Make Your Own Kind of Music

In 1968, my parents moved to a flat on Fell Street in San Francisco. This was the epicenter of the counter-culture movement. I was four, so I don’t know why we moved there. My parents were definitely anti-establishment, but were adamantly anti-drug use. The neighbors above us were band members from Big Brother and the Holding Company. We bought a big Victorian mahogany bed for my grandmother from one of the Grateful Dead guys. I went to concerts across the street in Golden Gate Park’s panhandle. I went to a volunteer co-op intercultural and interracial pre-school. After my father died, I inherited his Fillmore posters. He had them tacked up on the wall in his house with thumbtacks.

I rebelled. I didn’t get older and act out with loud music and anti-social behavior. I recall that I refused to wear jeans when I was five. I wore only khakis or trousers. I didn’t want long hair. I liked my grandfather’s clothes. And it only got worse as I grew older. By the time I was in high school, I was getting regular lectures from my parents about my bad attitude. I was told,  “Your are spending too much time on school activities. There is no need to be so conformist.”

My mother never made apologies about being non-traditional. She made it clear to us that they she was our mother, not our friend. But she was and continues to be endlessly kind. She taught me to value creativity, eccentricity, and beauty. She was direct and pointed out that she wasn’t the kind of mother who waited at home and made cookies. My friends had mothers who made fresh cookies, and insisted on being called by their first names. I’m glad I didn’t. My mother demands a level of respect that would make calling her “Sylvia” seem far too familiar.

Gentle people with flowers in their hair

This is San Francisco by Miroslav Sasek

For some reason, people tend to assume I’m from Boston and was raised in a strictly Calvinist New England setting. If you’ve seen a recent speaking engagement by me you know that’s not true, and you probably left with bad dreams for weeks. When I was four, my parents moved to San Francisco to live in the Haight (Haight-Ashbury). This was 1968 and the Summer of Love was still in full bloom. Our upstairs neighbors were members of Big Brother and the Holding Company, Janis Joplin’s band. My mother bought a grand Victorian bed from one of the Grateful Dead guys and gave it to my grandmother as a Christmas gift. My parents were free spirits, which is the opposite of me. I have several items from that time: my Dad’s Hendrix records, some Richard Brautigan books, a collection of Fillmore posters, and the book, This is San Francisco.

The book shows some of San Francisco’s famous spots: Fisherman’s Warf, Coit Tower, and the cable cars. But, I love the less famous but specifically local images: the maze of streetcar and bus wires, the flower stand shaped like a cable car, and the Chinese styled street lamps of Chinatown. There is a Jesuit saying, “Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man.” This certainly must be true visually. Even with years at art school, and over two decades working in the design industry, I look at these images and say, “Yes, this is right.”

This is San Francisco, Miroslav Sasek

This is San Francisco, Miroslav Sasek

This is San Francisco, Miroslav Sasek

This is San Francisco, Miroslav Sasek

Sean, Panhandle Park, 1968