"Those were the days…
…my friends” is how the old song went, quickly dominating the charts in England and America when Mary Hopkin’s version was released back in 1968. Produced by a young Paul McCartney on the Apple label, it can still be seen on Youtube at www.youtube.com/watch?v=gVdOQvx379Y. Check it out, and listen closely to the lyrics – it just about tells the whole story I want to tell.
The song came out during that poignant year following the Summer of Love, when the Flower Children who had flocked to California during the previous year had begun their exodus from San Francisco in that great Back to the Land Movement. A hundred thousand of them had come to San Francisco in 1967, a mass migration not seen since the Dust Bowl of the 1930s and the Argonauts of the Gold Rush a century before that. The local impact of these three major invasions of California brought a dramatic and permanent change to the land each time.
I wasn’t in Sonoma County myself at that time – I had left for school in Berkeley in 1960 and remained there until 1980, when I returned with Maria to raise our family where I had started out. But what I returned to was a county deeply changed, as changed as I had been by the events of those two steep watershed decades. A lot has been written about the Berkeley of Those Days already, but what happened here – and how what happened reawakened and reshaped certain aspects of life still lived here today in the Valley of the Moon – is worth remembering.
For instance, there’s Robert de Ropp, a prominent authority in the burgeoning human potential movement, who settled in up on Sonoma Mountain in 1961. He had met with G. I. Gurdjieff, and was a student of P. D. Ouspensky before becoming a pioneer in the study and use of psychoactive substances (read: hallucinogens). He wrote significant books on consciousness, contributing to the development of an esoteric quality still found here to this day.
Soon afterward, drawn by the legacy of Jack London, a young writer by the name of Hunter S. Thompson arrived and stayed to write his seminal and apocryphal “Nights In The Rustic.” The article, which may be read at totallygonzo.org/gonzowriting/rare-articles, promoted the Rustic Inn as a local icon of the era. He later told Chronicle columnist Herb Caen, “I’m leaving the country in about ten days... for a variety of reasons: foremost among them being Lyndon’s bloodlust and a $5,500,000 lawsuit filed against me and Cavalier magazine by the greedy lunatic Chester Womack, who runs the Rustic Inn in Glen Ellen …. Never trust a bartender.”
Those years – in particular the decade from 1963 to 1973 – may be thought of as the adolescence of our generation, a double-clutching phase of life from callow youth to seasoned adult, when convenient assumptions of the status quo were challenged, and authority was successfully questioned. But this was not a chaotic time; there was a certain coherence in the social fabric, a consistency characterized by the fertile imagination of the writers, artists, and musicians, and their friends, coupled with their casual curiosity and the courage of their convictions. Incredibly heady, transformative times.
An afternoon’s account of this great transition – from the days of Londonside Lodge out on Warm Springs Road to the nights of the Rustic Inn in the heart of Glen Ellen – is being put together by Gregg Montgomery for the Glen Ellen Historical Society. It will all take place on Nov. 2 in the old grist mill at Jack London Village, as something of a reunion. Many of the participants (and survivors) will be getting together to remember those days, tell some of their stories, and play some of their music. I’ll be in the audience – I may not have been here then but, in the immortal words of Ram Dass, I’ll be here now – continuing to live the local good life well.
Jim Shere is a psychotherapist who lives in Glen Ellen and the executive director of the Glen Ellen Historical Society and a writer and poet. Explore his website at jimshere.com.
Jim Shere is a local writer with a private practice as a counselor in Glen Ellen. You are invited to explore his website at jimshere.com, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org