May 12, 2020

February 21, 1967: The Maze TV Broadcast


Were those picturesque persons who drifted lazily across the KPIX screen Tuesday night the beatific beneficiaries of a beautiful new society? Were they the harbinger saints of a revolutionary philosophy of love and anti-hassle? Or were they just a bunch of kids in beards, playing out the perennial delusion that 20-year-olds know more about life, truth and beauty than their confused elders, who commute, wear ties, and send a check once a month?
As a typically rat-raced commuter in the over-30 age group (who, as you know, are not to be trusted) I took the latter view of "The Maze," a well-made half-hour excursion into the scented-beaded-folk-rocking picnicland of Haight-Ashbury, home of the hip, the turned-on and the freaked-out. It was, as they say, a trip.
As the KPIX camera traveled through the centers of dropout culture, the Psychedelic Book Shop with its walls covered with poster photos of camp heroes like Bogart and W. C, Fields, [and] the Straight Theater where the Grateful Dead blast out a stupefying roar of nihilistic sound, the hippie community presented themselves with great profusion of facial hair and odd raiment, and expressions of vacancy that no doubt denote inner peace.
They are a weird clientele, all right, but are they really the sinister threats to society that local newscasters paint them to be? After the first initial shock, one soon perceives that underneath those beards are the smooth faces of somebody's kids, caught in the still hiatus between school and the draft, having a happy, slothful time for themselves and avoiding adult life as long as possible. Who can blame them? I mean, like, who really wants to commute?
As is good policy when venturing into foreign territory, KPIX hired a competent guide. Michael McClure, a handsome young poet with a medium-length mane, conducted a knowledgeable, articulate tour and defended the hippie way of life with reasonable plausibility.
"The straight people really need what's happening here," said McClure, explaining that Haight-Ashbury is a free, uncritical place where "the phony rituals are stripped away," where "I can grow my hair to my shoulders and see what it is to feel like Greta Garbo. There's no society to tell me 'You must be this.'"
McClure conceded, with an air of serene indifference, that sexual restraints and taboos are passe in Haight-Ashbury. "But they're also passe on Madison Avenue, and up on Montgomery Street. The difference is in the lack of hypocrisy here."
The camera visited several communal apartments in the district, where apartments are getting so scarce that incoming hippies must move into nearby areas. The pads, if they are still called pads (we grow old!) looked clean and colorful, intriguingly bedecked with hanging jewels, posters, Indian cloth, polished wooden & glass articles in aesthetic shapes. The squalor and calculated crumminess that delighted the beatnik generation are out of style now.
"This isn't North Beach all over again," said McClure. "North Beach was in revolt against society. But this new thing is not in revolt. It has just divorced itself."
Haight-Ashbury folk are not interested in protests, marches, or other tension-inducing behavior. They are also, it was clear, not interested in work, although the district maintains a "HIP Job Corps" to provide part-time employment for hungry hippies. McClure's young friends were seen in various postures of serenity (or was it just sluggishness?), carrying on all-night conversations in incense-shrouded circles, the girls gazing dully (or is it tranquilly?)  through the long, ironed hair that hangs in their very-young faces, the boys speaking solemnly through the bushy beards that look strangely incongruous against shiny cheeks and unlined foreheads.
Other hippies were seen making bread, or singing Krishna hymns in a Hindu ceremony, or simply congratulating themselves on their citizenship among the enlightened. "I think we are revolutionaries of living," said one unshaven and placid soul, squatting on a cushion.
After allowing McClure 30 minutes of affectionate propagandizing for Dropoutsville, KPIX felt the need to establish itself on the side of righteousness and squaredom by reminding that Haight-Ashbury also contains "weak, selfish and criminal people," and hinting with delicious vagueness at "sexual excesses." No doubt there are. . .  But the scene that KPIX revealed looked harmless enough, and pretty, and silly, and awfully young.
Personally, I haven't the slightest desire to know what it is to feel like Greta Garbo. Even if I had, with 13 car payments to go, this is no time to start getting disdainful of the good old straight world.

(by Bob MacKenzie, from the "On Television" column, Oakland Tribune, 23 February 1967)

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  1. I thought this TV review was interesting enough to include. It's typical of the condescending newspaper stance towards the hippies of Haight-Ashbury - the generation gap before your eyes.
    The Maze was an occasional documentary series shown on KPIX in 1967; later episodes featured San Francisco rock bands and LSD.
    The program starts with a nod to recent media stories about "runaway youngsters wrapped up in a bizarre world of drugs, sex, and sloth" who pose a "threat to normality." But for the most part the denizens of the Haight speak for themselves in the show without much editorializing.
    The Dead only appear briefly, hanging out in 710 Ashbury. The band seen playing in the Straight Theater is, alas, not the Dead but the New Salvation Army Banned (and it's hardly the "stupefying roar of nihilistic sound" that the reviewer promises, they're barely heard). Musically the highlight is 'Mellow Yellow' playing in the Psychedelic Bookshop.

  2. I forgot to mention, Michael McClure was well-acquainted with the Dead. He gave poetry readings at several of the shows they played in 1966-67. He also visited them at 710 Ashbury and even tried to collaborate on a song with Garcia, with Jerry setting music to one of his poems. But Garcia was half-hearted about it and didn't finish. (See McNally p.162.) This isn't too surprising: almost all the people who wrote songs with the Dead were friends with a bandmember first (usually Weir or Lesh), and once Garcia roped in Hunter, he never seriously considered any other lyricist.