Funky Paul Olsen
Meet Funky Paul Olsen:
San Francisco circa 1960s:
Funky Paul was there for it all. Here is my Q & A session with him. His book will eventually be seen in stores and a movie is in the works. His stories make up a piece of the puzzle that was titled: San Francisco California.
"Unbelievable, I know, but this was the "official photo" of Funky Paul, Funky Jack, and Funky Sam in the lounge of the Funky Features house at 142 Central, taken in 1966. Hey, it was early days, what can I say? Why am I not wearing pants??? Jack, in the middle, was always the cool dude with plenty of style...he's certainly a lot cooler than the two idiots flanking him! Note the "Day in the Life" poster in the background of which we just had 10,000 copies printed." (Paul's Website: http://www.olsenart.com)
Q. I first have to ask you about my favorite band, The Doors. What memories do they bring back?
A. I remember like it was yesterday walking into that record shop on Upper Grant Avenue and hearing them for the first time (the day the album was released) and bought the album immediately. They were walking off the counter because the record shop was playing the album non-stop, and he had a whole stack of LP's out of the box sitting on the counter. So, I agree with you about the Doors.
Q. There are many young people that look back at the 1960s in America as THE time to be.. And then you were in England when it died here.. If a ship was sinking you would be in the room next to the lifeboats I think?
A. Ha! I'll tell you what. I wrote a memoir (unpublished...and it now needs to be expanded) from which I am really going to go into detail to write "The Book of Haight." The memoir is called "The Loop," but the working title was "The Right Place at the Right Time." And even back then I realized I was exactly in the right place at the right time (though in hindsight, I would love to have been in England from 1960 to early 1965).
Q. What was it like to grow up in the center of the universe as opposed to the carpetbaggers who came later?
A. That's a biggie....
I remember growing up in the City and thinking already it was one of the best places in the whole world to live, from what I could tell of the rest of the world. I remember saying to my dad in 1965 that if I was consigned to never leave the City for the rest of my life, that it would be OK; it was such a beautiful place. I only remember being "envious" of New York when I was very little and living in Fairfax in Marin County (just over the beautiful Golden Gate Bridge---which ALWAYS takes my breath away every time I see it! Only because New York seemed to be the center of the universe...certainly Chicago, Boston and New York were where almost all my toys came from!
What was interesting about the 60's in San Francisco is that it is not only a beautiful, inspiring place to live with a great cosmopolitan atmosphere, the general population is also very well educated and at the leading edge of modern culture. San Francisco is a Victorian town full of architectural gems everywhere you look with a rich history, but there are several great universities nearby, and ALL the movers and shakers in 1965 were fairly well-educated, well-traveled people...from Ken Kesey on down....the availability of The Pill in 1961, and the free speech movement in Berkeley in the early 60's sparked off a social revolution that was fueled by the hatred of the Vietnam war...and then the plutonium of LSD came along at EXACTLY the right moment, and we were in the middle of a critical mass that exploded and consumed the world almost instantly in psychedelic creativity and free love...it was some period of time, let me tell you....and we could all FEEL it immediately.
It was special.
San Francisco was then like a small town...and the Haight Ashbury was filled to the brim with lovely Victorian houses that were cheap to live in, within walking distance of two Universities, and the main street filled with vacant shops, begging to be let to hippies who could make a go at selling groovy stuff.
Yes, I think there have been a few magical periods in the last century...the 20' in Paris and New York, the 30's in LA, the 60's in San Francisco, and the late 60's, early 70's in London. There hasn't been anything since, and I'm willing to bet the next one will be in China or India...but not soon. Also, the world is so plugged in now, that everywhere is a bit like everywhere else intellectually.
I always envied my dad growing up in the Haight in the 20's and 30's....he still fills my imagination with his stories of his childhood back then which sounded wonderful. I always wanted to be born in the 1870's, to experience the Old West, the 1880's in San Francisco, and the Edwardian period in London....but I feel lucky to have been in two wonderful periods of time....I could write about it for the rest of my life, really.
Q. What is the story of Funky Features and the poster sales in San Francisco in the mid-sixties?
A. In early '65 I lived around the corner from a little used bookshop on Polk and Broadway (further east on Broadway through the tunnel was where City Lights was located...just two doors down on Columbus in North Beach) and popped in one day in mid-65 to find Yuri Toropov, who had hair down his back ----I had NEVER seen anyone with long hair to that point---so I had to talk to him to find out about him. As we were talking, Marty Balin came in to visit as they obviously knew each other, and Marty asked Yuri if he knew anyone who could whip out a poster for his band's gig at the Matrix. I piped up that I was an artist, and I knocked out a little one color thing for them. I don't have a copy and have never seen it anywhere. It would be worth a packet now.
Yuri told me about "The Artist's Liberation Front," something he was trying to put together and the first meeting was to be at some girl's basement flat who lived right around the corner in Hayes Valley, from those famous series of carpenter's gothic houses you see in any shot of San Francisco. I went to the first meeting, and I guess there were about 25 people there, including Yuri, myself, my future partner Jack, Bill Graham, several players from the Mime Troupe (who Bill was managing), and assorted other artists.
I talked with jack afterwards as he had an MGB convertible and I had just sold mine...I was on my Triumph Bonneville...and he and I raced across town to his flat where we spent a bit of time talking and finding out about each other. Jack said he was thinking of forming a poster company with a friend of his named Sam...Jack was good at business and Sam was good at sales, but they didn't know squat about posters! I liked their moxie right off the bat.
I had grown up in the printing business and knew the printing side of things inside and out and also was an artist.....so I was the natural third member of this fledgling concept. Jack introduced me to Sam, we decided to form a partnership right then and there. We shook hands, and that was it!
Then we needed a name. Sam, Jack, and I went into Golden Gate Park to the huge playground my dad used to take me to when I was little. We sat on the grass verge of the play area watching the children play and knocked around a bunch of names, but we couldn't come up with a thing. We were stuck. Then Sam blurted, "How about Funky Features?" Jack and I creased up with laughter. Sam giggled, and that was it!
Q. I saw the Day In The Life Poster (AWESOME), are they still available today?
A. No...they only come up at auctions.....I have a few of them (I wish I knew then what I knew now....I would have hundreds!), and one came up in London that went for $1500 5 years ago.
Q. How can we find them? (Poster companies, ownership rights?) Are they cataloged somewhere?
A. Not that I know of. Day in the Life is THE most complex mechanical piece of artwork ever created for sale as a poster....56 layers of film spread over the four colors. The lovely press guy who assembled it for us went broke doing it.
Q. If we found it (The Van) what would be the best story it would tell us all?
A. Good question. I remember the day we painted it....lovely day and great fun, and we finished it all in one day, with Jack, Sam, Bill (our delivery guy) and myself all working flat out. It was a great, San Francisco day.---There's something I have to explain to anyone who has never lived in a city by the ocean in temperate climate.....Especially in San Francisco, you have a small city with lots of hills...so wherever you look, you always know where you are by the geography...also, you are very aware of water nearby, because the furthest away you can be from water is 3 miles, and it's on three sides!
That does something to the air and to the light in the city....it's FRESH and revitalizing...and a beautiful day in San Francisco is much more beautiful than a beautiful day in Chicago or even Los Angeles.....just like a gorgeous spring day in Manhattan has something tangibly special about it, the same is true in San Francisco. So when you have a lovely day, and are doing interesting things, it's magic.
The one great thing about the van is that we could park anywhere with
impunity....which was fabulous---and we took full advantage of it and never got tumbled by the cops.
Q. Did your van start the saying "ROCKSTAR PARKING"?
A. Not that I know of....I've never heard the expression.
Q. Rockstar Parking is when you get a parking spot right near the door of a concert.. What ever happened to the old van?
A. You'll have to ask Jack that..... he bought the van at a post office auction for something like $260 bucks, and I can't remember whether he still had it when we sold the business to Sam in '69 and if Sam got it, or if Jack still had it when I left for England at the end of '69. Jack's pretty good on details like that, so write and ask him....he'll remember.
Q. Living on the Haight in the 1960s did you ever meet Janis Joplin?
A. (Funky) Sam knew her and introduced me at a concert in the panhandle (the strip of Golden Gate Park that parallels the Haight, just two short blocks away from Haight Street)....and we met and got to know Peter Albin, the bass player quite well as he lived directly across the street from the Funky Features House on Central, just off Haight. I moved to Church and 22nd street over the hill in the Castro district, and Janis moved just around the corner from me and would drop in after concerts... but we never said much, I was always busy upstairs painting in my studio, and she just wanted to come in and cool out before she went home to Linda, the girl she lived with who was also her wardrobe creator.
I never sat down and talked with her to get to know her because she always seemed a bit distant, and preoccupied (or drugged up or drunk, I don't know) and a bit of a lost soul...I tend to gravitate towards people who are a little more together than she appeared to be, so I never made the effort to get to know her...we were just friends and really only because I lived around the corner and my place was a kind sanctuary for anyone who wanted to drop by, day or night. There was always something going on at my house, even when I wasn't there! Janis just wanted to be able to cool out with her own thoughts before she went "home," I think.
Q. To people who know very little about what happened in that area of time and space how would you tell the story of the Haight?
A. That's my book (The Book of Haight) and will be the screenplay, when I get time to write it.
Q. What other stories do you have from the concerts?
A. Well....the first Cream concert at the Fillmore blew me away and I got a full set of drums the next say at Music City, I was so inspired byGinger....that's where Carlos (Santana) helped me pick out the kit I wanted (I wanted the "green one" over there....knowing f#@k-all about drums. As it turned out, the ones I wanted were Slingerland and all maple shells, so the kit was OK and Carlos said it would be as good a choice as any.
Q. I have to ask about the previous movement of the Beats (Ginsberg, Cassidy, and McClure), City Lights, and so many other places I have only read about it books?
A. I ran across Ginsburg here and there and knew Michael McClure, but had
nothing in common with him, really...City Lights was more a hip 50's "beat" hangout...lots of poets, coffee drinkers, and jazzers...by the time the Haight thing developed, everything was centered there....the Haight is across town from City Lights.
Q. How has digital technology changed art work?
A. Any idiot can create precise images now....but it still takes an artist to create ART.
Q. What do you think it would have done to poster art in the sixties?
A. Killed it...or, more to the point, the images would not have been as good because you wouldn't have "hand-made pieces"...and there is still a lot you can do by hand that is more direct---more immediate and "hands on"---than working with a computer.
Q. You have an extremely large collection of Fillmore and Avalon posters, Up here in Minnesota we have a few postcards and no real collectors.
A. Well, the Whitney in New York wants it, but they have no budget for such an extensive collection....but I'll sell it for $375,000...as an "art" collection...it's much more than a poster collection since I've had this collection straight from Bill and exhibited it in my homes all these years. The Experience Music Project in Seattle loved the collection, but wished I had contacted them about 6 years ago as they were building their own complete collection....they could see the difference between theirs and mine immediately...they have every one ever produced, but they are from all over the place...whereas mine is missing a few, but it has been intact by me since they were given to me by Bill....THAT'S what makes it more valuable than the sum of the value of the posters.
Q. To those of us who have never been to San Francisco where would you advise to go?
A. You really have to go to SF...but you need to be there with someone who was there and can paint the picture for you so you can try to time travel as you walk around the neighborhood. Wandering around on your own, you'll miss so much as you walk past a house where a lot happened that you will be unaware of....where the Dead would play for free in the park, where the Oracle was, the hip cafe at the corner of Haight and Masonic, etc....all that stuff. Janis's flat on Lyon street, where the airplane lived before they bought their mansion.....
Q. What year did you first visit England?
A. February 22 1968 to April 1, 1968...I met Ollie on May 31.... and moved to England December 21, 1969.
Q. What was the scene like there at that time?
A. England was the first European country I had ever visited, and I was looking forward to it immensely. When I landed, EVERYTHING about it was "foreign." Everything. If you travel there today, it's different than here, of course, but not that much different....the world is becoming so homogenized now, which is a shame. England was still a post-war country....no one had any money, people lived simply, hardly anyone had central heating, and no one had color television, and hardly anyone had access to a car, much less owned one (because they didn't have credit like they do now....you had to pay for over half the car up front at the very least).
No one had disposable income...everyone was just scraping by....there was NO middle class at all.....but you know what? It was a fabulous time, because people really made the most of the little they had. Like the lure of the Old West, life was very simple and basic....but it was lovely. I MUCH prefer it then than the way it is now, even with all the conveniences and better food, etc.
There was NO traffic in London....you could drive into town from anydirection with no hassle at all at any time of the day. Sundays were REAL Sundays...NOTHING was open except the local dairy shop (dairy products, eggs, baking goods, etc) and the news agents...and then only from 8 till 10 am. Pubs would open at noon and close at 2pm and open again at 7 PM.
If you've ever seen any of the Ealing comedies ("Lavender Hill Mob,"etc)....the way London looked in the 50's was basically no different than in the late 60's...except for the burgeoning "Swinging London" scene, which turned London into a fashion show---fascinating and exciting...the same buzz San Francisco had three years earlier. Something extremely creative was happening in London...and it was that very same creative outburst that occurred in San Francisco in 1965 and '66
The television didn't come on until 4:40 in the afternoon....and that was just kid's programs, you only had three channels (and BBC2 had just started up.....so before that there was only two channels: BBC1 and ITV) and went off the air after the Ten O’clock news...there might be the odd program or movie after that on the weekend. Very basic.
If you could find someone with a car to go out with, or take off into the countryside, everyone would chip in for petrol....it was called "sharing petrol," because no one could afford to own a car AND run it for their friends without the gas being paid for. Everything was so new...I just loved it. The other thing I loved about England then was that EVERYTHING you could buy in England was MADE in England... EVERYTHING. Food, furniture, toys, cars, electronics, BEER, etc. Now, it's no different than any other country in Europe or here, for that matter (you get a much better selection of foods in England than you do here, though....amazing, because back then, you couldn't get ANY good food there except in outdoor markets).
Q. What stories can you tell us about being taught the drums by Ginger Baker?
A. Well...I went to see Cream at their first concert at the Fillmore (Jackturned me onto Clapton with the Bluesbreakers album), because we had just bought the Fresh Cream album---75,000 copies of that album sold the first week of its release in the Bay Area alone....THAT'S how plugged in that whole area was....we had the first and ONLY stereo FM rock station in the whole world at the time! Hard to believe, isn't it? So everything was in place...all the bits were there.
Anyway, I was blown away by Cream, of course, who were musical giants compared to the relatively inept and unformed bands in San Francisco....I wanted to do what Ginger did, and Jack and I did a bit of quick talking with the real quick-talker of San Francisco music suppliers, Don Wehr---at whose shop on Columbus ALL the bands went to buy their gear---and scammed some gear.....I ended up with a green sparkle double Slingerland kit (I still have it) that Carlos Santana helped me pick out, because I knew nothing about drums.
I learned to play by listening to Light My Fire on headphones and playing along, then listening to
Ginger and Mitch Mitchell and finally John Bonham. After I moved to England at the end of '69, I ended up playing with the great Graham Bond...one of the most amazing people I have ever met, andmisunderstood by ALL his so-called friends, including Long John Baldry. It was weird, because Ginger and Jack had played with Graham before forming Cream with Eric. Then Graham died and I later met Ginger at a rehearsal studio in London when he was working on the Baker Gurvits Army and driving a black Corvette...probably the only one in England at that time.
We talked about Graham, and he was very rude....so I left.
I next met him in 1991 in LA..he was living out in the country northeast of LA and was giving drum lessons at a nightclub in Malibu called the Trancas Inn, where lost of famous people hung out...but it's torn down now....so I took some lessons from and we got to talking about lots of mutual things....the story is all in the poster stuff....try to find it...probably with the Cream posters, I would imagine. there's an amazing story in there about Yuki and the 8X10 photo Ginger showed me...it still blows me away...you must read it.
I went out to his house for an afternoon one day, and gave him two of my Cream posters from the Fillmore because he had none....but loved art and had the Disraeli Gears original art up on his lounge wall. Taking lessons from him---and remember, I had played all over Europe at this time for 6 years straight, including some great tours with some top Detroit soul bands and got great reviews everywhere I played----was incredible....he taught me so much, and the few lessons (maybe 6 or 8) I had from Ginger opened everything up for me and changed my style and focused it.
Q. My "Hero" of music would be The Doors ...
A. Great drummer...I learned my first chops from him (John Densmore).
Q. When you finally got to play with Eric Clapton what did that feel like.. Did the God become real to you when you played, or did you feel like you became a GOD?
A. Since Fresh Cream, I have always been a fan of Eric's...my absolutely
favorite guitar player of all time. Even though Jimi Hendrix is easily the greatest guitarist of all time...maybe even the greatest musician of all time in terms of sheer creativity, I still have always loved Eric.
Yes, Eric was always "god," but he's also just another musician (OK,
OK...NOT just another musician)...it's weird being around him because I don't know him well enough to sit down and chat as friends....if I did, then he would be just like anyone else in that sense....but every time I see him, he recognizes me and says hello, type of thing, cause he knows I'm a long time of Gary's, who is also one of Eric's best friends. They live near each other as well.
Playing with Eric was....great, what can I say. I had jammed a lot with Gary Brooker, over the years, and this was a private function at Gary's pub of the time, The Parrot (built in 1345, would you believe), with Gary and friends as the band. so it was all musos and friends and a great atmosphere....but it was frustrating because I hadn't played for almost two years at the time (I was living in LA but over to England for the holidays) so I wasn't honed sharp, you know? But it was great.
The a few years later, I had been playing a lot in LA and was sharp andready-ready-ready when Gary invited me over to play a gig and Eric would be there....but I couldn't get up on stage to play because it was a benefit for a musician's widow, and I didn't know her. But then there was another time in Gary's famous barn, and THAT was incredible, because Eric was right next to me and would lean back to rip a solo and it was MAGIC.
I want to do it again! I've seen him with Gary several times recently atsmall functions in Surrey playing with musos I know well (Henry Spinetti on drums, Andy Fairweather on rhythm, Dave Bronze on bass, and Gary on keyboards---the basic band that was on The Concert for George DVD), but there was never an opportunity to get up on stage, though I've met with them all backstage many times, including on one of the 24 nights concerts at the Albert Hall when I last lived in England (from '91 to 2000).
Q. Your Book of Love sounds Trippy, did any drugs influence your perception of the illusion of life?
A. It's a funny, but solid book....actually not trippy at all...all based on what people DO, not what they say they do. The Book of Haight will be
LSD turned me around completely....that first trip changed my whole life and got me in touch with who I really was and from then on I painted and pursued my creativity totally....it put me on the right track immediately.
Q. What are you working on now?
A. I just finished some cosmetic changes on Trower's "Go My Way" album I did for him four years ago (they are re-issuing it), putting together the art (finishing tomorrow) for my London guitarist friend's second album, "So Am I" ---Saiichi Sugiyama, and album he has just finished in conjunction with Pete brown, who he plays with on the Surrey blues circuit. When I get back to England, I'll play with them. I met Pete in 1970 just after I moved over there. Saiichi's site (that I did for him) is: http://www.saiichi.com Then I have my children's character, Pussyraptor---I have to finish up the illustrations of her with my Disney animator friend who designed all the characters. We are making a presentation for a full-length animated 2-D feature when we get it all put together. The stories are all written (http://www.pussyraptor.com) ...but the best stories are a Christmas series which are on the web, but only available by appointment.
I am sending out my book to the media to get TV and radio interviews,sending out audition tapes for my doctor brother-in-law on the two videos we have made together (he'll be the next famous celebrity doctor), re-writing my business plan for my business in the UK, designing sidewalk awards for a project you hear more about in a couple of months up in San Rafael...it will be as big as the Hollywood walk of fame....and I'll be painting 7 Stratocaster Robin Trower special issue guitars...one each of all the album covers I've done for him, plus I'm going to do an eighth one as a Star Trek guitar, using the same techniques I used to paint the Starship Enterprise for the first Star Trek movie.
I am also am polishing my western script (The Adventures of Pecos Pete and Black Bart---http://www.pecosandbart.com) and writing a romantic comedy, doing a series of explosion paintings, shooting some funny spec videos for David Letterman (hoping to be "his man in Hollywood") doing a bunch of silly stuff; editing the western video I shot with my brother-in-law (a gynecologist) called "Doc on Holiday in the Old West"...it's all about menopause and very funny, but full of good info. He's Native American, very athletic and outdoorsy, handsome and charming, with a great sense of humor...not your typical doc at all.
Uhhhh, let's see, is there anything else???? No, I think that about covers it----Oh! Dormouse, my toy that every house will want... especially every house with children. So you see, my plate is full. Too full.
Q. I don't have a movement around me, but maybe if I open the can of worms could it come back?
A. No, it can never come back...something else will, but nothing likethat...things are of their time for all sorts of reasons, mostly to do with everything else that is happening at that time, you know? Better you become an expert and a historian of that period, opening it up for everyone who wasn't there...it will see you well all through your life. I have hundreds of people write to me asking what it was like and envious they couldn't be there (like, they weren't born yet!).
FOR MORE INFORMATION, PICTURES, FULL BIOGRAPHY, STAR TREK SPECIAL EFFECTS INFORMATION (Which Paul was apart of), MOVIE LOGOS, AND MUCH MORE ON PAUL OLSEN CLICK HERE!
The Funky Sixties, LSD, and Flaming Groovies?
Funky Paul in his book THE LOOP explains what a flaming groovie was, you can try it at home for the 4th!
"Almost everyone who was taking the drug (LSD) was having a wonderful time with it (in the sixties); so much so, that for a period of two years, a whole group of friends would get together every weekend and "drop," usually fortified with home-made cookies, popsicles, fruit, psychedelic music, colored lights and playtoys like prism-lens glasses, reflecting mobiles, flaming groovies....ah! flaming groovies. These were plastic bags twisted tightly and tied in several knots and hung from the ceiling. A bucket of water was placed directly beneath, and the "groovy" was lit with a match. The plastic would burn and melt, sending successive, whizzing flame droplets cascading into the bucket. It was a great light show, and would last for five or more minutes with hundreds of flaming groovies whizzing into the bucket and hissing out. The acrid smoke from the plastic also stunk out the house but what the hell, this was groovy, man.
Another favorite toy was to take a wire oven rack or refrigerator tray out of the appliance and tie string to the two sides of one end of the tray. Each string needed to be about 1-1/2 feet long, and had a small loop tied in the loose end. We would bend over and hook an index finger in each loop and pick up the rack so it cleared the floor and, still bending over, put our fingers with the string looped on them into our ears. A compatriot would then run a wooden spoon up and down the rack which resulted in the sound of temple bells being played inside one's head. Try it, it is amazing that such a common household piece of hardware is capable of sounding so beautiful. You don't even have to be stoned (it helps with the groovies, though)."
From top to bottom, Funky Sam, Funky Paul, and Funky Jack in the Allard Batmobile being regaled by Victor Moscoso off camera at the Psychedelic Car Show at Muir Beach in 1967. Photo by Elaine Mayes, our "official" photographer(maybe THAT'S why I'm not wearing pants in our official photo...she wanted to see my skinny legs!!!!!).Creedence Clearwater Revival played for free (they couldn't yet get paying gigs) in the clubhouse just out of frame on left.