When Martha and Girl Met David and David and Paul and Skippy and Dino and Michael and...

One of the most fondly recalled Jefferson Airplane songs is "Martha," on the After Bathing At Baxter's album. Paul Kantner wrote the song in honor of a young lady who had befriended him and David Crosby early in their rock days. As I heard their story, it occurred to me that Martha Wax and her friend Julia Dreyer were what we all tend to think of when we consider the carefree days of flower power and free love and the hippie ethic and all that other groovy '60s stuff. I corresponded a few times with Martha while researching the book and interviewed Julia (who is known to San Francisco rock aficionados as Girl Freiberg and who inspired the Steve Miller Band song "Quicksilver Girl"). I only used a small piece of this story in the book. Here is the rest.

Being in a popular band, or associated with one, had always been a drawing card for guys looking to score. Countless musicians tell tales of being nobodies, unable to draw a second glance from women, until they strapped on a guitar. San Francisco at its peak, in a sense, negated that need–here even the street people were celebrities, so to speak, and the everyone-is-groovy ethos eliminated much of the usual navigation of a popularity hierarchy, the wall between star and fan. Also loosened was the long-standing, undeclared rule that women could not approach men for sex. With feminism taking root, a female looking for a toss in the sack no longer had to wait around to be asked, she could do the asking.

With much of the traditional mating ritual thus eliminated, along with relaxed inhibitions and the widespread availability and acceptance of birth control, circumstances in the '60s allowed for rampant sexual experimentation to take place. While sexually transmitted disease was always an overhanging threat, most everything in the age before AIDS was curable, and not enough of a reason to keep most young folks in this scene, at least, from being frolicsome. And there was no longer a need to expect a further commitment beyond the initial encounter; many a night of passionate lovemaking was followed by a see-you-whenever, without either participant even learning the other's name.

That sex was generally procured more easily, however, doesn't mean there weren't girls who liked to hang around musicians and try to befriend them in all manner of ways–just the opposite was true, and the word groupie was coined around 1965 to give the rising phenomenon a proper name. But because, perhaps, attitudes toward sex were already more relaxed there, making this particular acquisition rite seem somewhat superfluous (and even silly), the San Francisco bands didn't attract as many groupies, in the traditional sense–girls who followed the groups around solely for the purpose of trying to land a musician in bed–as did bands in, say, L.A. or London at the time. More common among the Airplane, the Dead and the other San Francisco bands was to count a number of women as friends, individuals who would come to their shows, visit or stay in their homes, talk to them, get high with them, care for the musicians and be cared for in return.

A couple of free spirits who came into the Airplane's orbit were Julia Dreyer (Julia Brigden today) and Martha Wax. Friends since they were 11 or 12, the two Marin County girls were recidivist troublemakers who met at Tamalpais High School in Mill Valley. Martha's father was the mayor of Sausalito, where Julia also grew up, and when the two girls took to running away on a number of occasions, their parents understandably became more exasperated with each new incident.

Julia, who came to be known as Girl because she was the only one in a family that included five brothers, was what parents might call a handful.

Julia Brigden: I was very wild, what can I say? I can't believe I'm still here. I was a runaway. I ran away to Mexico. And then I ran away with Martha at one point. We were kind of the young, cute girls in town, in the Sausalito scene, Martha and I and a couple others. At the time, I thought that we were so charming and intelligent that these older guys liked us for our minds. They were a bunch of child molesters!

The "older guys" the girls took up with were often musicians, among them Skip Spence, David Freiberg, Paul Kantner, David Crosby, Dino Valente, and future Byrds drummer Michael Clarke. Julia and Martha, though underage, spent more time hanging around the musicians than they did in school.


The Byrds in 1965: (clockwise from top left) Jim (later Roger) McGuinn, Gene Clark, Chris Hillman, Michael Clarke, David Crosby

Julia Brigden: When I first met David Crosby and Dino and Michael Clarke, they were hanging out at Juanita's Galley, which was this old ferry boat that was run aground and falling to pieces. It was this sort of club, a coffeehouse. My mom used to come down in a panic and drag me out of there. These older guys were making passes at us, and we thought we were so cool. At 15, I started smoking pot with those guys. David Freiberg was in jail, but I'd heard about him. He was kind of a hero, because he was in jail. In those days it was definitely a sign of coolness.

Freiberg managed to get himself busted twice in short succession. The first time came while he was living with Kantner and company on Turk Street, for possession of marijuana. Kantner bailed him out and while awaiting trial in San Francisco, Freiberg moved to Marin County, got a job, and spent his evenings smoking dope and singing Beatles songs on his 12-string guitar. He was doing just that when a weed-smoking acquaintance came by one night and asked him if he could spare any. Freiberg obliged by offering the last of his stash to his friend. The next night, the police paid Freiberg a visit. His friend, it turned out, wasn't such a friend: he was a police informer.

David Freiberg: They found the pot and busted me. And off I went to Marin County Jail. I still hadn't gone to trial for the first one. I couldn't get any bail. I didn't know anyone who had enough property at that point. So I sat there for 30 days until they figured out, "Hey, he isn't going to get any bail and we're going to have to feed him."

The police let Freiberg out into the wilds of Marin County, at which point he met Jim Murray and John Cipollina and they formed the basis of the band that would become Quicksilver Messenger Service.

David Freiberg: Cipollina and Murray and I, we had bonded. Then all of a sudden, one day, my trial came up in San Francisco. They sentenced me to 60 days in jail for my first offense, or 90 days. But these were all good things that were happening, because if I hadn't gone to jail in Marin County I never would have been in Quicksilver, I would have ended up working for the stupid Freight Forwarding Company for the rest of my life.
So I was hearing Byrds songs on the radio, "Turn, Turn, Turn," and I made up my mind I was either going to be a bass player or a farmer–the only two things that made sense. And the bass player won. So I got out and Gary Duncan and Greg Elmore turned up. Dino was supposed to be in the band too, but every time it was supposed to happen, he'd go off to jail.

Valente, convicted of his own drug offense and sentenced to jail time, missed out on being a member of the original Quicksilver, which ultimately encompassed Freiberg, Cipollina, Murray (who left after a brief while), Elmore and Duncan. Before going away, though, Valente had, under his real name of Chet Powers, written "Let's Get Together," the song that the Airplane would cut on their first album and the Youngbloods, an East Coast band that later moved to the Bay Area, would later turn into a Top 5 hit single. (Unfortunately for Valente, he sold the rights to the song to Frank Werber, manager of the Kingston Trio, in order to pay his own legal bills.)


Quicksilver Messenger Service: (l. to r.) Dino Valente, David Freiberg, Gary Duncan, Greg Elmore, John Cipollina

Valente and Freiberg weren't the only ones in their crowd flirting with the law.

Julia Brigden: I got busted for being a runaway a couple of times, and put in juvenile hall. It wasn't that I was running away so much as I just wanted adventure and excitement. Our parents were all pretty concerned, because they're all educated upper-middle class people trying to protect their errant children. So Martha and I got sent to a prep school in San Francisco called Drew School, for kind of smart but wayward kids. Anyway, we were going to school there, and Paul Kantner and David Crosby–when he was in town, because he was in the Byrds by then–would meet us for lunch and then they'd whisk us off to Paul's place, and we'd smoke pot and then get back to school. Martha Wax had this crush on Paul Kantner and, I must admit, I was always a fan of Paul Kantner's; he was a nice guy, although people have differing opinions on that.

One time, David Crosby–I wasn't sleeping with him or anything, at that point–would say things like, "Oh, if only you could come and stay with me." He didn't really mean it but one day on the way to school, Martha says to me, "Hey, I got $200, let's go!" And I was always up for anything. I said, "Okay, let's go."

So her dad dropped us off at school, and as soon as he leaves, we jump in a cab and go to the airport, and Martha says, "Let's go visit David." So we fly to L.A., we call him from the airport, he freaks out: "Oh, my God, oh, my God, the police are gonna come get me, oh, my God." He goes into this big freakout, and then he says, "Take a cab, get out three blocks from my house, walk up the street and whistle ‘Tambourine Man' so I'll know it's you." All that drama, you know.

By now I'm feeling really bad, like we really screwed up by doing this. Anyway, we go to his house and he's all freaked out and he hides us at someone's house. Paul Kantner happened to be in L.A. at the time. He called Paul up, Paul comes over to see us, and Crosby's going, "What are we gonna do?! Where are we gonna put ‘em?! The police are gonna come and get us!" And Paul's going, "Let's go swimming!" David's pulling his hair out and Paul's like, "Hey, let's go get a burger." David ended up hiding us at some friend's house and we weren't allowed to leave. And I thought, my parents are much more lenient than this. So I split.

After she returned home, Girl ran away again, this time to Mexico, and got caught. With the juvenile court threatening to hold her until she was 21, there was only one way out: become an instant legal adult. Julia Dreyer was now Girl Freiberg.

Julia Brigden: David Freiberg agreed to marry me in order to keep me out of juvenile hall and all that stuff. I was 17. There was no thought of this is forever or wedded bliss, it was just convenient. I liked David and he liked me. We had crushes on each other. I think we were both quite shy. And I'm very fortunate that it was David. To be honest, it could have been anybody, when I look back on it, but it was David. And he is a very nice guy. I love the guy and we have a great daughter, Jessica, and we ended up staying married for like 15 years. Well, technically we did, but realistically it was a very transient affair.

Martha, meanwhile, began living a nomadic life almost from that first time she and Girl went to L.A. to stay with Crosby. That event had stirred up her politician father big-time, and when word eventually reached him that Crosby was involved, he turned to his contacts at the Chronicle to see if any could help get his daughter back. Ralph Gleason played intermediary between Crosby and Mr. Wax, and Martha was finally convinced to call home.

But while she was on the phone with him, the police arrived at the door of the place she was staying. Martha screamed at them that they couldn't enter without a warrant and managed to get out of the house and slip away. She and the woman who owned the house drove to New York, Martha spending much of the trip hiding under a blanket. Eventually, she headed back to the Bay Area, first staying for a while with Hugh Romney (later known as Wavy Gravy) and with Kantner, before going home. She later became an artist and a poet, working in film, holding on to her ideals.

Paul, inspired by her spirit, wrote a song in 1967:

"Martha she listens for the ticking of my footsteps, patiently
She sifts the hairy air that's worn and woodswept, pleasantly
She does as she pleases, her heels rise for me."

 

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