Under and Over

When Ed Sanders made the cover of LIFE magazine 40 years ago — on Feb. 17, 1967 — the editors took note of a growing resistance to the mainstream with a cover line that read: “The worldwide underground of the arts creates THE OTHER CULTURE.” The “human be-in” in San Francisco had made news four weeks earlier, on Jan. 14. The “summer of love” — now being memorialized in a show at the Whitney Museum, “Art of the Psychedelic Era” — was still several months away.

Sanders was not only a founding member of The Fugs, whose songs included “Kill for Peace,” “Slum Goddess,” “CIA Man,” “Group Grope” and “River of Shit,” he owned the Peace Eye bookstore on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, where he published a mimeographed literary rag called Fuck You / a magazine of the arts. (Arrested and charged with obscenity, he was found not guilty.)

Meanwhile, the hippie counterculture was turning political. Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin and others (including Paul Krassner, who reputedly coined the term Yippie at a 1967 New Year’s Eve party) founded the Youth International Party. Peace activists led huge protests against the Vietnam War later that year. On Oct. 21 more than 100,000 demonstrators marched in Washington, where Yippie leaders tried to “levitate the Pentagon” and where Sanders performed an “exorcism.”

The most dramatic, most violent culmination of the politicized counterculture — bombings by the Weather Underground excepted — came on the streets of Chicago. Yippies clashed with police during the 1968 Democratic Party Convention and were charged with conspiracy in the notorious trial of the Chicago Seven. (Their convictions were reversed on appeal.)

But while all of that has receded into history, the counterculture itself has merged so comfortably with the mainstream that its concerns, if not its aspirations, are often similar to those of today’s homogenized society. Issues that were once too “far out” for the mainstream to take seriously are now part of common debate. Just yesterday, referring to his antiwar stance, Michael Moore said in a press conference for “Sicko,” his latest movie: “I am now in the mainstream majority, which is weird.”

Still, it’s worth recalling the nascent days of the counterculture, when “beatnik” was the opprobrious term applied to Sanders, Tuli Kupferberg and their ilk well before underground art turned psychedelic and the “summer of love” had hippies putting flowers in their hair. For a fine retrospective, check out the current summer-long show “FUCK FOR PEACE: A History of The Fugs.” It runs through Sept. 8 at Printed Matter on Manhattan’s West Side in Chelsea. Psychedelic it’s not, but it opens your eyes.
(Crossposted at HuffPo)

Postscript: A reader writes:

And what a wonderful world we went on to create afterward.
Some things never change. We had reasons to hate our parents’ generation, and, now, our kids have reasons to hate us, too.

Touché.

A reader writes:

Interesting! A lot of cool things went on in the 60s, but in my opinion the root cause of the problems the nation is going through right now is Me-Generation selfishness institutionalized.
IMHO Rove, Shrub, et al. have a serene sense of entitlement that only comes from being preened and fawned over by parents substituting empowerment for love, and ego-boosting for education.
This goes BEYOND partisan politics and ideological orientation. I have met tons of sour-ass ex-hippies who are as dark and cynical as any Cheney aide, and everyone from that time seems to have an addiction to auto-validation through olympian pronouncements rather than honest, respectful debate.

Uh, really? No doubt there are plenty of sour-ass ex-hippies out there. But “as dark and cynical” as Attack Dog‘s helpers? Please. As for Rove’s “serene sense of entitlement,” or Shrub’s et al., I doubt that Me-generation parenting had anything to do with it. Rove was a self-generated nerd. Shrub was a self-generated jerk.

PPS: The Printed Matters exhibition has an FBI surveillance document, dated Oct. 10, 1968, describing Sanders as “a leader of the Youth International Party (Yippies) and leader of the rock music group ‘The Fags.'” I presume that was an agent’s typo, but on second thought I wonder if it was an intentional insult. Funny either way, eh?
I should mention here that the Whitney show is a complete dud. It’s a piece of curatorial junk, no more psychedelic than a lifeless collection of antiquarian memorabilia. Anybody who wants a real sense of the art and culture of the “summer of love” would do better just to look at this “flower power” photo, taken at the Oct. 1967 peace march on the Pentagon:


Click the photo for a Universal Newsreel about the march, which was broadcast at the time.

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