'Season of the Witch': A Dive into the Tumultuous Era of Heroes, Hippies, Druggies, Deadheads and Psycho Killers
Continued from previous page
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.”