Palo-centrism and The Big Beat research
Kudos to Grateful Dead scholar and fan “Corry342” for all his work, in his blog “Lost Live Dead,” and for finding the location of the Big Beat Acid Test, at 998 San Antonio, on the Palo Alto – Los Altos border. That address is very near the new Jewish Community Center, where I have been tempted to try to put on some kind of a show — I saw the live broadcast of Sedge Thomson’s “West Coast Live” there (where I met my guru David Shields, who was guesting), and a talk by Amy Tan (I offered to manage her band). When the founding director of the new JCC pitched some kind-hearted-soul for a donation I happened to be there and stressed the notion that the performance space could and should be suitable for national touring acts — I think this one does suit. –And I’ve gone here from “palo-centrism” to “weiss-centrism” but as Shields says, when we write about Corry we are of course also writing about ourselves, inevitably and not just if you are Norman Mailer — consider this digression like the drums and space of a Dead set…)…
(more parenthetical pre-ramble…I didn’t know that Greil Marcus went to Peninsula School here, I thought of him as a Berkeley guy. Add him to the Palo Alto Rock and Roll Archive, the one that is hypothetical but springs from Mayor Bern Beecham issuing a proclamation for Jerry Garcia, in 2004, after I suggested it and only after historian Steve Staiger found Jerry in the Palo Alto Registry of 1964, as a music teacher at Dana Morgan – at 538 Ramona, eerily close to where I am sitting next door at Coupa as I write this, at 536 Ramona, and a newspaper reference to Jerry to marry Sara Ruppenthal of Palo Alto, kind of a socialite. (I almost wrote “socialist” – she did apparently, according to Corry’s crowd eventually change her name to Katz). (EDITA: Greil Marcus attended Van Auken School in Palo Alto (Ohlone), then moved, and attended Menlo-Atherton (’63) and Cal (’67) and therefore still qualifies for Writer’s Wing of Palo Alto Rock and Roll Archive, as does Gina Arnold).
Jerry Hearn I met briefly in the early 1990s when I slummed around Bay Area Action.
Palo Alto, California, for a town of under 60,000, has a surprisingly high profile. Founded to accommodate Stanford University, the town has achieved renown as the incubator of Silicon Valley, The Grateful Dead and Google, just to name a few major icons. On the other hand, while Palo Alto deserves its place as an interesting matrix of ideas, South Bay residents know that much of Palo Alto’s notoriety comes from the tendency of its residents to re-write history so that Palo Alto is at the center of every story. Palo Alto has a notoriously smug reputation (which, just to be clear, this Palo Alto native is quite proud of), looking down on the towns around it as insufficiently tasteful or cutting-edge.
Nothing illustrates Palo-centrism so clearly as the narrative of the early Grateful Dead. The story is regularly told of how Jerry Garcia, Robert Hunter and others were struggling folk musicians and beatniks in Palo Alto, met Ken Kesey and The Merry Pranksters and formed The Warlocks, participated in the Acid Tests, changed their name to the Grateful Dead and moved to San Francisco to change the world. However, surprisingly few of the seminal events took place in Palo Alto proper, and many of the important places in early Grateful Dead history actually took place in Menlo Park, the town just North of Palo Alto.
I was just fact-checking, for not the first time, the distinction between Dana Morgan and Swain’s — Dana Morgan is Coupa and Swain’s is or was the Apple Store, but not Liddicoats — think of buying a danish with your java versus Steve Jobs turning into a swan not an ugly duckling or something — there is also still on the sidewalk on Uni Ave in front of Swain’s a harp. But I also found this guy (who did the actual lifting, in two senses of the word) with an audio recording and a still photo posted to leading video format Jerry jamming or giving a lesson in 1963, plus another one of Jerry and Sara together at the Tangent.
As far as my cred as a Dead, I went to about a dozen shows, mostly at Shoreline, starting with a double-date with some high school friends going to the Greek in Spring, 1982 — I actually kind of fell asleep, believe it or not.
I am with Corry in trying to piece together the story of Palo Alto cultural highlights through time but not overstating Palo Alto’s role. There’s berries enough on both sides of the creek probably keep us both alive.