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The KRAB-Helix Piano Drop
Apr 28, 1968

Raphael Montanez Ortiz

According to the Helix of May 9, 1968 (below), this was Larry Van Over's idea, prompted by hearing a program on KRAB that included a piano being demolished with sledge hammers (and axes). Perhaps this was the program on Feb 4th: Destruction of Art - A beauteous piano is demolished by a mad artist amidst bickerings and electronic music high art, which was probably a repeat of the Aug 7, 1967 program "Life is a good joke", says Yoko Ono, who participates in this concert of events at last year's Destruction in the Arts Symposium (DIAS) in London? Pictured here is Raphael Montanez Ortiz performing Duncan Terrace Piano Destruction at DIAS in 1966. Earlier in the century, WWII to be exact, a fellow by the name of Al Hansen, later a friend of Yoko Ono's and John Cage's, pushed a piano off a building, which act was somehow even later transformed into "Yoko Ono's Piano Drop". At any rate, Van Over was curious what might be the sound of a piano with velocity meeting an immovable object (a woodpile).

Note: In Rites of Passage, Crowley writes that the program Van Over (and Gary Eagle) heard was "a replay of the CAMP benefit during which a piano was demolished with sledge hammers." But, a search of the program guides did not reveal any CAMP (Central Area Motivation Project) benefit programs, or other piano sacrifices beyond what is described above.

Listen now Listen now - The program that started it all? - Destruction in the Arts Symposium in London 1966 - KRAB Aug 7, 1967 (24:35)

Anyway, it started with a program on KRAB, and quickly turned into a KRAB and Helix event. What we have here is a collection of clippings from Helix, a couple of photographs, and text by Stan Stapp. An edited version of Walt Crowley's piece about the Piano Drop in Rites of Passage can now be found on HistoryLink.

One story has it that KRAB was already organizing the Media Mash when Van Over had his vision and Helix thought to piggy back the Piano Drop on to it. The two events were supposed to help both KRAB and Helix with their debts of about $3,000 each. The Media Mash, a 12 hour psychedelic-rock-blues concert at Eagles, was expected to generate the most cash, including the underwriting to pay for the piano, helicopter, and misc other expenses involved in the Piano Drop. Below right is a NOTE on the back page of the Apr 4th Helix attached to a subscription coupon.

Media Mash Helix cover

Apr 4, 1968 Helix cover (WC)

Media Mash poster

Media Mash poster (WC)

Helix annuonces Media Mash and Piano Drop


The cover of the next Helix issue, Apr 25, 1968, was devoted to the two events. Inside one finds a summary of the Media Mash, and a map to the Piano Drop zone. At this point, financially, KRAB and Helix had reduced their debts to about $2,500 each.

Helix cover Media Mash summation Map to the Piano Drop in Duvall

Meanwhile, KRAB was doing what it could to promote the event: The front cover of the Apr 24 guide was adapted from a poster by Paul Heald; the inside back cover was a map to the Duvall landing site; There was promotion over the air; and Pam Plumb talked to CJ Skreen at the Seattle Times (Apr 25).

Cover of KRAB guide April 1968

KRAB map to Piano Drop

CJ Skreen in Seattle Time Apr 25, 1968


And now...the event, for which we have Stan Stapp writing in the North Central Outlook. Stan, as he says below, had a fondness for KRAB and Helix. His column regularly featured the troubles and tribulations of KRAB. This column was originally published May 2, 1968 in the North Central Outlook, and was republished, in the Seattle Sun Newspaper, in July 2003.

Ticket please.........KRAB and Helix Piano Dro pticket

STAN'S LOOKOUT - Recalling the 'Great Piano Drop' of 1968

By Stan Stapp, North Central Outlook, May 2, 1968

As predicted in the April 25 Helix, last Sunday's Piano Drop proved to be "the singular musical event of the year." A piano drop, in case you haven't learned by now, is when you take a piano up in the sky with a helicopter and drop it to the ground, close enough for people to see and hear it. Great, eh?

Several thousand hippies and their friends journeyed out to Cherry Valley, near Duvall, on the most beautiful day of the year so far, to participate in the affair. This included picnicking, listening to the music of Country Joe and the Fish, responding to calls of nature amongst the trees, and speculating whether the helicopter pilot could hit his target, a pile of dead trees and stumps.

The most obvious reason for holding a piano drop was that it was a gimmick to attract people to an event to raise money for two of my favorite mediums of information and entertainment, KRAB radio station, and Helix, the hippie newspaper. Would that the Outlook could successfully put on such an interesting and original method of raising a few thousand dollars!

But I suspect that the obvious reason was only incidental to the real reason and that just as many would have turned out, benefit or not, to see a piano drop out of the sky and smash to smithereens on the ground. Now my uptight friends can't seem to understand why anyone would want to witness such an event, and I'm at a loss for words to explain it to them. I think that I understand why, and my wife does, and probably my three kids who went with us to Cherry Valley, and so did all of those who went there.

But this is something that if you don't already have an appreciation for, it is pretty hard to teach. Like trying to explain American humor to an Englishman, or brotherly love to a Ku Kluxer. Unless you learned it at your mother's knee, it's too late.

I know I wanted to go as soon as I first heard about the piano drop, because I'd previously attended several similar events none of which had a dull moment. One was also a benefit for KRAB, the first light show I had ever seen. Another was a be-in at Cowen Park, a farewell picnic for Dr. John Spellman, who was kicked out of the University for his outspokenness. And still another was a party to celebrate the opening of a board house.

Perhaps I have taken to these events because at heart I'm a hippie. In fact, Don Page, P-I marine editor, once described me as the "original hippie." But it's not quite that simple.

If at heart I am a hippie, on the outside much of me is still "establishment." I pay taxes, obey the police, meet a payroll, fight competition, live in a nice home, owe money, mostly hang around squares, sport a crew cut, shower daily, wear shoes, rarely use naughty words, and have never smoked pot or touched LSD.

Still I find hippies and their friends relaxing to be around. I add the words friends, for there are many others like me, who are probably not hippies in the stereotyped sense, but underneath identify with them.

Thus Sunday afternoon, as we approached Duvall, population 455, and witnessed probably the town's first major traffic jam, completely blocking the long concrete bridge (the one which has replaced the old plank bridge that for many years sounded like it was falling down behind you as you drove along), I felt part of a friendly caravan of hippies out on a Sunday lark.

Ahead of us was an old truck. When traffic halted on the bridge, a bare-legged flower girl emerged from the cab, and poured herself a cup of coffee from a thermos. She then walked alongside the truck, until suddenly it started moving faster, and she had to run to catch up (her coffee sloshing all over), until it stopped to pick her up again.

About a mile from our destination we had to park, for the road leading to the farm where the piano drop was to take place was filled with cars and people. Mostly they were young people, college age and high school, but there were some children, and a few middle-aged such as my wife and I. But we didn't mind the hike for the day was pleasant, the air fresh, and the people lively and attractive.

As we neared the scene of the day's activities, we could begin to hear the music. In fact it sounded much better than inside a hall, for as you know, if you've heard rock music close up a little further away would be better. Out in the country, it sounded just great.

The overall scene was of several thousand colorfully dressed people, in every conceivable outfit from mini-skirts to Amish hats for the girls, and with men sporting a wide variety of beards, long hair and curly hair. Yet at no time did they comment on each other's dress, as is common at the dress-up affairs and cocktail parties the rest of us regularly attend. There was no snobbishness nor envy evidenced.

They were swarming all around the amphitheater setting. The target for the piano drop was in the center, surrounded by small rolling hills a perfect spot for the main event. On knoll at the highest part, trees lining the background, sat the helicopter. The pilot and his friend were making last minute checks of the chain that girdled an old upright piano, which was flat on its back.

We talked to the pilot. Yes, he said, they had checked this affair out with the authorities, and had their permission. It was all on private property, which made it OK. No, he had never dropped anything like this before "on purpose." But, he added that he had several times delivered pianos to mountain cabins with his helicopter. Yes, he was going to play it very safe, and at no time would be carrying the piano over the crowd.

The piano had been purchased from St. Vincent de Paul's for $25. And this was to be "the first piano drop ever held in the United States." Possibly the world too, I might add.

The drop by some whimsy had been scheduled for 3:12 p.m., but was delayed until 3:30 to allow the late-comers to get into position. This they did, covering the hillside, shinning up trees, climbing on top of cars.

A few minutes before drop time, spectators were cleared from a wide area, dogs were whistled out of the danger zone by the crowd, a few firecrackers and cherry bombs were shot off to herald the great event, and one lone police whistle brought a round of laughter. An American flag fluttered from a 2x4 flag pole. Another flag with a peace symbol was waved by a spectator, the 'copter arose from its pad as a great cheer went up. It did not circle the area, nor climb to 300 feet as advertised, but from about 100 feet above ground, the swaying piano was dropped to the ground, "plomp," with nary a musical note of complaint.

The big event was over suddenly. Like many other such events, perhaps not quite as exciting as the expectations had been. But not one seemed unhappy, nor complained of being gypped. For most of them, I believe, feel like I do. That is, that the most fun in living comes from enjoying life as you go along, and not in being dependent on reaching a nebulous climax in order to feel fulfilled. Thus the success or failure of the piano drop was only a small part of the day of enjoyment, of which the main part was the communal relationship of the group.

This feeling of belonging is something that we all desire, but so often fail to achieve. Outwardly we profess a closeness to one another, in our churches, schools and other organizations, but inwardly we know that the feeling is false, and that competition, social rank and hypocrisy places a tenseness in the way of achieving true brotherhood. In my own case, I felt under no obligation to any of the others, and they unto me, except in the sense of brotherhood. They didn't care about my dress nor length of hair, and I didn't care about theirs.

All were polite, docile. Though thousands were there, I did not hear one angry word, nor one mother screaming at her child. There were no cars squirreling around, no tires squealing, no blowing of horns, no outward signs of impatience due to the traffic congestion.

If there were any law officers around, I saw none, though several would have been handy at certain traffic intersections. Otherwise none were needed.

As we walked back to our car, we ran across the editor of Helix, Paul Dorpat, curly black hair and beard, and like many others, stripped to the waist. No, he said, they hadn't cleared up all of their debt with this event, but they'd made a big dent in it.

We made it down the mile-long road faster than the cars, noting our relative position to them by the one car that somehow got into line backwards, and went the whole route that way.

Several motorists, obviously local residents caught in the line of traffic, ignorant of what was going on, mystified by the traffic jam on their usual peaceful country road, asked us what had happened. A piano drop, we'd reply, as we walked by. What is that, they'd say. You know, a helicopter dropped a piano from the sky, we said. What happened, said they. It broke, said we. Oh, said they, just as mystified as before, as their informants moved out of speaking range.

On the way home, in my own car, I felt very satisfied, for not only had I lost any tensions that had been bugging me earlier in the day, but I was pleased that both KRAB and Helix, two vital outlets for free speech in Seattle, had been helped financially.

My only regret is that I find it so hard to explain to others the true meaning of a piano drop. But amidst the problems of a troubled world, what a beautiful way it was to forget (even if momentarily) war, riots, poverty, starvation, and all the other indignities and cruelties devised by men, that hurt other men.


Summing it up

According to Walt Crowley (Rites of Passage, pg 122), the profit from the Media Mash and Piano Drop was about $2,137, divided equally between KRAB and Helix. But the wrap-up in the Helix of May 9, 1968 has a somewhat lower number. Click on the image below and you can open a pdf as big as you want, though decyphering it would still be a challenge to any cabalist. If cabalism is not your calling, the text has been extracted and reassembled in a less encrypted form here: The Great Piano Drop-Helix-May 9, 1968

Helix centerfold summarizes the Piano Drop


The remains today

It would be great to hear what sounds might be produced from the bones and sinews of this carcass. Is there a composer ready to tackle a piece for dropped piano? Is there a musician ready to excecute the KRAB Canon (Henry Leland Clarke and the Puget Sound Cinquain) on an instrument of this pedigree?

Dropped Piano remains 1

Dropped Piano remains 2


Helix clippings come from the collection Paul Dorpat, Bill White, and Ron Edge are building and caretaking at Helix Redux

Ticket found at a blogspot site dedicated to Berkeley in the Sixties

Another version of the Piano Drop story at City Arts Online

A KRAB volunteer was sent to record the demolition of the old Seattle grain terminal (06/14/1971), and that tape (Fire in the hole!) was around for years. It seems likely that someone took a tape recorder to the Piano Drop, but so far no tape has surfaced.


If you possess any souvenirs (program guides, tapes, or photos) or have a story about your experience with KRAB you are willing to share, please email archive@krabarchive.com

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