The Counterculture

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The Counterculture

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photo Janis Joplin and Big Brother and The Holding Company, Lagunitas, California, 1967. Joplin’s gritty, full-throttle blues-rock style offered a new, liberating image for women in the world of rock music.

Unconventional appearance, music, drugs, communitarian experiments, and sexual liberation were hallmarks of the sixties counterculture, most of whose members were white, middle-class young Americans. To some Americans, these attributes reflected American ideals of free speech, equality, and pursuit of happiness. Other people saw the counterculture as self-indulgent, pointlessly rebellious, unpatriotic, and destructive of America’s moral order.

Authorities banned the psychedelic drug LSD, restricted political gatherings, and tried to enforce bans on what they considered obscenity in books, music, theater, and other media. Parents argued with their children and worried about their safety. Some adults accepted elements of the counterculture, while others became estranged from sons and daughters.

In 1967 Lisa and Tom Law moved to San Francisco, joining thousands of young people flocking to the Haight-Ashbury district. The counterculture lifestyle integrated many of the ideals and indulgences of the time: peace, love, harmony, music, mysticism, and religions outside the Judeo-Christian tradition. Meditation, yoga, and psychedelic drugs were embraced as routes to expanding one’s consciousness.


 

photo The “Freak-Out” show, Los Angeles, 1965. Rock music, colorful light shows, performance artists, and mind-altering drugs characterized the psychedelic dance parties of the sixties held in large halls in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

 

photo A concert in the Panhandle, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, 1967

 

photo The Haight-Ashbury section of San Francisco, 1967. Students, hippies, musicians, and artists gravitated toward the community’s inexpensive housing and festive atmosphere.

 

 

photo Hell’s Angels motorcycle club members, the Panhandle in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, 1967. While some people admired the Hell’s Angels’ audacious style, its members had an uneven and sometimes violent relationship with people in the counterculture.

 

photo Musician in the Panhandle, San Francisco, 1967

 

photo “Summer of Love,” the Panhandle, San Francisco, 1967

 

photo San Francisco, 1967

 

photo Easter Sunday Love-In, Malibu Canyon, California, 1968. This was a celebration of the counterculture movement.

 

photo Suzuki-Roshi, a Buddhist teacher, at the Human Be-In, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, January 14, 1967. Also known as “A Gathering of the Tribes,” the Human Be-In was an effort to promote positive interactions among different groups in society.

 

photo Poet Allen Ginsberg, Human Be-In festival, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, 1967. Ginsberg, known for his poem Howl, lived and symbolized the bohemian ideals of the Beat Generation of the 1950s and embraced the counterculture of the sixties.

 

It [the counterculture] was an attempt to rebel against the values our parents had pushed on us. We were trying to get back to touching and relating and living.

-Lisa Law, 1985

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photo Monterey International Pop Festival, Monterey, California, 1967. Monterey Pop was one of the first large outdoor rock festivals in the 1960s. Lisa and Tom Law sheltered people who were having difficult psychedelic drug experiences in their “Trip Tent.”

 

photo Timothy Leary, the Harvard-trained psychologist who coined the phrase “Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out,” at the Human Be-In, San Francisco, 1967

Social Activism and the Counterculture

photo Musician Judy Collins performing at anti-Vietnam War rally, Kezar Stadium, San Francisco, 1967

In the 1960s, Lisa Law and thousands of other Americans were moved by the Vietnam War, racial injustice, fear of nuclear annihilation, and the rampant materialism of capitalist society. Many were inspired by leaders such as John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. Small groups staged sit-ins at schools, local lunch counters, and other public facilities. Masses gathered in the nation’s cities to protest what they saw as America’s shortcomings.

Many members of the counterculture saw their own lives as ways to express political and social beliefs. Personal appearance, song lyrics, and the arts were some of the methods used to make both individual and communal statements. Though the specifics of the debates were new, arguments for personal freedom, free speech, and political reform go back to the foundations of American society and the arguments of 19th-century social reformers and founders of new communities.


photo Artist Liberation Front meeting, San Francisco, 1967. This group of artists presented alternatives to “official” art in the form of street fairs that featured live music, mimes, puppet shows, and participatory painting.

 

photo Victor Maymudes, Bob Dylan’s road manager, with a mandala, a symbol of life, Monterey International Pop Festival, 1967. Maymudes carried this mandala made from burnt doll parts to protest the U.S. dropping of napalm in Vietnam.

 

photo Coretta Scott King, anti-Vietnam War rally, Kezar Stadium, San Francisco, 1967

 

photo Paul Krassner (center), editor of the underground publication The Realist, and Harvey Kornspan (far right), a member of the Diggers, the Panhandle, San Francisco, 1967. The Diggers were political activists and performers who distributed free food and clothing and staged theatrical events in the streets of San Francisco.

 

photo Tony Price playing the atomic gongs, El Rancho, New Mexico, 1970. Price made musical instruments out of materials salvaged from the U.S. atomic bomb research facility at Los Alamos, New Mexico.

 

photo Black Panthers, anti-Vietnam War rally, Kezar Stadium, San Francisco, 1967. The newly formed Black Panther Party, frustrated with the status quo, called attention to the purportedly disproportionate numbers of black men bearing the burden of combat in the Vietnam War.

 

photo “General Hershey Bar,” San Francisco, 1967. Antiwar demonstrators used street theater and satire to make political commentary. Gen. Lewis B. Hershey headed the Selective Service (Draft Board) in the Vietnam era.

 

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Communal Living

photo New Buffalo Commune, Arroyo Hondo, New Mexico, 1967

 


Some children of the sixties counterculture dropped out and left the cities for the countryside to experiment with utopian lifestyles. Away from urban problems and suburban sameness, they built new lives structured around shared political goals, organic farming, community service, and the longing to live simply with one’s peers.

The Laws lived in several groups of poets, musicians, artists, and idealists. These communities experimented with redefining family structure, the relationship between work and leisure, and the role of their community in the world. Their degrees of success varied, however. Many men and women struggled to balance personal and political freedom with individual responsibilities and commitments, and to develop the farming and building skills needed to sustain the community.


 

photo Caravan, including Lisa and Tom Law’s bus “Silver,” en route to Love-In protest at Los Alamos atomic proving grounds, New Mexico, 1968

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photo Horse trainer Tommy Masters teaching Prince to harness, Truchas, New Mexico, 1970

 

photo Building the communal house at the New Buffalo Commune, Arroyo Hondo, New Mexico, 1968. The Laws traveled to New Mexico to have their first child at a facility that practiced natural childbirth. They helped build the New Buffalo commune and decided to move to New Mexico to live among a group of friends.

 

photo Rick Klein and Steve, Jenna, and Carol Hinton, New Buffalo Commune, 1967. Rick Klein and other benefactors sometimes bought the land and founded communes, enabling members to implement their ideals.

 

photo Ben Marcus and Little Joe Gomez of the Peyote Church, Taos Pueblo, New Mexico, 1967. New Buffalo Commune members interpreted the ways of nearby American Indians to model a new life of self-sufficiency and tribal community.

 

photo Lisa Law writing birth announcements and breast-feeding newborn daughter Dhana Pilar, Embudo, New Mexico, 1967. Lisa Law and Steve Hinton made the cradleboard. Photograph by Tom Law

 

photo Miles Hinton, New Buffalo Commune, 1967

 

photo Hog Farm Commune members and friends, Spence Hot Springs, Jemez Mountains, New Mexico, 1967

 

photo Musician, New Buffalo Commune, Arroyo Hondo, New Mexico, 1967

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photo Ken Kesey, aboard his bus “Further,” Aspen Meadows, New Mexico, 1969. Author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Kesey and his troupe, the Merry Pranksters, celebrated both spontaneous street theater to engage a mainstream audience and the use of psychedelic drugs.

 

photo Indian Sikh Yogi Bhajan teaching Kundalini yoga class, summer solstice, Tesuque Reservation, New Mexico, 1969. As part of a spiritual reawakening, some members of the counterculture rejected drug use in favor of mind and spiritual expansion through yoga, meditation, and chanting.

 

We stopped smoking marijuana and started getting high on breathing. Enough of being potheads. Now we could be healthy, happy and holy.

-Lisa Law, 1987

 

photo Hog Farm leader Wavy Gravy, Llano, New Mexico, 1969. Spontaneity, playfulness, and openness were cherished elements of commune life.

 

photo Commune members Laura and Paul Foster’s wedding at the Hog Farm’s summer solstice celebration, Aspen Meadows, New Mexico, 1968

 

photo Barry, Patty, and Ever McGuire with Don and Cindy Gallard watching the sunset, New Mexico, 1967. Barry McGuire, formerly of the New Christy Minstrels, recorded the hit protest song “Eve of Destruction.”

 

photo Pilar Law and yoga altar at New Buffalo Commune, 1969

 

Fifteen of us lived together, one room per family, and a kitchen and a communal room. I can’t say that I enjoyed that kind of living. It always seemed that women ended up doing a lot more chores than the men. The men played music, smoked the herb, chopped wood and repaired vehicles. The lack of privacy was a test.

-Lisa Law, 1987

 

photo Lisa and Tom Law with children Solar Sat and Dhana Pilar on Law farm, Truchas, New Mexico, 1970. Seeking more independence and privacy, the Laws moved into their own house, farmed, and raised animals.

 

photo Planting first garden on Law farm, Truchas, New Mexico, 1970

 

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Organizing Woodstock

photo Hog Farm members in free kitchen, Woodstock, 1969

The Woodstock Music and Art Fair made history. It was, depending on one’s point of view, four days of generosity, peace, great music, liberation, and expanding consciousness, or four days of self-indulgence, noise, promiscuity, and illegal drug use.

In 1969, Lisa Law and eighty-five experienced commune organizers were asked to assist with the medical tents, security, food services, stage activities, and information booths at a music festival near Woodstock, a little town in upstate New York. Seven months pregnant, with a toddler in hand, Law managed to take photographs of the festival, help run a free kitchen, and film an hour of home movies. She captured images of an event that remains one of the most powerful symbols of the decade.

Woodstock enabled thousands of middle-class young people to experience the communal spirit. For the first time, these young people felt empowered by their numbers. Politicians and manufacturers in the music and clothing industries took note of the potential of a growing youth market.


photo Hog Farmers arrival at John F. Kennedy Airport en route to the Woodstock Music and Art Fair, Woodstock, New York, 1969. The Laws and others in the counterculture saw music festivals as “purveyors of consciousness and peace.”

 

photo The musical group Quill on stage, Woodstock, 1969

 

photo Woodstock Music and Art Fair, Woodstock, New York, 1969

Afterword

photo Dennis Hopper, director and co-star of the film Easy Rider, New Mexico, 1970. The New Buffalo Commune served as a model for Hollywood depictions of communal living.

 


Just as increasing numbers of people were coming to the communes looking for answers, the Laws’ final back-to-the-land experiment at Truchas, New Mexico, was faltering. In 1976, Lisa Law moved to Santa Fe, where she eventually made her living as a photographer.

The counterculture movement, greeted with enormous publicity and popular interest, contributed to changes in American culture. A willingness to challenge authority, greater social tolerance, the sense that politics is personal, environmental awareness, and changes in attitudes about gender roles, marriage, and child rearing are legacies of the era.

Today Lisa Law lives by the Rio Grande in northern New Mexico in a solar-powered house. Her tepee is pitched beside her organic garden. Law continues to use her camera to document social issues, including efforts to end nuclear arms testing, the struggles of the young and elderly of New Mexico, and issues of Native American sovereignty.


 

photo Janis Joplin and Tommy Masters at Law farm, Truchas, New Mexico, 1970. In 1970, Joplin and fellow musician Jimi Hendrix died of drug and alcohol abuse.

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