A Memory of June 16th, 1967, Monterey, California
It was a mellow summer night. Orange colored pennants fluttered in the benevolent breeze as I walked down the midway. I breathed in the cool Pacific air, and released a sigh of satisfaction. In the middle of the grassy lane a short, chubby policeman stood like a smiling Buddha, nodding amiably at passers-by. It was Friday, and the Monterey Pop Festival had just kicked off its opening night concert. I was still high from performances by the Association, Lou Rawls, Eric Burden, Simon and Garfunkel, and others. It had been a happening only slightly marred by a group of hippies in the bleachers who chose to accompany the ultra cool Rawls with some very uncool tambourine playing. I’d squirmed with embarrassment at each jangling accent on the one and three. The square moment had soon been forgotten, though, as I let myself flow with the evening’s good vibes.
My brother, Jimmy and I, along with friend and band mate, Casey, had driven up the coast from L.A. the night before. After the concert we’d temporarily parted company to stroll solo and take in the sights. I looked around. Canvass booths lined each side of the midway, but for such as important event, the concession stands were meager. A few tents offered food or drink, while some hawked clothing, or crafts. Others simply passed out literature for left wing causes. The Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper’s was blasting from one of the booths. I stopped to listen. “I’ve got to admit it’s getting better, just a little better all the time.” Paul sang. The music and the moment made me buzz with elation. I was moving among kindred spirits. No one here was going to hassle me for wearing my hair long, or for taking a stand against the war. I wondered – Were things only to get better from here on? Were we at the dawn of a new day? A new paradise?
Up ahead a circle had formed around two long-haired musicians. I approached to check it out. A shirtless man with sandy hair, headband, and painted face was playing a set of pan pipes. With eyes closed and lips puckered, he played a percussive pentatonic melody. Next to him, a dark-bearded man, wearing a long white robe, sat before a single conga drum, patting out a rhythmic accompaniment with his palms and fingers. Their lack of technical skill was more than made up for by primitive passion, and the crowd was right there with them. When the music reached a climax, the two made eye contact and brought the improvised piece to a conclusion. The circle, me included, broke out in applause, and the tribe began to scatter.
Moving along, I suddenly felt a brush of fingers on my forearm. Tingling at the touch, I turned and found myself looking into a pair of green eyes, deep and intelligent. The girl’s face, free of make-up, was lovely. Her brunette hair was wrapped in a multicolored scarf, and she was wearing a cream colored halter top with shorts. She literally took my breath away. The girl discreetly placed what I suspected was a joint in my right palm and folded my fingers back around it. Then, grabbing my free hand, she gave a tug and we set off running. I could hear the bells around her ankles jingle as her bare feet touched the grass.
We ran down the lane to the end of the midway and into the darkness, laughing as we went. It felt as if we were the first couple, tripping through paradise. Ever the hopeless romantic, I willingly let myself get carried away, imagining that we would find a secluded spot to gaze into the starry sky and into each other’s eyes. Our hearts would race in anticipation as our lips drew nearer. We would kiss and talk for hours and spend the whole week-end together. I would never forget her. I would stay up until three in the morning to write her torrid love letters and poems and hitchhike for hundreds of miles in the pouring rain to see her. I would…
We swung left into a field behind the fairgrounds where we were immediately hit by the sweet odor of cannabis, and scent of sandalwood. As my eyes adjusted to a darkness lit only by a crescent moon, I could make out perhaps a dozen groups of people sitting in circles. We approached one of the circles.
Linda leaned in close to my face with questioning eyes.
“Danny.” I whispered.
“Everyone, this is Danny!”
“Hi, Danny!” the group hailed.
A friendly guy on the opposite side of the circle stretched an arm in invitation. “Hey, man, have a seat and join us!”
A guy and a girl sitting directly in front of me scooted apart to make room.
Linda made her way around the circle to sit beside the young man who’d spoken. He turned his head her way. “Hi there”
She smiled back. – “Hi.”
With a sagging feeling of disappointment, I recognized that these two were a couple. I was embarrassed at my having misread the situation, and felt a bit like a stray puppy someone might bring home. I was also surprised that her boyfriend seemed so straight. While his fellow travelers looked half hippie, his hair was short, and he was wearing an Ivy League shirt.
“I’m Todd.” he said. “This is Stuart and Meghan, and Bob and Susanne. ”
Just great. I thought. Three beautiful couples… and moi.
We all nodded and smiled.
“Danny’s come bearing gifts.” Linda suddenly announced.
For an instant I was confused , but then remembered the joint in my hand. I held it up between thumb and finger to everyone’s delight as long-haired Stuart, on my left, produced a lighter. I stuck the number in my mouth and leaned in to the flame. The Zig Zag paper crackled as I took a deep hit and exhaled. Wow! It was good shit. I passed it to Susanne on my right.
Across the circle Linda hugged her knees to her chest and looked over them at me. Oh, those eyes. I said to myself, hoping my sigh was inaudible.
From their conversation, I learned they’d come down from San Jose. I gathered they’d all gone to school together.
“Where are you from?” Todd asked.
I told them I was part of a band. We were up here together.
“Far out! What’s the name of the group?” Bob asked.
I told him, and added that we’d just cut a single we were really excited about.
“Are you guys gonna play the Fillmore?” Stuart inquired as he passed the joint.
Ah, the San Francisco scene – the Airplane, the Dead, Quicksilver – Lately it was on everyone’s lips.
“I can’t wait to see Janis sing tomorrow. ” said Susanne, as she blew smoke, and fingered her long brown braids.
Todd saw the puzzled look on my face. “Joplin.” he said… “Janis Joplin, the singer for Big Brother and the Holding Company.”
“She’s so cool!” Red-haired Meghan chimed in. “We saw her in the ‘City’. That girl can sing the blues!”
“I’ll definitely watch for Janis, and the band.” I said. “I’m also really looking forward to seeing Laura Nyro perform. Have you heard her?”
It was their turn to look puzzled.
“She’s a great songwriter and singer. Very soulful. I’ve really gotten in to her album.”
With eyes slightly glazed, all present nodded politely.
Was I high? I knew from experience that asking myself the question meant that I probably was. I could feel my center lowering, and my body being enveloped in a warm sensuality. I yearned to hear some good music. Todd must have read my mind. He turned on a transistor radio and, seconds later, the Jefferson Airplane’s song, Embryonic Journey, flowed from the tiny speaker, wafting through the air like wind chimes riding a gentle breeze. The acoustic guitar work was gorgeous, and filled me with longing. I snuck a glance at Linda. For a second, our eyes met but, just as quickly, we both averted our gaze.
After the song ended, there were a few seconds of silence before the DJ began playing a track by Country Joe and the Fish. It was very psychedelic and full of tonal color. I was digging on the Farfisa organ, when I abruptly heard what sounded like a monstrous washing machine running out of balance. With quick crescendo, the sound grew in strength until it was right on top of us. I looked up and saw an army helicopter pass in front of the moon. The chopper began circling the fairgrounds like an ominous bird of prey. Its light blinked as its blades sliced through the air. Stuart looked skyward, and with a sneer, flipped the bird, pronging his finger emphatically. You had to love the guy! The craft circled a few more times before making its way back to from where it had come. I suspected they were probably on a joy ride from nearby Fort Ord, out to rain on our parade. It was a jarring moment, a stabbing pierce through the veneer of a peaceful night.
Susanne shook her head – “God, I hate thinking about what’s going on in Vietnam.”
“Yea, me, too.” Everyone agreed.
The war. That damned evil war. It was tearing us apart. I remembered back to a few months earlier, when I had carried out a one man anti-war protest at my community college. Placard in hand, I had naively thought I could convince people of the war’s folly simply by laying out the facts. I was wrong. While some students were cool, others had wanted to confront me, corner me, and shout me down with the spittle flying. I was called a commie, a freak. Most people, however, were just plain old apathetic. I now looked upon it as a brave, but forlorn act. Although it had meant something to me, had I made a difference? I doubted it.
“Hey, guys.” Todd said. He paused, and took a deep breath before continuing… “This may sound crazy, but I’ve decided to join up. I don’t like this stupid war either, but… hey, I’m 1-A, and it’s just a matter of time before they draft me. My uncle thinks I have a decent shot at getting in to the Coast Guard. If that doesn’t work out, I’ll take the Navy. I might as well get it over with so I can get on with my life. Just wanted to let you know.”
Everyone was quiet. Linda placed a hand tenderly on his arm.
He added with a nervous laugh – “Right now, though, I just want to enjoy the mellow vibes and beautiful people.”
“Hey, man, I’ll always be your friend” Stuart declared. Others joined in with words of support.
I was at first surprised by Todd’s declaration. I could never do that, I thought. Although I, too, had received 1-A status from the draft board, I had vowed not to kill another human being on someone’s command, and I refused to become cannon fodder for a war I thought was immoral and unjust. I would go to jail first. But I realized that Todd was looking at the larger trajectory of his life, and making a pragmatic choice. I respected him for that. Was I making long term choices or just chasing my dreams? I couldn’t really say.
Once again my ears tuned into the music on the radio. “Wouldn’t you love somebody to love? Don’t you need somebody to love?” Grace Slick was shouting.
I could feel it was time for me to make an exit. I got up, and brushed the dust from my jeans.
Linda looked up to make eye contact – “Oh, you’re not leaving already?”
“Yea , I’ve got to meet up with my buddies. Thanks for being so welcoming.” Then, making it clear that I was addressing everyone, I said “You’re beautiful!!” even as I winced inwardly at the triteness of my own words.
The circle bid me good-bye.
“Peace and Love” Stuart said, showing the finger “V” peace sign.
“Peace and love” I responded, giving the peace sign back.
On my way out, the booth was still playing Sergeant Pepper’s as I passed by. “With our love we could save the world .” George sang. “If they only knew.”
Yes, if they only knew. Although I was high, my mind could see clearly. No doubt, for some of us this event would be a life changing experience, but for most it would simply be an entertaining diversion. The warrior culture runs deep, and we were not going to transform the world with just a song and a magical moment. I sighed. I knew in my bones that this happening was ephemeral. Like my brief encounter with lovely, green-eyed Linda, it was a beautiful, but fleeting thing – A sprint through Paradise.