Boomer Ideals/ Remembrance

The 2016 Election or What Happened to Boomer Ideals

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And it’s one, two, three what’re we fightin’ for? Don’t ask me I don’t give a damn, next stop is Vietnam And it’s five, six, seven open up the pearly gates Well there ain’t no time to wonder why, whoopee we’re all gonna die… Country Joe McDonald

 

Collection of the Oakland Museum of California

 

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McGovern

Forgive me, but I’m an addict; An addict for justice, peace, freedom, nature, and creative expression.  How’d I get this way?  Not like Bernie Sanders who was born into a family of progressives, I was born in a generation who thought we could change the world for the better.  Always curious and desiring to be where the action is, I attended UC Berkeley in the early Seventies and earned my radical bona fides on the front-line of political protest.  In those days I saw many of the leaders of what we called the ‘revolution’; Mark Rudd, Huey P. Newton, Bobby Seale, Tom Hayden, Jane Fonda, and even Tim Leary.  So, I’ve got a long memory and at this elder stage of life take time for reflection on the past and idealism for the future.  It’s like a trip of almost fifty years is finally ending politically this year.

Back in the Sixties many impressionable college kids (including  yours truly) believed our elders and expected political revolution—soon.  A major break-through came when George McGovern was nominated by the Democratic Party for president.  He campaigned on the most progressive platform ever and lost in the most overwhelming landslide ever.   After that defeat politically everything changed.  Within a few years the Black Panther party was decimated by J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI, terrorists posing as political radicals (Weatherman and Symbionese Liberation Army) bombed ROTC and robbed banks, Jimmy Carter (a born again Christian, a non-progressive view) was elected, and many of our leaders recanted and got regular jobs or became entertainers (think Eldridge Cleaver and Tim Leary).  To paraphrase Gil Scott-Heron the revolution was NOT televised; it was co-opted and forgotten until 2016.

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Bernie Sanders arrested while demonstrating for civil  rights in Chicago

This year Bernie Sanders, a true blue radical and idealist who moved to Vermont during the seventies migration of hippies to the country, awakened the old ideals and hope for real change in his quixotic campaign for the presidency.  In him the great majority of youth saw not just a free ticket to college, but a politician who has lived his principles all his life.  But his candidacy came up against the Clinton machine (the Democratic establishment wasn’t going to allow another McGovern debacle) and the practical-minded older folks many of whom were idealists themselves back in the day.

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HRC in college

 

After a surprisingly tough primary season, Hillary Rodham Clinton accepted the Democratic nomination for president capping her decades-long career within the system.  Demonstrating the qualities of successful individuals in any field; intelligence, networking, preparation, and perseverance, HRC is poised to become the first female president.  It hasn’t been an easy journey for her.  She has fought sexism, scandal, and scatology. Although given a head start in politics being the wife of a president, she kept on.  We can all learn something from her example; vision, adjustment, and perseverance.  But her dogged pragmatism is not the only story of this election cycle; Bernie Sanders’ idealism, Donald Trump’s anger, and Obama’s optimism reveal different strains of the Boomer generation’s likely last hurrah in the presidency.  Waiting in the wings are the next generation—Gen Xers; Cruz, Rubio, the Castro brothers from Texas, and others, who’ll in due time take bring different life experiences to leadership.

 

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Old radical (and pragmatist) at 2016 Bernie event

When Bernie Sanders finally endorsed Hillary Clinton for president, he also declared victory for the movement he birthed fifteen months ago.  Many of his proposals have been absorbed into the Democratic Party platform; health care as a right, fair treatment of all by the police, legalization of marijuana, breaking up the big banks, a 21st century Glass-Steagall for the financial industry, commitment halt global warming, free public university for middle and working class, and most significantly reducing the concentration of wealth.  But that’s just the beginning of his political revolution according to Sanders.  And this week opened his new movement, http://www.ourrevolution.com.

Although not a Boomer (born in 1941) Bernie Sanders resuscitated the ideals of the Baby Boomers in their youth, which resonated with the millennial youth of today.   Now with Sanders out of the running, we’re looking at showdown of the Boomer generation for the presidency.  Boomer presidents have been Bill Clinton, George W., and Barack Obama (born in 1961, so he’s on the cusp) and now Hillary Clinton (1947) or Donald Trump (1946).  And in this final call to leadership, the Boomers’ youthful dreams and anger has boiled down to two super-pragmatic, super-successful, millionaire plus candidates (Hillary for her political career and Donald for his pursuit of fame and money).

A significant number of Boomers freed from career and family responsibilities resuscitate ideals and dreams, and cast caution aside and go for it both personally and for society.  The post-career chapter of life can be a time of resignation or hope, off-the-track adventures or sanitized cruise ship ports, vision seeking or corporate consumerism, or even a political revolution or status quo pragmatism.  One type stays with the known and comfortable; they keep the old home, continue decades old hobbies, and seek security more than excitement.  And others strike out and explore the world on the ground not in a stateroom, move to fresh digs, and / or begin new, challenging hobbies and sports.  Uncovering, developing, and living a dream takes curiosity, courage, and commitment but often energize an individual’s senior years.

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Angela Davis

Maybe Hillary’s wonky and moderate plans will work the same for the country.  Although the ultimate insider now, she has  shown the courage to change her positions and the perseverance to pursue her dream.  As is said in the Bible, ‘a people without vision shall perish.’  Does she have clear goals and a vision?  Do we as a people?  Or are we on that decline as a nation that Trump rails about?  Perhaps we’re on cusp of a new vision.  Shifting direction of this cocky, behemoth of a nation would be slow and arduous. Is there the will?  Just as it takes will, intention, and effort to live a meaningful and satisfying life, our country needs to summon up the same qualities.

In my social circle on the Westside of the Los Angeles megalopolis, 90% favored Bernie.  That’s not too surprising since it is the land of the Hollywood dream factory and Bernie offered a hopeful dream.  But the results are clear, the majority of Democratic primary voters selected Clinton, in spite of her record high disapproval rating.  She is a known commodity and received the majority of the Boomer vote and who may prefer the status quo to the excitement of a Sanders (and Trump) who want to shake up the ‘system.’

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Eldridge Cleaver

Let’s not forget, Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, and Bernie Sanders represent the sometimes op-positional and contradictory political and social currents of their generation.  I knew these types back at Berkeley in 1970; the sincere student government kid who supported the cause-of-the-moment with an eye on a career in politics (Hillary), the bombastic rich kid who grew his hair long so he could get girls but planned to go home and work in his father’s business (Donald), and the true radical from a working-class family who demonstrated against the war, yelled at the cops, and got arrested (Bernie).

 

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Budding real estate magnate, Donald Trump with his father Fred

As for Donald Trump, it is difficult to predict his policies since they seem to change daily.  But it is clear that if elected, anger wins.  His working-class supporters like the bellicosity and finger-pointing at the system, but his actions in business do not demonstrate interest in anyone other than himself.  If he is elected, it may be back to the future switching out the smiling optimism and smugness of Ronald Reagan to  snarling, name-calling Trump.  And we now see the consequences of Reagan’s Pollyanna theories —disappearing middle-class, environmental degradation, failed drug war, and record-setting incarceration rates.  But a significant minority of the country pines for that fantasy time of white privilege, USA hegemony, and simplistic solutions.  Donald Trump’s free-floating anger taps into that and attacks the Establishment.

A generations’ last hurrah in the presidency offers more than a choice between two unpopular candidates, but a call to vision and true leadership.  Will the next and probably last Boomer president contribute to progress for We the People or revert to the values of a time before the cultural revolution of the Sixties.

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Bobby Seale & Huey Newton

Sanders’ call to political revolution echoes the Sixties’ dream of living Elysium Fields-style in communion with each other, with the natural world, and in peace and justice with other countries.  It is an almost inconceivable vision, but in the eighties the end of the cold war was unimaginable until it happened. Whether it is possible or not is less important than making the effort to live the Founders’ dream for our country and us individually.  Although slow, our society and nation can be turned around.  Like personal change it takes intention, will, and work.  The reward is not only in the achievement, but in the effort.  Individually we don’t not take golf lessons or paint or exercise, even though we know we’ll never be experts.  We do it because it is better than not.  And that’s reward enough.

For the next two months, our national dreams, needs, fears, and resentments will be center stage.  As noted above, I’ve been a political junkie since my days as a student radical at Berkeley, but tempered by the ‘real’ world over the decades I’ve learned that positive change for the country and for me is usually incremental.  The show-down of Boomer presidential types offers a clear choice between anger and idealism tempered by pragmatism—The last battle of the Sixties Generation! And that is an example we can all use as we design our personal next chapters.

 

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Categories: Boomer Ideals/ Remembrance, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Old Songs, Young Souls, & a Final Flight for the Airplane

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Spectators sit on the beach during the The Santa Monica Pier Twilight Concert Series 2015/ photo credit Corsair

“Take another whiff of fresh air,” the gray-bearded bear of a man whispered from the stage.  An authentic, original San Francisco hippie, David Freiberg (Quicksilver Messenger Service) fronted the 21st century version of a rock institution on a late summer evening in 2015.  The usual motley crowd of several hundred free entertainment seekers milled around the Santa Monica Pier, while the classic guitar riffs of an old Jefferson Airplane tune cut through the cacophony of music and chatter.

Almost 50 years since the Summer of Love in San Francisco, their original incarnation proclaimed, ‘When the truth is found to be lies.’  Well the truth of 2015 is that they are a mere shadow of the Airplane.  But those riffs were just enough to provoke grins of recognition between me and an old friend from college days at Berkeley.  He had made a special pilgrimage to LA to see the last surviving member of the iconic group that epitomized the San Francisco hippie sound in the sixties.

Known back in the day under a pseudonym of Jack, he is one of those rare Boomers who now in our later days still follows music.  Loves it so much he seeks out new bands as well as celebrating the classics.  We shared many great music adventures back in the day with weekly visits to the Fillmore West and Winterland in San Francisco to hear bands like Van Morrison (who we saw twice in one week) and the Grateful Dead, hit a lot of local venues.  Live music seemed to be everywhere and Jack led our cadre to the best vibes in town.  I recall his mastery of air guitar singing ‘Everyone Knows This is Nowhere’ by Neil Young, while walking around the student residential co-op where we lived.  One time he led the gang to downtown Berkeley to a free concert by the Youngbloods in the central park, which the kids had named Provo Park.  Not like Jack whose real name I now know but don’t use, I still don’t know the official name of the park.

NBSJeffersonAlas, on that balmy Santa Monica night, after two songs the small guy, with wispy blonde hair who played those distinctive licks disappeared from the stage.  The music continued, but Paul Kantner couldn’t continue, he’d made an appearance, but that was about it—a recent heart attack had taken its toll.  Sadly, Kantner died this week at the age of 74 after another heart attack.

At the pier, the band consisting of four young musicians and Freiberg carried on with the classic band’s tunes.  Although they were essentially a tribute band, competently covering the old songs, when I closed my eyes I heard Grace Slick singing White Rabbit and Miracles.

Those old songs evoked the vibe, like a time-tunnel to the mood, spirit, excitement, and freedom, of the original hippie times.  Like an invisible virus music from our formative years rummages around in the memory banks and finds the young soul that lurks deep within the ever-aging mind and body.  A remembrance, more than nostalgia, it’s like a secret, authentic self that is hiding in a closet coming out for a cameo.

Oldies music is not new, but the attitude about it is.  In 1969 I attended a wild concert at the Fillmore in San Francisco, Sha Na Na came on and drove us young hippies wild with their fifties cover songs.  In those days a heavy dose of camp and sarcasm fueled our enthusiasm.  We thought we had evolved so much that oldies music from ten years before was corny and hilarious.

That doesn’t happen now with oldies music.  Now, even millennials like and respect music from the sixties and seventies.  The generation gap that was so glaring back in the day has closed.   That night on the Santa Monica Pier all ages swayed to the classic rock of Starship/ Airplane.  Cruising through the time-tunnel, I recalled a free concert I saw by Jefferson Airplane at the Los Angeles’ Griffith Park Merry-go-round area in 1969.  The impromptu show happened because somehow a planned concert at a real venue was cancelled by the ‘Man’.  The word spread through the hippie underground and hundreds converged on the spur-of-moment show.   A grand time was had by all and no sign of ‘The Man.’  Radical politics of the time inspired their new album, Volunteers, and the kids shouted out in unison with lyrics that confronted the ‘system’ with words like ‘Up against the wall motherfuckers’ and ‘We can be together.’  Reminiscent of the spirit of millennials today in  their support of Bernie Sanders.

For us Boomers the music was often more than entertainment, our lives organized around it.  Like today’s smart phones, it was our social media sharing political views, clothing and artistic styles, in addition to entertainment. Even today forty plus  years later, those same performers and songs can resuscitate the old spirit of community, justice, and freedom.  Well-proven neuro-science states that our minds are still forming into the mid-to late twenties, so it makes sense that the imprints we experience at that age stay with us and continue to excite us.  It might even be a clue to the strange black hole of the age of 27 for many rock stars flare out via drugs.* (I’ll save that for another column).

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The Who on  stage at New Orleans Jazz Fest 2015

My friends and associates, except for the few hard-core music aficionados like Jack, listen to the old music from our formative twenties. Especially, the original bands like the Who, Stones, or Starship, who replicate the originals with new players.  At the 2015 New Orleans Jazz Fest, the Who’s two remaining original members, Pete Townsend and Roger Daltrey performed the classics like ‘Won’t  Get Fooled Again,’ with gusto, but what blew me away was how the replacement drummer (Zake Starkey, son of Ringo Starr) didn’t miss one of Keith Moon’s original licks.

Experiencing tribute or classic bands (even in the disguise of one original member like the Starship) opens that deep mine of soul, freedom, and adventure hidden by by the march of time.  It still resides inside somewhere and the music can bust into Rumi’s wine house and imbibe the sweet grape of freshness and spontaneity.  After getting drunk on this strange elixir from the past, something wakes up in me and I want to, ‘bang a gong, get it on.’  Who hasn’t felt that from a cherished oldie?

Discovery and adventure are integral to my post-work philosophy of Living the Dream Deferred, but the old hippie music satisfies in a way that new can’t.  Like a fine pair of old jeans and tennis shoes and scratchy 45s, they’re well loved.  We’ve known it for forty years and like an old friend, it awakens the spirit of youth regardless of who is playing it.

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Volunteers  for America 1969

Sadly, Paul Kantner didn’t return to the stage that night at the Pier, but his daughter by Grace Slick, China Kantner sang harmony on Somebody to Love.  The lineage received due honor.  Paul Kantner reportedly never renounced his Summer of Love principles of peace, love, and a positive future.  A stalwart icon of the hippie movement, his vision lives on in the music of the Airplane/ Starship and in the souls of the older ‘kids’ who took a breath of that fresh air of a Utopian generation.

*Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Gram Parsons (almost 27), Alan Wilson (Canned Heat), Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, Jim Morrison, Brian Jones, and many others.

Categories: Boomer Ideals/ Remembrance, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

You Can’t Keep a Good Dream Down (Boomer Ideals/ Exemplars)

 

News flash:  Jerry Brown attended Paris conference on global climate change December 2015.  Still here and still advocating for the environment and his principles.  

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I’m in this crowd somewhere, Peoples’ Park ’71

I usually keep my back story on the down low with acquaintances.  Most people make up enough stories just by appearances, so I don’t like to give them more fuel with biographical details that can be used to pigeon-hole me.  But one  afternoon this fall, I happened to make a comment about the presidential debates to an associate gymmer getting dressed next to me.  A fit guy in his early sixties, he works in community housing. I’ve known Loren for a dozen years in that passing small talk way. He responded with an informed opinion.  Sensing a deeper connection I asked, “What was your major in college?”  He said, “Political Science at Stanford.  I smiled knowing I’d met one of my own kind and replied, “That was my major at Berkeley, with a focus on Marxist ideology and its application.”

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Jerry Brown and assorted LA musicians in the 70s

 

 

A intense twenty minute discussion ensued in the men’s locker room of 24 Hour Fitness—Santa Monica comparing notes and opinions about the current political scene and its players from President Obama to Hillary Clinton to Jerry Brown to Donald Trump. A range of provocative topics elicited smiles and comments from other guys with gray flecked hair in the room.  All of this exposed my long standing political interests, sparked by growing up during the Vietnam War and eventually graduating from UC Berkeley in the seventies.  Submerging my radicalism into a pragmatic career in public education, I’ve never relinquished my vision of fairness, justice, and peace.  But now I wonder how I can apply my years of experience to promoting a better society.  Jerry Brown has.

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Brown second time around

The locker room discussion centered on current California governor Jerry Brown and his previous administration in the seventies.  We agreed he has done an excellent job governing, even better this time around at the age of 77.  In his first terms as governor Brown was ridiculed with the label, Governor Moonbeam for his radical out of the box ideas such as renewable energy, a state space academy satellite, and declaring a era of limits.  Jerry Brown in the seventies expressed the idealism of the time.  Ahead the mainstream, Brown attracted derision from the older established politician/ reporter class.  His lifestyle invited ‘eyebrow raised’ commentary, from his sleeping on a mattress on the floor to globe-trotting with Linda Ronstadt to his rejection of the new governor’s mansion.

Brown’s ‘out there’ thinking proved to be too much for the conservative backlash led by his predecessor as governor of California, Ronald Reagan who had catapulted his police-state treatment of the student radicals of my school, Berkeley, into the presidency.  Reagan stood for the old school Hollywood values of looking good, constant smiling, and hypocrisy.  He promoted traditional values, even though he had divorced his first wife, his daughter basically disowned him and changed her last name, he denied his second son was gay, and his wife retained a staff astrologer.   Among Reagan’s most egregious crimes against the white working class that idolized him, was union busting, which directly contributed to lower wages for the Nixon labeled ‘silent majority.’

With his campaign’s populist We the People slogan, Brown polled well but fell just short in his three presidential campaigns.  Again ahead of the times as seen in the current presidential election with Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump both tapping into grass roots, anti-establishment sentiment.   But Jerry didn’t quit.  He went back to the basics, something I’m often encouraging for later in life re-inventors/ Boomers.  Instead of president, Brown served two terms as mayor of Oakland, CA, a medium-sized city across the bay from San Francisco.  While mayor he lived in a converted factory and loft, igniting a revival in the down-in-the-mouth city whose police brutality against its majority black population in the sixties had birthed the Black Panther Party.  Oakland has become a jewel of urban renewal with the bucolic buzz of Lake Merritt and the tony Jack London Square on the previously abandoned Embarcadero.

Jerry Brown practiced the adage ‘all politics is local’ and honed his skills as a politician.  Not resting on his laurels and famous name to lay back and give expensive speeches, he went to work.  Contributing to the greater good AND practicing his craft, Brown practiced and lived his ideals—government can be a tool for social justice and life enhancement.  Re-energized after Oakland, he ran for and served as Attorney General and then governor.

Now in his fourth term, Jerry Brown will be termed out when he is 80.  Old age doesn’t limit him.  Although in recent years he’s battled cancer,  his vigor and mental clarity exceed the great majority of politicians half his age.  He has every reason to kick back, retire, and cash in on his name.  Many of us do too.  We’ve had a career, maybe raised kids, and / or written a book—achieved and served.  But why quit when you have something to give, something to learn, and unfulfilled ideals?  I ask myself that question regularly—why should I?  I don’t need to prove myself, and neither does Brown.

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Peoples’ Park these days

But then my Berkeley Boomer core wakes up and yells, ‘You’re not done yet.’   At the locker room discussion, I mentioned that I still stand by youthful ideals of community, free expression, individual rights and justice, adventures, and personal growth.  Boomers were not all hippie radicals or counter-culturalists, but many were and have influenced our society from new age religions, to yoga, health foods, and alternative health systems mass acceptance.  In fact, the notion of the personal computer came out of the edgy, psychedelic consciousness of Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak back in the seventies.  Our youthful ideals, tempered with realistic appraisal of the slow pace of change in the world have changed the world.

Perhaps President Obama has not delivered on all of his goals as president, but any president can only move the country forward (or backward depending on your point of view) a few steps.  Big change takes time, even when a system is rotting from the core like what happened in the former Soviet Union.  But he has moved the pieces forward a bit on key Boomer concerns of the seventies; environment, civil rights, war, and soul.

The political life of Jerry Brown demonstrates the successful marriage of ideals and experience. He went back to the basics (mayor of Oakland), polished his craft and worked his way back up the ladder of California government. Still an idealist, but heavily tempered with realism and compromise.  He now knows how and when to mollify central valley farmers with a big government project (the bullet train) and to take an independent stand as he recently vetoed several bills passed by his own Democratic Party legislature.  He applies his decades of experience to real problems and gets results.  His approval ratings dwell in the high seventies, virtually unheard with high level office holders.  Recently, the LA Times gave him a B+ rating with the potential of achieving greatness in this term.

At the same time, he still works from his early, progressive principles.  For example, he pushed for recent legislation to end global warming that promises to be a model for the rest of the country and the world.  And he has never changed his opposition to capital punishment, even in the hard on crime 90s.

Experience counts for Jerry Brown and can count for all of us in the fall of life.  Youthful optimism for quick transformation may be gone, but I attempt (as Jerry does), to take my experience and skills and marry them to ideals perhaps half-forgotten in the mists of time.  One of the greatest gifts of aging is the dignity of surviving (sometimes prevailing over) the travails of life.  Age and experience qualify idealistic Boomers to contribute to our world aligned with the Sixties/ hippie ideals of expression, justice, community, and love.  I do my best to live up to the vision and work for incremental progress.  And as a non-Boomer friend says, “You got nothing to lose.”

On  a personal note:  I just returned from a ceremony in Berkeley where I established a perpetual scholarship for needy and  deserving  students at Berkeley Student Cooperative.  The gift of  community I learned in  the coops has fueled and sustained me throughout life so far, and especially now that I’m in the ‘golden’ years.  I know where I came from and support that  mission.  Again, the work of Jerry Brown and many others  of our generation that enhances the  common good are markers of a  meaningful life.  More on  that & the coops in the seventies in a future blog.

Categories: Boomer Ideals/ Remembrance, Exemplars | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Burning of the Age of Aquarius (boomer remembrance/ ideals)

Hair2009When I went to the revival of the first rock opera, Hair, a few years ago, out of nowhere tears flowed down my face during the rendition of Let the Sunshine in/ Aquarius.  I looked over at my girlfriend and she asked “What’s wrong.  It is a joyful song, it is a hopeful message.”  I responded, “You had to be there.”  And she was from a different country and generation, and the Age of Aquarius was just a song.  For me and many of our generation Hair codified our culture’s ideals and vision.  In September 2015 a real world expression of that vision incinerated.  It may be rebuilt, but it won’t be the same.  Harbin Hot Springs’ latest incarnation was a direct descendant of flower power in the best sense of that term. The recent conflagration elicited a similar reaction in me of a long ago vision finally, inexorably GONE.

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Before the Valley Fire photo Ed Gold

When the Valley Fire in September, 2015 descended on an ancient hot springs resort, buildings over a hundred years old turned to ash.   All that remains is the twisted dragon shaped iron works and the pools.  Originally a haven of the local indigenous people, nineteenth century entrepreneurs capitalized on the then massive demand for the ‘cure’ and built a succession of resorts in this spot  in northern California.  Located in an out of the way canyon near Middletown, CA (named for its location as a stage stop middle way between Calistoga and Clear Lake).

 

A lifelong counter-culturalist (even in my disguise as a inner city high school principal), I discovered Harbin Hot Springs in the mid-90s.  A quirky, enigmatic, poet friend  peeped to me almost on the down low about this edgy place two hours north of San Francisco. One weekend we rolled up from LA.  That first day felt like a homecoming for me.  Disregarding the signs that prohibiting alcohol and drugs, we fired up before entering and sat in a perch in the oaks overlooking a motley crowd of hippies of all generations, ethnicities, sexual orientations, and styles.  After the first few minutes, the titillation of dozens of naked bodies strolling around wore off and a kind of reverie settled in.  Peace, love, and happiness prevailed.  The natural hot springs pool accommodated about a dozen people—all in meditative silence.  Around the regular pool and the heart-shaped pool people carried on soft conversations, but mostly sat and read or napped.

 

1-2Slowly Harbin developed into my own Shangri-la, where I regularly sought respite from the pressures of the career, modern life, and my everyday self.  At Harbin, I could count on meeting new friends, whether alone or with a friend.  Odd encounters frequently happened, like the time I ‘accidentally’ ran into an acquaintance from home two years running.  Or a couple years ago when I wanted to watch the NBA finals and went to the local brewery and met someone I had just spoken with in the pools.   Sometimes I had romantic encounters, but mostly it was community.    By showing up there, we self-selected into this tribe from the Age of Aquarius.

369That same vibe happened back in the sixties/ seventies, when every kid in the concert or the demonstration was a friend simply because we were there.  We shared values.  Everyone was pre-qualified as a fellow traveler of the Sixties counter-culture.  Harbin felt the same.  It attracted like-minded souls from around the world.  I once had a didjeridoo healing from a young woman from Israel and after that kept running  into her.  Then there was the German woman who lived in Santa Fe, NM I encountered two years in  a  row.

tumblr_m2sr743gXD1r3fhtgo1_1280Harbin was resurrected from ruins of a failed commune by Ishvara (originally Robert Hart) in 1972, who then sold the property to a religious corporation, Heart Consciousness Church in 1975.   For the past fifteen years on my annual trip I marveled at the on-going, quirky enhancements to the magical vibe.  One year they added a winding path decorated with dragons and hobbit-like railings from the store front to the market.  Several years ago a major improvement arose in the form of the Temple which looked like an old time big top circus with perfect acoustics.  The pools stayed largely the same except for the addition of sauna and steam bath rooms.  Lately, as a sign of our increasingly digital age, electronic devices were banned from the deck area due to privacy concerns.

Harbin wasn’t all quiet and peace.  They could party with either unconditional dance or live concerts providing entertainment along with the free, couch-filled movie theater.  At the dances, free flowing half naked guests and residents gyrated to the dj music—No partners (just like at psychedelic concerts at the Fillmore in San Francisco).

Community vibes could happen anywhere at Harbin.  The communal kitchen operated as the center for visitors.  You could leave excess food in the community box.  Help yourself.  That applied during meals as well.  Many times I’ve shared my food with strangers.  Of course, no meat was allowed in the kitchen.

The heart of Harbin was the staff:  Over the years I had many engaging conversations with the staff and they all had a story.  Not drop-outs, but drop-ins to a calmer and freer lifestyle.  I’ve met engineers, clowns, and teachers who now played the roles of housekeeping or cook or security.  For some, Harbin was a temporary refuge from the struggles of the world, and for others it became home.  As the community aged the quarterly newsletter reported the passing of longtime residents.

344Hippie ideals of peace, love, and community rooted and prospered at Harbin largely due to the vision and commitment of Ishvara.  Ishvara is not a man who seeks notoriety, but at the same time has always harbored big dreams for Harbin.  As true hippies they honored they appreciated the history of the place and the character of the 100 year old buildings.  Our parents’ generation had celebrated the modern in all things; new tract homes were preferred to older areas like Ocean Park and Venice.  But when hippie evolved out of beatnik, the upbeat, positive hippie converts gravitated to older neighborhoods which had great appeal.  Old stuff had character and soul and that is what we craved—authenticity.  In those days the approbation slung at someone or something hopelessly square was—Plastic.  Plastic, the phoniness of it epitomized our ethos.

The old buildings were rehabbed and restored standing as links to earlier times.  Nothing at Harbin was plastic, fake, bogus.  The old buildings that had survived numerous fires before this time succumbed to the ravages of nature and are now gone.  Now only ruins of the concrete foundations and the stone fireplace chimney and the pools remain.

The Age of Aquarius prospered and flourished at Harbin Hot Springs from 1978-2015, forty years.  And now it is gone.  Yes, it can and will be rebuilt, but the vision expressed in its last incarnation is over.   Hippie dreams have completed their cycle. We had a 130 acres of our vision and now it’s gone. Whatever rises in its place won’t be the same.  It won’t have the same weight of history, of connection to the lineage of the 1960s, and heritage of the original settlers.  The bromide ‘change is constant’ doesn’t say much until we face major transitions which compel reinvention.

I have an old friend from the original hippie days who made a fortune in the fast changing garment industry.  And when I told him about Harbin’s destruction, he reported a ceremony a recent temple dedication in downtown Los Angeles.  A crew of Tibetan monks made a sand mandala and according to their custom blew it away—Impermanence.

Harbin’s oasis of the Age of Aquarius has now returned to dust and whatever shall rise up will be 21st century.  This old hippie hopes they keep a foot or a toe in the 20th Century and remember the tradition of a glorious place where hippies of all ages, ethnicities, and classes lived in harmony with each other and nature.  Nature has its due, and we are part of nature.  But time is real and there is no rewind.

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Categories: Boomer Ideals/ Remembrance, Community | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Not Taking Angel’s Flight, 2015 (Remembrance)

 

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Angel’s  Flight  when I met  it in the  Fifties

One of the good things about being a Boomer is the memories. Ever have the feeling that you know the place you’re visiting, but it isn’t quite right? I’m not talking about déjà vu. I mean the experience of going to an old, familiar place same name and location, recognizable but totally different function and character. Recently I visited an old haunt, Grand Central Market at DTLA (new acronym for the resurging downtown LA) and Angel’s Flight. Ghosts of the old days linger, but it was spooky.

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An LA icon shut-down

My experiences in DTLA go back to my childhood growing up in LA in the Fifties. As a toddler, I would visit my grandparents, who owned an apartment building on Third St, just west of the then newly completed Harbor Freeway. My grandmother and I would walk through the cavernous (1500 feet long) and much filmed Third St tunnel. Car horns and dim light made for great adventure. Eventually, we would break through into the bustle of downtown and visit my grandfather, who was a butcher at Grand Central. In those days it housed a labyrinth of stalls and shops on two floors where shoppers would go for fresh produce, meat, and spices. Supermarkets were rare in those days and usually located in the suburbs like the new subdivision in the San Fernando Valley where I lived with my parents. To a three year old kid walking the aisles of Grand Central was as exotic as the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul. The cacophony of languages belted out by competing merchants ranked up there with Clifton’s Cafeteria as fun for me.

 

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Inspecting the  broken icon with Jeff Bughouse

Across the street on Bunker Hill decaying rows of Victorian houses stood watch over the booming metropolis. Originally mansions for the elite of Los Angeles, by this time they had been subdivided into rooming houses, soon to be demolished to make way for redevelopment. Access to the towering homes was via Angel’s Flight, dubbed the world’s shortest railway. After visiting grandpa, who cut an imposing figure with a white smock splattered with blood and hat and tie, we would take the 5 cent ride to the top of the hill.
Recently, my brother suggested meeting at Grand Central for lunch with our 22 year niece. Recovering well from tough times serving the burgeoning immigrant population, now Grand Central Market houses a couple dozen boutique cafes, one produce stand, one meat market, and a few holdovers from the ethnic days of the 80s—Chinese herbs and Central American veggies. And a gourmet coffee place, where a cup of Joe costs minimum $4.

But more bizarre than the former bazaar is Angel’s Flight, a funicular that climbs 300’ at 33 degrees. Dissembled and stored 1969, while Bunker Hill was flattened and then developed with high rise office buildings and condos. Moved south 200 feet, Angel’s Flight reopened in 1996. Accidents and repairs forced closure again in 2001, 2011, and 2013. Currently, the two funicular cars sit mid hill as if in suspended animation waiting for the conductor to flip the switch, while tourists stare in wonderment and peer down memory lane. Along with the railway, the adjacent park with its information plaques and benches is fenced off from the public pending its next redevelopment.

Bittersweet, this journey to landmarks of my childhood reminded me that everything is impermanent, except our memories. Visiting Grand Central and Angel’s Flight felt like going to a high school reunion and not recognizing your old friends. The old friend doesn’t look the same, but you have a connection. This spirit of remembrance infused the day, not with nostalgia but fondness for my childhood, my grandparents, and my city.

Categories: Boomer Ideals/ Remembrance, Exemplars, Funk/ Issues/ Roadblocks, Planning/ Structure | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Palm Springs, Tahquitz Canyon, & Fun! (community)

Recently, rapping (in the sense we used back in the day) with a close friend,  my call to revive our generation’s youthful ideals and dreams came up. She posited that perhaps Boomers are not that way now. We kicked it back and forth for a while discussing the natural tendency of people to become more conservative as they age and the evidence that most people live in Santa Claritaesque settings (check Santa Clarita, CA to get my point).

“No question few Boomers live in the bohemian/ communitarian way these days, if ever,”, I responded “but I believe that a spark of youth still resides in that older body and that youthful spirit wants expression.”  So much is learned and deep brain grooves are laid down in our twenties, which explains why as we get older the songs of our youth evoke memories.  They are familiar and deeply embedded in our sense of identity.  Spirit in the Sky is still one of my all time favorites.

I continued, “Perhaps when individuals are released from the inhibiting structures of a job and career, that new freedom opens up space for the old feelings, memories, and values to emerge.  Just maybe, some of the new seniors will want to revive their love of music, or community, or social justice, or ?”

A quickie research on Wikipedia revealed that among the antecedents of the hippie movement of the Sixties and Seventies were a similar counter-cultural trend in Germany in 1896-1908—Der Wandervogel (or wandering people).  They also sought a simpler life style in reaction to the rapid industrialization of that time.  Eventually, some of that group moved to southern California and a local group developed called Nature BoysAt one time they lived off the land in Tahquitz Canyon, Palm Springs, CA.

When I read that, a personal full circle was drawn linking my experience of a hippie bacchanal in Tahquitz Canyon in 1968 while I was in high school.  That wild Easter break week, included the first Palm Springs Pop Music Festival, starring Eric Burden and the Animals, Blue Cheer and other rock luminaries. After the next festival in ’69, the local authorities freaked out, evacuated the canyon, and shut it down to all visitors for decades.  I took a guided tour of the canyon a couple years ago and the Indian tribe who ‘owns’ that land states it had to spend a pile of money and many years to clean up the crap.  Yes, there is a shadow to all that youthful rebellion. But law and order returned to Tahquitz Canyon and Palm Springs and most of us kids settled down to LIFE— eventually.

I don’t do that stuff anymore, but I DO remember the joy, fun, excitement, and camaraderie of those times. And I seek it out regularly (last weekend I drove a Ferrari on a simulated race course) I believe it is possible to revive that youthful spirit (with modifications) and couple it with our wisdom (hopefully earned in life) and make the last third the best yet.

Categories: Boomer Ideals/ Remembrance

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