Last night at 9:15 I received a phone call from Chet Helms’ brother, John, and we talked for over an hour-and-a-half. Although a few weeks earlier I had spent a long evening with John and James MacLeod, Chet’s documentarian, at MacLeod’s house, last night was the first time in almost a year that we had really, you know, talked. Our conversation was wide-ranging and, as usual, pleasant and productive. In other words, John provided me with several new and valuable insights about his brother at various points of his life.
But it was something John said shortly before we hung up that stunned and startled me, big time. He casually mentioned that not long after Chet passed away, he was going through some stuff in Chet’s apartment when he found a piece of paper on which Chet had written three words.
These are the three words: “Greg Hoffman – biographer.”
And here is why I was stunned and startled by this revelation: Although the note was undated and there is no way of telling when it was written, it appears to indicate that Chet either felt or knew that he was not going to write his own story.
During the months Chet and I worked on his autobiography, or, more precisely, talked about working on his autobiography, which he always referred to as “my memoir,” I was his collaborator, not his biographer. I knew that and Chet certainly knew that. Case closed.
I asked John if he had kept the note and he said he had but he didn’t know exactly where it was because he had recently moved into a new place and had not yet unboxed everything.
I cannot tell you how much I wanted to have that note, but I’m gonna try. I wanted it real bad and I said so.
John told me he’d look for the note and when he found it, he’d give it to me.
How cool is that?
Addendum: James MacLeod, the documentarian mentioned at the outset of this post, has produced a wonderful 16-minute film called “Chet Helms: The Big Brother of the Summer of Love,” which features amazing archival footage interspersed with comments from a Chet interview that was filmed at his art gallery. The short film was enthusiastically received at last year’s Santa Cruz Film Festival. James is currently working to expand the film into a full-length documentary.