It started with Patty Hearst. Actually, it started when I was watching a documentary on Rolling Stone Magazine where they were talking about Patty Hearst getting kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army and I fell into a Wikipedia hole. At first I just wanted to find out what the word “Symbionese” meant, because I always wondered, and turns out it means exactly what it sounds like—a body of dissimilar bodies and organisms living in deep and loving harmony and partnership in the best interest of all within the body, as in symbiosis—and not at all what I had originally assumed, which was that the SLA must have been comprised of a group of people that originated in an obscure area of the world called Symbion. (Nope, they’re from Berkeley.) Then I got all wrapped up reading about Patty Hearst joining the SLA after they kidnapped her at 19 years old and how she wore that beret and robbed a bank because she was brainwashed and committed a bunch of other crimes and went to prison for a while and later on became an actress and was in like, four of John Waters’ movies. I literally sat there for a half hour reading all this and thinking about what a weird life Patty Hearst has had. Now she’s 63. She probably knits.
Then there’s Sara Jane Olson, the SLA woman living on the lam for 20-something years in Minnesota with her husband and three kids who finally got caught and put away for planting pipe bombs under cop cars. This is the kind of thing nice California girls did in the 70’s. They lived in Berkeley and radicalized each other and blew up things to get attention for their left-wing, anti-fascist, anti-establishment views. I’m still not really sure what their exact point was. I also don’t know if this woman ever thought her cover would be blown, or if her husband knew she had been a wanted woman all those years, but they found her and Sara went to prison for seven years. Then one of her daughters went on American Idol and apparently got pretty far.
So then—even though I have plenty of other shit to do besides Googling notorious female criminals from the 70’s—I look up Leslie Van Houten, the Manson chick who somehow got recommended for parole this past September even though she once knifed someone to death. Only her parole still has to be approved by Governor Jerry Brown, who already denied her once and who, if you ask me, really doesn’t need much of a reason to deny her again no matter how much acid she was on at the time or how sorry she is. And where would she even go. You can’t really slip away and live much of a quiet life if you’re Leslie Van Houten with a faded X carved into your forehead. And where does anyone go? Where did OJ go? I can’t imagine The Juice ever walking into a CVS for shampoo or batteries or whatever and not be looked at as a murderer. Although honestly, as insane as it sounds, I’m not sure he did it. And this is why.
Years ago I read an article about some crackpot who claimed to be the daughter of Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski. She said she survived the murder and was hidden away to “protect her identity.” Sharon Tate was pregnant with a boy, but according to the “daughter” that was a made-up fact and part of all the “protection.” I just Googled her too, but I couldn’t find anything. Somehow I wouldn’t be surprised if she lived in Berkeley.
At this point I kind of have the creeps because I realize it’s gotten dark outside and I’m alone in the house and barely any lights are on and I’m still sitting here reading about murderers. But the Rolling Stone documentary is still on and the music is actually making me really happy. And how fantastic would it have been to be a rock journalist back then, writing about music in a time when so much about music was pure and honest and shocking and socially pertinent not judged by heads of corporations for its merchandising potential. I can’t name one bad album from the 70’s. But try getting The Wall made today. Try being Rickie Lee Jones today. Or Patti Smith. Or Joe Cocker. Even then, they looked like they were 50. And they were the shit.
I lived in San Francisco in the early 90’s. The early 90’s were only 20 years after the early 70’s, and 20 years is not that long. Yet no one ever tried to recruit me to support their violent fringe group or to help kidnap any heiresses. No maniacs claiming to be the son of god ever used sex and acid to lure me into their murdering hippie cult. Hippies weren’t even a thing anymore. John Lennon was long dead. Yuppies and New Wave and AIDS had happened by then. The riots happened. Then Bill Clinton got elected for president and I remember the entire city erupting in the most raucous celebration of joy you’ve ever seen after 12 years of stuffy conservativism under Reagan and Bush. Horns honking, people dancing in the streets. I’ll never forget it. And me, I was 26 years old, living in my first apartment I ever had by myself on Pine and Hyde, right above The Tenderloin, cocktail waitressing and wearing flannels around my waist and obsessively listening to Pearl Jam’s 10. I got tattoo’d. I read Allen Ginsberg. I bought an old Volvo with holes in the floorboards that I never registered. I don’t even think I had a bank account. I had no idea what I was doing with my life, and I didn’t care. Luckily I figured it out. Some girls like me don’t and end up being Manson chicks.
And now, two and a half decades later, it’s 9:30 on a Saturday night and I’m sitting at home in my pajamas. I have a husband and a mortgage. And a book coming out in a month. At one point I hear someone from the Rolling Stone thing quote Hunter S. Thompson: “The kid is getting old.” His wife, I think. I write down the words, but nothing else. “The kid is getting old.” Then I wonder what Patty Hearst is doing these days. Probably knitting.