later first rough draft of memory: November 22
North Beach, San Francisco. The Committee was a comedy revue beloved by the local intelligentsia and tourist alike. But in November 1963, the time I am writing about, once or twice the doorman for reasons I will never fully comprehend let me and my singing partner in to watch the show for free. Bizarro improvisations, "zany" is the word for them (they'd improvise poems in crossover styles of "Kates" and "Yeets", and the audience was literate enough then to be in on the joke).
Another of the Committee's memorable regular skits of the time was about an execution. The convict was dragged in and buckled into an electric chair. The warden and the guards were adjusting the straps, and as the steel cap was being settled on the prisoner's head, the warden asked the prisoner if that was comfortable. At which the prisoner snorted out a derisive laugh and said, "Comfortable? You're about to kill me!" He then began cackling, spitting, and hurling hilarious abuse at his captors. The condemned man vented his all at last, believing he had nothing whatsoever left to lose. After a few minutes of this hysteric insult, the warden and his helpers glanced at each other, unbuckled the straps, pulled him from the chair, then beat and kicked him to death.
Back then I was a guitar picker in the smallest and most obscure of venues, and the City Lights Bookstore was my mailbox in the city, their bulletin board held my occasional pieces of incoming mail with a thumbtack. All of which might sound more poetic than it really was. Not of any kind of lost generation, but rather an in-between generation, I was too late for the beatniks and too early for the hippies. And to those who really might not suspect or know, should you care, there is no beach in North Beach.
Late November, I'd arrived at one of the small coffee houses for the scheduled gig guitar case in hand, floating on air, amazed and thankful to have a small paying j-o-b onstage in a slightly larger than the smallest and most obscure of venues. So amped up about this stroke of good fortune to have spent nearly the entire day in rehearsal and re-rehearsal. But arriving at the appointed time, the club was dark, the doors were locked; the little coffee house was shut up tight as a drum. As I stood disbelieving, I finally noticed a small framed portrait draped in black in the window. A photo of John F Kennedy had been clipped from a newspaper and placed into the small frame, and there was a candle burning next to it.
It was Eric Andersen folksinger happened by and told my singing partner and me that Kennedy had been shot and killed that day. That we didn't have the job that night though a financial hardship of profound proportion was scarcely noticed by either of us in view of the enormity of the news. The newsracks were all empty as we continued on, but one held a paper with a dark black headline. We went down the street to Mike's poolhall instead to share one cup of coffee and to get out of the chill. We read through all the newspapers littering the tables, and we sat there for what must have been hours. About that time, we noticed an energized person walking up to the front door, then back down the street obviously to talk to someone. He reappeared at the door and was identified to us by a man at a nearby table as Alan Ginsberg (sic). He was peering in through the windows, perhaps looking for a recognizable face. He decided to enter, and made his entrance by pushing quickly through the doors. He settled at a far table, back to the wall, his visage facing towards the people seated in the room, and within moments the floors squeaked with the sound of wooden chairs being dragged across linoleum. He was immediately surrounded by people who were pulling their chairs and scooting their tables to be closer to him.
Aldous Huxley (one of my personal heroes of that time) had also died that very day, but because of the ongoing news surrounding the President's assassination, Huxley's obituary was delayed nearly a week before even receiving space enough to be published in the local paper. That was doubly sad, but it seemed bigger and more metaphysically significant than that, like things were threatening to slip apace and descend quickly into an impending overall darkness.
Even being from real life, this would have been a pretty generic series of anecdotes, except for the name-dropping part. Drawn from real life, it doesn't make any kind of sense. Except that as you grow older, and experiences stack up, one thing reminds you of another and sometimes things intersect in strange ways.