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The Student News Site of San Francisco State University

Golden Gate Xpress

The Student News Site of San Francisco State University

Golden Gate Xpress

SFSU alum dips into music, writing, community

Linda Kelly comes full circle from student to magazine publisher
Paula Sibulo
Linda Kelly throwing up a peace sign on Haight Street in San Francisco on March 13, 2024. (Paula Sibulo for Golden Gate Xpress)

This spring, Linda Kelly is preparing for the next seasonal edition of Haight Street Voice. From living in an apartment in Haight-Ashbury and studying journalism at San Francisco State University to launching and running her own magazine, Kelly calls it a full circle moment.

Growing up in Orinda, California, barrel racing with her horses and attending rock ‘n’ roll concerts gave Kelly the freedom and independence she exudes today.

Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, a folk musician, became friends with Kelly 30 years ago. They bond over their love for horses and music. She recalled a conversation with Elliot in which they connected the feelings of their two passions. 

“Listening to a good song is like galloping on a horse with no bridle, no saddle,” Kelly said.

During her teenage years, Kelly sought solace in the embrace of live music and the rhythmic companionship of her cherished horse, Ben, as she grappled with the tumultuous emotions of her mother’s cancer diagnosis.

“I was sad. My mom was sick for a long time, but those were the two things where I could just kind of feel free,” Kelly said. “It gave me focus.”

Journalism also gave Kelly a similar feeling of escape.

“When you’re interviewing someone, or you’re hearing a good story, it’s just a really soothing feeling because it helps you understand why you’re here,” Kelly said. “It helps you not worry so much. Sometimes, you’re so focused on the thing that’s outside of yourself that you kind of forget yourself.”

From the age of 6, Kelly was fascinated by her grandmother’s captivating tales of Cherokee life, which ignited a passion within her. Hearing these stories instilled in her the desire to become a journalist.

“I remember thinking if I could get paid when I grow up to listen to stories all my life, I’d be so excited,” Kelly said. 

Aside from going to concerts, Kelly’s life is heavily ingrained in music. She plays the piano, the guitar, sings and grew up around musically inclined family members.

“I shared a bedroom with Linda and I remember singing with her when we were kids,” said Sue Johnson, one of three of Kelly’s siblings. “Mom would have to bang on the wall and yell, ‘You kids be quiet in there,’ and then we would giggle until we… I guess we just fell asleep giggling together.”

Kelly’s passion for music and journalism carried into her college career. In 1983, Kelly attended SFSU, where she was the music editor of Prism Magazine, now called Xpress Magazine, and wrote articles for the Golden Gator, now called Golden Gate Xpress. Kelly interviewed bands that came through San Francisco, like the Dead Kennedys.

“SF State gave me so much confidence and support,” Kelly said. “They want you to be out in the field. Very hands-on, which is wonderful.”

In addition to writing for the school publications, Kelly took an interest in music classes during her time in college.

Joel Selvin, a former San Francisco Chronicle music journalist, had Kelly as a student in one of his classes at SFSU covering rock ‘n’ roll. Selvin recalled the class as being “real showbizzy” with students in and out of class and had all 150 seats filled every year. 

But Kelly stood out.

“She was very intense, as she still is…bright, lively, intense,” Selvin said. “Linda is always broadcasting light.”

After receiving her bachelor’s degree in 1984, Kelly moved to New York City with aspirations of being a journalist and experiencing a life outside of San Francisco.

Working as a barista in SoHo, she met Bob Guccione Jr., the owner of Spin Magazine. Securing a freelance position with the publication, Kelly made connections with people like Bob Dylan when she went on tour with him and her friends for two weeks.

“It was crazy in 1989. It was just very easy for weird, amazing things to happen,” Kelly said. “Was I a zillionaire? No. But I was super happy.”

Following a move back to the Bay Area, Kelly authored her book “Deadheads,” where she interviewed an estimated 150-200 people with stories about the Grateful Dead for a year.

“It was very organic. It was inspiring to hear all these stories,” Kelly said. “It’s like listening to books on tape. Really fun.”

Ben Fong-Torres, former Rolling Stone senior editor, taught a magazine editing class Kelly attended at SFSU and stayed in touch with her, keeping up with her career milestones. 

“Her book had interviews with all kinds of people. Very impressive lineup — not just ordinary Deadheads, but people who were in the Dead, part of the Dead family, part of the ‘60s scene and a part of the whole Haight-Ashbury phenomena,” Fong-Torres said. “She is a person who has managed to chronicle and carry on the spirit of those times and these times.”

Linda Kelly (left) and Ben Fong-Torres (right) at Stanley Mouse Art Exhibit holding copies of Haight Street Voice Summer 2022 edition “Dog Days.” A photo of Ben’s dog, Marley, is featured on the cover. (Courtesy of Linda Kelly)

After finishing her book, Kelly worked for Lucasfilm, editing and transcribing interviews with the crew of the original Star Wars films. 

Scott Macdonald, Kelly’s close friend, remembered going to parties with Kelly and meeting Star Wars director George Lucas.

Kelly also worked as managing editor at NBC Universal’s, creating articles and newsletters for astrology enthusiasts. Dana Behan, a former co-worker, made sure all of Kelly’s content was delivered to the millions of subscribers who awaited their daily horoscope.

“Linda and I became friends from there. We’d hang out in the kitchen and make our lunches together each day,” Behan said.“We had a lot of fun. It was one of the reasons why I stayed as long as I did.”

Almost a decade into her career as managing editor of, NBC Universal downsized, resulting in Kelly and her co-workers being laid off.

“We were all really devastated. It was 10 years of my life,” she said. “But it was inspiration to start my own magazine because the corporate world.. you can’t really trust.”

Today, Kelly is the editor-in-chief of the hyper-local magazine Haight Street Voice, which has a digital platform and a print version released quarterly throughout the year. Copies of its latest edition can be found inside local businesses on Haight Street, in North Beach and Mill Valley or through the mail by subscribing on Patreon.

Each edition has a general theme featuring figures in the community, reflecting on the Haight’s history while providing current local coverage.

“Local community is really all we have,” Kelly said. “It’s connection. Looking somebody in the eye and saying hello, that’s just humanity.”

Entering her sixth year and spring edition of Haight Street Voice, Kelly plans to interview bands and musicians focusing on the power of music, the power of community and life becoming full circle.

“My goal is to help keep the light that lit the ‘60s burning bright and shining forward,” Kelly said.

Kelly dedicates a section in her magazine to the unhoused people of San Francisco titled “Street Person Spotlight.”

“Linda can approach anyone of any background,” Macdonald said. “She’s a people person that comes with love. An amazing soul — she really is.”

Aside from her magazine, Kelly has her own publishing business, Unbridled Publishing, and works at Welcome Haight & Ashbury. She also enjoys playing tennis, watching movies with her kitten Amica and is currently working on her own children’s book.

The seasoned journalist shared her advice for young aspiring journalists.

“Keep doing what you’re doing. Don’t be afraid to be a weirdo. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and talk to a stranger. If you’re curious about something, shine your light,” she said. “You actually care about people’s stories and not everybody does. That’s a really unique thing to have.”

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