July 3, 2007
Media outlets and cultural wags in general have recently been looking back upon the year 1967 with an exuberance usually reserved for anniversaries such as the publication of Leaves of Grass, the recording of West End Blues, or the applied alchemy that first turned pulque into tequila.
Admittedly, in retrospect, the year possessed all the trappings of a cultural crossroads but, within the eye of that storm, there was calm and peace and little thought of lasting notoriety. Individual and collective "Rubicons" were crossed as a matter of form. The times, already "heady," were a-changin’. There would be no turning back.
Trips of various inclinations into both Mexico and new realms of consciousness played out as if by birthright. Novel lifestyles were examined. Perspective was acquired through time spent peering into the inner and outer cosmos. The sense was of standing on the bridge of spaceship Earth.
Well-worn C. F. Martin guitars and dog-eared Henry Miller paperbacks dotted a landscape already rich with French poetry and existential thought. Beat literature and "be-bop" jazz, long insinuated into tribal folkways, joined the "new journalism" and progressive rock in an ever-burgeoning "hipster" scene. By springtime, Kerouac and Hendrix would be part and parcel to an increasingly interesting and evolving backdrop.
Boundaries and definitions, especially those offered by the mostly-clueless mainstream media, went largely ignored. Not to say that within the "movement," spawned for the most part by long-time struggles for civil-rights and against the then-current and seemingly-endless war in Vietnam, there wasn’t a decidedly "us vs. them" mentality.
What caused 1967 to resonate, however, and the reason it’s being recalled in such historic terms these forty-years later, is the succession of high-profile pop-culture events that transpired during its sway. In many ways, in context with the assassinations and riots of the following year, they would signal a final fling at innocence.
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The release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band with its attendant hoopla got the ball rolling. Although a few Beatles buffs saw it as the end of rock and an artistic step down from both Rubber Soul and Revolver, the music buying public and the world at large did not concur.
The resultant journey into the hip mindset with its references to the drug culture and Eastern mysticism came packaged in a concoction of overdubs, orchestral crescendos, backwards guitars, sitars and exotic sound effects. It would soon become the "Trojan horse" within which "psychedelia" would enter the suburban living room.
Within a couple of weeks of Sgt. Pepper, with nary a moment for the counter-culture to draw a deep breath, there appeared upon the scene a seminal gathering called The Monterey International Pop Festival.
The weekend achieved lasting fame due mostly to an extremely high quality of performance art both on and off stage. As much as anything, the affair constituted a gathering of the tribes a census among the politically and culturally disaffected, as it were. There were fifty-thousand of us and it felt like a living room.
Not that hanging within the collective aura of Jimi, Janis, Otis, the Who, the Dead, the Byrds, Butterfield, Bloomfield, the San Francisco bands and Buffalo Springfield was in any way not totally enriching. It’s just that some of the acts you don’t hear that much about, like Booker T and the MG’s and Ravi Shankar, were as spectacular as those who emerged legends.
Another excellent sidebar to the Festival was the camping scene over on the football field at Monterey Peninsula College. Early each morning, late each evening, and even between shows for those not logistically challenged, guitars, mandolins, mouth harps, and such would materialize and do those things they do.
New friends would awake you with cold stale coffee and a wide grin. You’d share a laugh or two about the more flamboyant in your midst and talk about which group turned your crank and where you’d be off to after the Fest. It mattered little that you might never see each other again. You totally owned "the now."
There were only a few ventures into Haight-Ashbury that summer. The whole "Summer of Love" hype had overwhelmed the once-intimate neighborhood and it was obvious we were part of the problem. Admittedly, it was a hoot, however, to camp out in Golden Gate Park, eat free "Digger" food, and dance ecstatically to whatever band was playing.
A couple of short stays up at the "Morningstar Ranch" commune along the Russian River in Sonoma County also proved rather idyllic. It was a lifestyle rich in Zen Buddhist overtones where one could hang a hammock, build a bed of boughs in the Redwood Grove, and munch on macrobiotic fare around the campfire. Clothing, as well as engaging in cultural discourse, was optional.
Other than greeting 1967 from a New Year’s Eve show at the old Fillmore in San Francisco, the year was actually bookended by two quite memorable trips along the west coast of Mexico.
Highlighted by getting run out of San Blas by "federales," being paraded over much of Jalisco by a horse with its own agenda, and having our oh-so-cool ’54 Plymouth stolen in Mazatlan on the way back, the first trip was epic.
Actually, when you add-in time spent knocking back local nectar at the Plaza de Mariachi in Guadalajara, building peyote-button necklaces from scratch in Barra de Navidad, and stealing our car back from the original perpetrators at an a obscure surfing beach, the trip was a joy. Not bad for a junket motivated in response to a friend receiving a draft notice.
The trip at the end of the year saw me high-centered with a herd of left-wing yuppies (you can’t make this stuff up) at the University of Sinaloa in Culiacan and, later, as a purely recreational activity (honestly!), hiking the hills north of Tecate, Baja California. Then it was back to L.A, and the best music scene anywhere. Well, I guess they’re right. 1967 was one hell of a year.