Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Vancouver: The Unknown City

by John Mackie & Sarah Reeder

Looking at the Georgia Straight today, it's hard to imagine that it got its start as a wild hippie paper in the 1960s. And when we say wild, we mean wild: in its formative years, the Straight was in constant battle with the authorities over its liberal use of the F-word, graphic photos, and open advocacy of an "alternative lifestyle."

The story that best illustrates just how "out there" some Straight staffers were is the tale of how then-music editor Al Sorenson met Charles Manson and decided to start his own cult.

In the late '60s and early '70s, record companies were confused by the youthquake and were signing all sorts of bizarre acts and concepts. Sorenson was reputed to be one of the most brilliant people to work at the Straight in its wild years, and came up with an idea to record underground happenings. He went down to A&M Records in L.A. to try and get a deal. While there, he met Charles Manson, and thought he was pretty cool.

Upon his return to Vancouver, Al started his own cult. Former Straight editor Ken Lester, who had been sharing a house with him, thought Al was becoming a bit strange and moved out. Two nurses moved in with Sorenson and his girlfriend, and soon he was bedding all three women and walking around naked in their abode (so he could be ever-ready for action). One of the nurses even had her pet rat castrated, because she wanted the only man in the house to be Al. He eventually left Vancouver for a Christian camp in Hedley. When last heard from, he was working at a computer warehouse in Toronto.

Al never did get a record deal, but one of the tapes from the happenings project was released in 1990 as Phil Ochs, There and Now, Live in Vancouver 1968 (Rhino Records). The Ochs tape came from a benefit concert Ochs and poet Allen Ginsberg gave on March 15, 1969 at the PNE Gardens, for a defense fund for the Georgia Straight, which was having legal troubles at the time.

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