Tag Archives: haight-ashbury

My Daughter (A Guest Post by My Father)

My father picked this picture because he loves to prove me wrong. I went with my parents on a winter vacation a few years back and hated every minute of it. When I start to rag on him about it, he pulls out this picture and says, “Then why are you smiling?” Prick.

Hey! I’m the guy who has spent a good chunk of his adult life in the company of two very demanding women and I’ve loved every minute of it.

Like my wife, I want to set the record straight on something. Early on my daughter described herself as having “learned English from disciples of the Berkeley Free Speech movement.” I guess that’s true in spirit, but her dates are off. I was still in high school when Mario Savio was doing his thing back in 1964, and my wife was still in France preparing for a career in classical music. We didn’t meet until The Summer of Love, three years later. That doesn’t sound like much of a difference, but when you’re my age and you grew up believing that you were dead once you hit thirty, every year counts.

I grew up in Cole Valley, just south of the Haight. My family wasn’t unusually musical except around the holidays when the whisky-laced punch would bring out the Irish tenor in everyone. The first record I ever bought was “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” by The Tokens, on RCA Victor, and I still think it’s a great song. My interest in music took a quantum leap with The British Invasion and Bob Dylan, and I think it had more to do with the energy they brought to the scene than anything else. Things were pretty listless before those guys. After that awakening, most of the money I earned in my father’s construction business went to records and concerts (after the 50% parental deduction for future college expenses).

I met Nique while lounging on the grass in The Panhandle in ’67, while listening to some guy rap over a portable loudspeaker about some bullshit I couldn’t quite follow. She made the first move, of course, coming up to me and asking, “Why are you staring at me?” in that irresistible accent. I was pretty shy back then, but I couldn’t hold back what I was thinking: “Because you’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.” She smiled, sat down and we spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the Haight and environs and telling each other about ourselves. Nique really wasn’t that familiar with rock ‘n’ roll, having grown up on classical and jazz, so when we came across a poster showing upcoming gigs at The Fillmore and I asked her to pick one for our first date, she chose Count Basie and Charles Lloyd, skipping right over Chuck Berry, The Byrds and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band,  That blew me away, but it turned out to be a match made in heaven: she taught me about jazz and I taught her about blues and rock ‘n’ roll.

And what better place was there for music than San Francisco in the mid-60’s? It wasn’t all about The San Francisco Sound—music was a like a religion for us. There were so many new ideas and directions in the mix that you could hear something new every day without even trying. San Francisco had great underground radio stations like KMPX and KSAN that would pull music from everywhere and play it around the clock. That’s how I got turned onto Dave Van Ronk, The Move, Bert Jansch, Stephane Grappelli, The Strawbs and all kinds of great music by people who flew under the radar of the pop stations. Of course, it didn’t hurt that we had The Fillmore (both the auditorium and then the Carousel Ballroom) and Winterland. Nique and I spent a majority of our weekends at one or the other until the mid-70’s when the quality started to fade. During the peak, though, we saw Butterfield, Bloomfield (when he decided to show up he was the best there was), Procul Harum, Jethro Tull, The Kinks, Cream (they were booked for like ten shows in a row at one point, first with Butterfield and then Electric Flag), Muddy Waters, The Chambers Brothers, Love, all the classic San Francisco groups—everybody played either The Fillmore or Winterland back then. For some reason, though, that asshole Bill Graham booked the hell out of Iron Butterfly, so we took those weekends off and headed for Tahoe or the beaches.

I remember one gig in particular in, with Eric Burdon & War and a new group called the J. Geils Band playing second bill. Eric Burdon came on stage in one of those tank tops with “Cocaine” in the Coca-Cola lettering, surveyed the crowd and his eyes landed on us . . . well, Nique, especially. Then he looked at me and said into the microphone: “Can I fuck your wife? Yeah, you. Can I fuck your wife? ” Nique stood up and jiggled her tits at him then threw her arms around me. “Guess not,” he said. What was amazing about it is we’d just gotten married the weekend before and we had no idea how Eric Burdon could have figured that out.

As my daughter said, she was a big surprise for both of us (my fault, really), but when Nique decided to go for it, I was really excited. Since she already told you about how we decided to raise her, I can skip that part. My relationship with my daughter has always been more like we’re pals than anything else. She liked hanging out with me and I liked hanging out with her, whether it was walking around the neighborhood or listening to music or going with me to check up on the houses (I became a contractor myself after burning out real quick on the world of social work). She loved sitting next to me watching the Giants on TV and picked up the nuances of baseball pretty quickly. I mean, when your eight-year-old daughter tells you, “The Giants don’t have a fucking chance against the A’s” in the Loma Prieta series, that’s pretty impressive insight for a kid. Yeah, I know it’s unusually colorful language for a kid, too, but we never thought of it that way (as “disciples” of the Free Speech Movement, I guess). We did tell her to cool it with the language when she was playing with other kids, and she was okay with that.

She also picked up on music pretty quickly, since she heard so much of it growing up and her mother was so good at it. I can play guitar okay, but I’m the only one who likes to hear me sing. Anyway, I remember we’d be hanging out in the living room with the music on, playing games or coloring, and she’d always ask me “What was that sound?” when she heard an instrument or effect she didn’t recognize. I remember when she was about eight or nine she wanted to play in the school band, but wasn’t sure what instrument she wanted to play. When we got to the music store, she made the clerk take out every instrument he had so she could try it. I remember when the guy tried to play the trombone, she stopped him and said, “You’re not very good with that, are you?” I should have known right then she’d be a music critic someday. The upshot was that she wound up learning Nique’s instruments—flute and piano. In her teens she taught herself how to play guitar, but she was into the hardcore punk scene then, so it was all white noise at high speed to me. What she hasn’t told you is she has a beautiful singing voice and she used to sing all the time around the house when doing chores or homework. I really miss that.

As far as her reviews are concerned, I think she’s a damned fine writer but I have to confess some of her reviews have been pretty painful for me. Like I said, music was a religion for us baby boomers, and to read someone attacking the music of our heroes and the albums we all thought were unquestionable masterpieces is kind of hard to take. The worst part about it is that she’s often (but not always) right—some of the music I revered didn’t stand the test of time.

But I still think she has some blind spots. Trying to get her to appreciate Dylan has been like pulling teeth, although lately she seems to be coming around a bit. You may have noticed that most of her classic rock reviews cover British bands and artists, and a lot of the people on her no-fly list are American artists (or American-Canadian). I’ve never been able to get her to appreciate The Band, Bonnie Raitt, Janis Joplin, Tom Waits and a few others who I think have made pretty significant contributions to music. I’ve never figured out how we can be in total agreement on people like Mike Bloomfield and Joni Mitchell and be totally at odds about others who aren’t that far off. Well, it does lead to some pretty entertaining debates, so I guess that’s something. Lately I’ve been trying to get her to appreciate Neil Young a little more, nudging her to start with a little Buffalo Springfield and see where that goes. She’s an independent little cuss, though, so it may take some time.

I just read her post where she described me as an over-the-top enthusiast about music. Guilty as charged. She’s mentioned my music collection, and I have to say it’s either impressive or excessive depending on your perspective. I have around three thousand LPs (what they call “vinyl” today). It was a bitch to move all of it overseas and make sure nothing got damaged in the process. I tend to be a pack rat, so I’ve kept a lot of things I haven’t heard in years, and though I have some pretty embarrassing moments in my collection, sometimes I get a nice surprise. The other day I stumbled upon Pamela Polland’s debut album—she was a singer-songwriter and pianist from Marin with enough cachet to have Taj Mahal appear on the record—and it’s still a damned fine record.

I think the most important thing about the collection is that my daughter heard all of it and it gave her an understanding of and a love for music that she wouldn’t have had otherwise. You can always tell when someone’s passionate about something because they do it for free. I know she puts a lot of time and energy into the research and the repeated listening, but I also know that she’s doing it only because she loves music and wants to understand it better. Once we had some friends over—it was during her last trip to see us in San Francisco—and one of them suggested she should send some of her stuff to Rolling Stone and earn some real money for her work. She looked at the guy like he was the dumbest motherfucker on the planet and said, “Now why in the fuck would I want to do that? Don’t you see—it would ruin everything!”

For an anti-materialist hippie father, that was a moment of parental nirvana.