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The Other Side of Haight by James Fadiman

as seen in Trip #6

James Fadiman
The Other Side of Haight
Celestial Arts, 2001

You’re either part of the target audience for this novel or you aren’t. The premise – evocative slice of life journey through the lives of a collection of Haight-Ashbury denizens in the late Sixties – will either produce groans or smiles, depending upon your own personal attitude toward that time and place, and the subculture it engendered. No lesser personages than Ken Kesey and Ram Dass offer glowing recommendations on the slip cover, and within the story itself, Allen Ginsberg, Timothy Leary, Jerry Rubin, and the Grateful Dead all make cameo appearances.

The story follows a teenage runaway, Shadow, who flees to San Francisco and falls in with a crowd of colorful hippies at the height of their splendor: Sweeps, the philosophical Ph.D dropout who now tends the floors at a local ballroom; Moonflower, the singer wannabe, who seduces the local priest, Father Finnbar O’Malley; Easy, the Vietnam vet who survived his tour of duty as a sniper by resorting to heroin use; and Nitrous Eddie, whose mellifluous cannabis rants get on everyone’s nerves, including the reader’s. Soon Shadow falls in love with Angelo, an intern at a local branch of the CIA’s mad mind control experiments with LSD. Hijinks ensue, needless to say.

The book has an extremely slight quality about it that in no way detracts from the magic of the environment that Fadiman is recreating. You do get a sense that you’re right in the thick of it – annoying hippie sloganeering, incredible intersections of historical influence, free love, mass quantities of LSD and marijuana in evidence, and cops and parents who just don’t fucking get it. Fadiman himself studied as a Harvard undergrad with Leary and Ram Dass, and went on to cofound the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology; you never doubt his cred for a moment. What eventually won me over to this novel is a clear sense that this snapshot of a time gone by is a labor of love in the finest definition of the term. The arbitrary unfolding of the story matches the arbitrary unfolding of life, and this fine, upstanding crew of musicians, malcontents, and acid philosophers are enjoyable company.

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