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.