Posts Tagged ‘Woodside High’

What’s New?

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

Hungry For Color note card by Todd Walton

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser November 2012)

“Life is full of obstacle illusions.” Grant Frazier

A recent San Francisco 49ers game ended in a tie with the St. Louis Rams, the first professional football game to end in a tie in four years. I’m still not used to the Rams being the St. Louis Rams because they were the Los Angeles Rams for all of my youth and for decades thereafter, which made them our dread rivals along with the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Los Angeles Lakers and all things Los Angeles. The Lakers, by the way, are called the Lakers because they were originally the Minneapolis Lakers, Minnesota having lakes whereas Los Angeles has viaducts; but the Los Angeles Viaducts would have been a silly name for a basketball team, so…the Dodgers were originally the Brooklyn Dodgers, and the Golden State (Oakland) Warriors were originally the Philadelphia Warriors, and soon the San Francisco 49ers will be playing their games in Santa Clara and…nowadays professional sports franchises move ever more frequently from city-state to city-state at the whim of their billionaire owners.

This year, for instance, the Brooklyn Nets played their first games with that moniker having been moved to Brooklyn from New Jersey by their new multi-billionaire Russian owner who just built a billion-dollar sports complex in Brooklyn to house his new team. The Nets are the first professional sports franchise to call Brooklyn home since the Brooklyn Dodgers fled to Los Angeles in the 1950’s, and now New Jersey is without a professional basketball or football or baseball franchise. Oh well.

Anyway, that 49er’s game ending in a tie took me back to my senior year of high school when I was the goalie of the Woodside High soccer team and we were playing Sequoia High for the league championship. The year was 1967 and a long time before soccer would become the major American institution it is today. There were no such things as soccer moms in those days because there were no soccer leagues for children to be driven to. In fact, very few American high schools in 1967 had soccer teams, soccer being of such little interest to most Americans that we never had more than a handful of spectators at our games, and most of those were girlfriends of the players.

When we played for the league championship against the perennial champion Sequoia, there were perhaps fifty people in the stands, most of them the fathers and mothers and siblings of Sequoia’s many Mexican players, the large Mexican population of Redwood City being the basis for Sequoia’s perennial dominance of a soccer league otherwise composed of white kids, most of whom had played soccer for a few years at most, while the Mexican kids had been kicking balls around since they began to walk.

Miracle of miracles, and largely due to our stifling defensive play, that championship game ended in a 1-1 tie, and in those days penalty kick shootouts were a thing of the future. Ties happened and that’s just the way it was. I do remember that most of my teammates and all the Sequoia players were angry that the coaches wouldn’t let us play on until one team or the other scored a winning goal, but our anger quickly morphed into relief. After all, we probably would have lost had the game continued, and what was wrong with being co-champions? Nothing. Nowadays every sport from the peewee leagues to the pros has elaborate protocols for coming up with a winner in the event of a tie at the end of regulation, and I’ll wager this latest 49ers tie will set off a flurry of demands for rule changes to eradicate tie games in professional football forever.

It is never too late to be who you might have been.” George Eliot

As I was musing about why tie games have become so unacceptable in America, I happened to catch a few minutes of a radio program featuring the president of the California Teachers’ Association and two other well-informed educators talking about the educational holocaust created by Bush’s No Child Left Behind, a program Obama has continued under the new name Race To The Top. This asinine system has severely damaged an entire generation of students (and teachers) by teaching the kids absolutely nothing while insisting they memorize and regurgitate masses of useless information in order to be tested on how much useless information they can memorize and regurgitate. These millions and millions of brilliant young people were not taught to write well or how to think critically or how to create art or how to invent things or how to solve problems or how to play musical instruments, and most importantly, as far as I’m concerned—and this relates to our new cultural taboo against games ending in ties—students were not taught to work together, to help each other, to cooperate, to share, and to undertake group projects that end in ties with everyone winning.

Race to the top? The top of what? The societal pyramid, right? And doesn’t that imply that if a tiny percentage of the people race to the top of the pyramid (or more likely are born there and jealously guard their lofty domain) that many more people will be on the bottom of the pyramid or near the bottom? Most people? Of course it does. We have the newest fangled gadgets and phones and computers and cars, but we have a fundamental design flaw in the organization of our society, a flaw we teach and preach as the law of the land. Race to the top, sucker, and you’d better get to the top or you will lose, no tie games allowed.

“Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end.” Henry David Thoreau

One of the things I greatly appreciate about living in Mendocino is that most of the full time residents I’ve gotten to know could care less about racing to the top of any sort of social or economic pyramid or heap, and that’s one of the reasons they’ve chosen to live here. After abiding for eleven years in Berkeley where such racing and clawing and competing is endemic and exhausting, I am greatly relieved to live somewhere where I am liked or disliked for who I am rather than for who I know or where I live or how much money I have or don’t have. That racing clawing competing energy visits Mendocino on weekends and during the summer months when folks from the Bay Area come up to recreate or occupy their second (or third) homes; and whenever I find myself in the line of such unfriendly psychic fire, I escape post haste and thank my lucky stars I don’t live in Berkeley anymore.

“When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the future of the human race.” H.G. Wells

Speaking of what’s new, one of the best things to become established in America in my lifetime is the popularity of bicycles and bicycling. When I moved to Sacramento in 1980, my main means of transportation was a bicycle, and so few people rode bicycles in those days that I was soon known in midtown and downtown as “the guy who rides a bike.” Seriously. I’m not kidding. I walked all over town, too, and dozens of times I was greeted by complete strangers with, “Hey, where’s your bike?” or “Hey, it’s the bike guy.”

“You know what I always dreamed of? That with the greenhouse effect, one day Estonia can be what Los Angeles is right now. I always thought when the end of the world comes, I want to be in Estonia. I think then I’d survive.” Carmen Kass

Speaking of bicycles, things, as in the projected changes in the earth’s climate, based on actual measurable data, are not looking good for the survival of humanity beyond another couple of generations unless we dramatically fantastically and heroically shrink our carbon footprints to almost nothing, and soon. “Oh, dear,” we Americans collectively respond to the irrefutable information about what’s happening on earth at this very moment, “but how can we reduce our carbon footprints even a little if the powers that be won’t provide us with groovalicious mass transit and spacious sturdy solar electric cars made from recycled plastic and inexpensive renewable energy and stuff like that? How can we change the way we live if someone else doesn’t provide convenient and excellent alternatives to the way we’re living now?”

The answer is that we, you and I, are extremely intelligent and resourceful people, and there is no doubt whatsoever that we can figure out myriads ways to dramatically fantastically and heroically shrink our individual and collective carbon footprints to a perfectly reasonable level if we set our minds and hearts to the task. Not only that, but we are so resourceful and creative that we can dramatically reduce our carbon footprints and have fun at the same time. To get your imaginative juices flowing in that direction, think about walking, bicycles, insulation, potluck dinners, ride sharing, solar power, wind power, buying local, thermal underwear, driving less, candlelight, darkness, vegetable gardens…

And think about what Thomas Hedges just reported for Truthdig:

Since 2000, Germany has converted 25 percent of its power grid to renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and biomass. The architects of the clean energy movement Energiewende, which translates to “energy transformation,” estimate that from 80 percent to 100 percent of Germany’s electricity will come from renewable sources by 2050.

Germans are baffled that the United States has not taken the same path. Not only is the U.S. the wealthiest nation in the world, but it’s also credited with jump-starting Germany’s green movement 40 years ago.

“This is a very American idea,” Arne Jungjohann, a director at the Heinrich Boll Stiftung Foundation (HBSF), said at a news conference Tuesday morning in Washington, D.C. “We got this from Jimmy Carter.”

Indeed, the only thing stopping Americans from inventing and implementing wonderful new carbon-lite lives is our unwillingness to believe that such changes are truly necessary.

Dead Airplane Kerouac Caen

Thursday, February 10th, 2011

(This article originally appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser February 2011)

“The past is never dead, it is not even past.” William Faulkner

When my wife and I joined forces four years ago, she came equipped with the nicely aged Toyota pickup I’d always wanted and I came with a Toyota station wagon ideal for toting cellos, so we swapped. The station wagon was subsequently crushed by a falling pine and replaced by a more commodious sedan, but the pickup lives on and I love the old thing.

Marcia bought the truck from the person who bought the truck new, Jim Young, our superlative chiropractor and friend and coach of the Mendocino High School (boys) basketball team. Now and then when I am under Jim’s thumbs, as it were, he will inquire about his former truck and I am happy to report the old thing is humming right along and still getting admirable mileage in this age of fast-rising fuel costs.

The pickup is faded white, eighteen years old, with the requisite rust spots and windows that must be manually cranked up and down. Otherwise non-descript, the truck sports a subtle ornament that Jim affixed to the rear window, an insignia identifying the vehicle as a chariot of the Dead, the Grateful Dead, the band, not my ancestors. I had no idea these five nearly identical dancing bears—blue green yellow orange pink—had anything to do with the Grateful Dead until shortly after I took the helm and picked up a hitchhiker on my way to Fort Bragg, his first words to me, “Love those bears, man. Long live Jerry Garcia.”

Over these ensuing four years, I have been treated to salutes, knowing smiles, waves, words of comradery, and a Pass The Joint victory signal on the order of once a month as a result of Jim affixing those dancing bears to the truck’s window. There seems to be some debate among Deadheads as to whether the bears are dancing in the manner of a famed fan named Owsley tripping on LSD or whether the bears are marching. One Grateful Dead web site claims that a flipbook rendition of the bears proves conclusively that they are marching. In any case, a Gypsy woman winked at me yesterday as a consequence of those bears, and her wink sent me hurtling back to the bygone years of my youth when I and a few of my friends had the Grateful Dead, live, all to ourselves for hours on end.

I feel compelled to admit that I am not a Grateful Dead fan. Indeed, the only Dead tune I ever liked was Barefootin’ from their very first album, and the only words I think I remember from that song are See that girl, barefootin’ along, whistlin’ and singin’, she’s a carryin’ on. When I lived in Santa Cruz in the early 1970’s, I had a friend who was a drummer in a Grateful Dead cover band, if you can imagine such a thing, and after attending their third concert of astonishingly accurate, and, to me, horrifying imitations of their heroes, I have avoided listening to the Grateful Dead for lo these forty years. Yet I do love the Grateful Dead, for they were of the utmost importance to me in my teenage years and provided the soundtrack for a great awakening.

“Stories, like whiskey, must be allowed to mature in the cask.” Sean O’Faolain

Ladera is a housing development a few miles from Stanford University that sprang up in the 1950’s and was home to professors and doctors and stock brokers and dentists and school teachers, mostly white people with a sprinkle of Chinese and Japanese families, and a few serious artists who liked living close to San Francisco in a rural setting not far from beaches with such beautiful names as San Gregorio, Pomponio, and Pescadero.

Ladera had an elementary school that sent its graduates to junior high at La Entrada in Menlo Park, and from there to Woodside High, famous for being the first public high school in America to have a major pot bust in the early 1960’s, many of those busted being children of the first families of Ladera. And it was there in Ladera that the Grateful Dead, yes, Jerry’s band when the keyboard player was a gravel-voiced guy called Pig Pen, used to rehearse on weekends in the multi-purpose room at the elementary school; and I and a handful of my friends were admitted to that sanctum to dance to the music on a vast expanse of highly polished linoleum.

What I remember most vividly about those amazing afternoons are two superb conga players, each with multiple drums, and several men with long hair and mustaches playing guitars in front of stacks of amplifiers, Pig Pen hunched over his keyboard, the music all of a piece—a vast electric raga made of pulsing chords and hypnotic rhythms over which fantabulous guitar solos cried like phantasmagoric muezzins to which I danced and twirled and danced, my too too solid flesh melting and resolving into sweat and ecstasy, my body free of pain at last, and those persistent inner voices of doubt and shame drowned in the sonic deluge, my entire being steeped in glorious visions of life beyond the choking confines of suburbia and parental neuroses.

And I remember my anguish when I arrived at the multi-purpose room one sunny Saturday afternoon and found the entrance barred by a huge man who said the rehearsals were now closed to the likes of me, only invited guests allowed, my magical mystery tour at end. I waited around for my friends to show up, and watched indignantly as the bouncer admitted my most beautiful friends Mona and Cassie, and rebuffed all the boys and the less beautiful girls. But that big goon couldn’t take away the visions I’d had while dancing to those awesome ragas of the Dead; and I vowed to start my own band one day and blow the roof off the jail, so to speak, and set everybody free.

“Only passions, great passions, can elevate the soul to great things.” Denis Diderot

My father had a 1963 Karmann Ghia, red bottom, white top. Cute little long-nosed Italian body, a two-seater with a Volkswagen engine. Remember those? In 1966, gasoline was twenty-five cents a gallon, the Karmann Ghia got about thirty miles to the gallon, and it was twenty-seven miles from Redwood City to San Francisco. Four teenagers could squeeze into that little car, one in the cramped back compartment, one sitting on the lap of the one sitting in the passenger seat, and one (me) driving. And that’s how we got to the Fillmore, that vast windowless rotting warehouse in a dangerous part of San Francisco on many a Saturday night to hear Quicksilver Messenger Service (with or without Dino Valenti) open for the Grateful Dead who then set the stage for the Jefferson Airplane, pre-Grace Slick.

I have had several musical heroes in my life, most of them jazz people, but I have only adored one band and that was the original Jefferson Airplane. I saw the Airplane perform with their first female vocalist Signe Anderson four times, and each time I saw them they were brilliant and fabulously musical. Then Signe split and I was devastated, the devastation of a jilted teen. And then Grace Slick came aboard and my misery deepened, for to my ears the magical synergy of my favorite band was gone, so I kissed the folk rock scene goodbye.

“One need not be a chamber to be haunted;

One need not be a house;

The brain has corridors surpassing

Material place.
”

Emily Dickinson

So here we are forty-five years later living in the wilds of Mendocino where through the auspices of unseen patrons the San Francisco Chronicle arrives on our driveway every Sunday morning. The Chronicle of today is largely unreadable junk and wire service propaganda, but I dutifully solve the Sunday Jumble words, skim the Sports section for news of the Giants, and thank those unseen ones for providing us with a week’s worth of fire starter.

And this morning, while I was getting the fire going, a headline in last week’s pink section caught my eye: Jefferson Airplane Mansion for sale. Upon closer examination, I found this headline to be the lead item of a section entitled Wayback Machine, the headline referring to something that happened twenty-five years ago.

“February 4, 1986. The ‘Airplane House,’ a piece of San Francisco rock n’ roll history, is up for sale. The mansion overlooking Golden Gate Park that was once the home of the Jefferson Airplane, one of the pioneer psychedelic bands of the ‘60s, is on the market for $795,000. The three-story, Colonial Revival-style mansion on Fulton Street, with its distinctive Doric columns in front, has 17 rooms, stained-glass windows, silk wallpaper, rich mahogany woodwork, fireplaces on every level and lots of memories. ‘If the walls could talk,’ said Nadine Condon, publicist for Starship, the band that evolved from the original group. ‘We’ve had some great parties here,’ she said, climbing to the uppermost floor. ‘The joke used to be that the higher you got, the higher you got.’ In 1968, still flush from the Summer of Love a year earlier, band mates Paul Kantner, Grace Slick, Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Cassady and their manager Bill Thompson, bought the mansion for $70,000. When the mansion was built in 1904 by R.A. Vance, a lumber baron, the Golden Gate Park did not exist and sand dunes rolled uninterrupted to the ocean. The mansion survived the earthquake and fire of 1906. According to legend, the great tenor Enrico Caruso, a friend of Vance, fled from the Palace Hotel on the day of the quake and found refuge in the house. Most of the house is as it always was, but the second-floor kitchen is trimmed in orange and purple Day-Glo paint. ‘The last vestiges of hippiedom,’ Condon said.”

EARLY SPRING

The dog writes on the window

With his nose

Philip Whalen

So what should I find on the flip side of that pink page with the story of the Jefferson Airplane mansion but a Chronicle Classic reprint of Herb Caen’s column from October 22, 1969, entitled One thing after another, which includes the following:

“Poor, embittered Jack Kerouac, dead at 47, almost forgotten in the North Beach byways he frequented—and helped make famous—more than a decade ago. In his last years, he turned on the young people, sometimes viciously, and they in turn turned their backs on him. Yet a small literary niche will forever be his. ‘On the Road’ remains the finest chronicle of the Beatnik era.”

And in the same Caen column: “Steve Frye, a hippie-hating L.A. policeman, now has mixed emotions. Last Wed. night, driving through the rain in Big Sur, he had a flat tire, and the only people who stopped to help him were—two hippies. This so unraveled him that after he drove on he was suddenly seized with an uncontrollable urge to pick up a hippie hitchhiker. Which he did. There is hope for us all.”

See that girl, barefootin’ along,

Whistlin’ and singin’, she’s a carryin’ on.

There’s laughing in her eyes, dancing in her feet,

She’s a neon-light diamond and she can live on the street