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The SALON - Summer 2014
Meet and mingle with the Literati (bring your own wine and cheese)
The Summer Interview:
by J. Macon King
From the 60's to the '9ers with David Harris
Davis Harris wrote for Rolling Stone Magazine, during it’s original years in San Francisco (folded with no staples), The New York Times, and penned 12 non-fiction books covering heavy weight subjects such as the Iran hostage crisis in The Crisis, the NFL in The League, and the timber takeover in The Last Stand, and how America outrageously arrested a foreign leader, Noriega, in Shooting the Moon. His friends and acquaintances included Hunter Thompson, Tom Hayden, Joe Esterhaus, Jan Wenner, Daniel Ellsberg, Ron Kovic (Born on the Fourth of July), and Mimi Fariña. He spent time with or interviewed a diverse group as the likes of the Beatles, Neal Cassady, Bill Walsh, Pete Rozelle, and CBS founder William S. Paley.
An interview with David Harris is like a condensed course in America’s social and cultural history. David Harris was more than a Vietnam protestor who showed up at rallies to pick up chicks. Yet he still came away with the prize on the top shelf - “Queen of Folk,” Joan Baez. The Joan Baez, who had a music and media-filled romance with Bob Dylan, and was later pursued by Steve Jobs. At Woodstock, Baez prefaced a song by speaking of Harris’s felony arrest for draft evasion. Harris was a man who embodied the activist protest movement. Instead of running to Canada, Harris went to prison for the cause.
David Harris grew up in the Central Valley, Fresno, as a normal lad, whose father was a G.I. Bill lawyer. Harris was a high school football player, Fresno High’s “Boy of the Year,” who went on to Stanford Honors Program and Student Body President. But Harris suddenly took a “left turn.” Harris traveled to Birmingham and soon found himself at forefront of the civil rights and Vietnam resistance movement. He went to prison for almost two years, including months in solitary, as his first book was being published. He married Joan Baez in the prison yard - which made the cover of LOOK magazine. In the seventies, Harris and friend Tom Hayden ran for political office - Harris unsuccessfully for Congress, Hayden lost a run for the Senate, but eventually was elected to the State Legislature.
Harris is a practicing Buddhist
David invited me to his Mill Valley, CA hilltop home, which was built in 1932 and originally part of a large ranch. The bunkhouse was incorporated into the rambling house and the authentic split log siding gives the place a rustic lodge look. The adjacent open space and 5 foot thick redwood tree jutting through his deck complete the mountainside ranch feeling.
The foyer is filled with David’s original art work, including what became the album cover for Joan Baez’s album “Blessed are… .” Modernized inside with rooms ranging from arts and crafts to homey rustic décor this has been home for Harris since 1984. He shares the home with his wife Cheri, a doctor. David looks good at 68 - relaxed, confident, and gracious. He exhibited none of the anxiety interview subjects often have of “the press.” He has been press himself.
MillValleyLit: The Genius: How Bill Walsh Reinvented Football and Created an NFL Legacy. A premise of your book is that rallying around Walsh’s revamped Forty Niners, brought San Francisco out of its post-Moscone-Milk\Jonestown slump.
DH: Yes. San Francisco was at its nadir, and Walsh gave the City another way to see itself. It also marked the transition to Silicon Valley’s rise and the Bay Area’s reimaging.
MillValleyLit: I read David Talbot’s recent Season of the Witch: Enchantment, Terror and Deliverance in the City of Love which outlined how bleak and scary politics and events were through the late 60s and seventies.
DH: I know David.
MillValleyLit: There had been, Patty Hearst\SLA and Peoples Temple (which your late wife Lacey Fosburgh covered for The Times), the Zebra murders, the Zodiac Killer, Moscone-Milk assassinations - I mean, back to back, San Francisco went through some really dark times. I was living in the City for much of that. Then of course, internationally: the Iran hostage ordeal, boycotting the Russian Olympics, Afghanistan. Suddenly - the Niners. I had never been into football at all, and I remember walking in to this crowded bar on Haight Street by the Red Vic in 1982, and I saw “The Catch.” I became an instant Niner fan. I hadn’t really thought of it before your book, but Bill Walsh did save San Francisco.
DH: You know, I played O-line and offensive back football at Fresno High. I came to Stanford with the idea of being a walk on (try out for the team). I get my equipment and go in the locker room and I see three guys that are bigger than me and taller than me. They said they were quarterbacks. I walked right back out. That was when Bill Walsh was coaching there, so I missed that experience. But I made up for it by writing the book.
MillValleyLit: You also missed out on elected office experience, when your bid for Congress failed. You regret that?
DH: No. It was for the best. I realized that I did not want to be a white shoed, palm- slapping politician.
MillValleyLit: Let’s play “name association” about some of the famous people you knew. The star of Kerouac’s books - Neal Cassady.
DH: Neal showed up on our doorstep in Menlo Park, after his Ken Kesey bus adventures. He was all jacked up. Neal was a crazy m…..fucker.
MillValleyLit: (laughs) Can I quote you? How was it working with Hunter S. Thompson?
DH: I made a lot of money on football bets with Hunter. To his credit, he always paid me off. (smiles)
MillValleyLit: What a nice young man. Now give me the dirt.
DH: Hunter would just roll into the Stone and just take over Jann’s office. He’d barricade himself in, drinking and doing drugs. Hunter had Jann somehow under his spell. I didn’t get it. Jann would give Hunter these plum assignments –like the Fall of Saigon, an assignment that the rest of us would die for, literally, and off Hunter would go, and somehow he missed the event! I mean, how do you miss the Fall of Saigon?
MillValleyLit: Maybe the sound of all those helicopters lulled him to sleep?
DH: Then Hunter was assigned the Ali-Foreman fight.
MillValleyLit: “The Rumble in the Jungle.”
DH: Right. So Rolling Stone flies Hunter to the Congo – and – he gets drunk and – he misses the fight! He had to fly up to London and arrange to watch it on tape, just so he could file his report on the “Greatest Sporting Event of the Century.”
MillValleyLit: So Hunter Thompson was…
DH: He was a crazy fucker.
DH: But, somehow Hunter, being Hunter, got away with it, and became a big celebrity for it. He did write two really, really great books.
MillValleyLit: Hell’s Angels?
DH: No. No. The Fear and Loathing books.
MillValleyLit: You also worked with Joe Esterhaus?
DH: Joe was my editor at the Stone before he became the million-dollar screenwriter. He was a nice guy, but - not much of an editor.
MillValleyLit: Rolling Stone was a tremendous influence and voice for our generation. You were part of that. Why did you leave?
DH: I left the Stone when the editing became more heavy handed. When your story got stuffed to a certain editor, we writers would go, “Oh, shit.” You knew it would just be ruined. Arthur Gelb, The New York Times Editor said “David, come work for The Times.” I thought, if you’re going to work for a paper, The Times is the one. Arthur was a great editor, he developed the sections of The Times that they still use today.
MillValleyLit: J.D. Salinger?
DH: I didn’t know him. But my late wife, Lacey Fosburgh, who I met at The New York Times, was not only one of the few, but the last person to get an interview with Salinger. We were in our kitchen in Menlo Park, and the phone rang. She picks up and a voice says, “This is a man called Salinger.” She about dropped the phone and I scramble around trying to find something to write with. She’s writing on every scrap of paper we can find. The story was published as front page news in The Times Magazine in ’74.*** I’m interviewed in the recent Shane Salerno Salinger documentary about that event.
MillValleyLit: Joyce Maynard, another Mill Valleyian (but I heard she’s moving to East Bay), had a long interview in the movie also.
DH: She lived with the guy. Yes, well… kiss and tell.
MillValleyLit: Joan Baez; what was she like back then?
Harris’ artwork from prison became the album cover for Joan Baez’s 1971 album “Blessed are…”
DH: Joan was the Queen of the Scene. Gorgeous, talented, charismatic. The first time I met her, I thought, Whoa – too much celebrity. The second time, that flip-flopped and I obviously changed my mind.
MillValleyLit: Can you sum up the sixties for us? What was it really like on the front lines?
DH: A great time to be alive. To be 19, 20, 21 and be at The Center of the Universe. That’s what it felt like. As long as you could take the risk.
MillValleyLit: Addiction? Arrest? Too much freedom?
DH: The whole thing was risky business. We were breaking out in all fronts. This was all new territory.
MillValleyLit: You wrote one novel, The Last Scam.
DH: It grew out of my Times Magazine cover story about my 1978 trip to Mexico with a dope smuggler. We spent months in Oaxaca. The book was published in ’81.
MillValleyLit: I remember Oaxacan in the late 70s. Big long buds. That was good stuff.
DH: Yes, it was. It was seedless, before sensimilla became the norm.
MillValleyLit: Maybe I got some of your partner’s batch! Talk about risky business. That was ballsy, going down in there and documenting bringing out kilos of Oaxacan. A lot to go wrong there.
DH: My publisher decided to call it a “non-fiction” novel.
MillValletLit: Sounds like hedging their bets, legally. I tried to find that book but it is O.P.
DH: Publishing! The Last Scam was released and made the front cover of the Pink Section (San Francisco Chronicle). There were a grand total of three copies in all the bookstores San Francisco!
Play based on Harris's work
MillValleyLit: I can only imagine the tremendous amount of obsessive research that goes into one of your many non-fiction books. Writing a novel, at least a good novel, a writer reaches a point that the characters take on a life of their own, and the plot can unfold naturally. At what point in a complex non-fiction book can you tell if it is working or not?
DH: For me, I can tell in my research. My routine is I would spend the first year or two researching. I would frame out the book. I could tell when I did that framing if the book was going to work. If it didn’t seem to be working, I would do more research. I would master my material and I’d only start writing when I had the back broken.
MillValleyLit: Tell us about the “one that got away.”
DH: The Paley bio. I almost had a breakdown. Seriously, it almost killed me. William S. Paley was huge – he founded CBS and 20th Century broadcasting. Amazing man – he had an enormous private art collection. In his entryway - there was “Boy Leading a Horse.” Picasso. Look at this. (Harris shows the painting from “The William S. Paley Collection” book)
I spent three years researching Paley. I had papers eight feet high all across my room. Our contract was that Paley could not change anything for the book. But he reserved the right to pull the plug. He started losing his mind a bit, dementia I guess. His lawyer took over. His lawyer was Arthur Liman. He was tough. He was the chief consul for the Iran-Contra Congressional hearings who went after Oliver North.
Liman asked me to take out the sex. Now, Paley loved the women. He had a lot of glamorous women, like Gretta Garbo, Louise Brooks. I said, No, I can’t take that out. Liman pulled the plug. He sent over a truck and took away my eight-foot stacks of researched documents. That was it. All that time and work gone.
MillValleyLit: The late Don Carpenter, of Mill Valley - his last novel, Fridays at Enrico’s was just released, about the literary scene in the Bay Area. Did you know Don?
DH: No, I wasn’t really part of a “literary scene.” If anything, I hung out with reporters and journalists. But I really just researched and wrote. In North Beach, when Lacey and I lived at her Telegraph Hill triplex in the seventies, we had separate writing spaces on separate floors, and we just stayed in and wrote.
MillValleyLit: So what’s in the works now?
DH: I have a new novel. It’s looking for a home. The story is set in the Central Valley in the late 70s. Even with my publishing record, good reviews, admittedly medium sales, it is not easy. You have a generation coming up that thinks Twitter is literature.
*Norman Mailer and George Plimpton did manage to cover the event, later writing the books, respectively The Fight, and Shadow Box.
** Paley, despite his lawyer’s concern for keeping the womanizing secret, was included in a list of the ten most eligible bachelors compiled by Cosmopolitan magazine 1985. He was age 84!
*** See Fosburgh’s 1974 interview here “J.D. Salinger Speaks About his Silence” http://www.nytimes.com/books/98/09/13/specials/salinger-speaks.html
Salinger’s first interview was oddly, but characteristically, with a 16-year old high school girl.
Fosburgh covered the Patty Hearst kidnapping as well as Jim Jones\Peoples Temple, wrote the bestseller book, Closing Time, on the looking for Mr. Goodbar murders, which received praise from the hyper-critical Truman Capote. Fosburgh was also a novelist.
People magazine, 1978 article on Harris and Baez-
David Harris’ new novel: A Desperado’s Downhome Melodrama, Love Story and Outlaw Shoot-em-up, Writ In the Vernacular and Best Read Out Loud. Set in the Central Valley in the late 1970’s, it tells the story of an outlaw’s return to his hometown after ten years outside the law in Mexico because his mother is dying, and what happens when he steps back into the world of lowlifes and gangsters he left behind. For more info see the Harris website http://davidharriswriter.com/
Extra Credit notes: David's circle, through Joan Baez, included Joan's late sister, musician activist Mimi Fariña, who founded Marin County based non-profit Bread and Roses, and Mimi's husband folksinger Richard Fariña. Multi-talented Richard Fariña penned the counterculture classic picaresque novel, Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me. At age 29, Richard was tragically killed on a friend's Harley, speeding through a fence on Carmel Valley Road. It was just two days after the publication of the book and following a book-signing event in Carmel. To triple the tragedy - it was his wife Mimi's 21st birthday.
Thomas Pynchon later dedicated Gravity's Rainbow to Richard, and Rock and Roll Historian Ed Ward, proclaimed, "If Richard had survived that motorcycle accident, he would have easily given Dylan a run for his money." Joan Baez's song, "Sweet Sir Gallahad" commemorates Fariña's death and Mimi's grief.
Mountainside bench dedicated to Mimi Fariña on Mt. Tamalpais, Marin County trail, close to The Tourist Club.
--- Readers may also be interested in MillValleyLit’s interview with another counter-culture hero, Peter Coyote, in the Mill Valley Literary Review’s Fall, 2013 issue.
Recent interviews include Tom Barbash. T.C. Boyle, Louis B. Jones, and Beat expert\biographer\poet Gerald Nicosia - available in Stacks
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the Publisher of The MILL VALLEY LITERARY REVIEW
J. Macon King and Big Red in vineyards of Healdsburg, Sonoma
John Macon King is Publisher of The MILL VALLEY LITERARY REVIEW.
John wrote and directed for Rhubarb Revue Theatre and his writing has been featured in the Marin IJ, San Francisco Marina Times, San Francisco's Beat Museum and various magazines. He has given invited readings at the Book Depot, the Sweetwater, Sausalito Women’s Club, and Mill Valley Outdoor Art Club.
After penning several screenplays, he nestled them in his desk drawer, safe from the money and glamour of Hollywood. King’s upcoming novel, Circus of the Sun, tells us: "Amidst the sexual and cultural frenzy of '79 San Francisco, a volatile musician is beguiled by an incandescent artist and her entourage, unveiling disturbing past relationships."
King explains how MillValleyLit came to be:
Q. What was your background for this literary venture?
A. I have always enjoyed a passion for reading, writing and the creative community. While earning a Creative Arts degree I worked in a library and then as a manager at the bustling SFSU bookstore. In Marin I found a niche as a marketing consultant for LucasArts and basked in the creativity at Skywalker Ranch. In 2000 I revived the Rhubarb Revue community theater, after its seven year closure, to encourage regular folks to take to the stage and perform along with seasoned performers. This same concept I applied to MillValleyLit - mixing emerging writers with published authors. The Rhubarb continues to be a venue for local writers and talent. http://tamvalley.org/rhubarb2012.shtml
Q. You have had previous experience as Editor of a community newspaper and web site?
A. Yes. Four friends and I put out an underground newspaper in high school when our work was censored in the school paper. This was small town midwest in the early 70's and the paper, and our audaciousness, were very controversial. No students had ever done that in the entire school district. We had Freshmen passing them out at the Homecoming Parade! The principal grilled the prime suspects, and really wanted to expell us, but he couldn't prove it was us. Emboldened, we printed two or three more issues. Ironically, the bigger secret was we were printing them at a local church! A sympathetic minister believed in our 1st Ammendment rights. The premier issue was called "The Dove" (you know, anti-Vietnam) and then we changed the name to "The Cynic," I suppose more properly reflecting our attitudes. At our high school reunions teachers and classmates were still talking about it.
With that depth of experience, I became Editor in Chief for The Progress TVIC newsletter which at times went to 2,500 homes in Tam Valley. After negotiating with Marin County to assume the name and site, we launched www.tamvalley.org as our own Tam Valley Improvement Club site. It was really the first neighborhood web site. I soon gave up on expensive paper, printing and mailings.
Q. Besides the poetry readings did you participate in other groups?
A. I took several writing seminars including Syd Field and Robert McKee. McKee's was a huge group, but a handful of us went to lunch with him every day of the seminar. I knew the Van Ness\Polk (SF) area well so I helped pick the spots. That was fantastic. For a number of years I was the only male in an engaging Mill Valley book club led by Barbara Nelson. The women were supportive and interested in hearing a masculine perspective, which I did my best to uphold. MillValleyLit developed from all those experiences.
Q. What other contributions have you made in the community?
A. My secret identity is the meek mild-mannered computer consultant known as Computer Whiz. I specialize in helping small businesses and home offices. Besides the Rhubarb Revue, my community activities formerly included: Vice President of the Tam Valley Improvement Club (TVIC), Founder and Chair of T.V. Services District's Revitalization and Safety Commission, President of the Marin BNI Power Lunch, Tam Valley School Technology Coordinator, and consultant to three successful local political campaigns.
Q. Tell us more about your upcoming novel, The Circus of the Sun.
A. In the cultural and sexual frenzy of late seventies San Francisco, The Circus of the Sun exposes frayed musician Jack to the incandescent painter Bretta and the creative entourage in her gravitational pull. Despite having sworn off women, the reforming bad boy Jack finds that he cannot resist the sexually charged, liberated Bretta. When Bretta's bizarrely flawed friend Michael returns, the mystery of their relationship is a shadow that creeps into Jack's psyche like fog through the Golden Gate. This San Francisco based literary fiction pinballs from hard-drinking North Beach bars, drug-fueled Haight streets, to all night raves and punk moshes, Sierra saloons, and elite mansions of Malibu.
San Francisco Magazine Feb. 2014 http://www.modernluxury.com/san-francisco/story/the-literary-review-disrupted
Marin Magazine June issue: "Local Literature" at top of page 30. Marin Magazine is available by subscription, on select newsstands, and a snazzy digital version at: http://digital.marinmagazine.com/marinmagazine/june_2013#pg1
Mill Valley Herald's front page interview with King: http://www.marinscope.com/mill_valley_herald/news/article_3329e140-8c20-11e2-91d0-001a4bcf887a.html
Harris photos, Farina bench - J. King
King headshot, OTR shirt phots - Perry King
Additional photos by J. Macon King except some stock promotional book jackets, posters, archival, or credited.
© MillValleyLit. All rights reserved. Reproduction of any material without permission is strictly prohibited.
All writing, submissions, and comments are the views of the respective authors and interviewees do not necessarily reflect the views of MillValleyLit or Editorial staff.