Aug 16, 2018

1968: Apocalypse Now


The world came to an end last Saturday night, and BARB was there.
That was the night the planetoid Icarus, a pock-marked lump of rock approximately the size of Mount Everest, zapped the Earth. The effect was catastrophic. We were all wiped out by a four mile high tidal wave that raced around our globe. Or, by another account, Icarus plowed into us, quaking the Earth and turning us all to cinders. In the end, however, the details seem unimportant.
BARB saw all this destruction from the top of Mount Tamalpais, a widely accepted end-of-the-world spot.
With us at the death of the earth were up to two hundred other patient victims. Most, however, were waiting for the Grateful Dead, and refused to treat the occasion seriously. They played guitars and transistor radios and laughed a lot, even under the circumstances. Probably hysterical.
It was a poignant time. High on the mountain. We sat about and talked about our last hours on old Mother Earth. Someone passed a yellow cig around and pretty soon there were those who said their whole lives were flashing in front of their eyes. I sniffed the wind and found myself growing maudlin over the simple things - like the smell of grass.
Below us on the Marin Peninsula the lights of Sausalito and Mill Valley formed in strings giving the night a fitting Disneyland effect. The bay sat silvery beneath the nearly full moon and as quiet as the eye of a storm.
By three or four in the morning - time seemed to stand still so it was hard to tell - the Dead hadn't arrived, in spite of all rumors. The desperate few on the mountain had dwindled to no more than fifty.
Saving our strength for the end, most of us rolled up in a blanket and went to sleep. We never awoke.
The end came while we were asleep.
The next time we looked around, the sun was rising over the crest of Mt. Tam. I was covered with flea bites that itched as though I were alive, and the new world looked just like the old one.
Except for one thing; now I know who the Zombies are.
This is definitely the end.

(by DC, from the Berkeley Barb, 21 June 1968)


  1. Okay, I know: this didn't happen. Just a Barb joke!
    And on "last Saturday night," it was June 15, when the Dead were playing at the Fillmore East. But what tickled me was the portrait of these "desperate few" waiting for the Grateful Dead to come play. But, "in spite of all rumors," the Dead never arrive.
    There were numerous occasions in the '60s where it was rumored the Dead would play a free show, so it was actually quite a common experience then to wait for a band that never showed up. In later years the joke would be that the Dead never stopped playing - here, it's the Dead never arriving. (Back on 8/20/67, the Dead had almost played a festival on Mount Tamalpais, but there was no power, so the crowd settled for banging on cans and bongos.)
    No doubt the writer picked out the Dead just for their name ("waiting for Country Joe" just doesn't have the same ring as "waiting for the Dead"), but their semi-mythical status here corresponds to real life as well. The idea of the Dead was perhaps more important than anything they actually played - as Robert Hunter put it, “The evocative power of that strange, not at all comical name is considerable... It called sheaves of spirits down on us all.”

  2. By the way, the gathering on Mt. Tamalpais did actually happen.
    From the Berkeley Barb, June 14, 1968:


    The end of the world is at hand.
    This scoop came to BARB's attention from a handbill widely circulated in the Haight-Ashbury recently by the Icarus Day Committee.
    Icarus, this time, is not a small boy, but is a wee bit of a planet about the size of Mt. Everest which is going to smash into the Earth Saturday, or will miss by 4 million miles, depending on who's doing the figuring.
    Many Haight resident have fled to the Rockies to avoid tidal waves.
    Astronomers generally accept the 4 million mile computation, but renegades say it's a cover-up to keep folks tranquil while the government scratches its head.
    The Icarus Day Committee is urging people to watch the spectacle from the top of Mount Tamalpais during a Celebration in Honor of Earth, beginning at midnight Friday, June 14, and continuing Saturday until it ends.
    The arrival of the asteroid Icarus coincides with independent astrological predictions of fiery upheavals during the same period, due to the influences of larger celestial bodies. Followers of Jean Dixon and Edgar Cayce expect earthquakes, at least, around June 22.
    A caller to BARB referred to a "Mr. Johnson" who, he said, was booted from MIT while working on a top-secret project to zap Icarus late Thursday with 40 rocket-borne nuclear bombs, to save us all from a nasty splash.
    Meanwhile, whether the established astronomers or the Icarus Day Committee is right, the End of the World Party on Mt. Tam is expected to go on as scheduled.
    As the caller to BARB said, "Since it may be the last party, it will probably be a good one."