The 50th Anniversary Of The Summer Of Love- Botticelli’s 115th Dream-With Botticelli’s “Venus” In Mind
By Special Guest Alex James
[Frankly my oldest brother Alex, who after all is over ten years older than I am, and I have never been all that close. Maybe that is natural due our age differences and of his decided and vocally not wanting to have an unruly younger brother tagging along while he and his vaunted corner boys did their thing. Later the gap widened as his lawyerly pursues were far removed as a rule from my own social and cultural concerns. A few weeks ago though, knowing that I write for a number of blogs, including here at American Left History, and in various smaller print journals he approached me on behalf of he and his “corner boys,” at least the ones still standing some fifty years later, to help organize and write a small tribute booklet in honor of their fallen comrade and fellow corner boy, Peter Paul Markin, who led them west in the great Summer of Love, San Francisco, 1967 explosion. I took on the tasks after Alex explained to me that he had been smitten with a nostalgia bug when he had gone to a legal conference out there by an exhibit at the deYoung Museum out in Frisco town, The Summer of Love Experience, being presented to honor the 50th anniversary of the events of that summer.
Fair enough. I was glad to help out since I only knew the events second-hand and have always been interested in writing about and have written extensively about that period. As a result I had thought that the experience of putting out a small publication where we had to maybe for the first time in our lives work closely together “bonded” Alex and me somewhat. Fair enough again. Now though the guy is all hopped up, maybe showing signs of senility for all I know, about an exhibition he had seen at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts where they have Botticelli’s Venus on display. As far as I know Alex could have given a rat’s ass about art, about the Renaissance back in the day or anything since not connected with his law practice. But the other day he asked me for some space here to talk about how that Botticelli painting at the exhibition reminded him about some love interest he had had during that summer of love period. What can I say. He is after all my brother. Zack James]
[I had written the basics of the small piece I wished to present here about a young girl that I had met out in San Francisco, Jewel Night Star, when I was out there after the Scribe [Peter Paul Markin] got a bunch of us to head out west in late summer 1967. (I will explain that whole moniker business, that serious need to “reinvent” ourselves below but just know now that I was always known out there as Cowboy, or Cowboy Angel, depending on my mood, the day, hell maybe the drug intake) That was before I read my youngest brother Zack’s introduction. I felt compelled to add a note here to announce to what he always likes to call a “candid world” that I am neither senile nor have I been in the past, a past Zack, tied up with his various writing projects about times that he has only lived through vicariously totally oblivious to the call of culture, to the call of art and artifact. What more can I say though as he is my host here. Oh, yes, he is also after all my brother. Alex James.]
I would be the last person in the world to deny that memories, good and bad, creep up on a person sometimes in unusual ways. (Of course in my law practice I have had to pay short shrift in general to anything to do with memory on behalf of my clients but that is out of professional necessity to keep the buggers from huge jail time or cash outlays.) Recently this came home to me in a very odd way. I had been out in San Francisco to attend a law conference which I do periodically to confer with other lawyers in my special areas of concern when as I was entering the BART transit station on Powell Street I noticed on a passing bus an advertisement for an exhibition called The Summer of Love Experience being put on at the deYoung Museum in Golden Gate Park to commemorate the 50th anniversary of that wild west experiment. That set off the first series of memory bells which forced me to take some time out to go see what they had produced about those long ago times.
See, strange as it may seem given my subsequent total emergence into my law practice (at times just to keep afloat with three unhappy ex-wives and a parcel of kids, some happy some not, to support which almost killed me about ten years ago with a crush of college tuitions) I had been one of those tens of thousands of young people who drifted west to see what the whole thing was all about in San Francisco in the summer of love, 1967. Zack has probably told you that when I came back from this recent Frisco trip I gathered those of my old hometown corner boys from the Acre section of North Adamsville who as Zack stated were “still standing” to put together a small tribute book in honor of the event dedicated to the memory of the late Peter Paul Markin, the guiding spirit who led us out West like some latter day prophet.
Mad monk Markin (and he really was we all called him the Scribe after our leader Frankie Riley gave him that moniker in junior high school after Markin once had written some total bullshit homage to him and it hit the school newspaper and ever after the Scribe was his “flak” writing some stuff that was totally unbelievable about the real Frankie Riley whom we knew was seven kinds of a bastard even then) had gone out in the spring of 1967 after dropping out of Boston University in his sophomore year and had come back in late summer telling us the “newer world” he was always yakking about (and which we previously had given a rat’s ass about) was “happening” out there. He conned, connived, and begged but six of us beside him (and ever after also including Josh Breslin from up in Olde Sacco, Maine whom the Scribe met out in Frisco who was not a North Adamsville corner boy but whom we made one since he was clearly a kindred spirit) went out and stayed for various lengths of time. I had gone back out with Markin after his “conversion” plea and stayed for about a year, mostly, as with all of us one way or another riding Captain Crunch’s “merry prankster” converted yellow brick road bus (the latter Markin’s term).
While out there I had many good sexual and social experiences but the best was with a young gal whom I stuck with most of the time who went by the name Jewel Night Star as I went by the names Cowboy or Cowboy Angel depending on my mood. I make no pretense to know all of the psychological and sociological reasons at the time or thereafter but these monikers we hung on ourselves were an attempt to “reinvent” ourselves. Break out of the then conventional nine to five, beat the commies, and buy lots of stuff world our parents tried to drive a nail in our hearts about. Some people changed their monikers, their personas every other week but I stuck with my based on the simple love that I had had for Westerns growing up and since we were in the West it seemed right. Markin’s Be-Bop Kid was an overlay from his hearty interest in the “beats” who by 1967 were passe, who were being superseded by what was beginning to be called the “hippies.” Such were the times. The Jewel Night Star moniker when she told me about it one night was based on her eyes which in a certain light looked like diamonds, like twinkling stars. As long as I knew her she stuck with that moniker as well.
Funny when I was out in Frisco for the conference and went to the museum I didn’t think anything about her. Had been through a small succession of women after she left the bus and as I have mentioned have had a whole raft of women since then, married and unmarried. I just mainly “dug” the scene at the museum and thought about the great music we heard (when they played White Bird by It’s a Beautiful Day I freaked out since I had not heard that song in ages), about the plentiful and mostly safe dope we did (we had an unwritten pact among the North Adamsville corner boys not to do LSD, “acid” after Markin explained his “bad trip” on the substance and after we had seen more than a few people going crazy at concerts and need medical attention), and about how we could “outrage” bourgeois society by our dress, our free spirits and, well, our goofiness if it came right down to it. (Tweaking those who were trying to drive those nails into our hearts.)
Then last week, or the week before, I got this postcard advertisement from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston asking me to join their membership. (I assume somehow that having paid my admission to the deYoung on-line I had become a prime target for every museum from Portland East to Portland West). The ‘hook” on the other side of the postcard was that with a paid up membership I could see Botticelli’s Venus up close and personal. A view of that image on that postcard lead me directly, I say straight line directly, to my first memories of Jewel Night Star in maybe the fifty years since that summer of 1967 time.
In the early fall of 1967 Markin and I had hitchhiked out across the whole country to Frisco. (I can see every mother grimace at that idea now, or then for that matter.) I won’t go into the details about how we got out there which I have written about in that tribute book the guys and I put together and Zack edited. Besides this is about Jewel not about some Jack Kerouac On The Road -influenced fling on our parts. Markin had had some contact with this guy, this wild man, Captain Crunch, who had somehow, most people who knew anything about it agreed that it was through a dope deal, gotten a yellow brick road converted school bus which he was travelling on up and down the West Coast picking up kindred spirits and letting them stay in and around the bus. (The attrition rate was pretty high most people staying a few weeks and then getting off or told to find another way to travel by Mustang Sally, the Captain’s sort of girlfriend, I never did figure out their actual relationship in all the time I was on the bus, if they stole stuff, didn’t keep fairly decent personal hygiene or let the drugs make them too weird and in need of some medical help.) When we got out West the Captain’s bus was stationed in Golden Gate Park and after the Scribe (then going under the moniker the Be-Bop kid-no more Scribe okay) introduced us and the Captain thought I was cool (and I thought he was as well) I was “on the bus.”
A couple of weeks later the Captain was talking about taking a slow trip south to a place in La Jolla for the winter where he had a friend. The idea was that we would “house-sit” what turned out to be a mansion since that friend was one of the first serious high distribution drug dealers getting his product directly from south of the border only thirty or forty miles away in Tijuana. We were all for it (me since every place was a new place for me in California and I was curious). It was on that trip as we headed toward Big Sur down the Pacific Coast Highway, a place called Todo el Mundo that I met Gail Harrington, Jewel Night Star.
We had stopped at a campsite where there was a party that was still going after about the six days before we got there so everybody was, using a term of art from those days “wasted.” I was grabbing a joint from somebody when this young woman came up to me and asked for a hit, for a “toke” for some grass. Her look. Well just check out the Botticelli Venus above that accompanies this piece and you get an idea. Tall, thin, hair braided, as was the style when a lot of young woman were on the road and didn’t want to, or couldn’t hassle with that daily chore to look beautiful stuff. Just as we guys grew our hair long and grew beards to avoid having the hassle of shaving. She had on a diaphanous kind of granny dress that showed her shape in detail. Nice. The granny dresses also a question of convenience and an expression that a woman’s shape was not as important as whether she was “cool” or not. But the best thing about her beyond being a Botticelli vision, a dream, what did I call it in the title to this piece. Yes, his 115th dream, was that she was very friendly, and a little flirty, in a nice way unlike all the girls from North Adamsville that I knew who might be nice but who thought sex was a mortal sin before marriage, maybe ever.
At first I was a little disoriented when we hit Frisco and joined up with the bus since the girls were really without much guile friendly in a way that it was easier talking to them than the Bible between the knees girls I was used to. By the time we got to Todo el Mundo I had had a few dalliances, a few what we called back in the neighborhood, “one night stands” which didn’t go anywhere and nobody worried about it but I was still unsure about what to expect from the young women who were travelling that same “road” we were travelling. So I was kind of shy a little around Jewel at first since she struck me as something out of the Renaissance, something out a painting by Botticelli who before he “got religion” later in his life under the influence of Savonarola which I had seen in an art book when I was taking an art course in high school (and have been unable to find in recent Internet searches looking for that exact painting). They were mostly young countesses and merchants’ daughters who had time on their hands and whom Botticelli was interested in painting for profit and for a different look than the inevitable Holy Family, Jesus, religious paintings that were becoming overdone and passe. (I thought it was funny how many of his young women looked like Northern European women since I had a fixed idea of dark-eyed, dark haired, dark complexion Italian women who I saw at school or in the Little Italy neighborhood that started about ten blocks from the Irish-dominated Acre.)
Well Jewel was not from Renaissance Italy but from Grand Rapids in Michigan. Had come west when she finished her first year at Michigan after she had heard one night on a date what the folk singer at the club she was attending talked about the music explosion going on out there. She had been out for several months and had headed south to Todo el Mundo when she thought things had gotten too weird in San Francisco. She had hitchhiked down with a guy who was heading further south to Los Angles but she was just then content to stay along the rugged rural coast for a while. Which she would have done for longer she said except when I asked to travel south on the bus she agreed. But that was a few weeks later.
I suppose I have been somewhat beaten down in the women department because I had forgotten how easy to be with. Jewel was, I guess, thinking back she was one of those “flower children” that we kept hearing about. Meaning nothing more than she was whimsical, was relatively hassle-free and liked nothing better than to roam the hills around Todo el Mundo and the hardscrabble beaches in the area. With me in tow. All of this may sound kind of simple-minded, kind of what is the big deal about his woman. But look at the look of Venus above, look at that faraway look and that twisting of her braids and you will get an idea of what Jewel was like. Look at Botticelli’s Venus eyes and you will see the same night star that I finally saw in Jewel’s.
Like I said we stayed together more or less for most of that year I was out there until in the spring of 1968 Jewel said she was getting tired of the road and wanted to either settle down out in the desert, out in Joshua Tree where several communal groups were being formed or head back home to school. I didn’t like either idea although a few months later I would head back east to finish college. We agreed that our paths were going in different directions and one day she told me that she had purchased a bus ticket to Joshua Tree (actually when I went out there many years later Twenty-nine Palms the nearest bus stop then). The next day was the last day I saw her. Although we had agreed to keep in touch that like a lot of things in those days it never happened. I wonder if she is still alive wherever she is if those eyes of hers still sparkle in a certain angle like a night star. I hope so.