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Sunday, January 1, 2017

New Year's Wail/Whale: The Quiet (?!) Before the Storm

Janis Joplin and Big Brother & The Holding Company perform at the New Year's Wail in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco on January 1st, 1967
Malcolm Lubliner/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty
On New Year's Day in 1967, The Hell's Angels and the Diggers, two of the catalytic forces in the rapidly growing counterculture community in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco threw a massive party in the Panhandle of Golden Gate Park. In many ways, the party, called the New Year's Wail/Whale, was a lot like the "Love Pageant Rally" that had been held a few months earlier in October in almost the same exact spot; there was free music by Big Brother & The Holding Company (with Janis Joplin), the Grateful Dead, and many other groups using the back of a flatbed truck as a stage. Similar to the event in October, the Wail/Whale drew a couple thousand mostly young people representing a cross section of people living in the "Haight" neighborhood at the time. 

The scene at the New Year's Wail/Whale (UPI photo)
Yet, in retrospect, this event deserves special attention for its timing. Just 13 days later, the Haight (and the World) would forever be changed in the aftermath of the Human Be-In, the massive counterculture celebration in Golden Gate Park that would launch the Summer of Love. Thus, the Wail/Whale would be the last big event created nearly entirely by and for the original counterculture types that created the Haight-Ashbury movement. 

The Wail/Whale was unique for other reasons, including why it was held in the first place. The party in the Panhandle was sponsored by the Hell's Angels to thank the Haight community for raising money to bail out two of its members that had been arrested less than two weeks earlier during the Diggers' "Death of Money" parade that was held, in part, to signal the 'rebirth' of the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. 

Images from the "Death of Money" parade. Photos by Gene Anthony. 
During the parade, two Hells Angels, Chocolate George and Hairy Henry, were arrested for low-level crimes: letting a passenger ride illegally on a motorcycle and interfering with an arrest. (Chocolate George would die in a fateful accident in the Haight less than a year later; his funeral was a landmark event for the Haight community).

Charles "Chocolate George" Hendricks
The New Year's Wail/Whale is also noteworthy because it helped inspire the launch of the "The Communication Company," the publishing arm of the Diggers. ComCo, as the publishing effort was called, was created by Chester Anderson and Claude Hayward; the two were captured by the creative energy and partnership between the Hell's Angels and the Diggers on display that day.  As several researchers have noted, the published writings of the Diggers---in leaflets, anonymous manifestos and single street sheets---played an important role in the Haight-Ashbury community leading up to, and during, the Summer of Love in the Spring and Summer of 1967. 

Using a mimeograph, ComCo produced a wide range of printed materials for the Haight community that was also reading the recently-launched San Francisco Oracle, a more psychedelic-oriented publication. Together, ComCo and The Oracle represented the diversity of thought and creative energy in the Haight during the period before the world rushed in....

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