January 2, 1977 The Beginning
On January 2, 1977 gale warnings were issued in San Francisco, and, at midnight, four friends unexplainedly found themselves holding onto handrails as 20 foot waves broke over them. Afterwards, they agreed they wanted to explore other such experiences in a larger group of friends. The SUICIDE CLUB was chosen as a name, based on the Robert Louis Stevenson story of a club that gamed at midnight, the losers forfeiting their lives. The name was chosen to alienate and frighten people away.
January 30, 1977 Communiversity
Communiversity was a free alternative school that began at SF State in 1969. The Suicide Club was born as a ‘class’ in the 1977 spring catalog.
Certain hands, seemingly familiar with the task at hand, were the hands I felt gently guiding me out of the van that I had occupied for the last hour along with six or seven other similarly blindfolded initiates. The cops knew this routine: hand on subjects’ head, other hand solidly gripping the shoulder so as to avoid inflicting a nasty gash. These people weren’t police however and we weren’t criminals, at least not at all in the traditional sense of the word. We were a group of strangers who, with out yet realizing the import of our impending commitment were about to agree to put our worldly affairs in order and to live each day as if it were our last. Our guides had by now disgorged the dozen vehicles of their fifty or so sightless occupants and had, with doubtless more than a few comic misadventures lined us up all holding hands in a single queue in what was, trusting to my less prominent senses, a remote, unpopulated, seaside locale.
February 2, 1977 The San Francisco Suicide Club Description
Have you ever explored a subterranean sewer at night with forty other people; climbed three stories on a swinging rope ladder to dine on the roof of a condemned building; staged practical jokes you’ve always fantasized about? No…? How about dinner at Rev. Moon’s or talking a policeman into hitting you with a pie? Well… we hadn’t either. The surviving members of the S.F. SUICIDE CLUB have agreed to EXPERIENCE THINGS THEY HAVEN’T EXPERIENCED BEFORE. In most cases they are challenges that we wouldn’t or couldn’t do alone because of the danger or need for team work. A large group also provides more investigators into the unknown, as uncovering mystery and adventure in the 20th Century requires a lot more detective work. Events generally fall into three categories: Adventures, infiltrations, and stunts. As you may notice in the above emphasized phrase, no WHY or PHILIOSOPHY is attached…
February 3, 1977 Why I joined the Suicide Club
As the years slip by and I try to align each day with the passing of my life, I find myself on tenuous ground. After forty years of living, dreaming, and working to build the kind of community that I would like to live in, I find myself faced with the reality of how little I’ve done to accomplish this task. I haven’t tried. I am accompanied into the future with the lessons learned by my daily attendance in the school of hard sox. Though reality has popped my balloon I arrive at this point in time with the buoyancy to find a better way to live the remainder of my life than the way I’ve been doing it. Apparently life offers no stable, secure rounded fulfillment. Life at best is for me an untidy mess of unfinished business, broken achievements, personal failures, half-successes, short-lived triumphs, belated insights, noble desires and shameful deeds. Hopefully through the years I have accumulated a little wisdom; but for me life is incomplete and much potential remains;
it eludes my mortal grasp. Life as an ongoing state has controlled me more than I it. Like most people I’ve had my moments of breathtaking perfection, but no permanent achievement seems possible.
February 21, 1977 Moonie Dinner
In Feb 1977, an event appeared in the first Nooseletter:
Later, this led to a multi-day actual infiltration of a Moonie encampment.
‘Moonies’ were followers of Sun Myung Moon and his Unification Church, which was a well-known religious sect of the 1970’s.
February 25, 1977 Golden Gate Bridge Dinner
The Golden Gate Bridge Dinner was created by Catherine Baker and became one of signature events that was repeated each year, the other being the Treasure Hunt.
February 26, 1977 Treasure Hunt
Rick Lasky recalls:
“I was jogging in the Richmond District near where I lived when I had a flash of inspiration. Wouldn’t it be cool to organize a treasure hunt around the city? I knew just who to take this idea to: Gary Warne. So I went to Gary’s bookstore “Circus of the Soul” and told him my idea. He said, “Rick, I’ve had the very same fantasy. Let’s do it!”
It was Gary’s crazy idea to hold it the night of the Chinese New Year’s parade in the North Beach/Chinatown area. We agreed to split the writing of the clues. Gary did the first half, I did the second half. It is amazing to me now how much cooperation we got from the businesses then. I asked the folks working at Uncle Gaylord’s ice cream parlor if they would help the week before. I gave the three clues in baggies and explained that next Saturday there would be three different teams from a treasure hunt who would ask for a banana split. They were to put a Baggie with a clue at the bottom of each banana split. To my amazement this came off without a hitch in the treasure hunt a week later. Amazing. Would never happen now.”
John Law recalls:
Small groups with different colored armbands as teams. I remember people in the crowds getting more than a little pissed at us for pushing past them to race across the parade route.
Later at pie fight: Chaotic as hell. Shirley Sheffield talking to a babyfaced MP from her hometown in South Carolina talks him into pieing her. I was watching this encounter and the chief officer (a lieutenant I believe) was, at that time standing atop a jeep/pick-up? Surveying the 50 or so pie covered nuts. He was trying to organize all into groups in some order so he could get everyone’s I.D. We were trying to be cooperative but were stupid-ineffective and silly. When he saw the young jarhead pie Shirley he literally threw his hands up in the air and a few seconds later started shouting over his bullhorn something like: Alright ALL OF YOU: get your stuff and GET OUT OF HERE. Please leave the Presidio…. Take your stuff and GO!!
February 27, 1977 Sliding down South SF Letters
John Law recalls:
“We had refrigerator boxes which we cut up and used as sleds to go down the letters.”
“This event was the capper of an incredibly arduous and mind bending, adventure weekend. Big fun. This night Gary & Ron showed North by North-West at Circus of the Soul. I experienced an extreme example of a type of synesthesia while watching this film, Hitch’s “final word on the chase film”. Lying on the floor of the bookstore, stuffed into pillows and entertwined with the equally exhausted bodies of my Suicide Club comrades I realized that I was IN the movie we were watching. We had moved in one unified and non-stop comet’s arch from the incredible vistas of the GGB through the pre-parade rush of China Town, onto the colossal concrete letters of S.S.F. and straight onto the precarious crevases of Mt. Rushmore with Martin Landau trying to kick us to our death. Wheww! That night and after I felt these people where my family; it was as though I had known them forever. I was already hooked by the Suicide Club but this was the clincher.”
March 11, 1977 Baby Beautiful Contest
John Law recalls:
Entered shill baby: Sweet Pea Sheffield: Ron & Shirley as folks, borrowed a real baby from someone. Dave W. Covered in pink Calamine lotion, paper mache head, big lolli-pop. Gary kept laughing so hard he was almost entirely useless. Adrienne, Bob C., I & others helped Dave (who was almost entirely blinded by his fake head). He tottered out onto the main stage at the War Memorial as Sweet Pee was announced by the elderly gal who was Mc-ing. He came up from behind her and everyone (mostly families) in the audience saw Dave but not the MC. I almost peed I was laughing so hard. Dave toddled past the MC (who’s hands fell to her side and jaw went slack as she comprehended Dave/Sweet Pee. Dave stumbled upstage, bumped into the table with the trophies on it almost knocking it over (a couple actually fell over but not, fortunately to the ground). It looked like he was going to fall off the stage (a drop of 4 feet at least) so we retrieved him and hightailed it out to the lobby where we shot the photos.
March 12, 1977 Golden Hinde
John Law recalls:
“Roseanne Reynolds (Queens handmaiden at Ren-Faire) had brought a big birthday cake which read: “Happy Birthday Queen Elizabeth!” We rowed and I proceeded to climb up the outside of the the ship. We were spotted almost immediately by an ancient security guard. He called the cops. They came (several cars as I recall) and drove out onto the piers on both sides shining very bright lights at us. We paddled over to the largest bunch of cops (who seemed pretty irate) and told them we were celebrating the Queen’s B-Day. They obviously thought this was bunk until Gary and Roseanne showed them the cake. They thought that was pretty funny and let us go. ”
March 27, 1977 The Projectionist
John Law recalls:
“A screening of the movie starring Chuck McCann. Strange flick- one of Gary’s favorite. Ron Unger and I dressed up like McCann (white T-shirts w/smokes in sleeve, black pegged pants, greased hair. We picketed the showing at Circus of the Soul (signs, chanting, etc.) and turned away patrons saying the movie misrepresented union projectionists. Gary considered it an experiment to see if people actually tried to find out what pickets were about or simply had a knee-jerk reaction to them. Ron & I realized we were actually turning people away- they wouldn’t expend the energy to find out what it was all about. We felt bad & slacked of on the picket. This is a good example of Gary’s aesthetic directly clashing with his business efficiency!!”
April 1, 1977 Naked Cable Car
Scariest thing I ever did. Many of us spent the night at Nancy Prussia’s apt. (I was dating her at the time-2 mos+/-) We got on the very 1st (6AM?) car at the Cable Car Barn. 6-8 blocks later we stripped of all clothing and the grip and brakemen on the cable car just stopped in the intersection until we were done with our photo shoot (2 photogs were waiting for us at the intersection). One carman was a small, older white guy who was shaking his head, obviously annoyed at our interrupting the even flow of his cars early morning operation. The grip was a portly, good natured black guy who, to the chagrin of his brittle partner refused to engage the cable and leave until he had had his fill of oogling the bare breasts and asses he was surrounded by. My stomach was tied in knots from the fear of embarrassment and disapproval that public nakedness would no doubt cause. Quite to the contrary, I felt as though a weight had been lifted of me along with my raincoat. I was exhilarated by the experience and came to realize that no one gave much of shit about me being naked. My petty bourgeois fear was conquered.
April 1, 1977 Union Square Stunt
John Law recalls:e
“I think the same day as naked cable car we did the Union Square Stunt. We parked on the bottom level of the parking lot (4th level?) in two or three funky vehicles: Dave’s beanbag seat Ford Galaxy 500 and a hippy type van, maybe Bob C’s.
There are three elevators. [They staged eight scenes in total in the elevators, each described below] The scenes I recall were: 1). Candlelit dinner. Nicely dressed couple, red checked table cloth, Bob Shlesinger(?) in a top hat and tails playing violin. 2). Man in easy chair attended by a boot black, a manicurist and a barber. 3). Shower scene. I was behind the shower curtain (taped across half the elevator car. Jeri Pupos [a Phoenix writer], Ron Del Aquila and a third person were in line waiting to shower. We were all wearing only towels. I had a shower cap on, soap on a rope and a tape recorder playing running water. Two well dressed elderly women heading for Macy’s got on the car without looking. I peaked over the shower curtain and, as they realized they were surrounded by near naked people, I told them they would have to take their clothes off and get in line if they wanted a shower. They laughed. 4). A car filled with balloons. 5). Three people bound and gagged and held at gun point by a Gorilla. 6). Flammo LeGrande with the beautiful Maureen Rowland (I think) doing the “Fountain of Flame out the elevator doors at each level. This one got the cops called and we frantically packed everything up downstairs. We were just pulling out as the police arrived.”
April 30, 1977 Merry Mouth Mental Health Tour
This event took place in April 1977 – led by Ron Unger
May 25, 1977 Food Fight
Photographer Greg Mancuso captured the Suicide Club in a massive food fight that took place in a house rented by Pierre Barral in the Glen Park District of S.F. The house was to be torn down later that week; the opportunity to completely trash a house, Three Stooges style, was simply too great for the Suicide Club to pass up.
May 25, 1977 Patchwork Quilt Adventure
This was a repeating event by Peter Field, and featured a collection of mini-events.
August 5, 1977 Oakland Bay Bridge
John Law recalls:
This event was in part (according to Gary) a welcome home to me upon my return from hitchhiking around the country (and Canada). This was the event where we had to threaten the guy (I forget his name) because he refused on principle to ditch his pot. We had to clandestinely park on Yerba Buena Island and sneak past military guards to walk to the raft debarkation point. Gary threatened to drive the guy back to S.F. if he didn’t comply with the events proviso. We rafted out to the 1st Cantilever span stanchion just to the north of Y.B.I. and climbed the tower legs as far as the roadway (160 feet +/-).
August 15, 1977 Exploring a Dead Hospital
Harkness Hospital was a former San Francisco hospital located in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, where many of us lived.
We adopted it as a frequent destination for events such as dart gun games and climbing expeditions.
August 27, 1977 Enter The Unknown #2
We ascended as a group of nearly 30 folks to a rooftop under a freeway billboard, armed with materials required to modify the billboard.
A group brainstorm resulted in a plan, and we created the modifications and applied them.
We got arrested.
“Free the Max Factor 26″!
September 30, 1977 Golden Gate Bridge Climb
John Law recalls:
16 people went on this climb. This was way too many. Dmitri said to me at one point: “Gee John. I almost passed out back there.” I reassured him & never got outside of arms reach all night. This was the largest group I ever lead on the GGB. Plenty of chills! This climb was long before we got to the top of the tower. (For the next year straight we climbed the tower repeatedly, as much as once every week or two searching for a way to get to the top of the tower. These climbs were by invitation and I only asked good climbers. Some of them were: Pierre, Jayson, Randy Raines, Bob C., Peter F. etc. We made it to the level just below the top after a couple of times. It was very difficult, however to find a way into the one shaft that exited into the top beam and this search took almost a year).
December 17, 1977 Continental Detective Agency vs. The Legion of Crime
December 25, 1977 Commando Raid on the Naval Reserve Fleet
This is it, for people who have been complaining about being bored with the Suicide Club later events. We will be infiltrating a perimeter of humongous naval ships anchored in Suisun Bay, they aren’t used but yet they have to be kept afloat or they’ll never get them out of there when they do decide to dismantle them. They are arranged in eight rows of about 15 ships each! Just barely touching one another, waiting until the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor again or until the Suicide Club takes them, whichever comes first. There is one guard house midway down the line of them, which is a pretty long line and we will be entering from one end canoeing to the side of the ship, where a few of us will climb up the anchor chain to the deck, drop a rope and pull our trusty rope ladder, about a forty-foot climb over water. We will be having Christmas dinner aboard them and we will explore them first and either have the dinner at the end of the night or whenever we see we are about to get caught, whichever comes first.
September 20, 1979 Gorilla Grotto
The Gorilla Grotto was a play space created by Gary Warne in 1979 as an experimental store-front café and “adult play environment,”.
It was an ambitious attempt to engage thinking adults with their world and their fellow humans in playful and sometime shocking ways. Each night of the week, a different theme was presented. In-depth interviews of “experts” on a wide variety of hot- button topics were the fare on Tuesdays, action/adventure play, sometimes with the group leaving the Grotto for site–specific adventures, was offered on Saturdays; on Wednesdays Gary hosted his peculiar interpretation of “group therapy” sessions that were popular in the ‘70s featuring the occasional parlor sex play game, and on Sundays, singular acoustic musical acts performed.
January 1, 1982 Many Many Events ensued
For 5 years from 1977 to 1982, the Suicide Club Nooseletter rolled out every month and many events from mild to wild occurred.
May 10, 1982 The Club No Longer Exists
To SFSC members,
The Suicide Club as it once was no longer exists. The original intent of SFSC was to create situations where members would experience things they hadn't experienced before; to allow members to create a fantasy with the help
of from five to fifty others. Anyone could create an event; everyone was encouraged to. Limits of all kinds were tested: creative absurdity—clown parades, pie fights, staged street theater; explorations:of old abandoned buildings, breweries, sewers, ships; and literal physical danger. Participation—whether in creating
an event, or helping someone else create one by participating, was what made It work. Whether something was "fun" or "entertaining" was not the issue, but rather how far you were willing to expand yourself in one sense or another.
This is no longer the case. Over the.past several months, events and their creation have been left to a small core of people, most of whom have been all but exhausted by the effort. Events are increasingly gauged by their ability to entertain. The majority of members appear to be exceedingly voyeuristic at best, appearing mostly for an event that is "fun", quite safe, and not very messy.
The heart has, however slowly, been cut, drawn and quartered out of the Suicide Club. It's time to give the Suicide Club a decent suicide and a proper burial .
THEREFORE: Since SFSC has no leaders and no methods for making decisions, I propose a meeting/breakfast at my house on Sunday, May 16, at 11:00 am, to debate/pro- pose/celebrate/weep over the end of the Suicide Club. Bring breakfast.
AS AN ALTERNATIVE to what we have now, I suggest this: that one person (most likely me) be in charge of the mailing list, which is kept updated. Anyone (barring sex offenders and gangsters) can have access to it, and anyone who wants to can have their name put on the list. (If you don't come to events, don't count on being sent anything, toots). There would be no charge for anything, and event-leaders could recoup their mailing costs by collecting at the event,
THERE HAS BEEN. TALK of a final, big-bash suicide event. Interested parties should speak with other interested parties.
FINALLY, for those of you who were wondering, there were no events submitted this month. This will probably be the last cummunique of the San Francisco Suicide Club.
See you on Sunday.
Jean Mcshofsky, Treasurer 180 - Ninth Avenue
November 20, 1983 R.I.P. Gary Warne
Gary died in November 1983 of a heart attack at age 35.
January 1, 1986 Cacophony Society
Inspired by the Suicide Club, the Cacophony Society took its name from the Suicide Club’s motto of ‘entering into Cacophony’
More, faster, harder….
January 2, 2009 R.I.P. David Warren
David died in 2009 after a most interesting life.
A memorial service was held on Jan 2, 2010, fun was had! David would have approved:
On January 2, 2010 many old friends gathered to remember and honor David T. Warren, who passed away on this day in 2009. As a tribute to the man of many paradoxes, we had a memorial/celebration of his life. Perhaps you were there, or perhaps you wished you could have been there. Hopefully the information on this site will satisfy.
About the Memorial Gathering
When :2PM- 7PM, Saturday January 2, 2010
Main presentations: 3:30- 5PM (music/skits/readings/footage)Killer!
What: The memorial gathering is at 2 pm.
It is a carnivalesque potluck so bring food, snacks and beverages!Dress in a festive manner — put the “fun” back in “funeral.” We will have music, magic and film clips featuring Dave, as well as some of his many spiral notebooks filled with thoughts and ideas.
There will be stories galore as Dave’s life was so colorful. We are trying to reach as many of his old friends as we can. For ex-Suicide Club members, we hope to make this an intriguing reunion.
Alcohol is permitted in the museum, huzzah!
Since some of the proceedings will take place outdoors, dress for the weather.
May 20, 2013 Legacy….
The Suicide Club was an expression of an idea. It was an idea made concrete by the vision and genius of Gary Warne, but it was also an expression of its times and of an age.
In the language of the Suicide Club, an ‘event’ was an experience to be appreciated and embraced as a chance to be fully awake and alive, on the world’s terms, not necessarily your own. We mostly did these things in groups back in the day, but as I discovered later the best events can be those that are experienced alone.
The ‘event meme’ thought pattern was easy to internalize and carry forward in life, every novel situation whether good or bad could easily be seen and appreciated as a ‘Suicide Club Event’. I have been on countless ‘events’ in the last 30+ years, mostly ones that only I know about. Mostly these would probably seem comically trivial, but its all about how it pushes your buttons! Being a cub scout leader for a year in the mid-90’s was a true Suicide Club event for me, yep. In my particular case I was fortunate to have a life partner for several decades who also was a Suicide Club veteran, so we got ourselves through many a situation with the knowledge that it was yet another ‘event’. Thanks, Judy!
And beyond that I have been able to appreciate how so many people I know who had never heard of the Suicide Club had discovered for themselves a similar appetite for adventure and ‘entering the unknown’ with curiosity and appreciation for unfiltered reality. Thanks, Laura!
My eternal thanks to Gary, David, Adrienne, Nancy, and all my Suicide Club cohort and everybody who has carried this torch forward in every direction imaginable!
As David would say: ‘Have Fun!’