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¡§When the Okies left Oklahoma and moved to California, it raised the I

Welcome to the Bay Area Vortex                        Vince Vo


Charles Perry majored Middle Eastern studies while attending Princeton University and the University of California, Berkley. In the early 1960¡¦s, he discovers the psychedelic life in San Francisco and devotes his studies to the Bay Area and its subcultures. Shortly afterward, Perry began working for Rolling Stones as a staff writer for the magazine. Perry now focuses his career and novels on Middle Eastern food.



It would certainly be a model for the world 1¡¨. Some say what happened at Haight -Ashbury should never have happened, while many others argued that it was a hippie myth. Despite the fact that there was various opposition towards this era, the Haight-Ashbury scene had a great impact on the world. It dramatically changed the way individuals viewed themselves socially, politically, and even visually. Though the Haight-Ashbury phenomenon only lasted for two years, the untold story left viewers with different outlooks. Through a specific description of druggies, politicos, punks, gays, artists, and bohemian-minded yuppies, Charles Perry reveals to viewers the complete truth of the psychedelic scene in his novel Haight-Ashbury.

Haight, a declining neighborhood full of old buildings, old-fashioned stores, and damaged streets, was home to thousands of state college students. It was also known for being a central market for marijuana. In 1965, the United States had been an extremely bustling area. The Vietnam War was taking place, the civil rights movement was in full heat, student radicalism permeated college campuses, and new rock and roll arrived from England. Although the sixties were a time of activism and change, there was a strange feeling of unhappiness and desolation. To avoid this many experimented with multiple drugs to ¡§cut away the cut-and-dried feeling2¡¨. It had all started with the unknown substance which ex-radar technician, Owsley Stanley had created: LSD.  In April and May, the new LSD, nicknamed OWSLEY, began spreading around the San Francisco area. Thus, various groups formed in reaction to the psychedelic society. First, there was the Beat Generation, which experimented with many drugs, but the beats disbanded after a short time.  Then, there were the hipsters who followed black ghetto fashions in drugs and slang. A new generation called hippies (junior grade hipsters), were interested in mind drugs and traditional bohemian subjects. A very similar group to the hippies were the folkies. The folkies were also interested in bohemian traditions but preferred folk music to rock-and-roll. Every day, these individuals would devote their lives in dealing drugs, getting intoxicated, and attending nightclubs.

Parties, clubs, and drugs attracted people to the psychedelic lifestyle. A bohemian named Don Works created one of the very first hippie saloons called the Red Dog Saloon. The night club led to the formation of the rock-and-roll band, the Charlatans, whose Edwardian styles of clothing influenced current fashions. As a result of the Red Dog Saloon, a number of night clubs would open. Famous bands such as the Grateful Dead, the Warlocks, Jefferson Airplanes, and the Holding Company came out from Haight- Ashbury. Following nightclubs, people developed acid tests and light shows that were intended to ¡§trip¡¨ the mind. The famous psychedelic, Ken Kessey created acid tests.  Basically, if a person could stay awake through a night of partying and drug use, he or she passed an acid.  The very first acid test was held at a bookstore in Santa Cruz. It consisted of light projections, noisy speaker microphones, echoed effects, delayed playbacks, and acid to maximize the effects of the drug. The musicians that played at these parties were usually intoxicated because they claimed it made them feel at one with the music. These acid tests led to bigger events such as the Trips Festival and the Human Be-In. These festivals gathered acid tests, rock bands, light shows, and everything else organizers put up. Furthermore, the parties and night clubs gave people a chance to ¡§experience the same wide-eyed, unforeseeable freedom to act as strange as they felt3¡¨. They began to express themselves more freely and these wild parties acted as a conduit for their emotions. These drug events, which caused people to act freely, led to the main purpose of the hippie movement. Individuals began to feel the urge to protest against current world problems and call for harmony. Moreover, these massive parties and events gathered these individuals together and gave them a sense of pride.

There were organizers who set up these parties and events. Big shots such as, Ken Kessey, Billy Graham, Steward Brand, and Chet Helms were infamous psychedelics that hosted these parties. The Family Dog was one of the very first groups of organizers to set up large dances. They were responsible for setting up the huge public rock-and-roll dance known as ¡§A Tribute to Dr. Strange¡¨ which introduced thousands to acid tests.  Kessey was well known as the expert on psychedelics. He bought the famous International harvester bus which he and his friends decorated with dozen of colors. While traveling across the country in the bus they had ¡§taken acid and acted as crazy as they felt, right out in public¡¨ (4). Therefore, Ken Kessey and the Merry Pranksters (what Kessey¡¦s friend called themselves) would travel across the country to host wild parties and spread ¡§peace¡¨. Kessey and the Pranksters influenced both outsiders and the psychedelic scene in Haight with their slogan, ¡§Freak freely.¡¨ Another group of organizers in Haight were called Mime Troupe. Instead of radical parties dealing with drugs and sex, the Mime Troupe had set up live music, puppet shows, art and neighborhood-appropriate entertainment. The puppet shows primarily dealt with anti-racism and politics. A new generation known as Diggers evolved from the Mime Troupe period and also devoted their events to peaceful terms. They stated that their intent as a group was to provide free food, shelter, repair garages, and a free ¡§ trip.¡¨Although these organizers had different views about the events they had set up, they were bonded by their community pride.

As two years passed, the psychedelic scene began to decline. Drugs that were once legal had become illegal. Although the parties had gotten crazier and crazier, the police had also begun to intrude in the lives of the psychedelics. Police started arresting dealers, crashing night-long parties, and ending endless events. The frequent police visits gave the Haight scene a negative connotation. Many residents tried violent rebellions against the cops while others tried defending their rights peacefully. Ron Thelin of the Psychedelic shop wanted ¡§to show the police that hippies were good citizens, religious and nonviolent, and hope that hippies would lose their own stereotypes about police, he proposed that both sides get to know each other by putting up a ¡§Take a Cop to Dinner¡¨ sign in his shop window5¡¨. Despite efforts to improve relationships with the authority, there were more drug market busts than ever before. Police began daily sweeps of runaways on the streets of Haight.  Psychedelic shops were in debt and the free store (set up by Diggers) was burglarized. Kessey believed that it was time to move on. He claimed that that didn¡¦t mean he would stop taking acid, but he wanted to do more than go to rock-and-roll parties. The announcement of the ¡§Death of Hippie ceremony¡¨ had a devastating effect. Though many knew that the movement was dying, others refused to believe it. When the memorial event took place on October 6, many did not attend because they chose not to believe that their hippie era was over.

Despite focus on the Vietnam War, the Haight -Ashbury scene was an immense topic during the 1960¡¦s. The story of Haight-Ashbury remained unclear throughout history. Perry, who lived through the 1960¡¦s, tried to uncover the truth of the era. He wanted to prove that Haight-Ashbury ¡§has survived, despite many small ups and downs, as a slightly volatile mix of druggies, politicos, punks, gays, artists, and bohemian-minded yuppies, united by a kind of contentious neighborhood patriotism6¡¨. Although there were many different groups that evolved from the hippie scene, they were all similar in the way they represented their community. According to Perry, there was something special that united the people of Haight.  They all supported an environment of peace and free of war. Thus, he writes a book that carefully outlines the lifestyle of people in the psychedelic scene and how it impacted the world during the 1960¡¦s.

Although a widely researched topic, the story of Haight Ashbury is incompletely told because the authors were outsiders who tried to describe a way of life they couldn¡¦t comprehend. As an individual who experienced every single detail during the psychedelic era, Perry reveals the truth behind the hippie lifestyle. ¡§Although his was by no means a remarkable history for those crowded days, his first-hand experience allows him to write about the era realistically7¡¨. The author of this book had not only been alive during the era of Haight, but had also roomed with Owsley Stanley, associated with Hell¡¦s Angels, known of the Red Dog Saloon, experienced the Acid Tests, and heard the Grateful Dead. His experiences led him to realize the true lifestyle of a psychedelic. To him, a life of a psychedelic in Haight did not only consist of endless parties, drug use, and free love, but also a protest against war and the an environment of peace.  As a result, he had chosen to write a book that would completely expose the truth of a small psychedelic community that had a massive impact on popular culture around the world.

Critics generally gave this book a positive review; many who were interested in the era or who had lived during the time believed that this novel had triumphed in explaining the truth. According to critic Herbert Gold of ¡§Days of Magic and Disaster¡¨, he claims that ¡§Mr. Perry has done his research, showing how the straight world, police, media and churches reacted to the phenomenon7¡¨. Gold believes that the success of this novel was constructed by the personal experience and knowledge of the author. Indeed Perry has proven in his book that Haight-Ashbury was the center of drug dealing, rock-and-roll bands, and psychedelic parties during the 1960¡¦s. Before doing so, Perry has been involved in a number of interviews with survivors and research with newspapers, journals, and documents during the time. In addition, he has also been involved in the many hippie events such as, the Trips festival and Acid Tests. Thus, making his book to be a trustworthy source of information. Critic Marilyn Dalrymple says that Haight-Ashbury was the center of drugs, music, and parties. In his review, he mentions that Haight ¡§was a whirlpool that attracted psychedelic drugs and druggies, hippies, politicos, and soon-to-be famous bands8¡¨. Dalrymple relates Haight to a whirlpool to describe how the environment was like during the time. It was also referred to the ¡§Bay Area Vortex¡¨ due to its role as center of the psychedelics movement. Dalrymple also claims that the Haight scene strongly influenced the goofy style of clothing, music, and hair. Such as the Charlatans and their Edwardian/cowboy clothing and long hair.

The Psychedelic phenomenon was perhaps the largest topic during the 1960¡¦s. The Haight neighborhood is filled with untold secrets and stories. People who are new to the subject may only know Haight by its music and drug scene. Many believe it was decadent and corrupt because of its reputation of wild parties and hippie related events. Perry has lived through the moments and associated with many of the individuals in Haight Ashbury. Therefore, his knowledge makes his novel a trustful encyclopedia of Haight. ¡§Confident of the Haight¡¦s historical role, and oblivious to the fissures within it, self-appointed spokesmen idealistically invited the world¡¦s attention and, unfortunately, got¡¨ (9). Although the psychedelic scene had lasted for only two years, it influenced the world. Not only in music and clothing, but also the lifestyle and traditions psychedelics believed in.

The psychedelic scene in Haight Ashbury took life beyond any other. With its introduction of acid tests, trip festivals, hippie culture, and LSD, the lifestyle would create a huge impact on the rest of the world. A police officer had said, ¡§The word is out that San Francisco is the place for the far-out crowd10¡¨.  Many could not believe what happened at Haight. Though the stories of endless parties and drugs were too wild to be true, the events had given the world a new perspective. The hippies of Haight did not only take drugs, wear goofy clothing, and go to chaotic parties for fun, but also wanted their actions to be known. Their scene was a reaction against the Vietnam War, racial tensions, and other world problems. The phenomenon in San Francisco, California took drugs, clothing, music, and parties to a new level.

Perry makes his passion for Haight Ashbury clear. Even though the hippie scene had ended after a short period, the community hoped their message of peace and nonviolence would spread across the world. While the hippie era searched for tranquility, ¡§what went on was farther than ever from peace and flowers11¡¨. Many believe the events that occurred at Haight-Ashbury should have never happened. Charles Perry on the other hand, believes that the psychedelic scene played a significant role in California history. Despite the criticism of hippies and their drug related events, Perry reveals the true message about psychedelics. He believes that Haight Ashbury was one of the first attempts at world peace. It was an example of what a neighborhood would do in major epidemics.

After the end the ¡§Death of hippie ceremony¡¨, the psychedelic scene began to decline. Although some still called themselves hippies, Haight disintegrated into an atmosphere of violent and crime. Though this was the case, Haight managed to survive its bitterest disappointments and most violent disruption. In succeeding to resolve its problems, ¡§Haight was again an example of the world, an example of what could be done if people decided to stick it out when things got tough in their neighborhood12¡¨. This was exactly what Charles Perry was trying to make known through viewers. Through a blend of optimism, nationality, opportunism, and distinctive historical event, he wanted the world to see how a small neighborhood took matters into their own hands and created a revolution.    More importantly, he had hoped the rest of the world would see what the psychedelic scene in California had attempted to do and follow it as an example.


1. Perry, Charles. The Haight Ashbury. New York: Wenner Books

2. Perry, Charles.

3. Perry, Charles.

4. Perry, Charles.

5. Perry, Charles.

6. Perry, Charles. The

7. Gold, Herbert.  The New York Times. 12 August 1984.<http://query.nytimes.com/gst/ fullpage.html?res=9A07E0D71538F931A2575BC0A962948260&scp=1&sq=haight-ashbury+charles+ashbury&st=nyt>

8. Dalrymple, Marilyn. Amazon.com. 25 Dec 2005. http://www.amazon.com/Haight-Ashbury-History-Charles-Perry/dp/193295855X

9. Perry, Charles.

10. Perry, Charles.

11. Perry, Charles.

12. Perry, Charles.