Noe Valley Voice July-August 2004

This 'n' That

By Laura McHale Holland

Noe Valley plays a minor role in Country Joe and Me, a book written by Noe Valley native Ron Cabral. A retired San Francisco public schoolteacher and principal now living in Concord, Cabral grew up in the neighborhood, initially on 23rd Street, then above his mom Flora's beauty shop, La Florita's House of Beauty on 24th Street. It was located next door to Tuggey's Hardware, where the 24th Street Cheese Company is now.

The book chronicles Cabral's 44-year friendship with Country Joe McDonald, of Woodstock fame. McDonald's I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-to-Die Rag became an anthem against the Vietnam War, with its memorable lyrics such as "And it's one, two, three, what are we fighting for? Don't ask me, I don't give a damn. Next stop is Vietnam...."

Cabral's story provides a slice of the cultural upheaval that occurred in the 1960s and early '70s. It also recounts McDonald's brief love affair with Janis Joplin (who lived in Noe Valley for a short time), and describes "Summerland," an experiment in alternative education created when McDonald was a volunteer teacher at Opportunity High, where Cabral also worked.

Cabral and McDonald's friendship began in 1960, when they were both fresh out of high school and stationed at Atsugi, Japan, in the Navy. In 1964, after they returned to civilian life, McDonald showed up at Cabral's door and announced, "I've come to Frisco to break into show biz."

Cabral describes McDonald's reaction to Noe Valley's fog in his book: "Joe thought the San Francisco summer fog that draped around Twin Peaks and then just poured down into Noe Valley looked like Martian gas. The sight of the fog rolling down the flanks of Twin Peaks, like it does, is really something to behold. As a kid, I always loved to watch the fog come in. I thought everyone had a fog to watch--I didn't know I was living in a fairyland-like setting, which Noe Valley can be when the climate is just right. There is no place quite like it anywhere."

McDonald and Cabral lost touch for a few years and then reconnected at the "Human Be-In" in Golden Gate Park in January 1967. "It was like the gathering of the tribes--Allen Ginsberg, Timothy Leary, the Grateful Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Jerry Rubin--all these people converging together," Cabral says. "I saw Joe up on stage. His face was all painted up, and his hair was long. I got up close and asked, 'Hey man, what are you doin' up there?' I thought at first that he was in the Grateful Dead. He said he had his own band, Country Joe and the Fish."

Subsequently Cabral managed three bands, one of which, Gold, opened shows for Janis Joplin, Mike Bloomfield, and Ten Years After at Winterland. (World in Sound, a German record label, has just released Gold's music on two CDs.) In the early '70s, at McDonald's suggestion, Cabral started writing a book about their adventures. Cabral even submitted a manuscript to Jann Wenner, founder of Rolling Stone magazine, but Wenner rejected it saying, "Joe's not Bob Dylan, he doesn't have any hit records, you're an unknown author, and you want us to invest $5,000 to publish a book?"

The manuscript spent most of the following decades in a drawer. Every so often, Cabral would edit and update it. Then in 1998, McDonald suggested that Cabral print up just a few chapters and try selling them at one of his concerts. (McDonald tours now with most of his original band members under the name the Country Joe Band.) Cabral brought 30 copies, and they sold within five minutes.

"It validated that people really do want to read about Joe, and that inspired me to get the book out. I went with Author House, and it's been a good arrangement, especially now that we have a hardback to place in bookstores. Whatever happens, the book's going to be available for a long time; it's not going to disappear. This print on demand is definitely something worth looking into," he says. Print-on-demand (POD) technology allows publishers to print books as they are ordered, avoiding the financial risk of printing thousands of books in advance.

Atypically, the book was published in paperback in October 2003, and came out in hardcover this April. It is available through and other major online booksellers. It can also be ordered through local bookstores. If you'd rather buy the book at a concert, McDonald's schedule is at


Longtime 23rd Street resident Ramon Sender has also recently made use of POD publishing. His book, A Death in Zamora, was published in 1989 by the University of New Mexico Press. It received positive reviews, but subsequently fell out of print. Sender re-released it in May, under the imprint Calm Unity Books. His nom de plume for the book is Ramon Sender Barayon because his father, a noted Spanish novelist in exile for most of his career, was also named Ramon Sender.

A Death in Zamora documents Sender's search for the truth about his mother, Amparo Barayon, who was executed during the Spanish Civil War by Generalissimo Franco's fascist forces. Sender, now 69, was just 4 years old at the time. After the family found refuge in the United States, Sender's father refused to provide any details about his mother and forbade him from asking relatives and family friends about her. With the encouragement of his wife, Judith Levy-Sender, he persisted in researching his roots and learned much about his homeland's civil war in the process. The book is in stock at Cover to Cover Booksellers, and is available online at

Sender is also in the news because he is leaving his post as the administrative director of the Noe Valley Ministry building at the end of July. For the past five years, he's manned the front office and done everything from "repairing a hinge on a door, to printing the Ministry's newsletters, to running to the bank, to making sure the calendars are up to date, to answering phone calls, to helping people who can't speak English very well write their classified ads for the Voice," he says. (Thanks, Ramon.) He also plays accordion at birthday parties for seniors who gather for lunch at the Noe Valley Senior Center. His dog Riqui, a Cairn-Westie mix, often mans the office with him, and is a big hit with the tykes at the Noe Valley Co-op Nursery School.

Sender says he's leaving the Ministry to free up more time for his music and writing projects. "I've got a series of concerts on the East Coast coming up in October with members of a composers' collaborative I belonged to in the 1960s called the San Francisco Tape Music Center. For four years we gave monthly concerts of new music in San Francisco. In 1966, we moved everything to Mills College, where it still thrives as the Center for Contemporary Music." A devotee of Buddhism and meditation, Sender shares many of his essays and news of his latest creative projects at his web site,


Filmmaker and 28th Street resident Michelle Blair is putting on a different kind of show on Saturday, Aug. 28, at Traveling Jewish Theater, on Florida Street between 17th and Mariposa. It's a fundraiser for her film in progress, Carrying On! Jewish Arts, Jewish Identity. Her first film, Inside Out: Stories of Bulimia (2002), won a National Health Information Award as well as a commendation from former California Governor Gray Davis.

"My religion is Judaism, and it can seem like this big antiquated thing that's steeped in alienating rituals and patriarchal ideas--things that might make you feel uncomfortable. Yet you have this feeling for Judaism. What does it mean?" Blair muses. "I can't speak for everybody, but through my research and conversations with friends, it seems that many Jews feel more cultural than religious and are trying to figure out what to do with their feelings. This film explores that with young performing artists who are tackling the same issues, each in a unique and edgy way."

Some of the featured artists are cabaret-style singer Amy Tobin, who, through rock songs, reinterprets the lives of Biblical heroines such as Esther; violinist Daniel Hoffman, leader of the group Davka, which merges Klezmer/Yiddish music, Middle-Eastern/Sephardic music, Western classical music, and elements of American jazz and pop music; and Yuri Lane, a one-man beatbox (think Bobby McFerrin fermented and multiplied) whose acclaimed show, From Tel Aviv to Ramallah, is a modern retelling of the story of the brothers Isaac and Ishmael, the Jewish and Arab sons of the patriarch Abraham.

The requested donation for the fundraiser is $25. The evening will begin with a reception at 7:30 followed by live performances by some of the film's featured artists, the film's eight-minute trailer, and a question-and-answer period. Write to for more information, or call 415-695-2909.


Got any personal milestones to share? We're interested in everything from new babies to new ventures. Contact us by e-mailing Or if it's more convenient, leave a message at 415-821-3324 or write the Noe Valley Voice, 1021 Sanchez Street, San Francisco, CA 94114.