Let Us Digress For a Moment….

It’s Sunday night and I’ve just returned from one of my periodic two-day pilgrimages to some of the local sites of my long ago youth. I started by cruising south on Skyline Boulevard and then west on 84 to the tiny, blink-and-miss-it hamlet of La Honda, my old neighborhood and once the headquarters of Ken Kesey and The Merry Pranksters. Respects having been paid at the former Kesey compound, I reversed direction, backtracked into town and popped into Applejack’s, which looked like it was about to fall over in ’64 and still does, for a cold beer and a bit of rumination.

Thirst quenched and ruminations ruminated, I meandered back the intersection of Skyline and La Honda Road where, in the spring of ’65, I spent a warm, Sunday morning cavorting with several dozen Hell’s Angels who’d gathered in the parking lot of the once-upon-a-time Woodside General Store on their way to Kesey’s place. (Actually, it was the Angels who were cavorting in the parking lot that day; I was mostly trying to make my terrified, 17-year-old self invisible and not tick anyone off.)

Then I switchbacked my way down the hill, stopping, as always, at the spot a few hundred yards above Woodside Road where a college friend of mine was run off the road in January ’65 by a state Forestry Department vehicle (a green Pontiac station wagon) in his two-day-old VW and rolled five-and-a-half times down the hill before coming to rest upside down against a tree. The official car did not stop and my friend was briefly trapped inside the crushed VW, but, except for a grotesquely bloody nose, was unhurt. I was also also briefly trapped inside the car, but was unhurt. I did, however, lose a baseball I’d been holding. I’d been given the ball earlier that day by another school friend named Cindy Simmons, the daughter of famed San Francisco Giants’ announcer, Lon Simmons.

The baseball, alas, was signed by Willie Mays and I was more than a little distressed that I had lost it. Despite several subsequent search expeditions during the next few months, I never found it. But the VW’s shattered windshield is, to this day, lying mostly buried, next to the tree against which we came to rest that day.

Upside down.

In a brand new, yellow VW Beetle that, after it was winched up the hill and righted on the shoulder of the road, stood about waist high. Standing next to that dusty wreckage caused my legs turn to jelly and my head to swirl. It was the closest I’ve ever come to passing out without having ingested any alcohol or chemical substances. Thinking hard about it still causes my legs turn to jelly and my head to swirl. And, standing there gazing down the hill, I did think about it…again.

From the La Honda Road crash site it was an easy jaunt to downtown Palo Alto. I found a parking place and wandered past the former site of The Tangent, a tiny, folk club on University Avenue that featured many of the future, prominent ’60s musicians – Garcia, Jorma, Janis, Pigpen – and, a few blocks away, St. Michael’s Alley, another old folk club that is now an upscale eatery.

It was mid-afternoon and it was very hot when I decided to end the Palo Alto phase of my trip down memory lane. I retrieved my car and drove to a motel on the Menlo Park-Palo Alto border at which I had reserved a moderately-priced room. I checked in, set up my laptop, unpacked a few of my Chet bio files…and hit the road again. I drove north on El Camino Real to the third, and latest location of Kepler’s Bookstore. In ’64, Kepler’s, which played a prominent role in the gestation of The Grateful Dead, was in a ramshackle building a few blocks south of its current home in a sparking chrome-and-glass building. But it’s still Kepler’s and it’s still one of the best bookstores anywhere. It’s got history; it is history.

I topped off, so to speak, my sojourn to Kepler’s by visiting a nearby Round Table Pizza place to order a take-out, pepperoni pie. BFD, right? So what? Who cares? Well, this particular Round Table franchise occupies, as I recall, the former site of a long-defunct pizza joint called Magoo’s, which is where The Grateful Dead, then calling themselves The Warlocks, played their first-ever gig in either April or May 1965. So it was, as usual, part of my memory-lane tour.

But between my visit to Kepler’s and my visit to Round Table, for reasons that are neither important nor interesting, I found myself strolling up Santa Cruz Avenue, the main downtown drag of Menlo Park, slaloming around the sidewalk tables of about a thousand hip outdoor cafes with hip one-word names, many of them, for reasons that are neither important nor interesting, beginning with the letter ‘Z.’

As I was passing an old-fashioned stationer’s store, the outside left corner of my left eye caught a familiar image amongst a display of twirly-racked calendars stationed in one of the storefront windows. A closer look revealed that it was a 2009 calendar called “Rock Roots: Avalon Ballroom Posters, 1966-1968.”

I entered the old-fashioned store and purchased, with modern technology, the calendar, which features reproductions of 12 Avalon posters – one, appropriately enough, for each month of the year -by Mouse, Kelley, Mouse & Kelley, Moscoso and Griffin. (Curiously, Wes Wilson is unrepresented.) After adding $14.00 plus change to my burgeoning Visa tab, I took the calendar outside, settled onto a sidewalk bench and removed the shrink-wrap, injuring myself only slightly. Because the label proclaimed that the calendar included the dates of significant ’60s events, I turned immediately to the month of June.

And there it was. There was the reason for this digression.

To wit:

Faithful (and unfaithful) readers of these meanderings may or may not recall that my last post included a mini-rant about certain, widely-published factual inaccuracies, including the one that Janis debuted with Big Brother at the Avalon on June 10, 1966. Well, the 2009 Avalon Ballroom poster calendar actually got it right, that Janis debuted with the band at the Avalon on June 24, 1966. It was the first time I have ever seen the correct information in print and I was suitably amazed and impressed.

But then…

The June 10 calendar entry reads thusly: “1966: Big Brother and The Holding Company plays its first gig at the Avalon Ballroom.”

Oops. Big Brother didn’t play the Avalon on June 10, 1966, but they had played five weekends at the venue prior to that date.

Anyway, I had a great weekend and got me a very cool calendar.

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Published in: on July 28, 2008 at 4:02 am  Comments (5)  

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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. What a delightful post for this old Peninsula hand. I followed your peregrinations in my mind with much pleasure – even the VW over the cliff brought back memories that at this point are no longer traumatic.

    I was totally with you on the misarrangement of cold, hard facts on the Avalon calendar and was ready to call for its removal from the shelves.

    But then it hit me. Why did Greg check into that cheap motel, put down his notes, then suddenly drive off again? This element of mystery clearly foreshadows a tale that only Philip Marlowe, or possibly the well-known beatnik detective Beatitude Tutman can hope to solve. Better call them in!

  2. Sorry to disappoint, but there is no mystery to my sudden drive-away from the cheap motel. So you please tell Mr. Marlowe and Mr. Tutman to deftly toss their Fedoras back onto their office hat racks, light another cigarette, put their feet up on their respective desks and wait for Brigid O’Shaunessy to slink in and mess with them.

    I checked in, set up my computer and files and promptly left because the cheap motel was located between Palo Alto and Kepler’s and my room was ready for occupancy.

    Pretty simple, actually, except for that damn statue of a black bird that was on the floor next to my nightstand. I have no idea what that was all about, but I did get to hang out with Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet at the pool later that night. Which was very cool.

  3. Wait a minute. I happen to have security camera footage of the scene at the pool. You were actually hanging out with Peter Albin and Signe Anderson. I can see why you made the mistake, but once you know how, it’s easy to tell Signe Anderson from Sydney Greenstreet. Greenstreet is much taller.

  4. Damn! I completely forgot about the stupid, intrusive, Orwellian surveillance cameras that document every move we make these days.

    OK, so I’m busted. But I do know that Signe Anderson is a babe and that Sydney Greenstreet sort of isn’t.

    So at least I have that going for me.

  5. Although a little over a year has passed since this entry was posted, the confusion and potential misinformation of the date of Ms Joplin’s first show with Big Brother rages, well I guess, smolders on. Pretty much all of the records show the date as June 10 – but not with a Big Brother & the Holding Company show, but with BBHC sitting in at the Avalon playing maybe a handful of tunes on the kit of either the Grateful Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service or the New Tweedy Brothers. Maybe it was just the basic backline kit – I don’t know. I have always considered the listings marking this as the first JJ show to be erroneous – and in all probability perpetuating the same simple error, that now seems to have passed in to “legend”. This matter has recently come to the fore in an effort being made to document the summer of 1966 for Wildflower – a popular music combo from the East Bay. As the focus switched to the Red Dog Saloon in Virginia City handbills have been unearthed and newspaper ads discovered. On May 13, 1966 Big Brother began a six week series of alternating weekend (Friday & Saturday) shows at the Red Dog Saloon, Virginia City, NV – the shows alternating, nominally weekly, with the Wildflower. This would put Big Brother in Virginia City the day Janis Joplin (who had at that point only been in The City less than a week) made her debut. Between the June 10 weekend and the scheduled June 24 shows Big Brother had only one scheduled engagement – at the St Francis Hotel playing a Timothy Leary Benefit with the Sopwith Camel on June 19. Reviews of this event are abound but there is no mention of Big Brother’s “groovy new chick singer” or anything else that implies the band were anything but a foursome. Years of caring too much about such matters led me to conclude the first Janis Joplin show as June 24 – there now appears to be some support of this. Ross


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