Regulars and Shorts

In Memoriam: Homage to Cosmic creator Stephen Jones

By Michael Evans

At the beginning of the Summer of Love in 1967, word about a new Salt Lake City store started spreading via actual word of mouth—a common method of communication in those days. When I first visited that place, called Cosmic Aeroplane, a sign prominently displayed read: “We do not know where to get drugs of any kind. If you don’t understand, read this sign again.”

I was expecting the recent concert posters from San Francisco, but the quantity and quality of underground publications surprised me. Cofounder Steve Jones, the long-haired soft-spoken man behind the counter, was remarkably knowledgeable.

Stephen Morrow Jones was born in 1943 in lower Manhattan and lived in Greenwich Village till his family moved to Hoboken, New Jersey. As a child, Steve read extensively, including comic books, and was a dreamer, according to his siblings.

The family moved to Salt Lake City when Steve was 10. He attended Olympus Junior High and High School. Still an avid reader, he took pleasure in researching subjects that interested him. He also liked going alone into the Wasatch Range to find snakes, and enjoyed tinkering with machines and motorcycles.

During the summer of 1963, he rode a vintage Indian motorcycle from SLC to Manchester by the Sea (near Boston) to visit his grand ­­mother. Steve briefly attended the University of Utah. Still in his early 20s, he opened  Cosmic Aeroplane.

Frank Zappa’s catty phrase about “psychedelic dungeons popping up on every street” may have applied to other head shops, but the Cosmic Aeroplane was different.  “It was a head shop,” Steve Jones said in a 1992 interview, “but a head shop in terms of using your head—I wanted some kind of image of traveling in your head, hence the Aeroplane part. That didn’t necessarily entail drugs, either.…”

Hal Sparck and Peter Crockett’s draft resistance counseling office sublet space there. They probably saved the lives of hundreds of young Utah men. The Human Ensemble, working in an under-used back room, became a locally influential theater company. Light show artist Richard Taylor of Rainbow Jam painted the windows and decorated the interior before he moved on to a career in Hollywood. Former partner Ken Sanders has said that Steve Jones was “very indulgent and tolerant about people trying things out.”

Steve would play Alan Ginsburg over the store’s stereo. He sold Ralph Ginzburg’s Avant Garde magazine. A table of used books specialized in cutting-edge American literature by artists formally known as beatniks. KRCL-FM used to borrow records to play over the air during the wee hours when they were neighbors, above the equally eclectic Blue Mouse Cinema.

By 1977, the Cosmic Aeroplane was selling a million dollars’ worth of inventory a year  from a fully stocked bookstore, record shop, custom jewelry market and very active boutique-style head shop. They were definitely filling a need, and were allied with an alternative scene that  continued long after the end of the so-called Hippie Era. The store was a creative incubator during the Punk Rock Era, the New Wave Era and the New Age Era. It acted as the first comic book shop in Salt Lake and spurred the creation of other businesses that still exist today.

After his Cosmic days were over, I would see Steve Jones walking in Sugar House, where he lived during the late 1990s, and noted that this area was devoted to posters, comics, bookstores, Raunch Records, and the amazingly successful Blue Boutique, which had spun off from Jones’ old head shop. He wasn’t working for any of them, but he had certainly pioneered the scene.

In 2012, I Steve sought me out to create a website dedicated to the Cosmic era. We started with an envelope of memorabilia from the late Bruce Roberts (a co-owner). I scanned the contents at Charley Hafen’s Jewelry and Gallery. Steve kept researching and locating more relevant materials. The University of Utah Marriott Library had a complete run of The Electric News, which Steve had published along with Sherm Clow in the 1960s. They also had the complete run of Bruce Roberts’ Street Paper, and a stack of old posters from Ken Sanders. The rare books and manuscripts department folks have been steadfast allies in the Cosmic Aeroplane Archival Site from its inception.

Cosmic Aeroplane’s old customers and allies contribute to the site regularly because they haven’t forgotten how that shop changed their lives for the better. An enormous pile of mater­ial awaits context and effort before appearing online, and Steve was working along with me on this heap just 10 days before his passing. This work will go on, but Steve Jones’ unique intellect and generous energy will be sorely missed.

Steve Jones’ family members contributed information to this story.

Jan. 1, 1943-Dec. 16, 2016

This article was originally published on December 31, 2016.