Breathe, relax, listen around. Ask into a phone, “Who are you, love?” and type, “Bless you!” Seek out “America Needs Indians,” the multimedia show that Stewart Brand performed at the 1966 San Francisco Trips Festival. The show placard for the festival lists “America Needs Indians” as the first part of a double bill on Friday January 21, the first night of the three-day festival. It describes the event as follows: “AMERICA NEEDS INDIANS — Sensorium 9. By Stewart Brand and Zach Stewart. 600 slides, 2 movies, 4 sound tracks, flowers, food, rock ‘n’ roll, Eagle Bone Whistle, Thunderstorm, live Cheyenne Tipi, Chippewas, Sioux, Blackfeet, Tlingit, Makah, Pomo and Miwuk, plus anthropologists.” If ever I happened upon a time machine, the Trips Festival is certainly among the events of the past I’d visit. Charles Perry describes the festival in his history of Haight-Ashbury — though he says no more about “America Needs Indians” than that it was “mournfully out of place in the rackety, echoing space of Longshoremen’s Hall.” Ben Van Meter shot footage at the festival, eventually releasing a short called S.F. Trips Festival, An Opening (1966). Look, too, for a feature film of his called Acid Mantra or Rebirth of a Nation (1968). Wheeler Winston Dixon discusses Van Meter in his book The Exploding Eye: A Re-Visionary History of 1960s American Experimental Cinema.
With my father-in-law and my nephew I caught a matinee screening of The Rise of Skywalker, an anti-imperialist franchise film prefaced by trailers for imperialist dreck: upcoming releases like My Spy, Bad Boys Forever, and Top Gun Maverick. Granted a brief respite from parenting by our in-laws, Sarah and I drop in on a New Year’s party where we chat with friends, though we bail well before midnight, unable in brief to enjoy ourselves in full. Yet here we are, F. beside us, welcoming the decade ahead.
A colleague of mine who has become a friend over the years, both of us members of a shared reading group, donated some of his books to a local thrift store, whereupon I scooped them up as if the cosmos had willed them toward me. All of this happened several years ago; yet as I sat today, mind churning with topics recommended or observed, my thoughts wandered from a counterfactual, alternate-history version of Jacques Demy’s Model Shop, starring not Gary Lockwood but Demy’s original choice for the lead, a then-unknown Harrison Ford. There I was imagining imaginary stills from the imaginary LA of this imaginary film, when with a wash of emotion I happened upon one of these books I’d scored from my friend: a Beacon Press trade paperback of Herbert Marcuse’s Eros and Civilization. It’s a book I should read, given what I teach. “Beyond the Reality Principle” is where it’s at, as is “Political Preface 1966,” written a decade after the book’s initial appearance. For Marcuse, a successful revolution would be one that makes the human body “an instrument of pleasure rather than labor” (xv), transforming work into play. Attempting to do my part, I pull an LP from the shelves in my basement and bask in the choir, percussion, and wolfsong of tracks like Paul Winter’s “Kyrie.”
William Irwin Thompson interjects, speaking on behalf of coming together as a mass of music rather than matter. Ecology appears here as it should, a science not of scarcity but of sacred geometry. Gary Snyder delivers his “Prayer for the Great Family,” a poem from his book Turtle Island. Let animals and plants once again be our teachers and guides.
Children of Men is a panic-pitched end-times vision, a film about fear, all of twenty-first century humanity’s worries in quick succession: terrorism, environmental collapse, wars waged between states and nonstate actors, inequality, infertility, banditry, you name it. “Theo,” the Clive Owens character, wanders traumatized, cynical and half-numb, through a kind of hell-house morality tale, until his arrival at the miracle of the nativity. His job thenceforth is to shepherd Kee, the film’s Mary, a refugee whose body houses future life, toward the hope of the film’s Utopia, a legendary community said to exist on an island in the Azores, led by a group called the Human Project. “Everything’s fine,” people keep saying, “all part of a bigger thing!” With death and danger all around them, punctuated by moments of great beauty, Kee persists, and Theo follows, protecting her and the baby from harm. Members of the Human Project arrive to the rescue by film’s end, floating toward Kee and her baby in a boat called Tomorrow.
Since we’re creating the universe (you and I!) we might as well have some fun, as do the members of the Incredible String Band in their film Be Glad for the Song Has No Ending (1970). (An essential psychedelic artifact, communicating secret knowledges from heads to fellow heads across time. The sections on band member Robin Williamson feel particularly otherwordly.)
Dancing down the sidewalk singing from lampposts, Oyster card in hand, we make our way, beach beckoning from beneath the pavement. In just a few short days I take leave of the States for a month abroad. The story at this point is one of spontaneous grandular progress, self-actualization into a grand unknown. Who will we be on return from this journey? I search old notebooks for clues. A head speaks to me across time, knowing perhaps that a future me would eventually get the message.
I steal away from work midafternoon and watch Space is the Place — the original 64-minute version. I think of it as an act of study — perhaps even what Fred Moten and Stefano Harney call “fugitive planning.” Ra imagines a colony in outer space free of the white people of planet Earth. “Equation-wise, think of time as officially ended,” he explains early in the film. Once time is ended, he says, we “teleport the planet here through music.” Sun Ra’s jazz is the sign-system equivalent of a riot — and when the Overseer comes ’round to make him pay, Ra holds up a card, casts a spell, relocates the confrontation elsewhere, into the Space Age, technic surrounded by void. Through his music, Ra creates “a multiplicity of other destinies.”
A rich new vein of countercultural history sees light of day thanks to the 2015 documentary Here Come The Videofreex. The archival footage used in the film is chaotic and messy, capturing with all of the power and potential of new media the revolutionary movements of the early 1970s. Watching the film today, I can’t resist wishing for a chance to restage the Revolution, the first attempt’s energy and conviction guided now by the lessons learned from half a century of culture war. Let the forces of magic and of miracle triumph where before we succumbed to our frustrations and our desire for vengeance.