A time capsule back to the Berkeley Inn

220px-Leo_Kottke,_John_Fahey_&_Peter_Lang (2).jpg

Some songs are like time capsules. They take you back to a period of time. And when you hear them again, decades later, it’s like all the memories of that time are somehow encoded in the music. And when you hear it again you might start crying and crying and never stop.

I used to listen to this song on this one album by Peter Green in the summer of 1982. I was staying with my friend Duncan at his hotel room in the Berkeley Inn. And my big dream At the time was to publish an underground newspaper. And as I worked on laying out the lay-out pages for what would be TWISTED IMAGE #1 on Duncan’s desk — rubber cement, x-acto knife, white-out, etc, the tools of the trade — I used to listen to this song over and over. “When Kings Come Home” was the title. It’s an instrumental, just one guy playing an acoustic guitar. And It was like soothing background music that helped me concentrate on the work at hand.

Duncan had this dusty little hotel room. It must have been about 20-feet-by-20 feet. It had a big brass bed, and a desk, and a sink, and one window that looked at to the back corners of Telegraph Avenue. And that was it. I can still see Duncan’s hotel room clear as a bell. I even remember his room number. 414. On the fourth floor. And he had a bunch of posters on his walls. A beautiful blue photo of a whale leaping out of the water. A poster of Princess Diana (go figure — Duncan was English). And he had xeroxes of all the covers of his underground zine TELE TIMES on the wall behind his bed. Every time he published a new issue he’d immediately scotch-tape a Xerox of the latest cover on the wall. Like a trophy. I think he had about 25 covers on his wall at that point. All posted in chronological order. Like a history of his on-going accomplishments.

And Duncan also had this cheap record player. It was just a box that folded out with a handle and a tinny little amplifier built into it (if you were a kid in the 60s you probably had one of those record players in the days before stereos). And he had a stack of records. I remember he had “Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Simon and Garfield. And, oddly an album by Laverne and Shirley — the TV sit com actresses — singing the rock songs from the’ 50s. That was one of his favorites.

And he had this one too. It was a quirky compilation album by John Fahey and Leo Kotke and Peter Lang. And I used to play it over and over back in June of 1982 in Duncan’s little hotel room.


Decades later I was trying to remember what that one particular song was that I used to play over and over back in 1982 in Duncan’s dusty little hotel room. All I remembered was that it was a compilation album with John Fahey. I couldn’t remember the song title or the album title or even who did it (Peter Lang). Finally — thanks to the wonder of YouTube — I was finally able to find it. And as I listen to it now, it’s like I’m back in Duncan’s hotel room and it’s 1982 and we were young and everything was starting. And then in a blink of an eye it all came and went.


When Kings Come Home: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LocAHVcuROU

The burning of the Berkeley Inn

Going, going, gone.

The Berkeley Inn 1986.

The top photo is from right after the first fire. Almost certainly arson. It started mysteriously in a wing of the building where no people were living. So investigators were baffled as to what could have started the fire. Which is why they strongly suspected arson.

Fortunately the firefighters were able to save the building before there was substantial damage. As you can see from the top photo. So all the tenants were temporarily housed in motels. And plans were made to tentatively repair the damage.

But then — wouldn’t you just know it — a SECOND fire broke out. Even more mysterious than the first fire. Since there were no tenants in the building at the time, and all the electricity had been cut off. As you can see from the middle photo the building was completely gutted by the second fire.

And the bottom photo shows the remains of the Berkeley Inn, right before it was completely demolished by the wrecking crew.

But there’s a happy ending to the story. At least for the owner of the Berkeley Inn. Who got a big insurance settlement after the Berkeley Inn was demolished. And lived happily ever after. The End.

How I met the famous poet Julia Vinograd


Oddly, the first time I met Julia Vinograd I scared her.

It was 1978 and she lived in a little hotel room on the fourth floor of the Berkeley Inn. My friend Duncan lived down the hall, and often published her poems in his zine TELE TIMES. He also published my underground comix in TELE TIMES.

So one afternoon, after visiting with Duncan, I was getting into the elevator. And Julia got in at the same time.

So I introduced myself. I figured we were both hip underground artists getting published in Duncan’s hip underground zine TELE TIMES. I happened, at the time, to be holding in my hands one of my hip underground comix. I had brought the original art up there to show Duncan. It was some weird, bizarre underground sex cartoon that I had just hacked out. But I figured Julia was a fellow hip bohemian artist. So I showed it to her as we rode on the elevator together.

She took one look at the cartoon. And she instantly had a horrified look on her face. She moved to the farthest end of the elevator. And wouldn’t look at me or talk to me for the rest of the elevator ride.

And when we finally got to the first floor, she bolted out of that elevator and headed for the front door as fast as she could, never once looking back.

Ha ha. What can I say? I was 22 and not particularly bright and just figuring out how to present my artwork to a breathless public.




Duncan and Friederike




At some point in the 1980s, this somewhat crazy but well-meaning young woman named Friederike fell in love with my pal Duncan. She stalked him for many years, to no avail (Duncan didn’t want anything to do with her).

Then in 1986 she finally got her man. Duncan lost his home at the Berkeley Inn when the owner torched the building in an obvious case of arson. Friederike came to the rescue and invited him to move into her apartment. Which he did. And they ended up having a romantic relationship that went on for many years.

Friederike was also a very talented painter. This is one of her paintings titled “The Burning of the Berkeley Inn.” She painted it from a photo of her and Duncan sitting in front of the Berkeley Inn shortly after the fire. Duncan has all of his boxes of possessions behind him, as they’re waiting for a friend to drive by in their pick-up truck and take them back to Friederike’s place.

I suppose you could title this photo: “Friederike Gets Her Man.”


Telegraph Avenue 1982


The first time I really got a taste of the Telegraph scene was in the summer of 1982 when I moved back to Berkeley from Eureka. For 3 months I lived with my friend Duncan in his dusty little hotel room on the 4th floor of the Berkeley Inn. The famous poet Julia Vinograd lived down the hall. And all sorts of weird and interesting people lived there.

The Telegraph Avenue scene was like a little village back then. A town within a town. And people talked about “the Telegraph community” with a straight face. There was cheap rent all over the place (Duncan was paying $110 a month for his room). So you had all sorts of people living there. Bohemians, artists, writers, people working low-income jobs, welfare cases, street crazies, druggies, etc.

You’d go out on the Ave and you’d see the same people every day. Hanging out at the coffee shops and the street corners and Sproul Plaza. And I guess that’s what gave it it’s “community” feel. There was a guy who rented out a little office on Bancroft and published a regular Telegraph newsletter — I forget the name but the sub-title captured the flavor of the scene: “Struggle and giggle.” And my pal Duncan published a little magazine: TELE TIMES: Telegraph Avenue’s Tight Little Monthly. And people on the scene were constantly launching new and weird artistic ventures, utopian ventures, revolutionary ventures. You name it.

Just about every street vending spot was jammed with street vendors back then, from Dwight Way to the campus. Selling their colorful hippie-esque arts and crafts. And tourists would flock to the Ave specifically to get a taste of that.

Most of the street vendors are gone now. There’s just an ever-dwindling hand full of oldtimers.

And most of the places that made Telegraph Avenue special are long gone too. Cody’s Books. The Med. Fred’s Market. Mario’s. Comics and Comix. Cafe Innermezzo. Shambala Books. Universal Records. The Reprint Mint. Shakespeare Books. And, of course, the Berkeley Inn.

Nowadays the scene is mostly just made up of the ever-growing hordes of college students. And homeless people. Which doesn’t make for much of a scene. But that’s the way the cookie crumbled.

It’s hard to believe it was 35 years ago. 1982. But when I do the math I guess it’s so. And most of the people from back then — “the Telegraph people” — are long gone, too. Which makes me wonder why I’m still here. . . I guess I’m too dumb to figure out anywhere else to go.



It’s funny the things you remember. . .



Yesterday somebody posted on the internet this cover from an old issue of Twisted Image from back in 1982.  And so I was looking at it last night.  And it’s funny the things you remember . . .

The thing I remember from that period. I was so broke I couldn’t afford the real Letra-set type fonts for the headlines. So I made xeroxes of the fonts from a sample catalogue. And cut out each individual letter and glued them on the paper to make all the headlines. Ha ha. Sheesh.  (If you look closely you can see the letters aren’t lined up exactly straight.)
And whenever I look back at my past I’m always struck by how fast it all went by.  It’s like, one moment you’re in the middle of this dynamic scene.  And then the next moment, you blink your eyes and it’s all gone.  It’s all ancient history from a bygone era.
Whenever I think of the past, I always get this image in my head of this train that’s behind me, barreling down the tracks in reverse.  And every day the train gets farther and farther behind me . . .   There goes 1982, barreling down the tracks.  And all the people, places and scenes from 1982 keep getting farther and farther away from me.  Until  finally they all vanish from view and are gone.  Just like entire civilizations have come and gone and are now completely forgotten.  Just like entire Universes disappear in a blink of an eye.  Swallowed up by the endless expanses of Eternity . . .
And yeah, I also remember those Letra-set xeroxes.   3-cents a copy back in 1982 . . .

“The humies!!!”


I spotted this guy on Shattuck today who I haven’t seen in years.  Let’s call him Blaine.  I first met Blaine in 1978.  He was a friend of my friend Duncan.

Blaine’s most distinctive character trait was a nearly total disgust and hatred for the entire human race.  You know how people come up with derogatory words for different groups of people?  Niggers, Wops, Fags, Spics, etc.  Well, Blaine came up with a derogatory word for the entire human race;  “Humies.”

Blaine would often launch into these angry diatribes about the latest despicable doings of the human race, or the latest indignities that he himself had been forced to suffer at the hands of people.  And he’d usually end his diatribe by spitting out the phrase:  “The humies!!!”  And in a tone that implied it was virtually impossible for him to truly express in words just exactly how repulsive the human race was.

Among Blaine’s many peculiarities:  Blaine went to college at UC Berkeley in the ’60s.  I believe he was a philosophy major, oddly enough.  But in 1969 he dropped out when he was only 5 or 10 credits away from getting his degree.  Go figure that one.

Duncan and this other guy, I forget his name, were Blaine’s only two friends on the planet.  The only two people he could actually sort of stomach.  He had some kind of strange covey-hole arrangement where he slept at night.  And his mother sent him a small sum of money every month to help him survive.  That was pretty much the extent of his interactions with the human race if he could help it.  I actually met Blaine’s brother once.  He worked for a big bank in San Francisco, and as far as I could tell, he was completely normal and socially well-adjusted.  It always struck me how differently siblings can turn out, even when they shared fairly similar DNA and social-conditioning.  Such is the mystery of the human psyche, and the strange paths our lives all take.

Blaine was fairly normal looking in a bland way.  Light brown hair pasted across his forehead like a bad wig, and wire-frame glasses.  His face was incredibly pale, as if he avoided sunlight as much as possible.  And his face had sort of this waxy tone, like a mask even.  And he definitely had constructed a mask that he presented to the world.   In his interactions with people he was unfailingly polite and cordial, in a bland, stilted way.  For he strove to hide the contempt he felt for virtually everyone.  Though his mask would sometimes start to crack if the interaction wasn’t completed as quickly as possible.

Another of Blaine’s oddities.  He always wore this jacket.  This green jacket made out of synthetic material and fairly well-padded.  He never took his jacket off, indoors or outdoors, no matter how hot or cold it was.  And he used all the pockets to store his many personal affects, almost like a backpack.  But it more reminded me of a turtle’s shell.  I think Blaine wanted to insulate himself, physically, from the rest of humanity in any way he could.

There was also something robotic about Blaine.  For years he would always meet up with Duncan at Duncan’s hotel room in the Berkeley Inn on the same days of the week, at the same time, and he’d stay for the exact same amount of hours (around 3 or 4 if I remember right).

My most vivid memory of Blaine in my mind’s eye is the picture of him sitting at Duncan’s desk, where he usually hung out, with his back to me and Duncan.  He’d be methodically drinking the 6-pack of tall-can Budweisers that he always brought with him.  “Mass quantities,” as the Coneheads used to say.  And he’d start out the afternoon fairly bland and innocuous. But after every beer his tone would get a little more harsh and shrill and angry.  As his real self starting seeping out from behind his mask.  And he’d look over his shoulder at me and Duncan — with this crazed leer on his face, his thin skin stretched tightly across his skull — as he ranted and raved about the latest doings of those despicable “humies!!!”

I was publishing a punk rock tabloid at the time.  So I once gave Blaine a copy of the latest issue as a present.  Later he thanked me in his own inimitable way:  “I really appreciate you giving me a copy of your paper.  I use the pages as a paper towel when I’m making my sandwiches.  So I found it very useful.”   It was Blaine’s way of reiterating his constant mantra:  That the human race, and virtually everything it produced, was beyond worthless.

I remember one time, after one of Blaine’s anti-human diatribes, I couldn’t resist.  “But don’t forget, Blaine, you’re a human, too.”  He did not like that line of reasoning one fucking bit.

Finally, Duncan got tired of Blaine’s act.  One afternoon he left a note at the front desk for Blaine to pick up when he showed up to visit Duncan.  The note basically saying: “I’m tired of your act.  Our friendship is over.  Good-bye.”  Blaine turned on his heels and left, never to return.  A typically robotic ending to Blaine’s robotic existence.

But I’ll tell you one thing that surprised me when I caught a quick glimpse of Blaine today when he passed me on the street.  He looked almost exactly like he looked back when I first saw him 37 years ago.  Hasn’t aged hardly at all. And he was still wearing the same type of jacket.  Somehow, I always expected that Blaine would’ve been worn down over the years by the harshness of his psychology, and by the sheer narrowness of his existence.  But I guess not.  Seemed to be doing quite well for a humie.