Troubadour finds bliss on Haight
The Last Flower Child
She was born too late for the Summer of Love, but Maria Mango's life
is firmly entrenched in 1967. You can usually find her in the Haight,
playing her songs for change, groovin' on the magic, feeling San
Marianne Costantinou Tuesday, February 24, 2004
There among the street grunge and punks and tourists and Boomers,
the beggars and the shoppers, the wannabe hipsters and the long-ago
wasted, a lone street musician stands against a wrought-iron gate,
invisible but for her voice.
She wears a brown suede jacket with fringe, a red velvet skirt
down to her ankles, woolen socks and Birkenstocks, a necklace of
wooden beads, dangling crystal earrings and a smile. An acoustic
guitar hangs from her neck on a strap of smiley faces. On the
sidewalk a worn guitar case lies open, filled with loose change.
Haight Street used to be filled with street musicians. But these
days, they're rare. And her songs of peace and love, themes that
once defined an era and the street, now seem quaint.
At 23, she was born more than a dozen years after 1967 and the
Summer of Love. But like so many other young people drawn to
Haight Street over the years, it is the legend of those days
that carried her here.
"It's part of the adventure, to come to California,''
she says. "It's San Francisco. It's Haight Ashbury.
Her name is Maria Mango -- or rather, as she says,
"it is now." She arrived in September from Canada
by way of Hawaii. But she's so into the mythical
groove here, she already belongs.
"There's still a lot of magic here,'' she tells a sidewalk cynic.
Her tone is motherly, though the cynic is twice her age.
"There are some of us keeping that magic alive in the present day.
It's not just something that happened back then ..."
In midsentence she begins strumming her guitar.
Her voice is lilting, pure. As she sings, she closes her eyes.
She has sung her songs hundreds of times,
but to watch her is to know she still feels them.
Do you remember the Summer of Love?
Well, I don't think that one summer's enough ...
Some would have you think that it ended back then
But it never stopped growing and now is the when.
And the love-olution is still happening to this day ...
"I'm in my bliss here,'' she says, delighted with her song and
herself. "I'm spreading the love. "
She pauses so folks can get past her and into the apartment building
behind the wrought-iron gate that is her stage curtain.
"You guys love me, huh?'' she says to them, her face beaming.
Love? They look at her as if she has three heads. This, after all, is
Haight Street 2004, and love-thy-stranger is in deep hibernation for
the winter. Finally, one of them takes pity and musters a smile:
"We don't mind.''
Mango feels the love, even if they can't. She's there to help.
She writes most of her songs, usually in a park, under a tree. She
likes to keep things happy. She has no tolerance for bad vibes.
"Hey, this is a positive zone,'' she says to a veteran panhandler
who's hassling a listener for three pennies. She plucks some change
out of her guitar case, hands it to him, and shoos him away with the
promise they'll talk later.
OK, so maybe the Haight's not nirvana.
"There's a lot of people here just to buy shoes,'' she admits,
somewhat bummed. "There are people who look like hippies but don't
have the love in their hearts. I guess that was true then ...
"When somebody gets cynical about the Haight, I say, 'I don't feel
that. It's what you make it.' "
It's hard to see the big picture when you keep looking down ...
Feel the love around you,
Let it make you glad.
Mango has been creating her own reality and happiness for years. She
says she grew up in a tiny town near Winnipeg, Canada, the daughter
of middle-class professionals who were neither hippies nor musicians.
While her pals listened to 1990s grunge music, Mango grooved on Janis
Joplin and Bob Dylan and taught herself to play the guitar.
Soon she was strumming and singing on street corners. She was
studying sociology at the University of Winnipeg when she realized
that music was her life. So in the spring of 2001, just three courses
shy of her degree, she hit the road with a backpack and guitar.
She traveled across Canada, couch-surfing at the homes of instant
friends she made on the street, landing in whatever town her new pals
were headed. Last year she ended up on Kauai. It was there, while
writing a song under a mango tree, that she came up with her last
A mango tree, she says, drops its fruit to share whether anyone is
there or not. She says her songs are mangos.
Last summer, someone she met was heading to Burning Man and she
tagged along. The desert arts festival was "far out ... cool,'' she
says. When it was over, she hitched a ride to San Francisco and the
She has played in a few neighborhood clubs but says she is happiest
on the street, where she can feel that one-to-one connection with
"I would do this even if I did gigs,'' she says. "It's real out
Most days, Mango comes out after noon, maybe 1 p.m. She's never sure
what time it is, much less what day. She doesn't wear a watch. She
tells time by the sun. She stays out singing into the night, rain or
shine or cold. She always stands on the north side of Haight
Street, "the sunny side of the street.'' She's usually on the 1500
block, next to the Haight Ashbury Market, which has an outdoor stand
of vegetables and fruit. Mangos included.
She feels lucky to be making money by singing her songs and
occasionally selling a $15 to $20 CD of her music, "Playing for
Change," which she recorded at a pal's studio in Canada. People in
the Haight drop by her sidewalk spot and give her food and offer her
places to spend the night. Others let her use their computers so she
can send her parents and friends e-mails and can tweak her Web site,
She has no wish for fame or fortune.
"I am a star,'' she says. "I love what I'm doing. I would be singing
She plans to make a trip home to Canada soon. Maybe she'll come back
to the Haight. Maybe not. The best plan, she has found, is no plan at
all. She goes where the spirit moves her.
People they come and people they go
Live in the moment, know when to let go ...
Some things they last for only a short while
I bid you farewell with a tear and a smile.
E-mail Marianne Costantinou at email@example.com.
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