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Interview of Peter Berg and Judy Goldhaft

April 29, 1982
By Marty Lee and Eric Noble
(Peter & Judy's Home)
San Francisco

PB: I don't usually reminisce about this sort of stuff, so you have to ask good questions.

ML: I'm glad we're doing this finally.

EN: We were both interested in to what extent there was a conscious playing out of anarchist tradition. There seemed to be an immediate recognition on the part of anarchists, especially in England.

PB: You mean historically? Or the contemporary?

EN: The contemporary.

PB: Let me do historically first. Of the dozen initial protagonists of the Diggers, probably only myself had anything like a radical political historical sense. The other people weren't radical, political traditionalists, which is what attracted me to what we were doing. That's what pulled me into it — that people were accomplishing what radical traditionalists might want to accomplish without even knowing the background. So I was sort of a resource for that sort of stuff. I was the only one who had read Kropotkin, OK? Or the Situationiste material thoroughly.

But the Provos in Amsterdam had a very strange influence in that for example if you read the book I Jan Cremer — Jan Cremer is an individualist radical. He's a self celebrating egocentric maniac and most of I Jan Cremer is not believable. But he was one of the figures in the Provos. He probably made up most of the book. But it has this individualist radicalism about it. If there was a living character like the Jan Cremer that Jan Cremer describes, it was probably Emmett Grogan, who had a similar background. Second-generation American, Irish, rebelling against Catholicism, took off for Italy when he was eighteen to become a filmmaker. To study at Cine Cita, "Cinema City." And Emmett then got into the Army, was drafted into the Army, didn't resist. But once he was in the Army he did things like take a thousand pictures of himself on the picture-making machine and even used his photograph as photographs for new recruits. Just absolute Jan Cremer-style individualist rebellion. So, Emmett, who had no political background — disliked the Left — "creep communist" would be something Emmett might say, very easily.

Somewhere along the line, Billy Fritsch, who has a left-wing, longshoreman, Communist Party, good Jewish boy, Jewish progressive radical from Brooklyn, background. Peter Cohon is very articulate, very smart, but very glib. Not particularly hanging onto any idea. Didn't think in traditional terms, at all. Not particularly consistent. Didn't want something to happen because it had never happened before. Simply wanted it to happen because it would be different, or whatever.

And various women. Nina. Nina's dad was a CP member. Jane Lapiner's folks are notorious, old CP'ers. She was brought up in CP camps when she was a kid. She's not particularly "communista", Jane. Judy Goldhaft, socialist tradition. Her whole family is socialist, from the word go. Jewish socialists, chicken farming, successful, socialist, southern New Jersey. So there were all those threads that you'd think of, as like a lot of people shared those. But Judy never read much political stuff. Jane dislikes it. Billy Fritsch rebelled against it. Living with Lenore Kandel at the time, who was another political rebel. Not at all like her dad who was a red writer — who was banned. The only one that I knew in that group — I mean I was sort of recognized as the person who was actively trying to tie things into the historical tradition of left-anarchism. But the Provos had this funny influence in that the Provos did things like put white mice under Queen Juliana's carriage, and that gave them three seats in the Damme by doing that. But to give you an idea of who they were, Jan Cremer was one of them. To be as individualist as Jan Cremer was is very radical in Europe, even now. Europeans are not as individualistically inclined. If you went to Denmark, and you looked like you were ill in the street, fifty people would stop to help you immediately. Danes are very communalist. Even ... , in the countryside at least. Even the English are. But Americans are not, as a rule. Americans stand around and stare at murders, whereas Europeans try and figure out what's happening.

Does that answer that question?

EN: OK.

ML: I'm intrigued by certain ideas, catch phrases, like "social acid." "LSD as hard kicks" rather than, say, as a panacea. Not that "social acid" and "LSD as hard kicks" are necessarily ...

PB: Well, the Digger group were more social oriented than revelatory. No question about it. Regardless of their backgrounds. Things were real when people did them, and what people do has to relate to food, shelter, economics, employment, creativity, etc. Big social motivation — not "what is the inner truth and mystery of life?" So, if someone took LSD to find out the inner truth and mystery of life, that kind of individual was disregarded or derided by the Digger people. The Digger people saw drugs in terms of individual personal fulfillment within a social context. I have a right to get off, hard. I have the right to get off hard. And to be among people who do this similarly. So sex — wide open sex — wide open drugs — wide open creativity — get you off hard. Right? Play a flute, make out, drop acid, and go do something social. That would sort of be where we were at. So social acid relates to that. "Free" is social acid, because it disorients and distorts ideas people have about social relationships. For example, class, or consumerism, or financial status, or professional status, or whatever. Give the doctor acid and the doctor will be down on the ground eating grass, literally eating grass. Billy Fritsch once was eating grass during ... He was eating grass, on his hands and knees. He was grazing. [Laughter.]

JG: A lot of people ended up climbing trees and perching there, and meditating.

PB: People nested, and he grazed. I thought I was so clever because I wasn't doing all those things and then I found myself taking off my clothes. But we saw the act of taking off your clothes as being social. It said something. It said, "you can walk around naked." And walking around naked was good because it was expansive. It heightened individual experience. See, what's social about it is that society, from our point of view, was essentially repressive. Society wanted you to work, society wanted you to pay, society wanted you to be good, wanted you to repress other people. So, if you weren't going to be doing those things, didn't you represent an alternative society? That was our point of view. An alternative society is active -- it's not "go sit on the mountain and take your clothes off." It was "give speeches on city hall steps" during the Alioto regime.

EN: In that context, what did Free mean to you? In reading accounts of that period, there seem to be two points of view of what Free meant. There was the merchants' take on it -- that it was this aggressive, cynical ...

PB: Socialism. Yeah, cynical -- they thought it was cynical.

EN: The other is a very idealistic view of what it meant.

PB: To me, personally?

EN: To you, and to people who were doing it?

PB: It was just a great thing to do for theater. You could theatricalize any social event, any economic event, any personal event, by injecting Free in it. Because it just blew out the parameters. Free meant wilderness to me. It was just like having a forest in the City, suddenly, if you said Free. If you said "you don't have to pay for something -- here's your food, and it's free -- here are your clothes, and they're free -- and here's you, and you're free, and what are you going to do next?" -- was so catalyzing as a theatrical ... as a life act. You just couldn't beat it. If you said "Red" it would hardly touch it. If you said "Vietcong" you wouldn't even get near it. If you said "Black" you wouldn't get near it. "Free" could be applied to any of those other things. Just put Free in front of anything and do it and it would be interesting. It would be better than what we had then, and it would probably lead to some sort of revelation on your part, and social revelation for somebody else. I saw what we were doing as being a guerilla theater troupe who performed free, got people involved with it, and had them perform free -- so that waves of it would go out from there. That's from me. There were people -- there were some figures during the Digger period, Tobacco was one, a guy named Tobacco, and a couple other people, saw Free as meaning "Bum." It just meant "bum" -- it was the cigarette tree, and the lemonade springs and that kind of thing. They wanted to realize, "I don't have to do shit the rest of my life." I think the merchants were probably cynical about those people, and they read that on what we were doing -- which was incorrect. I actually always thought they were stupid for not just being entertained by what we did. They should have just been entertained by it. Some of them were. Ron Thelin was so entertained, he became one. He became a wave. You know he was a merchant.

JG: The merchants had a reason to feel pretty defensive about it. It was them that we were asking to give us stuff to give away free.

PB: Sometimes.

JG: So we were cutting into their profits. A lot of them were quite nuts about us.

PB: One of them just volunteered to pay the rent on the Free Store. I don't know if that's a well kept secret or not. What was the name of that shop? It was the one that started Cost Plus, then she started this big bead shop. And she just walked in one day, and she said "What do you guys need?" I said, "I need the rent every month for this Store." And she said, "You got it." She just wanted to do that. She thought it was interesting.

JG: And the guy who had the other shop, way down past Masonic.

PB: The Phoenix.

JG: The Phoenix. Always gave us stuff for events. You know, flutes and bells ...

PB: We would just walk in and tell him what we needed, and he'd say, "Sure, just take it." So if we were going to have an event in the park, and we needed 3000 wooden flutes because somebody's idea of Art, or Theater, was to have people play wooden flutes for 15 minutes in the scenario of what was going to happen that day -- which was the way we designed those events. I don't know if you are aware of it -- they weren't wide open. They were built to make wide-openness happen. So one time, Lenore Kandel thought it would be the greatest idea in the world to hang 500 sets of glass, Chinese chimes in every bush around Marx Meadow -- that if we did that, people would discover them, take them home with them, play them and be entertained and felt elegant for the event. So, we went in and asked Tosh for 500 sets of Chinese chimes. He said, "Sure. Just take them."

JG: Wind chimes.

PB: Like those. And Lenore spent hours stringing them up in the trees. Some of the stuff came from them, not all of it did. By no means did all of it. But, there were these people that were like ... The other merchants thought it was a profiteering scheme. They thought 1% Free meant we were the mafia. We'd beat them up if they didn't give it to us. [Laughter.] And being around Billy Fritsch would give you that impression. Billy or Emmett. Both of them could perform "I'm going to kill you." Fritsch performed that on Bill Graham once with marvelous results. Graham was writing checks like mad, and gave us the Fillmore theater one night to perform a Digger event. He was scared to death of Fritsch -- thought Fritsch was going to kill him. And Billy never said anything like that. He just wore this black leather and lurched. Sort of a trick he did. Yeah, if you looked at it from the outside, you'd say, "He's threatening Graham." But I knew Billy, and Billy would've acted like that anyway. He liked to act like that. He liked to be menacing. [Chuckles.]

ML: Digger events.

PB: Digger events.

EN: You already mentioned a bit about the events. There was something always in rereading, and in the oral tradition that I got living at Kaliflower, was that there was something special about the Digger events.

PB: Well, they were theater.

EN: What was that?

PB: They were scripted and performed.

EN: What was the script? What are some examples?

PB: Here's one that worked really well. We wrote up a playbill for the event, and the playbill read "Carte de Venue" -- which means your card to go someplace -- and "Street Menu." That's all it said. It didn't say playbill, it didn't say theater. It just said "Carte de Venue and Street Menu."

JG: Because it was a street theater event.

PB: These were all handed out on the street. They listed social ideas and principles, and things that would be done about them right that day. I wrote it, but I forget what it said. One of them had to do with money. The Death of Money and the Birth of Free would be one of the events. And for that ... these bills were passed out, and people were told -- which wasn't very difficult, because they were all on the street anyway -- there were tens of thousands of people on the street, so it was very easy to do this kind of thing. And they were told at a certain hour, this event will begin. So they said, great.

JG: That was the beginning of the event, giving out the cards.

PB: About an hour before it happened. What happened was that Roberto Morticello had made these enormous animal heads, like five feet high, of goats, varioius things, bears and so forth. A group of people wearing these animal heads, dressed in black, carrying wands with silver dollar signs on them, that were high in the air, and a coffin with enormous coins in it, walked down the street.

JG: Xerox reproductions blown up of quarters and silver dollars.

PB: Walked down the street singing "Get out my life why don't you babe" to the Requiem. So it went, [sings to the Funeral March Requiem tune] "Get out my life, why don't you babe." Right? For, like, five blocks down the street. This was quite a procession. There were women in front with candles lit wearing black. Altogether about twenty-five people in this cortege that went down the street like that. There was a group of people behind them who gave out penny whistles and flutes, and so forth. That was the next thing on the thing, was going to be this orchestration. And that was based on the public nuisance law. That you weren't allowed to be a public nuisance. So, Act II said "Public nuisance is public newsence." [Spells newsence.] And people were encouraged to play these flutes, and so forth, by people who were quite good at it -- who would go along and just teach them how to do it, and then set up banks on both sides of the street of people playing. None of this would be really spectacular unless you understand that it's like ten blocks of people and the sidewalks are jammed, and altogether there were just thousands and thousands of people, all doing this. And Act III, or the third thing, said "Liberate the park." So people started yelling ... You know, I don't remember this exactly, I remember the flow of it. People were encouraged by varioius cheerleaders and instigators to go liberate the park. So this whole crowd quit playing music, let the funeral cortege go its way, and ran to the Panhandle. So the Panhandle suddenly filled with all these people. And at the same time, I think some rock band, maybe the Grateful Dead, had agreed that they would bring a truck down at that same moment, which they did. They sort of like led people to the park. They were all young careerist rock musicians at the time -- having a crowd of ten thousand suddenly materialize is quite a boost for your ... whatever. Whatever reasons they play rock music. They played a couple sets, and then at a certain point there was this other thing. You would go back to the street and perform this thing called "The Intersection Game" where the street would be effectively closed to all traffic by the presence of ourselves doing a very strange game. People actually left the rock concert, left the Grateful Dead, not all 10,000, but about half of them, and started streaming back to the street for this next event. All of this was just word of mouth, that this would happen. To get to the street, Judy and I held marbalized paper that was ten feet long and four or five feet wide across the sidewalk, so they couldn't pass unless they leapt through it. We started out with a pile of a couple hundred sheets of this stuff. As people jumped through it, we'd say, "In the same way that you've had to take the sidewalk, you can take the street." By that, everybody was all for it. They were all for taking the street. And we'd get to the street and there would be giant puppets, one named In and one named Out, who would argue about whether or not they could walk in the street. Out, who was in the street, finally convinced In to stop being in and drop out. By then, the streets were full of people. Nobody was on the sidewalks anymore. Then, the sun was going down and somebody had gone to a junk yard and had gotten a couple thousand rear-view mirrors from junked cars, and those were passed out and people were encouraged to go up on the roof and reflect the setting sun onto the street. I mean this was all ... this was orchestrated, but at a certain point, you lost control of it. People were very good at these things. They were very, very good at them. They wanted to know what they were going to do next.

JG: And people did more than what was suggested.

PB: Then, a chorus of women -- in everything like silver hot pants and Bolero tops and tye-dyed outfits -- stood on top of a rooftop and another group on the street -- chanted this poem that was held up on some marbalized paper that Lenore had written for this event. And thousands of people were chanting this poem and bouncing lights down on the street. It was quite incredible. By then, the police had arrived, which was really why we had bothered to do the whole thing. The police arrived to try and get people out of the street. [Laughs.] Which was fuckin' impossible.That's what were called the Haight Street Riots. But, our intent was to fill the street up with people who were in such a mood that they would prevent the police from removing them. And, we were quite successful. Three or four times we did events like that, that just had that same number of elements in them. If the cops ever did grab anybody ... one time they grabbed Phyllis and Chocolate George, and a couple thousand people marched on the Haight-Ashbury police station. That was all part of the event. That was the Now! event, where everybody had little cards that said Now! And Phyllis stood on the back of a motorcycle with a big sign that said Now! Everybody somehow knew what all this meant. You could call it from an interior point of view — we all had theatrical backgrounds, and it was kind of like trying out this new amplified street theater. We wanted to make street theater an art form. A social, active art ... you know, a social opera, in which some in which some social fact would be established afterwards, like "the cops can't come on the street anymore" or "hells angels don't get busted anymore" -- whatever the theme was. We wanted to exercise these elements of theater to allow that to occur at the end. All our events were like that. By the time it got toward the end, people would come and ask us what to do next. [Laughs.] No idea -- just do whatever you like. People thought -- they knew it was theater and they thought, well, theater ends at a certain moment. We had no idea. Just turn on the spigot and let it go. We were good at turning on the spigot. We knew how to... And the people were there. If they hadn't been there, we couldn't have done this. We would've looked vapid. We would've looked like art-theater or something, you know? But it was mob theater. It was just terrific. Very high events.

JG: If people thought that the Digger events, or Digger productions, were different than other productions, it's because what we did is we picked a certain amount of props and a certain amount of structure without demanding anything of anybody, and let people use whatever they wanted to do, to do whatever they wanted with the stuff, including take it. Peter made an outline for how the Rolling Stones should do their event -- the event that ended up at Altamont. What the outline of it was were providing interesting things for people to do and breaking up the situation of everybody sitting and watching one group of people perform -- because that didn't seem like a lot of fun.

PB: For example, a truck with dummies of the Rolling Stones on it, that would go around playing recorded music, while the Rolling Stones themselves would do whatever they wanted to do, including play music. [Laughter.] And, 5000 seedlings would be given out, and 5000 yards of blue velvet. It was going to be in Marin, in a valley in Marin, and the trees would be planted, and so forth. But they didn't like the theater of that. They liked coming in with a helicopter into a Speedway. I went climbing that day. I knew that would be a disaster, man. Imagine sitting in bleachers, yech. Not our people. Not at that time. They were just too liberated. They thought they could do anything. They thought they had a right to do anything. Brautigan did an event one time called the Candle Opera. I think there were 5000 people carrying around candles and singing various parts of poems and stuff like that. And one of them was called End Of The War in the Straight Theater. We got the ... we hard nosed the ... the Straight Theater people also were terrified of Billy Fritsch. Billy Fritsch was just good at looking menacing and saying "We want your theater tonight." The End Of The War had posters of Lyndon Johnson and Ho Chi Minh with their arms around each other, and Bruce Conner was going to run for ...

JG: He was running for mayor. 

PB: For mayor of the city. He gave a speech. His speech was apple pie, chocolate ice cream. He went on ...

JG: These are the things I'm for.

PB: Yeah. We had a searchlight. The Communist Party sprung for some of the money for this. They trusted me, man. And the Democratic Party sprung for some of the money. We had a searchlight. It said "The End Of The War" on the marquee. It was on the solstice.

JG: We had somebody make ... we had a potter make up free money to be given away and they were wonderful ...

PB: Flying cocks on them. 

JG: Flying cocks on them.

PB: A ringed cock is the free money to get in. Everybody is given free money in order to get in. The Up Against The Wall Motherfuckers set up a table with ammunition right around the ring of it. A card table with .38 bullets and 30-30 bullets. Amazing. Somebody walked around with a rifle all during this thing. When you went inside what you saw was a film that people had really gone to some trouble to prepare of fast-time photos of plants growing, volcanoes erupting, waves coming in, islands appearing and disappearing off Iceland. All of these things. A soldier getting shot and falling. Real documentary footage. Then they were speeded up and then they were played on three projectors at once so the images got all confused together. Then Steve Miller's band played although it wasn't announced. The theater was overwhelmed by then. There was no form to it so people are everywhere and Miller and his group had to fight to get in to play and they played. Lapiner's did a dance which people thought actually was a bunch of people high on acid. They really didn't know it was a dance. And there was a cargo net. We put a cargo net in the theater so that people could climb up the walls. And they were climbing up the walls. What was far out about this whole thing with all the berserkness going on in the theater ... I mean people were also handing out acid tabs so it was guaranteed to be absolutely berserk ... was that we had put a bunch of cuttings from the park they had pruned and we put all these branches around the walls of the place. It was a vernal equinox, that's what it was.

JG: You have to remember that when we describe these things it's impossible for us to separate them in our minds. And so it may be one event or it may be another event that happened in the same space. 

PB: This happened, this one. Oh, this event started ... when you got into the theater people obediently sat in their seats and then a group of women went around, this was amazing ...

JG: That was the equinox. That didn't happen at the End Of The War. That was a different event. 

PB: OK, I'm sorry. 

JG: It was the same place.

PB: The End Of The War what they do, they danced with these pruners. People just took them and began dancing with them. So the band is playing and people are dancing with trees and bushes. Five hundred people could get on the floor of that theater. That was quite amazing to see. Nobody could have told them, "Now dance with trees." I mean, if you had said "Dance with trees" they would have said "Fuck you." But somebody got a tree and started dancing with it and everybody thought it was such a neat idea, they just got rid of their partners and grabbed a tree. All these people were dancing, bogeying with trees. I went home at that point, I thought "They're going to be fine. We've succeeded. We've succeeded." It was a social event. 

JG: It's just providing the props to do something is what actually happened. And sometimes somebody would do something that we didn't even expect and it was just wonderful. Like when we left the End Of The War, I remember leaving the End Of The War because it had gotten so heavy in there, it was really strange. The Steve Miller Band, what they played was "When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again" and they played it really strange.  

PB: They played it as an orchestral sort of piece. 

JG: I don't even know how they played but it was really strange.

PB: Kind of the way Hendrix does The Star Spangled Banner. 

EN: Right, I was just thinking about that.

JG: Peter looked at me and I looked at Peter and we said, "It's time to leave this place." But when we walked outside ...

PB: People dancing with trees and [sings in deep slow cadence] "When Johnny comes marching home again." ... Bye, turn off the searchlight.

JG: Good bye.

PB: People carrying around flying-cock money staring at it. Quite bizarre.

JG: Somebody, I don't even know who did it, I don't even think it was anyone we knew, but somebody had taken silver sparkle and thrown it outside of the theater so that when you walked outside not only was the spotlight still going around but the whole sidewalk was sparkle with glitter, with silver glitter. It was like a bomb of glitter had dropped and all over the sidewalk and all over the street there was this glitter, which was something that wasn't in our script but somebody had put it in the script and it was great. And that's what just providing the ideas or the outline did to people ... is that the next time somebody went to an event they said, "let's get something together and do it and it will be really crazy and wonderful." And people did do that. Like we didn't expect people to take the trees off the wall and start dancing. But we thought that the theater was such a cold space that it ought to have ... let's bring some greenery in.

ML: It sounds like you really would come away from that buzzing for a few days, someone who would wander in ...

PB: I was about to say that I would guess to be realistic about it that maybe 25% of the people involved would be confused. Like at this End Of The War thing, the Reds that showed up because they had paid for some of it, were confused.  They sat in the balcony in a little group together. It was very funny. And they were quite confused. And Julian Beck's group was there doing "I can't travel without a passport, I can't smoke reefer..."

JG: "Paradise Now".

PB: "Paradise Now". And they were so confused, because they would do this, they would do the lines and people would just write "Passport" on a piece of paper and hand it to them.

[Laughter]

PB: Or they'd say "I can't smoke marijuana" and you'd give them a joint, right? So their little theatrical thing sort of broke down. They'd had a lot of success with this in Europe, but it wasn't quite making it. And they had a meeting up on the balcony, in fact in the dressing room like good actors. We thought they were very funny. Because all the real actors at this event were all out in the crowd. I mean they were doing crazy things, just bizarre things. But these people were acting like a theater troupe, which at that point was just kind of ridiculous to be doing. And they said "Well we want to help the community form itself and get together. How should we do that?" I just started cracking up. I was hopeless. I couldn't answer. I was loaded, you know. I was struck so much by the irony of it. You know, Julian Beck's group is supposed to be like a social radical group, and they were incapable of dealing with this situation. They were wearing jockstraps doing this thing, you know. "I can't walk around naked" and someone says "Pull down your jockstrap". "I want to see your dong. Just pull it off." It had just gone out the window for them. But somebody else patiently explained that what they should do is go down and mingle with the people and have a good time and do spontaneous things and do whatever all these other crazy people were doing. Certainly the Julian Beck group had no more credentials as artists than Bruce Conner, Steve Miller, any of these other people who were there.

But about 25% of the people would be confused or

 

[In progress of transcription]

 
 

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