My first experience with a coffeehouse was back in 1969. That critical year after Woodstock when society feared that every child under 18-years-of-age was going to dive into drug addiction, run away from home, discard marriage and all other morals from the 1950s, and, possibly eschew a day job and live off of love and handouts.
It was a panic moment for parents and authority figures . . . no one older than 30 understood the new paradigm. And to be honest, no one under 30 really knew the definition of a “paradigm,” but, we were mostly committed to the adventure of discovery.
So, as police started to crowd-manage with billy clubs and tear gas, and adults scorned bell-bottom jeans, strands of beads, long hair, bralessness and free speech, just about the only badass folks left to temper teenage rebellion were the clergy.
The young graduates of divinity school, almost on the edge of hip, and with stars in their eyes and energy pulsing, they commonly took on the cause of saving the youth from self-destruction.
This sort of salvation is not to be confused with the soul-type; it was aimed at the physical body. It was aimed at diverting addictive behavior and keeping society sterile.
A popular way of doing that was to entice teenagers into Saturday night alternative activities, such as creating a groovy subterranean coffeehouse in the basement of many a grand old church. Free food – mostly sweet pastries and sodas – was served to start us on the road to sugar addiction, thinking it was much healthier than heroin.
The atmosphere was bluesy, jazzy, hazy, dark enough so you could make out with the one next to you and no would know – often not even you.
The music was rock: loud, rambunctious, flamboyant. Impossible to talk above. And, therefore, impossible to conduct a drug deal. The organizers wanted a new form of brainwashing and behavioral modification, in the hippest setting possible.
No police were on duty. Just God watched over.
When the band took a brief break, many of us would slither into the restrooms, crawl out the windows that sat at ground level to the back parking lot, and meet the city’s premium drug lords. It was an audience made in heaven for the dark angels of any powders, pills or portions we craved.
Ten minutes later, the band was warming up, grinding into a groove and we were perched back on our pine-log stools, circling around electrical wire-spool tables. Cupcakes and Cokes were spread out like latter-day picnics on the rustic, splintered wood.
And so, the Saturday nights progressed and the fledgling youth pastors felt pleased with their mission.
Somewhere in the midst of this hipster club trip, my friend Dougie and I got a notion to hitchhike to California. To explore the real counter culture revolution in Haight Ashbury.
We crashed with some friends of friends and spent hours walking around the city, peeking into book stores, pubs, brothels, underground music venues. We stayed up all night and slept a few hours on filthy, floral-upholstered sofas that were spewing foam viscera like dry cleaners’ exhaust plumage.
We felt cool, progressive, and witty. But as we hitched our way back eastward, in the privacy of an eighteen-wheeler’s back cab, we swore allegiance to each other: As exciting and energizing as the journey was, we really found the Haight to be pretty grimy – pretty messed up; the people smelly and rudely demanding of the money we didn’t have.
It was a creative learning lesson. Not one the basement coffeehouse in New Jersey could teach us. But, I needed to know if I could live there or not, and, having concluded “no way,” I did leave with a passion that would follow me for the rest of my days.
I fell in love with the colors also. Even in their states of decay, the splendor and playfulness of their child’s-coloring-book indulgence was evident, and, very seductive.
A little while later, I discovered colored wooden churches, in the South, in the forgotten country hollars. And they became an addition to my collection of inner images that would burst like a dandelion crazed by a nosh with the wind.
Once I entered college in New York City, un-addicted to heroin, alcohol or cigarettes, even the drab, industrial, edgy design of the city left me needy for the colors of innocence. For the the wild abandon of a child’s pure heart.
And so, after graduating, I set off to immerse myself deeper into old, cold, stodgy ways. This time in Europe.
Then back to California for an encore, but, for the warmth and narcissism of LA.
I was being summoned by the call of innocence.
At long last, I followed.
Eventually, it led me to rural mountain towns across America.
And it cracked wide open that egg of many colors and turrets and quirks that I’d packed in the suitcase of my imagination.
I was Home.
And crazy little cartoons like the “Turret Church” above are continually emerging from my mature soul.
Yes. To play with color is to affirm that soul is a happy entity!!