Has San Francisco Lost Its Bohemian Soul Forever?

(Photo by Senor_B)

I moved to San Francisco as a kid in Mid-Eighties, and lived there for much of my life there on off since then. Though I wasn’t born there, I consider myself a local- a lot of my mom’s side of the family go back 4 generations in the Bay. Even found out my Great-Great Grandfather, back in 1898, used to guard Fort Point (the old Civil War fort at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge!).

Although its my home and always will be in my heart, so much has changed about it that I find so disheartening. The culture, the music scene, a homogenizing ethnic mix, prices, overcrowding and congested. All has changed for the worst I feel, with not much to speak of to it’s improvement. For those that remember it, SF was a place where a group of friends could rent a rambling Victorian mansion, live there and rehearse their crazy rock band, do their performance art, splatter paint everywhere in the garage etc, and afford a simple, stable livelihood all the while working at a used record store.

The city of the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, Carlos Santana, Mission Lowrider Culture and Haight-Ashbury Counterculture. A refuge for eccentrics, bad poets, dreamers, gay runaways, gutter punks, nomads, weirdos, freaks, musicians, Hare Krishnas, drag queens, ravers, political activists, slackers and hard-working poor immigrants- all gone (or just about). What a thrilling brew it was!

As a teenager growing up there in the 90s, it was still a run-down, wild place: exploring old Beatnik dive bars in North Beach, checking out alternative music shows in the Haight, running through Golden Gate Park at two in morning out of our gourds on God knows what. It was a freewheeling place to be young, we pretty much got to do whatever we wanted. It was only when I left to go to college, that I met other suburban and smaller town folks, and realized what a strange, alternate reality existence I’d been living that was at complete odds from the rest of the country’s experience. It was a true privilege, and I wouldn’t have traded it for the world though.

(Photo by Bill Morrow)

But now, the City just appears more and more like a gated community for the Millionaire Class. Pretty much everyone I grew up with has now moved out of the city to the outer exurbs, or out of state entirely. And honestly, it just breaks my heart to see another mom & pop Mexican bakery close down to make way for some trendy, sleek martini bar full of bearded zombies thumbing through their smartphones.The Hippies may have started their Revolution, but it was the 1% who won the final war. SF now has a level of wealth inequality on par with Rwanda, yes Rwanda!!

The homeless problem appears to be as bad as ever, and studio apartments are now going for $2,500 (are they connected?). Ah, the fruits of economic progress… How and where do artists, actors and musicians make their homes and their art anymore? It’s not like we get paid like lawyers and bankers. In which city will the next great counterculture movement or musical trend rear it’s rebellious head? Somehow, I doubt it will ever be in The City By The Bay Again…

(Photo by Celine Nadeau)
Will Free Love, Peace, Justice and Music ever swing back the pendulum and defeat the forces of Money and Greed?

9 thoughts on “Has San Francisco Lost Its Bohemian Soul Forever?

  1. “Don’t tell me this city ain’t got no heart. Ya just gota poke around”
    – The Grateful Dead

    While everything you wrote is true, I would dial it back a smidge. While the unique spirit of The City has evolved and/or shrunk; it still exists. And as for the bohemians artists, dreamers etc… the gypsy life has often been part and parcel of that lifestyle and a life “on the road” one could argue enhances one’s experience.
    New interesting communities are born, just as The City’s was, in this way. The circus comes to town, sets up camp for a time, then travels on.

    • Post Author Greg Goldblatt

      For sure, SF is still a very different place from the rest of the country, or even the world. But there’s simply no way for normal folks who want to live in the city to do anything but work 2 jobs and pay rent. Very little time to do you activism, create psychedelic posters, be in a rock band, or simply just… be. No way we’ll have the same kind go art and music scene that once existed, people are to busy concerned with money! And you’re right, change is always constant. The circus picks up and travels on, wish I knew where its traveling to!

  2. Well first off _ LOVE the ‘snapshots’ (Corrina painting beautifully, the raw bum on afternoon nap & the 70’s newly digital opening vista)
    Secondly _ LOVE the reply via John which concurs with my own feelings but he says it so well.
    Thirdly _ the Dead Quote is perfection.
    Fourthly_ I think if you went back today to some far away college you would again find yourself astounded with the differences – what we assume is normal vs the ‘rest of those guys’ is SHOCKING.
    Fifth point – SF has always been a bit of a myth & youth is the spring.

    Love your Bohemian Soul …

  3. Some different artists always emerge, some may be in the resistance politically, doing the artistry in science, making amazing art on computers and still finding time to play music and dance. Yea it’s hard, and rents are disgustingly expensive, and many of my friends struggle to stay as many have left because of the tech 💥 explosion. But I see design, and chefs, and amazing murals, including the “evict google” in the Mission,as signs of life here still. You are included in this Romantic Bohemia!

  4. Time present and time past
    Are both perhaps present in time future
    And time future contained in time past.
    TS Eliot

    Once there was a poor man who worked his farm together with his son and their horse. When the horse ran off one day, neighbors came to say, “How unfortunate for you!” The farmer replied, “Who knows?”
    When the horse returned, followed by a herd of wild horses, neighbors gathered around and exclaimed, “What good luck for you!” The farmer stayed calm and replied, “Who knows?”
    While trying to tame one of wild horses, the farmer’s son fell, and broke his leg. He had to rest up and couldn’t help with the farm chores. “How sad for you,” the neighbors cried. “Who knows?” said the farmer.
    Shortly thereafter, a neighboring army threatened the farmer’s village. All the young men in the village were drafted to fight the invaders. Many died. But the farmer’s son had been left out of the fighting because of his broken leg. People said to the farmer, “What a good thing your son couldn’t fight!” “Who knows?” was all the farmer said.

    • Post Author Greg Goldblatt

      I like this parable: very Zen! Yes, some things are perhaps a blessing in disguise, while other things we think are blessings become an unforeseen curse. I try to see the good side of the technology revolution in the Bay Area (after all, I’m writing this blog and using the internet aren’t I?), but at times, I just wish all of this rapid change and displacement had happened to somebody else’s city! Thanks for commenting though.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *