We couldn’t get out of Williamsport fast enough, would be the best way to put it. We received word; FINALLY, that housing became available in Philly. We moved down to the Philadelphia Naval Base when my Dad was transferred there in June 1967.
It was the summer of Love. While 100,000 hippies gathered in Haight-Ashbury and the Cultural Revolution bloomed simultaneously in the big American cities and across Europe, we reunited as a full family unit again. Our new abode was in a tidy bug and rat- free white multiple-unit barracks on, I think, Intrepid Ave. We shared the block-long building and a massive screened in porch with four other families.
Our first floor home had enamel grey painted cement floors with four bedrooms, a spacious living room, a dining room, kitchen and a laundry room. There were a couple months to kill before school started and we knew absolutely no one. That was par for the course for us. There were other kids on the base, just a hand full. Most of them were Navy kids; a few were Marine Corps offspring. Some lived in much nicer places depending on the rank of their fathers. Thankfully, none of us had to salute or were concerned with issues of protocol.
Joe and I trolled the streets under the constant surveillance of Navy Police and wary mothers. Our initial reconnaissance was on foot but I carried out some fleeting exploration on my dusted-off purple Schwinn Sting Ray steed. It had been in storage for six months and was raring to go. The Philadelphia Naval Base, at the time, was a functional shipyard and dry dock. It also moored a collection of decommissioned naval vessels including battleships, frigates and an occasional aircraft carrier.
Located at the end of south Broad Street at the confluence of the Schuylkill and Delaware Rivers, the segregated 1200 acres accommodated huge warehouses, office buildings, barracks and the college-like campus of the Marine Corps. Towering cranes and rows of gigantic grey ships lined the Reserve Basin docks where my dad had an office in a ship there. There was also an abandoned airfield and a baseball field on the north side. It had its own amenities like a commissary, cafeteria, theater, bowling alley and its own ferry for the Jersey workers’ commute across the Delaware. No mountains or woods there, but plenty to explore.
Getting integrated into that community as a family was a gradual thing and helped along by our involvement in the church, scouts and school. One thing my sister, Karen, and I had in common was our love of music. The music at that time was great, maybe the greatest. That month the Beatles released “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” A critic from the London Times called it “a decisive moment in the history of Western civilization.” The Beatles were no longer performers; they were tired of the hysteria and touring. They were artists now. I couldn’t afford the album right then and was content to listen to the songs on the radio. It was a trip. But a creative one. Any drug references like LSD: “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” was way above my head.
No official singles were released from the album, although “Penny Lane” and “Strawberry Fields Forever” were released as double-sided singles in February that year for an upcoming thematic album based on their childhoods. The Sgt. Pepper alter ego band theme took the album in another direction, but producer, George Martin, later admitted regret for not including them in the album. Those songs appeared on “Magical Mystery Tour” released six months later.
Everything was on AM radio, which was dominated by singles, so hearing all of Sgt. Pepper all summer was an anomaly. I had a transistor radio with a black leather case I carried around, always connected to the sound. At home, we had a console stereo that played records and had a built in radio. We searched the dial looking for songs. When I went to the local cafeteria, the jukebox was always on. I recall really liking two songs I heard there for the first time: “Incense and Peppermints” by Strawberry Alarm Clock and “A Whiter Shade Of Pale” by Procol Harum.
My sister Karen fell in love with the song, “Light my Fire” by the Doors. Coincidentally, a radio station in Philadelphia had a call in contest for free tickets to see The Doors. My sister’s call got through and she answered a lame brain question and won tickets to the concert. I spoke to Karen about this experience this past year and she described to a T what Morrison wore that night and recalled the Nazz as the opening act. I recently sent her Googled photos I found of that concert after carefully searching the audience for her face. She was somewhere in the throng and had a good view of the leather-clad poet. I found out this was a rebound concert for Morrison.
Two nights before, Jim was disgruntled after the Doors were apparently snubbed for the Monterey Pop Festival that weekend. Actually the promoters forgot to invite them.” Before a performance at The Action House in Long Beach, New York, Morrison has the bartender there line up 15 shots of Jack Daniel’s Whiskey and downs them one by one. As the show continued, so did the drinking. After reportedly finishing off 15 more shots he was so drunk he passed out then began to disrobe. The next night, same stage, he was still hung over.
Morrison belligerently makes horrible sustained groaning sounds into his microphone until his band mates drag him off. It was their shortest appearance ever. Their concert in Philly was the next day, Sunday, June 18, at 7:30 at The Town Hall. Karen convinced Dad that she was meeting friends there and would be getting a ride home with them afterwards. While she waited for the lights to go on she couldn’t help but stare at a boy in the bleachers with the most beautiful eyes she had ever seen. He was with a colorfully clad older woman, old enough to be his mother. Which was a fact.
Karen met the boy a year later in New Jersey when she saw him performing at a local concert there. The Nazz, with Todd Rudgren, was the opening act. It was their first public appearance, although they didn’t get credit on the poster for the concert. Karen had never been to a rock concert and described it like this: “When the Doors came on stage the crowd got very excited. Jim Morrison was wearing tight leather pants and of course, was very handsome. He had this sexual magnetism about him. He took off his shirt and women were throwing flowers and notes on the stage! I think someone may have even thrown a pair of underwear, but can’t be certain. The music was so great and it was just a totally new and wonderful experience for me.”
The Doors closed the Philly show with an amazing performance of “The End.” It was grand and would have fit right in at the Monterey Pop Festival. In Frisco, The Who finished their set with “My Generation.” With chaotic panache, Pete Townsend smashed his guitar as smoke bombs exploded behind him. In the unexpected pandemonium, drummer Keith Moon kicked over his drums as they walked off stage. The Jimi Hendrix Experience followed The Who and at the end of their last song, “Wild Thing,” Jimi kneeled and lit up his guitar in sacrificial fire then smashed it to bits. Janice Joplin sang an incendiary version of “Ball and Chain.” For each of them it was their first national venue and established their legendary status as cultural phenomena.