The Great Beat Photo Op
We were all in it, right there in the heart of beatsville that Sunday morning in March 1971, to pose between the beat navel of the world, Vesuvio, and Ferlinghetti’s City Lights Book Shop – more than a hundred cats and chicks showing up at this ungodly hour to have their picture took for the cover of Jerry Kamstra’s The Frisco Kid, a novel of North Beach bohemia in the fifties and sixties.
Anita, me, and Darius, our six-months old, dressed to kill for the occasion, had trundled from Mill Valley across the Golden Gate into North Beach in our ‘50 Plymouth sedan, getting there in good time, to be greeted by Kamstra in person. Well of course everybody there was there in person – however, some who weren’t would later be pasted into the official photo to end up on the cover of The Frisco Kid, which accounts for certain disparities between the undoctored and the doctored versions of the great beat family photo of ‘71.
However, doctored or not, what we were was as beat an accumulation of humanity as had ever gathered for a picture - or ever would. There was poster artist Vinny Viscoso, the ultimate raconteur, who’d once made a blind chick come simply by whispering in her ear. Vince stood near Larry Ferlinghetti at the outer edge of the crowd by the entrance to City Lights Book Shop, modestly using luminaries like Terre Haute Jack, a painter of dirty nudes or vice versa, and his buddy Claude Cartier, author of the beat classic Autistic Pilot, as a frame of reference in the picture. Reputable poet-pervert Mike Logan was there, as were Fellow Traveler, that pugnacious young commie comic in the Fellow Travelers Comedy Combine, Bill Benton, the art wheeler dealer, and the ubiquitous Shoeshine Sublime, shoeshine boy to the beat, the near-beat and the dead beat, as Shoeshine liked to proclaim. Further, Dr. Frank Bageley, psychiatrist and pill writer-outer to all the denizens of North Beach who weren’t already having their pill prescriptions written out by Dr. Renardo Lopez de Vega Diaz, notable Argentine art patron and benefactor, all of the above presented here in fictional guise, to protect what may remain of their reputations - dead or alive.
Other luminaries included Nazi Bill, who’d run for Mayor of San Francisco at the height of the Psychedelic Wars, and his German expat buddy Satty, the excessive collage artist. Diminutive Lucy Bravo, a chick of unrivaled vaginal clutch, her long jet-black hair parted straight down the middle (the way beat chicks wore it then), was chatting up sexy Martine, painter Michael Bowen’s old lady – which made him her old man. Most cats here were some old lady’s old man, and they their old ladies. Anita for example has remained my old lady to this day, me just having turned 71, now well on my way to actually being an old man – talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy!
Every man here personified the dictum The only good beat is a dead beat, while the women gave ample evidence of our own view that Only a beat chick is a good chick. We all after all had survived the acid-fueled Psychedelic Wars that had turned hippie haven Haight-Ashbury into an inferno of euphoric bliss that proved terminal for many. The mood and size of this gathering reminded me of that big blast of a party I’d thrown a few years back (where, regrettably, no group picture was taken) described as follows in the San Francisco News-Call Bulletin, under the banner headline Fuzz Fold St. Pat Party Pad – Cats, Chicks Flee Cops. It Was the Worst, Man, the Worst – by Robin Swados:
Man it was the worst. Groovy and gruesome, with these 50 or 60 cats and chicks coming on like when it was gone there wasn’t going to be any more. The gig was at this crazy pad down at 442 Bay St., and it was up, up, up, man, really blowing up a storm, when the fuzz made the scene and put it down, down, down. That’s what it was like early yesterday in the heart of beatsville when a group of the beard and beret set gathered to observe the day of the good St. Patrick. The booze was flowing, the hi-fi blaring and the neighbors complaining at 1:10 a.m. when Patrolmen Patrick Buckman and Bruce Mehrmann decided to check the action.
They had no sooner stepped from their patrol car when there was evidence that a frolicsome party was indeed in progress. For a bottle sailed out an open second-story window and whizzed over their heads. Undaunted, the officers were starting up the stairway to the flat when they were confronted by Peter Edler, 27, an unemployed singer. Edler shares the pad with Zina Barrett, 23, unemployed, and another girl who remains nameless because she happened to be gone, man, gone.
Buckman, as he dutifully noted later in his report, told Edler something to the effect that "It’s all over for you, my good man," and was called upon to defend himself as the irate crooner tried to throw him down the stairs. Both officers subdued Edler and, dragging him, handcuffed, continued onward and upward toward the gaiety. At the top of the stairway, they say, they were met by Edward Paiczek, 25, an unemployed artist, also known as Eddy Paycheck, of 531 Buchanan St,.
Once again, the luckless Buckman bore the brunt of attack. Paiczek aka Paycheck was defeated but not before he screamed the beatniks’ international distress signal: "Blow, everybody, it’s the fuzz!" Officers and prisoners alike were swept aside by an immediate stampede of inebriated humanity that bore down the stairs to the street and disappeared into the misty nether-nether lands of North Beach.
In the flat the officers, finally recovered from the mass departure, found Miss Barrett, fetchingly clad only in a black velvet coat, who was morosely sipping wine by candlelight, and Daniel Kaminsky, 28, unemployed, also known as Danny Karma, of 541 Washington St. Kaminsky aka Karma was deep in dreamsville. They also found the offending hi-fi set, 15 empty gin and whisky bottles and 18 wine bottles.
While hustling their four prisoners out, they came upon Valerie Hunter, 21, an unemployed nurse who was nursing a hangover while unsuccessfully trying to start her car. Despite her protestations that she was not a guest at the blast, she was taken to the Hall of Justice with the others.
Edler, a German-born Canadian, was booked as drunk and for resisting arrest. He was also held for questioning by immigration authorities. Paiczek aka Paycheck was charged with being drunk and disorderly, in addition to charges of using obscene language, resisting arrest, and obstructing a police officer in the performance of his duties. Kaminsky aka Karma made it as plain drunk, while Miss Hunter was charged with being drunk and loitering. Paiczek, Kaminsky and Hunter were booked, then released on their own recognizance. Miss Barrett was reprimanded and released with no charges. Edler was locked up for the night. After questioning by immigration he made bail in the morning. An atmosphere of nocturnal peace once again descended upon the Bay Street waterfront neighborhood. But, man, what a gas while it lasted!
Meanwhile, in the here and now this March morning in 1971, photographer Wally Chappell had finished adjusting his great wooden box camera on the tripod and was getting ready to shoot. One of San Francisco’s Finest, thoughtfully provided for the occasion, was casually diverting traffic - we were all in position, Wally sprinting to beat the time release, when there was a noisy commotion in the front line. A fellow named Duke (described as wanderer on the official photo) had been reeling about trying to find a suitable spot to collapse in. He was now collapsing in slow motion, just in time to get all of his hunched back into the picture. This lapse was corrected in the official version (actually a composite of three photos) so that two versions of Duke the Wanderer, one labeled Carl, appear together on the same picture in the Bay Guardian, historically paying double homage to wandering Duke’s beatitude.
Wally Sands (No. 70 on the official photo) proudly displays a bomber joint that made the rounds throughout the shoot – indeed four, five joints of varying size were in circulation, contributing to the mellow mood that fine morning. The year before, 4 students had been shot dead by National Guardsmen on the Kent State University campus, the World Trade Center was completed, and Charles Manson and his clan were convicted of murdering Sharon Tate. This year, the Pentagon Papers would be released, the first floppy disc for computers developed, native American Indians would occupy then quit Alcatraz Island, and Watergate was just ahead.
Indeed, America was seething with Vietnam turmoil, yet here among us peace and harmony reigned as we strolled up Columbus, then along Broadway, to drift into Enrico’s Coffee House and Bistro, where a breakfast of scrambled eggs and bacon would be served entirely free of charge. That fine Sunday in the spring of 1971 all was indeed well with the best and beatest of all worlds
©Peter Edler 2006