by Jerry Cimino
Niko was bummed. Patti Smith had just visited The Beat Museum on Thursday, which was Niko’s day off. “It’s the story of my life,” he texted me after he’d heard he’d missed Patti’s visit. A year earlier, he’d missed Tom Waits. “All the great musicians walk in on days I’m not working.”Saturday was a light day. We don’t see much action in North Beach in November and December. Around 4pm I was rushing out the door, putting on my hat and coat to run an errand. I stepped up to the register to let Niko know I’d be gone for an hour, just as he was selling some admission tickets to a group of folks from out of town. The guy with the long white hair caught my eye. I thought to myself, “Where do I know this guy from? I’ve seen his picture recently. No, it was a video. He was smiling and laughing. It was the Kennedy Center Tribute to Led Zeppelin—this is Jimmy Page!”
I stuck out my hand. “Jimmy. I’m Jerry Cimino and I’m glad you made it to The Beat Museum. I recognize you because I’ve watched that video clip from The Kennedy Center a dozen times.” Jimmy smiled broadly. “Would you believe that came as a total surprise to us? We knew they were going to play our songs but we never expected such a big production with an orchestra and a chorus.”
Jimmy and his companions were all smiles as they made their way around the museum, ogling all the manuscripts and letters and digging on Ginsberg’s typewriter. I showed them around for a few minutes but I knew they were going to get a big surprise when they walked up to the second level, so I put away my hat and coat.I got a text from Niko: “OK, what am I missing? Who is this guy and why should I know who he is?” I texted back a photograph: “Perhaps because you’d know him better from this Charles Gatewood photo from 1975.” Niko shot back: “Wow! Jimmy Page is here now? How did you know that was him?” “Because I watched that Kennedy Center video a dozen times a year ago.”
I was waiting upstairs when Jimmy and his friends arrived. “Jimmy, I hope you don’t mind, but I wanted to see your reaction when you saw this photo that we keep on display here.” It took a second for the photo to register. “Look at that,” he said. “That’s from the interview with Crawdaddy magazine. I’m more used to seeing the one they used on the cover, but I love that one sitting with Burroughs. How’d you get this?” “I know the photographer. He’s a friend, Charles Gatewood, and he lives here in San Francisco.”
We sat in the big comfortable chairs on the upstairs level. Jimmy is a real fan of the Beats, he really knows his stuff and we were all talking at once.
“You know that 1965 event at The Royal Albert Hall?”
“The International Poetry Incarnation. There was a movie, right? Wholly Communion?”
“That’s right. I was there that night.”
“In 1965? You were there?”
“Yes. We all knew it was going to be a big thing. It had to be. Allen Ginsberg was in town!”
“You were probably like 20 then?”
“Yes, and I was desperate to get a ticket. It was sold out, but a friend got me one. It’s still the biggest event ever held at The Royal Albert Hall. Of course you would know this, but the Beats did everything first. When I was looking at that naked photo of Ginsberg and Corso on your wall there, you know what went through my head?”
“John & Yoko, ‘Two Virgins.’”
“Yeah, you’re right. The naked Allen & Gregory photo probably preceded the ‘Two Virgins’ photo by almost a decade. Or, the fact that Ginsberg and Orlovsky visited India in 1962, and The Beatles traveled there in the 1960s.”
“We all went to India after that.”
“Do you know who Royston Ellis is?”
“Of course. He’s a friend of mine. I saw him not too long ago.”
“Is it true he’s the one who suggested The Beatles change the spelling of their name from The Silver Beetles to The Beatles.”
“I’m sure that’s true. Royston was the Beat poet of London and he knew all the Beatles well.”
As we were all walking out we passed the old LPs that we sell by the front register. Jimmy spotted a Donovan record and picked it up. “I was a studio musician on “Sunshine Superman,” on this one. This is before we’d even thought of Led Zeppelin.”Jimmy and his friends were great folks and seemed to have a real appreciation for what we do. He must have grabbed my hand five times as we were all saying our goodbyes. “Thanks for what you’re doing. This place is so perfect. We didn’t know what to expect when we were walking in. We were hoping it wasn’t going to be some kind of corporate tourist trap. This place is so authentic in its presentation. You should all be very proud of what you’ve done here.” And with that Jimmy walked over to Niko and shook his hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Jimmy said.
Niko was beaming. I could tell he was glad he was working that day.
Here’s the video I watched a dozen times that cemented in my mind Jimmy Page’s smiling face. Please settle back and enjoy it. It may be 8 minutes long, but that’s OK. It’s “Stairway!” for goodness sakes!