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Catalysts for Change When the baby boom generation grew up, many of them rejected material success and its accompanying conformity, and sought other avenues in life and means of expression.
It’s hard to believe, but all the following ideas, concepts, perceptions, movements, arts, practices, discoveries, and acts were going on in the ’60s:
Zen Buddhism, meditation, the Tarot, the Kabbalah,
the I Ching, martial arts, women’s liberation,
gay rights, the sexual revolution, black power,
Native American culture, marijuana and LSD,
political activism, building your own house,
organic gardening and farming, revival of crafts,
alternative energy sources: sun, wind, and water,
organic gardening and farming,
ecological awareness, self-sufficiency,
the Beat poets, the blues and rock ‘n’ roll,
the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan,
Rolling Stone magazine and dozens of new
underground newspapers, dolphin consciousness,
viewing the earth from space,
The Whole Earth Catalog,
planetary consciousness, whole systems,
the West Coast publishing revolution,
the first desktop computers, domes,
long hair, new styles of dressing,
the Human Be‑In, the Monterey Pop Festival…
Note: Many of these things were not so much new, as they were new to this very large group of young people — who had the time and means to study and experiment — and set out on new courses in their lives.
All of these things were part of our world in the ’60s, and carried over into what we did in the ’70s, including building this homestead.
From my almost-just-completed book, The Half-Acre Homestead. (This is kind of a footnote in the appendix describing briefly what happened in the ’60s, because the values and discoveries of those times are reflected in the building of our homestead.)
Recorded in 1963, just after Chuck got out of jail. Essence of rock and roll. Johnny Johnson (I would guess) on piano here. Johnny was a big and relatively little-known integral part of Chuck’s success. I saw Johnny in NYC some years ago. I closed my eyes when he was playing and saw shimmering diamonds. And yeah, I was stoned. So?
In the 1969-1970, I ran a dome building program at Pacific High School in the Santa Cruz mountains (above Saratoga). The school had 40 acres and the kids built their own domes to live in. It was pretty wild, and we did have some good moments before it all fell apart in a few years — teenagers away from home for the first time in a drug-rich environment.
Martin Bartlett was the music teacher and he built the only non-geodesic dome for himself. It was constructed by standing sheets of ¼″ plywood on end, trimmed on the upper edges so they could be pulled over and joined at the top. Martin then covered it with cedar shingles, installing a circular plexiglas skylight in the center. The design was by Bob McElroy, who had built one in Big Sur.
The school — teenagers building their own homes — resonated with the press in those days. Life magazine came and took photos, and Time published an article on us. I’m working on and off on a book on the ’60s and it will include the Pacific High School story.
I somehow missed them back in the day. They were the “girl group” among the ’60s San Francisco bands. Their show at Sweetwater in Mill Valley on Thursday was awesome. Their new double CD album is a killer, impeccably produced, and with Taj Mahal, Bob Weir, Charlie Musselwhite, Jack Casady, David Grisman, and Jorma K. sitting in. Peter Coyote sings a great lead on one song. They write just about all their songs.
They never got their due recognition back in the ’60s, but listening to this brings me back to the Avalon, the Monterey Pop Festival, the wonderful feeling in San Francisco in the ’60s (before “The Summer of Love”).
There are kick-ass rock ‘n’ roll songs, beautiful ballads, Taj sings a short riff, “I don’t do what I outta, I just do what I do” (sounds about right), then the band kicks into a shit-kickin’ “On the Road,” with banjo and soaring fiddle.
It’s interesting that all the other SF groups — The Jefferson Airplane, the Dead, Quicksilver, Big Brother, Moby Grape, etc. — are long gone, and the girls have come rocketing back. If you were there then, trust me — you’ll love this album. (Order it from them and bypass Amazon.)
It was sex, drugs and rock and roll, and those were all fun. But at the core of the counterculture was a spiritual revolution, in a sense of leaving the Western religions of control, and exploring the Eastern disciplines of liberation. There was meditation. There were workshops in advanced breathing.
The counterculture represented a certain economic threat, because here were several people sharing a car, or not getting insurance, but taking care of each other, making their own clothes, using less electricity, making candles.
The Justice Department was trying to infiltrate communes. I spoke to a friend of an ex-FBI guy who said they had the FBI hippie squad. And they had to learn how to roll joints, the better to infiltrate with. Originally, the CIA intended LSD to be used as a means of control, but all these young people deprogrammed themselves from the mainstream culture, and then reprogrammed themselves with a more humane value system.
All the people I know from that time have, whatever their profession, they brought that same sense of idealism and compassion with them. Socrates said, “Know thyself”, then Norman Mailer, said “Be thyself” and the unspoken mantra of the counterculture was “Change thyself.” And the psychedelics — but not necessarily them, it could’ve been meditation or Zen or whatever — served as vehicles for people to change themselves. And that included protesting against the war, which meant that the CIA’s plan had backfired.
The Realist archive: www.ep.tc/realist
I just ran across this article, stored on my computer, and thought, once again, how perceptive it is. No one under 70 years of age will fully understand it, but for those of us growing up in those years, it’s a look back at what could rightly be called “the best of times.”
It also sets the stage for what then happened in the ’60s.
A version of this seems to have been written by Denise Eyherabide, but there are somewhat different renditions online. Plus, I have edited it somewhat.
We are the “Last Ones.” Born in the 1930s and ’40s, we exist as a very special age group. We are the last generation, climbing out of the depression, who can remember the winds of war and the impact of a world at war which rattled the structure of our daily lives for years.
We are the last to remember ration books for everything from gas to sugar to shoes to stoves. We saved tin foil, flattened cans, and poured fat into tin cans.
We saw cars up on blocks because tires weren’t available.
We can remember milk being delivered to our house early in the morning and placed in the “milk box” on the porch.
We are the last to have heard Roosevelt’s radio assurances and to have seen the gold stars in the front windows of our grieving neighbors whose sons died in the war.
We saw the “boys” come home from the war and build their Cape Cod–style houses, pouring the cellar and tar-papering it over until they could afford the time and money to complete building.
We are the last generation who spent childhood without television; instead, we had mental images of what we heard on the radio. “Up in the sky … look … it’s a bird … it’s a plane … it’s Superman!”
As we all like to brag, with no TV, we spent our childhood “playing outside.” There was no little league. There was no city playground for kids. We made baseball diamonds on empty lots until someone built a house on the empty lot.
Read More …
Click on “The ’60s,” above, to see preceding posts on the ’60s.
(Or maybe, more accurately, “Cassady Calling.”) I read On the Road by Jack Kerouac in 1959 while still in the Air Force, and boy, did it resonate. Here I was stuck on a military base, chafing at the whole military milieu, and reading about these two free spirits —Kerouac and Neal Cassady — stoned and careening across America in pursuit of adventure (and enlightenment).
My best friend on the base was Mike Phillips, a military police lieutenant. Mike was an intelligent, elegant guy and we hit it off somehow. But when I loaned him On the Road, he gave it back in a hurry, like it was the work of the devil. Hey, come to think of it, that might be just about right.
I managed to get myself declared as surplus (a category where the USAF had too many officers), and got out a year early. We chalked up the days remaining in Roman numerals on our window, erasing one each day. I was sick of the Air Force and homesick for San Francisco.
Free at Last
I was discharged after 2 years of service. I shipped our VW bug to New York. After I was processed at a base in New Jersey, we picked up my brother Bob, who was getting out of the Army at that time, and with Sarah and me in the front, Bob in the back seat, and 8-month-old Hans Peter Kahn behind Bob in the window well, we drove 3000 miles across a snowy America for less than $50 in gas. Cross-country for less than $15 a person travel expenses!
I remember an incident early in that trip that made me feel as if I were finally home: As we pulled onto the Pennsylvania Turnpike, heading west, I stopped at the toll station and asked, “How much?” The toll guy handed me a ticket, smiled, and said, “Pay my brother at the other end.”
After two years in Europe, especially Germany with its formality and rigidity, there was something so American and friendly about the ”my brother” phrase… Home at last.
We arrived in San Francisco in January, 1960. Home sweet home. Totally.
Click on “The ’60s, above, to see preceding posts on the ’60s.
The Man with the Castle
Part of my job as the information services officer was to run the base photo lab and edit the base newspaper. I was also in charge of public relations and dealing with the press.
There was a German photographer, Helmut Haak, who photographed troops on American air bases. He was a big, hearty, outgoing man. He contacted me about setting up photo shoots.
I would line up a fighter plane down on our airstrip, and benches for the military personnel, arranged by unit. There might be 30-40 men and women in each photo.
Helmut made a ton of money selling the color photos. Practically everyone bought one. He drove a big Mercedes and lived in a small castle overlooking the Mosel River. One night he invited us, along with my secretary Inge, over for a light supper.
He served food and white and pink champagne in bottles with his own label. He took us up into a small turret at the top of the castle and as we looked down at the river in the mist, he showed us an exquisite little music box with a moving mechanical bird.
Helmut had a 4-seat Cessna airplane, and he made friends with our base commander, Colonel Simeral (a pilot) by taking him flying. It was a spiffy little plane, and the colonel loved flying it.
One day at the base, Helmut took me up. We took off, and were still in the flight pattern when we heard on the radio: “F-86 dogs scrambling,” which meant that at least two of the base’s fighter pilots were taking off in a hurry. Shit!
Helmut was sweating. I was worried. The F-86’s were like rockets with cockpits on top — fast and powerful. Pretty soon, the planes roared past us—phew! — and we came back in.
Helmut told me that one time, when his girlfriend was sailing back to America from Southhampton, he swooped down when the ship was leaving port and dropped a bouquet of flowers for her with a note on the deck. Romantisch!
Before I left Germany, I got word that he had crashed and died in the French Alps, not seeing Mont Blanc in the fog. The report said that he missed the top of the mountain by 3-4 meters.