Allen Cohen 1940-2004,
Editor of The San Francisco Oracle
By: J.C. Juanis
Allen Cohen - Editor/Poet/Teacher/Visionary - passed away peacefully on April 29th in Walnut Creek, CA succumbing to his battle with cancer. He was 64.
Mr. Cohen was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1940 to a working class family.Inspired by Jack Kerouac's On The Road, upon graduating Brooklyn College in 1962,
Mr. Cohen began his vision quest by taking a cross-country trip that eventually led him to San Francisco.
Following in the steps of Allen Ginsberg, Neal Cassidy, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Mr. Cohen lived in San Francisco's North Beach District, well known for it's home to Beat writers and bohemians.North Beach was a Mecca to other aspiring writers such as Mr. Cohen,because of the area's vibrant nightlife with its many cafes and clubs where poets and jazz musicians would convene in a spirit of free expression. At that time LSD was legal and it fueled the artistic community of San Francisco with vivid colorful images and an expressive eloquent tone in its literature. It was during this period that Mr. Cohen's visionary quest would soon be realized.
The following year Mr. Cohen would relocate to San Francisco's Haight Ashbury District, then a working-class neighborhood. Working at the Psychedelic Shop on Haight Street, the first "head shop" of it's kind, Mr. Cohen was working the counter one day in 1966 when police burst in to confiscate copies of Lenore Kandel's The Love Book under the guise of obscenity. The Love Book was series of erotic poems celebrating the divine nature of sexuality and publishing the tone was pushing the boundaries of free speech setting in play all that would come after.
It was while working at The Psychedelic Shop that Mr. Cohen experienced in a dream the vision of a "rainbow colored newspaper." Starting out with $500.00 contributed by Psychedelic Shop owner Ron Thelin, Cohen first published P.O. Frisco SF on September 2, 1966 soon to be followed by the first edition of The San Francisco Oracle on September 20, 1966. Funding for The San Francisco Oracle came from a variety of sources including marijuana dealers, The Haight Ashbury Bank, and from San Francisco rock bands including Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead.
The San Francisco Oracle featured visionary art by such renown artists as: Rick Griffin, Victor Moscoso, David Singer, Stanley Mouse, alongside writing firmly steeped in the past with such Beat era writers as:Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Starting with a circulation of 3000, The San Francisco Oracle quickly became the most unique and beautiful publications of the 60s and was enjoyed through the planet. With it's stunning split fountain printing and vibrant psychedelic imagery, the San Francisco Oracle presented cultural breakthroughs in the articles, interviews, and poetry contained in every issue.
The San Francisco Oracle helped sound the clarion call to the rest of the world by it's bringing together other visionaries, first with the Love Pageant held October 6, 1966 in the Panhandle featuring Big Brother and The Holding Company and the Grateful Dead, and culminating with the Human Be-In that attracted some 25,000 people to the Polo Fields on January 14, 1967. Hailed as "the Gathering of the Tribes," that first Be-In included all of the founding fathers of the era: Allen Ginsberg, Timothy Leary, Michael McClure, Gary Synder, Jerry Rubin, along with live music provided by the Grateful Dead, The Charlatans, and Quicksilver Messenger Service.
Organized by Michael Bowen and Allen Cohen, the Human Be-In garnered significant national media notice, which began to focus on the magical scene coming out of San Francisco in earnest. As young seekers from the rest of the world descended on the now overwhelmed community, the Haight Ashbury began to come under severe scrutiny by local and national authorities. By February 1968, The San Francisco Oracle ceased publication with issue #12. At its peak, The San Francisco Oracle printed over 100,000 copies a month and provided a beacon from Haight Asbury community that was seen around the world.
In 1968, Mr. Cohen started a commune in Northern California. Living in teepees, Mr. Cohen and his followers lived off the earth promoting a natural living lifestyle; exploring a non-material, self-sustaining, creative community. Out of necessity, he became a mid-husband and in 1970 he wrote and published Childbirth is Ecstasy, the first book on natural childbirth in a community environment. With beautifully explicit photographs by Steven Walzer, Childbirth is Ecstasy again stretched the boundaries of free expression as it accurately details the birth of Mr. Cohen's only child, a son named River.
Returning to San Francisco in the mid 70's, Mr. Cohen joined the Peace and Environmental Coalition publishing The Reagan Poems, which examined the new phase of conservative American politics. Working at the legendary Shlock Shop located on Grant Avenue in North Beach, Mr. Cohen continued to write poetry and promote his vision of a peaceful world. Some of the poems from this period are contained in his recently published Book of Hats (Regent Press).
During this time Mr. Cohen sought to recreate the The San Francisco Oracle so as to preserve it for posterity. He also began a continuing series of live performances, incorporating slide images and music in his presentation based on his experiences in the Haight Ashbury. Merging his solid literary skills together with the newly emerging technology, Mr. Cohen, along with Timothy Leary, novelist and Merry Prankster Ken Kesey, and others such as John Perry Barlow, reached out to a new generation of visionaries establishing the Digital Be-In in the 1989. Mr. Cohen recognized the link between the Beat era writers and poets, the hippies from the Haight Ashbury, and the young technical wizards from nearby Silicon Valley and saw the computer age as another significant tool in communicating and linking people of diversity.
In 1991, Mr. Cohen published The San Francisco Oracle - The Facsimile Edition (Regent Press). The coffee table sized book, included all of the editions of the legendary newspaper in a beautiful bound rainbow colored hard covered book for the first time.
Insuring that his endeavors of the past were preserved for generations to come, The San Francisco Oracle - The Facsimile Edition is contained in libraries all over the world so that future students can fully understand the Haight Asbury and its unique cultural significance. In 1993, Mr. Cohen released the hugely acclaimed Haight Asbury In The 60's CD-ROM. Critics noted that the CD- ROM was both stunning and accurate in its depiction of the Haight Asbury experience in the 1960's.
The 1990's proved to be prolific for Mr. Cohen as he read his poetry regularly in bookstores, colleges, museums, and coffee houses throughout the United States and Europe. Usually joined by his wife Ann on stand-up bass and pianist George Michalski, Mr. Cohen's words came alive with visionary splendor for audiences of all ages.Mr. Cohen also supported himself as a substitute teacher for the Oakland Unified School District.
After September 11, 2001, Mr. Cohen edited with Clive Matson an anthology of poetry titled An Eye For An Eye Makes The Whole World Blind: Poets on 9/11 (Regent Press). The book received the 2003 PEN OaklanD National Literary Award.
It was during the resurgence of the San Francisco Oracle that Mr. Cohen discovered that he had contracted hepatitis -C,a condition a condition that had worsened due to his lack of medical foresight. Like all of his endeavors, once he discovered his illness Mr. Cohen focused his energies to face his situation with wholehearted gusto. Exploring modern medical science as well as holistic remedies, Mr. Cohen battled degenerative liver disease and sought to help others in the same situation.
Always an optimist, when cancer was discovered in his liver he dealt with the condition head on. Fortunately through treatment he was able to manage his condition into remission so that he could accept a liver transplant, which he did at UC Hospital in San Francisco on October 23, 2003. Mr. Cohen enjoyed much support and love from his friends in the community including Chet Helms, whose Family Dog Productions promoted benefit Dance Concert, aptly called The Hep Cats Ball, held October 29,2003 at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco featuring Phil Lesh from the Grateful Dead, Don't Push the Clown, and fellow 60's visionary Ram Dass.
So it was with much surprise and disbelief when it was learned that Mr. Cohen's cancer had returned in January of this year settling in his pelvis. Despite 6 weeks of radiation therapy, Mr. Cohen's condition worsened. He spent his final days with his wife at the serene Annie's Little Farm in Walnut Creek, California,amongst the tranquil sounds of honking geese. Besides his wife Ann, Mr. Cohen is survived by his son River and two step children.
© 2004 J.C. Juanis
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