I don’t get nostalgic very often (believe it or not), but when I do, it hits hard. It feels like a hole the shape of a church window opens right in the middle of my chest, and memories and music and colors and emotions come pouring out, like little cartoon shapes of musical notes notes and birds and bells. Sometimes it’s nice, though mostly it’s sad, and it makes me feel empty and wistful. I try to avoid it, because it gets harder and harder to close that window and shake it off.
Nostalgia hit hard today and tonight. I was never friends with Tom Guido, and didn’t really know him, but I loved The Purple Onion. I wasn’t part of that scene, but I was the sometimes girlfriend of a musician who played there, so there were many nights spent in that basement club. But oh, they were magical nights, filled with antics and fun, and meeting new friends. It was a big part of my life, actually, and pretty golden. I can’t help but get nostalgic about those times. I think we all do.
The last time I ever talked to Tom Guido (and I only ever talked to him a handful of times) was at a bar — I can’t remember what it was called now — that was the hipster bar for a hot second. It was in an alley between the financial district and North Beach/Chinatown, and I was there early, waiting for friends, and Tom was the only other person in there. It had become his new hangout — The Purple Onion had closed, and he was kind of aimless and apparently living with the bartender in the guy’s kitchen or something. We were sitting next to one another, having drinks, and it was awkward yet surprisingly pleasant. “I really miss The Purple Onion,” I said.
“Kaaaaren,” he said in that nasally voice of his. “You caaaan’t live in the paaaast.” Which I thought was kind of weird because this guy’s whole M.O. was reliving the 1960s, but it was still sage advice. I didn’t heed that advice too well tonight.
San Francisco lost one of its icons yesterday, the Emperor Norton of the 90s. A little bit of The City’s soul died with Tom, along with our young adulthood.
Rest in peace, Tom. Thanks for everything. May your heaven look like a beatnik basement, and filled with all things 60s, especially troll dolls and tinsel.
Photo lifted from this incredible site, tunefilter.com. Check it out for its outstanding tribute and history of The Purple Onion and Tom Guido.