The Emcee for the Evening

When I enter Winterland that night it’s saturated with concentrated smoke from thousands of hand-rolled joints. I’m already cooked before I arrive and more so afterward. Spliffs are passed around continually as part of that night’s festivities. It’s easy to think that we are on the verge of passing the California Marijuana Initiative—on the ballot of the first election to take place after the ratification of the 26th Amendment to the Constitution that has sanctioned 18-year old adults with the right to vote. The eventual Democratic presidential nominee, George McGovern, has promised to withdraw all American soldiers from Vietnam and to decriminalize marijuana, in addition to other liberal agenda items. George is my man. Tonight, anything seems possible. Maybe we can elect him and legalize marijuana at the same time.

The emcee for the evening is Wavy Gravy, a founding member of the First Church of Fun, a league of activist clowns who are steadfast in their commitment to ending the debacle in Vietnam through satire and comedy. Wavy’s actual name is Hugh Romney. His nickname was bestowed by the bluesman B.B. King. He started as a poet, joined Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters, formed the collective known as the Hog Farm, and handled security at Woodstock. When asked how he intended to maintain order for the three days of the festival he stated that he would use “cream pies and seltzer bottles.” He is a poet, prankster, and fool—an admirable evolution of soul and spirit.

That night while Wavy wows the audience between acts, engaging in what he calls “delightfully altered elevated shenanigans,” I feel a freedom that dissipates all the weighty disquiet that I habitually carry with me. What I have been taught my whole life— the expectations of discovering a career and working like a drudge—has no attraction for me. There is something different about me that hasn’t revealed itself yet. I knew I have passion for words and music, but how can I make a living with those tools, unadmired as they are by the culture I’ve been born into?

Wavy blows up balloons and tosses them into the audience, tells mystical jokes, and leads us through a meditation based on hyperventilation—we fall down after that—all the while laughing and venting a holy field of hilarity that passes through the audience like a helium wind. It’s an open and uplifting celebration—more than a rock concert—a gathering of young people who are all rebelling against the powers of the world that want to snuff out all joy and make us the slaves of plutocrats.

Wavy is more than a clown—he is a hallowed being like the rest of us. The difference is that he knows he is a comic saint and I do not. I can see myself in that crowded and smoky building as if I am looking from above, one tiny head among many others, John Lennon glasses on my nose, a doobie in my mouth, clapping and laughing along with everyone else, feeling the power of the renewal that is always with us. The joy I feel that night sustains me. Years have passed, but the power is still there in my heart—emanating endlessly.

Let’s Sit in the Balcony Instead

Nothing has changed at the corner of Post and Steiner. It is still the grimy junction that I’m fond of—my place on Friday nights—this one initiating the party weekend that will extend to Halloween next Tuesday. That seems appropriate. The line is short but is spilling around the corner from the front entry doors as we approach from behind the arena on Pierce Street.

Bowie has been everywhere in the media ever since the tour started on September 22 in Cleveland. On October 20th and 21st the band plays two sold out nights at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. Los Angeles is zany for Ziggy. KMET, the underground FM station known as “The Mighty Met,” airs the October 20th concert live. Bowie and the Spiders overwhelm L.A., leaving fans raving about what they had seen and heard.

But as I stand in line I wonder where all the hip San Francisco fans are hiding. Winterland should be crammed, but as we wait only a few people line up behind us. I ask Fred about that, but he shrugs his shoulders. By this time, he’s comfortable with the music and can’t deny its value, but he’s still nervous about the gender incongruity of the album. A couple of weeks earlier I buy a copy of Hunky Dory, Bowie’s previous album, because I enjoy the music. But I tease Fred with the cover—Bowie gazing upwards, a look of longing on his face, his hand pulling his hair up from his forehead effeminately. It’s a soft-focus photo like all the studio photography of movie stars given away as publicity pictures back in the Forties and Fifties.

I walk down to the corner and stand under the signpost. There’s a group of men clustered at the head of the line dressed as women. There are plenty of men in San Francisco who cross-dress. This is my first sighting. Not all of them are outfitted that way. Some are in full Ziggy regalia, complete with red hair and rooster haircuts—all of them colorful and loud.

The rest of the people in line are dressed in denim. It’s the post-hippie look, and I’m a member of that community. I saunter back down to where Fred and Gloria are holding our place in line. I try to look nonchalant.

“What’s going on up at the front of the line?” Fred asks.

“Oh, not much. People waiting as usual.” I keep my reply as deadpan as I can. I want to see the look on his face when he sees the guys at the front door. A few minutes later some additional costumed characters walk around the corner and take their places in line behind us. Fred, who’s been talking rapidly and holding forth on one thing or another, stops prattling and his voice halts. He averts his eyes, which are wide with disbelief, and leans against the wall as if he needs physical support from the shock. A few moments later he says, “I hope they open the doors soon. I’m getting cold,” in the same way a cat, after falling ineptly from a table, licks its paw as if to say, I meant to do that.

When the doors open the line flows in without any rushing or running. When I reach the main floor, I see there are only a couple of hundred people near the stage. I wonder if some folks were running fashionably late. Where is everybody? Perhaps there will be a larger crowd eventually. It’s the right time to get close to the stage and claim a space before the music starts. But as I begin walking Fred does not move. He’s frozen in place, looking at the milling group of alternate lifestyle folks with consternation as he holds hands with Gloria. I think for a moment that she might be the cause of his hesitation. She says a few words to him that I can’t hear—tries to take a step forward and pull him with her. He remains stationary. He shakes his head from side to side. He’s unwilling to join the crowd of cross-dressers.