Let loose amid America’s cultural revolution

In 1970, a dozen male and female mates and I were publishing Australia’s first pop music paper GoSet and a counter-culture magazine called Revolution from a terrace house in Drummond Street, Carlton and a funky office in Crows Nest by the Harbour Bridge. Our average age was 24 and take-home pay was about twice that in dollars.

This was at the height of a rush of cultural creativity in Australia and abroad as the kids born right after the war—‘baby boomers’ is what demographers and real estate agents called us—were regenerating our parents’ decaying cultures.

Many new things were being built to service us newly-minted adults, and the hundreds of thousands of ‘New Australians’ who’d arrived from Europe looking for a new life.

Melbourne had just built a new international airport and to celebrate, Qantas flew a 747 filled with journalists, editors and assorted grifters on the first flight out of Tullamarine, to San Francisco – and I was on that flight.

The oldies went for tourist bait like Fishermans Wharf or Alcatraz, but I had to get on down to the offices of Rolling Stone magazine, just two years old (even younger than my rock paper), and fellow pioneers of the alternative press like the Berkeley Barb and Ramparts. I wasn’t queuing up for Placido Domingo and Beverly Sills at the War Memorial Opera House, I was off to Golden Gate Park where Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin and other instant legends had performed for free in last year’s Summer of Love, and to The Fillmore where acid enhanced the light shows and some people really did wear flowers in their hair.

I was too cool to drool over that stuff, and Che Guevera was more my kinda guy than Jimi Hendrix, but I was rarin’ to go for anything and everything.

Here’s the short version of what happened during those 80 days of my first trip to the USA.

July 1st 1970

With a couple of hundred other journalists and editors I fly to San Francisco from Melbourne on the inaugural flight from the new Tullamarine airport. On landing I head out with Melbourne DJ (Big) Sam Anglesey for the Fillmore West to hear Steve Winwood’s band, Traffic. The music, the light show, the packed fans half-dancing, half-stumbling is all familiar; could be Melbourne’s Thumpin’ Tum or any RSL club in the Sydney ‘burbs, except that every other person here has a joint which is inhaled then passed on to the right as the next arrives from the left.

July 3rd  

I skip the group trip to the Giants baseball game and head for the Rolling Stone offices on Third Street. I’ve bought stories from Stone editor Jann Wenner for Go-Set and Revolution, but this is my first meet-up with the guy and we talk lots. I offer to help install computerised typesetting – they’re still pulling repros from type set in hot metal.

July 5th 

Breakfast at Jann and Janie Wenner’s house on Ord Ct. followed by a benefit for the UN featuring Boz Skaggs, Steve Miller, and the Hair cast. Jann flies to New York and I’m set up in their guest room. Next day, Janie and I see the bizarre new Ned Kelly film starring Mick Jagger with appearances by my Carlton mates Linzee Smith and Jon Hawkes.

July 12th 

Drive to Los Angeles via Santa Clara County Fairgrounds where Janis Joplin’s doing songs from her upcoming Pearl album for 10,000 wild’n’crazy fans. With a stage-pass from Rolling Stone I get a full roll of pics on Tri-X film — many of a raging Janis up close.

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Janis Joplin at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds July, 1970. Photo by Phillip Frazer

July 27th  

In LA I interview the Beach Boys at Dennis Wilson’s house and Mike Love tells me they have a multi-million dollar plan to “socialise the rock ‘n’ roll business”. Lots of talk in this town about soft revolution, not much action.

I meet Norma Whittaker, an English woman who does PR for Beach Boys and Country Joe McDonald. She’s also an activist in the UK new left. Tells me US filmmaker Saul Landau is filming a drama against the backdrop of Chile’s Presidential election, about revolution versus reform in Latin America. Country Joe plays a one-man Greek chorus in multiple scenes. Half the cast and crew are Chilean, half from the US and all share a rambling house in Santiago. I decide to fly there to watch and report.

July 29th  

A PR woman at CBS in Hollywood has press material for me and I find her in a recording studio where J. Joplin and band are finishing Pearl. As on stage in San Jose, she’s drinking Jim Beam while the boys smoke dope. “Who the fuck knew I had fans in Australee-a?” she yells. Her energy’s bursting her seams – it’s a force of creativity, or a cry for help.

August 9th  

Santiago, Chile. The Popular Front has set up a stage spanning apartment buildings on each side of a main street and 100,000 workers and peasants have filled ten blocks listening to loud-speakers strung along the light poles. Our crew is on-stage where the warm-up act for Socialist candidate Salvador Allende is the poet, Pablo Neruda. Deafening cheers for a people’s poet!

September 4th  

For weeks, our crew (me in tow) have been filming at election rallies, all the while dodging troops armed with water cannons and side arms. Today is election day and the crew has just discovered the sound guy has sabotaged all the sound recorded so far. Santiago is in a frenzy: election posters cover every inch of public space and where there’s less than an inch they paint a 1, 2 or 3 to signal their choice of the rightist, centrist, or socialist candidate.

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Salvador Allende Gossens at election rally, Santiago 29 August 1970. A week later, Allende (uncle of the novelist Isabel), became the world’s first Marxist president elected in a universal franchise vote. Photo: Phillip Frazer

Evening comes and our house is jumpin’, everyone watching the count on tv, passing jugs of red wine. Allende and the rightist Alessandri trade the lead. Cheers or anguish greet each update. The phone rings constantly. Around midnight the Popular Front asks permission to hold a victory rally downtown — the city says no. At 1:30am the city’s police chief is suddenly on-screen — permission for victory rally granted. The house erupts and we and half the city’s residents converge on the square where Allende reads a message congratulating Chileans for taking their country back from the bankers, miners and the US imperialists. The message is from Fidel Castro, and the massive crowd roars.

September 6th  

I’m headed back to San Francisco and on to New York. Santiago airport swarms with men in suits wanting out of the country – academics and artists in corduroy and youths with backpacks and jeans arrive from all over Latin America, laughing with joy at the new world unfolding.

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Troops in the People’s Park Santiago, election eve 1970. Photo by Phillip Frazer

September 21st 

I fly to London, knowing I will return to the USA soon because it’s where our futures are determined.

On October 4th, Janis Joplin dies of an accidental heroin overdose at age 27.

On September 11th1973, Chilean military units with US support stage a coup, tossing the bullet-riddled body of President Allende in an unmarked grave and executing the first of many thousands of poor and middle class supporters of the peaceful revolution.

*These are notes of an account Phillip Frazer is writing of his 37 years in America

Main photo: Janis Joplin at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds July, 1970. Photo by Phillip Frazer

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