Many songs seem emblematic or emotionally reminiscent of the 60s, but for me, none is more so than Goodbye and Hello, by Tim Buckley and Larry Becket, with its marriage of folk lyricism to Kurt Weill, Wiemar theatricality.
O the new children dance — — — I am young
All around the balloons — — — I will live
Did Arnie and I feel like new children sitting on the ground in the middle of a small outdoor stadium in Santa Barbara listening to Blind Faith? Probably not. We did have strong political views. I had canvassed Washington Square in Manhattan for Bobby Kennedy the year before, stood in line at St. Patrick’s Cathedral for hours to view his body, been strong-armed out of a Nixon campaign event at Madison Square Garden. But our reputations were as pot and acid heads, diggers of our own trips, not as serious politicos out to forge a new world. We were riding the wave for all it was worth, all ten toes hung from the lip of the board — we weren’t devoted to making the wave itself, and I’d sensed a slight undercurrent of grumbling when I was named to the Far Rockaway High School mobilization committee against the Vietnam War. Back across the country at Woodstock, history tells us they were feeling like new children at that moment, but Arnie and I didn’t know about that yet.
What the evening meant to us was a second chance to see Blind Faith after just having attended their Madison Square Garden concert in New York the month before, at the start of the only tour they would ever do before their early demise as a band. For Arnie especially, who had introduced me to the amplified, bluesy pleasures of Cream, to hear Clapton and Ginger Baker live yet again was a grand reward for the effort of getting there. So, certainly, we were in our rock groove when from out of the crowd of blankets and coolers and swaying bodies wandered woozily a pretty teenage girl, probably my age, blonde and lithe and completely naked, who proceeded to drop quite literally into both our laps.
It was instantly clear that the girl was on acid. She didn’t seem to be having a bad trip, but she was completely gone — incoherent, if happy enough, and unconscious of any intention or volition. Arnie and l both, considerably nonplussed, looked and called around, but we were unable to locate anyone connected to her. No one ever arrived in search of her either. Those around us sympathetically offered articles of clothing and a blanket to cover her, but they didn’t offer to take her off our hands, so we watched the remainder of the concert with our childlike charge lolling in our laps. When the music was over, deep into the evening, to say there was no one of authority around to assume custody would be to note only a matter of course in those days. We two teenage boys, bound for good times, were stuck taking care of a virtual child.
As it happened, Santa Barbara was one of only two occasions when we spent money on a motel room, so we took the girl back with us. We placed her in the bed and rolled out our sleeping bags on the floor at its feet. Thus we slept.
In the morning, when we all awoke, our nameless girl was coherent again, if understandably disoriented. No doubt she told us her name then, though I don’t remember it. I’m sure, though, that she remembers ours. When we asked what her night of sleep had been like, she said it had been all right, except for one recurring nightmare: that she was destined to spend the rest of eternity in a motel room with two guys named Arnie.
There wasn’t any reason to linger, and she had explaining to do to her parents, so it was time to get her home and resume our journey up the coast. We packed up and headed out to catch a ride, which we did, in a local funeral home hearse. (The driver had some dead time.) We dropped Santa Barbara girl about a block from home and caught another ride.
The antique people are down in the dungeons
Run by machines and afraid of the tax
Their heads in the grave and their hands on their eyes
Hauling their hearts around circular tracks
Pretending forever their masquerade towers
Are not really riddled with widening cracks
We took that second motel room on the coast of San Simeon, for our visit to Hearst Castle, then were led the next day by word of mouth to a good spot in the forested national parkland of Big Sur to crash for that night. The word of mouth had reached the park rangers too, though, so, as warned, we were rousted about 5 a.m. along with our brief companions and sent scurrying. It is a law of human development and social arrangement, however, that if you are rebellious and adventurous, yet too young to well prepare or afford the adventure, harassment by emissaries from the masquerade towers are bound to pepper the adventure with more adventure. We bore no ill will and focused intellectual disdain on the antique people in the dungeons.
We landed at last in San Francisco, where another newspaper from a vending machine offered our first image of what had been transpiring back in Woodstock, where we knew some of our friends to be frolicking. But the ultimate destination of our trip had always been Berkeley, by that time, a cauldron of youthful intellectual challenge and social change for nearly a decade, though Arnie and I were young enough for Mario Savio and the Free Speech Movement to live in us only as hallowed history. The People’s Park protests, however, with National Guard troops in the streets, had roiled the city only months before. That was the atmosphere, though, in truth, Arnie and I were bound for that university city not by political mission, but with a pencil-scrawled “letter of introduction” on scratch paper directing its recipient to provide the two of us with “refreshments for the mind,” by which was meant Purple Owsley or any potent facsimile. It had been “composed” by our equally good friend Jerry (we were, in fact, a threesome), who had preceded us to Berkeley a few months earlier and returned to New York with a thousand does of LSD to sell. That plan went as well as most of Jerry’s other commercial schemes, which in this case was undermined by his consuming much of the acid himself, while dropping the remainder it into the mouths of friends, probably the last of it at Woodstock.
Arnie and I crashed for nearly two weeks in a Berkeley student dorm, the same in which Jerry had stayed and left behind his literal fat cat, Herman. We searched out our acid contact and after some misdirection, found him. We took in the declarative bombast of Sproul Plaza’s political debates, and we wandered Telegraph Avenue, which, absent the the Sunset Strip’s Hollywood and rocker glitz, was ungoverned by a more politically committed, yet more raw, drug and street culture, downer, dirtier and more dangerous to mental health and physical life. We saw Jeff some more, but he was busy cruising the avenue for chicks, taking them back to his hotel room, and getting the crabs. To the contrary, younger brother and friend were engaged in the more intellectual activity of lysergic acid diethylamide.
One afternoon, we dropped our doses before searching one of the instructional buildings for a bathroom in which to do our business. I was sitting in a stall when I spied for the first, or maybe only most memorable time, scratched into the wall the now infamously proud and affrontive confession, “We are the people our parents warned us against.” I contemplated this profundity from my perch on the pot while turning attention to my hands, the pulsing colors of whose veins and the skeletal structure of which I now noted I could see through my skin. Oh, I suddenly thought. The acid had come on! What a day it would be.
Arnie and I wandered through the campus in divine reception of embodied transmissions. With our heightened perceptual clarity and intensified sensuous acuity, the transcendent wonder of the physical world, with the connective relation of one thing to another, and one’s own inseparable immersion in it all, were once again revealed to us in magnificent simplicity. We found a triangle of grass that sloped down to a brook running beneath a small stone bridge. We sat there in the warmth of the sunlight. Soon, we observed a young man, perhaps a decade older than we two. He was very lean and good looking, in blue bell-bottom jeans and long-sleeved, collarless polo shirt of broad blue and white horizonal stripes. His long straight hair, of the same jet black as his closely groomed beard, fell straight to his shoulders. He looked like a pirate. The handsome young pirate was playing on the lawn with a puppy, who ran for a stick and held it against the pirate’s gentle efforts to withdraw it. They romped playfully over the lawn as a young female sat atop the slope nearby with her fine blonde hair lightly lifting in the breeze and catching the beams of the sun.
Arnie and I sat transfixed.
It was a perfect vision, and we shared it.
The final days of our travels approaching, we two New York teens made day trips to San Francisco, where we walked the city. Since I had worked for a while, courtesy of Jerry, as an usher at the Fillmore East in New York’s East Village, we journeyed to the city’s oceanside to get a glimpse of the Fillmore West. On the final day of our stay, we walked through Golden Gate Park.
For me, as much as our California adventure had been a journey, in James Joyce’s words, “to encounter the reality of experience,” it was a flight from heartbreak. The previous winter, months before my seventeenth birthday, I had fallen in love, for the first time, with an exceedingly precocious, but complex and indecipherable girl who had seemed as enchanted with me as I had been beguiled by her. I could, however, never make sense of what she wanted, if she wanted anything at all, and I’d had to accept the loss. But the grief of it lingered a long time. That last day, in Golden Gate Park, I tried to overcome it.
On entering the park, Arnie and I dropped capsules of THC. It came on quick, and we floated through the park. Soon, in our meandering, we entered a large meadow. Across the length of it, a group of young men and women were playing frisbee. It was a lovely, carefree sight and the two of us sank from our airy perambulation down to the grass to enjoy the scene. After a time, my eyes wandered up into the deepness of the blue sky, and it was then that I saw it. In the depths of the blue I saw the openness of the rest of my life before me. I saw beyond loss and beyond the limitations of youth. Yes, I told myself, I had experienced this grief, but I had the rest — very nearly all — of my life to come. So much possibility. So much opportunity for fulfillment. It was all there waiting for me. My heart leaped with joy. It leaped not so much to imagine the joy, but to recognize that I couldn’t imagine it. It was unforetold and unforeseeable, and not already written in a single heartbreak. It hardly mattered what artificial stimulus had helped this moment to arrive. It had arrived. How many young men and women in the course of this world have had that moment, staring into the horizon, all of them, of their singular, open, but unknowable futures?
Arriving back in New York, more mundanely, Arnie and I were so sick of each other’s company, and the daily irritations of it, that we didn’t speak to each other for a month. Even during a subsequent acid trip, with a near score of other teens, listening in a basement apartment in what was almost religious, uninterrupted silence to the chords and choruses of the Who’s Tommy, we barely acknowledged the other’s presence. By then, too, the lore of Woodstock already had been written, of the “new children” who “are so proud to learn,” but who also, alas, “can’t …Tell a foe from a friend.” Then, in December, the Rolling Stone’s Altamont concert, where the Hell’s Angel’s were recklessly employed as “security,” led to a murder at the foot of the stage, and a new, facile script was written, of how Altamont killed Woodstock, as if Charles Manson, with all that had enabled him, even before Woodstock, had never done his work.
Before that happened, though, by October, Arnie and I had overcome our mutual fatigue of each other, and were happily friends again, so we were together along with Jerry one Saturday night — the day I took my SATs for college — at a huge party in the home of friends whose parents were away, when I freaked out on acid. When I arrived in the emergency room of Peninsula General Hospital, in Rockaway Beach, New York, strapped to a gurney and soaked in my own urine, the doctors there agreed with the partygoers that it was the worst freak out on LSD (except for those who had leaped from balconies) that they had seen in all the 60s drug years. When my conscious mind had slipped from me, along with my self-control, and I was held down on a sofa amid scores of partiers coming and going, I proceeded to relive the greater and lesser terrors of my childhood, in vivid virtual reality, projected onto the people who surrounded me. I called the name of the love that I had lost. I experienced bodily the contraction of the universe back on itself, in a reversal of the Big Bang that was then theorized as possible, and the further regression of that contraction to envelop and close around my own body, which proceeded to devolve into fetal and then embryonic form, until I, and the universe around me, diminished together into nothingness.
What followed was a decade of flashbacks (in which, once, if my brain would not stop hurting, I imagined leaping from that balcony), and clinical depression, and anxiety attacks, unacknowledged to any around me, when I would struggle for self-possession against the fear that I was about to lose control of my mind.
During that time, Jerry became a heroin addict, though he would finally enter treatment and overcome it, and even marry and raise three children. By the end of that time, too, the flashbacks, first, then the anxiety attacks, would cease, and I would overcome the depression and truly begin my adult life.
But you have been wondering about the neutral B-meson particle. I’ll tell you.
According to the Standard Model of physics — the basic precepts of Einsteinian relativity and quantum mechanics — the Big Bang should have produced matter and antimatter in equal amounts, which would then have annihilated each other, leading to, well, nothing. It was Russian physicist Andrei Sakharov who first theorized how it could be, nonetheless, that matter might predominate over antimatter. As it turns out, collisions of protons and antiprotons in the experimental miniature universe of Fermilab’s Tevatron accelerator produce pairs of subatomic muons slightly more often than they do antimuons — about 1 percent of the time. This is because of the behavior of neutral B-mesons, which are famous in particle -physics-world for oscillating back and forth trillions of times a second between their regular and antimatter states. Trillions of times a second, for reasons researchers have yet to discover, this strange particle vacillates between matter and antimatter, thesis and antithesis, yes and no — and the nothing that is neither in equal balance. To be or not be. And one percent more often than not, the Big Bang Bodhisattva pauses on “to be.” And we exist.
So it was that on August 4, 2019, leaving in New York his wife and two healthy, grown, and successful children, Arnie flew to Los Angeles, where I have lived for most of the past twenty-seven years. I don’t spend much time on the Sunset Strip, but I have lived near the Pacific Coast Highway, and it still runs through me. Arnie and I shared a Sunday evening dinner at home with my partner, Julia, who saw us off the next day as we loaded our bags into my car and headed up the coast for a week. We gave a nod to the intersection of Chautauqua Boulevard and the PCH and aimed the car toward our first stop, Santa Barbara.
Over the years, we had ceased to recall where the Blind Faith concert was held, but I discovered a few years ago that it was the Earl Warren Showground in the northern part of the city. We took a motel there, about a mile away, and we walked. Entering the showground midday on a Monday, we found it inactive and empty. We walked right on to the grounds and immediately started trying to recall anything we saw. What we saw were some apparently administrative or operational buildings and a huge parking lot to our left, nothing that looked like it would have been the site of our concert, which, I said to Arnie, I recalled not being entirely in the open, but in a small stadium. We continued to walk, to our left, making our way around a large building, when the shape of a small one-story stadium began to come into view. That’s it, the must be it, that has to be it, we kept saying to each other. We pulled out our phones to search for information even as we continued to approach. It was the Kramer Arena, constructed in 1957, and, indeed, had been the site of rock concerts throughout the 60’s, including, on August 16, 1969, that of Blind Faith.
We hadn’t, in fact, anticipated anything so complete. The structure hardly looked improved upon from any original form. This was it. This was the arena as it had taken us in that evening long ago.
We entered. The stadium was empty, as the grounds were empty, with no one around but the two of us. There was the refuse of a recent event scattered about the floor and on some seats, but otherwise, there was no sign of life but our own. Though the arena was circled by stands, we had sat with a few thousand others in the middle of the center field. Middle in every direction, we both agreed. There is where the stage must have been set up, we said. Who knew where the girl had come from.
We took some photos and walked about talking quietly, sharing our thoughts. Slowly, we made our way to the opposite end of the arena. We stood there in the deep quiet of the afternoon and the stands. We had the stadium all to ourselves beneath the brilliant California sun and the shadows of the eaves. Arnie sat down. He stared out at the center field, the field before us and the field of memory. I remained on my feet, by a concrete wall at the end of the row of seats, above one of the entrance ways through which streams of teens, hippies, and fans would have entered the small stadium for the much anticipated night of music. I found on my phone the recording, on YouTube, of that night’s full concert. I chose the tune and placed the phone down on the sloping top of the wall. Then we listened, just we two, alone in that empty space filled with the visions of our youth, as Steve Winwood sang, “Can’t Find My Way Home”:
Come down on your own and leave your body alone
Somebody must change
It was fifty years later. We were still alive. We were still best friends. We were on the road again.