Oct 2, 2015

March 22-23, 1969: Thee Experience, Los Angeles


I once spent time in a nightclub kitchen with the man who saturated the West Coast with purple, owl-embossed LSD in the late 1960's, Augustus Stanley Owsley (that's why the owl) III, a man known for such flamboyances as parachuting into Golden Gate Park to distribute tabs of his acid to the loved-in hippies there. Neither Owsley nor I chose to be there, in the kitchen of Thee Experience, 7551 Sunset Strip, Los Angeles; he was following the Grateful Dead and I was following some faded Kerouac adventure dream that took me to California and back to Kansas four times in the weird year of '69.
I was washing dishes in a three-chambered sink while he was standing with his back rested against the freezer door, shooting the gas from cans of whipped cream into his lungs by holding the whipped cream cans upright and bending the nozzle into his mouth, bouncing against the freezer door as the nitrous oxide went to his head. He stood there and emptied a dozen cans that night, always asking me to find more for him in the freezer after he finished a couple and wanted a couple more.
I was just a scrub boy, a dishwasher and organizer of the kitchen, at Thee Experience in the early months of 1969. I was in and out, for the fifteenth time, of a relationship with a woman I loved but could not settle down with. It got screaming awful in those months, so I moved away from her and started sleeping in the back of the nightclub. I'd go to sleep at 3 and wake at 10:30 to the sound of musicians auditioning. I slept on a board propped up on two cinderblocks. For standing in front of a three-chambered sink and washing glasses in record number, for building shelves and calming waitresses whose legs were grabbed by Los Angeles style jerks in the dark, for tolerating an impudent wimp of a 19-year old chef and peeling potatoes stoned over a garbage can, I made more than anyone else working in the club, 70 a week.
My board under the bleachers, my home, was no pleasure. Late night parties of English Rock groups that hung out in L.A. guaranteed there would be plenty of action in, on and under the bleachers. Others less talented also used my bleachers. One morning 3 or 4 of us, around 5 in the morning, turned the light show on the assistant manager and the ticket booth girl fornicating on those bleachers. A shout and a curse rose from the spot, a hoisting of pants, but nothing came of it except that I finally got to sleep on my board that night.
This whole mess was held together by the personality of Marshall Brevetz, an ex-marine, 29 but looked 59, hair in steel wool curls bonked out like Bozo's hair on both sides of his head, His intensity and calm, always high, never varied in crisis. I saw him crawl under busted sinks while panicking bartenders pressed him to hurry (hurried themselves by the crush of Saturday night orders) and Marshall would just say, "It's cool," and mean it -- not like the million hippies who lied their way through hot spots with that expression in those years.
Marshall held the place together with flattery. He'd come up to me and compliment me for my speed in plunging the glasses through their washes and tell me he needed me because I kept the waitresses happy by listening to them when they were upset by grabby customers.
Marshall held the place together with his personality, which attracted musicians. The Grateful Dead played for Marshall -- for next to nothing. Jimi Hendrix came down to jam, free, with Buddy Miles. So you got to soak in the hype ambiance of rock stars and work for peanuts. And you got to meet Owsley. 
Owsley travelled with the Dead. Managed their sound equipment. Had a fondness for initiating new nightclubs by skulking around and dosing the ice cream, coffee or lemonade with LSD. A sharp featured man with a hawk's face and streaks of grey running through his black hair, his bouncing off the walls of the freezer resembled the bouncing, uncertain walk of the downer freaks that infested the club, stumble bum transvestites spilling over tables thru seconal haze, their stupidity pills littering the john floor in the morning when I cleaned it. In this atmosphere, Owsley looked evil in his black leathers, and his LSD became a sinister Halloween trick at the bottom of your next spoonful of orange slush.
Separated from the girl I'd come to Los Angeles to live with and whom I'd failed with from want of will, I found the sexual overtones of the club, the "let's ball" ethic that surrounded me without including me, unbearable. I shook my head in those days, wondering why the assistant manager would fornicate with that pudgy ticket booth girl when his own wife was a beauty. Just as I peaked in my pain and longing for a waitress named Wendy, a new girl from the East, full of information about scientology, took me home with her, in the midst of all this ugliness of carrying drag queens who had knocked over tables out to the back alley to dump them their wigs fallen in beer and off their heads. She forgave me for failing as a lover and tried, endlessly, to explain scientology to me.
And so for two days I continued fetching Owsley cans of whipped cream from the freezer. He even stayed on after the Grateful Dead left. And I, the waitresses, the light show man, the wimpy chef -- all of us kept waiting for the scream from the floor of the nightclub as someone rolled in the 3-D hysteria of LSD. It never happened. After Owsley had gone, one of the waitresses reported that she had felt a little strange after eating a few mushrooms from the salad bar the night before, but there were no confirmed LSD experiences among staff members. All Owsley ever said to me (other than request cans of whipped cream) as he paused one day from shooting gas and stumbled over to where I stood peeling potatoes by the garbage can was this: "You know, I used to do that too," he said, watching me peel potatoes. "It was in the Air Force. But I had one of those automatic ones, an automatic peeler."

(by Jacob Flake, from Public Notice - a Kansas City underground paper - unknown date 1973)

Courtesy of Lost Live Dead

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A couple memories of Thee Experience from waitresses who worked there:

Peggy Green (head waitress):
"It was 1969 . . . We served a traditional English breakfast at Thee Experience after hours. This particular night the Dead had been playing and w/ them was their pal Stanley Augustus Owsley, (yes, that Owsley). As I recall he was not much bigger than I, and I am a small person then and now. It seemed that everytime I’d go in the kitchen to pick up orders from Chrissy the kitchen martyr (as he was lovingly known) Owsley would pop a piece of ice cream into my mouth. I thought, how cute, and kept taking bites. Turns out he was doing the same to almost everyone in the club. Suddenly I found myself sitting on the steps that acted as bleachers in the back of the room w/ some customer's burger which I was finding mesmerizing. I kept throwing it up and down and it was turning into the most beautiful colors I’d ever seen. At some point, don`t recollect when I became horribly afraid of that killer burger and began to cry and cry and cry. The next thing I remember I was shooting pool at the little bar by the Chinese restaurant. I’d been saved either by Doug Lubahn or Dallas Taylor. I only wish I knew which one. . . ."

Sally Stevens:
"I began work as a cocktail waitress at Thee Experience on Sunset and Gardner, a little bit east of the Strip, a job arranged for me by my friend Joanne Carroll, another Brit, who was then living with Art Tripp of the Mothers of Invention.
Run by the jovial Marshall Brevetz, the club opened in March of 1969 and closed in December of that year.  Marshall was a Florida transplant, and the club quickly became a haven for fellow Floridian Jim Morrison, as well as many other rock musicians.  During its short life, there were legendary shows and jam sessions at Thee Experience, but the word was out from Elmer Valentine and Mario Maglieri of the Whisky that if you played at Thee Experience, don't expect to ever play the Whisky again.  However, because Marshall was unable to pay any of his bills, including fees to bands and so on, the place went belly-up and that was that.  But it was a fun spring and summer. . . . 
I was an indifferent waitress, and the patrons really didn't tip, but I hoped to make connections so I could get back to work in the music business.  Fortunately, Thee Experience only served beer and wine, so that wasn't difficult, but there was food, banana splits, hamburgers and so on.  To say the room was difficult to work is an understatement - near darkness, constant loud music, customers who were several sheets to the wind on not only booze but whatever other substance they might have encountered.  
Over the Labor Day weekend, Delaney and Bonnie & Friends came in for a couple of days, plus every guest they could load on stage, including Jimi Hendrix, Stephen Stills, Dave Mason, Frank Zappa, you name it. . . ."