Acid Heroes

September 30, 2014

Sproul Plaza 2014 — Sproul Plaza 1994

Filed under: Backwords from Ace — Ace Backwords @ 8:17 pm
Tags: , ,
The town of Berkeley is full of ghosts for me.  I’ll give an example.

Last night I was passing through Sproul Plaza on the Berkeley campus around midnight.  The place was dark and deserted.  And I was alone and friendless, like I usually am these days. And this memory suddenly flashed across my mind.  A somewhat painful memory.  What do they call it?  Poignant (“painful touching” — I still remember the definition from 8th grade English class). I remembered sitting on the steps of this very Plaza back in 1994.  Twenty years ago.

It was a lazy summer evening and we were all lazing around the steps.  Me. English Tracey. Sunshine and Luna — the teenage hippie sisters (17 and 19) from Orange County.  Some others.  It was one of those in-between moments where nothing much is happening.   I was sort of noodling around on my guitar. And we were bantering back and forth, making jokes and small talk.  English Tracey and Sunshine were sort of the Golden Couple of Telegraph Avenue during that period.  And they had sort of an off-again, on-again relationship.  At one point they went off into the bushes to see if their relationship was still on.  Luna danced around for awhile down by the fountain.  Just one of those warm and pointless summer evenings.


None of us really gave much thought to the future, aside from what we were going to do that night or that week or maybe that month.   Tracey and Sunshine were planning to head out to the Rainbow Gathering on the 4th of July.  I was in the middle of completing the recording of the Telegraph Avenue Street Music CD.  And Sunshine was casually inviting people to a party at the Chateau later that night — this sort of notoriously hip campus boarding house that she was crashing at (the campus and the street scene were more entwined back then). We were young and it felt like we had all the time in the world.  This endless expanse of time.  Death was far, far away back then.  We thought it would last forever.  It’s only when you blink your eyes and you’re suddenly old that you realize that life is a helluva’ lot shorter than you thought it was when you were young.

I was 37.  But a fairly youthful 37.  I still hung out effortlessly with the young crowd and was accepted as one of them.  I was still on that side of the line.  It wasn’t quite yet to the point of:  “Who’s that creepy old guy hitting on the young chicks.”  Ha ha. I was always embarking on these grand artistic projects back then.  I was sort of like Don Quixote embarking on these mad, imaginary crusades.   And I always had a big bunch of fellow-travelers hanging with me.  Paul the Pillar used to say — and probably with a bit of jealousy — “Hey Ace, you ever notice how whenever you sit down somewhere a big group of people immediately congregates around you.”  And it was true.  I was kind of in the center of this very dynamic scene of people back then.  And people like Tracey, Sunshine, Luna and me could even be considered part of the cool crowd (believe it or not, the street scene has it’s cool crowd, too, just like high school and Hollywood and all the other scenes).



But there’s something particularly depressing about growing old on the street scene.  When I was a young man, there were plenty of people like me on the street scene.  We were sort of young adventurers.  We weren’t on the streets out of desperation or loserdom.  But because we got off on the excitement, the endless party of the streets, and the endless expanse of free time to devote to our art and our experiments with “alternate lifestyles” (as they say).

There were plenty of brilliant writers and painters and poets and musicians back then.  The Berkeley street scene of the ’90s reminded me a lot of Andy Warhol’s “Factory” scene back in the ’60s.  The same mixture of genius artists, bohemians, people interested-in-the-arts, street people, druggies, and outright lunatics.  And our scene was mostly outdoors, right on the streets.  Which made it even wilder.

But as you get older, the cool people get weeded out of the street scene.  The ones that have something together usually move on to jobs, careers and families.  And only the dregs are left behind.

Of course there were also a lot of young ne-er-do-wells on the scene back then, too.  But you don’t notice them so much when you’re young.  Because when you’re young, most of us hadn’t accomplished much with our lives yet.  We mostly just had our grand plans for the future. And the young ne-er-do-wells had plenty of grand plans, too. It was only when they started pushing into their 30s that you realized none of their plans would ever pan out.  That they were mostly spent forces.  But when you’re in your 20s, the young ne-er-do-wells still have sort of a grace period.  Because you never know.  Maybe their lives will amount to something.   But eventually it becomes like what Lenny Bruce said; “Nothing sadder than an aging hipster.”


And the same thing holds true for all the young druggies and drinkers.  When you’re young, it’s still just a “party” because you’re young and strong and invulnerable.  But eventually, most of them, as they aged, would burn out and fade away.  And that’s sad to witness. But all that grim shit was far, far away back in the summer of 1994. . .

I still vividly remember that lazy night.  In part because I recorded a couple of hours of it on my tape recorder.  I was into that kind of thing back then.  I was always recording things.  Every now and then I’ll come across that cassette tape and listen to 10 or 15 minutes of it.  And it’s weird, like a time capsule, that transports me back to that particular moment in time and space . . . and to relive it as each moment unfolds.   But maybe that’s one of the reasons I’m so haunted by my past.  Because, as an artist, I spent so much time recording and preserving my past.

But anyways, as I walked past the steps of Sproul Plaza last night, it was like I could almost see the ghosts of Tracey, Sunshine, Luna and me.  Lazing on the steps.  Back in 1994.   Just a moment in time. Gone gone gone.





  1. when I saw this post I was thinking Jerry Rubin, Dick Gregory or maybe Mario Savio, you know the ghosts of the whole Berkeley free speech movement but I can relate to what you wrote. Reminds me of the scene in Peacock Park in Coconut Grove when it panned out in the 90’s.

    Comment by spacehippie — October 2, 2014 @ 11:49 pm | Reply

  2. Funny thing about “scenes”. Everybody walking around looking for it. Until one of us sits down and the rest catch up. I’ve noticed there is no scene without setting.

    Comment by Dan McMullan — January 25, 2017 @ 3:07 am | Reply

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