Opening and closing. Looking back now, from this decade in which the going gets tough, I can see how early this became a theme.


At the Fillmore

        I went to the Fillmore tonight, for the first time since before they put me in jail. I'd been four months away; and, as with the puppy to whose daily change you are blind but whose different doghood you recognize after an absence, I suddenly realized how different the Fillmore was: how another of our scenes had flowered and fled. The place was full, the lights were tame, the kids were young and they wandered or listened with an empty will. No one was coming out of himself; and so the camera hung hungry at my side most of the evening, and I was too sad with observation to want to dance there alone. Would you believe it? The Byrds were playing, and almost no one was dancing.

        The dance scene in San Francisco has been going for two years now. The Fillmore grew famous and New York took notice; but, like the Haight, what it was disappeared before they came to find it. Fleeting, beautiful, srrange -- like all our scenes of change these days. And I learned to dance at the Fillmore, and it changed my life: not a big thing, but part of the change that is upon us all. San Francisco and Berkeley will never be the same, needless to say. Happy Second Anniversary, Dance Scene! Hail to the Trips Festival, ritual fired by Ken Kesey, Stewart Brand and others, Official Signal Go! to a scene of public beauty and freedom!

        Maybe that's how to get into it, though I was into what there was of the dance scene, announced only by electric word of mouth, before the three-day Carnival explosion of the Trips Festival in October 1965. Standing in the Fillmore, watching the kids, I remembered that spectacular announcement that a scene had been born. Tonight all the kids were listening or buzz-chatting. They were all young, like seventeen: casually dressed or in style but few costumes, mostly attractive but none turned on alive, and maybe three spades on the whole floor.

        But that night we came with a flute and balloons up the long California Coast from Sur, late to the honeycomb elephant grey dome of Longshoreman's Hall where the first dances had already been held, the people were different. Hells Angels in force out with their old women, Rentacops, SNCCniks in denim and those heavy boots, teenyboppers teenyboppers teenyboppers, hippies in halo hair and beads, kids from the sorority scene with their sweaters and shoes, a thick pepper of spades with eyes as hungry as mine and yours and their shaming lovely loose motions, straight socialites from Pacific Heights in fancies, tree freaks down from the hills still holding something alive in their hands, tough Italian kids in windbreakers sticking together in silent twos and threes ... wow, it completely blew my mind, as we said in those days when that phrase was still live (we learned a bit with its help before it lost its bounce).

        The Fillmore -- to which, with the Avalon Ballroom, the dances moved after the Trips Festival -- became the barometer of a freedom that appeared like a change of weather and now seems to have expanded and migrated: first to the Haight, and now under the surface around the whole Bay. What were people doing that night? Dancing, watching, talking, taking pictures, playing instruments, serving cool-ade, painting faces and floors, dancing in rings and serpentines, wigging on the light show, freaking with acid or dazed in silent corners or running spinning wildly through the crowd crowned with ivy and dancing alone, playing balloon ball and passing joints and chanting and listening and taking notes. What were they wearing? Tuxedos and Balkan peasant finery, a zoot suit and the Angels' colors, black chinos and clown suits, a yellow bikini and black plastic skirt, harem garb or nothing on top, hats like Bartholemew Cubbins, flag-or-bird-painted eyes, cop suits and tired army-student. And what were they dancing, who danced on that tight bright spotlighted floor, their senses smashed on electric sound and the tremendous psychic resonances bouncing from the concrete columns far above? Fox-trot. Polka, schottische. Cha/cha. Cha. Ballet whirls and gymnastic exercises. Bunnyhop and waltz, fragments of all those dances-with-a-name like Gulley and Camel and Twist, and lots of touches or trips from modern dance (thanks to the girls' high school phys-ed programs, pride of the state).

        It was beautiful, do you know what I mean? And it's hard to talk about without getting mawkish. Through a general wish of a young population and some skillful catalyzing by beautiful artists, a free space was created in the heart of the city: a space unstructured (at least to a remarkable degree) by the surrounding society: a space in which there were no expected roles, no outside norms of clothing or conduct or motion: a space in which, above their own irreducible imprisonments, the participants were free to define themselves and their contact: to "do their own things," though the phrase hadn't then come into general use. That space has now been encroached on and is no longer the site of a center of experiment; the past that kids had to bring along to it finally made itself felt, heavily. But when they first rushed into the space they seemed to leave it briefly behind in some important way. And the test of this was the fresh feeling of a scene of newness and freedom, the feeling that takes a couple of encounters to make you know it as such, and after that is always unmistakable.

        The mark of freedom is the presence of diversity (and the way you handle it is to get things actually diverse, instead of just talking about it, and then go on and see what you can do from there). That's pedantic, I know; but it was the FUCK incident that Spring and the Trips Festival that Fall that made me understand what it meant. And the most remarkable thing about this diversity of motion and costume and act was the feeling in which it was embedded. Everyone was easy. That night and in two years around the Fillmore, I only once saw a fight, and little tenseness. (The S.F. Police kept trying to close the Fillmore down. "A white dancehall in a black ghetto," they said, "there has to be trouble.") An air of peace, openness, excitement, vagueness, curiosity, unsureness . . . well, there were many vibrations; what can I say? People were in so many places, their own places. But it was all harmonious; any behavior that didn't push on others were tolerated warmly, and much that was. They say many hundred tabs of acid were passed out during the Festival, but that doesn't matter any more than anything else: the entire atmosphere was a high, and people were turning each other on in all sorts of ways.

        That feeling migrated successfully to the Fillmore and  the Avalon, flaming now and then under the deft excitement of the Airplane or the Grateful Dead, more rarely now. The media discovered the Fillmore, the curious came, and now there's little spread or variety in those who are usually there. And they are mostly there to be spectators, on the floor where once and sometimes still the shaking air made everyone his own performer.

October 1967

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