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Posts Tagged 'hippie'

Happy Birthday Wavy Gravy! Don’t Take the Brown Acid!

Wavy Gravy is an icon of San Francisco in the 60’s yet he came from New York and lives in People’s Republic of Berkeley. On the 15th of May he will turn 75 years old. For most people today they probably equate hippies with being old, but for those of us reaching middle age we still scratch our heads at the thought of old hippies. Maybe not so much as we used to.

Born Hugh Romney [hmmm…any relation to Mitt?] he received the name Wavy Gravy from of all people B. B. King in 1969 when B. B. just before taking the stage at the Texas International Pop Festival saw Hugh sitting backstage and asked him, “Are you Wavy Gravy?” to which Hugh replied, “Yes” and B. B. responded with, “It’s OK, I can work around you” and preceded to go onstage and play. Not sure who was drinking the Kool Aid that day, but methinks B. B. might have had a glass or two

I guess that was a bit of a day of revelation because Hugh decided from that day to use the name Wavy Gravy as his legal name. He had also chose to portray himself as a clown because as a demonstrator for peace he thought that it would be difficult for the Police to have it in their hearts to arrest a clown. We’re not talking the drunken, swearing after hours staggering around in misery type of clown that TV likes to portray and make people like my wife afraid of clowns, but the happy childlike things are better type of clown.

Wavy Gravy as a clown has brought about change in the world one smile at a time. He started the Hog Farm collective commune in Los Angeles in 1966 which wasn’t the free love, let’s run naked and do nothing else type of commune but a group of people who lived and worked on the hog farm of Claude Doty and turned it into a showbiz enterprise staging concerts in the Los Angeles area before the group relocated to Black Oak Ranch in Northern California in the 90’s.

Wavy also started Camp Winnarainbow which was originally started as a day care for Sufi children so that their parents could meditate and pray and wouldn’t be penalized from that because they had kids. Wavy took the kids and made them have fun by running it like a circus and teaching the kids performing arts. It’s still thriving today though looking a bit less hippie.

He even managed to influence Ben & Jerry to create a Wavy Gravy ice cream. I have to say I haven’t tried it just because it sounds like there’s gravy in the ice cream which seems wrong to me, but there is no gravy in Wavy Gravy ice cream. I suppose that came from the time he spent with the Merry Pranksters in the 60’s. What he might be best known for, at least to me was as head of security at Woodstock [the original one] he walked up to the mic one day and gave everyone the warning, “Don’t take the brown acid.” That moment was immortalized in the movie Woodstock and showed that he wanted everyone to have fun, just have fun safely.

I actually got to meet Wavy a few years ago at a place you wouldn’t expect to see a hippie at. My wife and I were celebrating our wedding anniversary and decided to go to Harris Steakhouse in the city. We liked to have early dinners when we went out to avoid having to scream at each other over our expensive meal. We were the first ones in the restaurant. My wife ordered the Prime Rib and I had the Bison steak [rare!] as we were waiting for our meals to arrive in walks Wavy and his wife Jahanara and they are seated next to us. My jaw kind of dropped because I was raised that hippies were supposed to love the earth and not want to harm animals so they were always vegetarian. Well my parents were wrong teaching me that. I got up and walked over to him and extended my hand and introduced myself. He responded sort of like a celebrity who was just trying to have dinner and not be disturbed and I picked up on that and left at the handshake because I was supposed to be there to celebrate my anniversary after all.

As we got up to leave after dessert and started walking towards the door he extended his cane to block our path for a moment and wished us both a happy anniversary and happy life together. I had never received a hippie’s blessing before, but that day just seemed brighter because of it.

Good Ole Uncle Al…

Alfred Podesta was my godfather and my mother couldn’t have picked a worse man to help me be brought up right. Uncle Al was a bohemian of sorts who hung out with friends such as Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Benny Bufano, Allen Ginsburg, Tippy Hedren and god knows who else sipping cocktails at Vesuvio’s and probably philosophizing late into the nights before leaving for his apartment on Greenwich street.

He was the founder of Podesta Divers a salvage company that had the job of digging stuff out of the bay. It was amazing some of the things he’d pull up and when he’d come to dinner on Saturday nights he would sometimes share some of the odd stuff he pulled up when he had to retrieve a car and find some other odd bits that had accumulated on the bay floor before it. Uncle Al would always show up at the house in his forest green 1965 mustang that he had until the end. He’d always have a leather jacket and a scarf around his neck and went he call prior to coming over he always ask me, “do you still have your earrings?” I’d always answer yes and he’d say, “GOOD!”

He could sometimes be a bit of a gruff old man at times, but that was do to his upbringing in Jackson, California which wasn’t any where near as urban as we have it here. He would milk cows and kill chickens for a dinner, but he had a kinder side to him even though he once threw a chair at my Mother when she was a kid for coming into the kitchen one morning without washing her hands. He liked his scotch and he’s probably the reason why I like my scotch as well. He always enjoyed his life to the fullest and even when his first wife [Pacifist Anarchist Artist Shirley Staschen Triest] left him he ended up marrying a German woman who was younger than his first son. This was a man who had some big cojones for the time.

After his first wife left him he decided to run off and live in Mexico with awhile with his son. Neither of them spoke Spanish, but figured since they could speak Italian they could get by and they did. Rather well. We still have some of the wicker furniture he sent back to my mom from Mexico and oddly enough it still works quite well in that my daughter hasn’t been able to tear it apart.

He taught me a love of the oceans and how even back in the 70’s how we were screwing them up with all the crap we were dumping into them. He never proselytised though it was always a one on one type of conversation and even me as a young kid in my 20’s he treated me as an equal.

One of my funniest memories was a news story my mom showed me that was a picture of Uncle Al in the basement of City Lights. I can’t remember if it was the opening or some party, but there he was with a joint in his hand and my mother remarked, “Gee, I never knew your Uncle Al rolled his own cigarettes.” Riiiiight…I really wanted to pat my mom on the head for that one, but she wasn’t exactly always “in the loop” as to how life worked in San Francisco. It took her awhile to figure out that his roomate on Greenwich street Tony was gay, but always noticed he had such an impeccable fashion sense. I suppose Uncle Al though he was just another bohemian type and never gave it much though.

Uncle Al was one of my all time hero’s and looking back I can tell why. He was a true San Franciscan. Just look at the old picture I have up there and you can see he was a bit of rakish individual who wasn’t afraid to speak his mind and share his hooch. Something tells me he probably knocked back a few shots with Sally Stanford. I don’t know why I thought of him today, but I really miss Uncle Al. Now I just wish we still had that old ancient diver’s helmet we used to have.

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