A lot of the rampant free expression really was free, as in no cost to you. A guiding principle of hippie life, at least at the start, was that you shared what you had. In the beginning, the Bay Area bands professed and lived those downright upright values. They were anti-commercial, anti-conformity and took very public stands for peace, love, honesty, and better living and loving through chemistry. There was a whole lot of of heaven-raising going on.
You could listen to the best bands in the world every weekend at free outdoor concerts in the Panhandle in San Francisco, in Berkeley’s Provo Park, and on Mount Tamalpais and Muir Beach in Marin County. They performed for the pleasure of making a joyful noise and sharing it. No one even thought to pass a hat among the audience to help cover their expenses. Really smokin’ bands did this on a regular basis. Every weekend I saw and heard groups such as the Steve Miller Band, the Grateful Dead, the Quicksilver Messenger Service, the Jefferson Airplane and the Chambers Brothers, while sitting on God’s green grass and smoking God’s greenish grass as it was passed from hand to mouth through the crowd.
Sam Andrew recalled to me, “Big Brother and the Holding Company loved playing for free in the park—it was very important for us. We would go to the Panhandle and play. ‘Let’s don’t rehearse in the garage today—let’s rehearse in the park.’ We needed it. Nobody played very well; there were no great musicians yet. I wish we still did it. It was a good period.”
Peter Albin told me, “Some of the benefits that we played for were for things we didn’t agree with, but they were part of that chain. We did benefits for some alternative schools. We were doing the music, but the music was a benefit for some things that helped change the world. “
Country Joe McDonald told me, “No one was making any money—money wasn’t a part of the mix. We were unknown, playing for free in ’66, ’67.” I was on the stage at the Human Be-In for twenty minutes or so. We played at the free alternative stage at the Monterey Pop Festival [on the football field of Monterey Peninsula College, where 20,000 people were camped out]. I always liked playing outside in the park for free. It was fun and it was community building and politically correct. We played in the Panhandle in San Francisco and also in Berkeley a bit. We played on a truck in the park. “
Paul Fauerso of The Loading Zone told me, “Our agent told us we should put an ad in the Berkeley Barb that we’d play for free.”
The authorities had varying ideas about the free concerts. The bands, particularly the Grateful Dead, would rent two flatbed trucks and place them end-to-end to use as a stage in The Panhandle of Golden Gate Park. They had no permits, and would typically play until cops shut down the operation.
Ron Barnett, manager of the Loading Zone, told me the well-kept secret behind the free concerts in Berkeley’s Provo Park. “I was coordinator of the free concerts in the park. I called up Steve Miller and asked him if his band would play. Do you remember in 1967 there were signs saying ‘April 9th’ all over Berkeley? We put them there. All they said was ‘April 9th.’ We decided to set up and play on Telegraph, because that was where everything was happening. We set up in front of one of the bookstores and the street filled up and traffic couldn’t get through.
“The Chief of Police came to me and said, ‘I can arrest all of you. If you start playing, you’re going to be the first person I arrest.’ There was a vacant lot a block away from Telegraph. I said, ‘What if we play there?’ I didn’t want to get busted. He appreciated it that we were trying to cooperate.
“A few days later he called me and said he wanted to see me. He sent a lieutenant to pick me up in a squad car and bring me to him. He said, “We’ll give you Provo Park. We won’t even be there. As long as things stay peaceful, no one will get busted, even if they are smoking pot. Put on some shows.” He wanted to show that the city supported rock shows for hippies. He put me together with the head of the Parks Department. for city, who was a young guy who was very cooperative.”
Fans responded to the various bands’ anti-material sentiments with enthusiastic support. If any musicians had done anything purely for the bread they would have been mocked and ostracized. If a rock star or band had even contemplated cutting a deal to endorse a soft drink, a car, athletic shoes, or jeans they would have seen their fan base evaporate overnight. Even having a Top Forty hit looked suspiciously like a sell-out, a sacrifice of principles for filthy lucre. After all, money and greed created most of the evils in the world: the military-industrial complex, conservatism, and the most egregious sell-out of all, materialism.
Paying to hear a concert was generally tolerated, although it rattled some peoples’ chains to have to shell out a few bucks to hear music that was rightfully theirs for the asking. Even a few record stores carried the philosophy. Paul Fauerso told me, “In Berkeley, Leopold’s Record Store was the peoples’ record store. They sold records at cost. They’d sell a $3.98 album for $1.66.”
Sam Andrew said, “When Janis wrote “Mercedes Benz,” the point was to not buy into the material culture. Then Mercedes Benz, with a complete lack of humor or irony, used it in a commercial.”
The Great Society named themselves to protest the materialistic motives of the Establishment. Darby Slick wrote in Don’t You Want Somebody to Love, “[Lyndon] Johnson seemed the prototypical southern politician, essentially dirty. We hated his personality. His plan of wonderment for American was called the Great Society, so we took this name, and said, ‘We, the hippie-freak, drug addicts, we are your Great Society.’….It was an ugly name to us, like calling yourself dog shit, and we wore it with a sense of ‘fuck you’ to Madison Avenue.”
At first, the bands mostly lived communally, sharing among themselves and with the other bands. Gary Duncan of the Quicksilver Messenger Service said in I Want to Take You Higher, “We shared everything we had: food, women, houses.”
Dan Healy, first sound man for the Quicksilver Messenger Service and later for the Grateful Dead described the Dead’s house at 710 Ashbury Street, “It was a really good scene. There was very little money; the whole vibe of sharing was what was happening in those days. It was one of those situations where nobody really had anything, but nobody really needed anything. It was kind of magic that way. We had what we were doing and that was basically all we needed. Everyone had a place to sleep, and clothes to wear, and food to eat.”
David Freiburg of Quicksilver Messenger Service told me, “I remember being at Thanksgiving with the Dead and bringing this wine that Capitol gave us one year for Christmas. The record companies would always give you Christmas presents, right? And one year they gave us each a case of Chateau Mouton Rothschild—which we just guzzled right down! That’s the kind of stuff you’re supposed to put away because the year it comes out you’re not supposed to drink it. You put it down for ten years before you drink a bottle.”
It was easy to live without much money. People would give you money willingly, lovingly if they had it to give. In the early days, before the deluge of hangers-on, The term “panhandling” came from people asking for “spare change” in the Panhandle of Golden Gate Park, a strip of greenery between Oak and Fells Streets that ran through the Haight-Ashbury. In the early days, all those loose coins flowed effortlessly from pocket to hand to hand to pocket. You knew that whomever was asking really needed it.
The Haight-Ashbury district originally became hippie Command Central because the rents were so cheap. You could get a room in an old Victorian house for thirty or forty dollars a month. However, it was de riguer to provide housing for the hip homeless, those who lived unshackled from the bonds of secure shelter by choice. You shared the space you had. Some people never paid rent but moved around from crash pad to crash pad, washing the dishes or entertaining the troops with music and/or dope. State mental institutions housed and fed the hard-core homeless—the mentally ill, chronic alcoholics and other unfortunates. Governor Reagan had not yet turned them out into the streets to fend for themselves.
Five dollars per week was a perfectly reasonable food budget. However, you could get free meals from the The Radha-Krishna Temple that was set up on Frederick St. in San Francisco, next door to the Diggers’ home base. Both groups gave out free meals. However, the Diggers and Krishnas clashed in their intents to distribute food for free. The Diggers had a heavily political philosophy for doing it, while the Hare Krishna folk were practicing a spiritual exercise: the food was first offered to God, which made it a holy substance known as prasad. Distributing it gave spiritual merit to both the cooks and the diners.
Peter Coyote described the source of the Diggers’ philosophy in Sleeping Where I Fall, “The original Digger movement began in England in April of 1649.… Gerrard Winstanley, a London cloth merchant and dissenting Christian, published a pamphlet, Truth Lifting up Its Head Above the Scandals, which established what became basic principals of anarchy: that power corrupts; private property and freedom are mutually exclusive; and only in a society without rulers can people be free to act according to their consciences.”
The Diggers scrounged up discards from restaurants, supermarkets and farms and cooked them into tasty messes for the masses. Wherever they were going to distribute food, they would set up the Frame of Reference: a large yellow frame. It symbolically framed your reality. You might looking through it from one side, where your frame of reference was to distribute food, or on the other, where it was to receive it.
The forces of evil materialism opposed the Digger’s operation. At the end of 1966, building inspectors tore apart the Frame of Reference and boarded up the Digger’s garage with the broken pieces. The San Francisco Oracle reported, “The AFL-CIO Teamster Union issues a warning to the Ukranian Bakery advising them not to donate their day-old bread to the Digger Free Food gathering. The union specified certain church-run organizations that may benefit from the generosity of the bakery but qualified the amount of brEad that may be given to the needy. The Teamsters assured the proprietors that if they persisted in helping the Diggers their shop would be picketed by Union drivers. When asked what they intended to do about the blockade that has been thrown up by the teamsters the Diggers replied: “We’ll give them a healthy respect for eternity. ”
I you needed clothing, household items or other stuff, there was the Diggers free store, Trip Without a Ticket. All the items were free for the taking. The store was designed to up-end the relationships in a capitalist society between customer and seller. Sam Andrews told me, “A woman was shoplifting in the free store, and they went up to her and said you don’t have to steal this—it’s free.”
Wavy Gravy said, “I remember being in San Francisco and wending my way down Haight St. to the Digger Free Store. They had a swing in the window and this lovely child of color was swinging back and forth amidst these sunbeams. It was absolutely gorgeous. I slipped inside and I was watching her when this voice whispered in my ear, ‘Wanna help?’ The next thing I know it was three hours later and I had spent that time folding clothes. I had received an oral transmission from Emmett Grogan of the Diggers. From time to time, on my life’ path I will come up behind someone I can use some assistance from and evoke Emmet, ‘Wanna help?’ I owe Emmett a lot for that transmission.”
The Provos, led by Bill Miller, became the counterpart to the Diggers in Berkeley. They patterned themselves after a Dutch anarchist group. “Provo” was was short for “provocateur.” Paul Fauerso told me, “The honcho of the Provo Park [formerly Civic Center Park] concerts in Berkeley was Bill Miller of the Provos. He was a real politico. He set up a free soup kitchen in the park with a big gas burner with a big kettle of soup. The band really appreciated those meals.”
All you had to do was show up with a bowl and spoon to partake. For a time the Provos also had a free store in Berkeley.
Other than at the free stores, you could clothe yourself on the cheap. Today’s vintage clothing, which now sometimes sells for hundreds of dollars, was then unwanted discards you could pull off a Salvation Army rack for a dollar or two.
If you were sick you could go to Free Clinics in Berkeley and San Francisco, where volunteer doctors and one very cool dentist, Dr. Hercules Morphopoulous, would treat whatever ailed you. My father was the project manager when they built a new Berkeley Free Clinic in a church basement. However, he discovered that it was difficult to find skilled labor to do the construction. One young man showed up in workman’s overalls with a hammer hanging in the loop. However, it turned out that he knew absolutely nothing about carpentry; he was on a fantasy trip about being a worker.
If you were on a bummer or felt uptight there was free psychotherapy to be had. My mother was one of a group of therapists who offered free therapy at the Berkeley Free Clinic. She also organized a drop-in clinic through the City of Berkeley Mental Health Services where once a week, anyone could drop in to sit in a circle on the floor with big pillows for a group therapy session. She enlisted graduate students from the university to do their internships helping with therapy, and coaxed volunteers to offer child care. The Drop-In Clinic became a model for similar projects internationally.
If you had the bad karma to get busted, you could go to the Haight-Ashbury Legal Organization (HALO) for free representation. The offices were in the Grateful Dead house at 710 Ashbury St. headed by attorney Michael Stepanian.
On May 30, 1967 there was a benefit for HALO at Winterland. The HALO concert was the only occasion on which the major San Francisco bands, the Grateful Dead, the Jefferson Airplane, the Quicksilver Messenger Service and Big Brother and the Charlatans all appeared at the same gig.
Transportation? All you had to do was stand by the side of that long and winding road and stick your thumb into the wind, and hippies on wheels would pick you up. They might even share a joint with you, the better to enjoy the ride. Owning a car wasn’t even too much of a hassle. A used VW cost a couple of hundred bucks, easy. A VW van could double as a crash pad, love nest, dining room, and at least once, according to Antonia Cipollina, as a recording studio for some heavy-hitting artists. “I heard a story that after a gig about eight of these guys, Jimi Hendrix, John Cipollina, a big calamity of musicians, got into a VW, the car stuffed full of musicians, and they recorded themselves playing. That tape must be around somewhere.”
Drugs were relatively cheap and freely shared. In 1966, an ounce of marijuana, called a “lid,” cost about eight to ten dollars. Kilograms, or “keys,” averaged around sixty dollars.
As time moved on and more lost souls, runaways and drug dealers showed up on the scene, many vulnerable people were plowed under in one way or another. Residents became more suspicious and less generous. As Country Joe pointed out to me, you needed to know how to take care of yourself in such a scene.
“I wasn’t that young. I’d had a lot of jobs, I’d been in the Navy for three years. In ’66 I was twenty-four years old. I’d traveled to Japan in the navy, I had a work ethic. I was experiencing the counterculture, but I knew how to take care of myself. Some of the older persons assumed positions of leadership, such as Allen Ginsberg, and Michael McClure. Stephen Gaskin [who conducted the popular discussion gathering, Monday Night Class, held at The Family Dog, and later started the commune, the Farm] was a Korean War veteran. I grew up in a left-wing family so I knew about the politics. A lot of hippies were very gullible. They didn’t have a lot of life experience. A lot of people came from sheltered, middle class families. Even Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin came from conservative families and were rebelling against their parents. Some of the people ended up in cults. I was lucky.”