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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Kit Horn and California

(Kit Horn; photo courtesy of Tom Keck)

Last Saturday's New York Times ran the obituary of Kit Horn:

"Kit Horn, a skilled surfer whose exploration of new surf spots along the California coast in the 1940s and 1950s -- and later Oahu's famed North Shore -- helped the sport grow from a small subculture to an international pastime, died March 25 at his home in Encinitas, Calif. He was 80....At age 11, Horn began surfing in Santa Monica, when only a few hundred people rode waves in California. With friends...Horn helped cultivate a surfing scene in Southern California, centered in Malibu...'He was a tremendous athlete,' said Peter Cole, whom Horn taught to surf in 1944. 'He was as good a waterman as I have known.'

"Christopher Mason Horn was born Nov. 10, 1929, in Hollywood, Calif. He swam competitively at the University of Southern California. On drives north to visit Cole, who swam at Stanford, Horn discovered and rode waves that might never have been used by surfers. In 1949, he and Cole were among the first to ride Steamer Lane, a big-wave spot off Santa Cruz. After graduating from U.S.C in 1954 with a degree in business and serving two years in the Air Force, Horn began a sales career for chemical companies. But he never abandoned surfing...

"In addition to his wife of 59 years, Horn is survived by two daughters, Pamela Kelso and Lizabeth Lamberty; and two sons, Kirkland and Brit, all of whom live in California. In 1971, Horn moved to northern San Diego County, eventually settling in a house on a bluff above Beacon's Beach in Encinitas. Many of his peers had stopped surfing decades earlier when advances in equipment altered the style of surfing, but Horn continued riding waves at a reef there until becoming ill last summer."

I had never heard of Horn before reading his obituary. But I couldn't help but feel his death was, in a way, a metaphor for the death of the old California, the place which back in the 60's had really seemed like a Golden State.

Back then, California seemed to be on the leading edge of every movement you could think of.

California was Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters. It was the whole surfer culture. It was where the Summer of Love took place, in 1967. It was Hollywood, purveyor of all fantasies. It was Venice Beach, with its muscle culture. It was the Santa Clara Swim Club, with Don Schollander and Mark Spitz. It was San Jose State, with Tommie Smith and Lee Evans. It was Chuck Yeager breaking the sound barrier up near Muroc, in the high desert. It was Topanga Canyon and Malibu and Sunset Boulevard, where the rich and famous played. It was San Simeon, where the really rich played.

The Doors, the Beach Boys, and the Mamas and Papas were all California groups. So were Cream, Buffalo Springfield, Big Brother and the Holding Company (with Janis Joplin), and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. California was where the Fillmore West was, and where the Monterey Pop Festival took place.

California was the Hells Angels and the Devils Disciples. Even Charlie Manson represented a certain California brand of sensationalism. Yes, he was nothing but a stunted little sociopath who had spent over half his life in jail; but the way the media semi-glamorized him, he came across at the time like a demonic cult figure with great personal charisma. He was bad, but in a very California sort of way.

California was also the most physically beautiful part of the country, with the most geographical variety. It had that long coastline, which you could drive the length of. It was Redwood National Forest, Kings Canyon National Park, Death Valley, Half Moon Bay, Monterey, Big Sur, Yosemite, Mt. Shasta, and the Sierras.

The mountains and coastline are still there. But a certain spirit seems to be missing. What you hear from California these days is not the powerful voice of Jim Morrison or the beautiful melodies of the Beach Boys. Instead you hear the whining voices and lies of Nancy Pelosi and Barbara Boxer and Henry Waxman and Dianne Feinstein.

What you hear about California is the busted, ineffective state government. Pension bloat. A state Supreme Court which is rigidly political correct. The Crips and Bloods. Illegal aliens taxing the infrastructure to the breaking point.

The national parks are now used by the Mexican drug gangs to grow marijuana, and they leave their toxic processing chemicals behind. It's virtually impossible to get into Yosemite at peak season. And the freeways, built to accomodate the population in 1945, are always crowded.

(It's even proven too much for The Terminator to handle.)

The culture which produced the Beach Boys is pretty much dead. Those transplanted Dust Bowl Okies, who would go for broke in so many different ways before, now seem just broken. And the original pioneer spirit has either been driven out of the state or cowed into politically correct submission.

California used to lead the country. These days it just seems a reflection of the country's ills.

Kit Horn, rest in peace.


Anonymous said...

A sad, apposite metaphor, John. Together with your next post this has left me quite melancholic - so I decided to seek a cure for "grumpy old man syndrome" and found this:
Unfortunately as this is how to avoid the syndrome - not a cure - but I'll try it anyway.

Anonymous said...

PS Did you mean Cream as in Clapton/Baker/Bruce - they're Brits! I loved the reunion concert!

John Craig said...

Guy --
Just read Sri Chinmoy, it was all good advice, but I'm afraid all easier said than done. But thank you.

Cream was British? Why do I think of it as a San Francisco band? I knew Clapton was a Brit, but for some reason I thought Ginger Baker was from San Francisco. Oh well, thank you for the correction.