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'Season of the Witch': A Dive into the Tumultuous Era of Heroes, Hippies, Druggies, Deadheads and Psycho Killers

David Talbot’s book is an insightful, inspirational and frightening take on the cultural and political transformation of the U.S.
 
 
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David Talbot’s book, Season of the Witch: Enchantment, Terror and Deliverance in the City of Love, is an amazing portrait and chronicle of the potent forces of political and social liberation that heated up in San Francisco, beginning in the late 1960s, and eventually boiled over, unleashing a shocking backlash that still feels hard to comprehend, today.

Talbot captures the high-speed velocity of the transformation crashing up against the deep roots of conservative resentment. The threats of change to a longstanding way of life were so powerful that they turned a public official, Dan White, into a psycho killer. White was able to wipe out Mayor George Moscone, and gay supervisor Harvey Milk, in a murder spree at City Hall — an act that was literally cheered on by members of the SF police department. As Talbot describes, Milk and Moscone “were everything White was not: charming, politically shrewd, sexual rambunctious, and comfortable in their own skins, the dynamic duo of San Francisco’s progressive revolution.” Dan White represented a past that some were desperately clinging to, and he stepped up to act out their fears and resentments.

The book reverberates through San Francisco neighborhoods that are iconic in the American cultural lore: Haight Ashbury, the Fillmore, the Castro and North Beach. The narrative is filled with dozens of unforgettable, larger-than-life characters, from heroes like Harvey Milk, to cultural icon Jerry Garcia, to killers like White, and mass murderers like Jim Jones.

Talbot’s masterpiece covers one of the most intense 15-year periods in American history and includes the emergence of the gay liberation movement, the drug revolution — from good to bad -- the short-lived hippie explosion in the Haight, the sexual revolution San-Francisco style, including topless bars in North Beach, and the first organizing of a union for prostitutes. There was the emergence of the hugely influential SF music scene, which included Jerry Garcia, the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Grace Slick and Jefferson Airplane. And the food revolution, whose Petri dish was Alice Water’s Chez Panisse in Berkeley, but included Stars where Jeremiah Tower reigned, and the venerable Zuni Café, which still attracts full houses night after night.

It was also a period of incredible darkness and horror, far beyond the White murder, including the mass murder of hundreds of mostly poor African American San Franciscans by James Jones in Guyana; the Symbionese Liberation Army and its crazed leader Cinque; the kidnapping of Patty Hearst; and the never-apprehended Zebra killer, who terrorized neighborhoods for years. Despite the avalanche of tragedies, I loved this book for its unabashed enthusiasm for the positive, creative and often mind-blowing side of the San Francisco revolution. I marvel at Talbot’s dogged research and potent prose, which made the book such a great read.

I’ve known David Talbot since 1985, when he was an editor at Mother Jones magazine, and I was the publisher. I met with Talbot, along with my colleagues Jan Frel and Alyssa Figueroa, late this summer in his office in the classic building that houses Frances Coppola’s film operations, as well as a number of small organizations, right at the foot of North Beach.

Don Hazen: Let’s start with the all-important backlash question. Despite, or perhaps because of the powerful forces of change, some horrible forces were unleashed in the Bay Area, and then across the country. Was the backlash inevitable?

David Talbot: I think that is true. I quote Stuart Brand, who I think is a really important figure in San Francisco’s cultural history, emerged with Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters during the acid test days; created the Whole Earth Catalogue and was kind of a bridge between hippie San Francisco and the digital future. I quote him saying, “You can’t have a Ken Kesey without having a Charlie Manson. That, when everything is permitted, when everything is possible, that’s what you have.”

I think there’s some truth to that. But also San Francisco was haunted, as I write in the book, and went through much trauma because it wasn’t an island. San Francisco was this paradise for young people like myself, and not just for sort of hippies, but to soldiers returning from Vietnam, to people who were running away from terrible family situations. If you were young and broken and full of pain, you headed to San Francisco because it was seen as a place that would embrace you and take care of you.

DH: With flowers in your hair!

DT: Or not. Or with a drug addiction from Vietnam. Oliver Stone told me that when he served in Vietnam this is where he wanted to come, because they all looked at Life magazine, they all saw these pictures of beautiful young people, dancing in the park. And after the hell they’ve been through, they wanted to come here. But, it was not un-violent — they brought their problems with them. The sort of violence they’d been through, the sort of addiction problems they had, they brought to San Francisco.

And I’m just so outraged when you hear these right-wing buffoons talk about how we, the peaceniks, spat on the returning soldiers from Vietnam. It’s such a lie, and it’s a purposeful lie. And the reality is that this was the city that took care of these broken men, these broken soldiers. And I tell the story in the book about one of these people who was on death’s doorstep, and the hippie doctors from the Haight-Ashbury free clinic, literally risked their lives to go into this drug den and take this broken, dying soldier out of there and to a hospital. And that happened again and again and again. So, San Francisco had these demons because the rest of the country had them. But I think San Francisco dealt with them in a much more compassionate way than anywhere else in the country.

DH: The book has larger-than-life figures, and two of them were San Francisco mayors: Joe Alioto and George Moscone. They both have the same background: Italians, went to St. Ignatius high school. Alioto you call the benevolent dictator, and Moscone was the opposite – almost anything goes. How do they become such different people?

DT: Well, slight generational difference. George Moscone was a bit younger, and I think he was infected a little bit more by the ’60s, the liberation spirit of the ’60s. As a legislator in Sacramento, he was fighting Reagan, and he was fighting for social issues, like to decriminalize gay sex, marijuana and make abortion legal. And for the mid-'60s, that was a brave and crusading thing to do for a politician. So he was already more, even at that stage of his political career, of a liberated spirit than Joe Alioto.

Alioto was a little more traditional. He came out of North Beach, of course — very traditional family here. And he was part of the Catholic tradition that was, at the time even, sort of pro-fascist. I write about that in the book: this school of theology within the Catholic Church that he associated with as a young man. Eventually he shook that off and became a strong New Deal type of Democrat. But in terms of social issues, he was not down with homosexuality; he was not down with drugs. He actually kind of got off on going into the Haight and butting heads with the hippies. While everyone else was afraid to debate Eldridge Cleaver on TV, he took him on. So you have to kind of give him credit for being a ballsy guy. He just thought the forces were ruining his city, and he took it personally. These young militants, the Black Panthers, the hippies; he couldn’t understand them. He thought he could drum reason into them and he took them on.

DH: From where did Dan White emerge?

DT: Dan White comes more out of an Irish tradition, and so there’s not the sensuality that Joe Alioto had. So Joe Alioto could be bullheaded, he could be tyrannical, but he had that Italian sort of thing — he loved food, he loved wine, he loved women. Even though he rounded up more gays in San Francisco as mayor than New York City with 10 times the population during the same years. Still, he was kind of contradictory. Because when Allen Ginsberg, very gay, is arrested in Italy at the Spoleto Arts Festival for reading a homoerotic poem, Joe Alioto stands up because he’s one of the sponsors of the festival, because he loves the arts, and he says “I’ll represent him for one dollar.” So he’s a funny guy full of contradictions and as an older man, I know he ran a salon in his home, he wrote poetry himself, he loved the arts.

So Dan White is a much more angry guy, more tightly wrapped, full of more demons. He wanted to be his old man, who had been a heroic fireman. Never could quite live up to his old man’s standards, within himself at least. Failed at everything he did. And finally failed ultimately as a politician in San Francisco and couldn’t accept that and lashed out at the people he thought were responsible, which was this new sort of liberalism that was sweeping the city. And what I point out in the book is not only did he kill Harvey Milk, the gay supervisor, and Mayor Moscone, but he wanted to decapitate the entire liberal leadership of San Francisco. He wanted to kill, that same day, Willie Brown and Carol Ruth Silver, another progressive supervisor, but he couldn’t find them. So he wasn’t just crazy. He wanted to roll the city back to what he felt it was as a kid.

DH: I found it particularly amazing that the SFPD literally cheered him on and must have given him the message that he was serving their needs. Didn’t talk of knocking off Moscone and Milk pervade the San Francisco Police Department for years?

DT: Yes, that’s right. Well, there was graffiti in the bathrooms stating, “When do we kill the mayor?” There was a violent reaction to progressive reforms that George Moscone was doing as mayor.

DH: And the cops hated Moscone’s police chief, Charlie Gain?

DT: Charlie Gain was a very progressive reformer. And so there were murderous feelings within the police department about Moscone before Dan White finally carried out their wishes. And yes, after he did it, that day, there were Irish fight songs being played on the police radio, people were cheering him. There were jokes about Moscone and Milk going around the police department. And when White was brought in the jailhouse, people applauded him, and the cops raised money for his defense. So the city was really at war with itself. It was a violent civil war. As I write in the book, the cultural war that we all sort of know about nationally in America started here in San Francisco and it was much bloodier than anything we’ve seen at the national level.

DH: Moving away from the politics, let’s talk about the revolutions that happened in SF – sex, drugs, food, and of course, music. Tell us about the Summer of Love.

DT: One of the overarching themes in my book is that San Francisco became this kind of creative liberated territory. It was a place that, as Paul Kantner from the Jefferson Airplane said, “San Francisco is seven miles by seven miles surrounded by reality.” And that’s definitely the sense we had in those days in San Francisco — that we were inventing it as we went along. As Kantner added, “In Berkeley they were protesting everything. We just said forget about it; we’re going to create our own world here in San Francisco.”

And so all these great institutions — Bill Graham and the Fillmore Auditorium — the great bands like Janis Joplin, Santana, Big Brother, they came from that spirit: “We’re just gonna do it.” And these bands were neighborhood bands. You’d see Jerry Garcia walking down the street in the Haight, and then everyone felt they owned him — he was their brother, he was Captain Trips. There was a feeling that the community had a sort of proprietary feeling about their musicians, about their poets. And what was so wonderful about San Francisco was this alternate reality that was created, and it became inspirational to the rest of the country and in many ways to the rest of the world.

DH: And what about the self-destructive side of the music scene? The wife of James Gurley from Big Brother and the Holding Company died of an overdose; then Joplin killed herself. Was that the dark side of the scene? It seemed the Grateful Dead avoided those traps.

DT: Well, Garcia had his own drug problems and ultimately died from issues related to his addiction. San Francisco was about pushing the limits. In those days, people didn’t realize what they were playing with when it came to drugs. They felt that drugs were a catalyst for elevating consciousness. And I think as musicians, it was really important for them, those bands in particular, to keep pushing themselves higher and higher in every way. And some of those musicians could handle it. I mean Paul Kantner, again, is probably 70 years old at this point. He’s had brain surgery; he’s been near death numerous times. He’s still going strong. He’s sharp as a tack. And he did more than just share drugs. Jerry Garcia and Janis Joplin didn’t make it. So, again, not to over-quote Stuart Brand, but he said, “Look, there are casualties whenever you try to change reality, and you can’t get too sentimental about it in some ways.”

These were tough hippies. The whole notion of these hippies being soft and pushovers and wimpy is completely bullshit. These were tough people, who were willing to use their own bodies as laboratories in order to change not only knowledge in themselves, but society. So in some ways, I look back and I think, this is sort of a veil of tears, and it’s a terribly tragic story. But in other ways, we won. In terms of liberating sexuality, liberating consciousness, eating healthy food and environmental consciousness, all these things that came out of the city. I name all the things that San Francisco is responsible for: livable minimum wage, universal healthcare, gay marriage, medical marijuana, bicycle-friendly streets, curbside recycling, all the things that freak out Bill O’Reilly and the Republican Party, started here to our great pride in San Francisco. And some of them spread.

Other things flamed out — the ideas were too radical or too far ahead of their time. But a lot of what San Francisco conceived and imagined became part of America ultimately.

DH: I liked in the book where you talk about the food revolution, which seems to be one of the more enduring results of San Francisco creativity. Grass-fed beef from Niemann-Schell, organic cheese from Pt. Reyes, arugula from Green Gulch – the local, fresh, organic revolution. Can you describe how that evolved? And the Zuni Café and Jeremiah Tower, who is a big figure in the book.

DT: Jeremiah is a great figure and a typical San Franciscan — gay, fabulous, handsome, beloved by Pacific Heights socialites as well as bohemians. And he learned his craft, of course, with Alice Waters at Chez Panisse. He told me when he first came to the Bay Area in the late ’60s, you couldn’t even get good olive oil. He had to go down to the one Italian deli he could find in the East Bay to bring olive oil to Chez Panisse. There was no organic food movement. Finally, the word started to spread that they were doing new things at Chez Panisse. And some local farmers would bring them some mushrooms through the backdoor like they were selling drugs. But it really did take off. I think it was a gay movement in some ways — that great food movement. Zuni Cafe, which I think is a really important restaurant, as well.

Billy West, who founded the Zuni Cafe and died of AIDS later, was really a delightful sprite of a character, who loved food and created this great eclectic space. And that’s the thing about San Francisco restaurants that’s so great. You can have people down to their last buck, but would sit at the counter and get a burger. And you’d have the mayor there, you’d have movie stars, you’d have Mick Jagger. It was always an eclectic mix. But at the heart of it was that we wanted to work with local food ingredients — healthy, delicious — and not have it be processed and really push the limits of American cuisine. And so that started in San Francisco in the late ’60s, early ’70s, and now it’s, of course, taken over San Francisco.

DH: What about the porn business? Does San Francisco get credit — do the Mitchell Brothers get credit — for stretching the porn biz?

DT: What the Mitchell Brothers bring to porn is sort of this wacky, hippie sensibility. And instead of having these drugged-out prostitutes staring in the movies, you’d have some clean-cut college girls, who are making a little extra money, or hippies, like from the local communes, who are also picking up some money and fucking people they liked to fuck. So there was a spirit of fun in those movies that you didn’t see in the sleazier movies. They knew each other, they were like a big tribe of crazy, stoned-out hippies.

But I think what they did — well, first of all they were a little kinkier because they were willing to push the limits, had more bisexuality, they were bringing in multi-racial sex before it became hot or really conventional. So their films went viral; Behind the Green Door, made by the Mitchell Brothers, was the biggest grossing porn movie of its day. So suddenly these crazy brothers from the Sacramento Delta are these huge porn moguls. And I think they never really fully adjusted from that crazy wave they were riding.

DH: One of the brothers killed the other, right?

DT: Yeah, and he got a light sentence, and then he ended up dying not long after himself. I knew both brothers. Then they were already heavily into cocaine. The period I’m dealing with though is prior to their descent into that; it was the more fun days of the Mitchell Brothers. And then later Hunter Thompson was hanging out there. It drew a kind of literary and underground crowd.

DH: One of the things that I still can’t comprehend is how so many good people in SF supported the terrible catastrophe of Jim Jones and Jonestown; how they were in denial and how they recovered. We’re talking a range of people from Willie Brown to Angela Davis and many in between. Even after 900 people were killed, Davis was still trying to strategize how to spin that story.

DT: That’s a story about the failings of San Francisco’s liberal political establishment in the 1970s, and they have a lot to answer for when it comes to Jim Jones and Jonestown. Historically, you basically had a new wave of liberal politicians clawing their way into power during that period in San Francisco. They were the first to break down City Hall. Before then, San Francisco had been a very traditional Democratic town run by this sort of machine — candidates from the Democratic Party establishment, the downtown business establishment.

And George Moscone, when he ran in ’75, was the first mayor to really break away from that as we discussed earlier. And he was a true progressive. And he mobilized the neighborhoods, he mobilized women, minorities. And so all the people that had been excluded from power in City Hall, he broke down the doors and brought those people in with him. Harvey Milk soon followed on the board of supervisors and so on. But to do that, it was a really hard fought election. It was very narrowly won. He won by, I think, only 4,000 votes. Moscone found himself in the middle of a very tough battle, which surprised him because he thought San Francisco was just going to take him up on their shoulders to victory. But he had a tough opponent — a conservative guy, named John Barbagelata, another Italian Catholic guy. He was very traditional, very conservative, a realtor, who thought San Francisco was going to hell, thought the gays were taking over and all the crazies. And so Moscone was shocked that this guy was putting up such a tough battle.

And in the middle of all this, is this preacher Jim Jones from Ukiah, originally from Indiana, with his multi-racial congregation — it’s a progressive’s dream — most heavily African American, people of all ages. Whenever they needed him at a demonstration or a picket line or to canvass in a district, his buses would pull up and hundreds of his people would come out. He provided the troops, he provided the votes, and he probably provided more of the votes than he should have, because there’s lots of evidence that he basically helped Moscone steal the election by busing people from one district to the next and having them vote more than once. So Jim Jones, Jr., who I interviewed, his adopted son, proudly still takes credit for that because he thinks Moscone was the right guy.

And so the problem is once someone helps deliver an election for you that way, you owe them.

DH Tell us more about Jim Jones.

DT: Jim Jones was a sinister and conniving character, and he made sure Moscone knew that he owed him. And to make sure that he knew he owed him, he knew how to play on these politicians’ weaknesses. And one of Moscone’s vulnerabilities was a weakness for young, African-American women. And he was notorious for that around town. He and Willie Brown sort of formed their own little rat pack. He was happily married, in many ways, to Gina Moscone, but he had a separate life, a night life, and that was his weak spot.

And according to one story, told to me by People’s Temple survivors I interviewed, Moscone would be invited as mayor to a People’s Temple event. Jim Jones would make sure that there was a young African-American female member of his congregation escorting Moscone around, hanging out with him. They would spend the night together, and then Jones would call him up the next day and say, “Mayor, I’m so glad you had a great time last night. I want you to know that the woman you spent the night with is underage, but don’t worry, we have your back, we’re going to take care of you and we know that you’ll take care of us.”

And what happened was Moscone felt compelled to appoint Jim Jones as head of the housing authority, which meant in effect he was the biggest landlord in the city, a very powerful position, where you have a lot of patronage. So Jones continued to amass more and more power within the city. So Willie Brown was compromised by Jim Jones. The San Francisco Chronicle refused to do critical coverage of the People’s Temple, even though one of their reporters, heroically, was digging up stories and finding out the truth about the abuse within the church and everything that Jones was doing to his own congregation. The whole city, in some ways, sort of looked the other way while Jim Jones ran amok.

DH: And what Patty Hearst and the SLA? My funny little connection to that is that Steve Weed was a college classmate of mine — he was both a pole vaulter on the track team and the campus pot dealer -- and right, his name was Weed. He became Patty Hearst’s boyfriend and then she was kidnapped.

DT: Patty Hearst and the SLA, yeah. That was an insane cult that basically hijacked the Bay Area Left.

DH: The killing of Marcus Foster was another act of true insanity during that time.

DT: Complete insanity. He was basically a progressive black educator in Oakland trying desperately to save the Oakland City schools. And, for whatever bizarre reason, Cinque, leader of the SLA, decided he was the people’s enemy. They gun him down and that begins the mad spree of the SLA. I think Cinque was a product of Frankenstein who went awry, a product of the criminal justice system in California. He was a snitch early on for the LAPD and for the California law enforcement in Los Angeles. He might have been the guy who supplied guns that were used to kill Black Panthers in an infamous incident on UCLA’s campus in the ’60s. He was a gunrunner. And they finally had to send him to prison because he was out of control, and he tried to knock over a bank in LA. And he ends up finally at Vacaville Prison, which was notorious at the time for sort of brainwashing programs.

And he falls into the hands of the guy, Colton Westbrook, who was a former CIA employee, who had been assigned at one point to work in Southeast Asia — he was involved with the interrogation of and tortured Vietnamese prisoners in Vietnam. So this guy, he shows up and Cinque sort of falls under his influence. They’re running a program together in Vacaville. And then he mysteriously is allowed to escape from Soledad, the high-security prison in central California where he’s been transferred. There’s just so many weird mysterious things about this character Donald de Freeze a.k.a. Cinque.

And so, I think what happened was that he was being groomed to do further sort of police work as an informer and was allowed to escape. I think it went to his head, this whole sort of idea that he’s going to be a revolutionary leader, that white women will sleep with him. He became a megalomaniacal guy, who I think then went off reservation. And I think the law enforcement was freaked out more than anyone else, and they finally had to destroy him. They were never going to let him be captured alive. Of course, he died in this blazing inferno in Los Angeles — the shootout, which Rolling Stone magazine said really should be called a shoot-in because all the fire was pouring in.

That was the thing about the ’60s and ’70s. There were so many strange things like that that were never fully explained. And some of these things actually had this very deeply, damaging affect on these new movements that were trying to change the world. And so the prisoner rights movement, the Civil Rights movement in California, the Black Liberation movement — all got hijacked by these very strange characters. I think a lot of it was the result of undercover police activity that was never fully acknowledged. We know about the FBI program COINTELPRO. I think a lot of this has to do with that. There was a notorious CIA shrink named Louis “Jolly” West, who pops up in American history in these weird ways. The CIA pretty much have a monopoly on LSD experimentation, in the early days.

DH: Which Marty Lee’s book exposed.

DT: Yes, Marty Lee’s great book, very important book, Acid Dreams. And so he’s in that book, and he’s in my book. Jolly West, was at the University of Oklahoma, doing weird LSD experiments. He kills an elephant with an overdose of LSD.

Then Jack Ruby shoots and kills Lee Harvey Oswald, the accused assassin of JFK. Then Jack Ruby starts to say some troubling things in jail — that he’s part of a bigger plot, that if you got him out of Dallas, where he feels his life’s in danger in jail there, he’ll talk. And so the CIA, for some reason, brings in Dr. Jolly West to interrogate Jack Ruby. And so there he is, and then years later, he pops up at the Summer of Love in San Francisco. He has a CIA safe house in upper Haight, where kids are being brought in. He’s dosing them with all sorts of bizarre, experimental drugs. And many of these hard, experimental drugs were beginning to wipe out the Haight, like STP and other drugs that are literally being cooked up in military laboratories.

DH: Is he still alive?

DT: No, he’s dead. And finally he appears in my book with Patty Hearst. And so when Patty Hearst is arrested and put on trial for collaborating with the SLA, her captors, her parents are trying to figure out the right defense and they hire the original SF lefty lawyers, the Hallinans, but they fire them and bring in F. Lee Bailey, who’s a celebrity defense attorney from Boston, and he, somehow, hires Jolly West to be her shrink. And they create a whole story and a whole defense that she was brainwashed, Red Chinese-style, by the SLA. And Jolly West was the creator of that story, so it’s very weird how Jolly and Westbrook kept popping up.

DH: One of the obvious elements of the book is the dominance of male figures — leaders, archetypes and crazy men. Where were the women?

DT: Well, Dianne Feinstein I think is the most significant female character in the book, and I give her a shout-out. Some people on the Left have been critical that I’ve done that, that I was too nice to her, because they see her as a fortress for corporate politics and partly responsible for selling the city out to developers and real estate interests. That’s all true, and I acknowledge that in the book.

But the most significant thing she did for the city was to stabilize it after all the traumas. And any objective observer has to acknowledge that. Even people on the Left like Sheriff Hennessey, who was a great progressive public official in San Francisco for many years, when I interviewed him, said she was a masterful mayor — that she ran the city in a really firm but sensitive way, which the city needed. She was hands-on. She demanded a kind of responsibility and diligence from every department head. She was just a great manager, and after everything the city had been through, she was the right mayor at the right time.

And she’s a complicated character, too. I write about the weird family she came from: her mother was mad and made her childhood a living hell. She emerged from that, this tough, strong woman. A lot of people thought she was an Iron Lady type and all that. She was the Margaret Thatcher of San Francisco in some ways. But that’s what the city needed at that point.

DH: I noticed that the New York Times book review (where the quite conservative Sam Tannenhaus is the editor) assigned a review to Ellen Ullman, who critiqued your book from a quasi-feminist point of view, which I personally disagreed with. Much, though not all, of the energy from the women's movement e.g. came from the East Coast, not from SF, where Gloria Steinem, Robin Morgan and many others were dominant.

DT: There were certain tribes that moved San Francisco’s history forward more than others in the years that I was writing about, from ’67 to ’82. And any objective person, who studied that era or lived through it like I did, would have to say that San Francisco’s history was changed primarily by gay activists, that radical lesbians did not play a primary role in those years, and that the main sort of activism in terms of minority politics was in Asian San Francisco, in Chinatown.

And that activism, as I write in the book, ultimately led to the first Chinese-American mayor, Ed Lee. La Raza activists, as significant as they were, were not the sort of primary movers and shakers in terms of the overall city politics. It was the fight for the Fillmore, and the black community; it was the fight for the Haight-Asbury that were primary battles. No historian or writer can give equal weight to every group or tribe within a city when you write a history. You have to pick and choose how you’re going to tell your story.

The fact is there were tribes in [Ullman's] mind, that were the most important to her, for whatever reason. But that’s her book, not my book. She was not willing to take my book on its own terms. And as a reviewer, if you go into the review with a preconceived notion like that, saying, “His San Francisco is not my San Francisco,” and you don’t acknowledge that in some way that she has some kind of ax to grind about that, you’re being dishonest. And she was dishonest in not acknowledging her connection to Salon and to me as the founder of Salon. We helped make her career as a writer. We discovered her, we gave her a platform, and we gave her a book award for one of her books. She came to the office to meet with editors. When you have that kind of connection to the person you’re reviewing, it’s professional and your responsibility to either bring it to the attention of the Book Review editor, or to recuse yourself. And for her not to have done that was irresponsible. 

DH: Let's end up with this quote from Cleve Jones: "I think every city has a soul, every city is unique and special. But for San Franciscans, I don't think there could ever be another place to call home. And a lot of it has to do with what I saw that night: with this ability to suffer horrible and dreadful events, earthquakes, civil turmoil, assassinations, and to not only endure but create something beautiful from it."

So that’s the voice post-Harvey Milk's death. Is that a fair representation?

DT: For me, that kind of sums up the book in a way. And Cleve is a great voice for that because he’s someone who went through the trauma and the glory. He was this kid who shows up on the streets in the Castro and is taken under the wing of Harvey, who probably thought he was cute. And Cleve is this kind of force of nature. And he became sort of the embodiment of Harvey’s spirit. And so when Harvey dies, he literally inherits the bullhorn — Harvey had given him his bullhorn that he used to rally the troops all the time, in all those demonstrations in the streets.

And so Cleve talks about the devastation that fell over the community and the whole city after those double assassinations and he thought that was it — the end of the dream. But he’s going to try one more time to rally the troops and march down to City Hall after Harvey and Moscone are killed. And he has the bullhorn out, and he just sees, suddenly, people from all over, and not just gays, but all different races, all different ages, all converging on Market Street to march. And he realizes, the city does have a soul and it has not been killed. And then San Francisco keeps rising again and again after the earthquake, after assassinations, after riots, after murder sprees like Zebra and Zodiac.

And that’s, I think, the true spirit that I tried to convey in the book of ultimately this triumph, after everything the city’s gone through. But it’s a triumph not just for the city, but for its values, San Francisco values.

DH: How are those values represented today? 

DT: Most recently, when President Obama acknowledged that people of the same sex have the right to marry. Gay marriage was fought out first here in San Francisco — people died for that right, literally. So San Francisco values are still very relevant. They crop up in every presidential race, they're used as a whipping board by the Right, and I wish that more Democrats at the national level would, instead of running away from those values, would say these are the right principles and we’ll take a stand on them. But more and more people are just coming to accept those values because they see that they are decent, fundamentally decent. 

Don Hazen is the executive editor of AlterNet.

 
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