San Francisco Fifty Years Ago

(Kenneth Rexroth’s complete columns from the San Francisco Examiner)



December 1964

Thanksgiving in Yosemite
The Vatican Council
The Depersonalized Campus in Berkeley
Wycherley’s The Country Wife
Intelligent Life on Mars?
The New English Liturgy
The Myth of Christmas
The Past and Future of This Column
Fine Ballet, Lousy Auditoriums




Thanksgiving in Yosemite

We went up to Yosemite for the Thanksgiving weekend, as I have been doing, unless I was in Europe, for time out of mind. We had dinner with friends who are long-time residents of Yosemite Valley — French cuisine, candle light, and fine wine amongst the cliffs and waterfalls. After dinner I read aloud a few of the many poems I have written in the Sierra.

1927 — thirty-seven years ago! — Andrée Rexroth and I, new come to California on our honeymoon, hitch-hiked up to Yosemite for Thanksgiving. We camped out against the sunny rocks back of the Indian Village. Striped skunks and ringtailed cats came and sat around our campfire. Gathering apples in the old orchard, Andrée stepped on a drowsy bear. We roasted a chicken and baked a cake in a reflector oven made of rocks. It was a fig-cake. On the way up we’d camped under a massive black fig tree, with the late lingering fruit half dry on the branches and sweeter than sugar.

The same stars are still rising over the waterfalls, obedient to the order of the year. I am grizzled and, as poets go, very successful. My daughter and my secretary scramble up and watch the water-rockets shoot down from Nevada Falls. Mary chatters about her ballet and I think anew of Po Chu-I’s poem, “You who were recently a creature of silks, gauze and satin have now become my mountain and waterfall companion.”

We didn’t sleep out in a warm cove of the cliffs. On the contrary, we stayed in the luxurious new motel buildings at Yosemite Lodge and ate turkey and drank champagne in our suite with a view of the falls, the dark pines, the golden oaks, with the new snow stretching underneath and out over the meadows.

Late Thanksgiving night I walked out across the meadow and down to the river. The snow sparkled and creaked underfoot and the stars shone up from the surface of the sliding, hissing water.

The next day a young bear who didn’t have sense enough to hibernate came, flopping his feet like Charlie Chaplin, through the snow to investigate Carol — to her great delight.

A few minutes later, here came a coyote, big as a small Alsatian, all decked out in his new thick blue-gray winter furs. All in all — the Valley was at its best and seemed to be trying hard to please us.

And — more than all in all — levels of my mind came awake that had grown lethargic amongst the distractions of the city. I translated twelve poems of Pierre Reverdy’s from the French and wrote some notes for some of my own and did a lot of pondering, mulling over and meditating. And the girls had a good time, too.

[December 2, 1964]



The Vatican Council

These last few days certain of the affairs of men have set out on courses of, if not collision, at least conjuncture. The rendezvous lies far ahead, obscured by the fire and smoke of a most doubtful future. It may never be kept, but if it is, history will be profoundly changed.

The second session of the Vatican Council recessed. Rebels in The Congo massacred their hostages, most of them medical missionaries. The use of the vernacular in the Mass was introduced around the world. Riots broke out in the capitals of the Communist countries and the former colonial nations, protesting the attempts of the Belgians and Americans to rescue the Congo hostages. The Pope flew to the Eucharistic Congress in Bombay, with a stopover to mollify the anti-Semitic Lebanese. The Buddhists in Vietnam split into pro- and anti-Communist factions.

The more intransigent Roman Catholic press, from Commonweal and Ramparts, have been plain spoken in their disappointment with the present Pope and with the results of the second session of the Council. In fact, one paper has accused him outright of pusillanimity in the face of the manipulations of the Curia and the Spanish, Sicilian and some American reactionaries amongst the bishops.

Protestant papers like The Christian Century have expressed their disillusionment. The liberal Nation wishes that “Pope John were still God’s Vicar to turn on his fellow churchmen the purifying fire of his incorruptible love of man.”

There is still another session of the Council to go, still at least one more chance. One more chance of what? It is so simple. The Church is now deciding whether it will go into the future as a genuinely ecumenical church, a world religion available to all men, in the years ahead that will probably be the most troubled of all the times in history, or whether it will go down with a dying civilization.

These are not my words, but those of a great French Catholic Personalist philosopher, Emmanuel Mounier. He said them almost 20 years ago, but they guide the thinking of the Cardinals of Vienna, France and the Rhineland.

We pretend that we live in a Christian and progressive civilization. We do nothing of the sort. We live in a pagan civilization with a few remnants of Christian sentiments and superstitions — those which can be exploited commercially. And it is a civilization with decay and dissolution plainly marked for those who dare to see.

This century is most likely all the Western civilization there is ever going to be. The martyred doctors and nurses in The Congo were heroes of Christian self-sacrifice for the good of all men, but they were killed because they and their religion were identified with Western civilization and its evils.

Just a little while ago the criminal puppets in Vietnam were invoking the very name of Emmanuel Mounier to justify their looting of their own country. Right-wing Hindus put up posters in Bombay, “Mister Pope, Go Home!” And an American and an English bishop at the Vatican Council had the effrontery to ask the assembled fathers to approve of nuclear bombs!

We talk about Mass in English as though that was all that happened last week. It was Mass in Hindi and Swahili and Polish, too. And it was Mass in Chinese, at the risk of the lives of the participants.

In 1600, the Jesuits were advisors to the Chinese Emperor. Under the leadership of Father Matteo Ricci, one of the most remarkable men who ever lived, they were on the verge of introducing China into world civilization, and of gaining acceptance of their church as one of the three religions of the empire.

Rome refused to allow them to adapt some of the superficial rites and customs of the Church to Chinese ways, and insisted on the words “Tien-chu” (Lord of Heaven) for God, instead of “Tien” (Heaven, the sense of the Absolute) or “Shang-ti” (Lord of All). The Jesuit Order submitted, and was finally broken and recalled from China. The emperor was dumbfounded.

Arnold Toynbee says that the Church missed the chance of true universality and retreated to the position of a European sect. Christians in China have long since come to use those words indifferently, as we use God, The Almighty, The Lord.

It may be the chance has come round again, one last time. Certainly the spirit of Matteo Ricci was present at Masses all over the world last Sunday, as it has been present at the deliberations of the Vatican Council.

[December 6, 1964]



The Depersonalized Campus in Berkeley

If it had no other virtues, the campus of the University of California used to be, 50 years ago, spacious and gracious. Back then, the poet Witter Bynner was invited to give a series of talks. His classes were small. It was beautiful weather. He took them out on the lawn.

The faculty never forgot. To this very day you can find snowy-haired emerituses toddling about in homespun tweeds who will tell you, “Had a poet here once. Name of Winter, think it was. Took the students out on the lawn.”

About 30 years ago, a friend of mine came to teach. He was from Harvard and was by no means hired as a member of the junior faculty. A great pedagogue, inspired by the examples of Copey at Harvard, Gauss at Princeton, Merklejohn at Wisconsin and Wittgenstein in Britain.

At the end of the semester the head of his department told him, “Hear you’ve been fraternizing with the students. We don’t do that at Berkeley. If you want to stay here, you’d better stop it.” He didn’t want to stay.

Things have improved little over the years. Berkeley is still the most impersonal and depersonalizing of all America’s fog factories. The issues for which both sides are deadlocked are not worthy of so violent a conflict. What has broken down, however, is the essential educational relationship, a great educator sitting on one end of a log and an inquisitive student sitting on the other end.

Broken down? Except for a few rare souls, it has never existed. I know several members of the faculty committee that have spoken in defense of the students and against the chancellor. They are of all faiths and political opinions, but they function as “faculty liberals” for one very simple reason. They are each one distinguished by a talent for genuine rapport with their students. As teachers, they can reach their students with learning, and the students can reach them with all the troubles of youth.

It is most unwise to put all this rumpus down to childish truculence urged on by Reds. Every student organization concerned with ideas and principles is in revolt. This includes the Catholic, Jewish and Protestant organizations, and for all I know, the young Buddhists. But as Cardinal Newman said long ago, a university is concerned with ideas and principles, but it is also concerned with persons and is essentially a complex of personal relationships.

On the weekend the papers said, “Student leader says Clark Kerr has never met with students.” I have been entertained hundreds of times at the homes of Berkeley faculty. Never once has there been an undergraduate student present, except as “girl help.”

What our state educational system needs is something far more fundamental than what the students are rioting about. It needs a totally different philosophy of education. Intellectual gum machines are not enough and they are bound to break down.

[December 9, 1964]



Wycherley’s The Country Wife

Well, it looks like we’ve got us a Symphony. Everything has picked up. Discipline, coherence, phrasing, intonation, for the first time in years we have an orchestra that is a unified musical instrument, capable of speaking with genuine character.

I only hope that next year’s program, which must be in the planning stages now, has some more imaginative selections. This season’s repertory is a bit on the standard fare side, a sort of evening school in basic music appreciation. Still, as the cobra who could tie all the knots in the Boy Scout Manual used to say, “Good music is good music.”

I haven’t said anything about the Actor’s Workshop in some time. They’ve started out with a couple of big shows that at least show off a good many members of the company to good advantage, but one of them I could have done without.

What was wrong with The Wall was not the terrible subject — the massacre of the Jews in the Warsaw ghetto. That, and the other horrors to which men fell in the last war, should be recalled to us periodically. And it should be borne in on us until we never forget it that the Jews and Nazis were both men and women like us, just as civilized, just as good husbands and parents, just as fond of Beethoven, just as regular churchgoers or just as skeptical.

What is wrong with plays and novels like The Wall is that they reduce themes whose significance is really unendurable to the triviality of Broadway and commercial fiction. The Nazi extermination program is the most shameful episode in the long and nasty history of the human species. The final resistance of the Warsaw Jews was a hopeless, heroic gesture that reasserted in oblivion the unkillable dignity of man. Material like this deserves better than the cheap gimmicks and easy exploitation of sentimentality that is all that the authors of The Wall were capable of bringing to it.

I go back to last month’s play because the program notes of this one, Wycherley’s The Country Wife, give me to wonder. What principle operates at the Workshop in their selection of plays? “If it isn’t social criticism it isn’t art, and if it is, it is”? The Wall is social criticism, true, but it is not art, it is just a synthetic commodity.

The person who wrote the program notes for The Country Wife tries desperately to make social criticism out of Wycherley’s play, an excoriating moral satire of the rotten society of the court of King Charles the Second. It is nothing of the sort. It is just a plain old-fashioned bawdy joke.

Its plot, its characters, its situations, are as hilariously unreal as most bawdry has always been. It is supposed to be funny. Why not admit it and relax? England in the days of Charles II was no more evil than usual, people were just more frank, more given publicly to broad humor than they have been in the intervening years.

Why torture poor Wycherley’s ghost and force him to pretend he is Strindberg or Bert Brecht?

I know why. The bawdiness of Restoration comedy was partly a reaction against the puritanism which had kept the theaters closed as works of the devil for half a generation. The puritan today is ashamed to condemn Congreve or Wycherley or Aphra Behn, it is not enlightened. So he sociologizes them away, or at least sociologizes the debbil-debbils out of them.

I recently did an article on Rabelais and read over a lot of criticism on that sane and funny man. So few critics in all the centuries have been able to accept the simplicity of his intentions. All his gigantic humor about copulation and defecation — coming to be and passing away — they can’t believe it is funny. Rabelais must have been up to something, a crypto-Protestant, a political pamphleteer, an anti-Aristotelian, the adherent of a secret pagan cult, an atheist, a republican.

He couldn’t have been just a big sane man with an outsize appetite for life, for all of life, which he found, all in all, far more ridiculous than anything else, and therefore superlatively enjoyable. It’s that “therefore” they can never accept.

So with The Country Wife. Fortunately, the cast is carried away by the gusto of the play and treat it as a romp. I would have liked to have seen more gags, more funny business, more ad-libs, more spontaneity all round. That is what the play is for.

It is not an existentialist sermon, designed to make us all feel guilty when we read about raids on switch clubs and marijuana parties in the papers.

[December 13, 1964]



Intelligent Life on Mars?

As two balls of competing ideology race towards Mars, Free Enterprise off to an early start, but People’s Democracy hustling right along behind, what do you suppose is going on on Mars?

Swift, in Gulliver’s Travels, described the two moons of Mars, both close to the planet and very small, one circling the planet backwards, so to speak. One hundred and fifty years later, this fantasy was discovered to be true in fact. However, Asaph Hall, who discovered the two moons in 1877, had scrutinized the planet carefully at its last opposition, in 1862, through the same 48-inch telescope, and had seen no moons.

Josef Shklovsky, the Russian astronomer, believes Hall didn’t see them because they weren’t there. He thinks they are artificial satellites which were shot up into orbit in the intervening years. He points out that the inner moon, Phobos, is spinning in a rapidly decaying orbit and will descend in a comparatively short time. It follows that it cannot have been in its present orbit for a very long time, either. In addition, its behavior is most easily explained on the assumption that it is hollow.

In 1955 the Japanese astronomer Tsuneo Saheki reported four occasions subsequent to 1937 when the Osaka observatory saw a pinpoint of light flash out from one of the dark areas on Mars and linger from eight seconds to five minutes, leaving behind a peculiar cloud. Neither any volcanic action nor nuclear explosion with which we are familiar would be on such a scale as to be visible at so great a distance. However, some device similar to our Lasers and Masers, yet very different, might have produced such an effect.

As everybody knows, astronomers have been arguing about whether there are canals on Mars ever since Schiaparelli saw them almost a hundred years ago, and, of course, if there are, whether they are natural phenomena or the work of intelligent beings. If the canals (actually the vegetation lining canals) do exist in anything like the profusion and mathematical elegance with which they were mapped by Percival Lowell, the inhabitants of Mars are far more intelligent and cooperative than we.

If the Martians have saved the living creatures on their desert planet with its sparse atmosphere, at the best an environment as inhospitable as the top of Everest, by constructing and operating such tremendous engineering works — why haven’t they come to us, rather than waiting for us to come to them?

Maybe they have. Maybe they know exactly what goes on on the earth and have for thousands of years. It is easy to see why they would want no part of it.

We may discover, as we probe deeper and deeper into the universe, that our probes fail, blow up, send us back obviously false information. We may discover that we have been quarantined by the actually intelligent beings all around us.

After all, speeding towards Mars are two satellites, representing the two most powerful groups on earth, whose very satellite programs are part of a preparation to exterminate each other and everybody else, simply because they can’t agree on how to distribute the riches of this overabundant planet.

[December 16, 1964]



The New English Liturgy

I have been following Dick Nolan’s discussion with his readers about the new liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church with considerable interest. I certainly agree with him. The Church is not going to convert the modern secular society by speaking its language, dressing its nuns like airline stewardesses, or teaching its confessors the already outdated pseudoscience of Freudian psychoanalysis. In fact, people will gradually stop going to Mass if the English spoken in church is indistinguishable from that spoken at a Rotary luncheon.

There is nothing final about the present translation, for that at least we can be grateful. There is certainly nothing wrong with a liturgy in the language of the people. The Anglican Prayer Book and the various Slavic rites of the Orthodox and Uniat Churches demonstrate that conclusively. If anything, the English of the Prayer Book is more devout and more deeply moving than the Latin of the Roman Missal.

There is, of course, a considerable movement in the English-speaking Roman Catholic world to simply adopt the Prayer Book translations where they parallel the Missal, and otherwise to fill the rite out with translations made by the missionary priests under Elizabeth or James the First, or by Bishop Challoner, a century later.

Something will have to be done, because the present translation is flat, pedestrian, uninspiring and sometimes a little vulgar — surely the last qualities one wants in a religious rite. I have never read a modern translation of the Bible that I didn’t think pretty awful, but there is nothing intrinsically wrong with modern language, you just have to have great writers as translators. Alas, a committee of ecclesiastics in this day and age, unlike the days of King James, seems to be totally incapable of anything but Rotary luncheon English. Maybe when the liturgiologists get through, the translation should be turned over to a committee of the indisputably best Catholic writers of the English language.

Thomas Merton, Brother Antoninus, J.F. Powers, Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene, Christopher Dawson, with T.S. Eliot co-opted from the separated brethren. I’m not joking. In fact, I think this is the only possible solution. Unless it preserves and increases the sense of reverence and continuity, there is no justification for an English liturgy . . . reverence and continuity together, an unbroken chain of prayer 2000 years long.

By accident a poem I wrote long ago to the poet and Dominican Friar, Brother Antoninus, got left out of my recent books of selected poems. I feel badly about this, a publisher’s error, and I know many people miss the poem and have asked about it.

Since it is about Christmas, and about the age-old continuity of prayer, I’m going to print it here. It was written one evening after Brother Antoninus and I had been milking the cows at a farm in Sonoma County. It begins with one of the Latin antiphons sung at Mass in the weeks before Christmas.


Rorate coeli, desuper, et nubes pluant justum.
Aperiatur terra, et germinet Salvatorem.

The year draws down. In the meadows
And high pastures, the green grass veins
The grey. Already the stubble
Fields are green. Orion stands
Another year over California,
Simple and lucent, guarding the full moon.
Dew descends from heaven
Good pours from the clouds.
The earth wavers on its whirling track.
We milk by lantern light. The shadows
Of the cattle are illimitable.
The lantern light knots in gouts of gold.
As the sun retreats, and the moon
Turns its face away and back again,
Following the spinning earth
Like our following lanterns
Through the dark, back to the white breath
Of the cattle, back to the smell
Of hay and dung and milk,
Back to the placental
Dark in the abandoned ruins,
God goes again to birth.

[December 20, 1964]

NOTE: For more detailed discussion of religious translations, see Rexroth’s 1961 review of The New English Bible.


The Myth of Christmas

There is a naughty streak of puritanical rationalism that shows up in some of the least expected people. Every once in a while some learned Father takes off on the paganism and mythological fantasy of Christmas. Especially in America this is coupled with the widespread delusion that if Christianity were just more folksy, more folks would join up.

“Jesus was a Booster,” “Christ was the greatest PR man that ever lived” — these are not impious jokes I thought up, but literal quotations from modern clerical super-salesmen.

It’s not just the muscular Christians of liberal Protestantism, there is an even more obstreperous faction in the Catholic Church in America which is forever having at Santa Claus, Christmas trees, and the commercialization of Christmas.

Now a member of the Society of Jesus has come up with the theory that the manger story is a myth, too. He says "There was no room at the inn" is an insult to Oriental hospitality.

Christmas is a pagan sun festival, Jesus was almost certainly born in the spring. Presumably in a well-appointed Bethlehem motel with the learned Chaim Ibn Spock in personal attendance. What makes people this way?

Of course the Christmas story in all its detail is a great myth whose elements go back into immemorial antiquity, probably to the years, 8000 of them ago, when the first stones were laid in the walls of Jericho, that oldest of cities. Of course the Yule log and the Christmas tree came out of the pagan forests of eastern Europe in the Middle Ages and originally had nothing to do with the birth of Christ. Of course people make money selling each other foolishness all through the month of December.

What’s wrong with all that? What would the learned Jesuit have us believe and do?

Should we accept his flimsy reconstruction of the events, based not on fact, but on the taste of the Affluent Society? Should we stop buying presents and give the money to the missionaries? On the 25th of December should we hand out leaflets at church doors saying, “Fie on you-all for Sun worshipping,” and then go home, lock ourselves in the closet and fast and pray?

Christmas is a myth, one of the archetypal myths of human experience. It is a myth which has been given body by the most exemplary of lives, and given quality by thousands and thousands of years of devotion by millions of people. It is not necessary to prove it with documents or archeology — we prove it in our hearts.

The ass and ox, the straw, the cold night, the shepherds, the angels amongst the stars — it is certainly as likely to have happened the way we believe as the way Father So-and-So believes.

We, like the sun, renew ourselves once a year in darkness, poverty, humility, in a world communion of the simplest possible beginnings. There’s not much humility in the Father’s first-century motel, and there is, for certain, not enough in us. We need the exemplar of the myth, far more than we need a barren historicity.

[December 23, 1964]



The Past and Future of This Column

Newspaper columnists are traditionally bound to honor the major holidays with standardized badinage. There is a stereotype kept in stock somewhere for the New Year. I can write it in my sleep, standing on my head, with my toes. I’d like to get away from it and take a little stock of the past of this column and project a bit into the future.

Reading over the file for the past year, I realize that I have written less about entertainment and much less about wining and dining than I used to do. Pieces on music and the arts have tended to be less review or topical criticism and more given to general analysis and questions of policy and long-term significance. I have tried to keep down the amount of space I give to civil rights issues, simply because, if I let myself go, I could easily write about nothing else.

Sometimes I wonder if people get bored with all the wordage given to city planning and rebuilding and related topics having to do with our feeble and frustrating and frustrated attempts to reorganize our deteriorated community life. Maybe I should try to write more engagingly if they do get bored, because certainly nothing is more important in our little local lives as San Franciscans. Of course, what’s wrong is that most people are bored by the subject, no matter who speaks. Or not even bored — they just don’t listen at all.

There have been several columns on religion, more especially on aggiornamento — the great awakening going on in the Roman Catholic Church. I have no apologies to make for this, the newsweeklies seem to think it’s hot and hard news because they give it an inordinate amount of space.

Trouble is, most people in San Francisco, far away from the centers of disturbance, whether Chicago or Vienna or Lyons, are baffled by what is happening and, whether they are within or outside the Church, they misinterpret and often resent the many drastic changes. I too think this is important news, for the simple reason that it may just possibly result in a fundamental change in the whole set of our society and in the course of history. This is a consummation devoutly to be wished, certainly. The values and motives of our Western Civilization are questionable indeed and our future is grimly ominous.

I’m pretty skeptical. I doubt if mankind can be saved from its follies, but it is just possible their consequences can be ameliorated, at least to the minimum of social hygiene necessary for survival.

So, sometime in 1965, probably in the early spring, I plan to spend a while in Europe, traveling about and trying to form a picture of what this revolution in the Church is meaning out in the world. Is it effective, is it making a difference? Or is it just an inside job and too little and too late to even so much as interest the ordinary man and woman who have never given religion a thought and have no intention of ever doing so?

I will be doing other things too, eating, drinking, sleeping, looking at paintings, listening to music. I hope I can make the columns from Venice or Paris or Vienna more interesting than those last summer from Milwaukee. Funny, some of my correspondents thought those three or four Milwaukee pieces most interesting and amusing. That did give me confidence in myself as a writer, because I sure didn’t find Milwaukee itself all that amusing.

Big changes are going on in all European countries, both in the so-called Free World and in the so-called People’s Democracies. This you know if you’ve been reading the recent Hearst Task Force stories.

Many well-informed Europeans believe that America is slipping, that we have fallen behind the times in every way, and have lost that brief chance to make this both the Century of the Common Man and the American Century. They believe that they are learning to solve problems that we refuse to admit even exist. Many progressive younger European businessmen, politicians, artists and scientists look on both America and Russia as over armed, over rich, over concerned with problems history has rendered obsolete. Sort of wealthy and dangerous old uncles — squares, if you will.

Is this true? I intend to see for myself; it’s eight years since I’ve been abroad and the New Europe is the product of exactly those eight years.

Outside of this trip I have no very definite plans for the coming year. The column has grown more reflective and less topical in recent months. Am I doing right? Is that the way you want it? After all, I write it for readers. I’ve got plenty to do and I don’t need to publish my reflections if nobody wants them. I’m quite familiar with them and can keep them to myself.

[December 27, 1964]



Fine Ballet, Lousy Auditoriums

As Christmas week draws to a close, we can look back on at least one of our festival shows with the greatest satisfaction. The San Francisco Ballet has never turned in a better performance.

A couple of years ago the male sector was, due to dropouts, in a very demoralized condition, scarcely above amateur standards. But these are young people, and two or three years made all the difference between immaturity and startling accomplishment. At least three of these young men, who were only boys a little time ago, now merit that seldom deserved adjective “noble” in “danseurs nobles.” They’re as good as anybody in the country.

The whole company is trained to a fine point. It is becoming one of those rare precisionist ballet troupes, like the state ballets in England, Denmark and Russia. This of course is due primarily to the fact that our company now plays more show time than any other in the States, but also to an amazing increase in discipline and hard work in the classroom.

You have a last chance to see them today at the Opera House. If you can’t go, tune in Channel 7, 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. on New Year’s Day. You’ll never see a better Nutcracker.

Another yearly Christmas-time event was not so hot. I could not have had better seats for the Messiah at the Civic Auditorium. It has been many a long year since I’ve been there for any sort of music and I had assumed that all the money the taxpayers spent on it recently had improved it.

At first I thought there was something wrong with the orchestra. Then I instinctively looked for a couple of dials to twiddle. Then I just relaxed and pretended I was back listening to Papa Hertz struggling with the nation’s outstanding acoustical nightmare. Poor Maestro Krips — unfamiliar with the place, he kept quieting the musicians down, so that sometimes they became almost inaudible.

Besides the sheer difficulty of hearing, there is still that mysterious quality that makes all the music sound as if it was played on rubber instruments. What did the money go for? Just to chic up the hallways?

What are we going to do here in San Francisco? The Opera House is out of date and yet the improvers may turn it into a monstrosity. The Veterans Hall next door is so bad acoustically that it is totally unusable. The Civic Auditorium will do for basketball and maybe small political conventions where it doesn’t matter if you hear anything except noise. Nourse Auditorium is precisely what it always was, a dismal high school auditorium.

Other cities are building, for better or worse, cultural centers of great splendor. All our plans are at cross purposes because everybody wants all the gravy train for himself. How about some fearless and aggressive leadership, as they say before elections?

[December 30, 1964]


“San Francisco Fifty Years Ago” is an ongoing project of posting all of Kenneth Rexroth’s columns for the San Francisco Examiner (1960-1967). Each of the columns is being posted on the 50th anniversary of its original appearance. Copyright 1960-1967 Kenneth Rexroth. Reproduced here by permission of the Kenneth Rexroth Trust.

Previous Month   Next Month

Index of the Columns

Rexroth Archive