Season of the Witch: Enchantment, Terror, and Deliverance in the City of Love by David Talbot. Free Press (452 pp.)
- Salon founder David Talbot gives us an insightful account of San Francisco in the years 1967 through 1982, which is to say a time of cultural revolution, riots, murder sprees, and a sexual epidemic which, each in its own way, helped shaped the present liberal values of the metropolis. If you grew up elsewhere and did not get around to visiting San Francisco until years later, when Banana Republic dominated the corner of Haight and Ashbury, this is your book. Many of the people encountered here are familiar—from Janis Joplin and Bill Graham to Herbert Caen and Harvey Milk—but Talbot, with a sharp eye for anecdotes and details, helps us see them in new ways.
- Jim Jones (of People’s Temple fame) was a favorite of local politicians. The gifted Janis Joplin slept with anyone. The political provocateurs known as the Diggers were dead serious in their devotion to the act of giving away food and clothes. Concert promoter Bill Graham saved the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic. Black music promoter Charles Sullivan created the Fillmore of 1960 (“the Harlem of the West”). Executive editor Scott Newhall turned the Chronicle into a mainstream underground newspaper. R. Crumb got his start in San Francisco (“LSD knocked me on my ass.”). So did drag queens shows and gay liberation, the SLA, anti-Vietnam War protests, and more. Talbot weaves the glories, the sadness, and the madness of the period into a wonderfully informative and entertaining narrative.
- Talbot argues that the period produced San Francisco values, such as gay marriage, medical marijuana, immigration sanctuary, renewable energy, and insistence on a living wage. Having lived there since the 1970s, he knows the city’s people and terrain, and probes the lives of mayors and murderers to reveal threads that tie and underlie the public face of a remarkable American place. The free spirit and spontaneity that made San Francisco a mecca for questing Midwestern youth; the seemingly endless gay street party of the 1970s; the Haight’s heart-breaking shift from free love and music to hard drugs, crime, and decay—all are chronicled here in fresh and thoughtful ways.
-Joseph Barbato edits Red Weather Review. He is an author, journalist, and former columnist and contributing editor at Publishers Weekly.