Thursday, July 13, 2017

Counterculture Day (for us) in Santa Fe

We don't get up to Santa Fe (fifty some odd miles north) as much anymore, partly because school's out for another month and so and for now Ms. Ché has fewer reasons to go, and partly because my health has made it difficult/impossible for me much of the time to make the trip or to stay for very long if I got there.

You could argue it's always Counterculture Day in Santa Fe; after all, it is the City Different...  and doG knows the city is littered with reconstructed and a few unreconstructed hippies. There is art and alternative healing everywhere. On the way up we pass through Galisteo, a tiny, historic hamlet chock a block with artists and QiGong practitioners. Oh yes, the Counterculture has evolved and is present in bits and pieces or in whole throughout Northern New Mexico, where it arrived like an alien invasion some fifty years ago or more.

2017 marks the 50th Anniversary of the Summer of Love, though, and all this summer there have been celebrations and exhibits and lectures and so on and so forth to mark the occasion.

There's something happening here and we might have forgotten what it is.

We'd been planning for some time, Ms. Ché and I, to head up to town yesterday to check out the Counterculture exhibit at the History Museum and go see the remastered "Monterey Pop" at the Center for Contemporary Arts. She also had some business to take care of at IAIA with regard to her retreat at Idyllwild.

Counterculture was a mode of expression for some people of our generation, but not by any means for all of them. Looking back, I'd say most of my generation stayed well away from anything that smacked or smelled of hippies, peace, love, flowers and patchouli. 

Those who did partake, for the most part, did so on the margins; Counterculture was not a way of life.

It couldn't be; it was not possible for an entire generation  to tune in, turn on, and drop out (from the mainstream) and still survive.

That's what I felt was missing from the large and very intriguing exhibit at the History Museum co-curated by Jack Loeffler. There seemed to be little or no recognition that the Counterculture of the '60s really involved very few individuals at any given time and place, and by the time it got to New Mexico, in the later '60s and '70s it had become quite a different thing than it had started out to be.

Assuming it had any point of origin as such.

I thought it was interesting -- and wrong -- that Loeffler pegs the "origin" of the Counterculture on the poetry reading at 6 Gallery in San Francisco on October 7, 1955, at which Allen Ginsberg premiered his magnum opus, "Howl." Now wait. No. Just no.

But Jack was there, you see, and he remembers, and so, that's where and when it all began -- for him. And if the Counterculture began for him there and then, then it must have done so for everyone.


It didn't.

Jack is confusing influences with origins. Of course the influences -- such as "Howl" and Allen Ginsberg and Gary Snyder and Michael McClure, all of whom were present at the seminal poetry reading in 1955 -- were important. Loeffler mentions "On the Road" by Jack Kerouac as a moving influence, as it certainly was, but he casts it as a phenomenon of the '60s when it was published in 1957 about a road trip in 1949. Hello? What "On the Road" is describing is people and events in the immediate Post War era, and to me it harkens back to "Cannery Row" (published in 1945) which was about people and places (in California) in the 1930s.

This didn't originate any Counterculture at all. Instead, literary voice was given to part of the margin of the mainstream.

Which when you boil it down is what the Counterculture of the 1960s really was: an expression of the margins of the mainstream -- commercialized and marketed to death.

Already in 1966, "hippies" were becoming a commercial phenomenon, and some of the original hippies in San Francisco got together in October of 1967 to stage the Death of the Hippie ceremony that was supposed to put the commercial phenomenon to ultimate rest. It didn't of course, but the statement was made by some of those who were there at the beginning that the idea had climaxed and it was time for something else again.

Was I there for this ceremony? You know, I might have been, but I'm not quite sure. There was so much going on that summer and fall, it's a kaleidoscope of impressions now, and actually where I think I was on or near that date was at the Oakland Induction Center coughing on the remnants of tear gas used to clear the way for the inductees.

(Actually that was a couple of weeks after the Death of the Hippie ceremony, so maybe I was there; I don't know anymore.)

The draft and the war fueled the Counterculture for many, and there was a small corner of the exhibit that dealt with the Protests and Movements. One of my strongest impressions of the exhibit was that corner where an elder fellow (my age) sat crying while listening to first person accounts of the anti-war movement and the slaughter in Vietnam through headphones. I couldn't hear  what he was hearing, but I knew why he was crying. It was all I could do to keep from bursting into tears myself.

At least Loeffler acknowledged that the war and the movements had something to do with the origin and persistence of the Counterculture, but I'm not convinced he understood how critical they were to it. I think it's possible he didn't see it the way I do in part because he's ten or more years older than so many of those who were caught up in the Counterculture and he served in the armed forces when it was relatively safe to do so.

He wasn't drafted. He volunteered. Played in the band. At nuclear weapons tests in Nevada. Interestingly it was soon after that seminal reading at 6 Gallery in 1955 which he claims started the Counterculture.

All in all the exhibit was fascinating, though I have my quibbles. The Ram Das elements made me smile, though I wasn't altogether sure why. I've never been much of a fan of Ram Das, but the hand-printed posters and book box inside the geodesic dome from and based on the Lama Community  were an unexpected treat.

Sadly we only had an hour before the museum closed so we didn't get to explore the exhibit quite as much as we might have liked.

After a bite  at Santa Fe Bite, successor to Bobcat Bite, we headed out to to the Center for Contemporary Arts, one of the few local museums we don't belong to, to get ready to see "Monterey Pop" in full, in a movie theater, for the first time in many years.

"Are you here for 'Monterey Pop'? Sorry, it's sold out. But we'll have more showings Friday and Saturday."

Right. Sold out? What the actual hell? "If you'd like, we can give you a 'Queue Card' and you can wait until showtime; we'll release tickets that aren't picked up at that time, and you may get a seat."

OK. We take the "Queue Cards" and wait. Others join the Queue, some rather annoyed that they weren't told that the show was sold out, nor were they informed that there would be additional showings on the weekend (while  we waited, an additional Sunday showing was added.) Nor, in fact, did they know they could buy tickets in advance. I heard many of the same stories while we waited. Then, of course, there were the patrons with extra tickets to sell to those waiting. It became quite a scene in the lobby. Reminded me a bit of the scene outside the fairgrounds at Monterey in 1967, where people were selling -- scalping? -- tickets to get inside. We didn't have that worry then, for we had tickets to all the shows but one, and that one we chose not to attend because nobody we wanted to see was performing.

Those were the days. Not sure how much the tickets cost. Depended probably on where you sat.

We had box seats for Friday and Sunday evening. arena seats for Saturday.

So we waited in the lobby where things were getting tense until showtime yesterday, and sure enough, our Queue numbers were called and we got in just in time, so it seemed. Front row seats, too, wow.

In fact, it looked like everyone who waited got in. So.

The movie was introduced by Lisa Law, whose archive of photos provided nearly all the pictures for the exhibit at the History Museum --and who took some pictures at Monterey between setting up the trip-tipi at the fairgrounds and taking care of her puppy.

Listening to her brought back a  lot of memories.

She said she'd just come back from the 50th Anniversary Monterey Pop Festival where Michelle Phillips sang "California Dreamin'" (and it was so beautiful!) and oh... it was... well.... you'd have to be there.

And she asked how many of us had been to the original Monterey International Pop Festival. Five hands went up, two of them ours. And I was shocked. Everyone in the audience seemed old enough to have attended, but only five of us did. Which is an expression, I think, of how few of my generation actually participated in the events of the era. I say 25,000 or so attended Monterey Pop, but others suggest 50,000 or more. I don't know. But it wasn't a lot in the vast eternal scheme.

Sold out, but still...

And then there was the movie. "Hand held Pennebaker shit." Bless his heart. He captured so much, but he left out a whole lot. Lisa Law said the picture was groundbreaking, and I suppose it was. But then I'd been seeing "groundbreaking" movies at the midnight movies at the Towne Theatre for a long time, so the Pennebaker shit wasn't all that new to me. I loved watching it again for the first time in many years (I think I first saw it in 1968, and maybe once again in 1973, and I haven't seen the whole thing since.)

Brought back lots and lots of memories, but what Pennebaker left out (many of the performances, for example) and what he changed (the order of performances among other things) struck me this time whereas it really didn't seem to matter before.

There were allusions to the cold and the damp, but they were minor elements. Yes, it was cold much of the time, and yes it was damp. I wore a heavy wool army jacket, but still shivered sometimes. The arena seats (yes we had chairs to sit on) were wet with fog and dew. There is a scene in the movie where a pretty young thing is wiping off the chairs. "Just lucky I guess" she says. But they got damp again.

Airplanes are shown flying in to Monterey with the artists, but what isn't shown is that the airport was/is right next to the fairgrounds, and the planes land and take off right over the rodeo arena where the festival performances were held, and time and again, the roar of the planes drowned out the performances. That's not in the movie at all, not even hinted.

There were other interesting omissions. But there were things I flashed on, too, such as the wall of posters that I didn't remember until I saw them in the movie.

All in all, seeing the movie again was a heady experience. When we left, it was starting to rain a little bit, and that, too, was not unlike the Monterey experience.

There's much more I could say about it  -- both the movie and being there -- but it was 50 years ago.

Does any of it matter now?

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