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The Psychedelic Sixties

The Psychedelic Sixties

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Published by D Hernandez
A paper on psychedelia in the Sixties with a focus on psychedelic art. Historical background as to why it happened, what it represented, and what it offers us today. Contains minor typos. Recieved an A-
© Danielle Hernandez
A paper on psychedelia in the Sixties with a focus on psychedelic art. Historical background as to why it happened, what it represented, and what it offers us today. Contains minor typos. Recieved an A-
© Danielle Hernandez

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Published by: D Hernandez on Nov 14, 2011
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The Psychedelic Sixties

Danielle Hernandez
FYS 170-3 10/25/2011

Hernandez, 1 FYS 170-3 Danielle Hernandez Prof. Birkner October 25, 2011 The Psychedelic Sixties The 1950‟s veneer of the white, all-American, suburban family was just waiting to burst open. Gradually, the children of this generation began to rebel against the ideals of their parents. Who needs to worry about what‟s going on in Russia when there‟s so much to think about right here? Who needs Frank Sinatra when you‟ve got Elvis Presley? Who needs a secure cubicle job when the world looks so much better through the lens of an LSD trip? In an explosion of art, music, and drugs, the psychedelic sixties were born. Psychedelic drugs- lysergic acid diethyamide, psilocybe mushrooms, dimethyltryptamine. They opened a door for a rebelling counterculture. They showed them a new world full of inexplicable feelings and radiant colors. The effects of such experiences were harnessed through art and music of the 1960‟s youth. Looking back at Aldous Huxley and Henri Muchaux, we know this wasn‟t the first time hallucinogens triggered creative spirits; however, art was never being created under the influence in such a grand scale as it was seventy years ago. Psychedelia was obsessed with a notion of non-conformity. It was rebellion, it laughed in the face of structure, and it functioned on a ground unparalleled by anything within reason. It, like many things that came to be part of the 1960‟s counterculture, strained to be as genuine, as natural, and as purely human as possible. Those who considered themselves to be a part of this new aesthetic and philosophical movement saw themselves as transcending the structures of society. Their art was the product of hallucinogenic visions, but that did not mean that it lacked a concrete political and social message. It cried out to profit-orientated big business, capitalist society, and a country that was made uniform through the curse of industry that it had had

Hernandez, 2 enough. Their art was useless and overindulgent- opposing a post-war culture fixated on efficacy and function. Their art was chaotic and curvilinear- countering the structure and rigidness of the 1950‟s. Their art was daring and different- rebelling against the uniformity and cautiousness that sprung out of McCarthyism.1 But all of this rebellion and opposition didn‟t happen overnight, although some seem to think it did. There were shades of this counterculture building up throughout the fifties and sixties. The fifties seemed prosperous and happy times, but this notion was only a veneer over a society plagued by fear. There was fear of the Cold War, fear of McCarthyism, and fear of an unpredictable near-future. Then, the early 1950‟s brought along the Civil Rights movement. It was highly publicized but had only limited success. Nonetheless, the youth of the decade, perturbed by the idea that they may continue like their parents in fear and hesitation forever, developed a new consciousness. So they adopted the Civil Rights movement, Elvis Presley, less defined gender roles, more open sexuality, and other things that would shock society as much as it shocked their parents. For this generation, the man in the grey flannel suit walked out the door and the greaser with the studded leather jacket walked in.2 Not only was this generation prepared socially, but they were also prepared technologically. Infinity Machines of the 1960‟s would bombard the sensed with light shows, incense, and droning music to produce effects similar to those caused by LSD. The September 9, 1966 issue of Time magazine stated that it was the “logical outcome of 50 years of art.” It would continue to explain why college-age students were drawn to such a thing:

1

Grunenberg, Christoph. Summer of Love: Art of the Psychedelic Era. (Millbank: Tate Publishing, 2005), 13 Bloom, Alexander, and Wini Breines. Takin' it to the Streets: A Sixties Reader 3rd Ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 1-11.
2

Hernandez, 3 “Young people who grew up with TV and transistor radios and who take electronic equipment for granted have no difficulty attuning themselves to the audio-visual bombardment [of the Infinity Machine]. Older people who prefer what is called a rational sequential experience…tend to freak out.” 3 But the sixties wouldn‟t be the sixties without the flourishing of a new phase of art, music, and literature. The G.I. Bill of the fifties was the culprit here. This G.I. Bill was issued to help veterans returning from battle receive a higher education. With the bill, college attendance rose dramatically. Intellectuals, chronic questioners, and artists of various sorts were let loose on society. The highlight of this group of thinkers congregated in Greenwich Village and held Jack Kerouac‟s On the Road as their bible. These young writers, a sort of counterculture themselves, became known as the Beatniks.4 The sixties‟ youth envisioned carrying on this tradition of enlightened liberation- but they found the means in not education, but hallucination. Even during the 1950‟s, hallucinogens were beginning to be used to spur creative insight. It might not have been as rampant as it would become in the sixties; however, it turned out some names that would be highly praised in the coming decade. Drugs were already becoming important in the changing art forms as is self-evident from Aldous Huxley‟s Doors of Perception to the still-recognizable Pop Art of Andy Warhol. And so the stage had already been well set for the events of the psychedelic sixties even if it seemed to change from black to white. The sixties had been seeping through the conformist fabric for over a decade and had finally risen to precedence. Aldous Huxley referred to hallucinogenic trips as “only the heavenly part of schizophrenia.” Timothy Leary described an experience as being “the deepest religious

3 4

"Psychedelic Art." Time Magazine, (1966): 60-69. Bloom and Breines, 1-11

Hernandez, 4 experience of [his] life” and an ecstatic state in which “interpersonal intimacy reaches Himalayan heights.”5 Hallucinogens have been around since they were used in ancient religious rituals, but the discovery of LSD in 1938 by Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann was the beginning of a new story. The actual pharmacological term “psychedelic” was coined by a New Jersey psychiatrist in 1957 and, not that long after, was adopted as a music, art, and lifestyle label. In the late fifties and early sixties, LSD was advertised as a panacea for mental illnesses. But it wasn‟t long until LSD users began their experimentation with recreational usage. In 1965, observing detrimental effects of LSD being used in such a careless way, the federal government banned its distribution.6 The sixties progressed and it seemed that LSD wasn‟t the cure for mental illness, but the cause. This didn‟t stop a stream of questions and curiosity regarding the substance, though. In an important 1966 study, Robert Masters and Jean Houston continued exploring LSD from a medical standpoint. Together they discovered that the drug did mimic symptoms often associated with psychotic conditions; however, it did not actually make the user “crazy.” 4 The art that developed from the most popular drugs of methamphetamines, barbiturates (“reds” and “yellows”), heroin, marijuana, and of course LSD, was a continuation of the countercultural need to be holistic, human, natural, and honest. The folk movement led by figureheads like Bob Dylan claimed to embody all of these qualities and generally took the mainstream stage throughout the decade. Psychedelia was usually overshadowed but, to those who considered themselves a part of that movement, they felt they were just as natural, honest, and human as the folkies- in not, more. However, even the folkies were shocked by psychedelia. They saw their acoustic guitars and banjos as pure and were understandably taken aback by the
5

6

Grunenberg, 16 Hicks, Michael. Sixties Rock: Garage, Psychedelic, and Other Satisfactions. (University of Illinois Press, 1999),

58-59

Hernandez, 5 synthesized and depersonalized psychedelic music. But the psychedelic crowd felt that the depersonalization, over-reverberation, dechronicization, and dynamization of their music lifted them to a higher plane. Unsure of what they were hearing and unable to reason with it, they felt that they had risen to a higher sense of “natural” and “pure” that folk music ever could bring you. “He hears, not „music‟ or „meaningful‟ sound, but acoustic waves. He is struck with the sudden revelation that all sensation and perception are based on wave vibrations. That the world around him which heretofore had an illusory solidity, is nothing more than a play of physical waves.”7 Folk music, to them, still reflected a structured society and a type of song that followed a canonized form… and that just wasn‟t going to cut it. 8 Those who dappled in avant-garde experimentation, irrationality, and unconventional styles saw this as “signs of enlightened liberation.” They employed methods of creation which sometimes included the use of their own blood, sweat, urine, vomit, and semen in artwork. Society at large saw no logical reasoning for this. It was shocking, appalling, and completely irrational. But the artists were way ahead of them. They were ready to explain to the rest of society that their play with “deliberate dirtiness” was used “as a means to disturb the bourgeois obsession with „slavish conformities of dress‟ and degrading „grooming‟”.9 It, to them, opposed a rigid social order, authority, morality, regulation, and capitalism better than an old Appalachian folk tune. Regardless of a clear correlation between the social context of the sixties and the interest in psychedelia, it often remains known as “an art without a history.” Psychedelic art has been selectively left out of anything from professional art historical studies to high school history

7

Leary, Timothy. Readings from the Book 'The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead'." (Washington, D.C. : Smithsonian Folkways Records, 1991) 8 Hicks, 63-67 9 Grunenberg, 36-38

Hernandez, 6 textbooks.10 It may very well be because of the lack of psychedelic literature and narrative due to the inability of trippers to coherently describe their hallucinatory experiences. It might be because it is the product of such a tumultuous and involved decade. It could be the result of its marginalization by art critics. Renown art critic Clement Greenberg stated that “nothing could be farther from authentic art” due to its elimination of structure and avoidance of building on artistic achievements from past movements.11 Society also lacked the care to understand the counterculture seriously. They automatically concluded that those involved were deviants hellbent on destroying the comforts of the 1950‟s. “The sixties were such a divisive decade that, when we look back on it, we tend to forget that the „counterculture‟ was not just against everything. The antiwar movement was for peace. The civil rights and feminist movements were for equality. The environmental movement was not just against pollution; in was for a new way of seeing the interdependence of all living things.”12 Regardless of the opposition, shock, and disgust with the psychedelic art movement, it managed to leave itself stained onto society today. Timothy Leary did an excellent job explaining how you deal with psychedelic products every day: “It is very likely that the tie you get next Christmas will have an LSD design. … When you get tile for your floor, you‟ll be walking on somebody‟s vision.13 … Be careful when you walk on an Oriental carpet because you're stepping on somebody's psychedelic vision.”14 The light shows that became a popular way to further stimulate psychedelic trips evolved into today raves.15 Tie-die patterns- originally an idea of Peter Max inspired by Chinese - remain
10

Grunenberg, 11-12 Greenberg, Clement. "Modernist Painting." Art and Literature No. 4, (Spring 1965): 193-201. 12 Lattin, Don. The Harvard Psychedelic Club : How Timothy Leary, Ram Dass, Huston Smith, and Andrew Weil Ailled the Fifties and Ushered in a New Age for America. (New York: HarperOne, 2010) 13 Grunenberg, 13 14 Time Magazine, 69 15 Wesson, Donald R. "Psychedelic Drugs, Hippie Counterculture, Speed and Phenobarbital Treatment of SedativeHypnotic Dependence: A Journey to the Haight Ashbury in the Sixties." Journal of Psychoactive Drugs 43, no. 2 (April 2011): 153-164.
11

Hernandez, 7 strong in the industries of fashion and graphic design.16 And doesn‟t the war on drugs from the mid-sixties sound all too familiar? Similar battles continue with today‟s drug wars at the border between Mexico and the United States.17 The continuation and evolution of psychedelia would hold strong because of the community that it formed. Back in New York City, Peter Max gathered up supplies in his studio. Already famous for his avant-garde art throughout the area, he had just been commissioned to create posters for a gathering in Central Park. The year was 1967 and Max looked at his work station. He noticed he had two words left over from old poster projects- “be” and “in.” His style was open to anything so he placed the two words right on his current project. After having circulated hundreds of thousands of reproduction leaflets, he received a call from his friend who had commissioned them. Max was asked if he‟d be attending the “Be-in.” He was confused by this unfamiliar term only to realize that he had coined it.18 Little did he know at the time that the idea of a be-in would become a central element to the audience of psychedelia. And, in fact, the term was most appropriate. This reflected their attitude as much as their art. A Be-In: where you can throw away your parents‟ visions for you to go to school, earn a certificate, and work until you die and simple exist- simply “be.” Most noted of these was the January 14, 1967 Human BeIn in the Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco- the epicenter of hippie tribes and hallucinogenic experimentations. In fact, this particular Be-In was used to protest California‟s making LSD use and possession illegal. They brought together both the radically politically active crowd as well

16
17

Riley, Charles A., and Peter Max. The Art of Peter Max (New York : Harry N. Abrams, 2002), 23 Wessen, 153-164 18 Riley, 22

Hernandez, 8 as those who were nonpolitical.19 Even splinter “tribes” that were often marginalized for overdoing it with hallucinogens were present.20 These tribes would sometimes leave these cities for something completely baron and start up communes. These odd living arrangements appearing in the most unlikely areas of the country were as obvious a display of psychedelia as their music and art. Rasa Gustaitis was welcomed into Arcosanti and suddenly understood the words in Jimi Hendrix songs as she gazed upon the settlement. She noted that “on first impression, Arcosanti looks like a ruin, all starts and stops and unfinished business” but then she found in its tie-dyed walls and ornamental trees that she felt “oddly torn but surprisingly calm.” 21 Other odd living arrangements began springing up. Some contained so many mirrors that they seemed to never end. Others were seamless with brightly colored, curving, cushions lining the floors, walls, and ceilings. Inflatable wombs, wind-bags, and crash pads showed up in parks. An advertisement for a ring of blow-up chairs was published at the price of $60 and targeted “free schools” and “experimental colleges.” It was offered as an “alternative to institutional furniture” from the 50‟s. A “relaxation well” was a lighter and softer type of bed which was essentially a pit filled with foam cubes rather than a mattress. Nude people would have LSD trips while suspended in plastic spheres. Water rushed from above or below “gurgling…to mimic the sound of a mother‟s amniotic fluid.”22 Blue-prints for structures physically impossible to actually build were as fluid, unreal, and unconventional as any one of Isaac Abrams‟ paintings or Jefferson Airplane‟s songs. To the minds of the psychedelic community, the old generation‟s

19

Weiss, Gregory L. Grassroots Medicine : The Story of America's Free Health Clinics (Lanham, MD.: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2006), 28-31. 20 Wesson , 155 21 Gordon, Alastair. Spaced Out : Radical Environments of the Psychedelic Sixties. (New York : Rizzoli, 2008), 1213 22 Gordon, 91

Hernandez, 9 minds were as closed as their cubicles. John Curl, a founding member of the commune known as Drop City claimed: “Living in a dome opens your fucking mind. No corners to hide in. Round like the sky.”23 Not only were people creating diverging towns altogether, they were also directly “psychedelic-izing” what was already there. Timothy Leary and his colleagues again made a direct jab and slice through the societal norms when he was given an old 2,500 acre estate and began turning it into a psychedelic haven. What was once a tennis court became a meditation room. An old bowling alley was suddenly filled with lights, sounds, smells as it transformed into a multimedia room. A lake which undoubtedly was not long ago home to a quaint family of ducks or used for some quality fishing time was suddenly filled with tripping swimmers. Bedrooms were not called bedrooms anymore. Womb rooms became a much more suitable term.24 Inevitably, the psychedelic phase of music and art had its downfall. It was beginning to fall ever since psychedelic drugs were beginning to be put on the list of “Schedule I drugs” in 1966 and becoming illegal across the country since 1965. The next step down was the media attention aroused by the goings-on in Haight Ashbury and other counterculture epicenters.18 This only added gas to the fire that was eating away at the ability to obtain and experiment with their drugs- especially LSD. The March 24, 1967 issue of the San Francisco Examiner sprawled across its front page: “HIPPIE CLEAN-UP ORDERED.” Disease and crime rates were out of control. One man went as far as to compare its direness with the war raging on in Vietnam. “Rape is as common as bullshit on Haight Street,” he asserted.25 Understandably, 1967 also brought about the war on drugs. Gradually, supplies slowed down and trippers admitted
23 24

Gordon, 185 Gordon, 25-26 25 Gordon, 127

Hernandez, 10 themselves to local free clinics for rehabilitation.26 For the music scene, the demise began with the death of two of its figureheads- Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix.27 Some even pointed to the breaking up of the Beatles or Watergate. “The freaky, freeform era faded into the self-conscious seventies. The momentum was lost, as if everyone had taken an amnesia pill and resumed a former level of mediocrity. What had seemed epic was now mocked and marginalized, reduced to a cliché. Hippies became Yuppies. LSD and pot gave way to cocaine and meth.”28 Psychedelia had faded away after such a short run. The names of psychedelic artistsRonald Nameth, Paul Maenz, Wes Wilson, Archigram- are hardly ever remembered, heard, or noted. It was an era where love, peace, and protest, overshadowed drugs and folk, Civil Rights, and Bob Dylan, took a step in front of psychedelic art. But all was not completely lost. Anyone today would recognize the name Jefferson Airplane just as quickly as they would recognize the name Joan Baez. Anyone who can point out a Manet from a Monet can also pick out a Peter Max from an Andy Warhol. Every year, high school students are assigned to read the “I Have a Dream…” speech but are also required to perhaps pick up Aldous Huxley‟s Brave New World. Events such as the first be-in in New York City will be forever immortalized in James Rado‟s and Gerome Ragni‟s musical Hair which is still on tour today. The Woodstock music festival is a subject of common knowledge and its iconic poster appears on t-shirts and dorm room walls across the country. It is easy to say that psychedelia was short-lived and didn‟t have as strong a political foothold as other aspects of the counterculture did, but it is impossible to say that is truly has no history. The arts and music that flowed from LSD in the 60‟s remains with us today.

26 27

Wessen, 153-164 Grunenberg, 38-40 28 Gordon, 283

Hernandez, 11

Bibliography Bloom, Alexander, and Wini Breines. Takin' it to the Streets: A Sixties Reader 3rd Ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 1-11. Gordon, Alastair. Spaced Out : Radical Environments of the Psychedelic Sixties. (New York : Rizzoli, 2008). Greenberg, Clement. "Modernist Painting." Art and Literature No. 4, (Spring 1965): 193-201. Grunenberg, Christoph. Summer of Love: Art of the Psychedelic Era. (Millbank: Tate Publishing, 2005) Hicks, Michael. Sixties Rock: Garage, Psychedelic, and Other Satisfactions. (University of Illinois Press, 1999) Lattin, Don. The Harvard Psychedelic Club : How Timothy Leary, Ram Dass, Huston Smith, and Andrew Weil Ailled the Fifties and Ushered in a New Age for America. (New York: HarperOne, 2010)

Leary, Timothy. "The psychedelic experience [electronic resource] : readings from the book 'The psychedelic experience : a manual based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead'." (Washington, D.C. : Smithsonian Folkways Records, 1991)

"Psychedelic Art." Time Magazine, (1966): 60-69. Riley, Charles A., and Peter Max. The Art of Peter Max (New York : Harry N. Abrams, 2002), 8-31 Weiss, Gregory L. Grassroots Medicine : The Story of America's Free Health Clinics (Lanham, MD.: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2006), 28-31.

Hernandez, 12

Wesson, Donald R. "Psychedelic drugs, hippie counterculture, speed and phenobarbital treatment of sedative-hypnotic dependence: A journey to the Haight Ashbury i n the sixties." Journal of Psychoactive Drugs 43, no. 2 (April 2011): 153-164.

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