Where It All Began: North Beach
The first club I danced in was the Off Broadway in the North Beach section of San Francisco. More about that later. North Beach had been an Italian neighborhood since the turn of the century so there were plenty of good Italian restaurants not to mention all the fresh crab available at nearby Fishermen’s Wharf.
Allen Ginsberg and the Beat poets came in the late 50’s and hung out in the smoky coffee houses and recited their poetry. That’s where Ginsberg first recited “Howl”.
Two blocks away was the famous City Light Bookstore run by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti. He published “Howl” and was arrested for printing obscenity. The judge finally ruled the poem not obscene. But the cat was now out of the bag and poetry ruled San Francisco for a while.
The atmosphere of free expression
It went perfectly with the dark jazz clubs where you could hear all the great musicians. I mention all this because the whole 60’s music scene in San Francisco came out of this atmosphere of free expression. The Grateful Dead took all that esoteric, eccentric, crazy poetry and redefined it with LSD, electric guitar and psychedelic light shows. Right about that time, around 1965, another change was taking place. Right there in North Beach, next door to the Italian restaurants, coffee houses and jazz clubs were these brand new topless clubs.
The Dead actually played in one of them, so did Sly and the Family Stone and Iron Butterfly. Imagine “In A Gadda Da Vida” in a topless club. Carol Doda was the first to go topless and she was immediately arrested. Of course! That’s the good ol’ San Francisco tradition of offending public morality, getting arrested, getting acquitted and then becoming an instant living legend. Happened to the Dead too. Sin City, as San Francisco was called then, was alive and well! So now the scene was ready for the new wave of dancers to take the stage.
We’re up to the summer of ’67 now. My time. Stay tuned…