Well, no, its not that kind of story, exactly, although given the fairytale element in the legend of the Fab Four you might, circa 1964, have got away with a tableau like thisangels descending from on highin a Beatles Xmas pageant. But that would have been many years ago, when it was still possible to imagine a flock of tatterdemalion angels fluttering down to mingle with the throngs in the Great Hall of Beatledom and sing carols by a great roaring tinsel-paper fire. The thing is, the Angels in this story are not that kind of angel, either. Now, if some of this is starting to sound familiar to you its because you may already have seen the trailer to this movie in last weeks column ("My Walk-on in the Life of George"). But here were going to give it the full cinematic treatment. Hey, its an epic, widescreen: Beatles, Angels, the Dead and General Motors.
Gimme a Gregg Toland deep-focus shot of Haight Street in the Summer of Love. Because thats where this story begins (by this time, of course, a lot more things were ending than beginning on that storied street). Mid-summer 1967 is an absolutely orrible moment to visit Haight Street. If youd come, say, three months earlier even, it was heaven on earth. (Okay, Ill concede its not that easy to measure cosmic stuff while on cosmic stuff.) But in the twinkling of an eye, a couple of months tops, the place had fallen flat as a soufflé interrupted mid-bake. Itd gone from being the hippest, coolest, profoundest place on earth to a sort of psychedelic skid row. By the Summer of Love, our little Hobbittown was bustling and hustling and crawling with tourists, runaways, TV crews and narks. Cover of Time and Newsweek. Presto, youre a Twinkie!
Rock royalty showing up daily. Neil Young, Paul Simon, Jimi Hendrix, David Crosby. And whos this, then? Its a bloody Beatle sauntering down Haight Street, smoking a big fat joint. Sir George Harrison puffing like a Chinese chimney. He can't believe his eyesall these people openly rolling joints on Haight Street, kids throwing joints at him. Brits were always boggled by the whole pot scene in Hippietown. George loves the fact that he can walk down Haight Street more or less without hassle. People just hand him joints, maybe walk along for a block or so to chat, and then let him go his own way. Charles II and retinue strolling amongst his loyal subjects.
He's fascinated by it all. For George, the Haight is the new model City on the Hill, a sort of community whose constitution is based on rock 'n' roll, on Beatles even. Curious George wants to know: "How did it all start? How long has it been going on? How does it all work? How do you do the shows in the park?"
On Divisidero he runs into a couple of Hell's Angels, Tumbleweed and Pete. Wow! Real sweaty, hairy, savage Hell's Angels. The terror of the West. He's impressed, all right. They're impressed, too.
"Fuckin' George Harrison, man!" In the heat of the moment George invites them to come and stay with him "whenever you're in London, man." You know, at George's house! Now in England, this sort of invitation is taken for what it is: perfunctory politeness. Besides, he must have thought, when are two Hell's Angels ever going to show up at Saville Row? But this is California, baby! The Westwhere a man's word is a man's word....
"Well, Jesus, George, that's real decent of you. Real decent. We've been planning a trip to check out swingin' London, haven't we, Pete?" Pete is equally enthusiastic.
"Fuck, yeah! Hell, we'll just bring the Harleys, it'll be a hell of a time." Whereupon George proceeds to hand them... his card. A bit formal, methinks, but the boys fall on it as if it were a fresh kilo of dope. They hand it aroundto sniff, I presumebut on closer examination it turns out to be an Apple Records card. Oh well, he's not actually going to give them his telephone number at Strawberry fucking Fields, now is he? I mean what if these guys actually do show up?
Kids are lying on the sidewalk, dogs in kerchiefs are running up and down the street, people are panhandling. It's so crowded in spots it's hard to walk. George suddenly seems alarmed.
A cloud passes over Georgea dark horse that one. "Where will it all end?" he mumbles. Wot a question! We will disappear into the blackness of the space from which we came, destroyed as we began, in a burst of gas and fire. Cmon, George, didnt you see Rebel Without a Cause?
The Yuletide season rolls around and certain hairy people start remembering that George Harrison has invited a bunch of them to his palace for Christmas. It's not clear exactly who George invited by name, but, hey, who's countingit's the Beatles, innit? What possible difference is one or two more going to make?
Ken Kesey at Saville Row
Let's see... there's Ken Kesey, Peter Coyote from the Mime Troupe, the Pleasure Crew, Slade and Spider, the two Hell's Angels George met walking down Haight Street (and their mamas), the two original Deadheads, Connie and Sue Swanson, Danny Rifkin, Peter the Monk and, uh, someone
. Thirteen people in all, a good round number. A magic number! Who could object to that?
But theyre about a thousand bucks short. "Jeez, were gonna need at least five hundred bucks just to transport the Harleys there and back in steerage." High finance. So Peter the Monk goes to Bill Graham's dingy little office in the back of the Fillmore. If you were to go up there in the old days, youd find all the bullets that various Hell's Angels had given him over those early years proudly displayed on Bill's desk. Like when Tiny or Sonny Barger would come in his office and say: "Okay, Graham, were letting you pass on this one but here is a gift in order that you should never forget that we never fucking forget!" And, boom, the Angel'd slap down a .357 or a .44 shell. They are all there, lined up in a row. It's a big joke until the Angels decide it isn't a joke. And just to show you it ain't all bluff, the Angels hang Bill Graham out of the two-story window by his leg at the Fillmore East when he tries to stop them from wearing their colors into the building.
Peter the Monk picks up four shells and tells Graham that the bullets are gonna cost him two hundred and fifty dollars each. "In other words, Bill, we need a thousand dollars."
"What the hell for?"
"Well, to fly a couple of motorcycles to London for one thing."
Bill is ranting and raving. "Christ almighty, what in the hell makes you think, rrraa, ra, ra."
"Because were taking these bullets off of your desk, and thatll take a load off of your mind, won't it? Four less bikers out for your sorry ass."
"I don't know why I'm doing this, but okay. Just one thing. He inserts a clause at the end of the "loan" note.
"Since youre going to be guests of George Harrison, heres what I want you to do: I want you to tell the Beatles that Ill promote them any way I can; Ill promote them for free. Ill promote them in Golden Gate Park, Ill promote them in Central Park, Ill promote them anywhere, free! On the fuckin moon if they so want."
Peter the Monks going, "Uh huh, sure. Youll promote this in a hat, youll promote them with a cat! Come on, give me a break. Bill Graham presents the Beatles for free?! Is that what you mean, Bill?"
"Exactamente, thats it! Really, it is."
"But you get the t-shirt concession, the Port-o-San concession, the hot dog and soda...."
"Get outta here, you bums! Who do you think you are?"
Now theyve got the bread and they get on one of those cheapo Air India flights. There arent many passengers aside from them, so they take over the middle of the plane and put all the seatbacks down and cover them with their coats and blankets and sleeping bags and sit around cross-legged in a giant circle and sing camp songs. Kesey tells Eskimo stories and Northwest Indian tales. To complete the picture, Peter Coyotes injecting himself in the stomach with Vitamin B12 and methamphetamine. Hes got hepatitis and Doctor Feelgood, the famous New York City doctor who did such wonders for Kennedys back problems and Brian Joness head problems, has given Peter his own secret remedy, a walking cure for hepatitis. I just saw Peter doing a car commercial, saying, I swear, "We here at General Motors believe in the promise of freedom
. and zero percent financing
." Long way from the Diggers Free Store, man, but what the hell, things change.
Someone plays harmonica; they get a little jam session going and boogie all the way to London. Boy, are they a mess when they get to Heathrow airport. They get to customs and everybody (except for Peter) goes into the nothing-to-declare line. Peterwith his brown paper bag full of syringes, weird bottles, and labels that look like they're from a Wild West chemistgoes to the red zone. Waiting forever for him to go through customs, and then for the Angels to get their bikes out of some godforsaken excise warehouse.
They head straight for the Beatles headquarters, Apple, in a procession of motorcycles, taxicabs, Landrovers and whatever else they sent out for us. The bottle-green liveried footmen at Apple practically faint when they see themEgad! The barbarians are at the gates!
"But, hey dudes, we're friends of George's!"
"I don't doubt that you are, sir, but would you mind waiting in the foyer. Mr. Harrison, you see, isn't available at the present."
"That's okay, we'll wait."
It's still very early in the morning and they end up in Georges office with the tea ladies from Apple buzzing around, bringing cups of tea and crumpets. By the time Derek Taylor (the Beatles press agent) shows up our motley crew is all crashed and sleeping on the couches and in the waiting rooms and the hallways and in Georges office.
Around noon George shows up ("Mr. Harrison is in the building!") but he can't see them just yet (or ever!) and as to the invitation to stay at Strawberry fucking Fields, well, a representative will be out momentarily to speak with you. After a great deal of huddled whispering, the Hell's Angels & Co. are told that, regretfully,
. If only George had known you were coming, well, you see.
Derek Taylor breaks it to them gently: "Look fellahs, George sends his apologies. He means well, he really does want to accommodate you all, but he just didn't expect quite this many people. It is Christmas, after all, and he does have a full compliment of guests at Strawberry Fields already." George's forty-room mansion is quite booked up. Jeez, the place is a bloody castle. Who does he have staying with him, the Bolivian soccer team?
Theyve just arrived California style and now they have to scoot all around town and try to find places to crash. George sends the Angels, their mamas and their bikes over to Ladbroke Grove, where Richard Dilello, Stanley Mouse, and I share a house by the railroad tracks.
Which is how these Hell's Angels came to be staying with us. They were exemplary house guests. They brought food and beer and giftsamong them a signed copy of Freewheelin Franks book, but they also were overweight, balding and oddly conservative. They also held wildly differing opinions on topics dear to our hippie hearts: napalm, Jimi Hendrix, brown rice. So we all smoked hash, drank beer, and played old Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis albums until we passed out.
It all comes to a head at Christmas dinner, brought on by a clash of cultures. A sort of tableau vivant of Louis XIV and the Visigoths. The prissy little functionaries at Apple and the rowdy, uncouth California dudesand never the twain shall meet. Due to some protocol of their own, the Apple elves are not letting the ravenous California dudes eat any of the mouth-watering food laid out on great groaning boards. Its just like the Food Hall at Harrods! Trays of pheasant and aspics and pates and crackers and on and on parading past them all day long, all day long. This incredible stuff from the finest restaurants, and, believe me, theyre starved. Theyre out of money and haven't had a decent meal in days. Theres free-flowing champagne everywhere so everybodys getting well soused on champagne, and still no food. Finally (what do they fucking expect?) there's a palace revolution. The Hells Angels insist that they be fed. Right now. Pete Knell takes a huge carving fork and picks the whole bird up. Sweet William tears off a leg. Turkey anyone?
Later on a few pimply South London bikers show up. English Hells Angelsvery young, gawky guys with their club names written in chalk on the backs of their jacketsand bearing as much resemblance to the Frisco chapter of the Hell's Angels as Wiley E. Coyote does to Attila the Hun. Pete Knell has just founded the Marin County chapter of the Angels so he's feeling expansivetomorrow the world!and the thought of starting a London chapter begins to cross his mind. Fuck, man, why not? I hear him telling these wide-eyed kids: "You could take over this town." Sure, Pete, tell it to Napoleon.
Cut! We cant end a Beatles movie like this. Lets go back to the other endingwhen all through the house not a creature was stirring, not even Stanley Mouse. The assembled dudes and demigods had just sat down to a giant repast when up on the roof top reindeer paws
. Santa and his elves! Taking a break (reindeer pause?)from their Euro-route. In the old days they used to stop at Buckingham Palace for Ovaltine and digestive biscuits but the Royals werent so royal anymore, and we all knew that the true kings of the kingdom were the Mop Tops.
Next, in the stillness of the night, came a fluttering of wings like chopper blades and there did descend a flock of angels from on high, all resembling Peter Frampton. Theres a knock at the great front door of Apple. Its Mick and Marianne, Keith and Anita! All bearing shopping bags filled with extravagantly wrapped presents (they must think theyre starring in some forties Christmas movie). The Who run in with mad grins, Janis brings the libations, and Jimi Hendrix arrives finely dressed as Saint Nick from Saturn. Every Beatle fan that ever was is there at the feast, including Tiny Tim with his ukulele. And the happiness and camaraderie that day was such that the old building on Saville Row did almost levitate with joy. And from that moment forth there was peace on earth and good will towards men (and women), "All You Need Is Love" became the anthem of every land, and Beatle lunchboxes were given to every boy and girl. And up over the Old Smoke rose a rousing anthem sung by all the raucous voices who had ever blessed vinyl, singing:
God rest you merry gentlemen, may nothing you dismay
And all of us heard as Santa flew outtasight,
"Merry Christmas to all, its been a hard days night!"
My Walk-On in the Life of George
THE DEVINE, THE FANTASTIC, AND THE MUNDANE