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.
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.
What do you have when you take the most economical and sensible van on the market and paint it with polka dots and daisies? Maybe add a bit of marijuana smoke too. You have the VW T2 Hippie Van.
The Volkswagen Type 2, commonly referred to as the VW T2 van or microbus, was a panel van produced by the German automaker Volkswagen (VW) from 1950 to 1979. It was a popular vehicle among the hippie counterculture in the 1960s and 1970s, and that’s why it was nicknamed “the hippie van.”
One reason why the VW T2 was so popular among the hippies was due to its affordable price and compact size. That made it perfect for road trips and traveling across the country. Or, just for a place to live for a while. Hippies were known for their nomadic lifestyle, and the T2 provided a convenient and cost-effective way to explore new places and meet like-minded individuals.
A new VW Van in 1965 went for about $1800. That’s the equivalent of about $1,600 today which would still put it on the lower end of car prices. But hippies didn’t buy new cars.
VW Van As A Symbol
The T2 was seen as a symbol of non-conformity and individuality, which aligned with the values of the hippie movement. Its distinctive shape and colorful paint jobs made it stand out on the road. Its versatility as a campervan, cargo van, or even a ambulance made it a practical choice for those looking to live a more alternative lifestyle.
Furthermore, the VW T2 was associated with the countercultural movement of the 1960s and 1970s. It was frequently used to transport groups of young people to music festivals and protests. Its role in the cultural revolution of the time cemented its place in popular culture as a symbol of the hippie era.
Despite the decades that have passed since its production, the VW T2 remains an iconic vehicle and a beloved symbol of the hippie era.
In the previous chapter, we saw how some Hippies abandoned the idea that the revolution should be carried out in the realms of the mind, and went over to play in the political field. We saw also how this shift made them devolve into adopting Marxist thought, and from there into violence and terrorism.
It should however be reiterated that most of the people discussed in the previous chapter were not Hippies, and did not emerge from the spirit of rock’n’roll, even if they idolized the rock star and saw them as their role models. Most Hippies stayed true to the idea of revolution of the mind, and kept on seeking enlightenment through drugs, music and mysticism.
But here, too, things were devolving fast. The possibility that a trip could be bad has always been known. It featured in some early psychedelic records as well. In the Beatles track ‘She Said, She Said’, John Lennon tells us what happens when your preparation for the trip is bad. The inspiration came from a time when actor Peter Fonda came by to visit him.
Lennon just dropped acid, getting ready for a groovy trip, but Fonda just had to tell him about a near death experience he had during surgery. This was not what Lennon needed to hear as his mind was getting into the psychedelic twirl, and he told Peter to go to hell, but it was too late. The result was this record, which has an important insight about the nature of hallucinogenic drugs: while they can generate a joyful experience, making you feel like you are at the heart of your existence, so can they generate a terrifying experience, making you feel like you don’t exist at all, making you lose your sense of self.
And the more the sixties neared their end, the more the euphoric feeling of happy existence got replaced with the existential dread that Lennon expresses here. At the end of 1967, with the sunlight beams of the Summer of Love still dancing in the background, Lennon once again provided a different type of psychedelic experience.
In ‘I am the Walrus’, Lennon takes the stance of someone who knows best, and mocks all those who can’t understand him. We’ve met this attitude in Beatles records before, but here it is being deconstructed. At the same time that he mocks others, it seems that his own consciousness is falling apart, alternating wildly like a radio needle that is out of control, hearing voices, and once again imagining itself to be dead.
Instead of the confident man we met in ‘Rain’, here it feels like we are dealing with a schizophrenic. In the beginning of 68, the Beatles travelled to Rishikesh, in India, and stayed there for a month as guests of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who taught them his technique of transcendental meditation.
They also wrote many songs there, which ended up on the double white album that they released at the end of that year. Meditation, said Lennon at the time, is a way to get what the psychedelic drugs give you, while avoiding the dangers of the drugs. But Lennon was disappointed and disillusioned by what he experienced in Rishikesh, and some of the white album tracks give expression to this feeling.
‘The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill’ is a satirical song about an American who was there with them, learning from the Maharishi, but in the middle he took a break to go hunting tigers in the jungle, and then came back to continue his studies of a philosophy that preaches non-violence towards any living being.
‘Dear Prudence’ was inspired by one of the women in the group, who suffered a panic attack after meditation, and it took them hours to persuade her to get out of her room. But Lennon reserved the most venomous song for the Maharishi himself, after he heard a rumor that he sexually assaulted the actress Mia Farrow, who was there with them.
Lennon wrote a song that incriminated the Maharishi and accused him of being a fraud, but to avoid legal issues he changed the lyrics, and made it a song about a movie starlet who fools the world into falling in love with her. Luckily so, because the rumor was probably false. But the track ‘Sexy Sadie’ preserves the feeling of bitter disillusionment, and can be heard as a representative of the late sixties spirit.
The white album, officially called simply ‘The Beatles’, also contains Lennon’s parting shot from psychedelia. ‘Glass Onion’ references some of the Beatles psychedelic era records, emphasizes the sense of confusion and detachment from reality expressed in them, and throws them all into a psychedelic cauldron to make something even more confusing.
In the previous records, the confusion was just a side-effect, and the prevailing feeling was that of self-confidence, but here Lennon reinterprets them, and asserts that it was all an illusion. Psychedelia didn’t make reality more transparent, but rather into a glass onion, something that looks clear and transparent, but is actually multilayered and curvilinear.
This is the only track on the album where you still hear the psychedelic sound. Most other tracks provided by Lennon convey a feeling of loneliness and depression. Following the descent from the peaks of the Summer of Love into the hate drenched reality of 1968, and after meditation did not live up to its promises, Lennon feels lost.
In this mental state, drugs were no longer the way to get from an ordinary existence to a joyful existence, but to escape a depressing experience into oblivion. For that, other drugs are more suitable, but also demand a higher price. By 1969, Lennon was addicted to heroin, like many others in the counter-culture.
Many lost their lives as a result, but Lennon managed to gather himself in time and kick the habit, doing it cold turkey. The hell that he went through in order to do it, a hell that many went through at the time, was immortalized in this record. Heroin is a drug for people who experience life as suffering and want to escape it.
It makes you forget all your worries and sorrows, neutralizes all urges and ambitions. This is not what the Hippies were after, and heroin was a drug that they ideologically rejected. But there was one rock band at the time which made heroin and other hard drugs part of its art, and gave us a window into this world.
The songs that Lou Reed wrote for the Velvet Underground were filled with characters that hated their existence and wanted out, and the band turned every song into a little theatre play that dramatized the escape. Some of these records were about drugs. “I have made a big decision”, announces the junky in this record, “I’m gonna try to nullify my life.
” The temptation to turn to nothing, to dissolve into the euphoria of the drug, is what we hear in this classic track. The Hippies were perturbed by the Velvet Underground’s music. At the basis of their way of life was a strong conviction in the power of the human soul, a confidence that the drugs will purify it only from what is unessential, and will leave the essential core.
The Velvet Underground’s music suggested that there is no pure core, that the only thing awaiting at the end of the road is complete self-annihilation, and enslavement to the drug. This is not what the Hippies wanted to hear, and since they were now the dominant force in the rock world, the Velvet Underground was marginalized, remaining underground for the next decade, but constantly undermining Hippie optimism.
But there were also many Hippies who lost themselves to hard drugs, either because they wanted to escape the harsh reality of the late sixties, or because they took the sex-drugs-rock’n’roll ideology too far. The belief that the dominant culture is evil and only wants to prevent us from having fun, along with the belief that drugs are the road to salvation, led many youngsters to the thought that the warnings about heroin are just a fabrication.
From there, the road to hell was open. That’s not to say that only heroin is bad, and only heroin had a destructive effect. The hallucinogenic drugs did a lot of damage as well. Let’s let the Pink Floyd tell us about it. The record ‘Astronomy Domine’ is another psychedelic space trip, under the guidance of our captain, Syd Barrett.
When the record starts we are already in the spaceship, travelling among the planets, and a voice over the communication system is informing us of our location. But rather than helping us, the voice only disorients us – actually, there are two voices here, each providing different information, and together they form an unintelligible mix.
When the singing begins, we encounter the familiar themes of floating and acquiring a different view of reality, but it sounds more scared than euphoric. Nevertheless, there is a sense of progress, as we are gradually getting further away from Earth, going through Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, but then we retreat back to Titan, a Jupiter moon, and are frightened of the stars.
Then again, Oberon, Miranda and Titania, mentioned as the Uranus moons we pass by, are also Shakespearean characters, from two plays that exist between reality and fantasy. In both plays, there is a scene in which people fall under a spell, either from a potion or from beguiling music, which makes them not see reality as it is and leads them to unwelcomed results.
Smack in the middle of the Summer of Love, then, the Floyd already warn us that the psychedelic trip, which is supposed to show us the truth, might be just an illusion. The spaceship then goes into warp speed, growing increasingly out of control. The voice over the com system returns, once again spewing urgent but meaningless information.
When the singing resumes it sounds more like a series of onomatopoeic explosions, with words that express paranoia. Finally, the music slows down, and it seems like we are landing back in reality, but we are still trapped in the mental state we’ve put ourselves into, and who knows if we can ever escape it.
Barrett was the central figure of the British psychedelic scene, and did everything to be worthy of his crown. That meant that he remained switched on at all hours of the day, ingesting copious amounts of LSD pills. In chapter 7 we witnessed the switch he made from a stylish Mod into a disheveled Hippie, who cares only about what’s inside the mind.
But soon enough, the drugs ate his brain to an extent that there wasn’t much left inside. The handsome and talented young man became a total wreck, and his eyes, which always sparkled with an impish twinkle, became black holes in the sky, as Pink Floyd would sing years later. In the record ‘Vegetable Man’, Barrett comes full circle and once again sings about his external look, and he claims that his stinking rags are an expression of what’s left of his soul.
Actually, they are all that’s left of him. He became a soulless creature, a vegetable man. No less disturbing is this record, in which it sounds like Barrett’s personal hell is screaming in our ears in a variety of scary voices. These two amazing records were so perturbing that Pink Floyd decided not to release them, and they saw light only years later.
Barrett made a modest contribution to the band’s second album, but in the beginning of 1968 it was obvious that he was gone, and he was cut from the band. In the next few years his condition went from bad to worse, and he retreated into a shadow world. He tried to develop a solo career, and released several albums full of weird tracks, sung in a bent way that never remained faithful to any tempo.
Eventually he went back to his hometown and lived with his family as a welfare case. He never regained full sanity. While Barrett was sinking slowly, several other heroes of the psychedelic era fell in a more dramatic fashion. We’ve mentioned Brian Jones, the man who founded the Rolling Stones, and also the man who pulled it towards psychedelia, until his drug addiction got him kicked out of the band.
Jones tried to rehabilitate, but in July 69 he was found floating dead in his swimming pool, a death that remains shrouded in mystery to this day. A year later, three blows landed one after the other. In September of 1970, Jimi Hendrix took a large dose of sedatives, threw up in his sleep and choked to death on his own vomit.
Less than a month later, following a period of self-destruction, Janis Joplin was found dead in her hotel room, of a mixture of alcohol and heroin. And in July 71, bloated from alcohol and drugs, Jim Morrison went the same way. This is where the way of life of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll ended up.
Nothing manifests the shattering of the Hippie dream better than the four great rock festival movies of the late sixties. First, the Monterey Pop Festival of June 67, which was, as we recall, the first rock’n’roll festival in history, the first time when musicians from all over the world gathered to celebrate the new generation of popular music.
The beginning of the movie shows us that apart from that, it was a regular entertainment show, in which the audience paid for admittance and sat in rows of chairs, while the police was running things – back then there wasn’t yet talk of the counter-culture, of an alternative way to run a show.
At least not anywhere outside of Haight-Ashbury. But once we are done with this procedural stuff, the movie takes us into a magical place, a historic joy capsule that transpires in our ears and in our eyes. We hear folk-rock, acid-rock, British rhythm ‘n blues, soul, jazz, and classical Indian music, all coming together to create a new musical kaleidoscope, around which a new culture is being formed.
We see all the festival patrons still dressed in the dapper Mod style of the mid-sixties, but already affected by the psychedelic rainbow colors, with everyone trying to add something original of their own. Throughout the movie we see people smiling and having a good time, and when the music begins, we see them melt with pleasure with the lovely harmonies of the Mamas and the Papas and Simon & Garfunkel, sent to ecstatic heights with the mighty soul of Otis Redding, staring agape at the breakthrough performances of Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, and going into trance with the enchanting sitar sounds of Ravi Shankar.
You can even see the artists themselves mingle with the crowd, and enjoying the performances of their peers. I don’t know of any documentary that has the same feeling. Two years later, in August 69, came the Woodstock festival. This wasn’t in the warm Sun of California, but in the rain and mud of New York, but that did not deter hundreds of thousands of youngsters from flocking to the place, to take part in a three day festival of sound.
Unlike Monterey, which was organized by a professional producer, here the organizers were young Hippies, and when they realized that the attendance is much larger than the number of tickets, they decided to go all out and announced that the admittance is free. The financial loss was massive, but it was worth it for the experience.
The counter-culture got mobilized to help make it work, and the Hippie communes provided food and other services. Here is where the Woodstock myth was born, the myth of a utopian society in which hundreds of thousands of young people can coexist in fraternity and cooperation, and live on constant high from listening to great music.
The movie shows it very well, shows a society in which everyone contributes to the whole. “We’re all feeding each other! We must be in Heaven, man!” exults one of the speakers on stage. But when the cameras pan out a little, the illusion is revealed. The festival attendants may have felt that they are making it on their own without the authorities, but the authorities were actually involved all the way, and if it wasn’t for the massive help that they provided in food, sanitation and healthcare, the event might have been a large scale disaster.
Musically, we see that rock music now became the sea that all musical rivers meet in. All of the sixties musical styles are represented, but they all now express themselves through the flexible sound of electric guitars. There is still a feeling that the rock nation is united and all styles are in dialogue with each other and feed each other, and there’s also still a lot of Hippie idealism.
The music is fantastic, but the bad vibrations of the last year and a half can already be felt. Here’s Jimi Hendrix performing the Star Spangled Banner, incorporating air raids, anguished screams and funeral music, and perfectly capturing the ambivalent feelings that the American youth had towards their country at the time.
But the myth of Woodstock as a symbol for a new utopian world, for getting ourselves back to the garden, as Joni Mitchell sang, took hold, and became an ideal that every other rock festival would be judged by. The Rolling Stones, who didn’t perform at Woodstock, wanted to be part of that myth as well.
A few months later they started a tour of the States, and announced that they will end it with a free concert in San Francisco. The ambition was to organize a concert based entirely on the means of the counter-culture, with no dependence on the authorities. The movie shows them trying to arrange the concert, which turned out to be a much harder undertaking than they thought.
Once again, the counter-culture mobilized to help, and the local acid-rock bands confirmed their participation, but they still needed to find a place big enough and willing to host the event, not an easy endeavor when you can’t offer the possibility of financial gain. Finally they rented a race track in Altamont, which wasn’t exactly suited for a rock concert, and for security the hired the Hell’s Angels, the biker gang that was considered, as we recall, part of the counter-culture.
We mentioned that the Angels enjoyed taking part in the Hippie love-ins and partake in all the sex and drugs, so they generally behaved themselves, a fact that enabled the counter-culture to ignore their violent side. But hiring them to be in charge of security was asking for trouble, and trouble didn’t fail to arrive.
The movie is called ‘Gimme Shelter’, and it begins with the same sights we’ve seen in the Monterey and Woodstock movies: multitudes of youngsters, dressed in freaky outfits, flocking to Altamont, expecting an unforgettable night. But when the music begins, so do the troubles. As the Jefferson Airplane are playing, the crowd starts to get rowdy, as usual in rock concerts.
Professional security guards would show tolerance, but the Hell’s Angels handle it the only way they knew: with brutal force. The crowd, in large parts tripping on hard drugs, reciprocates in kind, and the situation escalates. Once the Stones take the stage, playing their wild satanic music, all hell breaks loose.
Jagger stops the music several times and tries to put things back in order, reciting the Hippie slogans about peace and love that by then already sounded corny, but his words fall on deaf ears – once the music starts again, so does the violence. Things come to a head when a young man, standing just meters away from the stage, draws a gun and aims it at the Angels, and they immediately pounce on him and stab him to death.
Many other youngsters came out battered and bruised from the event, which, as we recall, was supposed to “create a microcosmic society which sets example to the rest of America as to how one can behave in nice gatherings”. This happened in December 1969, in the same month that the Manson Family took the headlines, and the combined effect of Manson and Altamont terminally destroyed the Hippie pretensions to present an alternative world of peace and love.
Britain had its own rock festival, an annual summer event held since 1968 in the Isle of Wight, organized by a company run by three young brothers. The brothers were driven by a true passion for the music and the values of the youth culture, and in the first couple of years it was a modest event, but after Woodstock, they were inspired to try to arrange a similar event for the British youth.
For the 1970 event, they announced that this time the festival will be a large scale gathering, lasting five days, and serving as a role model for a self-sustaining society. They fenced a large area in the island, booked more than fifty artists, and with much love and care they managed to overcome the complicated logistical problems.
And the youth did indeed show up en masse, coming from Britain, America and Europe, in numbers that were estimated to surpass even Woodstock. But this youth was also driven by the myth of Woodstock, and many refused to cough up the nominal sum that they were asked to pay for a ticket, which was particularly ridiculous considering the amount of money they had to pay to get to the event.
Maintaining the ideal of a free festival was more important to them than compensating the organizers, and not let them go broke. Instead, they stood outside and started banging on the fence, demanding free admittance. The movie shows how the slogans of the counter-culture, that were supposed to represent enlightened values, are twisted and used to justify the most selfish and barbaric behavior.
The artists try to sing above the ruckus, but the bad vibrations spread to every corner of the venue, and affect them as well. Several of them look sullied from too many drugs, and no one is willing to give up part of their pay to help the organizers. There is still a lot of good music, but we already see the rock nation splintering into many styles – heavy metal, progressive rock, fusion, singer-songwriter, country-rock and more – with not much uniting them.
Eventually, the organizers decide to open the gates and let everyone enter for free, and one of them announces it from the stage and speaks in the utopian rhetoric taken from Woodstock, but there are tears in his eyes. Only three years have gone by since Monterey, but that spirit was dead. But the most symbolic thing that happened in 1970 was the collapse of the band that epitomized the sixties, the band that was the heart of youth culture.
In 1968 this heart began to break, because the bundle called the Beatles could no longer contain the personality differences between its four members, and every one of them began to pull in his own direction, and work on projects outside the band. After they completed the white album, they tried to find a way to renew the fun, and thought that maybe it’s time to get back to some live playing.
Their next project, called ‘Let it Be’, was supposed to be based on recordings that will make no use of studio technology, to recapture the spontaneous feeling of their early days. They also hired a film crew to document the process, and the resulting movie shows that there were indeed moments of fun, but also moments when the tensions bubbled up to the surface.
To end it, they decided to try to do a live performance, something they haven’t done in more than two years, and they ascended to the roof of the studio to throw a surprise concert. And so, on the 30th of January, 1969, the Beatles gave what turned out to be their last performance. It was a brilliant idea, which did bring back the spontaneous thrill of their music, and the movie shows the crowds slowly gathering, looking at the wonder happening above their heads.
But after half an hour, the police stop the concert, for disturbing the public order. A glum ending to the performing career of the greatest band of all. The final song in the performance also reflects the changing mood. ‘Get Back’ was written in response to growing xenophobic emotions in Britain, following the arrival of waves of immigrants.
The dream of a new world that will overcome the racism of the past crashed against the rocks of reality, and Paul McCartney wrote the song from the point of view of a person demanding from the immigrants to get back to where they came from, to satirize such people. But the Beatles were afraid that the irony will be lost on the public, and the lyrics were changed to something rather prosaic.
True, this self-censorship characterized the Beatles from the start, but in the early years it made their records more sophisticated, with their hidden meanings smiling behind the innocent mask. In 1969, the ugly events transpiring around them meant that the subjects of their songs were so harsh that in order to maintain innocence, they had to emasculate their records to the point of banality.
The original spirit of the band could no longer exist in the reality of the time. The next Beatles project was the album Abbey Road, for which they once again closed themselves in the studio. But not together. Most of the parts were recorded by every member on his own, and later put together. They are hardly a band here, but four individuals with not much connecting between them.
The only track that somewhat preserves the feeling of togetherness is ‘Because’, with its vocal harmonies. The lyrics are full of puns which turn natural phenomena into feelings, once again creating a sense of unity between Man and nature. But the atmosphere is melancholy – the melody is actually Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata played backwards, and the effect is just as sad.
The last verse – “because the sky is blue, it makes me cry” – pretty much sums up the mood. The music of the Beatles represents pure unadulterated joy, the happiness of everyday life when you’re having fun in your existence. But the late sixties were no fun, and gave them no happy things to sing about.
Without this joy to hold them together, the inner tensions and frictions within the band surfaced. From a group that was once four lads united against the world, they became separate individuals who conversed with each other through lawyers. Once this happened, things just went uglier and uglier. And, as it was throughout the decade, what happened to the Beatles was reflective of the culture around them.
The counter-culture was falling apart, losing the joy of life and sense of purpose that held it together. It used to be about liberation, about expanding your horizons, about achieving harmony, about creating a better world. The entire Hippie identity was constructed around these ambitions. But now, these ambitions lay in tatters, and the identity was in a lost state.
Without this inner core, most of it didn’t make sense anymore. And for the Beatles to remain true to themselves, this left only one viable option. On the last day of 1970, after a bitter fallout, they announced that they are disbanding. The dream was over.
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.
Here’s a YouTube video that does a great job explaining the times and music leading up to The Summer of Love. The author shows his philosophical roots in his screen name “Zarathustra’s Serpent”.
If the name sounds familiar, it evidently came from Friedrich Nietzsche’s book “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”, a nineteenth-century philosopher. Nietzche’s book was the foundation for composer Richard Straus’s musical work of the same name. Stanley Kubrick used the opening of the Straus piece in his 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Enjoy this excellent video and transcript from Zarathustra’s Serpent on YouTube.
It is no wonder that the heart of the Summer of Love was California. California, after all, is a place associated with endless summer, and in the beginning of the sixties, this endless summer was turned by pop music into a magical ideal.
To see how, we will have to take a moment to discuss surf music. Surfing is a custom that originated in Hawaii, where the Polynesian natives would ride the waves on wooden boards, a religious ritual of dealing with the forces of nature. The infiltration of the modern world, especially after the US annexed the island, has changed the local culture, but revenge was soon to arrive.
Some Americans adopted surfing, imported it to America and formed a subculture on the beaches of California. The surfers were youngsters who despised the puritanical capitalist idea that you should work hard to gain materialistic wealth, and instead chose a life of fun and ecstasy, where your existence is focused on riding the current wave and waiting for the next wave.
The American mainstream society, on its part, regarded them as un-American, and portrayed them as beach bums who dedicate their life to sensual pleasures instead of something meaningful. But surf culture found a way to fight back, and it did it through rock’n’roll. The man who started it all was Dick Dale, a surfer that was excited by the rebellious sound of rock’n’roll and wanted to combine it with the experience of wave surfing, to express the free spirit of the surfers and the joy of riding a big wave.
Working together with an innovator called Leo Fender, he revamped the electric guitar and added many effects, which made it possible for him to express the roar of the waves, the woosh of the wind, the spray of foam, and other sounds that you experience when you struggle with the powers of the ocean.
The power of Dale’s guitar was so great that it blew every existing amplifier, and compelled the industry to create more powerful amps, paving the way to acid rock and later to heavy metal. And so, Dale would surf the waves, reach the shore, grab his guitar, and blast electric surges that shook the ground in the vicinity and drew youngsters to join the party.
The waves made by Dale and the other surf guitarists travelled all over the globe, and bequeathed to the sixties values of loud rock music, love of nature and life for the current thrill, a legacy that will be fully embraced and developed by psychedelia. But the most famous band to come out of the surf rock scene had an entirely different style.
The Wilson brothers grew up in a musical family, and they formed a group that combined vocal doo-wop harmonies with rock’n’roll guitars. When they cut their first single in 1961, brother Denis, who was a surfer, suggested that they write a song for the subculture, and the record ‘Surfin” was born.
It found success, and they decided to base their songs around the surfing culture and even called themselves by one of the names that surfers used to identify themselves: the Beach Boys. This combination that the Beach Boys created, between doo-wop harmonies, rock’n’roll, and touches of surf guitar, took the pop world by storm in 1963.
But the song we’re watching now demonstrates the difference from original rock’n’roll. It borrows its melody from Chuck Berry’s classic ‘Sweet Little Sixteen’, which is about the ecstasy that a teenage girl feels while watching a rock’n’roll show, and it emulates it to tell us about the ecstasy of going surfing.
But in Berry’s song, the girl has to go back to school on the next day, whereas the Beach Boys tell the teacher that they are leaving for an endless summer and don’t intend to come back. In original rock’n’roll, you remained in the conformist and suffocating world you grew into, and the ecstasy came from breaking these chains with music.
While surf music pictures a world where there are no chains, just an existence dedicated to having fun. The most talented Wilson brother was Brian, and he wrote most of the band’s songs. His dominance over the creative side was enhanced after a nervous breakdown he had in 1964, which compelled him to retire from live performances and focus on writing songs, and more importantly, producing records.
This is one of the biggest revolutions that rock’n’roll brought to the music world: the record became the heart of the creative process. In jazz, as we mentioned in previous episodes, the focus shifted from writing to performance, and jazz records tried to sound as close as possible to a live performance.
Jazz musicians would usually not edit or add anything to the recording – it was considered cheating. In rock’n’roll, on the other hand, it was customary to record different parts and then edit them together, to add sound effects, and to employ studio technology to manipulate the recording and turn it into a unique piece of soundscape.
Studio technology reached a very high level by the beginning of the sixties, and those years saw the rise of the record producers, the people responsible for recording and editing. Brian Wilson got into the thick of things and became a production wizard, and under his direction the Beach Boys started to produce elaborate and distinctive records.
In 1966 they released the album Pet Sounds, the first rock’n’roll album that was regarded as an art piece in its own right and not just as a collection of tracks. Every track on the album is a magnificent tapestry of sophisticated vocal harmonies and novel exotic sounds. They followed that with the same thing but in a much more concentrated dose, with the single ‘Good Vibrations’, another masterpiece of production.
Previously, we characterized the psychedelic experience as a state where the linear perception of reality breaks down, and your consciousness is being flooded with stimuli from all directions, causing a feeling that you elevated to a higher order. This is pretty much what we get here, and in many of the records that will be presented in this episode: rather than choosing one wave to surf on, we let many vibrations wash over us all at once, and take us into a magical kingdom.
When the Beatles came on the scene, they were initially a rebellion against sophisticated production, and went back to the primitive power of early rock’n’roll, with their records trying to recreate the way they sounded live. But by 1966 they grew tired of live performances, with the squealing girls who made it impossible to even hear the music, and they started to spend a lot more time in the studio, making increasingly innovative records with their super-producer George Martin.
The album Revolver, from that year, was a turning point, after which they decided to retire from live performances and become exclusively a studio band. The themes they sang about got deeper, dealing with existential questions, and they started to put a lot of thought into every record. Other rock’n’roll artists went through a similar process at the time, but Revolver is a perfect showcase for what put the Beatles above all else: every one of the four band members represented a different approach to existential questions, and together they could attack a theme from all sides, and present a totality.
This all-around totality, coming from four different personalities completing each other, characterized the Beatles from the beginning. John Lennon was rebellious and sarcastic, with a searing and aggressive singing style; Paul McCartney was pleasant and witty, with a lovely lilting voice; George Harrison was shy and reflective, with an enchanting vocal; and Ringo Starr was genial and outgoing, with a warm and embracing voice.
They had something for everyone, and together they were one unit working in harmony. When the substance got deeper, and they began to pursue the path to happiness, the differences also got deeper. John was looking for the answer in rebelling against the existing order and searching for something else, and his music took an experimental tinge, trying to break the mold of pop songs.
Paul sought the answer in merging the new ideas of the sixties with traditional western ideas, and musically, he took what his friends were doing and fused it with older musical styles. George connected with Buddhist mysticism, looking for the answer beyond this world, and musically he began infusing the sound of the band with Indian instruments and melodies.
And Ringo remained the down to earth guy, who finds happiness in hanging out with the guys, and served as an anchor to his three friends, reminding them not to take themselves too seriously. In Revolver these distinctions first came to light in all their sharpness, with everyone giving their take on the ideas that began percolating out of psychedelia, and they all come together to form a perfect album.
Here we hear Ringo singing a song written by Paul McCartney, which is actually a children song, but also contains the psychedelic dream of escaping to a colorful fairy-tale land, where you just have endless fun. This wish to go back to childhood, to an earlier happier memory, was also at the center of their next planned project: they intended to make an entire album dedicated to songs about Liverpool, the place where they grew up.
The result was their next single, released in February 1967. On one side we find ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’, about a place they used to play in as children, and it was a milestone in record production. Some of the instruments here, including Lennon’s voice, are played in a slower speed, making them sound weird and bent, while others are played backwards, causing a disturbing effect.
It also has electric organs playing acidic sounds that were novel at the time, and Indian instruments that contribute to the hypnotic atmosphere. All of that creates a kind of super-natural fantasy, and Lennon’s abstract lyrics convey a sense of loss of identity and orientation. The Beatles also made a surrealistic promo film to accompany the record, seen today as one of the precursors of the video clip.
And the success of the single marked the moment when psychedelic music began its takeover of the charts. Eventually, instead of the Liverpool album, the Beatles decided on another project: they will assume the identity of a psychedelic fair band called Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and the entire album will be comprised of numbers this band would have on its show.
While their first albums took only a few hours to record, this time they shut themselves in the studio for more than half a year, working weeks on every track to make it special, and they also put a lot of thought into the design of the album sleeve. The result was an album that was based in the daily life of 1967 London, but looked at it from a psychedelic perspective.
‘Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite’, for instance, is based on an advertisement poster for a circus, and it mixes its lines to make a song, while the production creates an effect of a kaleidoscopic musical box, to generate a carnivalesque atmosphere. The album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band came out on June 1st, 1967, and remained on top of the charts for the entire summer.
It contained all the breakthroughs of the sixties, and wrapped them in a package that was digestible to the general public. The result was a cultural big bang. The hectic atmosphere of swinging London, that was building up throughout the sixties, reached its peak in this summer, and Sgt. Pepper led a wave of happy and optimistic pop music.
But this summer also marked the rise of California as a counterweight to London’s dominance, and the main cause for that was Hippie acid-rock. California, as we’ve mentioned, was identified in the early sixties mainly with surf rock. But the British invasion of 1964 blew surf out of the water, with only the Beach Boys left standing.
In 1965, California got some reinforcement, as some artists of the New York folk scene moved to Los Angeles to form folk-rock, a style that was a fusion of folk, rock’n’roll, harmonies in the mold of the Beatles and the Beach Boys, and Beat philosophy. We’ve already mentioned the Byrds, the band that led this wave.
Here’s another folk-rock band that moved from New York to LA that year, and at the end of the year released a record that celebrated the delights of sunny California, and its free spirit that drew them to it. And from the beginning of 67, it was San Francisco that became the center of Californian music.
In January, Height Ashbury hosted a festival titled The Human Be-In, which unified all the art movements in the place. The Beat poets read their poetry, Timothy Leary lectured on psychedelics, the local avant-Garde theater troupes put on their plays, but at the center of it all were the acid rock bands, which established their status as the heart of the scene.
Rock music, which bohemia always considered to be just silly pop music for teenagers, now started to be regarded as the deepest conveyor of the human spirit. The next logical step was to arrange a festival that will be purely musical, and in the middle of June came the Monterey Pop Festival, the first rock festival in history, a three day event that brought together the acid rock bands of San Francisco with the folk rock bands of LA and with some of the best British bands, as well as some other surprises.
The song we are hearing in background was a song written for the festival by John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas, sung by Scott McKenzie, inviting everyone to join the new thing. The Haight Ashbury Hippies had some doubts about the festival. First of all, they didn’t like the ticket prices.
The acid rock bands played for the community, for nominal sums, not for profits. Secondly, they were afraid that this will bring the commercialization of the scene, and destroy the small, joyful, loving world they created for themselves. And they especially didn’t like the idea that the event was going to be filmed and shown in movie theaters.
Jefferson Airplane was already famous and had some hits in the chart, but the other bands were still underground, and liked it that way. The Grateful Dead agreed to play in the festival, but only on the condition that they will not be filmed, and not be part of the movie. Big Brother and the Holding Company made the same stipulation, but they forgot to take one thing into account: how good Janis Joplin was.
Her performance was so electrifying that it wowed the audience, stealing the show from the more famous acts. Janis descended the stage triumphantly, but then remembered, to her heartbreak, that her triumph wasn’t filmed. After much pleading, the band managed to persuade the organizers to let them perform again on the next day, this time on camera.
Witnesses say that this performance was not as good, and suffered from overexertion by Janis, but it was still good enough to launch her into superstardom. The summer of 1967, the summer of Sgt. Pepper and the Monterey Pop Festival, became known in the history of pop as the Summer of Love. The pop music of that summer, and the entire year, has unique characteristics, that distinguish it from any other year.
Let’s discuss these characteristics. Unless otherwise mentioned, all the records presented here are from 1967, and it’s hard to mistaken their belonging to that year. The first characteristic we notice is the slowing down of tempo. Rock’n’roll has always been a style of exhilarating dance music, and acid-rock, with all the changes it brought, left this aspect intact.
But the effect of LSD caused some people to want to stop, lie motionless, and allow all the sensual stimuli to wash over them. On this track from Revolver, the Beatles ask us not to disturb their sleep, and allow all the wondrous dreams to come. The world may think that this is laziness, sings Lennon, but he insists that this is the best way to live.
The pace, accordingly, is slowed down. In ‘Penny Lane’, the other side of the ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ single, the sleeping is done with your eyes open. McCartney just lies awake in Liverpool’s Penny Lane, and lets all the affairs in the road flow through him and fill his consciousness, just watching everyone running around without taking an active role.
We find this passive attitude and dreamy quality in many other Summer of Love records. With the rhythm becoming less dominant, vocal harmonies came to the fore, and so did sound effects, designed to stimulate the listener’s acid drenched mind. It was a very colorful year, with the clothes, the album covers, and everything else coming wrapped in rainbow colors, to make the visuals match the sounds.
This sinking in a dream made the collective mind of that generation open itself up to the monotonous, droning sound of classical Indian music. India, after all, is constantly a background to our story. In that seminal 1955 poetry evening in which Allen Ginsberg enthralled the poet community of San Francisco, there was another newcomer poet called Gary Snyder, who just came back from a trip to India and read poetry inspired by his experiences.
Snyder introduced the Beatniks to the philosophy of Zen, which is also essentially an attempt to free your mind of any molds, and Zen ideas infiltrated the writings of Kerouac and other Beatniks. And the other side of psychedelia also had an enormous debt to Indian culture: Timothy Leary, as we recall, based his ideas on the Tibetan Book of the Dead.
Indian music is hard for western minds to comprehend, since it has no melody or harmony but just elongated winding sounds, an endless flow. But after the groundwork of Leary and the Beatniks, and under the influence of acid, it started to make sense. We’ve mentioned George Harrison, who injected Indian sounds into the Beatles’ music.
Other bands started to do the same, adding to the psychedelic mix of the year. Summer of Love pop, then, drifted away from the Merry Pranksters brand of psychedelia, the one based on wild dancing, and instead drew closer to Timothy Leary’s brand, of a trip that takes place inside your mind, while the body remains motionless.
This was reciprocated by the other party as well. Previously, we described how Leary, the serious scholar, would not go out to greet the noisy and mischievous Pranksters when they popped by his ranch in 1964. But the sounds coming from the rock world reached his ears as well, and he gradually became more laidback, more hip.
By 1967, he was part of the Hippie culture, and they, in turn, made him a cultural hero. We hear some interesting things in this Moody Blues record. First, we meet the flute, another instrument whose mystical enchanting sound contributed much to the Summer of Love soundscape. Secondly, we once again meet the idea that drugs take you on a trip which expands your mind.
That’s the goal of dropping out of the rush of daily life and taking a passive, reflective look at it: when you are part of the flow, you operate without knowing or thinking, but if you stop and take a look at your life, you can go back to it with a better understanding of how to live it and be happy.
The drugs, according to this belief, take you on a trip that takes you out of yourself and allows you to take a top-down look on your consciousness and understand how it works, so when you go back to yourself you can be in better control of it and direct it to your needs. We’ve already met that idea in Dylan’s ‘Mr.
Tambourine Man’, where it is described as a magic ship that takes you away. Many Summer of Love records use similar imagery. First, of course, there’s the bus, which the Merry Pranksters turned into a symbol for a psychedelic trip. Or, it could be a magic carpet… But the most popular image was the spaceship.
The sixties was the decade in which space was conquered, when humanity broke out of its planet and started to reach for the stars. This naturally fired the imagination of the generation, and rock bands turned it into a metaphor for the inner expedition, the journey to conquer new realms of consciousness.
One of the best expressions of this introspective approach can be found on the Sgt. Pepper album. The track ‘Good Morning, Good Morning’, is based on a TV ad for cereal, once again displaying the process of taking everyday things and turning them into art. The protagonist of the track is a man who just goes on his daily routine, without any reflection, and has nothing to say.
This is supposedly how most of us live our lives, and the music is simple and mechanic. But the following track is ‘A Day in the Life’, which is about the daily life of the introspective man. The song has three levels. The lowest level is provided by Paul McCartney, and it’s the mechanical routine level of daily existence: it begins with him going downstairs, and then running around to do his usual daily things.
Then he goes upstairs and smokes a joint, and goes into a dream, entering a higher level, the level of reflection. This level is provided by John Lennon, and he tells us that he reads the paper or watches a movie, citing actual articles and movies of the time, and that starts a train of thought that takes him to the highest level, the level of absolute transcendence, which is provided by a symphonic orchestra playing a note that gets louder and louder and becomes a cosmic bang.
These are the levels of everyday life, according to the Beatles. And that is the perception of the pop age. The traditional perception in western society was to treat human life as meaningless and miserable, an existence that we want to transcend into an eternal and happy existence. For the Beatles, on the other hand, daily life may be mundane, but it is not miserable – as the protagonist in ‘Good Morning, Good Morning’ tells us, it’s ok.
And the transcendence does not take us to an eternal plane, but is still part of daily existence – once it’s over, we wake up back into our daily routine. In other words, we don’t have to aspire to an existence that is beyond our daily earthly life, but find our exultations within it. This was the perception that dominated rock’n’roll from the start, but psychedelia turned into an existential philosophy.
And while early rock’n’roll found transcendence through ecstatic dance eruptions, here it is achieved through delirious reflections. This presumably higher level of daily existence, which gives you a top-down view on your regular routines, also gives you a better understanding of humanity at large.
Some Summer of Love records express the feeling that the singer has a superior position, and can see into the minds of other people. Driven by this perception, the pop kids rejected the notion that they should work for a better tomorrow. If your life is miserable, it is not because earthly existence is miserable in its essence, but because your mind is tangles up in ideas that it has to free itself from.
You must therefore stop directing your thoughts to the future, and learn how to live for today. This approach also explains the wish to return to childhood, which we saw in the Beatles. Several Summer of Love records convey this wish to go back to a more innocent state, where you’re not worried about the future but simply enjoy the moment.
Another side of this approach was the wish to go back to nature, the nature which the modern industrial world detached us from, and become part of it once again. The Hippies were also called flower boys, because of this wish to be part of what they saw as the natural harmony. Many Summer of Love records talk about going out to bask in the warmth of the Sun and the beauty of nature.
This return to nature was accompanied by a change in the attitude towards sex. Christianity taught us to hate the human flesh, and to want to free ourselves from it to get to heaven. But the sixties brought the sexual revolution, which demanded to see sexuality and the body as positive and beautiful.
Sex is one of the ways to reach exultation in our earthly life, and is therefore a good thing. Rock’n’roll, with its rhythmic sexuality, was the main force driving this revolution. Explicit sexuality would not be broadcast over the airwaves, so rock’n’roll artists had to use innuendos.
But in 67 there were several records that started to be more daring. And the main value of the Summer of Love, the one that brought all the aforementioned things together, was of course love. As we saw, the effect of hallucinogenic drugs caused a sense of the falling of boundaries and that we are becoming part of a universal harmony, part of a loving cosmos.
A feeling of solidarity swept over the youth in 1967, making them believe that this is the real human condition and all the resentment and strife are just part of the old world, the world of the adults with all of their complications and inhibitions that prevent them from living out their true nature.
Many anthems for the power and magic of love were written in that year, and the belief was that this love will eventually conquer the world. On June 25th, 1967, the world took another step towards becoming a global village, with the first TV show that was simultaneously broadcasted to many countries, using satellite.
Every participating country contributed a segment, and Britain contributed the Beatles. The Fab Four, who were coming down from the heights of sophistication of Sgt. Pepper, decided that for this event they should write something more direct and anthemic, so they just condensed the spirit of that summer into five simple words.
Their next project was a TV movie, and the concept that they decided on was a psychedelic bus tour, which will take them through all sorts of surrealistic experiences. So, it took them longer than they thought, but the Merry Pranksters eventually did manage to do what they set out to achieve in 1965: get the Beatles on the bus, and into the movie.
The universe did eventually arrange a meeting between them, at least philosophically. But the movie Magical Mystery Tour, that was broadcast on television at the end of the year, also heralds the end of the Summer of Love. The song ‘Blue Jay Way’ was written by George Harrison in Los Angeles, as he was sitting and waiting for friends who were late for a meeting because they lost their way, but the record also expresses his impression of what he saw in Haight Ashbury that week.
Following the Summer of Love and the Monterey Pop Festival, the entire music industry stormed San Francisco, signed all the acid rock bands on contracts, and began a fast process of commercializing Hippie culture. With them came other people who saw an opportunity for a quick buck, and Haight Ashbury was soon filled with drug dealers, charlatan gurus, quacks, professional shysters, and other unsavory types looking to exploit the naïve kids who came to the place looking for spirituality and enlightenment – and the police, of course, followed on their heels.
Height Ashbury became Hashbury, just a big ashtray of pot. When Harrison sings about his friends who lost their way, he is also talking about the Hippies, lost in their drug haze. “Please don’t be long” he sings about his friends, but in the end, when he repeats “don’t be long” over and over again, it becomes “don’t belong”.
Haight Ashbury was no longer a place worth being part of. 1967 was over. The next year will be completely different.
Here’s a YouTube video that does a great job explaining the start of the beatniks. The author shows his philosophical roots in his screen name “Zarathustra’s Serpent”.
This is a story that has never been told. There are so many books about the sixties, and so many things that have been written about this period. And still, despite reading anything I could find on the subject, I have yet to encounter any attempt to show how it all makes sense when put together, any effort to fully document the spiritual journey that the protagonists of the story went through.
This series will endeavor to fill the gap, to tell the full story of psychedelic music, and the culture that emerged around it. To me, this is the focal point of the sixties, the thing around which most else revolves. The series will tell the story of how it emerged, what it was all about, how it fell apart, and what happened in the aftermath.
And through that, we are pretty much going to tell the story of pop culture and pop music in the second half of the twentieth century. So, open your minds, and let me take you on this magical journey out of the past. Now before we begin to talk about psychedelia, we must understand where it came from.
And you can’t understand psychedelia if you don’t first of all start by talking about Beat. Our story begins at the end of the 1930s. This is the period known as the swing era, the period in which the big bands took over the pop world. So big band swing became the new mainstream, and when this happens to a pop style, the original fans of the style always feel a split.
Suddenly, there are many artists out there who pretend to be part of the style, but the music they produce lacks the inner essence of it. The fans then make a distinction between music that they perceive as “real”, and music they perceive as a fake imitation. What swing fans called “real” swing was a rhythmic style, in which the entire band would create an enormous forward drive, compelling your body to break out in an ecstatic dance.
And the soloists, carried on the wings of this propulsion, would then improvise solos that would lift your spirit to the heavens. But among the general public, that didn’t get the essence of swing, the most popular records did not have that quality. They had formal similarities to swing, using the same instruments and melodies, but rather than being ruled by the swing feeling, the players would play in the traditional European way of following notes; or sometimes they would try to imitate the fervor of the “real” swing bands, but since they lacked the inner essence of it, the outcome was crass and tasteless.
Among swing fans and musicians, the prevailing feeling was that the music industry robbed their music and neutered it. In the beginning of the forties, a number of black musicians assembled in Harlem, and started to look for a new way. The way they saw it, the white industry robbed the blacks of Swing and of all the other black-made authentic jazz forms, so they needed to dive deeper into the logic of jazz and distill its essence.
Grouping in small bands of five or six members, they would begin playing a familiar pop song, but then ditch the melody in favor of improvisation, and set sail into the unknown. Leaving only the chord structure of the original song, the soloists would play with breathtaking speed and create a completely new tune.
Every time someone else would take the lead and the other musicians would follow, and then another soloist would take his ideas and develop them in his way, and the other band members would react to that. Thus, a kind of collective consciousness was formed, which would produce an original musical piece.
This music could no longer be experiences in the traditional way of listening to the melody. To enjoy it, you had to get into the music, to feel yourself regenerated at that moment along with it. This new style was termed bop, or bebop. Bebop created a space in which black consciousness could develop freely, without meddling from the white establishment, and the seeds that were sown in it would grow rebellious generations of African-Americans for decades to come.
But there were also some white people who connected to bebop, whites whose soul was welded in the furnace of jazz and could therefore understand the new musical experience. One of them was a young man named Jack Kerouac, who aspired to be a novelist and find a new form of literary expression. Kerouac, who lived near Harlem, had the chance to experience bebop in the years of its formation, and found in it a source of inspiration.
He regarded the bebop musicians as spiritual guides, artists who are paving a new spiritual way, and he wanted to bring their spirit into literature, to write in the way that they played. But Kerouac could not find the way to do so, at least not until 1944, the year he met two people with which he could form his own jam session.
William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg were also young bohemians who were looking for another way, and the three realized that they have a spiritual connection, and decided that they represent the birth of a new consciousness. In their view, Western civilization became a heartless technocracy, an industrial-militaristic-capitalistic society, which subjugates the humane side of Man and enslaves it to the rational side, and therefore its logic is a cold and inhumane logic driven only by utilitarian motives.
Man thus became an unhappy creature, and to regain his happiness, we must liberate the human spirit from the shackles of this technocracy. Their goal was to find the way to freedom, and liberate humanity. William Burroughs, the elder of the bunch, became the mentor. Burroughs was born to a wealthy family and could have led a comfortable life, but instead he decided to dedicate his life to liberation from social conventions and lies, and find the truth about reality.
How can this be done? One way, believed Burroughs, was to drop out of conformed society, to live outside of the conventional mind. So he abandoned his bourgeois existence, and moved to the sphere populated by criminals, junkies, prostitutes and tramps. Another way is through the use of mind-altering drugs, and Burroughs tried every known substance and every possible drug cocktail to see what they can teach him about his mind.
He soon became a junky, but for him, it was all part of the purgatory you have to go through to see existence for what it is. In his dealings with underworld people, Burroughs learned the slang of their world, and in it he found the term which he used to signify the state of existence that he was after.
The word ‘Beat’, in this slang, meant a state of losing everything and lying in the gutter. It meant that you were beaten by life, but for Burroughs, being “beat” signified exactly what he wanted: to lose all the baggage that conformed society instilled in him, and become free. Burroughs imparted this idea to his new friends, and for Kerouac, who was a Catholic, the word ‘Beat’ immediately connected to the concept of Beatitude, and thus took on a meaning of holy blessedness.
And so, the term ‘Beat’ came to signify a state in which you beat your old identity and demolish it, and in this way become liberated from the lies that society implanted in you, and become pure and real. The word would become the center of the new consciousness, and the three friends would eventually call themselves The Beat Generation.
The existence that Kerouac espoused was based on the ideal of the bebop musicians: a purely spontaneous existence, in which you recreate your life in each and every moment, instead of following preexisting patterns. When a jazz instrumentalist gets carried on the wings of the music, it takes over him, and the musical ideas spring from his subconscious without thought.
Thought comes a little bit later, when he develops these ideas further, but they are initialized in a spontaneous way. This is how Kerouac wanted to live, and he intended to then record his existence autobiographically in print, and thus create literary bop. But his nature was that of an intellectual and a novelist, a man whose existence is mired in preexistent patterns, and hence he was in a bind: to experience the existence he wanted, and thus to create the literature he imagined, he had to first give up on his identity as a novelist, and so actually give up on his dream.
The only way out of the bind was to find spiritual guides who will drag him along with them. Ginsberg and Burroughs took him part of the way, but to get to where he wanted, he needed a different kind of guide. And fortunately, he met him shortly after. Neal Cassady was a truly unique individual. A hyperactive young man who couldn’t rest for one moment, and was driven by an insatiable lust to swallow as much life as he could, Cassady was always in motion, always talking, always randomly bringing up new ideas and taking his line of thought to strange places, always looking for new adventures, always hunting for new sexual conquests.
He seemed to be living on a different level from most people, a level that is more intense. He was the essence of the spontaneous existence that Kerouac championed, a perfect model to follow. He also loved stealing cars and going out on long trips along the long roads of America, and he dragged Kerouac along with him.
Between the years 1947 and 1951, Cassady and Kerouac crisscrossed America from top to bottom and from side to side, never staying in one place for more than a few weeks, living from temporary jobs, going to jazz performances whenever they had the chance, and experiencing all sorts of adventures. At the end of this period, Kerouac sat down to write a book that would document their travels.
This was one of the components of Kerouac’s new literary style: real life experiences precede the writing. Just like a bebop musician creates the music on the spot and doesn’t read it from the paper, so should the novelist first live the story, and only later write it down. Unlike writers of fiction who make up their stories, Kerouac’s books were always autobiographical.
There were novelists who preceded him in that, such as Marcel Proust who was one of his influences, but what exemplified Kerouac was that his writing style was also inspired by bop. To write the book, he bought a big roll of paper and stuck it in his typewriter so he wouldn’t need to stop and change pages, and over the course of a few weeks, so goes the legend, he poured everything on paper in the order that the words came into his mind, never stopping to think and never rewriting.
There are places in the book where you can see Kerouac riding an inspirational wave, and producing a long sentence in which the flowing stream of words flourishes and creates a kind of literary jazz. Here’s one of the segments that best represent his rhythmic and spontaneous style of writing, telling about the time when he introduced Allen Ginsberg to Neal Cassady, and how the two immediately clicked: They danced down the streets like dingledodies, and I shambled after as I’ve been doing all my life after people who interest me, because the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “awww!” We learn a few interesting things from this paragraph.
First, the belief that the only true existence is a burning existence. In philosophy, this worldview is identified with the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, who claimed that fire is the foundation of all existence, and that there is nothing stable in existence, but everything is in flow. According to the worldview presented here by Kerouac, life that is lived on the basis of steady and established principles distances you from the real existence, and to be real you must burn in the fire of an existence that is regenerating at every moment.
Secondly, we are introduced to the idealization of madness, to the belief that mad people are people who burn, people who experience a more genuine existence than the people who are called “normative” and “sane” by society. Third, we see that Kerouac feels that he himself is not a burning man, but a writer shackled by words, and hence existing always a step behind real existence.
All he can do is follow the real people, try to capture them in his writing, in a hope that in this way his art will get as close as possible to portraying real existence. The central character of the novel, therefore, is Cassady, and the book tries to capture his flame. The book is called On the Road, and it was meant to represent the new consciousness.
But Kerouac couldn’t find anyone who would publish it. The other hero of the segment is Allen Ginsberg, who is also described as a burning madman. But Ginsberg, unlike Cassady, also had a normative side, that wanted to become part of society and be a respected academic and poet. Following an incident in which his involvement with Burroughs’ criminal friends got him in trouble with the law, Ginsberg decided to “go straight”, and committed himself to a psychiatric ward, to the very thing that symbolized everything Beat consciousness was against.
The psychiatric ward, in the 1950s, was a notorious manifestation of the technocratic society. Since the prevailing belief in those years was that rational thought can decipher everything in the world, the human mind was also perceived as something that can be completely outlined in mathematical means, and science, therefore, was seen as being able to understand and cure any mental illness.
Psychiatrists were regarded as almost all-knowing, and anyone who suffered from a mental problem, which in the fifties was a code word for anyone who deviated from the social norms, was sent to them to get fixed, in techniques such as electric shocks to the brain, or, in more severe cases, lobotomy.
Ginsberg willfully submitted himself to this institute, but it was there, in the belly of the beast, that he found his mentor, the man who helped him discover his artistic path. His name was Carl Solomon, and he too committed himself, but not because he wanted to become normative. Solomon was marked in early age as a very gifted person, but he believed he will never be able to realize his full potential as long as his rational side controls him.
Hence, he started acting like a madman, and when he was brought before the psychiatrists, he demanded to be lobotomized, believing this will finally free his spirit from the rational side of his mind. But the doctors did not oblige, and instead kept him in the ward and tried different methods. But in that, they put him just in the right place to influence the great poet of Beat, and consequently the course of history.
Ginsberg realized that Solomon is another manifestation of Beat consciousness, a man who aspires to liberate the irrational side of the human spirit, and thus a model that can direct him. Inspired by Solomon, he gave up on his plan to conform to society’s norms, and instead left the ward and moved to San Francisco, the capital state of non-conformity, to become part of the poet community in the place.
On October 7th, 1955, the poet Kenneth Rexroth organized a poetry reading in San Francisco, providing a stage for new poets to present their work before the local bohemia. Young poets such as Michael McClure, Philip Whalen and Gary Snyder got up to read their poems, presenting a new sensibility that combined ecological consciousness, Zen Buddhist influences and other things.
But the show was stolen by Allen Ginsberg, whose poem Howl dazzled its listeners. The three part poem is dedicated to Carl Solomon, but stylistically it is inspired by Kerouac, and it articulates the philosophy of Beat. The first part opens with the assertion that he saw the best minds of his generation destroyed by madness, and proceeds with a flowing, rhythmic and mesmerizing portrayal of everything that the owners if these minds did to themselves in the past decade, going through self-beating, hobo life, drug abuse, sexual perversion, crime, bop ecstasy, intentional insanity, electric shocks, mystical quests and more, and describing it as a desperate and heroic search for salvation.
The second part opens with the question what made them be like this, and replies: Moloch! Moloch, the old god, is used here to symbolize the industrial-capitalist-militarist system, and the poem describes how it controls our minds, crushes our spirit and twists our consciousness. The third part poses the model of Carl Solomon, as the man who found the way to take us to the other side and save our spirit.
The song is tremendously powerful, but again, the words themselves are not the entire story, but also the way in which the song was performed. Egged on by Kerouac who was sitting in the crowd, Ginsberg entered a seemingly trance state, melting into the flow of his words and washing over the crowd with wave after wave.
His electric performance so exhilarated the poet community that many of them decided to adopt Beat as the center of their art. The new consciousness was beginning to spread. So, let’s summarize Beat consciousness: the aspiration of the Beat generation was to liberate the spiritual side of Man, which they claimed is being repressed by a society ruled by a cold technocratic rationality.
This society constructs our minds and determines our identity, and to be free we must first of all smash everything that this society instilled in us. There are several ways to do so, such as vagrant life, which prevents you from being attached to one place; lawless life, outside of established society; exposure to electric shocks to the brain; and of course mind altering drugs.
In that way you become free, and being free means letting your subconscious spontaneously guide you, employing rational thought only as an aid. When everyone operates like that, they let their unique inner self express itself, and then they feed each other with ideas, just like in a bebop jam session.
This is the ideal that the San Francisco Beat community aspired to, and they would sit in coffee shops, smoke cannabis, listen to poets read their poetry to a jazz backup, and embroil themselves in philosophical contemplations of existence. By 1957, their influence was beginning to be felt. Kerouac’s book finally got published, and became a hit with the youngsters, a book that defined a generation.
Another thing that happened that year was a first newspaper article on the Beat scene of San Francisco, whose author decided to name its members Beatniks, basing it on the new Soviet satellite Sputnik, since he claimed that they were both equally far out. As a result of this fame, the scene was joined by many other youngsters, who lacked the inner understanding of Beat, but just imitated the way of life of sitting in coffee shops and rolling joints.
A typical Beatnik look emerged, kind of a hybrid of the looks of European Existentialist and African-American bebop artists: shoulder length hair, goatee, shabby clothing. In conformed society, “Beatnik” became a synonym for anyone who didn’t want to fit in the system, and they were seen as bums who are only into sex and drugs.
Those who did have inner understanding of Beat felt that the original spirit of the community died, and they dispersed all over the country and started to look for new paths. And on that, in the coming episodes.
“They got the beat they got the beat the beat. Yeah. They got the-“ Oh no, we’re not talking about that beat today. And we’re not talking about THAT generation! …or k-pop at all, Try something more like….
They call you Beat Generation. Yup. Lots and lots of jazz. Hello there! My name is Victoria Tran, and today, you and I will explore the core values and issues of this revolutionary movement in history known as the Beat Generation. Enjoy! The Beat Generation was a significant literary movement in history where American writers rose to fame in the 1950s as they rebelled against American Culture.
This rebellious generation marked the beginnings of a major cultural turning point in the United States. Headed by writers such as Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, and Allen Ginsberg, the Beat movement infused literature with a new sense of adventure and spontaneity. Beat poets sought to liberate poetry from over-refinement and essentially bring it “back to the streets.
” Through poetry and other forms of literature, certain issues currently being ignored or condemned were brought into the light. The Beat Generation was a product of the times as the emergence of this movement was closely related to the social environment of the United States in the 1950s.
The end of World War II was the beginning of the Beat movement. Post world war II, America became the wealthiest country in the nation, thus experiencing a long economic boom from 1950-1970. The Middle class was growing at a high rate 60% of people were in a mid-class by the 1950s, and 90% of families owned TVs. For Americans at that time, eating a family dinner and watching TV every night was considered a conservative tradition.
However, this all soon changed during post-WWII. People were tired of their mundane routine. They felt “beaten” down by the traditional lifestyle. They wanted a new way to express themselves as individuals, yet they felt restricted. They felt trapped all because they felt pressured to conform to the perfect ideals of society.
And that’s when Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William Burroughs debuted and stimulated the Beat Movement. The Beat s advocated personal liberation, purification, and illumination through the heightened sensory awareness that might be under the influence of drugs, sex, jazz, or the disciplines of Zen Buddhism.
This new light in history reached the teenagers who were looking for ways to get out of conforming with society. These teenagers essentially became the fundamental basis to the new generation as they broke away from their parents and defined themselves in new ways. Additionally, the Beat Generation was a time for Black artists to rise in society with their riveting music.
Another important moment in this generation was the idea of intermixing white artists, white audiences, black artists, and black audiences all as one. Following World War II was the Cold War. There appeared to be a political force known as McCarthyism in the U.S. Consequently, McCarthyism caused a great commotion within society, creating a sense of terror.
People were terrified of communists at the time, thus leading to falsely accusing communism of other people without any evidence. They were scared that the old couple living next door for 20 years was, in fact, a communist. Because of this fear, many people conformed to living the safe lifestyle highly encouraged by political figures *Eisenhower*.
Following exact orders by any political figure ensured safety within the American people and thusly became a norm. Thanks to McCarthyism, fear ruled in society. Thusly, conformity ruled in society. The growing constant fear of communism and political constraints began to dominate people’s lives, leading to Americans suffering from collective nervous breakdowns.
The Beat Generation thus rose to break away from conformity. Experimenting with drugs, exploring alternative forms of sexuality, becoming absorbed within the Eastern religious culture, and rejecting materialism were ways to distract Americans from their fears of communism and became a way to express individuality.
The new movement introduced new values and exposed values that were apparent in society, but people were just too scared to even talk about homosexuality, for example. Evidently, homosexuality was highly uncommon and frowned upon during this time; however, as the Beats attempted to revolutionize the traditional society morals, they also explored their sexualities.
Ginsberg questioned his sexuality yet was conflicted with his feelings since the idea of loving another man was completely far away from the traditional norms of society. He was not ready to admit his homosexuality fully, and for many years he would keep hoping that a woman or a psychoanalyst would cure it.
Needless to say, Kerouac helped his friend inflame his homosexuality. Overall, the beat generation promoted the exploration of alternate sexualities in society. The Beats used straightforward and provocative language as a new expressive technique within their culture due to the youth’s social, political, economic, and cultural status. They expressed their emotions and thoughts were very restricted, so The Beat Generation took some extreme ways to highlight their detachment from mainstream society.
People were so scared to touch on certain topics such as sex and homosexuality because they were educated under the old value system in schools and universities. Such topics were rejected by formal education. Thus, the passionate Beat Generation reflected on the many phenomenons within American culture and tried to propose solutions to social problems.
Rejecting mainstream American values, exploring alternate forms of sexuality (homosexuality), and experimenting with drugs and all things off the radar are things that make up the Beat Culture. Consequently, Beats were illustrated into cartoon characters called Beatniks to promote coffee houses and nightclubs, to help sell newspapers and clothing pieces.
However, through false advertising through the media, the Beats were viewed as rebels, delinquents. They were feared by society because people believed that Beats rape all women. They became an image of violence and juvenile delinquency. Pertaining to religion, most Beats were Buddhists thinking that Beats are both artists and foremost spiritual seekers.
Their views paralleled with Transcendentalists’ views to their understanding of the poet as prophet. The Beats were always on the road because they could not find God in the churches and synagogues. They saw human beings embedded in a vast network with other human beings, with animals, and with life itself.
Ultimately, the Beats glorified in eliminating distinctions between matter and spirit, divinity and humanity. At the core of the beat movement were authors Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William Burroughs. These three are the most influential figures during the Beat Generation since they were basically the movement’s founding fathers.
They sought to instill a “New Vision” which involved unrestricted self-expression, psychedelic experiences as a means of perceiving truth, sexual experimentation, and the idea that art goes above and beyond traditional morals. Taking a look at some notable pieces of the Beat Generation, Jack Kerouac was the author of the best-selling book On the Road. This book describes a group of people traveling both geographically and spiritually in the country.
Kerouac described a life where there was no such thing as social pressures. Kerouac transformed literature forever through his freestyle manner of expressing his thoughts and feelings without plan or revision. William Burroughs reveals the dark world of the drug culture in his novel “Naked Lunch” lastly. Another significant figure of this literary movement was Allen Ginsberg.
With his noteworthy piece Howl, Ginsberg reveals the undeveloped part of America that exposes inappropriate topics of drug addicts, drifters, prostitutes, and swindlers and even uses slang and foul language that shocked the public. Though regarded as a “disgrace” of the 1950s, this poem reflects the instinctive anger and excitement of the youth, establishing itself as the Bible of the Beat Generation and the youth culture.
Beat Generation significantly impacted America in unimaginable ways. Because of the Beat Generation, people began to question the society they lived in and stepped out of it. The Beat Generation also set a precedent for many important things, such as the hippies and anti-war movement. In addition to that, their beliefs influence musicians such as Bob Dylan, The Beatles, and Elvis Presley.
Not only that, they helped bring awareness and battle racism in American. People like Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, two American American Musicians, were inspired to play Jazz music without racial barriers. Thanks to the Beat Generation, people can now express themselves without any restrictions and fear.