I guess my awareness of the “Long Ride” began when I quit high school about two or three months before graduation and hitchhiked to New York City with a friend who tended toward being a little weird—but in the overall scheme of things, quite normal for the times we were living in.
I think his name was Ray and he was a little timid about going to NYC, but with my never-may-care attitude as his shield, he packed his bags and joined me on the side of the I-94 expressway for our trip to the Big Apple. We had both met a guy who was attending the high school I was in who said that he knew people in New York who would put us up and help us find our way. But that is another story for quite a different day—and perhaps not one I am really ready to take out of the vault.
Suffice it to say, I stayed in New York long after Ray headed back home to who knows what and I eventually moved on to San Francisco during what was to become the Summer of Love. It could have really been called the Summer of Music and everybody would have understood. When I arrived in Haight Ashbury, just south of the Golden Gate Park, there were hippies lined up against the stores on both sides of the street that eventually ran into the park. I remember lots of Hell’s Angel types mixed in and a steady line of people going into what we called the “free clinic”. This was where all the people who believed in ‘free love” ended up for their penicillin shots—if you get my drift.
Several blocks away and running parallel to the street was pan-handle park, where a group calling themselves the “diggers” would cook some kind of pasta dish every night to feed the hundreds of youth who had found their way to the city. They lived in a house that was not to far from where the Grateful Dead lived and I remember eating spaghetti with the rest of the “street people” on several occasions. As was my lot, I found people who let me sleep in their houses and hang out with them—it was only later I was to realize that my heavenly father was looking out for me during these formative times.
And did I mention that I was not that far from the Straight Theater at the corner of Haight and Cole streets. This was a smaller and hippier version of the giant Fillmore auditorium more or less run by Bill Graham and the one that most people remember when they think of Frisco’s music scene. The Straight saw the Grateful Dead, Country Joe and the Fish, Moby Grape, and the Jefferson Airplane perform—just to mention a few of more or less local bands that were featured. What I remember most is the light shows that filled the giant screen on the stage behind the bands. The colors would move to the sounds of the music and were really quite sophisticated in a late sixties kind of way. I think they also used strobes and black lights in addition to the colored water and oil mixes on top of an old opaque projector in the back of the room. And of course, everybody danced—if you can call bouncing up and down to the beat of the music for several hours—dancing? I remember evangelist Kenneth Copeland saying at one of his events that if the church behaved the way they should (meaning energetic dancing to the worship music) there would be no need to go to a work out center. He is probably right.
But it was really all about hanging out and enjoying the music. I always thought that they had so many concerts because they wanted to keep all the people occupied and off the streets and maybe there is a bit of ironic truth hidden in that belief—maybe not.
There were also the concerts in Golden Gate Park on the weekends which featured bands like Steve Miller and the Airplane. And the nightly jams in the Panhandle Park after a free meal at the hands of the Diggers. Not quite utopia but an attempt to find the road that led to the long ride indeed. I was seventeen and convinced that there was more to life than a job in daddies car lot after high school graduation. I was just a kid from a small town in Michigan looking for something a little more permanent and dare I say eternal. Something I could believe in and become a part of and really during those times the music held it all together—although in a loose sort of sloppy hippie way.
The plaintive cries of the Jefferson Airplane to love somebody, to Strawberry Fields and Penny Lanes; Donovan’s Mellow Yellow, the Butterfield Blue’s Band’s, East West and the Door’s Light My Fire, paved the way for Jimi Hendrick, U2 and even contemporary Christian praise and worship music. Today I listen to Misty Edwards, Joanne McFatter, Chris Tomlin, Hillsong and Morningstar music. Good music always opens up the doors of perception or leads us into a better understanding of just where it is we stand.
And yes, sometimes the rhythm even follows us on that after dinner walk with our significant other or on that long 25 mile bike ride in the country. It is always with us, just the way God told us that He would always be there as well.
From Haight Ashbury to today is not that far apart when you consider how very long eternity must really be. Enjoy your ride today and your history as well and remember that you haven’t heard all the music that can be listened to yet.