Meet Diamond Dave Whitaker — radical raconteur, rabble rouser, revolutionary rebel, and what I would call the Real Deal.
Two things might pop into your head when you first meet Diamond Dave. One is that this guy looks like he walked off the set of a movie about the ’60s generation — as if central casting just sent over the guy who’ll be playing the aging hippy radical. The second thing you notice is that he can’t be so easily pigeonholed. This larger-than-life character is really way more complex than any label you might try to put on him!
Dave talks fast. The words tumble out of his mouth in a long stream of allusion and alliteration, rhythm and rhyme. If you’re not listening carefully, you might miss a brilliant line or turn of phrase. You have to tune in to Dave’s frequency, and when you do, you get turned on to a whole new story.
Dave has a lot of stories. He’s spent a lifetime — several lifetimes, in fact — steeped in the underground culture of the Bay Area. He came here in 1957, and remembers the moment Jack Kerouac arrived with new copies of his totally obscure new book, On The Road. He knew Bob Dylan back before Dylan was famous (and introduced him to Woody Guthrie). Dave was Beat before there were Beatniks, hip before there were hippies, punk before punk even happened. He’s had his finger on the pulse of nearly every famous, infamous, obscure, underground, marginal and influential cultural moment you can imagine.
Throughout it all, Dave has been more than an observer or commenter. He’s been a poet — constantly performing, speaking, telling stories, using language to engage and connect. At the moment, Dave hosts the Common Thread show and open mic on Pirate Cat Radio in the Mission, and appears on KPOO from time to time. He’s constantly promoting and celebrating the work of others. (True to form, when I showed up at Pirate Cat to interview him, he insisted on putting me on the air to discuss Laughing Squid!) And he’ll be teaching a class at the Free University of San Francisco shortly!
Diamond Dave is not some sort of museum piece — in fact, he’s the opposite! He’s a living, breathing poet and teacher from an old but very much alive tradition. The reason Dave has been able to keep going strong for all these years is that he’s always changing, adapting, seeing what’s new, always with a great appreciation for the creativity and genius of the next generation. He’s not frozen in time, he is of his time — in the most radical, uncompromising way.
Thanks Dave, for 5+ decades of poetry, politics, and people power!
photo by Eddie Codel