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DID WE CHANGE THE WORLD?

Posted by on Jul 23, 2017 in Reflections | 0 comments

WE THOUGHT WE’D CHANGE THE WORLD!

—Alexandra Jacopetti Hart

 

Has the ‘60s–‘70s Counterculture changed the world? If so, how? I’m finding the influences are broader than could have been imagined in 1960 or 1964 or what the world saw as the flowering of the Bay Area Counterculture, the year the runaways became Flower Children, the now-named Summer of Love, 1967.

James Baldwin wrote that 1960 was the “Break-out of Freedom” moment. He was tracking Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement, which was intricately intertwined with the anti-Vietnam War actions, the Peace Movement (MAKE LOVE NOT WAR), and the beginnings of the Counterculture as I experienced it. Another thread was the Beat Generation, out of which the hippies slowly emerged. Slow, that is, until it all started oozing out from behind the closed doors of small enclaves of people who didn’t know each other existed for some time. The marker for that was the Trips Festival in San Francisco in January of 1966. I was there—helped create it.

Earlier, gatherings to demonstrate against the war, peace groups, people going to the south to join MLK and the Civil Rights activities, some of them being murdered, etc., were public, but which of these can signal the beginning? Why not go with just saying the Sixties?

For me, in spite of joining the political side by demonstrating, my real beginning was when I first encountered pot and then LSD. The public word was that marijuana was dangerous, illegal, and would lead to stronger stuff. But no, turned out we were being lied to. Having just come out of the constricting, boring 1950s, and having had parents who taught me about “straight and crooked thinking,” I recognized the crooked thinking that lying reveals. What else were the establishment folks concealing, even from themselves, I asked myself. That sentiment later expressed itself as “Don’t trust anyone over 30” — one of our youthful errors.

Pot helped my cohort discover how exciting and creative it was to color outside the lines. The creativity was intoxicating! Pot helped to drop the veils the 1950s culture maintained and freed up our minds in every direction we looked. Steve Bannon is said to have maintained in the 1970s that the Counterculture was the most dangerous threat to the status quo, the power structure of the Right.

And then there was LSD. My first encounter with it was late in 1962 or ‘63. And what that did to my inner life was miraculous! The veils really dropped on any question taken into an LSD journey where one was careful of “set and setting” as Alpert and Leary suggested. I found it very simple to cull the mainstream cultural download from what I believed in my core being. And that was revolutionary. It sparkled like diamonds and was more precious. What one received did depend on what you brought to it. Jonas Salk, that brilliant medical scientist, for instance, was rumored to have received the key to the polio vaccine while showering after an LSD experience!

Later on, maybe a decade later, I found that the usefulness of LSD had paled, mainly because my primary questions about existence had been satisfactorily answered. I never used it for purposes other than inner discovery, and with a sense of the sacred. For years it was difficult to have meaningful conversations with people who hadn’t experienced the insights we shared. It helped to formulate many of the directions that the Bay Area Counterculture took and shared with people across the planet. (The shadow side of the psychedelic drug discoveries was, of course, the use of drugs that provided an escape and diminution of pain rather than illumination, resulting in the world-wide problem with addictive opiates and related substances.)

Spiritual encounters, seeking, and practices also delivered people to the door to one’s deeper being. There was something electric in the air, and it touched everything. Consider the music: folk music, especially Joan Baez and protest songs that soon emerged; Bob Dylan, whose first songs were then more folk music than any other genre, inspired by Woody Guthrie; popular music, especially the Beatles popping onto the scene; Rock ‘n Roll itself with its irrepressible beat and mind-blowing lyrics. These sounds and ideas permeated the consciousness of the nation—and the planet. How could it not change!

Consider the popular slogans of the times:

Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out (Ram Dass)

While “Turn On” did mean marijuana to many people, it really meant to find your passion — to get involved with life, not to be passive.

“Tune in” meant to get connected to what was going on around you: cooperate with others.

“Drop Out” did often mean dropping out of school or the corporate world or

whatever wasn’t serving you, but it really meant leaving pre-programmed ideas behind and thinking for yourself, finding your own truth.

“Question Authority” meant the same thing: to discover what the deeper meaning and deeper truth was, to find the spirit, truth and justice in any given path or action.

Many of the early Counterculture folks, like Richard Alpert (now Ram Dass) were serious thinkers with desires to improve life through whatever their particular medium was. In small towns like Bolinas or Sonoma’s West County very bright people were looking at the potential problems of and fixes for climate change, pesticide use, resource diminution, war, over-consumption, environmental degradation, and seeing the need for recycling, social reforms, alternative energy, green building, new approaches to human relations and alternative healthcare, just to name a few.

Independence, creativity, sharing and caring, loving and natural processes were primary values. General areas where real progress was made were:

Various freedom-based movements like the Civil Rights movement and the peace and anti-Vietnam War efforts; the Free Speech movement, especially on college campuses, along with student revolutionaries and student rights; the next iteration of women’s rights leading to the first effort to pass the ERA in 1971, women’s consciousness-raising groups and continuing to Feminist thought.

Recognition of the needs and humanity of the people of the world emerged in the guise of the farmworkers’ rights movement lead by Cesár Chavez and Dolores Huerta; the Gray Panthers and Black Panthers; efforts toward gender and gay rights; an appreciation of cultural differences and “work of the hands”—arts and crafts from around the world; recognition of the importance of First Peoples’ values and culture.

The Sexual Revolution was probably instigated by the advent of oral contraceptives in 1960, then was folded into women’s and gay rights movements that eventually included bisexual, transgender and now intersexed and fluid gender rights. Of course there is often a shadow side such as the free love backfire of the spread of the AIDS epidemic.

Concerns for the Planet showed up in a myriad of ways. Sustainability was a big marker. Ecology was a word we learned the meaning of; we became enmeshed in the many environmental movements, including a deep concern for clean air and water and organic farming and gardening practices. Back-to-the-land folks created on- and off-the-grid communes and cooperative communities that experimented in a variety of lifestyles, often including self-sufficiency and voluntary simplicity. Many of these still exist and new improvements are being explored today. Hardworking, dedicated folks put recycle/reduce/reuse ideas firmly in place. This had a parallel incentive to reduce our country’s heavy materialistice consumerism, now still a major social issue. Alternative energy was and continues to be deeply explored as a way toward planetary energy sustainability. Alternative technologies for green building and architecture got a great start with Lloyd Kahn’s book “Shelter.”

            Self-expression, Creativity, and Spiritual Exploration burgeoned as respect for everyone’s talent and right to personal beliefs rose again into strong values. This was evidenced by a fascination with Eastern thought, religions and travel. Indian gurus were made popular through the Beatles’ sojourn with Maharishi and others who financed their travel by bringing back handwrought goods from foreign climes. Eastern philosophies and meditation, yoga, and martial arts came from the East. The exploration of “inner space” was aided by such people as Alan Watts and the Dalai Lama and the advent of the Human Potential Movement.

Alternative Health and Medical practices like acupuncture and Chinese herbology as well as home-grown herbal medicine and herbalist practitioners heralded a wide variety of bodywork, psychological and sociological modes which continue to evolve today. Midwives regained an important role in helping to birth babies in a time-honored “women’s way.” Today midwives are held in regard in hospital settings, providing many women with a natural, simpler, and easier birthing experience while also having the safety of modern medicine as backup in difficult situations. Psychologists, not just psychiatrists, hung out their shingles to aid ordinary people with their psychological integration.

Artistry and Self-expression has had its boundaries enlarged significantly. Using a variety of materials, not just paint and canvas or metal and sculpture, now qualifies as “fine art.” My book “Native Funk & Flash” introduced the notion that anyone could be an artist simply by creatively repairing favorite clothes by embroidering, patching or painting them creatively. This could not only make them beautiful and meaningful to you or as gifts of love and affection, but often served as an introduction to others, displaying who you were and identifying you as “tribe.” And it served the anti-consumerism impulse. This clothing easily morphed into the Art Wearables world we still celebrate today, not to mention the odd style that has persisted of pre-stressed, torn and worn-through denim products.

Rock ‘n Roll, World music, folk and New Age music – all let loose! John Cage squeaked chairs across a stage; Windham Hill artists flinched at the New Age label but loved that there was a place for their new sounds to hold sway; African, Native American, Irish, and other traditional sounds could be heard over the radio; and the Stones, Janis, Jimi Hendrix and the Jefferson Airplane, belted their rock ‘n roll over the airwaves for generations to come. Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell gave new meaning to folk and rock music: we no longer were restricted to hearing only popular, classical, or jazz choices. Creativity was bursting out all over!

 

This just skims the top of what came out of the Sixties’ explosion from black and white into full color. What would our world be like without all this change?

The Counterculture thrived on collective inspiration. We wanted to turn each other on: to share “trips,” explore new horizons. We shared tools, ideas—together we could go further. Video collectives broke the grip Hollywood had and produced the Indie film industry. We broke the hold Paris fashion edicts had on what we wore, what length skirts had to be. The fashion freedom that people now take for granted was born in the Counterculture.

We effected political change through individual transformation. We moved the culture one person at a time as noted by Elissa Auther in “West of Center: Art and the Counterculture Experiment, 1965–1977.” Information holds real power, as Stewart Brand’s “Whole Earth Catalog” demonstrated. Brand went on to help set up video and computer networks that became the Internet.

We wanted to turn on the world! Find the life at the center. The passion. The good. We were trying to do the hard work of finding a better way to truth, love, and peace.

Yes, we did change the world. Yes, there was and still is opposition; not everyone wanted to leave the 1950’s attitudes behind, but a true cultural shift on a global scale will certainly take many generations. Let us pray that civilization gets to continue long enough to see the creation of gentler, kinder, more loving and caring world-wide cultures based on love over fear.

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CONFESSIONS OF A HIPPIE QUEEN

Posted by on Aug 7, 2013 in Reflections | 5 comments

So, what’s this “Hippie Queen” bit?

Hey, hippies don’t have queens! Well, that’s the point, really.

I discovered I was not really a Beat chick.  Sure, I had some long black stockings, but they reminded me of the brown cotton lisle stockings my mom made me wear to school in the wintertime. Garter belts, uncomfortable, necessary in snow country because girls couldn’t wear pants to school for many years yet. And those stockinged legs ended in sensible brown oxford shoes, too. Ugh! I used to wear them almost to the bus stop, then hide behind a tree to take them off and stuff them into my book bag. Then, on with the ankle socks. Cold legs were better than fake (or real) nylons for a budding fashionista!

So, what was I? During the Beat days the thing to be was HIP.  “Hipster” was from the black music and arts culture, derived itself from the zoot suit era of “hep” and “hepcats.” These hipster dudes dressed cool, had their jive down, and were probably how the weed started leaking into the Beat culture. They actually thought they were hipper than they were — or, than I thought they were. They seemed to stand around talking trash and looking good. Hipsters were a step up from jive-asses or what came to be called hippies — until that term got appropriated by Herb Caen, the San Francisco columnist, for the new, more colorful baby boomer kids who bloomed as flower children in the mid-sixties.

Ben and I and that baby I was pushing in the stroller, now turned 4, had made a stab at being ex-patriots in Paris early  in1962. We returned to the Bay Area, unsuccessful at cracking the Parisian lifestyle, settling in Berkeley that summer. On our return, a long-term friend, Morgan Upton (who was from our SF theater days and later a member of The Committee improv comedy troupe), brought us a copy of “Bob Dylan” to hear. This was the young Dylan’s first album, out in 1961. By the time his second one, “Freewheelin’ ” was out, we were listening to his new brand of folk and blues with avid ears, enhanced by mind-altering drugs.  “Blowin’ in the Wind” blew our minds. Joan Baez followed closely on the heels of Bobby and the music began to take us on a whole new trip.

Morgan Upton from 
<http://www.avleyman.com> 

Yes, the music. There really was something “blowin’ in the wind” those days. Things started changing rapidly. Politically, everyone was set on their heels in 1963 when Jack Kennedy was assassinated, followed by more. What was happening to us all? We got hold of our first LSD. We started demonstrating against the Vietnam War. We began to see ourselves as even more alien to the world we lived in.  So much seemed so wrong. We started collecting “trips,” bringing them to each other. Jerry Wainwright, my dear friend and later the photographer for Native Funk & Flash, was our inventor and finder of strange devices, adding to our tripping bag of tricks. (More on the Godbox later.)

Wainwright

Wainwright in his Dr. Godbox persona

Folks like Allen Ginsberg, Ken Kesey, and Lenore Kandel spanned the Beat generation and made it across the borders into the Sixties Counterculture. I really arrived in the gap. My sense is that much of the thinking or mindful set-up for the Sixties happened within that 1960–66 period. The term “hippie” showed up when Herb Caen reported on the Summer of Love in 1967.  By then I was self-identified in the hip art scene, but never did consider myself a hippie. They seemed to be derogatorily described as barefoot and unwashed, rather purposeless. These were unfair generalizations, but when people called me a hippie, I couldn’t relate.

Much later, when it became apparent that the entire period in which I was embedded was clearly designated that way, I had to give in, though I always felt a bit of reluctance. So, maybe 20 years ago I took up saying, in response to the question, “You were a hippie, weren’t you?” or the like, I compromised by saying “Well, I was a Hippie Queen.” What I’m acknowledging is the hubris, the snottiness, really, that made me hold myself apart.

I hope it’s apparent I own the attitude. A Hippie Queen, self-appointed: Hmmph!

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WHAT DOES PERSONAL FREEDOM LOOK LIKE?

Posted by on Jun 6, 2013 in Reflections | 3 comments

If you do internet searches for the Beatniks, you mostly get the guys: Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady, William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, who were mostly bi or gay. They were the ones advertised in the windows along Grant Avenue. Only occasionally do the women show up:  Diane Di Prima or Lenore Kandel for instance. Those times weren’t kind to acknowledging the women, a state that lasted well into the Hippie era. Indeed, it didn’t shift until the Women’s Movement of the Seventies — brought to you through the workings of the Counterculture, thank you very much.

 

Lenore, who became a friend by the mid-‘60s , did show up in a Kerouac novel as a girlfriend of Lew Welch (both under different names). He described her as “intelligent, well read, writes poetry, is a Zen student, knows everything.”  Her importance in my story is her fearless attitude toward sex and the body, and publishing it in poetry. Her best-known work, The Love Book, put it right out there. By then she was married to Billy Fritsch, a younger wild man, poet and Hell’s Angel.

lenorekandel lenoreandbillysmall

               Lenore Kandel                                                            Lenore & Billy

These photos are in Kelly Hart’s new book just out September, 2012, THE SAN FRANCISCO PSYCHEDELIC SIXTIES, a wonderful photo collection. Available from Amazon.

 

One poem in The Love Book, “To Fuck with Love”, got her in hot water with the cops who seized the book when it was banned in 1966.  My brother, Kelly Hart, took photos of her and of both of them to use as illustrations for one of her books of poetry. Still black and white, of course. Thanks, Kelly, for sharing these with me. Folks like Ginsberg, Kesey, and Kandel spanned the Beat Generation and made it across the borders into the Sixties Counterculture. Kandel said, tellingly, “When a society is afraid of its poets, it is afraid of itself. A society afraid of itself stands as another definition of hell.” Note that artists and poets tell us about ourselves.

 

In those days we thought a lot about personal freedoms. I still believe what we do with our bodies, as long as it doesn’t hurt others, is our own affair. Showing them, hiding them, playing with them and with others’ (consenually, of course), imbibing or feeding or dosing ourselves: all should be decisions made for ourselves. This is a basic freedom.

 

One of the big run-ins between convention and personal choice came with marijuana.  The arts, music, and Beat communities all were smoking clandestinely. Very privately and carefully. I recall Lew Welch showing up at our North Beach upper Grant apartment with a healthy stash, sitting and rolling joints that we promptly gave trial to. This would have been about 1961. I didn’t know who he was at that point — just a scruffy Beat poet to me.  What I learned then was that in spite of the health and legal authorities’  protestations, this was good medicine. It promoted creativity, good humor, relaxation and camaraderie. More fuel for the growing mistrust of entrenched authority!

 

Fortunately, the group wisdom was that, while weed wasn’t habit-forming, the non-psychedelic popular drugs like coke and heroin definitely were. I was always in the camp of using these aids for sacramental or spiritual reasons, so I was never caught up in the harder stuff. We inherited the clandestine use of marijuana, mostly from the musicians but also the artists, but we were interested in how to make a shift into a better, more cheerful, connected world.

 

It wasn’t until early 1966 when we put on the Trips Festival that there was any sign of a large number of grass smokers or psychedelic use. This story, however, is for a later blog.  For now, suffice to say that I want to establish the early underpinnings to the quest for personal freedom that underlies my own journey and the Counterculture of the Sixties and Seventies.

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DISCOVERING NORTH BEACH

Posted by on May 20, 2013 in Reflections | 0 comments

So, just what was it that was so intriguing, so satisfying about North Beach, the air and vibe of San Francisco? Of course, I was ripe for launching into life and the discovery of who I would become. I longed for a place and social situation in which I could really be myself and further learn what that might mean. From this perspective more than 50 years later, I wonder how is it that we choose how and what to think — whether to fit ourselves to the people around us (for security or anonymity?) or choose to stand up, be ourselves, and dare to stand out. I longed to fit in enough to have people I respected and loved around me at the same time I fiercely wanted to be uniquely myself, whatever that might be.

City Lights 2  City  Lights 1 copy

What City Lights looked like in the Fifties, (above left) http://www.webexhibits.org/poetry/home_business.html Looks like a cadre of Beats — from Tony Dushane’s “From Paris to City Lights Bookstore”, a memoir:    (above right) http://www.thenervousbreakdown.com/tdushane/2010/03/from-paris-to-city-lights-bookstore/

 

Browsing the offerings of Ferlinghetti’s City Lights Bookstore  and Grant Avenue, soaking up the Beat perspective of both nihilism and existentialism, began a layering of new ideas and attitudes over the ones I carried in with me. The Beats’ nihilistic exhaustion with the Fifties’ mainstream culture matched my own sense of where I was coming from.  And the authenticity of individuality and spirit of their existential outlook buoyed me up with hope for a different kind of future. I’d thought I was coming to California to go to Stanford but, instead, I found the learning I was seeking provided directly by Life. Letting go of preconceptions became another layer in growing me.

 

As you can see, fifty years ago was recorded most frequently in black and white. Beatnik women in SF mostly dressed in black, emphasizing that “beat down” aspect of their generation  — long black stockings, long black skirts, long black tops, long serious faces. So interesting how hairstyles, clothing, art, and music seem to carry a culture’s attitude, a bit like waving a flag: Pay attention! Something different is happening here and we want you to notice!   I did get some black stockings, and more or less identified with the Beats, but it was the color and verve of the mid-Sixties, once we got there, that really turned me on.

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Beginning the Search for Freedom

Posted by on Apr 5, 2013 in Reflections | 7 comments

You can’t imagine what it was like for this 18-year-old now-single mom to step onto her first airline flight in a snowstorm in Salt Lake City and off again into San Francisco. Of course it was the famed mild coastal California weather and my first sight of the ocean (!) that captured my immediate attention. But I was headed toward North Beach, home of the Beat Generation.

Me at about that time

Me at about that time

A new acquaintance in SLC took about an hour after meeting me to say, “You belong in San Francisco. Go look up the Beatniks!” And only a month or two later, here I was. Out of my old, confining and potentially depressing life as a runaway non-Mormon from a culture designed to reject me and into the unknown, where being different from the crowd was touted to be desirable. What a concept!

My first explorations of hundreds, taken on foot or by cable car, were wandering the hills near downtown: Nob Hill, Russian Hill, Telegraph Hill. I was struck by all the overhead wires and cables of the communications and transportation systems and sketched them arching over the streets to send images home to mom and dad. It smelled different: a mix of the sea, big city, foreign food, coffee and cigarette smoke — all unknown, but these last two among the many no-no’s in Mormon land.

nffHart-Grands1-218x300

My Hart grandparents, my grandmother on left. Ca. 1945

Inevitably I pushed the baby stroller through Chinatown, across Columbus and into the Italian section — North Beach at last. City Lights Bookstore at the gateway, Grant Avenue stretching north with Italian coffee shops and bakeries interspersed with artisan silversmiths, art galleries, poetry in nightclubs that sold wine and liquor (!) — but only to those at least three years older than I. I pushed the baby carriage outside, peering in the windows, imagining what it would be like to drink beer in the Coffee Gallery and listen to the poetry of Allen Ginsberg or the rantings of Jack Kerouac.

Soon enough I had hooked up with Ben Jacopetti, later Roland, and later yet, my husband. He was an actor in small theater productions, pulling in audiences of, say, ten to twenty souls. I got reports from him on what went on inside those bars since he had just passed his 21st birthday. Still, I pushed that stroller up and down outside. Ben was connected to friends in Ronnie Davis’ San Francisco Mime Troupe, where Bill Graham got his start once they were sufficiently successful-seeming to warrant a manager. San Francisco North Beach was a haven for artists and I had a native San Franciscan on my side to show me the ropes. Ben’s grandfather had been a bail bondsman in the Italian quasi-underworld of SF, so we had credentials that fit us into the real San Francisco.

My name, given at birth in a small, rural southern Idaho town by my unconventional folks, was Rain. Ruth and Newell Hart were both born to second wives in polygamous Mormon families. They had somehow managed to find their own inner freedom and taught me from the beginning that adherence to the truth and more importantly my own truth was the direct path to liberation.  And now, I was launched on my trajectory toward the Arts and well on in my own pursuit of personal freedom.

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