Enter Joe Kranz

Life Magazine assigned Joe Kranz to photo-essay the Bay Area radical hip scene in the Fall of 1967, a natural choice for Joe, who made a name for himself in the Pacific Theater as a young Air Force photographer (Doolittle’s air-raids on Tokyo, the capture of Okinawa, “A Tail-Gunner’s Tale,” etc.), now covered “scenes” and was sick of the Chicago Literary one. If he photographed Bellow and Turkel one more time he’d chug developer, so he packed up his Leicas, flew West, hung out.

Life kept not publishing his essays, and the nature of his assignment obscurely varied. “Zoned Out in Frisco,” “Bringing Home the War,” “Go West, Angry Young Man,” and now, “Hippies: the Death of Hip?” shot and developed and buried in the New York office.

“Zoned Out” aimed him at the Haight Street rag The Oracle, whose guru, John Starr Cooke, ran a Manichean band of LSD missionaries called the Psychedelic Rangers who high-dosed selected persons to save the world from Thanatos/ Communism. Joe’s final contact with them was Muir Woods, where they dropped him off brain-soaked in 2,000 mikes of LSD-25, twenty times the normal dose, with only the redwoods to console him. Just another war story.

Before his rendezvous with the infinite, the Rangers had hooked him up with the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, international drug dealers in Idyllwild, California, and through them Casimir Volodich, for a brief time the sole American source of ergotamine tartrate. Until he met Cosmo, Joe believed the ‘drug scene’ to be wholly a military psy-ops project using unsuspecting tourists and hippies as small furry lab animals, an insight that fell upon him like a Dire Wolf as he cowered under a bush among the redwoods.

Then he met Cosmo. At the end of a rapt attempt to decipher Cosmo’s explanation of why IF it is not unreasonable to believe the incomprehensible, then it is EITHER reasonable to believe the incomprehensible, OR unreasonable to believe the comprehensible, Joe was invited to interview a friend of Cosmo’s, Shauna McBride, who could guide him through the left wing of the counterculture, the Diggers, Free Clinic, Grateful Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Country Joe and the Fish, Hells Angels (‘they’re thugs, but they’re our thugs’).

Joe agreed.

Shauna was elegant and Joe was taken. She introduced him to the Dead, who were happy to pose standing on their heads or carrying one of them around like a corpse shrouded in the American flag, but did not want to be followed candid-camera style. Afterward, Shauna made it clear that before she continued the tour, she wanted to see his Bay Area portfolio.

“If I provide the animals,” she argued, “it seems only fair to know what you do with what you shoot. Do you cut out their tongues like Buffalo Bill, hang their heads on your wall like Hemingway, or what?”

“Zoned Out in Frisco” contained too many shots of kids Shauna knew who were dead, brain-fried, or in jail. She admired the way Joe shot the Haight as if it were a war zone: the mercenaries, warlords, medics, shell-shocked. She praised his shot of a hippie photographing a Gray Line bus of tourists photographing him; Joe made it look like a standoff between an armored personnel carrier and a Vietcong.

“I’m not surprised your warlords won’t publish these.”

Joe laid the photos on her living room table with increasing pride.

“I made the cops look too sinister, I think.”

Beef came up behind them. “Who’s the dodo?”

“A war photographer, darling, here to do the Battle of the Little Big Haight.”

“Ever been in a real one?”

“Pacific Theater,” said Joe, sure the biker in leather and shades wouldn’t know what he meant.

“Which branch?”

“Air Force.”

“Fifth? Aerial reconnaissance?”

“Yes actually.”

“My uncle was in it. I’m her old man Beef.” He jangled when they shook hands. “I know that kid,” he said, pointing to a photo. “OD’d on crank over on Clayton. Fucking genius at welding.”

The centerpiece of Joe’s intended “Angry Youth, Distant War” was a four-photo action sequence, envisioned as a two-page spread. He laid the 8 x 10s on the table, as he meant them to appear.

Photo #1: a running girl is grabbed by a bespectacled policeman who apparently has run out from a line of uniforms behind him. He is rooted, steadfast, she a maelstrom of struggle, arm stretched out, blond hair hurled to the left, peasant dress jerked to the right. Her mouth is open, calling or screaming.

Photo #2: a dark-haired young man, framed precisely by the two struggling bodies and the held arm that connects them, rushes forward, his arms upraised, fingers of both hands laced. One expects a sword to appear with which he will sever the knot binding girl to cop. The girl’s look is fury, the policeman, whose glasses have slipped down his nose, seems distressed by her resistance, oblivious to the running man.

Photo #3: The blow has broken the policeman’s grip, maybe his arm. He falls backward in shock and pain. The young man looks away from him toward the girl, who runs from both, hair and dress streaming behind. The three figures are caught in profile: cop stares at man, man stares at girl, girl flees. Without the first two photos, they might be commedia del arte street theater actors, The Girl, The Boy, The Keystone Cop. Two officers advance from the edge of focus, running, clubs raised.

Photo #4: The young man, center, has been struck by the policemen from behind. One swung too soon, missed, stumbles. The other has connected with the young man’s skull, who pitches forward, arms stretched reflexively to catch his fall. From this angle, a line of demonstrators can be seen. If you look carefully you see The Girl’s hair and dress merge with the crowd.

“I don’t need to tell you why Life didn’t go for this set,” said Joe.

“You sure can take em,” said Beef.

Shauna began to say something, trilled with laughter instead, placed both hands over her mouth.

“You don’t like them?”

“They’re brilliant,” she said, “I want them.”

“I don’t usually.”

“I want them.”

“I can have copies made by.”

“No. I’ll have these. Now.” She laughed again behind clenched lips.

“There’s the matter of copyright and credit,” Joe said, reaching to pack up the photos, sounding to himself like an old fogey, but after all, they were his. Beef’s hand manacled his wrist.

“Give the lady what she wants,” said Beef. “You got the negatives. Attribution will be given.”

“So what do you say,” said Shauna, sweeping up the four photographs, “shall we do the Diggers tomorrow? I’ll introduce you to Peter Coyote. He’s photogenic.”

Joe agreed. Blood returned to his hand.


god speaks

Each day Shauna held the photos captive was one more day she didn’t have to talk to Cathy, one more in jail for Jimmy. Anonymous mailing would not do; if she turned them over she wanted credit and a piece of the action. Meanwhile, she savored owning a piece of his fate and that her dominion was unknown.

“I gotta admit,” said Beef, “I get off on keeping his preppy ass in the slammer. What’s it to you?”

“Freedom from compassion.”

“They invented that, babe, and named it smack. Toss em if it turns you on to not care.”

“You don’t mean that, darling.”

“Then free the college boy. Off the pigs.”

Beef was himself a college boy of sorts: a year at San Francisco State studying semantics with S.I. Hayakawa, enough to make anyone a zen fascist. Beef’s creed emphasized cessation of craving, specifically for empathy. His vehicle for avoiding dukkha and creating a personal zone of bareness was heroin. “I am with you,” he told Shauna, “and that’s all. I am with my hog. I am with the Angels. It is the sparest of relations, the one least burdened with qualities and properties. It is a relation of proximity without intimacy and presence without connection; it celebrates mindless violence, mindless stillness, mindless sex.”

Shauna photocopied the pictures, taped the stamped originals to the rear of a Jimi Hendrix poster in her bedroom. “Judgements are made with no intent whatever,” Beef advised her, nodded off.

On the third day, word came to her through KSAN. “Go to him now, he needs you, you can’t refuse,” said the nasal voice of God, “When you’ve got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose.”

Time to visit Cathy.