Another early scene from Hippies, setting the stage:
The Magic Mushroom Head Shop and Dry Cleaners sprouted up like a beautiful extempore fungus in the Faubourg Marigny one day in early 1967 after a heavy New Orleans rain. Things happened fast in those days, especially for a generation of rootless and unrestrained youth, so three years and some months back from this sunny morning in April 1970 – before Woodstock and the Summer of Love, before Martin Luther King or Bobby Kennedy had been shot, before Sgt. Pepper’s – was a long way back, and no one really knew from whence the head shop had sprung. The dry cleaners counter seemed to pre-date the shop, as the hippies swarming into the Marigny at that time had never seen anyone use those beneficial services and indeed were under the impression that the only people who used dry cleaners were over fifty, square, and enormously wealthy. In any event, the head shop that featured pipes, rolling papers, lighters, and other such bric-a-brac was certainly a product of recent cultural trends, and the folk wisdom of the neighborhood had settled on “one day in early 1967” as the definite nativity of the place in its current form.
The shop was on Frenchmen Street, down where the two-stories with wrought iron balconies yielded to one-story creole cottages. This particular cottage was brightly painted, with a banner on top of the door depicting an idyllic horizontal landscape and what appeared to be brown-robed monk at one end happily smoking a long-stem pipe under the canopy of a fleshy mushroom. The smoke from his pipe curled up into the gills of the mushroom and around the cap and out across the horizontal blue space of blissful painted sky.
The owners were pair of drifting lovers, Claire and Cool Breeze, who had found their spot. They were no longer teenagers but had matured into their late twenties bodies as picture-perfect hippies from the heartland of Minnesota, the kind that editors of Life and New York Magazine loved to put on glossy covers to show the paradox of innocent beauty and hippie menace. Claire had long blonde hair and a model’s body; Cool Breeze was medium-tall and well-made, with prominent features and a countenance both sweet and grizzly, like a Duane Allman lookalike, but with his own blonde hair knotted into a thick braid that hung to his waist. The pair had gone to the Upper Haight in the early days to escape the oppression of the Midwest. The Grateful Dead was already on the scene, and Janis Joplin, but it was all new. You could still see Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti day tripping from North Beach to the Haight to see what was happening, and Richard Brautigan would show up looking half pioneer and half proto-hippie. Claire and Cool Breeze opined that the Scene in the Haight was already dead before that June of 1967, when Sgt. Pepper’s was released and disaffected teens from everywhere would flow in a tidal wave to Haight-Ashbury for the “Summer of Love.”
“You could tell by the tagline, man – ‘The Summer of Love’ – the Scene had already been co-opted by the Man and his mass media,” Cool Breeze would opine. “Corporate branding and magazine stories for old ladies back east. That’s what the ‘Summer of Love’ was.”
Of course there was no consensus on Cool Breeze’s historical analysis. Indeed, the history of the Scene was – and still is – taking shape. Lots of people thought the Summer of Love was – and still is – an awakening moment for the counterculture. But Cool Breeze and Claire were real purists, happy to have found their niche in the old part of New Orleans after bailing from the Haight, but happy to reminisce about the authenticity of the early days. And they had the ears of their impressionable young hippie customers, who were, truth be told, often entirely innocent of history ancient, recent, or present.
When Claire and Cool Breeze first wandered into the Faubourg Marigny of New Orleans, it was a working class neighborhood, just downriver from the French Quarter, rough and tumble. A few gay couples had come in, trailblazers as it were, restoring historical homes in a neighborhood they could call their own, but otherwise tourists and outside traffic barely made it as far as the creole cottages. So Claire and Cool Breeze got a place on the cheap and started sanding and scraping and hammering to make this one creole cottage into their head shop dream. They intended to top the building with a gigantic, brightly painted, sheet-metal psilocybin mushroom cap, modeled on the rotating root beer mugs that famously adorned Frostop restaurants. Perhaps thinking of the longboats of their Viking forebears, which were protected from ill favor by conspicuously sculpted figureheads, they may have thought that their gigantic mushroom would protect their place of business from the Man. But, alas, it was not to be, for the Faubourg Marigny Historic Preservation Society still had enough squares on the council to torpedo the idea.