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Night Crawler 

Trend of an Era

Wednesday, Sep 29 1999
Trend of an Era
A tousled boy with sandy-blond mats of hair and a meager Vandyke of peach fuzz peels off the wall of the Anarchists' Bookstore on Haight Street.

"You got a paper?" he asks with soggy blue eyes. "How 'bout 89 cents? It's worth it."

I reach into my jacket pocket and count out three quarters, a dime, and a nickel into the boy's rough palm, making a mental note to include the turnout on my next expense report: Haight Street surcharge.

"And a penny for good luck ... cool," says Stitch, the 17-year-old Tacoma native who has spent his summer lolling on the historical sidewalks of another generation's youth. "Wait here."

Stitch lopes off across the street with his overlong baggy pants and multicolored vest flapping, the tiny bells tied in his "dreadknots" keeping ungainly time; he disappears into Pipe Dreams, leaving me with a sleepy, disheveled puppy named Khan and a patchwork bag overflowing with strings of beads and slips of crumpled paper with phone numbers that threaten to flit down the street with every breeze. After a seemingly prolonged visit to the head shop, Stitch re-emerges and cocks his head toward Masonic, "Let's cruise."

Plodding up Haight Street, Stitch and his little dog greet an abundance of young cronies leaning on other storefronts and swerve around parked cars to avoid adversaries. Stitch buys a couple of bananas and a mild Slim Jim for Khan, then stops in front of a small group of crunchy compadres and announces that my presence is cool.

"Let's go to the Hill," he suggests. Everyone agrees and some 40 minutes later Stitch and three similarly clad young gamins and gamines trudge off to Golden Gate Park.

"Hippie Hill" is bright and warm, and covered with clusters of woolly young men and women enjoying the afternoon sun. A group of shirtless men erratically beat drums in an informal circle along with two hollow-sounding recorders. A gaunt Rasputin character named Hippie Dan twirls through the grass, grinning with his mouth open and eyes fixed on the electric blue sky. Stitch and his friends slip into the trees and return some time later, laughing and flopping onto the grass. Stitch sighs contentedly while Khan licks cookie crumbs from his fingers.

"You'd never know it was 1999, would you?" he says with a happily preoccupied glance.

"We are not into retro trends of any kind," says Kylen Campbell, looking like Hunter S. Thompson in large, caramel-lensed shades, tight Levi's, and a green Army-issue shirt unbuttoned to the waistline. "Retro is kind of comical to us, actually."

Wearing a top hat and small, round John Lennon glasses, Campbell's partner, Erich Schienke, taps the keg and starts unloading sound equipment into Marx Meadow while a clarinet player and percussionist create music under a nearby tree, surrounded by daisies. A number of tie-dyed dilettantes spread out blankets on the grass and begin braiding each other's hair.

Since early spring, Campbell and Schienke have organized decade-themed "Smashing" soirees every month to serve as a colorful, protracted means of counting down to the new millennium. The first parties, celebrating the 1900s and 1910s, filled the San Francisco Brewing Company with corsets, brocade ball gowns, petticoats, spats, bowlers, canes, and white gloves. The '20s and the '30s found Cafe Du Nord flitting with Marcel waves, rolled garters, long pearls, double-breasted tuxedos, and bias-cut gowns. Broadway Studios visited the '40s in shoulder pads, print dresses, and snoods. And El Rio went bad with poodle skirts, crinolines, hot rods, and biker jackets. Along the way, the "Smashing" masterminds picked up benefactors like Departures From the Past: Vintage Clothing, Worlds of Fun Entertainment, Technosapien Productions, blasthaus Gallery, and B.O.L.T. (Bureau of Low Technology), and devoted fans, though not all partygoers wholly appreciate the higher aim of "Smashing."

"We hope that the methodical revisiting of each era will serve as impetus for people to say ba-bye to the bygone," says Campbell. "Though it also provides a great excuse to drink, dress up, and visit the past."

Campbell selects a Jimi Hendrix record out of a pile of faded vinyl, and folks begin to dance barefoot on the grass while others gaze into each other's eyes and pass small carved pipes. A jester shows up in an Afro wig and love beads, waving peace signs. Allen Cohen, publisher of the original underground Haight-Ashbury newspaper The Oracle, arrives in resplendent tie-dye glory to read poems and share his Haight-Ashbury in the Sixties CD-ROM. Although both were invited, Chet Helms and Lawrence Ferlinghetti do not arrive. Carlos Santana and Bob Dylan howl through the sunlight. There are flowers in our hair. Over the momentous strains of "Mr. Tambourine Man," Geoffrey Chandler, a high school graduate in 1969, attempts to wax lyrical about psychedelica, free love, and real breasts.

"If it's too loud, you're too old," jokes a long-hair in grass-colored glasses.

Despite evidence on Haight Street, the '60s were not confined to rainbows and scrimshaw. As demonstrated by a "high society" kitten in Jackie O. glasses and a black-and-white checkered minidress, the decade was also an era distinguished by space flights, mods, Vietnam, Martin Luther King Jr., the Rat Pack, Altamont, the Rolling Stones, and James Bond.

By nightfall, Campbell has traded the versatility of his Army shirt for the sophistication of a bathrobe and two champagne glasses. In the Tenderloin, at the fifth annual "Shaken Not Stirred" spy party, co-produced by Departures, Edinburgh Castle, and Bare Bones Theater, women in miniskirts and go-go boots shake it down with lads in sharkskin suits and skinny ties as the fab four from the Termites rip through marvelous sets of gregarious, early, rock 'n' roll. Over the modish undulating crowd, slides filled with mop tops and stylish cars fill a large projection screen. "Smashing" guests are treated to a free cocktail at the martini bar.

The costume contest, entered by a parade of Bond girls in villainous black latex and sheer sea-foam chiffon, goes to a large, masked man named Emmanuel Fox who dances exuberantly wearing nothing but a red, tartan loincloth and boots. The Bond contest, which includes a dizzying array of dapper men in white dinner jackets, goes to Tyler Mack, who meets his real-life Bond girl outside. And while there can be only one winner of the go-go dancing contest, it is clearly the audience that comes out ahead. And not a hippie in sight ...

"This is the '60s I love," says a go-go-booted gal in a white minidress and headband who was earlier disguised in beaded earth tones and a braided wig. "Sleek, sexy, and full of intrigue."

And smashing.

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Silke Tudor


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