The growth of coffeehouse folk music in New York City during the 50s and 60s was a significant moment in the evolution of American popular music. In this era, a new generation of musicians and artists emerged, who were inspired by traditional folk music and the Beat Generation, and who sought to create a new sound that reflected the social and political issues of the time. This movement, which was centered in the coffeehouses of Greenwich Village, played a pivotal role in the development of folk rock and the eventual move of the genre to California.
The coffeehouse atmosphere was intimate and relaxed, and the music was often performed acoustically, with singers accompanied by only a guitar or piano. This approach, which was in stark contrast to the polished, commercial sound of popular music at the time, helped to establish a new standard for folk music, and it provided a platform for artists to showcase their talent and connect with audiences.
New York coffeehouses have played a significant role in nurturing the talents of many notable singers over the years. Bob Dylan was a notable example. He began his career as a singer-songwriter in the coffeehouses of Greenwich Village in the early 1960s. He performed at popular coffeehouses such as Cafe Wha? and Gerde’s Folk City, where he developed his unique folk and protest music style.
Joan Baez too was also a regular performer at the coffeehouses in Greenwich Village during the 1960s. She performed at venues such as The Gaslight Cafe and Cafe Wha?, where she gained a reputation as a talented folk singer.
And the duo of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel began their musical careers in the coffeehouses of New York City. They performed at venues such as The Gaslight Cafe and Cafe Wha?, where they developed their signature harmonies and folk rock sound.
The growth of coffeehouse folk music in New York City was soon followed by a move to California, where the genre continued to evolve and gain popularity. California was home to a thriving counter-cultural movement, and musicians and artists were drawn to the state by its sunny climate, beautiful landscapes, and liberal social and political environment. In this new setting, coffeehouse folk music flourished, as musicians explored new sounds and styles and collaborated with one another to create something new and exciting.
Song About the Move
The Mamas & the Papas, a popular folk-rock group from the 1960s, had a hit song that references their move to Los Angeles. The song is called “California Dreamin'” and was released in 1965. The lyrics describe the feelings of homesickness and longing for warmer weather that the band members experienced after they moved to Los Angeles from the East Coast. The first verse starts with the lines, “All the leaves are brown and the sky is grey / I’ve been for a walk on a winter’s day / I’d be safe and warm if I was in L.A.”
The song became a huge hit and is now considered a classic of the era. The lyrics of “California Dreamin'” capture the sense of hope and excitement that many people felt when they moved to Los Angeles during the 1960s, seeking a new way of life and the promise of the California dream.
The emergence of the folk rock movement, a fusion of folk and rock music, created anew sound that was epitomized by artists like The Byrds and The Mamas & The Papas, who blended the acoustic, introspective qualities of folk music with the electrifying energy of rock and roll. This new sound was a hit with audiences, and it helped to popularize folk rock and establish it as a distinct genre.
The growth of coffeehouse folk music in New York City and its later move to California played a pivotal role in the evolution of American popular music. This movement helped to establish a new standard for folk music and paved the way for the emergence of new genres like folk rock. The coffeehouses of Greenwich Village and the vibrant counter-cultural movement of California provided a platform for musicians and artists to connect with one another, share their ideas, and create something new and exciting. Today, the legacy of coffeehouse folk music continues to inspire and influence musicians and artists around the world.
The Volkswagen Beetle, often referred to as the “VW Bug,” was a car that made a significant impact on the counterculture of the 1960s. In a time of political and social upheaval, the Beetle represented a symbol of nonconformity and individuality.
The VW Bug was first introduced to the United States in the late 1950s. But it was in the 1960s that it truly took off in popularity. The car’s unique, rounded shape and affordability made it appealing to a wide range of people, from college students to young families. But it was its association with the counterculture movement that cemented its place in history.
The counterculture of the 1960s was characterized by a rejection of traditional values and a desire for change. The VW Bug embodied this spirit of rebellion. It was seen as a departure from the large, gas-guzzling cars that dominated American roads. The compact size and fuel efficiency of the Beetle made it a practical choice for those who wanted to save money and reduce their carbon footprint. And its quirky design set it apart from the more conventional vehicles of the time.
In addition to its practicality, the VW Bug was also embraced by the counterculture for its versatility. It was a popular choice for hippies and other countercultural groups, who often customized their Beetles with brightly colored paint jobs, peace symbols, and other symbols of their movement. The car became a rolling symbol of peace and freedom. Its popularity only grew as the counterculture movement gained momentum.
The Counterculture Car
The VW Bug also played a role in the development of car culture in the 1960s. The Beetle was a staple of the emerging hippie subculture, and it was often seen at rallies, concerts, and other events that were central to the countercultural movement. Its widespread use by the counterculture also helped to popularize car culture as a whole, paving the way for the muscle car era that would follow in the 1970s.
The VW Bug was a car that played a significant role in the counterculture of the 1960s. Its unique design, affordability, versatility, and association with the countercultural movement made it an icon of the era and a symbol of nonconformity and individuality. Today, the Beetle remains one of the most recognizable cars of all time, and its legacy continues to inspire new generations of car enthusiasts and countercultural activists alike.
Unique Mechanical Features
The Volkswagen Beetle of the 1960s had several unique mechanical features that set it apart from other cars of the era. These included:
Rear-engine design: The VW Bug had its engine mounted in the rear of the vehicle, which was a departure from the front-engine design that was common in most cars of the time. This design allowed for more interior space and improved weight distribution, making the Beetle a more balanced and stable car to drive.
Air-cooled engine: The Beetle’s engine was air-cooled, which eliminated the need for a heavy and complex radiator and cooling system. This made the car lighter and more reliable, as well as easier to maintain.
Simple suspension: The Beetle had a simple suspension system that consisted of a beam axle and torsion bars, which allowed for a smooth ride and good handling. This design was both rugged and reliable, and it helped to keep the car’s cost low.
Lightweight construction: The Beetle was built using lightweight materials, including a body made of steel and an aluminum engine case. This helped to keep the car’s weight down and improved its fuel efficiency.
Flat-four engine: The VW Bug was powered by a flat-four engine. It was a compact and efficient design that made the most of the limited space available in the rear of the car. This engine was designed to be simple, reliable, and easy to maintain.
These mechanical features, combined with the Beetle’s distinctive rounded shape and affordable price, made it a popular choice among car buyers in the 1960s. The Beetle’s unique mechanicals also contributed to its reputation as a car that was fun to drive, easy to maintain, and built to last.
The 1960s was a time of great social and political upheaval, marked by widespread protests against the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement. This era saw the rise of a new wave of protest music, as musicians and songwriters used their platform to express their political and social views. Anti-war and protest songs were a major part of this movement, and they had a significant influence on early rock and roll music.
One of the most famous examples of anti-war protest songs in rock and roll was “Eve of Destruction” by Barry McGuire, which was released in 1965. The song was a powerful critique of the Vietnam War and the social and political issues of the time, and it quickly became a hit, reaching the top of the charts and attracting a large following. Other popular protest songs of the time included “For What It’s Worth” by Buffalo Springfield, “Blowin’ in the Wind” by Bob Dylan, and “Ohio” by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.
Anti-War Songs Shaped Public Opinion
Anti-war and protest songs not only reflected the political and social issues of the time, but they also helped to shape public opinion and spark change. These songs served as a rallying cry for those who opposed the war, and they provided a voice for the counter-cultural movement that was emerging at the time. They also challenged the status quo and encouraged people to question authority and think critically about the issues of the day.
In addition to anti-war and protest songs, rock and roll was also heavily influenced by the Civil Rights Movement. Songs like “A Change Is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke and “Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud” by James Brown were among the first to explicitly address the issue of racial equality in rock and roll music. These songs helped to inspire a generation of musicians and activists, and they played a key role in shaping the cultural and political landscape of the time.
The influence of anti-war and protest songs on early rock and roll was significant and far-reaching. These songs served as a voice for the counter-cultural movement of the 1960s, and they helped to shape public opinion and spark change. The legacy of these songs can still be seen today, as rock and roll continues to be a powerful platform for political and social activism.
The upbeat and downbeat characteristics of rock and roll have their roots in the musical genres that came before it. Rock and roll was created in the mid-20th century and was influenced by a variety of musical styles, including blues, country, rhythm and blues, and gospel. These musical styles helped to shape the sound and style of rock and roll and were critical in developing its upbeat and downbeat characteristics.
The upbeat, driving rhythm that is so characteristic of rock and roll can be traced back to blues and rhythm and blues music. These genres were characterized by strong, accentuated beats that were designed to make people dance. These upbeat rhythms were a hallmark of blues and R&B, and they were an important influence on the development of rock and roll.
The downbeat, on the other hand, was heavily influenced by country music. Country music was known for its simple, straightforward rhythms and its focus on melody and lyrics. This downbeat style of music provided a sense of stability and structure that was critical in balancing the upbeat nature of blues and R&B.
The relationship between upbeat and downbeat in rock and roll is also influenced by gospel music. Gospel music was characterized by its powerful, driving rhythm and its use of gospel choir vocals. The combination of upbeat rhythm and powerful vocals helped to create a unique sound that was unlike anything that had been heard before. This style of gospel music was a critical influence on the development of rock and roll and helped to shape its sound and style.
The upbeat and downbeat characteristics of rock and roll are a result of its musical heritage. The upbeat rhythms of blues and R&B, the downbeat influence of country music, and the gospel influence of gospel music all helped to shape the sound and style of rock and roll. The relationship between these elements is what gives rock and roll its unique sound and style and is what has made it one of the most popular and enduring music genres of all time.
Psychedelia was a cultural movement that emerged in the 1960s and had a profound influence on rock and roll music. It was characterized by the use of psychedelic drugs and a newfound interest in spirituality, and it paved the way for a new style of music that reflected these ideas. In this essay, we will explore the impact of psychedelia on rock and roll and how it shaped the music of the era.
The advent of psychedelia brought about a new style of rock and roll music known as psychedelic rock or acid rock. This style was defined by its experimental, trippy sound, often incorporating elements such as distorted guitar solos, unconventional chord structures, and unconventional recording techniques. Bands such as The Beatles, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, and The Grateful Dead were at the forefront of this musical movement and popularized the psychedelic sound.
The lyrics of psychedelic rock were often centered around themes of self-discovery, inner journey, and the search for meaning and spirituality. This was a departure from the traditional themes of love and heartbreak that had been prevalent in rock and roll music up until that point. The new themes reflected the counterculture movement of the time, which was characterized by a rejection of traditional values and a desire for greater freedom and personal expression.
In addition to influencing the sound of rock and roll, psychedelia also impacted its visual aspect. The vibrant, trippy artwork and lighting effects used during concerts became a hallmark of the psychedelic movement, further reinforcing its influence on rock and roll.
The impact of psychedelia on rock and roll can still be seen today, as many contemporary musicians continue to draw inspiration from the psychedelic sound and themes. It remains one of the most significant cultural movements of the 20th century, and its influence on rock and roll music will forever be remembered.
Psychedelia had a profound impact on rock and roll music, shaping its sound, its themes, and its cultural significance. The experimental and trippy sound, the focus on self-discovery and spirituality, and the trippy visual effects all combined to create a unique and lasting impact on the music of the era.
Centers of Psychedelia
The centers of psychedelia in early rock and roll music were primarily located in the United States and the United Kingdom. Some of the key cities and locations include:
San Francisco: Haight-Ashbury was a major hub for the counterculture movement and the psychedelic music scene in the 1960s. Bands such as The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and The Jimi Hendrix Experience all had their roots in Haight-Ashbury, and the neighborhood was a major center for psychedelic music and culture.
London: London was a major center for psychedelic music in the 1960s, particularly during the “Swinging Sixties.” Bands such as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and The Who were all at the forefront of the psychedelic music movement, and the city was a hub for the psychedelic rock scene.
New York City: New York City was also home to a vibrant psychedelic music scene during the 1960s, with clubs such as The Fillmore East and The Electric Circus hosting many of the top psychedelic bands of the era.
Los Angeles: Los Angeles was home to a thriving music scene in the 1960s, and many of the top psychedelic bands of the era performed at venues such as The Whiskey a Go Go and The Troubadour.
These cities were the centers of psychedelia in early rock and roll music, and they played a significant role in the development of the psychedelic sound and culture. Many of the musicians and bands who emerged from these cities went on to have a major impact on the music of the era and beyond.
LSD, in particular, was popular among musicians and artists in the 1960s, and its effects on the mind and perception were seen as a way to expand one’s consciousness and creativity. Many musicians, including The Beatles, The Grateful Dead, and The Jimi Hendrix Experience, experimented with LSD and used their experiences to create music that reflected the trippy, psychedelic sound and themes of the era.
The use of LSD and other hard drugs had a profound impact on the sound and themes of rock and roll music. The trippy, experimental sound of psychedelic rock was characterized by distorted guitar solos, unconventional chord structures, and unconventional recording techniques, and it was a stark departure from the more traditional sound of rock and roll that had been popular up until that point.
The themes of psychedelic rock were also influenced by the use of hard drugs, with many songs exploring the inner journey, self-discovery, and the search for meaning and spirituality. This was a departure from the traditional themes of love and heartbreak that had been prevalent in rock and roll music, and it reflected the counterculture movement of the time, which was characterized by a rejection of traditional values and a desire for greater freedom and personal expression.
Psychedelic Bands and Influencers
The biggest influences of psychedelic music are diverse and include a wide range of musical genres, cultural movements, and individuals. Some of the most significant influences on the development of psychedelic music include:
The Beatles: The Beatles were one of the biggest and most influential bands of the 1960s, and their embrace of psychedelic music and experimentation with LSD had a profound impact on the development of the genre. The Beatles’ iconic album, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” is considered a masterpiece of psychedelic music and remains one of the most influential and iconic albums of all time.
Jimi Hendrix: Jimi Hendrix was one of the most influential guitarists of all time and his innovative playing style, combined with his psychedelic sound and themes, made him one of the biggest influences on the development of psychedelic music. Hendrix’s groundbreaking live performances and iconic albums, such as “Are You Experienced,” cemented his place as one of the greatest musicians of all time.
The Grateful Dead: The Grateful Dead were one of the pioneers of psychedelic rock, and their experimental and improvisational approach to music was a major influence on the genre. The Grateful Dead’s live performances were legendary and their long, trippy jams and psychedelic sound became synonymous with the genre.
Timothy Leary: Timothy Leary was an American psychologist and writer who was a major figure in the counterculture movement of the 1960s. His ideas about the use of psychedelics as a tool for self-exploration and spirituality were widely popularized and inspired many musicians and bands in the psychedelic rock movement.
The Doors: The Doors were a seminal band in the psychedelic rock movement, and their dark, bluesy sound, combined with lead singer Jim Morrison’s brooding and poetic lyrics, made them one of the biggest influences on the genre. The Doors’ iconic albums, such as “The Doors” and “Waiting for the Sun,” are considered classics of psychedelic rock.
These are just a few of the many influences on the development of psychedelic music, and the genre continues to evolve and draw from a wide range of musical and cultural influences.
The evolution of rock music instruments used in bands from the 1950s to the 1960s was significant in shaping the sound and style of rock and roll. This period marked a significant change in the way music was produced, recorded, and performed. The introduction of new technologies, innovations in musical instruments, and the growing popularity of rock and roll music led to significant changes in the sound of rock and roll.
In the 1950s, most rock and roll bands consisted of a guitarist, a drummer, a bassist, and a pianist. Guitars were typically played with a single pickup, and most musicians favored the Fender Telecaster or Stratocaster models. Drums were typically a simple setup consisting of a bass drum, snare drum, and hi-hat cymbals. The piano was used for rhythm, and the bass was used to anchor the beat.
1960s Brought Big Changes
In the 1960s, the sound of rock and roll music changed dramatically. Bands began to experiment with new sounds and styles, incorporating a wider variety of instruments into their music. The refinement of the electric guitar was a major turning point in the evolution of rock and roll. The Gibson Les Paul and Fender Stratocaster became popular among musicians, and the use of amplifiers allowed for the creation of new and innovative sounds. The use of pedals and effects also became popular, and musicians began to experiment with distortion, reverb, and echo.
Bassists began to experiment with new sounds as well, incorporating the use of fuzz bass and distortion pedals. The use of the Moog synthesizer also became popular among musicians, and this instrument allowed for the creation of new sounds and textures. Keyboards and organs were also used more frequently, and this helped to create a more complex and sophisticated sound. Saxophones and horns all but disappeared.
The drums were also updated and improved, with the introduction of new drumheads, cymbals, and sticks. The use of toms, which were originally used in jazz, became popular in rock and roll music and helped to create a more complex and powerful sound.
So the evolution of rock music instruments from the 1950s to the 1960s was significant in shaping the sound and style of rock and roll. The introduction of new technologies, innovations in musical instruments, and the growing popularity of rock and roll music led to significant changes in the sound of rock and roll. These changes helped to establish rock and roll as a distinct musical genre and set the stage for its continued evolution in the decades to come.
The jukebox was invented in 1889. It was created by Louis Glass and William S. Arnold, who combined Edison’s phonograph with coin-operated technology to create an automatic music-playing machine that could play individual selections on demand. The jukebox quickly became popular in public places, such as bars and restaurants, and helped introduce people to a wide range of music styles, from classical to popular songs. The jukebox became an iconic symbol of American popular culture in the 20th century and continues to be a nostalgic reminder of the golden age of music.
Jukeboxes got their name from the original purpose of the machine, which was to play musical selections in juke joints. Juke joints were establishments in the rural South that served as social gathering places for African Americans in the early 20th century. These establishments often had a machine that played music, and the word “juke” was a colloquial term used to describe both the machine and the establishment itself.
Jukebox came from Juke Joints
When the coin-operated music machine was developed and commercialized in the 1930s, it was called the “jukebox” as a nod to its origin in juke joints. The term “jukebox” quickly became synonymous with the coin-operated music machine, and the jukebox became a popular form of entertainment in the United States. Their popularity continued to grow throughout the 20th century, and it remains an iconic symbol of American popular culture to this day.
The jukebox played a significant role in the development and popularization of rock and roll music. It allowed people to easily access and listen to the latest songs, helping to spread the genre and bring it to a wider audience. They also helped create new opportunities for musicians and record companies, as people could choose to play the latest rock and roll songs for a small fee. Additionally, the jukebox served as a social gathering place for young people, who would gather to listen to music and dance. This helped create a sense of community and culture around rock and roll, further solidifying its place as a genre of music.
There are a few iconic brands. Tops on the list is the Wurlitzer 1015. This classic jukebox was produced from 1954 to 1960 and was one of the most popular models of the early rock and roll era. It became a staple in diners, bowling alleys, and other public places.
A Wurlitzer 1015 featured on the television show “Happy Days”. The show was set in the 1950s and 60s, during the peak of the jukebox era, and the Wurlitzer 1015 was one of the most popular jukeboxes of that time. It became a fixture in many scenes on the show and became an iconic symbol of the rock and roll era and the nostalgia of the 1950s and 60s. The Wurlitzer 1015 remains a popular collectible item to this day and is often sought after by fans of the show and collectors of vintage jukeboxes.
The Seeburg company was a major player in the market and produced several popular models in the 1950s and 1960s. The Seeburg M100A was one of the company’s most successful models and became a fixture in many rock and roll-era establishments.
Rock-Ola also produced several popular models in the 1950s and 1960s. The Rock-Ola Tempo II was one of the company’s most successful models and was known for its stylish design and high-quality sound. And the Automatic Musical Instruments (AMI) companyproduced several popular models in the 1950s and 1960s. The AMI Continental was one of the company’s most successful models and became a staple in many rock and roll-era establishments.
These jukeboxes, along with others of the era, helped spread rock and roll music to a wider audience and played an important role in the growth and popularity of the genre.
45s Were The Key
Along with jukeboxes, 45 RPM records, also known as “45s,” were important to the jukebox industry because they made it easier for jukebox operators to change the records in the machine and offer a larger selection of songs to customers. Prior to the introduction of 45s, jukeboxes used 78 RPM records, which were much larger and heavier. This made it difficult for operators to change the records in the machine and limited the number of songs that could be offered. The smaller size and lighter weight of 45s made it easier for operators to change the records and offer a larger selection of songs to customers.
45s also allowed for the creation of a wider range of music genres, as artists and record companies could produce records specifically for the jukebox market. This led to the creation of more specialized music genres, such as rock and roll, R&B, and country, which helped drive the growth of the jukebox industry. In addition, 45s allowed for the production of inexpensive and disposable records, which were popular with young people and helped to spur the growth of the youth culture and music scene of the 1950s and 60s.
Overall, the introduction of 45s was a key factor in the growth and popularity of the jukebox industry, and helped establish the jukebox as an iconic symbol of American popular culture.
Jukeboxes were a common feature in restaurants, diners, and cafes during the 1950s and 60s, when the jukebox was at the height of its popularity. Almost every diner, drive-in, or soda fountain had one.These, along with many others, helped to establish the jukebox as an iconic symbol of American popular culture and contributed to the growth and popularity of the jukebox industry.
It is difficult to determine the most played jukebox song of all time as this information was not recorded or documented. However, some of the most popular songs that were frequently played on jukeboxes in the 1950s and 60s include “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley & His Comets, “Great Balls of Fire” by Jerry Lee Lewis, “Johnny B. Goode” by Chuck Berry, “Tutti Frutti” by Little Richard, and “Hound Dog” by Elvis Presley.
Amplified music played a crucial role in the birth of rock and roll. The use of amplifiers to amplify the sound of musical instruments was first introduced in the 1920s and 1930s. It was in the 1950s that amplified music began to be used extensively in rock and roll music.
Amplification allowed for louder and more powerful performances. This was essential for the high-energy, dance-oriented nature of rock and roll music. The amplified sound of electric guitars, in particular, became an integral part of the rock and roll sound. Guitarists like Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, and Bill Haley used amplified guitars to create a driving, rhythm-heavy sound.
The use of amplifiers also allowed for the development of new effects such as distortion and overdrive, which added a new dimension to the sound of rock and roll music. These effects became a staple of rock and roll, with guitarists like Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton using them to create new and innovative sounds.
Bigger Amplifiers for Bigger Venues
The use of amplification also enabled rock and roll musicians to perform in larger venues, such as stadiums and arenas, and to be heard over the noise of crowds. This allowed rock and roll music to reach a wider audience. And it helped to establish it as a dominant force in popular music.
All in all, amplified music was a key factor in the birth and development of rock and roll music. It allowed for louder, more powerful performances, enabled the creation of new sounds and effects, and helped to establish rock and roll as a dominant force in popular music.
If It’s Too Loud…
Of course, when rock was new, the kids loved the volume and the adults hated it. Rock Guitarist Ted Nugent coined the phrase “if it’s too loud, you’re too old” as an ad for his first solo album.
Looking back, early rock-era amplifiers were mild compared to what we have today. A typical mid-50s amplifier put out 15-20 watts with limited bass and treble sound ranges. That was just enough to be heard over the drummer. By the mid 60s, Fender, working with Surf Guitarist Dick Dale, had the output up to 100 watts with a rich full tone.
Dick Davies from The Kinks is known as being the first big name to experiment with distortion by hooking two of these big units together. Soon, fuzz and reverb features were common. Keep in mind that this was all in the 60s. Transistors were in their infancy. Sound amps were all tubes … big, heavy, and hot.
Along with being the first mega-concert, the Woodstock Festival also introduced the first quality outdoor sound system. Previous smaller-scale festivals had groups of listeners gathered up close to the stage to listen. At Woodstock, the sound powered by 300-watt McIntosh amps filled the air.
Ritchie Valens, born Richard Steven Valenzuela, was a Mexican-American singer-songwriter who left an indelible mark on the music industry. His brief career, which spanned less than two years, has become legendary, and he is now widely recognized as one of the founding father of rock and roll.
Valens’ influence on the genre has been immense, as he helped to break down racial and cultural barriers by introducing a unique blend of Mexican and American music styles. His hits such as “La Bamba,” “Come On, Let’s Go,” and “Donna” remain timeless classics to this day, and his legacy has been recognized by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which inducted him in 2001. Valens’ story is inspiring and remains an important part of rock and roll history, and he will be remembered as its founding father for generations to come.
Early Life and Musical Career of Ritchie Valens
Valens was born Richard Steven Valenzuela on May 13, 1941 in Pacoima, California, a small town located in the San Fernando Valley region of Los Angeles, near Hollywood. His parents had migrated to the U.S. from Mexico in the early 1920s, and they placed a high value on music, which they hoped would become a source of income. Valenzuela Sr., his father, was a musician and had performed with the likes of Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby. His mother, Virginia Garduno, was an avid singer as well. Valenzuela’s first instrument was the trumpet, which he first picked up at age five. He soon switched to the guitar at the age of eight, and he began taking informal guitar lessons from a local musician named Bob Norwood.
Cultural and Racial Impact of Ritchie Valens’ Music
Valens’ songs and legacy are an important part of rock and roll history, and have helped to break down racial and cultural barriers. Valens’ normalization of rock and roll music helped to bring it into the mainstream. At the time of his breakthrough, rock and roll was still a relatively new genre of music, and the sound of it was unfamiliar to many. Many people were wary of the genre, as they were concerned that it was too provocative and would negatively influence society.
Valens’ normalization of rock and roll helped to bring it into the mainstream, and his music wasn’t met with as much resistance as it might have been had he not been Mexican. Additionally, many early rock and roll stars were black, and their music was received negatively by many white people. However, Valens, who was Mexican, helped to break down some of these racial barriers, as he appealed to both Mexican and white audiences.
Breakthrough Hits and Chart Success
Valens’ first single, “Come On, Let’s Go,” was released in 1957, but it was only a modest commercial success, and it failed to chart. His follow-up single, “Donna,” released in 1958, was an entirely different story. “Donna” became Valens’ first hit single, reaching number one on the Billboard chart and remaining there for six non-consecutive weeks. It also became the first rock and roll single by a Latino artist to reach number one, and it helped to introduce a unique blend of Mexican and American music styles. “Donna” was followed by other chart-topping hits, including “La Bamba” and “Telephone,” which both reached the number one spot on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1959. Overall, Valens released a total of 11 hit singles, nine of which reached the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
Here’s a YouTube video that does a great job explaining the start of the hippies. The author shows his philosophical roots in his screen name “Zarathustra’s Serpent”.
So, we are in the thick of the psychedelic age. Until now, we’ve seen youth culture developing within itself, focused on finding new highs, not really paying attention to the world around it. But in the beginning of 1967, came a song that calls the kids to stop and look around, and ask what can be changed.
The name of the record – ‘For What it’s Worth’ – shows that the creators didn’t think that it could change much, and didn’t believe it will make the youth take a political stance. But the wind began to change direction that year, and youth culture started to pose its truth in opposition to the truisms of the dominant culture, and demand change.
Before we describe the new values that were mined out of the spirit of psychedelia, we shall do a quick summary of the old dogmas they went against. After world war two, the US and the UK, the two great winners, turned inside, to deal with their inner problems. Having defeated the Nazi evil, the two nations believed that the same heroic spirit that drove them during the war will be able to defeat all the evils that dwell within them, and fix all the old wrongs.
A spirit of unity lay upon these two societies, and the keyword was “consensus”: the old political divisions were settled, and almost everyone got behind the overall policy. In economy, for instance, the American right agreed that the socialist reforms enacted by President Roosevelt brought prosperity, and accepted a welfare policy that combined free market with socialism.
The left also agreed that the revolutionary Marxist way has failed, creating only communist dictatorships that brought mostly suffering to their citizens, and supported the welfare policy that was aimed at bringing a gradual improvement for the lower classes. In Britain, the end of the war saw the rise of a labor government that enacted an uncompromising socialist policy, but when it turned out that this policy fails to get the country out of the age of austerity, it lost its favor with the people, and capitalist elements started to creep back in.
Part of this welfare state approach was also the belief that everyone should have leisure time, resulting in a consumer society that demanded more and more leisure products, which made daily life more comfortable and diverse, and also fueled the wheels of the industry. By the mid-1950s, both countries started to enjoy economic prosperity, the social gaps were narrowing, and they seemed to be marching towards a future where there would be freedom, equality and affluence for all.
A similar consensus was reached around the perception of human nature. Traditionally, the prevailing puritan consciousness regarded human nature as sinful, and believed that only strict repression of instincts and strong discipline can create a functioning human society. The liberals, on the other hand, believed that the nature of Man is good, and it is only the crooked structure of society that makes him go bad.
However, the atrocious things that humans did to each other during the war compelled the liberals to rethink their position, and the leading liberal approach now was that Man can be good, but for that he still needs to mature, and rid himself of the remains of the jungle animal that he once was. Therefore, we must keep on studying Man, and look for ways to improve.
The social sciences were now held in higher repute, and the theories put forth by psychologists, sociologists and anthropologists were implemented by the system, trying to shape Man in a better way. The conservative puritans, meanwhile, did not believe that you can shape Man to be good, but they did join the game and used this pervasive system to impose their strict codes, especially on sexuality.
A similar atmosphere prevailed in Britain, where Victorian values still held sway. This power given to the government, and the tight social control it enacted, were opposed to the American spirit, traditionally based on individualism, pioneering and suspicion towards authority. To overcome this resistance, patriotism was trumpeted, and everyone was called upon to pull together to create a strong society, which will overcome both homegrown problems and the external communist threat.
Individualism was still regarded as a good thing, but only within an acceptable frame, and everyone was supposed to conform and become useful citizens. Anyone who didn’t conform was seen as suffering from a mental problem and was sent to psychiatric institutes, which we’ve already mentioned in previous chapters.
But while individual exceptionality was still seen as basically a good thing, tribal exceptionality was completely unacceptable, seen as negating the social ideal. The aim was to eradicate all tribal differences and create a universal society, and anyone who wasn’t on board was hounded and excluded.
This atmosphere led to everyone adopting a unified look, with the men sporting short military haircuts and wearing suits like useful citizens, and the women following the prevailing fashion, which was always very feminine but not too sexy. In the process, a new balance was established between men and women.
The perception was that the man is selfish and driven by his instincts, mainly his sex drive, whereas the woman is a social creature and practically devoid of sexuality. Therefore, to establish the universal society, the woman is the one who should be in charge, through the rearing of the coming generations.
During the war years, many women went out to work and started to think in terms of career, but now the prevailing mindset encouraged them to go back home, and take a role that was portrayed as more important, the role of a housewife that is in charge of the children’s upbringing. The housewife now got a lot of attention, and was given instructions on how to best do her job, while the industry created products aimed to make her life easier.
The youth, too, was given a lot of attention, and the system made a lot of effort to create all the terms needed for it to grow up right, and become the generation that will take us forward towards the perfect society. This was the first generation of youth that had its own money to spend, and the industry created the term teenager to define this new market, with products aimed directly at it.
But for the teenagers, all of this was quite confusing and contained some sharp contradictions. On the one hand they had money to go out and have a good time, but on the other hand they were under stern puritanical supervision. On the one hand they were taught to work for a better future, but on the other hand they were born into the nuclear age and a cold war, which created the feeling that the world has no future.
On the one hand they were taught to overcome racism and regard all people as equal, but on the other hand the idea of getting out of the jungle has caused blacks, that were perceived as representing jungle culture, to be portrayed as inferior people. Since it didn’t live through the bloody struggles of the previous decades, the youth didn’t appreciate the merits of compromise and conformity, and perceived the previous generations as fake and hypocritical.
When rock’n’roll arrived in the mid-fifties, it answered all these problems, providing elation and sexual ecstasy in the here and now, and unifying all youth, blacks and whites, boys and girls, rich and poor, in one movement. Thus, the youth detached from the role ordained for it, the role of creating the perfect society, and instead developed its own culture through rock’n’roll.
From here on it was the teenagers that dictated to the industry what products it should create for them: rock’n’roll records, electric guitars, surfboards, motorbikes, hair gel, cool outfits, etc. In the previous chapters, I described the formation of this generational gap, which generated a youth culture with different intuitions from those of the previous generations.
I pointed out the intuitive revolution that I consider to be the most crucial: the fact that previous generations still thought in terms of eliminating suffering as the highest goal, whereas the new generation, for which suffering was not a major part of life, was no longer willing to settle on that, but was more focused on the pursuit of happiness.
The youth didn’t want non-suffering, it wanted elation. I’ve discussed the other revolutions that resulted from that: the preference of performance over writing, the emphasis on immediate experiences over future goals, the gathering in tribal subcultures over the attempt to create a universal society.
We’ve also seen that the previous generations didn’t realize what was happening, and thought that they were dealing with moral and social degeneracy. But I am looking at it from the vantage point of half a century later, a distance that helps me understand the root of the conflict, interpret the new intuitions and see the logic behind them.
The youth back then didn’t have the ability to do so, and so they couldn’t respond to their parents berating them for their bad musical taste and moral degeneracy – all they knew was that rock’n’roll speaks to something inside of them, and feels a lot more real than the values society was trying to instill in them.
The great rock’n’roll songwriters, like Chuck Berry, Carl Perkins and Eddie Cochran, wrote songs that expressed the feeling that this is rock’n’roll and it’s ours, the grownups can’t understand it and we don’t know how to explain it ourselves, but we know it makes us feel better than anything else the world has to offer.
There was no one to decipher these intuitions, to articulate them in a way that would be understood by others, and the rock’n’roll kids just kept on living by them without trying to create a worldview to ground them in. And then came Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan gave the youth the vindication it was looking for.
In his contact with the adult world, that world that always dismissed youth culture, he retaliated by exposing their cluelessness. He was preceded in that by the Beatles, especially the sarcastic John Lennon, who in their media interviews were always pranking their interviewers and showing how out of touch they were.
But Dylan gave the impression that the grownups are not just out of touch when it came to dealing with the pop world, but that they are altogether belonging to a generation whose time has passed. In his records, he found ways to merge rock’n’roll with poetry and theatre and with the legacy of the Western spirit, and made the youth feel like his lyrics harbor secrets that can lead us to the truth.
This idolization of Dylan went too far, but it is hard to overstate his importance as an artist. He was the one who endowed the other rock’n’roll artists with the feeling that they had something to say, and encouraged them to try to understand the intuitions at the basis of their culture. Under his influence, many rock’n’rollers began writing songs that tried to express in words what the music was telling them, and started a conversation through which youth culture would develop a new worldview.
In the record ‘Ballad of a Thin Man’, Dylan mocks those scholars who think that they have a top-down view on youth culture, and that they are capable of understanding it. Mr. Jones is an archetype of such a scholar, who comes armed with his outdated academic theories and tries to implement them to understand the sixties youth, but actually he has no idea what he is talking about.
Dylan, as we recall, started out as part of the folk movement, which was another musical movement that rebelled against the fifties consensus. But folk kept on playing the old game of capitalism vs. Marxism, and its gripe with the status quo was that the progress is too slow. Dylan got out of this old equation and connected to the fresh intuitions of the rock’n’roll youth, but also maintained the broader look of folk, its social criticism.
And the rock’n’roll bands that were influenced by him started also, in the second half of the sixties, to look around. Psychedelia gave the youth the belief that it really had something new and important to say. Through it, it began exploring the mind, and realized that it is dominated by certain beliefs which make their holder experience the world in a certain way, whereas a changing of perception makes him experience the world differently.
This was the origin of the sixties saying: “it’s all in the mind”. While the Marxist folkies believed that only a change in the social structure would bring a better world, the Hippies believed that the road to happiness is to be achieved through changing one’s consciousness, liberating it from old beliefs, and pointing it towards a joyful existence.
The first Beatles record that can be defined as psychedelic is ‘Rain’, which came out in May 1966. In the record, Lennon is mocking the people who run and hide when rain begins to fall, only to emerge when the Sun comes out. Rain and shine, he says, are just a state of mind. What Lennon says is that our tendency to hide from the rain is something that has been instilled in us, and has no basis.
A man with a liberated mind can enjoy existence whether it rains or shines. McCartney had something else to say about rain. In ‘Fixing a Hole’, a track on the Sgt. Pepper album, he tells us that he built a place of his own a filled all the cracks that let the rain in, and distracted his mind from wondering freely.
But here too we find dismay at other people, those who keep running around and play the roles that society ordained for them, instead of joining him in the life of reflection and mind liberation. Then again, he doesn’t claim superiority over them. He is happy in his world, but can’t say for sure if he is wrong or right, if he is truly living the best type of existence.
All he knows is that “where I belong, I’m right” – in his private world, he is doing what’s best for him, and feels happy. And that’s good enough for him. But a few months later, in the ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ project, we already find a different insight, a different approach.
In ‘The Fool on the Hill’, McCartney once again tells us about a recluse who lives in his own world, secluded from society. Everyone laughs at him and think he is a fool, but the fool on the hill sees the Sun going down, and the eyes in his head see the world spinning round. The fool is compared to Galileo, who like everyone else saw the Sun setting, but with the eyes in his head, i.
e. with his mind, understood that it is actually the world that is spinning. This is no longer the subjective stance that we saw in ‘Fixing a Hole’. Here, he believes that his truth is objective, and true for everyone. Okay, this is after all just a song, and there’s no basis to think that the Beatles believed that they are holding the absolute truth.
But this path I described here, where someone’s private joyful experience eventually gets him to believe that he found the truth that will bring joy to everyone, is something that happened many times throughout history. And among the Hippies as well, there were many who believed that they found the key to happiness, and must now bring the gospel to the rest of humankind.
What causes people to make this transition? The answer is that this is a prejudice that is embedded deep in Western culture – and Eastern culture, for that matter. There is a deep-seated belief that in order to be happy, Man must find the truth at the basis of existence, and this truth is eternal and universal, true to every human in any time and place.
Because of this traditional view, truth and happiness are connected to each other in our consciousness, and as a result, when a person encounters something that makes them feel extreme happiness, they are driven to believe that they have found the eternal truth. We met this line of thinking before. For instance, we saw how Timothy Leary argues that our mind is captivated by all sorts of games that have been imposed on it, but the psychedelic experience frees it from all these games, and makes it dwell in the realm of truth.
How does Leary know that what he experienced is indeed the truth? Does he have any proof of that? Actually, he has only one piece of evidence, and that is the fact that he felt intense joy during the psychedelic experience. But that one piece of evidence was enough for him. Leary, who presumed to have freed himself of all games, was actually still caught in one of the oldest games of all, the game that determines that to be happy you must hold the truth, and that is what made him interpret the joy of the psychedelic experience as stemming from finding the truth.
In the same way, we saw how Ken Kesey builds an entire picture of the universe based on the psychedelic experience, out of the belief that this experience opened up a window for him to see the truth. Actually, this belief has no grounds. No one ensures us that truth will bring happiness, or that happiness indicates that we’ve found the truth.
But these people have a problem. These joyful experiences that they have are only temporary, and eventually they fall back to the ground. How can they explain it, if truth is supposed to be eternal? The regular answer is that what they’ve experience isn’t the whole truth, but only part of it. In other words, the experience gives us a taste of Heaven, but our existence remains mostly in our fallen world.
And so, those who went through the experience believe that they have to dive deeper into it, find what’s behind it, and once they do, they will be able to make it permanent and remain in paradise forever. In ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’, John Lennon describes a psychedelic experience during which he finds himself in a wondrous world, where he chases a divine and sparkling girl named Lucy, believing that if he catches her his world will be complete.
The psychedelic experience itself is no longer enough – now we also want to find what’s behind it. Again, this belief doesn’t have a leg to stand on. No one has ever managed to show that there is something beyond those temporary joyful experiences, or that there is a way to make them permanent.
But this prejudice is implanted so deep in our consciousness, that it directs our actions. And so, the youth began looking for the truth behind the psychedelic experience, with the hope of making it permanent. Many believed that Eastern thought was already enlightened to this experience, and could contain the answers that they were looking for.
The Beatles, for instance, traveled to India at the end of 1967, and spent a few weeks with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who popularized the transcendental meditation technique, said to give you the psychedelic experience without drugs. Others looked for it in other mystical creeds. Youth culture, as we recall, started out rebelling against the idea that we need to work towards a perfect future, and believed that we should live for today, create ecstatic experiences in the here and now.
But at the end of 67, it started to fall back into the old game, into the belief that we must aspire to find the eternal truth and create a world based on it. Then again, truth for them was no longer based on gradual progress out of the jungle towards an enlightened society. They looked for more immediate ways to achieve salvation.
The way, as mentioned, was through changing your consciousness. The social consensus that prevailed in the fifties was based on compromise, on people conforming to the will of the collective. The Hippies claimed that there was no need to compromise: once we liberate our mind we realize that there is natural harmony between us, and then we can all both live according to our nature and dwell in a harmonic society.
Rock festivals, from Monterey onwards, were purported as microcosms of such a society. This culminated in the Woodstock Festival, in the summer of 69, when hundreds of thousands of youngsters spent three days together, in a world based on music and love and not on tribalism and hostility. The festival inspired Joni Mitchell to write this song.
“We are stardust, billion year old carbon,” she sings, adopting a materialistic view. But then she continues “we are golden, caught in the devil’s bargain”, switching to Christian rhetoric. “And we’ve got to get ourselves, back to the garden”. What garden? Why, the Garden of Eden, of course.
This mixing of secular and religious imagery, typical of the Hippies, shows what they were after: they wanted to go back to paradise, and they believed that paradise is not in the afterlife, but can be achieved in this world. “Peace and Love” became the slogan, from the Summer of Love onwards.
The youth felt itself as expressing true fraternity, in opposition to the adults who are busy having wars with each other. The cold war between capitalism and communism seemed silly to this youth, that rejected the ideology at the basis of both of them. This cold war had a very hot manifestation at the time: the US was busy fighting the communists in Vietnam, and conscription was imposed to fill in the ranks, compelling all young Americans to go fight this war.
Until 68, only folk artists raised their voice against the war, and rock’n’roll ignored the issue. But that all changed when the Hippies started to preach the peace and love gospel. Here is Country Joe, the folk singer turned Hippie, singing a satirical song that mocks his fellow Americans who go to die without asking why.
But unlike the protest movement which the folkies and other lefties were part of, the Hippies had another idea of how to bring peace. They didn’t believe in politics, they believed in changing consciousness. The Hippies believed that through music, and through spreading their lifestyle, they can change the world, and that protests are part of the old game, based on negativity and hate.
The man who manifested this view most of all was John Lennon. Lennon, in 1968, began his relationship with Yoko Ono, which will eventually lead to their marriage. Ono was a Japanese artist who belonged the Fluxus movement, an avant-Garde movement that believed, among other things, that art should be taken out of the museums and on to the streets, so it can become part of everyday life and change the culture.
But the artists who belonged to this movement soon found out, to their chagrin, that the problem with the traditional artistic medium isn’t just that they are trapped in museums and concert halls – the problem is that they lost touch with the public, because they speak a language that the masses no longer understand.
This is the same feeling that Ken Kesey had about literature, which made him abandon it and turn to rock music and moviemaking instead. These artists, despite their efforts, didn’t leave much of an impression, and failed to reach the general public – except, of course, Yoko Ono, who was accompanied by a man who was constantly under the public eye.
Influenced by Yoko, Lennon began thinking in terms of turning his life into an ongoing artistic performance, utilizing the fact that the cameras were always on him to create meaningful artistic events. Everything the couple did was aestheticized, and their message to the world was that if a British pop star and a Japanese avant-Garde artist can fall in love, there’s no reason that the world won’t be able to overcome its divisions.
When they got married, they decided to turn their honeymoon into an event which they called ‘Bed-in’, in which they spent two weeks in bed in different hotel suites and invited people to come have a dialogue. During the Bed-in, Lennon also wrote a song and invited some friends to join him in the bedroom and sing it.
Lennon starts out mocking all the isms of the time, and tells us to forget about all these ideologies, and just give peace a chance. Then he proceeds to call out the names of many of the heroes of the time, including some we’ve mentioned. We can even see some of them, like Timothy Leary and Allen Ginsberg, joining John and Yoko in the chorus.
As we’ve seen, the psychedelic experience caused many of those who experienced it to feel unity, not just with the people around them but also with the entire cosmos. Therefore, the Hippies preached not just peace and love between humans, but also between Man and nature. Going against the industrial power that America was so proud of in the 1950s, the Hippies decried what this power does to nature.
Earlier we’ve seen Joni Mitchell singing that we are on our way to an earthly paradise. But in another song, she tells us how “they” paved over paradise, to build a parking lot. There was actually nothing new about this claim. The traditional Western attitude towards nature is based on the Judeo-Christian belief that Man was put on the Earth to rule it.
This approach led to science, which explores nature to understand and master it, and out of that came technology, which gives us ever greater control on the world around us, and industry, which processes nature for our needs. But there were always movements in the West that went against this trend, and preached that Man is part of nature, and should live harmoniously with it.
The industrial revolution created even greater alienation between Man and nature, and the romantic movement of the 19th century contained many voices that wanted to reconnect to nature. Some of these voices now resonated with the Hippies, and with them, this movement of return to nature became part of popular culture, a lot more widespread.
The result was the birth of the Environmental movement which persists today. In music, this was manifested in some rock bands turning to country. Country is the music of the rural folks, those who regard the simple rustic life in the village as the true existence, away from the urban life that twists and complicates the human soul.
Some Hippies found in this music a medium to express escape from the urban world and return to the land. We’ve already mentioned the Byrds, pioneers of folk-rock and psychedelia. And they were pioneers in this as well, as in 1968 they released an album that laid the foundations to a new style: country-rock.
Earlier on, in their psychedelic phase, the Byrds already released a single that, in a way, indicated this direction. In ‘5th Dimension’, from mid-1966, we find all the usual psychedelic elements: the sensation of passive floating, the feeling that you are merging with the universe, the sense that you are gaining a top-down view on your existence and understanding its essence.
But what insight does the protagonist of this trip arrive at? The dissent here is not just against industry and technology, but against the very thing that they are based on: Western science. Science, the Byrds sing, is madness, that only causes misery. We need to liberate ourselves from it to be happy.
We’ve already encountered this criticism of science in Aldous Huxley, who argued that looking at nature through scientific glasses has a reducing effect on our perception, making us ignore everything that cannot be scientifically measured. Huxley’s alternative was to combine the scientific approach with an aesthetic approach, giving us a more comprehensive and well-rounded view of existence.
Psychedelia, at first, lived up to Huxley’s ideal: it blended scientific exploration, and use of the wonders of technology, with going out to nature and developing the mystical side of the soul. But here, we already see a complete defection to the other side, and there were Hippies who believed that they should turn their back on science, technology and the modern world, and find their truth in nature and in mystical approaches that provided a different truth, one that can’t be grasped by scientific thought.
Then again, not everyone developed this hate to science and technology. There were some who took this rebellious spirit in the direction of undermining the industry’s monopoly on technology, and finding ways to take technology in different directions. Computer science, for instance, was developing in strides since world war two, and was completely in the hands of giant corporations like IBM, that took it in industrial and military directions.
In the sixties, some youngsters began exploring this field, aiming to bring the creative Hippie spirit into it. Out of their explorations we got video games, the home computer, and practically the entire cybernetic world as we know it today. This change in attitude towards nature was most prominent when it came to the issue of sex.
Christianity teaches that sex is impure, that even sexual thoughts are sinful, and that the human body is a prison we need to be released from. Sex, in the dominant Christian thought, is something that should be done not for recreation, but only for procreation. In the fifties, with the tight social control blended with puritanism, the repression of sexuality was at its peak, but the second half of the decade saw the invention of two things that tore it to shreds: the birth control pill, which allowed you to have sex without fear of pregnancy, and rock’n’roll, with the rhythm and wild dance moves borrowed from blacks, which was like an orgasmic release from the repression.
With the Hippies, the sexuality of rock’n’roll became ideological, an ideology that turned Christian metaphysics on its head, and claimed that the body is beautiful, that sexuality is an expression of love between humans, and that the sexual act should be done first and foremost for enjoyment.
Beyond enjoyment, the act was also believed to be freeing our consciousness from its fear of sexuality, just like the drugs freed it from other inhibitions. “Make love, not war” was the slogan – if more people made love, believed the Hippies, there would be less wars and strife in the world.
Thus, we got the holy trinity of the Hippie culture: sex, drugs, rock’n’roll. Driven by this ideology, rock’n’roll became more and more sexually daring, more and more explicit. Fifties rock’n’roll still used euphemisms and innuendo, but the way Jimi Hendrix played the guitar left very little room for the imagination.
And with heavy metal, which took acid-rock to more physical directions, the sexuality became even more graphic. An essential change also occurred in female attitude towards sex. In the fifties, girls were taught that they have no sexual drive, and that their aspiration should be to get a man to marry them and build a family.
Rock’n’roll, at first, was a guy thing, horny boys looking to seduce girls. The early youth subcultures – the Teddy Boys, the Rockers and the Surfers – were also a guy thing. But in the early sixties came the girl bands, that represented the female side of youth culture, and the Mods were the first youth subculture where girls were an integral part, and could express their creativity and individuality and contribute to the culture.
In girl bands songs, they would always be turned on by bad boys, those who were rebellious, rode bikes and danced to rock’n’roll songs. And still, those early sixties records were part of the old consciousness, expressing a desire to tame these wild boys and make good husbands out of them. When the Hippies came along, they brought a new female attitude, of women who wanted to enjoy sex as well.
Grace Slick and Janis Joplin were the first white female singers who moved on stage in the uninhibited way that men did. But they still had a lot to learn from black performers. Here’s Tina Turner, one of the only black rock artists of the sixties. The attitude towards parenting also went a radical transformation.
The kids who grew into the fifties paradigm, which tried to shape the next generation, threw away these reins, and some went to the opposite extreme, and believed that they should let their kids grow as their nature dictates, with no restrains. These ideals of love towards your fellow man and towards nature manifested themselves in the Hippie communes that started to spring in California.
These communes grew organically, driven by the shared spirit that imbued them, not out of some Marxist ideology. In the early days of the Haight Ashbury scene, the members of the Grateful Dead all lived together in the same apartment, sharing everything, and so did others. From there, the next step was to go out of city limits and return to nature, and there were Hippies who purchased farms and built communes, growing their own food and dreaming of feeding the entire world.
We are hearing Jefferson Airplane singing a country-rock hymn to the farm communes. In 1969, Jefferson Airplane were swept by the new revolutionary spirit, and became one of its main voices. We should, however, distinguish between this revolutionary spirit and revolutionary Marxism, which we shall discuss in the next episode.
The Marxists believed that if we topple the existing order, a better one will naturally emerge, so they focused on a violent struggle against the system. The Hippies, in contrast, focused on creating and developing an alternative, believing that it will gradually conquer more and more minds and eventually usurp the old system without violence.
In short, they believed in winning through culture, not through politics. Thus, the counter-culture of the sixties was born, a counter-culture burrowed from the spirit of psychedelia and the Hippies. The values of this counter-culture were developed mainly in and around rock music. Which meant that new channels had to be created to spread these values.
New record labels were formed, dedicated to finding and recording rock bands. Since many of these records would not be played by radio stations, pirate radio began to thrive, beaming this mind-blowing music into the bedrooms of kids. Important music critics started to emerge, and they discussed not only the music itself but also the insights and values contained in it, adding to the conversation.
Magazines that were wholly dedicated to the culture began to be published, the most important of them being Rolling Stone, based in San Francisco. The magazine offered a new kind of journalism, which became known as gonzo journalism, in which the reporter would not try to be objective, but offer their point of view.
Often, it meant that they had to become part of the event that they were reporting on, and give their first person account. A bit later came the magazine National Lampoon, which took the spirit of the counter-culture in the direction of subversive humor. In the early seventies, National Lampoon would also spread into stand-up comedy, and then to TV and movies, and this new humor would dominate American comedy for decades.
All of these channels emerged spontaneously and organically, but from 1968 there began an effort to bring everything together, to create an alternative society. The dream was to turn the counter-culture into a self-contained world, a society that creates its own food and shares it around, a culture that creates new ecstatic experiences through music and turns life into endless fun, a collective mind that forms new insights through psychedelic trips and takes humans consciousness to new realms, a civilization that exists in peace and love.
And there were also attempts to enter the political sphere. In 1968, the Youth International Party, or YIP for short, was formed, and its members referred to themselves as Yippies. As implied by their name, the Yippies were the political version of the Hippies, bringing the spirit of the Merry Pranksters into politics, aspiring to turn the political system into a circus of random pranks and gimmicks.
Their revolutionary ideology, they declared, draws its spirit from Marx. Not Karl Marx – the Marx brothers. The Yippies initiated a series of pranks that reached its peak in the 1968 presidential elections, during which they nominated and ran a pig named Pigasus for President. It was all supposed to be in good fun, but the authorities, from the other side of the generational gap, didn’t get the joke.
The Yippies’ militant declarations that they are going to create a society based on sex and drugs were taken seriously by the authorities, and their violent reaction wasn’t fun at all. The attempts to step out of the counter-culture bubble and into the world of the dominant culture led to bad results, as we shall see in the coming episodes.
The last attempt by the counter-culture to play the political game happened in 1969, when Timothy Leary ran to the governorship of California, then governed by Ronald Reagan, a sworn enemy of the Hippies. He even solicited John Lennon to write a campaign song for him, but the campaign was terminated when Leary was arrested and charged for possession of drugs.
The Beatles then reworked the song for themselves, and turned it into a song about a Hippie person who calls on the world to join him and unite. By then, however, the spirit of unity in the counter-culture had pretty much dissipated, and the atmosphere became increasingly more negative. From here on, it was all downhill.