Saturday, June 25, 2005

Another old friend gone: Chet Helms

Chet Helms died today in San Francisco. For a short while he shared a house in Austin with me and some other friends during his Young People's Socialist League phase. He was not a hippie at that time--there were no hippies, yet--he was one of the pioneers, in fact. He still tended to wear narrow-lapel suits bought for him when he was a Young Republican before his last spurt of growth, which thus made him appear taller and skinnier than he was, with his pants and sleeves too short. I have been trying to remember why he went to San Francisco in 1962, but I can't, though I am sure it was not to become a colorful, if not famous, hippie entrepreneur. I still can't really understand how that happened, since even in San Francisco in the sixties it would have been harder to find someone less suited for running a business.
But run a business he did. Chet and the Avalon ballroom, somehow represent the essence of the sixties to me.
A rumor got started a few years ago that he was dead, so Chet rented a hearse and got a coffin and was taken to a restaurant somewhere in San Francisco in the hearse where he had pallbearers ready, including Wavy Gravey. They opened the coffin. Chet had flowers and a cell phone on his chest. The phone rang and he got up and answered it and they had a party. I was not there but I am told this is true.
I hope it's this way again. But I am pretty sure it's for real this time.
Too bad he's gone. He was a good guy.
Chet Helms in his kitchen, San Francisco, summer 1967
Chet at home in San Francisco, summer 1967

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