women. I was able to get tight with Susan, who was five years my senior, while driving out to the West Coast from NYC earlier that year. Most of my circle of friends were two to five years older than me, so there were opportunities to expand my age range upward. I was fascinated with Buffy Sainte-Marie, but I knew I hadn't a chance with her. Maria Muldaur smiled at me once, but she was also beyond my reach, though she smiled again years later. I thought I might eventually have a chance with Mimi Farina, we seemed to have had a connection when we met briefly, but she was mourning the loss of Richard Farina. Mary Microgram was just a year older than me, but she seemed aloof.
Mimi Farina (left), deceased sister of Joan Baez, grew-up in Palo Alto. With her novelist/activist husband Richard Farina, she contributed to the earliest electric folk-blues-rock recordings. Ronnie Bennett Spector (right) was lead singer of the hugely popular girl group The Ronnettes, produced by Phil Spector, whom she would later marry. Ronnie still performs.
I saw Stevie around a few times, and we would speak briefly. She was pretty much a loner, relatively new to town. There was something charming, but also something awkward about Stevie, like she wasn't actually as confident as she sometimes projected. And she had the habit of biting her lower lip when anxious, something I used to do before I struck out on my own.
Stevie had a little white car, and C. and I noticed her drive by C. sister's house in Atherton a few times. We had bought an old milk truck from the Foremost Dairy on Alma Street in Palo Alto, and were painting it Owsley purple in the sister's driveway one day when Stevie drove by. While standing in the driveway a few days later, C. mentioned a Buffy concert she had attended. I don't know if Stevie actually drove by at that moment, but she should have. Another time, while hanging in the sister's driveway, C. said something about how we were "Children of the Lost Tribe." I don't know if it was original to C., or if it was the title of a magazine article published that summer about the street people and Freaks of the Village, but it was appropriate.
LSD-25 became illegal during October 1966 — about the time Chas Chandler of The Animals discovered Jimi at the Cafe Wha? and arranged for him to go England — and the acid market immediately exploded. I was already well-connected in NYC, and in California I connected with the Kesey/Owsley organization. One of my connections was a beat generation guy who lived on Cowper Street near the creek. Ron had been a volunteer with Ken Kesey in the early LSD experiments at Stanford. He was close to the Palo Alto poet Kenneth Patchen, and kept a shrine dedicated to Kenneth and Allen Ginsberg, where he displayed their photos and the unwashed glasses in which he had served them wine a few years earlier. Ron also had a cannister filled with 10,000 hits of purple acid tabs which Owsley had fronted him; it was my job to distribute the purple.
Serious astrology wasn't popular yet, and imported and domestic gurus hadn't yet flooded the market, but the psychedelic movement was headed in that direction. That summer the Beatles hooked-up with "the Maharishi" and embraced Transcendental Meditation. I wasn't yet serious about astrology, but I was impressed with my ability to identify Geminis, Scorpios and Leos. I recall I once mentioned to C. that she being a Cancer and I a Scorpio made us both crustaceans — a crab and a scorpion. She added that we were hard on the outside, but soft inside. Stevie also used astrological language and she seemed to have had a private source of special knowledge.
I was then interested in psychedelics, radical politics, Tibetan Buddhism, synchronicity, human potential, cosmic connections, multi-leveled reality and ESP. Aldous Huxley had greatly impressed me and I was searching for a metaphysically and philosophically sound model of the universe which made coherent sense of "it all." For some time I had been picking up random bits and pieces about astrology, but the old books on astrology stocked by bookshops and found in the friends' bookcases didn't hold much appeal, and their fragmented presentation turned me off.
During late-1967, Grace Slick (left) of The Jefferson Airplane and Janis Joplin (right) of Big Brother and the Holding Company were the two Queens of Rock.
One day during late-September, Stevie said something that caused me to purchase an ephemeris, a table of houses, and The A to Z Horoscope Maker and Delineator, which seemed very old-fashioned, from the East-West Bookshop on El Camino Real in Menlo Park.
C. had returned to NYC during mid-September, and I had planned to stay on for a week or two longer. It was then that Stevie revealed what she was about.
No one knows how I feel
what I mean unless you read between my lines
-Stevie Nicks, Stand Back
I was about to return to NYC. There was something about meeting up with Owsley and some of his people at Hitchcock's Millbrook estate for a big East Coast op. The Group Image, a NYC acid rock band allied with The Grateful Dead, were also making the Millbrook scene. I figured there would be opportunities to finance the rock club I had in mind for the East Village, and I dug doing "pubic service." Since 1965 I had wanted to create a rock café and cultural center, and I was impressed with what Chet Helms and the Family Dog had done with the Avalon Ballroom in San Francisco, so I was looking to move from being a wannabe songwriter to a innovative rock promoter and producer. The Haight-Ashbury scene was already burnt-out, nothing special was happening in Palo Alto, and the students had returned to Berkeley. I set my sights on returning to NYC.
Chet Helms (center) and The Family Dog. Poster artist Stanley Mouse can be seen in the upper right wearing a cape. 1967.
Then, the night before I had planned to leave California, there she was, with her Goya guitar, standing in front of The East Farthing Trading Company. I remarked about the Goya, and she probably told me the story about it being a sixteenth birthday present. I had mentioned earlier that C. had left for the East Coast, and that possibly contributed to what followed.
Stevie went on to say that she had joined a band, that they will be performing soon, and that she really wanted me to attend the gig. I asked where. The gig would be at Menlo-Atherton High. I didn't know how to deal with that, so I indelicately replied, "I don't attend high school dances, even if I'm on the guest list." Undaunted, she launched into a private audition for my benefit, performing Buffy Sainte-Marie's "Cod'ine."
I had seen scores of promising young guitar playing singers in Village clubs and cafes. A few got somewhere. Even fewer made it big. Most went nowhere. I knew right off that Jimi and Janis would be huge, we all thought so. But what was about to unfold was something else.
Stevie carried the long song well enough, showing a strong sense of rhythm. Her guitar wasn't as articulate as Buffy's, but the most outstanding thing about Stevie was her capable, unique voice featuring an even stronger vibrato than Buffy's signature sound. During her performance, for emphasis she occassionally leaned forward from the waist, contracting the diaphragm, creating an even huskier, raspier vocal effect. At the song's conclusion, Stevie abruptly slouched forward.
"What was that?" I asked.
She explained it was a part of the performance, she wanted to incorporate gesture and movement with music and poetry. "You've never seen a real junkie nod out," I could have said something nicer. Indeed, Stevie had never been anywhere near where a junkie could be seen nodding out.
My mother and father said, Whiskey's a curse.
But the fate of their baby was many times worse
- Buffy Sainte-Marie, Cod'ine
Undaunted by my uncompromising remarks, Stevie wanted to hear my comments on her performance. I gave her credit for a strong and unique voice, but she needed to develop some street credibility to back up the lyrics. I assured her that she could get into a real band within six months, if she worked at it, but her voice sounded too county. She admitted that she had a country-western background, with an emphasis of significance on western, and that she started singing and performing at age four. I suggested that she didn't want to sound country like Brenda Lee or Skeeter Davis, that she needed to develop a powerful rock sound.
Yes, Stevie wanted to move in a folk and rock direction, but she stressed that if she were to do this, she would have to be "the best." It was very important that she must be the best, she didn't want to disappoint the parents by being anything less.
Perseverance and determination pays in the long run, and she seemed to have plenty of those qualities, plus ambition, but I wasn't sure about her ever being the best. Her voice had possibilities, but she was such a conservative dresser and so much "the girl next door" that it was difficult to imagine her assuming that role. "So," I said cautiously, "you're going to take on Janis and Grace for Queen of Rock. You'll need a powerful voice to be heard over a loud rock band."
"I can scream," Stevie affirmed.
"I didn't see you at the Big Brother show at the Continental," I mentioned. "Who have you seen? Were you at Monterey Pop?"
No, she didn't attend Monterey Pop or the Continental show, but she had seen The Mamas and the Papas, and The Jefferson Airplane. . . . or maybe it was the Buffalo Springfield.
But not Janis Joplin? That amazed me, how could an aspiring young singer live 25 miles from San Francisco during the summer of 1967, and not have seen Janis Joplin perform? It became evident that Stevie was a very sheltered girl who didn't get around much. She had very little notion of what was going on in the Haight, and was equally naive politically. We were seeing each other as girlfriend/boyfriend material, and the notion of going someplace with her was becoming very compelling, yet Stevie's lack of life-experience caused me some discomfort. But it was the season of change, and I sensed Stevie had something, that she would go somewhere if she ever got out of that town. She had something, I just didn't know what . . .
"You have to see Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix to really know what's going on now," I urged. "You've got to make the scene. . . . Who do you like?"
"I like Bob Dylan and Grace Slick," she said, "He's a Gemini and she's Scorpio. They write in code."
"Yes, writing in code is very Gemini and Scorpio."
"What is Janis Joplin like?" Stevie asked.
"She's friendly and outgoing," I explained. "She's coming from a difficult place, so she drinks a lot to forget. She's flamboyant, but she isn't as confident as she tries to appear."
"What's her performance like?" Stevie inquired after a few moments thought.
"She's an earthy type. Intensely emotional and demonstrative, with a lot of gestures." I tried to imitate some of Janis' stage movements. "The band is very loud, hard, bluesy rock."
Stevie seemed to be analysing it all, as if she were sizing-up the field. Yes, she was completely serious about her high aspirations.
I asked if she could sing blues. No.
"Do you do protest songs?" No, the parents wouldn't like it. They're confused and concerned about protests and demonstrations.
After a thoughtful pause, Stevie asked in a concerned manner, "What's Jimi Hendrix like? I heard he's really wild."
"No, he's not a wild man," I said lightly. "He's very intense and flamboyant on stage, but he's really a mellow, gentle guy. I knew him in New York."
Stay away from the man pushin' codeine around
Stay away from the stores where the remedy is fine
-Buffy Sainte-Marie, Cod'ine
I was getting drawn in, we discussed songwriting, I confided that I was moving away from poetry and songwriting, into something more behind the scenes. Although I connected well with everyone on the music scene, I wasn't really musical, I could hardly play guitar, and I couldn't find a suitable musical partner. Besides, in the Village I was around so many really great musicians. Like, I could never play guitar as well as Jimi, so I wanted to do something different . . . something I could do better than others. Like, why make yourself redundant?
She seemed to resonate with that and invited me to sing harmony with her on something by the Everly Brothers — probably Let It Be Me. I felt uncomfortable with the suggestion, in the past I had experienced some difficult auditions. Yet I somehow felt relaxed with Stevie, so I hesitantly agreed to try a few bars, hoping not to mess it up. Stevie gave me a refresher on the lyrics, which she knew well, and we gave it a try.
"You have a good country voice," Stevie told me, turning on the persuasive brown eyes.
I've heard that before, and I would hear it again a few months later, but I didn't like the country part.
Stevie said it wasn't so important for a songwriter to be an accomplished musician. She would teach me some chords, and suggested we could work together. Opening up, she confided that she wanted to team-up with a guy . . . there was something about the energy and the image. Looking back, it seems like the whole package was there, all of her themes and elements, in nascence, and that she was probably looking to reenact the special musical relationship she had had with her grandfather.
You'll forget you're a woman, you'll forget about men
Try it just once, and you'll try it again
-Buffy Sainte-Marie, Cod'ine
By this stage, and after those lyrics, I realized something was happening, so I embolden myself. "Why don't you come back to NYC with me. I'm sure you'll make it big there within a year. . . . I know everyone," I exaggerated, "there are so many clubs and venues, so many opportunities and possibilities. You'll dig NYC."
No, she couldn't do that. She had enrolled at San Jose State and she couldn't disappoint the parents that way. They bought her a car so she could commute to school, she added, motioning to the little car parked nearby. It was the same make and model as my mom's car, except mom's was a metallic blue. And Stevie had just joined the band, she couldn't abandon them.
Ms. Stevie Nicks with The Fritz Rabyne Memorial Band, c. 1968.
"What are the guys in the band into?" I asked.
"The Beach Boys."
I was astonished. "The Beach Boys! That sound will take you nowhere. It's passe! How old are they?"
"They're all younger than me."
"A high school band! You can do better than that. You could get in a real band. You should do what Grace Slick did, replace an outgoing member of a hot band on the verge of making it big — bring your own material. . . . Come to New York, female rock vocalists are in demand. You'll record within a year."
No, she couldn't go, but she wanted me to stay. We could develop something . . . she proposed I work for her dad's company . . . she would take care of everything.
The notion that she would want me to take a job with her father's large corporation bothered me. I saw myself handling baggage at the San Francisco Bus Terminal. That wasn't something I would want to do, but she assured me that her dad was a really nice guy, that her parents would like me, that she was very close to her family and that I would have to meet them. If I had to do something conventional, I would rather attend the School of Design and Technology, or work for a publisher or a bookshop because I was interested in publishing, or better yet, find a job at a recording studio where I could learn all about recording technology and how to produce records. . . . And this was happening rather quickly. I was astonished and attracted by her determined, proactive approach combined with her refreshing innocence . . . and I was entirely susceptible to her considerable personal charm and tremendous magnetism. I don't recall if she mentioned, or if she even knew, her astrological birth chart features Aries rising and Moon in Capricorn in the Tenth House, it was evident that this bubbly, petite young woman wasn't just a glib Gemini chick.
The dynamic shifted. We made arrangements, I would phone her, to meet and spend the next day together . . . for something promising. Then it was time to say good night, we drew near, her compelling warm brown eyes looked deeply into mine . . .
That night I conducted an unforgettable, prolonged inner debate regarding whether to stay or to leave. I knew that if I saw Stevie one more time, I would never leave her, I would never want to leave her. But I feared that she didn't get what I was about. Not that she couldn't "get it," but she was unlikely to get it until she acquired some life-experience. But until that time came, I sensed Stevie would be determined to maintain the status quo, that pleasing the parents would come first. I saw myself inevitably drawn into her family and working for the corporation her dad headed. I recoiled at the thought of melting into the local landscape, of being stranded in that town, and it caused me to run — I left for NYC the next day.
It would take years before I realized I had earned the song title, "I Stood Up the Queen of Rock."
One man walked away from me
-Stevie Nicks, Stand Back
I was probably too young to appreciate the depth of what Stevie had offered. Like most young guys, my tendency was to think of girlfriends as easily replaceable. I didn't realize that her brown eyes would haunt me forever, that she and her radiant energy were irreplaceable, and that in time it would even become impossible to escape the sound of her ubiquitous voice. . . .
Why did I react the way I did? Why do we do the things we do? If we had it to do over, would it be any different?
For a long time I thought my discomfort regarding her parents caused me to walk away. I had not met or seen her father, but she spoke much of him and it was clearly very important for her to please him. I simply felt he wouldn't like me and my lifestyle. She insisted he really wasn't uptight under the surface, but her saying so didn't make me feel more comfortable. I had seen her mom downtown and at the East-West Bookshop a couple times. She was a standout — a smart dresser with sensuous features. Whenever the mom noticed me, she seem to recoil, as if I were a threat.
Do not turn away my friend
Like a willow I can bend
-Stevie Nicks, Stand Back
The sensible thing would have been to stay around for a time, to see how things worked out. And that's the greatest irony. Stevie's mom was a wonderful woman, and I probably would have benefited greatly from a friendship with her father — who later became a rock promoter. Ironically, a few month's later the parents moved to Chicago, but Stevie stayed behind, dropped out of college and "paid dues" for the next seven years.
Through the years, our lifelines were be strangely entangled .
My yellow in this case is not so mellow
In fact I'm trying to say it's frighten like me
And all these emotions of mine keep holding me from
Giving my life to a rainbow like you
-Jimi Hendrix, Bold As Love
What was it? What is energy? What is Shakti?
Chapter Seven; late-1967 to mid-1968
• I return to NYC, meet-up with The Grateful Dead and The Group Image.
• At Hitchcock's psychedelic estate outside Millbrook, I talk synchronicity and astrology with Art Kleps. Hang with the Teepee Town Tribe. Owsley gets busted. G. Gordon Liddy busts the Millbrook estate, Tim Leary, and Billy Mellon-Hitchcock.
• I return to California. The first person I meet is Pattie Santos of the San Francisco rock group It's A Beautiful Day. While living in Berkeley, I meet composer/astrologer Dane Rudhyar, artist Jose Auguelles (who decades later would be a proponent of the Year 2012 craze), and others.
Stand Back lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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