Monday, 26 October 2009

San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair)

When I visited San Francisco in the early 1980s, the Free Love Hippie Revolution, the Woodstock music festival and the LSD party sponsored by the Agency was over. All it left behind was human debris in the form of brain-damaged men, part of the cultural experiment of the 1960s. Years later, they would become the global perpetuators of the American wet dream. Even with our eyes closed now, we can see the effect of that party all around.

Reaching America was easy, there were no strict visa regulations and absolutely no fingerprinting of aliens in those days; freedom was truly in the air. Taha dutifully turned up at the San Francisco airport to pick me up as I flew in from New York. To see him have at his disposal a huge American car, with an equally huge backseat, was truly awe-inspiring.

We lived on the other side of the bay, in Oakland. Four boys shared the apartment, I being the fifth and a guest for two weeks. They studied hard, cooked well, vacuumed the place, and thought that visiting some of their favourite undesirable places could do me irreparable good. I artfully dodged the threats that came my way and returned to the Motherland two weeks later, a certified virgin.

Whatever I absorbed then, years later, the world’s most aggressive nation would gain no sympathy from me.

On the very first day, I was told by my school friends to control my affection in public since the wonderful place was also known as the ‘city of gays and bays’. As I downed my breakfast on the first morning, Scot McKenzie’s “San Francisco” played on the FM radio. I had heard it before; now I could hardly wait to get on the BART train (Bay Area Rapid Transit District) and proceed to San Francisco. The BART, commissioned in 1972, could speed away underwater across the Oakland Bay Bridge. I felt the pressure on the eardrums as it did that and wondered why our over-land trains filled with water.

My friends studied at the Golden Gate University on Mission Street. Tracing other friends was not hard since the Pakistani students’ community was a tightly knit one, and with Taha’s help, I soon ran into Michael, Bunty, Sherry, Buri, and Nadeem.

I visited the Golden Gate bridge but not the nearby San Quentin jail. From a souvenir shop I purchased a T-shirt that said on the front, ‘I can read your mind’, and on the rear, ‘You should be ashamed of yourself’, and a mug too with ‘Support the arts, kiss a musician’ emblazoned across it. A Dollar was only worth about twelve Pakistani Rupees then.

I took it easy, rode the famous San Francisco tram and wondered why they got rid of our trams in downtown Karachi. Everywhere that I went, I took plenty of pictures with my Canon AE-1 camera. Visiting Berkley University was quite an experience. How I wished I could sprawl on those lush green campus lawns and earn a doctorate or two without having my head examined. Of course, that was typical California dreaming.

Almost daily, I heard Scot McKenzie’s song at least once somewhere, whether in a fast-food restaurant, in the car, or at home. Whatever secret messages that song conveyed to the hippies or the protestors of the college campuses, I liked it for its melody, and not because it became a hippie anthem in America, gained popularity around the globe, or was played during the Summer of Love in San Francisco.

Late into the night, with their tired heads on the pillows, my hosts snored heavily, California dreaming of their mothers’ home-cooked food and of the cheques that the fathers sent. It was a very long way from the Motherland.

And although I lived close to San Francisco, each night the BART of my dreams took me, without a ticket, straight downtown.

Ins and outs:

McKenzie (Philip Blondheim) grew up in North Carolina and Virginia, where he befriended John Phillips. In the mid 1950s, he sang with Tim Rose in the group ‘The Singing Strings’, and later formed ‘The Abstracts’ with Phillips, Mike Boran and Bill Cleary. ‘The Abstracts’ then changed their name to ‘The Smoothies’ and recorded two singles produced by Milt Gabler of Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Bill Hailey fame.

In 1961, Phillips and McKenzie formed ‘The Journeymen’ with Dick Weissman to record three albums. After disbanding ‘The Journeymen’ in 1964, they came up with a group called ‘The Mamas and the Papas’. Phillips wrote and produced ‘San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair)’ for McKenzie in 1967. John Phillips played guitar on the recording, Michelle Phillips played bells, and the bass line of the song came from session musician Joe Osborn. It became a Top 10 hit in America and a number one in many other countries.

McKenzie ceased to record by the early 1970s. In 1986, he commenced singing with a new line-up of ‘The Mamas and the Papas’. And in 1988, he co-wrote the Beach Boys hit ‘Kokomo’ with Phillips, Mike Love and Terry Melcher. Tom Cruise’s movie, ‘Cocktail’, featured this song. (


Original Lyrics:

If you're going to San Francisco
Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair
If you're going to San Francisco
You're gonna meet some gentle people there

For those who come to San Francisco
Summertime will be a love-in there
In the streets of San Francisco
Gentle people with flowers in their hair

All across the nation such a strange vibration
People in motion
There's a whole generation with a new explanation
People in motion people in motion


And now, my twisted tribute (that you can actually sing along):

If you’re going to Swat Waziristanso
Be sure to wear bullet-proofy jackets there
If you’re going to Swat Waziristanso
You’re gonna meet some hostile people there

For those who come to Swat Waziristanso
All the time loud firing will be there
In the streets if Swat Waziristanso
Hostile people with Klashies and rude stares

All across the nation such a great constipation
Leaders with potions
There’s a degeneration, and every new explanation
Brings us promotion of US commotion

For those who come to Swat Waziristanso
All the time loud firing will be there
In the streets if Swat Waziristanso
Hostile people with Klashies and rude stares

Repeat CHORUS (but at your own risk in Swat Wazistanso)



Video of Scot McKenzie:

Video (with hippie footage):

Forrest Gump (1994)-San Francisco: embedded

‘California Dreamin’ by The Mamas and The Papas:
California Dreamin’ by the Beach Boys

No comments: