Trees bloom, flowers grow wild in the grass as Bicycle Day gives way to 4/20. Cardinals alight on branches, visiting throughout the day. I delve again into World Psychedelic Classics 3: Love’s a Real Thing. The cover notes describe the compilation as “an African assimilation of the psychedelic revolution — distorted, political, hallucinogenic, and, of course, danceable. Thousands of miles from the Summer of Love’s utopian origins, yet somehow, not so far away…” It’s an amazing collection: twelve tracks of funky West African psychedelia from the early 1970s. Tracks like Moussa Doumbia’s “Keleya.”
External influences interact with indigenous traditions and vice versa. “Acid rock as something familiar if not entirely home-grown,” writes Ronnie Graham, who hears on the album “the African beats missing from Monterey and which Woodstock lacked.” One longs for a transnational history of psychedelia. Brazil, Japan, Germany, the countries of West Africa: let us tell of how minds manifested in these countries. In the meantime, though, let Luaka Bop and its World Psychedelic Classics series serve as our guide.
The revolution grows micro, happens everywhere. Except everybody knows that everywhere is as good as nowhere. As we float in our plastic domes. Is neoliberalism birthed in the summer of ’69? What did Woodstock and the Moon Walk do to us? Did they remake us all as cybernetic astronauts, tethered as if by umbilical cord to an AI similar to the one that awakens and talks to us at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey? What accounts for the recurrence of “space” in so many of the texts of Hippie Modernism? Why, too, is this the moment of LSD and “Spacewar”? Did neoliberalism shoot us all into space? Where does acid figure in relation to this transformation? What effect did it have on the collective imaginary? Abbie Hoffman had his helmet smashed, he says, (and by “helmet,” he meant his “subjective experience”), during a bad acid trip at Woodstock. (The book to consult for an account of Abbie’s trip is Ellen Sander’s Trips: Rock Life in the Sixties.) Even as he imagines the festival as a prefiguration of a new WOODSTOCK NATION, he also describes it as the first time in history that we successfully landed a man on the Earth. “Calling Planet Earth,” echoes June Tyson at the end of “Space is the Place.” Perhaps what we saw is that we’re all one thing, one brain, the General Intellect, a new infant floating out in space. What do we do with ourselves? Stewart Brand assumes that this condition makes us as gods, and that we might as well get good at it. But he does so while involved in a counterculturally-conducted investigation of communal living. The neoliberal cognitive map clicked into place in multiple minds at once there in the late 60s and early 70s. We’re all right there in that “Earthrise” photograph, our collective self-portrait. My hunch, however, is that this map is the veil that we need to pierce if we’re ever to get free.
I wish there was time to fit radical media theorist Gene Youngblood’s book Expanded Cinema into my course on Hippie Modernism. Youngblood’s work shares in the cosmic consciousness whipped up by the two big events of the Summer of ’69, Woodstock and the moon launch. For Abbie Hoffman, remember, Woodstock served as a mind-blowing demonstration of “Functional anarchy, primitive tribalism, gathering of the tribes.” Youngblood’s book examined the role participatory media events and media revolution might play in this project. The main prerequisites to demonstrate the human capacity for psychedelic beloved community were all present at Woodstock: willingness to live side by side in harmony, feeding and caring for one another, with no expectation of profit. Another version of the utopian hippie modernist Woodstock Nation of the future can be glimpsed in Ant Farm’s Cowboy Nomad manifesto from 1969. One can imagine dozens of Woodstocks scaling up into Ant Farm’s Truckstop Network, tribes traveling in caravans of camper vans and VW buses.
It is my job, my duty and responsibility, to help youth remember the experiments of past generations of liberationist youth. My hope is that by these means, students may gain a fuller understanding of seeds planted, potentials as yet unrealized. Let us learn all that was learned before, and somehow try again. My friend’s father — a kind of shaman, one who initiated me into a secret universe — once starred in a grand movie production, a collective 3-day performance of peace, love, and music known as Woodstock. “Climb close, listen here,” he told me a few nights ago over dinner. “The conditions were terrible,” he began, “yet love prevailed.” Grace Slick navigated her way to stage and announced, “Alright, friends, you have seen the heavy groups, now you will see morning maniac music. Believe me, yeah — it’s a new dawn.” Soon they’ve launched into “Won’t You Try / Saturday Afternoon,” the band’s homage to the Summer of Love. When John Sebastian takes the stage in beautifully tie-dyed denim, he reflects back to the community of 300,000 its image of itself as an impromptu city, a temporarily autonomous global village. The lyrics to Sebastian’s “Younger Generation” speak sounds of accord into my present moment. Country Joe rouses the entire city to its feet in opposition to the War in Vietnam. Sly & The Family Stone arrive like angels and take the crowd heavenward, peace signs in the sky, voices raised in song. By the time of Hendrix’s performance, one realizes one is in the presence of peaceful visitation by starmen of the future. Enough! Let’s get ourselves back to the garden, as Crosby, Stills & Nash instruct in the film’s finale, “Woodstock.”
Michael Wadleigh’s Woodstock (1970), co-edited by a young Martin Scorsese, overlays sounds and images, especially in its use of split-screen, in order to represent the crowd as a cooperative beloved community. The collective intelligence of audience, performers, and crew is astounding, comparable only to that other collective intelligence, the US military. With the walkie-talkies and the helicopters and the ever-present talk of food and supplies, the festival was clearly the War in Vietnam’s deliberately inverted double.