“Making the scene” on Telegraph Avenue in the 1990s

A friend of mine who was part of the Telegraph Avenue street scene back in the 1990s, recently re-visited Telegraph. And he was saddened to find that he didn’t recognize a single person on the Ave. And there was no remnant of the dynamic, vibrant, colorful scene that had once been. It made him feel lonely and even a little heartbroken….. I said to him: “How do you think I feel?? Everyone else has come and gone, and yet I’m still HERE!!”

I, too, had spent some time mourning the loss of that Telegraph street scene of the ’90s. For some reason I had expected that it would last forever. Which I realized in retrospect was silly and naive. Scenes, by their nature, aren’t meant to last. They pop up randomly for awhile in a certain place for a certain time. And then disappear as inexplicably as they had come.

Like the famous Haight-Ashbury scene in the 1960s. I remember I finally got around to visiting the Haight in the summer of 1976 — half expecting to find the San Francisco Oracle psychedelic newspaper, and the Grateful Dead playing free concerts in the Panhandle, and flower children dancing in the street. But all I found at that point were mostly boarded-up buildings, and a handful of burned-out drug zombies wandering the streets like ghosts from a by-gone era. It had only been 9 short years since the fabled Summer of Love of 1967. But there were no remnants of that scene by 1976.

And it made me wonder about the nature of “scenes” in general. . . In a way, all the scenes I’ve been in remind me of the scenes we had in high school. To this day I still feel this strange bond with my fellow classmates from the Class of ’74. I think because we all shared the same basic experiences, at the same time, and the same place. Which could be as good of a definition of “scenes” as anything: “A group of people who share the same experiences at the same time and the same place.”

I remember feeling the same sense of identification with the Punk Rock scene in the early 1980s. After growing up in the shadow of the ’60s hippie counterculture, I finally had a youth counterculture to call my own. . . And I remember at the time, in the letter section of MaximumRocknRoll — that crucial organ for all things Punk Rock — there would always be all these impassioned letters written by these young punkers, earnestly speculating on “the state of the scene.” They’d be concerned that “poseurs” were ruining “the scene,” or that “the scene” was going downhill, or that “the scene” needed to be defended, or how “the scene” could be made even more righteous if we only all banded together, and etc. etc. And me and my cynical friends used to laugh about the letters, because they were so naive and over-wrought, and unintentionally hilarious. And yet there was something poignant about the letters, too. Because they spoke of some primal need that we all feel, to be a part of a community. And to find like-minded people. And bond over shared experiences.

And maybe that’s why we feel this twinge of sadness. For all the scenes that once were. But are no more.

One thought on ““Making the scene” on Telegraph Avenue in the 1990s

  1. I also visited the Haight when it was mostly boarded up storefronts. This would have been a few years later, in the early 80’s. We were there to score some LSD and maaaan, we scored some of the finest I have ever tried, sold to us by a skinhead punk named “bags”. The blotter was plain white paper and of exceptionally high quality.
    So even at its nadir, the Haight could still provide the goods. One could buy quality doses on the street there through the early 90’s, which was when the feds started doling out 10-year no-parole sentences for selling LSD.


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