the 60s (37)

Looking (Way) Back

Working on a book on the ’60s now. Looking back at my photos from then (and before) is like opening boxes of memories, or viewing grainy old movies. Fun! This is me in 1952 at age 17 at Lowell High School, which was in the Haight-Ashbury district. 

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Friday Morning Fish Fry

Every once in a while, S.F. Chronicle columnist Herb Cain would put together a column of bits and pieces, so-called 3-dot journalism,  and he would call it “Friday Morning Fish Fry.” I’m still unscrambling things from my month on the road, so here’s an interim bunch of disconnected facts:

It’s an iPhone world I live in a small-town. Most days I only see a few people. Spending weeks in the cities among 1000s of people, it struck me how everyone is connected via smartphones. I’m not into that level of communication, so the extent of phone calling, texting, googling, is um, awesome. It’s the way the world is out there — yow!

AirBnB I guess I really don’t get out much in the world. What I didn’t realize re AirBnB is that many of these are rooms in homes where it’s like you have a roommate. Shared bathroom, kitchen, living room. My 2 AirBnB experiences were very good, but I think I lucked out. A lot of those rooms on the website look pretty grim.

Dylan fans The Bootleg Series, Volume 12, a 6-CD set is a whole new level. Shows how the ’65-’66 songs were constructed. They’d do 14 takes. Listening to disc 6 today lifted me out of my weeks-old funk. Oh mama, can this really be the end…

Skateboarding Yesterday I thought: realistically, at age 82, I can’t afford any more accidents. This shoulder operation wasn’t due to skating, but the other shoulder and the broken arm were. Plus they’re have been a lot of close calls. I’m thinking of hanging it up, or at least drastically cutting down the frequency. Is that mature or what?

My book on the ’60s I’m fiddling with it, to see if it seems a go. Scanning some of my photos from the ’60s is like stepping back in time. I’ve never seen (i.e. printed) many of these.

At left, The Lovin’ Spoonful, John Sebastian on right, at Cafe Wha’ in NYC, Fall, 1965, shot during my month-long hitchhiking trip across the country

I’ve got a different take on what went on then, as opposed to the frenzy of “Summer of Love” TV shows, articles, museum exhibits.

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Victoria & Albert Museum Exhibition - "You Say You Want A Revolution?" - opens Sept. 10, 2016 in London

I got interviewed via Skype (with which I’m not too comfortable, at least doing an intercontinental interview) by the BBC yesterday. A last-minute deal.

The Victoria and Albert Museum has an exhibit opening next week titled:

“You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970”

“How have the finished and unfinished revolutions of the late 1960s changed the way we live today and think about the future?”

They’ve been working on this a long time; they came to our house with a camera crew about a year ago; then a month or so ago, V&A personnel along with four British reporters interviewed Stewart Brand and me for several hours in San Francisco. What were the 60s like? What role do the Whole Earth Catalog have in the countercultural revolution? Etc.

 Here’s the news program that ran in the UK last night:

 Here’s info on the exhibit:

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Small Homes Book Production Full Speed Ahead

The book is about two thirds done now—the most complicated one I’ve done so far; 80+ contributors, and lots of correspondence going back and forth, getting large enough photo files, more information, enough material to do layout.

I’m going to back way off on posting here in coming months, in order to get the book finished.

Friday when I was in San Francisco, I shot this picture of the building where I worked for five years as an insurance broker—corner of California and Sansome. I was on the sixth floor. If you count up to the third row of windows in the red brick part of the building and then across to the sixth window on the right, that’s where my office was. I was standing looking out that window the day JFK was assassinated.

I lasted until 1965, until along came rock and roll and everything else, and I gave up commerce for artistic freedom…

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History Of the Whole Earth Catalog and The Birth of West Coast Publishing

I wrote this article 27 years
ago, so to bring the first sentence up to date, “It was 48 years ago…” Egad!
Its purpose was to describe the
impact of the
Whole Earth Catalog on a
number of people, including me, and the birth of west coast publishing in the
late ‘60s. 
I ran across it recently and
thought it might be of interest in helping people connect some of the
dots—especially younger people, who may have heard of the WEC, but don’t
understand its significance.

t was 21 years ago, a cold, dark,
early December evening when I walked into a semi-vacant storefront in Menlo
Park, California. A sign out front said ”Whole Earth Truck Store,” but
there was no truck, no store, just an army-camouflage VW bus and Stewart and
Lois Brand and a ton of books piled around in the back room. I was a
dropped-out San Francisco insurance broker turned builder. I was about 10 years
older than the inspired and visionary kids who were moving and shaking up
America at the time, but I’d got the message and in a few years preceding that
evening had latched onto many of the elements that were fueling the cultural,
metaphysical and epochal revolution of the times.
I had just built a homestead, then
a geodesic dome workshop in Big Sur, was tending a garden, listening to rock
& roll, making weekend trips to Haight Ashbury, reading The Owner Built
Home, Organic Gardening & Farming Magazine, The Oracle, The East Village
Other, The Dome Cookbook, The Green Revolution
, getting food by mail from Walnut Acres, listening to
Buckminster Fuller and Marshall McLuhan, discovering B.B. King, Ali Akbar Khan,
Buddhism, Alice Bailey, astronomy, astrology, prisms and Ashley automatics,
learning about ferrocement, wind electricity, solar heating…what a time it was!

Having run a base newspaper in the
Air Force, I had a journalistic bent and as all this information began
manifesting in the mid-60s and, especially since people were starting to write
me for dome building instructions, I thought I’d mimeo up some fact sheets—so I didn’t have to
write every person individually.
Stewart saved me the trouble. He
had more information, a game plan, the financing, and went on to publish
the first Whole Earth Catalog in fall
’68. (I still have that crude, funky and by now tattered first edition—one of
my treasured books.)
It was an instant hit. Contributing to this were Stewart’s pithy haiku-like reviews, and very accurate and complete access information on all the books and items reviewed. I joined forces and went on to
edit the Shelter section of three of the catalogs. To go back a
bit further while still in this “credit-where-due” mode, The Dome
by Steve Baer in early 1968 gave me the first
flash of insight. By God, I could do a book like this! Funky typewritten text,
grainy photos, handwritten afterthoughts in the margin—just do it!
Stewart was also obviously
influenced by this 11”x14″ staple-bound account of Baer’s mathematics and
the building of chopped-out car top domes in Colorado and New Mexico. It sold
for $1.
At the WEC I learned about typesetting, design, editing, on-the-spot
paste-up and dealing with printers. In 1970 I published Domebook One and a year later Domebook 2, both with my friend Bob Easton, and found myself in the publishing
business. That’s where I still am today—it all began with Stewart, Hal, Annie,
Cappy, Fred, and Steamboat and it led a surprising number of us into permanent
publishing careers.
That’s the personal) and specific
of it. The general and significant of it is (was) the birth of nationwide
distribution of West Coast books. When the Fall 1969 WEC sold 100,000 copies in four weeks, New York’s attention
was got. New York meant major distribution muscle. Agent Don Gerrard signed the
WEC up with Random House, then under
editor-in-chief Jim Silberman’s lead, and I followed with Domebook 2, starting my 30-year relationship with Random House as our distributor. Anybody’s Bike Book, Living on the
Earth, The Tassajara Bread Book, The Massage Book
, Shelter and
others all burst onto the national scene in the late ’60s-early ’70s.
It was as if CBS had given a dozen
homemade West Coast videos prime time. It marked the beginnings of Ten Speed
Press, Shambhala Publications, and our own publishing company, among others.
Until then, there were no timely, hip, quickly and organically produced West
Coast books that were in tune with the times and getting major national
distribution—books not conceived, edited or censored in NYC. It was a
revolution, one greatly aided and abetted (and overlooked by the press) by what
germinated in that Menlo Park storefront in 1967.
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