by David Miller
Clay Geerdes was born in Nebraska in 1934. He enlisted in the Navy in 1954. Out of the service, he studied at San Francisco State College, majoring in English. After college he joined the staff of Fresno State College as an English professor in 1965.
It was during his time at FSC that he saw beat poets and authors like Allen Ginsberg, Richard Brautigan, and William Saroyon, and became interested in becoming a writer himself. He kept an apartment in the Haight district of San Francisco and commuted back and forth during this time and watched the “Hippie movement” growing in San Francisco. The conservative attitudes at FSC led to his leaving that position to take up freelance photo-journalism. His first published piece was for the L.A. Free Press, which led to other offers at the Berkeley Barb, Village Voice, SF Ball, SF Phoenix and various other papers and magazines such as Adam and High Times.
He was an obsessive writer and photographer and moved between conventional and alternative culture, chronicling it as he went along. An average day would have him going to an event to photograph and take notes. Then later the same day develop and print the film in his basement, write the article about it and have it on the editor's desk the next morning. It was often a break-neck pace that barely paid the rent.
He photographed and managed the outrageous street theater troupe Freestore that was created by Vito Paulakous and Suzi Creamcheese, who had worked with Frank Zappa. He also did PR shots for performers including The Cockettes and Divine, which were used in the recent film by David Weisman and Bill Webber. He covered The Magic Theater and The Living Theater and various underground films. His photos of Divine were recently used in the documentary by cable TV channel E!. He followed the war protests of the 60s, nude body painting in the park, North Beach Topless Clubs, graffiti-covered walls, free Rock concerts, Happenings, and Be-Ins.
His personal interests and friendships led him into the Underground Comix movement of the 60s and 70s. A book of his photos of the UG artists was published in 1998. It is titled The Underground Comix Family Album. He also wrote a newsletter called Comix World and published his own line of “Mini-Comix” for over 20 years that led to the creation of popular comics like The Teenage Ninja Turtles. His photos have appeared in many tabloids, posters, books, and most recently on the cover of Michael Corrigan's book, Confessions of a Shanty Irishman [excerpted in the April 2003 issue of TheScreamOnline]. In the last years of his life he wrote many essays for the leftist tabloid, the Alexander Valley Advertiser.
Clay Geerdes died of liver cancer in 1997. His archives are maintained by David Miller, who can be reached at DMiller611[AT]aol.com (replace the [AT] with @ in the address line).