the 60s (50)

Running a USAF Newspaper in Germany, 1958-1960 — Part 1

I started out to write a book about the ’60s because none of the accounts I saw of the era seemed right. As I went along, I decided to document my background — which ended up taking up about half of the book. Ulp!

I’ve published the first 3 autobiographical chapters — click on “The ’60s,” above. However, I still have about 10,000 words of my story before getting up to 1958, in this order:

  • Summertime in the ’40s
  • High School in San Francisco, 1948-1952
  • Stanford, 1953-1957
  • Santa Cruz/Surfing 1954-1957
  • Three Months Through Europe on a Motorscooter, 1957

I’ve decided to skip ahead of these chapters for now, so we can get right into the ’60s. I’ll publish them sooner or later in some form — maybe in an eventual print edition of this book, or some kind of autobiography.

You’re in the Air Force Now

I was in the USAF ROTC at Stanford (to avoid the Korean war), and had signed up for a 3-year tour of duty upon graduation. I graduated from Stanford in 1957, and was scheduled to report to pilot training school in spring, 1958, at Marana Air Force base in Arizona.

However, after I’d graduated and when I returned from a motorscooter trip through Europe, I got a letter from the USAF saying they had changed the rules and I now would have to sign up for 5 years if I still wanted to be trained as a pilot — or take a 3-year non-flying tour.

No way was i going to commit to a 5-year military career. I wrote them and said that (in other words): you guys double-crossed me; for 4 years you said it’d be a 3-year commitment, now you’re changing it to 5. So, I want a non-flying tour and I’d like to be in information services (base newspaper, photography, press releases), and I’d like to be stationed in Europe.

Lo and behold, they gave me just what I asked for. (I figured some sergeant in the Pentagon saw my letter and decided, why not?).

When we got back from our motor scooter trip, I was told to report for active duty at Sembach Air Base, Germany, which was about 60 miles south of Frankfurt. My job was to run the base newspaper and manage the base photo lab.

My mom was upset when she saw this photo. She said I looked sad. She was right. Fish out of water, in more ways than one.

I reported for active duty in February, 1958 and lived in the Bachelor Officers’ Quarters for three months until Sarah came over. We first lived in the nearby small town of Enkenbach (and had Sunday afternoon coffee klatches that included rich creamy German cakes with our landlady, Frau Elner and family and neighbors) until we moved into an apartment on the base.

Trouble with the Military

The job and location were great, but I disliked the military. I hated wearing a uniform. I was a second lieutenant, but didn’t feel like an officer. I never did get the officer/enlisted man relationship right. I neither liked giving orders nor being ordered around. I didn’t feel superior because I was an officer. It was awkward.

My Own Newspaper

But I liked running the newspaper, and decided to have some fun. Soon after I took over the paper—The Sembach Jet Gazette—I converted it to a tabloid and started featuring photos that the base photographer shot in his spare time, with a full-page photo on page 1.

The photographer, Sgt. Jim Tyson, who was used to shooting photos of such exciting events as the Officers Wives’ Club meetings with a 4×5 Graflex camera, also had his own 35mm camera, and was happy when I told him to go out and shoot human-interest photos. He shot artistic black and white pictures and we converted a boring military publication into something quite different.

We did an April Fools’ issue that went over well. But then we did a parody of the Overseas Weekly, which was a National Enquirer-type semi-scandal sheet newspaper put out for the American military in Europe. We called our version The Overseen Locally, with the slogan “All the News That Fits, We Print.” We made fun of a lot of the base’s clubs and practices.

It didn’t go over with the brass. I was already in trouble with the base commander for refusing to pay for officers’ cocktail parties that I didn’t attend. An American journalist in Wiesbaden told me that he had heard rumors of a court-martial, the theory being that this was a subversive act, that the Russians could use it for propaganda. (Puhleeze!) It all blew over, but it didn’t endear me to the base commander.

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Whole Earth Catalog’s 50th Anniversary

Here’s a video made for the occasion. I was the shelter editor for several incarnations of the Catalog, including The Whole Earth Epilog.

“Meet the creators of the Whole Earth Catalog and the community they inspired. This video history of the Whole Earth culture covers 50 years of collective innovation in just 38 minutes.

“Whole Earth Flashbacks” takes you on a dazzling journey through time, from the first Whole Earth Catalogs to the Co-Evolution Quarterly, the Whole Earth Review, the Hackers Conference, the Well, Cyberthon, Wired, Burning Man and the 10,000 Year Clock, to name but a few.

These projects have one thing in common: they gave access to tools and ideas to help people bring their dreams to life — and change the world together.

This video retrospective features many creative minds and thought leaders: Stewart Brand, Jay Baldwin, Stephanie Mills, Lloyd Kahn, Ted Nelson, Doug Adams, Steven Levy, Andy Hertzfeld, Howard Rheingold, Jaron Lanier, Wavy Gravy, Kevin Kelly, Larry Harvey, Danny Hillis and Steve Jobs, in order of appearance.

Whole Earth Flashbacks was created by Fabrice Florin, with the help of over 60 community members…. Our video premiered at the 50th Anniversary of the Whole Earth Catalog on October 13, 2018, at Fort Mason in San Francisco.…”

https://vimeo.com/album/5479545/video/294878432

(In the 2nd row of the above collage, 2nd from left, is a fisheye shot of me in my dome at Pacific High School in 1968.)

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What the ’60s Wasn’t

1960, me (at left) and my Stinson beach lifeguard friends in Mill Valley about to take off on a surfing trip to the Point Reyes Peninsula in my 1937 Chevy (with square-cut gears) truck. This was a few years before everything started to change.

Getting It Wrong…

In 2017, there was a media blitz on “The 50th Anniversary of the Summer of Love.” There were TV shows, magazine and online articles, and museum exhibits on what supposedly took place in San Francisco in the summer of 1967.

I read all these stories and articles, watched the films, went to the exhibits, and was puzzled. This wasn’t the way I saw it, and I was there. There were a bunch of things wrong with all this coverage:

What the ’60s Wasn’t

  • The “summer of love” was a disaster. An estimated 100,000 kids trekked to San Francisco, most of them looking for drugs, sex, and rock and roll. A lot of them inspired by the lame song about wearing flowers in your hair if you came to San Francisco. The city wasn’t prepared for the inundation; the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood was overwhelmed. There wasn’t enough food, housing, or sanitation for the influx. Things deteriorated rapidly.
  • Secondly, the Haight Ashbury district wasn’t the ’60s.

    “The Haight-Ashbury was a neighborhood. The ’60s was a movement.”
    –Ken Kesey

    Kesey nails it here, as he did so often. The media has focused on the Haight-Ashbury, since it’s been so well documented, and it’s easy to interview people who were there.

    But the ’60s was about much more than the Haight, it was about a lot more than rock and roll and smoking pot and living in old Victorians in San Francisco.

    It was nationwide, arguably worldwide, and it encompassed a staggering variety of subjects and events and changes.

  • Most of the books, films, articles, and exhibits about the ’60s are by people who weren’t there — second-hand accounts.

My first thoughts were that these versions didn’t reflect what really happened.
Read More …

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Stop, Children, What’s That Sound…

Photo of me in 1965 in Providence, RI, shot with my Nikon by Linda Connor. I was on a 30-day cross-country hitchhiking trip — a “vision quest.” When I got home, I quit my job as an insurance broker and went to work as a carpenter.

I started out to write a book about the ’60s because most of the media coverage (TV documentaries, books, exhibits) in 2017, prompted by “The Summer of Love” theme, didn’t coincide with what I saw happen:

1. in the ’60s
2. in San Francisco

I began by making a list of the ideas and concepts that I learned about in the ’60s. A lot! It was surprising.

Then I thought that if I’m going to take people on a trip — my trip — through those years, I should explain who I am, my background, so readers will know “…where I’m coming from.”

I’m starting with scenes from childhood. Focusing on the past is fun. It’s opening up a suitcase of memories and I’m having a good time remembering good times.I recall scenes from past years, then I run out to the computer and type a few paragraphs about the ’40s, the ’50s, a few about Pacific High School in the ’60s, a few about the Haight-Ashbury district — in no particular order. It’s not an organized way to write a book, but as I go along, the book is taking its own form.

A builder I know once told me, talking about each house he builds, “I fire the bullet and then try to catch up with it.”

I’m starting by describing growing up in San Francisco, what the city was like then, grammar school, summer vacations, high school (in the Haight-Ashbury district) and college and surfing days….

This will be the way I saw the ’60s; I’m not trying to be comprehensive or complete about the era. You can’t make a cohesive narrative about the times because the times weren’t cohesive. It will be purely what I saw happen.

If any of you experienced the ’60s directly, your memories are welcome here…

Note: I’m going to publish the book, bit by bit here. I’m not ready to make a real book out of it yet. I have two other books to get done first.

The posts will all be available under “THE SIXTIES” tab at the top of the blog, so if you want to read about the era, they’ll all be in one place.

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Michael Kahn’s Sculptural Village in Arizona

I’ve just been going through old photos and came across photos from 2002 of my cousin Mike’s place in Arizona, which he called Eliphante. Mike was one year younger than me and we hung out when we were kids. We looked a lot alike.

He was an artist all his life, painting and drawing from an early age. After high school, I went off to Stanford and he went to UC Santa Barbara (where he threw the javelin on the track team), and we didn’t get back in touch until the ’60s, when we both were caught up in the cultural revolution, psychedelics and all.

By then, he was living New York, where he did portraits and sold paintings on the sidewalks around Washington Square. Then he moved to Provincetown, Cape Cod, where he worked as a waiter to support his painting habit.

In  the ’70s he moved to the Arizona desert and, and partially based on seeing Bob De Buck’s wild creations in Shelter (pp.144-147), he started building what turned out to be a series of buildings. The windows in the room above are auto windshields he got for free, and stained glass applied inside with silicone caulk. There is a section on Mike and his wife Leda in our 2004 book Home Work (pp. 121-129).

Mike passed away 10 years ago, but Eliphante lives on.

https://www.eliphante.com/

https://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/31/garden/31elephante.html

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How We Got From Twinkies to Tofu

HIPPIE FOOD
How Back-to-the-Landers, Longhairs, and Revolutionaries Changed the Way We Eat

By Jonathan Kauffman
344 pp. William Morrow. $26.99

Review in today’s NYTimes by Michael Pollan

For a revolution that supposedly failed, the counterculture of the 1960s and early 1970s scored a string of enduring victories. Environmentalism, feminism, civil and gay rights, as well as styles of music, fashion, politics, therapy and intoxication: In more ways than many of us realize, we live in a world created by the ’60s. (Though, as our politics regularly attest, some of us are rather less pleased to be living in that world than others.) Jonathan Kauffman’s briskly entertaining history, “Hippie Food,” makes a convincing case for adding yet another legacy to that list: the way we eat.

Kauffman has more in mind than the menu items that the ’60s served up: the tofu, tempeh and tamari, the granola and yogurt, the nut loafs and avocado sandwiches on whole wheat bread with their poufs of alfalfa sprouts that “smell as if a field of grass were having sex”; hard as it is to imagine now, all of these foods were radical novelties before 1970 or so. But the counterculture transformed much more than the American menu; it also changed the way we grow our food and how we think about purchasing and consuming it. “Eating brown rice was a political act,” he writes, just as much “as wearing your hair long or refusing to shave your armpits.” How this curious idea came to seem right and true (and to outlast the hairy armpits) is the historical question at the heart of “Hippie Food.”

Kauffman, who was born in 1971, comes at his subject as a child of children of the ’60s: He grew up on brown rice and quite likes it. A former line cook and food critic in the Bay Area, Kauffman is now a reporter for the food section of The San Francisco Chronicle, and his book is the work of an enterprising journalist who has interviewed many in the cast of hippie farmers, cooks, communards and food artisans who together forged what Kauffman asks us to regard as a new and “unique, self-contained cuisine.”

“The food Americans were eating in the mid-1960s resembled nothing that any civilization on Earth had ever eaten before,” Kauffman reminds us. By then, a series of food-processing innovations developed during World War II — powdered soups and juices, cake mixes, dehydrated coffee, etc. — had infiltrated American food culture, which lacked the deep roots that might have allowed it to withstand the influences of marketers, faddists, kooks and ideologues of every stripe. Americans, Kauffman notes, have long displayed “a queer eagerness to abandon the culinary wisdom of the generations that preceded them.” In the ’60s that meant eating things your parents had never heard of; if they ate white bread, you ate brown.

Read More …

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The Passionate Photographer

Just wrote this today for my book on the ’60s (which also includes the years leading up to the ’60s):

I was the Information Services Officer at Sembach Air Base in southern Germany in 1958-1960. In addition to running the base photo lab and editing the base newspaper (The Sembach Jet Gazette), I was in charge of public relations and dealing with the press.

There was a German photographer, Helmut Haak, who photographed troops on American air bases. He contacted me about setting up photo shoots.
I would line up a fighter plane down on our airstrip, and benches for the military personnel, arranged by unit. There might be 30-40 men and women in each photo.

Helmut made a ton of money selling the photos. Practically everyone bought one. He drove a big Mercedes and lived in a small castle overlooking the Mosel River.

We hit it off. One night he invited us, along with my secretary Inge, over for a light supper.
He served white and pink champagne in bottles with his own label. He took us up into a small turret at the top of the castle. As we looked down on the river in the mist, he showed us an exquisite little music box with a moving mechanical bird.

Helmut had a 4-seat Cessna airplane, and he made friends with our base commander (Colonel Simeral, a pilot) by taking him flying. It was a spiffy little plane, and the colonel loved flying it.

One day at the base he took me up. We took off, and were still in the flight pattern when we heard on the radio: “F-86 dogs scrambling,” which meant that at least two of the base’s fighter pilots were taking off in a hurry. Shit!

Helmut was sweating. I was worried. The F-86’s were like rockets with cockpits on top—fast and powerful. Pretty soon, the planes roared past us—phew!—and we came back in.

 Helmut told me that one time, when his girlfriend was sailing back to America from Bremerhaven, he swooped down when the ship was leaving port and dropped a bouquet of flowers for her on the deck.

Before I left Germany and returned to the USA, I got word that he had crashed in the French Alps, not seeing Mont Blanc in the fog. The notice said that he had missed clearing Mont Blanc by 3-4 meters.

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Otis and My Book on the ’60s

On the last leg of my trip to Oregon this week, I had a great visit with Foster Huntington before heading home, saw his incredible new video project, spent the night in his treehouse, and went to the airport yesterday afternoon, delay of flight, dragged into home about midnight, got up this morning, for some reason had a hard time getting going on my book on the ’60s. I even thought of dropping the project and going ahead with my book, “The Half-Acre Homestead.”

But I did what I advise people to do when they don’t know what to do about a project: “Start.” Which I did, and it started flowing.
I started writing about the Monterey Pop Festival. I was there and thought it was the beginning of a wonderful new world. For me, it wasn’t about Jimi Hendrix, or Janis (her first appearance with Big Brother, I believe), or Bryan Jones wandering around in the crowd, but it was about Otis. Good god a-mighty…

He appeared Saturday night. I hardly knew who he was, had certainly never seen him. He was wearing a green suit, was maybe the most beautiful man I’d ever seen, and was an entire other universe of music.
I pulled up the Youtube video of him singing I’ve been Loving You Too Long, and — I didn’t cry, but it sure brought tears to me eyes. For Otis, who’s gone, and for the ’60s, which never quit materialized the way I thought it would.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0vUc17A0SNY

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The Gag-Me-With-A-Spoon Summer of Love

My annoyance at all the lame krap floating around now about 1967 in the Haight-Ashbury district, “The Summer of Love,”just about turned to repulsion of late. Yeah, strong word, but man is it bad! We went to the deYoung Museum in San Francisco (an architectural catastrophe) Friday for their exhibit. $25 entrance fee! Most of the exhibit consisted of posters and yes, the posters were magnificent, but the exhibit was mostly ’60s drivel.

The “hippie clothing” was awful. No elegance, no simplicity. People with bad taste and too much time on their hands; bad colors, mishmashes of design. A truly awful crocheted bedspread commissioned by Bob Weir. Two rooms of flashing video montages of blurry dancers — senseless, dumb; not trippy — sloppy.

And the clincher: when you leave the exhibit, they funnel you into The Summer of Love Gift Shop. I kid you not. T-shirts, hats, trinkets, a poster of lame buttons — all made in China.

These curators are giving the ’60s a bad name.

The “Hippie Modernism” exhibit at the Berkeley Museum was way better.

As is the exhibit at the California Historical Society. Really good b&w photos, tracing the ’60s from the Beats-on. $5 entrance fee.

There was a conference this weekend, some 45 presentations on the era, mostly by college professors.

Sorry, I’ve been brooding over all the distortions, all the weren’t-there, don’t-get-it pontificators.

“The Haight-Ashbury was a neighborhood. The ’60s was a movement.” -Ken Kesey

PS The “Summer of Love” (1967) was in actuality a disaster in San Francisco.

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