(Chapter 9 of
Dreaming As One
Poetry, Poets and Community in Bolinas, California
1967 - 1980

by Kevin Opstedal


In 1969 poet Ed Sanders dubbed Bolinas ''a psychedelic Peyton Place''. He wasn't far off the mark. Peyton Place, the 1956 novel by Grace Metalious, was a best-selling blockbuster that was later made into a movie, spawning a television soap opera of the same name. The main plot follows the lives of three women, their personal travails and sexual awakenings, in a small New England town. The novel is notorious for its portrayal of the hypocrasy, social inequities, lust, incest, adultery and murder that existed beneath the peaceful surface of the small town. The title ''Peyton Place'' is a common catchphrase to describe any place known for its ''sordid atmosphere or nefarious doings.''

While Bolinas wasn't quite as ''sordid'' there was an ongoing soap opera taking place, but one so involved and complicated as to be nearly impossible to unravel. As Duncan McNaughton said, ''Everybody slept with everybody… it was charming, except when it was not charming, then it was really a drag.'' Suffice it to say that the chronology of ''who was sleeping with who'' is a separate history on its own. It was, after all, the height of the era of sex, drugs and rock and roll, and this was a community that was largely formed of the members of that counterculture which had made sex, drugs and rock and roll one of the iconic phrases of the time. Everything was called into question, from the place of women in society to the middle-class American ideals of marriage and monogamy. Similar ''psychedelic Peyton Place's'' could be found in San Francisco, New Yorks' lower east side, and countless other bohemian enclaves of the time. In the small community of Bolinas the experimentation and seemingly restless liaisons were amplified.

The newest albums by artists such as the Grateful Dead, the Rolling Stones, Dylan, and Neil Young were greeted with much enthusiasm. There was considerable discussion of rock music among the poets, many of whom had poems printed in Rolling Stone magazine, which was still being published out of San Francisco at the time. Bill Berkson remembers dropping acid and spending an hour listening to Neil Young's After the Gold Rush on head-phones until interrupted by a party of slide watchers led by Margot Doss.

Drug use cannot be discounted as an important part of life during this period in Bolinas. While this was largely a product of the era, daily tripping, whether on pot, hashish, LSD, mushrooms or mescaline, was as much a part of the landscape as eucalyptus trees, nasturtiums and the Pacific Ocean.

Letters by the poets who lived there are full of accounts of dropping acid and wandering about the mesa, meeting other poets, talking, sitting down to write collaborations while drinking wine and smoking grass. To many scoring pot was as essential as gathering firewood.

There were a lot of drugs flowing into Bolinas. Largely psychedelics of one kind or another. There weren't many ''hardcore'' drugs on the scene at the time—no heroin or cocaine (although the latter made a big time splash there in the late seventies). When Ted Berrigan stayed in Bolinas in the early seventies there was a flurry of amphetamine usage, speed being Berrigan's drug of choice. Lewis MacAdams remembers shooting speed with Berrigan in Bolinas.

Bolinas was also attracting a wide variety of psychedelic refugees. Some were unfortunate burn-out cases with names like ''No Memory'' (an actual character in town who claimed to have washed up on the beach), others were just young, spaced-out hippies, who lived in derelict cars or vans that were abandoned on the mesa. Their presence was an ongoing problem.

The Jefferson Airplane bought a house in Bolinas, all rigged-out with surveillance equipment in a very unBolinasian style, and they attracted all kinds of zonked-out fans. An article in The Paper, (April 8, 1972), by Gordon Baldwin, tells of a rainy night encounter with one of these hangers- on. The article, entitled ''Stray Cat, or Lit Windows, a Liability'', recounts how Baldwin was interrupted from working on a drawing early one evening by a knock on the door. A young guy, dripping wet, explained that he was, as Baldwin wrote, ''waiting for the rock and roll stars who live across the street. He uses their first names only''. He asks for shelter from the rain. Baldwin lets him in and asks ''What's your story?''. The kid's story is a rambling account of traveling from Albany, New York to San Francisco in pursuit of rock stars. He's a guitar player and wants to talk to all his rock heroes. He was arrested at the Keystone Korner (a San Francisco music venue) for busting up a Garcia-Saunders session, he just wanted to ''talk to Garcia, address the audience a little,'' he took forty doses of LSD in six months, etc. It becomes apparent that the kid has no intention to leave any time soon. Baldwin winds up giving him two dollars and telling him he should just hitchhike out of town. But the next morning, there he is again, leaning on the intercom at the Airplane house, and later trying to gain access to Baldwin's house as well. Baldwin mentions the encounter to some friends who say that they've seen the kid downtown bumming cigarettes. ''What is it about this town that makes it possible for the strays to stay?'', Baldwin asks. The kid was eventually arrested trying to vault the security fence at the Airplane house. Baldwin ends the article, ''Hope the cat keeps out of town. Moral? Who polices whom? Where did our privacy go in flight from the new equality? And country hospitality to wayfaring strangers? As the song says, no place to run, no place to hide—from everything that's happening out there.''

''I took endless amounts of drugs when I was there,'' said Lewis Warsh, ''and that tended to confuse and diffuse a lot of the emotional intensity that was further amplified by the presence of all the poets''.

Poet Lawrence Kearney said, ''My own demons and my own isolation would keep me always from any group identification, and my raging alcoholism gave me the perfect out.'' While he spoke on a regular basis to poets such as John Thorpe, Duncan McNaughton, and Joanne Kyger, Kearney said that in Bolinas he ''stayed reasonably apart, drank uncontrollably, and edged into madness.''

During his tenure in Bolinas, Robert Creeley was drinking heavily, which added to the strain of his already shakey marital situation. Creeley told Jim Koller that his life in Bolinas was spent on the road between his house and the bar. He had been 86'd from the bar countless times.

The photo by Gerard Malanga on the cover of Creeley's The Contexts of Poetry: Interviews 1961-1971 (Four Seasons Foundation, 1973), is an early morning shot of Creeley walking on a Bolinas road. He's looking at the camera with a wild smile, as though laughing, his hands held out in front of his body, fingers outstretched. The story behind this photo is that Creeley had been tripping all night with friends, wandering around the mesa.

It needs to be noted that Creeley was at the same time not only a major, influential poet, but a very warm and generous man. Joanne Kyger recalls how many of the poets in town would visit Creeley when he returned from his numerous reading and teaching engagements, ''We would just sit at his feet and listen to him as he gave us a report on what happened during his journeys''. There was a deep respect for Creeley, especially among the poets. His marital troubles were largely kept private. Joe Brainard wrote in his Bolinas Journal, ''Bob and Bobbie each exist individually so well. And together so well too''. At the end of the book, listing all that he'll miss as he leaves Bolinas, Brainard adds ''And very sweet Bob. And very mysterious Bobbie''. Most accounts of visitors to the Creeley home ring along similar lines, and yet Creeley himself was reticent in recounting his years in Bolinas. ''It was a difficult time for me,'' he said.

''Creeley's intensities in were incredible!'' said Tom Clark. When he was high, no matter what he happened to be high on, he became, as Clark said, ''challenging and weird''. At a big Fourth of July picnic celebration in the early seventies, Creeley had dropped acid, wrapped his head in tin foil, and proceeded to terrify a young woman, actually chasing her off into the trees. On another occasion, recounted by Tom Clark, Creeley and he were walking on the mesa one night, accompanied by Creeley's dog, Spot. Creeley, who was on acid, began screaming lines from Olson's Maximus from Dogtown at the top of his lungs. He then turned to Clark and asked for a cigarette. Clark didn't have any cigarettes. They were on Elm Road and a car approached. Creeley stood in front of the car to stop it, leaned in the window and asked the car's occupants if anyone had a cigarette. Someone did, so Creeley climbed into the car with them and they all drove away, leaving Clark and Spot standing on Elm Road. That night Spot went home with Clark.

The noble concept of permission within the community was, at times, tested. There was an unspoken code of tolerance for wildly different attitudes and permutations. It was understood on a very basic level. But there were casualties.

Jack Boyce was always a serious drinker. He was living in his still unfinished house, which he was then sharing with Magda Cregg. One night in 1972, high, or drunk, or both, he decided to walk across one of the roof beams. He lost his balance, fell, and died. He had broken his neck.

Coming a year after Lew Welch took a revolver and walked away into the Sierra foothills above Gary Snyder's property to kill himself (his body was never found), an event that shocked and saddened many in Bolinas, the news of Boyce's death hit the community hard. Boyce was a great hero to so many - an artist, well-read, and very intelligent, but also a guy that could get things done. He was a painter and a carpenter, had lived in the backwoods, and had that easy, competent masculine demeanor of being able to do just about anything—all of which were highly prized in Bolinas. MacAdams said, ''He was like my guru for a while, so I never really saw him the way other people did,'' adding, ''he was drinking a lot towards the end...''.

Boyce's ashes were scattered at a ceremony held on Mount Tamalpais. In his elegiac poem ''Heart Photos'', Lewis MacAdams writes:

         The ashes of Jack Boyce's body
         Will be consecrated to the Mountain
         Tamalpais at noon Monday
         at Mountain Theatre.
         ''His spirit leads.''

                   ''They've got to be kidding,'' says Shao.

                   ''They're not kidding,'' says woe.

         Whatever the power source is, it burns
         it does not dissolve.

Creeley felt an intense despair after Boyce's death, because, he said, he recognized that ''My life was much the same.''


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