Fashion was never anything but the parody of the gaily decked-out corpse, the provocation of death through the woman.
— Walter Benjamin
Not to sound like a spent piece of used jet trash wallowing in the sordid depths of bourgeois malaise, but there was a time in the ignorance of youth when I found street fairs to be a titillating experience, a swirling newborn universe of light and fragrant beef barbecue, of buckets of cold beer and confederate hillbilly fiddle jigs co-opted by a new generation of Marxist oboists in the fight for peace, love and understanding and against plastic dinnerware. But as one grows older, as ones aqueous dreams evaporate in the sullen glare of failing stars, the once-inspired philosophy of apple bobbing and homespun candies, of wandering minstrels and poet maidens dancing in leafy meadows fringed with silver birch, has devolved to micro-targeted neighborhood schlockfests masquerading as cultural endeavor but which in fact are mere motile shrines to money, stupidity and overpriced “ethnic” food served via skewers and dixie cups.
On Sunday Haight Street was overrun precisely in this fashion by mobs of balkanized sub-tribes in various stages of drug-induced disease. Hip-aspiring young capitalists in baggy shorts shouted into cell phones about internet portals and pounds of cocaine, and walked shoulder to shoulder with beggar children with oozing nose wounds studded with industrial staples. The feral offspring snarled for alms, shoving crudely tattooed palms into the indignant faces of middle-aged hippies who were making a pilgrimage to the figurative birthplace of the Grateful Dead and the Summer of Love and Robert Crumb and patchouli oil and selfish new age hucksterism/Hillary democracy. The mendicant children were mostly ignored, which might have been the original problem that led to their current marginalization, but short of rounding them all up and shipping them to work camps in the national forests to plant trees and live on nuts, berries and the occasional spent steelhead (a policy which should be applied to all Americans between the ages of 16 and 25) the prospect of their rehabilitation is bleak. And what do they have to look forward to? Hypocritical drug laws which bust them for peddling their measly nickel bags of kine bud? “Leadership” in the form of lying cowards like Bill Clinton? A career flipping burgers at Sweet-N-Greasy? A gray cubicle in a tan office with jaundiced lighting and unbearable reminders of our pathetic mortality in the form of dismal attempts to personal ones stall with photos of family or dogs or Jerry Seinfeld or crappy little cactus plants in plastic containers that say “TEAMWORK MEANS SUCCESS” stamped in florid gold script on the side? Its obvious the legions of abrasive punkette drones are merely a symptom of the larger malformation but they’re still annoying as all get out and should be shipped off to hockey camp in Moose Jaw where they’ll learn a thing or three about crashing life’s net or is that fate's net? Or is that the tuna trawler net in which one's hopes are caught like a dolphin, an avoidable but perfectly logical crime which leads to much squealing and ugly bouts of self-effacement by whiskey sour and Exxon-sponsored PBS posturing when all you want is to amble half drunkenly down a festive sidewalk and partake of good cheer and the community of mammalkind? It's a big question, and one Mr. Gore and Mr. Bush will no doubt address.
But besides all the wild children and all the cell phone jerks and all the blissed-out Jefferson Airplane victims the Haight Street Fair was low-grade consumerism: beer vendors, third-rate falafel vendors, overpriced hot dogs, lemonade stands, and acres of “art” unfit for the walls of any self-respecting kindergarten. Indeed, there is a vague area suspected to be somewhere between Long Beach and Valhalla where art meets face painting meets macramé meets carved incense holders and the like, and where street fair artisans are properly schooled in the concepts of target audience and third-world manufacturing, and then sent like Mormon evangelists into the world to peddle their suspect wares at various festivals, Republican national conventions, and summer solstice raves. On Haight Street the suspiciously cordial merchants had spread their trinkets on card tables and within plastic tent-like hovels, and sold rubber bracelets, portraits of Janis Joplin painted onto corrugated tin, temporary tattoos, self-piercing kits, glass blown dope pipes, beadwork inspired by the made-for-TV-movie, Shaka Zulu, dinner mats woven from the pubic hair of Ralph Nader’s herd of dwarf goats, autographed 8x10 glossies of rock stars no one has ever heard of, rain sticks, sticks of gums, Japanese import tapes of Styx, posters of old stick-em-up movies like the original Scarface, Tupperware, t-shirts featuring Bob Marley, Lou Reed, Elvis, Pocahontas and Christopher Isherwood, and coasters bearing the likenesses of John Lennon, Miles Davis, Che Guevara and Spiro Agnew. Also in overabundance was music. It blared from the stage set up where Haight dead ends into Stanyan, atop which revolving bands competed for the adulation of teenagers whacked out on the illusion of freedom as experienced through the opaline giddiness Mickey’s Big Mouth provides. There were extemporaneous outbreaks of bongos, congas, flute, and even solitary electric guitars doing power chord exercises. Black market CDs and bootlegs were available, including an alluring album called “Black Elk Listens,” in which a PhD candidate at the University of Idaho recorded the sounds of buffalo running, gas-powered lawn mowers, and Paiute religious dances, and then sampled over those ambient sounds the delicate strains of the London Philharmonic Orchestra warming up in preparation of performing The Magic Flute on July 5, 1966. Many of the vendors had their own portable stereos blasting everything from Mel Torme and Herman’s Hermits, to Yanni and Black Sabbath, not to mention the Grateful Dead, the Band, the Byrds, etc., etc., which have the unfortunate effect of transporting me to the mid-70s and I’m in the parking lot of the Thrifty drugstore in Ukiah at the south end where the miniature golf used to be and my cousin Robert and I are waiting in the car for one of our fathers and its a typical Ukiah day, meaning 110 degrees and an endless stream of beat-up redneck cars zooming by and we're drinking RC cola in bottles and fidgeting with the only radio station that comes in hoping to hear something that will temporarily obstruct us from the ceaseless hostilities of our surroundings. But instead of Captain and Tenille or The Beatles singing “I Should Have Known Better” only to hear “Up on Cripple Creek.” We asked for a bit of succor, a respite from the baking asphalt and the ennui and the malevolent State Street vibe, and we got a swift kick in the mouth. It wasn’t the last time, and I guess we should have known better. But why trust anyone from Liverpool anyway?