Wednesday, December 07, 2016

A Christmas Carol

It is a little-known slander, completely unsupported by any facts whatsoever, that Bing Crosby once had a flirtation with "flower power" in the early sixties, and for a period of about six months he kept a spacious, under-furnished apartment in "The Haight" where many of the legendary figures of the day could be found lounging on stinking scatter-cushions and spouting the sort of dribble that would mature in the fullness of time into the babble that is New-Age Philosophy.

The central feature of this den of iniquity was an enormous water pipe, custom built out of motorcycle parts and glassware lifted from a selection of the best-equipped university chemistry laboratories. This gigantic water-pipe (amusingly referred to by Cosby in "The Road To Hong-Kong" in one of the musical scenes) had no fewer than two dozen flexible pipes of luxuriant length, enabling a happening of hippies to enjoy their favourite smoking mixture together without the unsanitary sharing of pipe stems. It seems that if you needed a hookah in those days, "The Bingster"'s Place was where it was all at (man).

These gatherings would always devolve into an orgy of a sort most unsavoury to us in these more moral (and disease-infested) times, and Bing's Pad was, predictably, the most popular venue in the entire state of California. Busloads of young, acne-scarred men would descend on the place in the endless quest for a very earnest, stoned and accommodating young lady in a kaftan and little else (usually going by the name "Galadriel" but that is a phenomenon for another tale).

It was at the frenzied Thursday Night jam session and think-in that the virulent red Da-Glo™ knitted pantaloons - so popular for about a month in the summer of '63 - had their genesis, and it is rumoured that the Pet Rock was invented in a marathon brainstorming session fueled by some particularly fine Moroccan Gold. The first Whole Earth Catalog was conceived one Wednesday after the washer on the hot tap in the bathroom broke. Everyone was so badly wasted that instead of fixing the faucet or calling a plumber, they invented a whole new way of buying taps.

The Weight was written at Bing's place, and the great man is believed to have contributed the verse about Crazy Chester although he denied it strenuously and shot the last person who asked him about it.

Of course, these things didn't last. Bing came to his senses (literally by some accounts) after the disastrous failure of "A Night At Bing's", the seminal live triple album, a joint-venture between Crosby, Stills, Nash, Young & Crosby, Steppenwolf and The Grateful Dead. Once the dream died, it died fast and Bing unloaded the apartment and all its fixtures so fast everyone's heads stopped spinning.

Today, the building houses the last of the great "head shops", Haight Miles High, offering modern and antique "scene" materials, clothing, and hairstyling attuned to the modern flowerchild. As the owner, Galadriel, says: "What is the point in filling your hair with flowers if the underlying cut looks like you did it with a weed-whacker? The hair must accent and compliment the floral and crystal inclusions so that the final result is a holistic statement of wellbeing and harmony with the Earth-Mother."

Indeed, her own hair is a cascade of delicate flowers, highlighted with well-shaped amethysts and cairngorms all resting on a most pleasingly feathered coiffure, although she points out that that particular styling is quite expensive and says that she mostly ends up just weaving flowers into the customer's finished haircut. Over the years she has come up with a signature style featuring asymmetric placement of strings of flowers that is attractive, long-lasting and above all cheap. It is extremely popular with the younger hippies.

One can also purchase those eye-blinding knitted pantaloons as Galadriel and her life-partner Catweazle hand-make them to the same patterns, using the same ancient, mandala-encrusted knitting machine that the originals were made on in '62. In point of fact, the only downside to visiting the place is that Catweazle, a British Ex-pat, insists on wearing the damn things. They are available in more colours today since the march of time has brought with it newer, brighter and less cancer-causing dyes, but Catweazle, like many who weren't actually there the first time around, is a traditionalist and wears only the red ones as they are "more authentic". Be warned, wear shades.

Pride of place in the large window display is given over to the Brobdingnagian water-pipe that once graced Bing's apartment, and it is a magnificent sight indeed, worth the visit on its own.

I shall be writing these notes up into a more rounded article for The Fingerlake Morning Examiner under my nom-de-plume "Biro", and plan to headline it: Bing's Bong, Cherry Neon Thighs, Uneven Herbal Hair Stringing.

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