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Rosie McGee's Autobiography

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San Francisco in the 1950's and 60's was a wonderful place to grow up and come of age, rich in a wide variety of art, music, cultural heritage, and people.  In addition, the city was crawling with eccentric people who lived outside the norm, a fact especially pertinent to my unspoken yearning for a more dramatic lifestyle than I had with my conservative parents.

Early on, I was drawn to non-mainstream, artistic lifestyles, and I inexorably went off in that direction as I matured.  I was active in little theater from the time I was 12, majored in drama in high school, and went to college on a drama scholarship at 16, only to drop out a year later to go work for a detective agency while I continued to appear in plays, especially children's theater.

By the time I was 18, the coffee houses and theaters of North Beach had become an antidote to my serious, dark, intellectual, and boring home life with my parents, and while I felt fragmented by my dual existence, I was relatively happy.  Weekdays, I worked at a catatonically boring job checking the accuracy of legal property descriptions on tax bills against the county records. Evenings, I spent happy times rehearsing for local theater productions and making many new friends at the Coffee Gallery, coming home to my parents' house at the last possible moment.

FLN.Grant.Ave.63Like most teenagers, I wanted to be like someone I admired, and for me, it was Joan Baez. Although I didn't have a prayer with that fantasy, I did carry a big guitar around North Beach for a while, and I entertained the audiences at the Coffee Gallery's open mike night by singing Bob Dylan songs I'd translated into French. It's possible I believed at the time that my unique presentation distracted them from the fact that I had no talent as a singer. But years later, I was able to tell a piece of the truth when I said, with tongue firmly in cheek, that I'd once opened for Janis Joplin.

It was a major turning point when I became friends with "Big Daddy" Tom Donahue, then a popular DJ at Top 40 radio station KYA, where I spent a lot of time visiting with him while he did his evening radio show. After a while, he offered me a job at his fledgling Autumn Records, where he was launching the careers of Bobby Freeman, Sly Stone, and the Beau Brummels, and promoting marathon Top 40 rock shows at the Cow Palace just south of San Francisco. 

Tom changed my life by paying me just enough to get me out of my parents' home and into my first apartment. In addition, he helped me migrate from a simple love of working backstage in theater, to a behind-the-scenes career in the world of rock 'n' roll.

At Autumn Records, I earned my wages by processing music royalty payments, tracking record distributors' balance sheets, attending recording sessions, working backstage logistics at the big shows, and driving "getaway" cars for rock stars fleeing their fans. This apprenticeship led me seamlessly into a 20-year adventure working and living in the heart of the Bay Area rock music scene, taking photographs and keeping occasional journals as I went.


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