Acid Heroes

March 11, 2014

San Francisco 1978

  • ADVANCE FOR NOV. 27 - FILE - San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk, left, and Mayor George Moscone are shown in April 1977 in the mayor's office during the signing of the city's gay rights bill. Friday, Nov. 27, 1998, marks the 20th anniversary of the assassination of Milk and Moscone. (AP Photo/File) ALSO RAN: 12/09/1999

Stumbled across an internet discussion about former San Francisco mayor George Moscone the other day.   “Was Moscone a cool guy or an asshole?”   Got me thinking ’bout those old days. . .

I remember Mayor Moscone as being a pretty popular figure back then.  San Francisco really fancied itself as the hip, progressive City That Knew A Better Way back then.  We were ahead of the curve and it would be years before the rest of America (the neandarthols!!) caught up with us.  And George Moscone seemed the perfect mayor for those times.  He had that hip, cool Clinton/Kennedy image.  I mean, he drove a flashy convertible sports car, was rumored to have a black girlfriend, and he had a well-stocked bar in his office at City Hall.  You could easily imagine Moscone  by mid-afternoon, calling it a day, and breaking out the martinis.  Making many a’ toasts to that beloved City By The Bay.

Moscone seemed as much a toast-master general — the convivial party host — as he did a politician.  And make no mistake, my friend, those were PARTY days back then.  The mid-1970s.

The 1970s are a slightly understood decade.  People think of “the ’60s” as this wild decade.  In fact, the 1960s was NOTHING compared to the 1970s when it came to “sex and drugs and rocknroll.”  People think of the ’60s and they think of  all these wild hippies.   But in truth, that whole business really didn’t catch on until the ’70s.  The hippie counterculture was really just a tiny fringe thing in the ’60s.  In fact, I don’t remember seeing a single long-haired hippie guy in my entire town in the suburbs of New Jersey until around 1970.  It wasn’t until Woodstock that the hippie thing first really started to catch on with mainstream American culture, and that was in late 1969 when the so-called “60s” was almost over.

The watershed moment was when Nixon resigned in the summer of 1974.  It was as if the cultural war that had been “the 60s” was finally over.  And the hippies had been declared the victors.  Nixon had resigned in disgrace, the Vietnam War had been exposed as a collosal failure and — whaddaya’ know? — the Hippies had been right all along!  So naturally it was Party Time!!!

I think another slightly misunderstood aspect of that period is this.  When people think of “the ’60s” they think of the hippies and the counterculture and the Civil Rights Movement and all that.  But basically, what it was, it was a Liberal Revolution.  Nixon, and all he represented (white, middle-class, heterosexual, Christian, Republican males) had lost.  And the Liberals had won.  And when you look at it, when you look at virtually every social change in American society from the ’60s to the present (and there have been plenty of these changes) almost all  the changes have moved America in a more and more liberal direction  (which I guess is why American society keeps getting better and better every year, he says, sardonically).

And believe me, San Francisco at that time was Party Central.  I remember hitting San Francisco for the first time in the summer of ’76 as a wee lad of 19.  And I’ll never forget that first Gay Freedom Parade I went to (well, I didn’t actually go to it, I happened to be living on the streets so I was there in the midst of it whether I went to it or not).  I remember this open-air, flat-bed truck going down Market Street with all these half-naked men chained to crucifix-like boards while big, beefy leather boys whipped them on their backs.  And everyone seemed like they were wired out of their minds on speed.  It had the air of a frantic party that had been going on non-stop for weeks, with no end in sight.

*                                                               *                                                                   *

  • WHITE/B/27NOV78/MN/STOREY - Supervisor Dan White, taken into custody by Inspector Howard Bailey, SFPD, in the basement of the Hall of Justice. White was charged with the murder of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk. Photo by John Storey CAT Photo: JOHN STOREY

All that would change — San Francisco’s smug sense of itself —  a couple years later in 1978, when ex-San Francisco supervisor Dan White snuck into City Hall with a loaded gun and gunned down Mayor Moscone and supervisor Harvey Milk in cold blood.

This incident, too, is slightly misunderstood.  I heard they recently made a Hollywood movie about this incident.  And Dan White is portrayed as a raging homophobe.  I’m sure this makes for an exciting Hollywood villain, but the truth (as usual) is slightly different.  In fact, Dan White’s campaign manager, business partner and close friend was gay.  And in fact, White had generally sided with Milk for most of his tenure as supervisor.  It wasn’t until White got into a non-gay issue dispute with Milk and Moscone that White went ballistic.  And its worth noting, White gunned down the decidedly un-gay Moscone first.  But I guess that’s neither here nor there.  Harvey Milk was the first openly-gay elected politician in America.  So his place in history was already secure. And his martyrdom cemented it. Though its likely Dan White wasn’t so much a homophobe as just your garden variety flaming asshole.

I remember I was hitching from Berkeley back to San Francisco on the night they announced the Dan White verdict.  If I remember right he only got sentenced to about 7 years, thanks to the famous “Twinkies defense”  (White claimed he had been binging on junk food prior to the shooting and his blood sugar went hay-wire causing temporary insanity).

Anyways, that night hitching to the city, I got picked up by a station wagon full of gay guys.  They were going to San Francisco for a quiet, peaceful, dignified candle-light protest, to voice their displeasure over the White verdict.  Which quickly escalated into a mass riot, with City Hall set on flames and dozens of cop cars burned to a crisp.  The cops responded in kind by storming into a Castro Street gay bar armed with billy clubs and beating the holy crap out of any gay-looking person they could find.  It was like a night of city-wide warfare.  The famous White Night riots.  (When a reporter asked some gay guys why they were destroying the city, one of them famously replied:  “I guess we ate too many Twinkies.”)

The City had already been reeling from the Jonestown Massacre, which had happened just a week before Moscone and Milk had been murdered.   So  it was like a double whammy.  Like a one-two punch in the gut.

Like Moscone and Milk, the Rev. Jim Jones had been another San Francisco institution during those times.  And the murder/suicide of 900 people (a good many of them former San Francisco citizens) was truly mind-boggling.   Jim Jones, himself,  was practically a liberal wet-dream.  He claimed to be of Native American Indian ancestry (falsely), he adopted numerous children of different races and ethnicities, and he ministered to the black community in the inner city.  His whole act had been pulled directly from the Heroic Civil Rights Leader handbook.  And in fact, I don’t remember hearing one single bad word about the Rev. Jim Jones from a single Bay Area media outlet in all those years, pre-Massacre.  In fact, I remember several hugely laudatory articles in the SF Bay Guardian — that muck-rakin’, truth-seekin’ Progressive tabloid.  (Though, in typical Guardian blowhard fashion — they had the gall to run a big article after the massacre blaming the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Francisco Examiner for “misleading” the public about Jim Jones).

Overnight, San Francisco went from being the Hip Cool city to “the Whacko Capital of America.”   San Francisco would never quite regain its equilibrium.  And, as they always say at the end of portentious blogs like this: “It was the end of an era.”





  1. You must have partied real hard to remember those events in that order. Jonestown occurred a week BEFORE Moscone and Milk were killed. Get your facts straight.

    Comment by Abner — March 12, 2014 @ 3:46 pm | Reply

    • My bad. I wrote the piece completely off the top of my head as a purely memory piece, without any Google searching. And, after 36 years, some of those memories are admittedly subjective. (And yeah, I got to cop to your too-much-partying line. Ha ha. Some of those years are a little hazier than others.) In my memory I just remember both of those things happening at the same time. Like a one-two punch. But now that you mention it, I vaguely remember Dan White claiming that the “stress” from Jonestones (along with too many Twinkies, of course) was one of the things that made him lose his shit.

      Comment by Ace Backwords — March 12, 2014 @ 5:14 pm | Reply

  2. Great post on the 70s ace. I’d like to hear more about this odd era.

    I’ve been fascinated with Jim Jones lately. He represents a political type that no longer exists. He was a socialist, a collectivist and a race mixer, but he was also a highly authoritarian patriarch.

    Check out Jackson Cowie’s “Stayin’ Alive: The 70s and the Last Days of the Working Class and Garry Wills awesome “Nixon Agonistes” which goes right to the heart of what you’re talking about.

    Comment by hardears pickney — March 12, 2014 @ 4:36 pm | Reply

  3. “race mixer”? Please tell us you’re not a racist with that segregationist rhetoric. Thanks.

    Comment by Sue Sponte — December 3, 2014 @ 4:18 pm | Reply

    • What the heck are you talking about? Where the hell did I say “race mixer”? Don’t put something in quotes if its not something I actually said.

      Comment by Ace Backwords — December 3, 2014 @ 6:10 pm | Reply

      • PS. I didnt mean to snap at you. Its just that I’m tired of people randomly throwing the race card at other people. In fact that was the very point I was making about Jim Jones. He constantly threw the race card at people. Anybody who started asking questions about what Jones was doing, he’d immediately start accusing them of being racist. And that scared off most people from investigating all his shady deslings. And allowed him to exploit countless people.

        Comment by Ace Backwords — December 4, 2014 @ 1:03 am

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