The Twist in the Spiral: three modern cultural revolutions.
The Mysterious Power of Love.
There is a old Welsh proverb that states: ‘The Roots of the Past are the branches of the future’. Implying that what came before is bound and connected to what comes after. Just as we have been shaped by what came before us. Branches that will eventually become roots, as applied to you and I and the flow of generations, becoming both root and branch twined together over a lifetime through the past, present and future.
This is not mystical and poetical. It is a physiological, biological and psychological reality, and part of a chain that sustains and persists in determining , in part, who we are. Deep, winding roots. deeper than the branches above, climbing over head in spangled time …
And some of these ancient fibrous fossils and ghostly roots are with us still, pressed together in the pages of history. Ancient fragments that still burn with a fragrance of the enduring power and undying mystery of love.
Spreading out from the psychological flower of the Middle Ages: the Troubadours, and in the wandering, nomadic footsteps of gypsy minstrels and wandering scholars, Buscars, heretics and outcasts, rebels and monks .
Outlined and echoed in the fragments of poetry, literature and songs told by the ‘Fideles d’amour’, strumming through the illuminated pages of the middle ages, into a fresh green glade of music and lyricism, mysticism and a celebration of the Sacred Feminine and the romantic ideals, toils, torments and tales of passionate, ever kindling Love.
And for which, despite its thorny history of suppression and repression ,near annihiilation, encountering hostility, tyranny and enslavement, and being driven underground, submerged in times silent springs, it survives, endures, until suddenly erupting in the wild gusts and surges that ripple into life, refreshing the human heart and soul.
One such enormous eruption and historical flashpoint occurred in Southern France, set against the background of the conflicts of the 11th and 12th Century and the persecutions of the Cathares and the subsequently know as the Albigensian heresy.
This was the beginning of the first Inquisition, 1260,s and the Cathares were the target of a jealous Catholic Church, which denounced its practices and dismissed it outright as the Church of Satan.
This banned heretical love emerged in the potent form and teachings of the Cathares( The pure Ones) a Heretical Christian order , who lived in Southern France. In Provance in the Languedoc area. One branch of the Cathares became known as the Albigenses, because they took their name from the local town of Albi. Thus and ever after they became known as the Albigensian Heretics.
Scholars have suggested that they originated in the Balkans, over the area we know as Bulgaria . This area was of the Byzantine Empire at the time where Persian Zoroastrianism, Manichian beliefs, and early gnostic Christian doctrines and groups flourished and mingled an in 12th Century AD.
They maintained an association with similar Christian movements like the Bogomils (friends of God), and early Paulician and Christian Gnostic and Persian Manichian doctrines and influences.
Called the ‘Pure’, the ‘Perfected’ ones, they made every effort to follow the teachings of Jesus. The Cathares established a Church and maintained a hierarchy and practice, a range of ceremonies and disciplines . But rejected the idea of priesthood. They divided into ordinary believers , who lived ordinary lives, and an inner elect of ‘parfaits’ (men) and ‘parfaits’ (women).
Equality of women was paramount and a given. The Cathares like the Gnotiscs who preceded them, assigned more importance to Mary Magdalene in the spread of early Christianity . Her role as teacher and role model contributed to the belief that women could serve as spiritual leaders.
They were strict, living in accordance with their principles and spiritual injunctions, living in poverty, not lying, not killing. They considered war and capital punishment as evil.
And they were mostly vegetarians and believed in reincarnation, and had strict views on sex and contraception, believing procreation led to further reincarnations and recommended complete abstention or using contraceptives – which at the time was radical -both in elevating women equal status and their views on contraception.
Having reverence for the Gospel of St John. They were thought to be anti-clerical and motivated by a Manichian Dualism which divided the world into good and evil principles, with matter being held to be evil and the spirit intrinsically good or divine.
The physical world they held to basically irrdemably evil , including the flesh, as it stemmed from the evil principle of the demi-urge, a radical Christian Gnostic view of creation.
Chief of the Archons, a malevolent and malicious, jealous, egotistical minor supernatural, who has deluded many into believing that he is God ( Yahew, Allah, ),our creator and the creator of all things.
Envying of the Divine spark within us , the Demi-urge and his Archons seek to mislead, and enslave mankind, plunge into error and war, and seek to prevent us from ever awakening to our true purpose and potential . Thus they spread fear, hatred and suspicion amongstus and drive us into all manner of reckless crime,into wars ,deception and illusion and all things hostile to the nature of the Soul.
Cathar theology was believed to be part of the widely spread Gnostic tradition, that included parts of Sufism – an ancient esoteric order, whose traditions meant cutting themselves off from the mainstream historical Church and state.
Cathars in general formed an anti-sacredotal policy in opposition to the Catholic Church ,protesting against what they perceived believed to be the moral, spiritual and political corruption of the Catholic Church.
It was Pope Innocent the III, who called for a crusade against the Cathares , he perceived them to be and a direct challenge to their authority, and who were becoming too powerful and popular in Languedoc (noble women, knights and ordinary people flocked to their sermons); and set against them a Christian military leader, a Cisterian abbot , now best remembered for his ferocious command at Beziers ‘Kill them all, God will know his own!’ There after followed a thirty year war against the Cathars .
Banned and outlawed, driven, persecuted by Church and Feudal states alike, this was the beginning of the first Inquisition, spanning several hundred years of hysterical terror inflicted on the people, including the Spanish Inquisition , and that persecution and terror was to last into the 17th Century and the burning and trials of witches hunts by the fundamental puritan pseudo- Christians sects .
And soon after, the first Inquisition was established in 1234 to uproot the remaining Cathares and the systematic destruction of their legacy. After a war of oppression lasting over twenty years , the Cathares and their allies (many Troubadours amongst them) perished in the Albigensian Crusade, 1244.
‘To-day, your Holiness 20,000 Heretics were put to the sword regardless of rank, age or sex’.*
After the extermination of the Cathars, the Roman Catholic Church had proof that a sustained campaign of genocide can work. It also had the precedent of an internal crusade within Christendom, and the machinery of the first modern police state took place, which was wheeled out to great effect in the following Spanish Inquisition.
And it is from this point that historical Christianity became the opposite of the Christian Doctrine as taught by the Apostle of Love, Jesus Christ . It had moved from love to hate in the span of a thousand years and there perhaps, sadly struck the first bells of its corruption and decline?
Voltaire: ‘There was never as unjust a war as that against the Albigensies’
One of the principle movements of the Cathars was the songs and poems of the Cathar Troubadours, that belonged and was part of the wider Occitian linguistic and artistic Heritage. And it was the Troubadours who established Occitian as a literary language.
And from then on, after the persecutions, it is the considered opinion of many scholars that the Troubadours absorbed much of the teachings of Cathares and their philosophy of love into their songs and poetry, that in their wanderings spread from France to Britain. And it is here in Britain that they took root.
But the tangled roots of Love go back even further, to the epochs and peoples of the early Celtic races, particularly in Ireland and Britain. Unlike continental Europe, Ireland and Britain were the last to be Romanized and the legends and customs of the people lived and survived longer; a Celtic cradle where archetypal legends and myths sprung out in abundance.
And it is thanks in particular to the monks of Britain and Ireland that this great heritage is finely preserved, most notably in the Celtic masterpiece The Book of Kells – probably the greatest treasure most valueable and important testimony and fabulous treasure to exist in The British Isles. An otherworldly artefact and unparralelled treasure to behold. And the finest testimony to Celtic art and wisdom
The Celts were a loose sprawling tribe, a federation, rather than a nation then, and spreading out from central Asia, Europe to Indian and China. And they were held together by a civilisation and a culture which had its spiritual centre in the sacerdotal college of the Druids. It was a international institution and served every people of Celtic race and stretched from the remote corners of Britain and Ireland across to Italy and Asia Minor .
The Druids were grouped in brotherhoods , and had very wide powers . They were sooth-sayers, magicians, medicine men, tricksters, priests, and teachers all in one. And they taught by word of mouth. A course of instruction with them lasted twenty years.
Through them Celtic mysticism, Gnostic wisdom , Platonic philosophy Hindu myths met and converge upon the Celtic peoples, and spread from the Atlantic to the Black sea, long before the Romans began their conquests -and existed long after the Germanic invasions and the Romans left. And what has this to do with Love?
THE SACRED FEMININE.
Woman in the eyes of a druid was a divine and prophetic being. She was sacred. And she was keeper of the fire, and entrance to the cult of mystery. Though it was far more than a cult: she was the collective repository of the tribe and an object of veneration. Through her you entered into the mysteries of life and death and saw the future. Through her you participated in the life of the ancestors ,with nature, and the after-life.
Queen of the bridge of opposites: radiant Goddess of light and dark, of day, and night, good and evil, creation and destruction, birth and death, mother of all seasons.
She holds the reigns between the numinous and the material world, who links the two worlds, and uniting, reconciling the opposites in the cross over to the transcendent, royal road to the immortal sun.
Revered and recognised through all the ages of antiquity, from the pagan and the ancient world, and further back into pre-history and early matriarchal times, in all civilizations of the East and West the Orient, Rome, Egypt, Greece, Persian, Egypt to India to China.
Venerated as Ishtar, Indra, Isis, Daena, Lilly, Eve. It runs through Sufism, and Christian esotericism and the Gnostics with Fatima, Sophia and Mary Magdalene, and to-day widely known as Gaia.
Like a luminous necklace of shimmering wisdom and light, past on to the song- light of the Troubadours, who praised her. Like mystery itself, it was her nature to vanish, touch but never hold. The face behind the veil of existence and the material world , who seductively wears the dark cloak of matter, time and eternity and the beautiful and terrifying mask of the all pervading mystery of existence.
Like the fragile life of man, like pale and fleeting life, She disappears, stirring a longing that went beyond the forms and flutters of flesh. A forever longing for that world beyond into which we will one day, all return, and which she gave birth to.
A longing that left a long melancholic strain of pessimism in attaining any happiness or perfection in love on a human level and a pessimism that lingers at the unattainment of any satisfaction in earthly love.
All our poetry and literature is permeated, infested by it, this transfiguring , transforming love ,this abiding pessimism and hope.
This love is a thorn in the side of all true lovers, and it never heals, and it wounds us all, as it did King Arthur, Lancelot and Guenivere, Tristan, and Isolde, as told in the Heraldic legends of the Grail, and the Tales of the Round table. Through Abelard and Heloise, Dante and Beatrice, Romeo and Juliet; such through the mouths of medieval poets, play-write’s , heretics, gypsy minstrels, wandering scholars, mystics and monks, saints and sinners.
Knitted in the fabric and folk-lore of the people, told and sung in the ballads and tales of the bold Robin Hood and Marianne and the minstrel merry women and men. A legacy so potent, it informs the language of Chaucer, Shakespeare , and Cervantes.
To the flowering of the romantic revolution of Goethe and Schiller, of Wordsworth and Blake, and Byron, Shelly and Keats to Yeats, and Rilke and so many significant others .
And a romanticism so palpable, whose still unconquered passions, conscious and unconscious motives and drives permeates the whole inner and outer psychology and psyche of western woman and man
And whose lingering myths and subteranean yearnings persists, disturbs, unsettles and upsets; coiling and uncoiling in a titanic embrace ; a magnetic war of the senses, where the drama of existence , creation and destruction, appearance and illusion, reality,and fiction, permanence and impermanence collide in the collision of flesh and desire, and in the friction, creating the spark of life that runs equally through all: the course and the fine, the rich and the poor , the high and low; that suddenly erupts in ruptures and raptures, and spills over, gracing us with a little sprinkling of the ancient and tender torments, and sometimes terrifying offerings of Love.
Like the Sun, it shines in the further shores of the mind, radiating at the centre of everything. The burst of shivering light, circulating like sand in an hour glass storm of matter and time, a cosmic ray that wounds and pierces us with the ripple of a touch of perfection and grace.
Particles of light, emanating waves of bliss that you and I are a fragment of, a prismatic reflection that beckons like a beacon and leaves a forever longing to get there, to follow the light, but to get there, you must first travel through the arc of a great and mighty rainbow!
THE arc of the RAINBOW.
COUNTER CURRENT: THE REVOLUTIONARY UNDERGROUND.
The criticisms and accusations levelled against Western society, that it has alienated, usurped and severed consciousness and the spirit, is not peculiar to counter culture. Such protests have been commonplace in the tradition of poets, psychologists, writers and artists ,rebels, outsiders and individuals from as far back as the Industrial revolution and before.
Just as over the centuries many great revolutions have been fought by individuals and groups, and hard pressed freedoms won and lost, and that numberless numbers have suffered and died in the noble struggle and quest for the domain of the heart, mind and body of the near mummified and endangered spirit of man.
As if looped in time and distance, through-out human history there has appeared from time to time, and especially in times of crisis , groups of people and individuals who belong to an underground stream, an alternative society; a counter-cultural cell of often secret and esoteric societies, mingling, running alongside, beneath or hiding behind the radar of the mainstream -and it is as old as history itself.
At times like a scattered brotherhood, they lie secret and obscure, stealthily creeping unseen, unsuspected, blending invisibly behind the everyday day curtain of the world.
And sometimes visibly exploding, out of necessity they rise and challenge the status quo and prevailing wisdom and conventions of the times, erupting with such revolutionary power and vitality, in a volcanic surge of immense creative and destructive power that will change the world forever.
Upheavals that suddenly appear out of nowhere . They do not proceed in a predictable, and/or orderly ways, and are full of quick, sudden turns and quirks, uncordinated detours and chaotic impulses. Catalysts of change in the development of mainstream society and culture, they push the boundaries of new directions where others may eventually follow, and pointing to the future and the way that culture itself evolves out from its kernel seeds.
Filtered through the fuel and the fruits, the fractured light and left over fragments of three spectacular cultural and spiritual revolutions,- and considering there are not so many – perhaps three in all in the last one hundred years, and that left their imprints on the modern world. We present: The Twist in the Spiral: 3 Modern Cultural Revolutions.
Revolutions that were stimulated and spread by the viral of new, highly developed technologies, and new means of communicating that has been evolving rapidly since the telegraph, and through the gramophone and radio; since the spread of sixties rock and roll, television and transportation. And continuing in the accelerating blitz and blizzard of the multi-media explosion.
Proceeding further, onto the whirling turntables of the nineties cybernetic rave culture, virtual reality, computers, I pods, laptops , hand phones – almost it seems, in a never sleeping metamorphosis, as ever new galaxies of novelty and invention, information and transformation continues to manifest and spread.
And though each are separated by several decades, these revolutions had much in common. Similar, yet distinct, each came with their own icons and heroes, detractors and opposition, resistance fighters; their own revolutionary heralds and palmphlateers on the front line, proclaiming their manifestos and ideals from the cultural barricades of the future.
The Zietgists of their time. Revolutions historically twined together, as they emerged progressively through the century, particularly through the music. Gathering fuel from The Jazz age and Paris in the twenties, Height Ashbury in the sixties , through Punk Rock , onto Cybernetic Rave culture and the House music of the nineties,now the most influential and dominant strain of music heard today.
Exploring in depth their triumphs and disasters, peaks and pits, its betrayals; and the interlacing themes of personal evolution, freedom, scientific, technological advance, youth -culture and dance, the counter-culture and the underground, meditation, psycho-therapy, drugs, the global village,the archaic revival, sexual energy, feminism, the Planet Earth, Cyber technology and the philosophy, ideals and aspirations of the cardinal ideal of Love. Welcome to the evolutionary Twist in the Spiral :the point where revolution and change erupt!
The twist in the Spiral: 3 Modern Cultural Revolutions.
Revolution number One.
THE FIRST BLAST: UNCHAINED, UNBOUND AND FREE AT LAST!
‘Opium? No! Cocaine? No! The great American brain-killer is dance music…
-Portland Oregonian, 1932′
*THE JAZZ AGE.
Birthing at the dawn of the new, gleaming American Century, a sublime cresendo of positive and affirmative, joyous and outgoing new music could be heard percolating into the bubbling jet stream of modern life: the tempestuous, syncopated sounds of revolution number one: The incendary Jazz Age.
Erupting in a hot current of bliss, jubilation, and excitement, emanating from New Orleans and Chicago, to uptown New York, via Harlem.Fusing together in an out-pouring of a dynamic new music that un-shelved tensed up bodies, and relaxed nervous systems, unhooked anxious minds, opening it to the rich experience of rythm, that freed people and made them dance with joy!
And where the first modern dance crazes, radio and movies blend together with a taste for Marijuana and the reefer is first rolled; fun sex, freedom and excess. An age of witchcraft and Ouja boards, insanity and art, and the left over fragments from the drug crazed gay nineties , and the pre-war world of opium dens and ditches of the decadent and sublime worlds of the demi-monde.
A music that soon became international and then world wide. That fled to Paris, into the world of post modernism, where the ideas of the modern world were first fermenting.
And where significantly, there first appears the hand clapping, toe-taping swallow – tailed coon, the cane carrying dandy minstrel of shimmering black-face, shimmying on the stage , slippin and a- sliding like a jelly roll, in the hot pumping ragtime, rip-roaring cultural hot pot of the revolutionary twenties and thirties. The revolutionary Jazz age.
But the roots of this musical revolution went further back . After their release from the crippling bonds of slavery following the civil war, almost invisible as a people and emerging slowly, incubating through the tributaries of the Blues and Gospel.
For over three hundred years African Americans had managed to retain their cultural heritage as slaves were not allowed to take part in American culture. But Louisiana slave owners were French -speaking Catholics rather than Anglo Saxon Protestants , and didn’t forbid slaves to play music and dance, at least not as forcibly as others.
Early developments in Jazz was probably much like the Blues : the call-and response patterns of work songs , and the ‘blue’ note ( not found in the diatonic scale, but replacing the third and the seventh notes of the scale); these and other elements such as improvisation, polyphony and an attitude for making music as a social activity are ubiquitous in African traditional music.
‘Jazz sessions, gangsters , speak-easies, recording sessions….and above all rythym, characterised by improvisation and self expression, where the individual is paramount’.
As a seaport New Orleans was the most important incubator and host to musical influences from all over the Carrabean, including Irish, Scott’s,Welsh and English, Celtic influences, mixed with Latin, Spanish and Cuban tinges.
‘It was always a musical town -especially The District -Storyville. For every occasion – dances, funerals , parties ,and parades – there was a band and there were some mighty battles . The kids were all poor and they often improvised their instruments as well as their music. Bunk Johnson, King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, Buddy Petit, Manuel Perez, Clarence Williams, Chris Kelly, Buddy Bolden – they all called the children home.Then the navy closed Storyville down . But jazz went on in New Orleans – and it is still going on’
Downtown was the original dixie land Jazz band ; and on Chicago’s South Side you could rock to the music of Keppard, Oliver, Armstrong Ory and Baby Dodds, Peston Jackson, Jimmie Noone, Lil Armstrong and many more…
Pre-war war 1 New Orleans was relatively easy-going; whites, creole mixed race peoples and blacks got along (though there was a heirarchy of colour, mulattoes having pretensions and blacks always the poorest). The story goes that Alderman Joseph story , set aside a neighbourhood for brothels and gambling in 1897 , hence the Legendary District , or Storyville – where many musicians gravitated to
‘The coloured and white bands battled ( or bucked) frequently from opposite lake camps. It was custom to have picnics and family outing on Sundays during the summer at places like Spanish Fort . West End , Milenberg, Birch Town , and Seabrook.
The city was split by Canal Street , with one part of the people uptown and the Creoles down town. When people would come into New Orleans , like gamblers and workers from Memphis , and they’d say ‘Let’s go down to French-town,’ that meant you went below Canal Street . Storyville was below Canal Street on the outer part.
But the people I knew called all that was in S ‘The District’.’ I never heard it called Storyville. It got called that when somebody up here in the North read about it. It was never Storyville to me. It was always the District -and red light District.’ Danny Barker.
‘There was so much good music that was played in Storyville -they talked about it and its musicians so much until the word District being used so much wouldn’t sound so good…Storyville has been discussed in colleges and some he largest universities in the world…if not all over the world…I’ll bet right now most of the youngsters and hot club fans who hear the name Storyville hasn’t the least idea that it consisted of some of the biggest prostitutes in the world…standing in the doorways nightly in their fine and beautiful negligees-faintly calling to the boys as they passed their cribs.
And somewhere in or near Storyville was a famous gambling joint called ‘Twenty – Five’…That was the place where all the big time pimps and hustlers would congregate and play ‘Cotch’ (that’s a game they played with three cards shuffled and dealt from the bottom of the deck) …And you could win or lose a lot of money…These pimps and hustlers, etcetera , would spend most of their time at Twenty Five until their girls would finish turning tricks in their cribs…Then they would meet them and check up the nights’s take …Lots of prostitutes lived in different sections of the city and would come down to Storyville just like they had a job…There were shifts for them…Sometimes-two prostitutes would share the rent in the same crib together …One would work in the day and the other would beat out the night shift …And business was so good in those days with the fleet sailors and the crews from those big ships that come in Mississippi River from all over the world -kept them very happy’. Louis Armstrong.
It was F. Scott Fitzgerald, Author and prolific drinker of ‘The Lost Generation’ who named it the Jazz age. And alcohol, drugs and dance music fuelled the period. Anything goes, they optimistically sang, and it did, in an effervescent bubbling on radio, on screen, where the tinkling piano sounds of ragtime could be heard vamping all night long, through the roaring twenties and thirties.
An intoxicating decade full of sinful pleasures and hot lust for dance and dames , music,sex and drugs! Decadent and sublime, society was in an uproar at the hurricane of dance crazed cocaine fuelled flappers and flunkies, Mobsters and molls that filled the speakeasys and nightclubs and dance floors ! Insanity and madness were keynotes of the time, and sanitoriam’s were full of schizophrenic art created by opium and absynth addicts , and that led to a unique genre of schizophrenic art and prison writing.
The temperance movement too had spawned its opposite – immoderation and excess!
To prohibition moralists this was all deadly sin and the headlines were full of it.
‘The Opiate That Inflames the Mind and Incites to Riotous Orgies of Delirious Syncopation’, ‘Jazz just like deadly drugs headlines spunked and spewed fourth . And people went crazy for it ‘….
This was the first modern generation gap, and the biggest outlaw was Jazz music itself. For the first time an entire generation found itself outlawed by the Volsted act*-But no one cared a hoot!
You are all a Lost generation, said Gertrude Stein of the American expatriates who fled to Paris in droves, and a new generation of high flying, devil-may care internationalism flourished and foamed, bubbled and bled. While Alice B. Toklas baked Hash fudge cakes and dazzling, magnificent women like Isadora Duncan, Josephine Baker Billie Carleton, sparkled like glitz and Champagne .
Fads and flappers conquered the world , bobbed hair, short skirts and sultry vamps made midnight auto rides ,and dancing the Apache naked in the fountains of Montmarte And the Capitals of Europe – London, Paris and Berlin, dazzled with post-war decadence imbued cocaine on Bistro tabletops, ether sucked from silk hankies , and frequented elegant opium dens.
By 1934 the Jazz Age was over, crushed by the depression. But more was to come. And that was modern Jazz. We end here with a brief introduction to modern Jazz, coming up in Volume two.
If traditional Jazz was exuberant and extrovert, then its off-spring was its exact opposite, or counter-point: introverted, exploratory and supremely individual: Modern Jazz. And where, significantly, the roots of contemporary ‘hip’ culture , and its language, music and style had its beginnings – in African America art and culture.
The music soon developing in a progression from the traditional into modern jazz and be – bop; and that together with a sophisticated sprinkling of French existentialist philosophy and style , birthed the revolutionary hipster, whose finger snapping rythm, and toe-tapping tempo begat the Beats, who blended Marijuana , Modern Jazz and Zen Buddhism together into a philosophy, style and ergot that went global and became the proto – archetype of the hipster.
In Volume two, we examine some of the key figures of Jazz , modern and traditional , and look at ‘hipster’ influences and ethos, together with the emerging honest portraits and portrayals of African/American life and history, as told through the music , literature and art of the people as they emerged more fully, took shape and influenced the cultural landscape .
‘this dance music which echoes through the homes of America…is the most definitive contribution to American Civilisation which radio broadcasting is making today’. Louis Reed. .
The Twist in the Spiral: Revolution number two.
THE CHRYSALIS, THE CRUCIBLE AND THE CURE.
Oh yeah! Oh yeah! Oh yeah! Hear ye one and all! – Let it shake, rattle and roll!
ROCK AND ROLL CHIMES .
In the beginning was the sound, the vibration..
No music ever before had such a cultural impact, such a sweep of religious and spiritual thirst as Rock and Roll. The magical blend of African American rhythms with Pan- Celtic pagan culture, changed the world forever. And no music as yet, has had such miraculous power of regeneration, and the blues is never far behind.
Rock and Roll was first experienced by the baby boomer’s of the sixties -the first generation to grow up with television and radio and rock and roll records that radicalised millions of youth. This was also a generational shift that, by the time it reached it’s zenith in the mid-late sixties and early seventies , rock and roll music dominated the world over.
The potential of Music as an agent for cultural change is something that has now become unquestionable. Indeed, after the fires die down, it is often through music we return to the source. And it was music above all the other Arts, that heralded the impending revolutions and drove them forward. This is true of the past as it is of the present.
And perhaps at no other recent time in history has Plato’s Maxim demonstrated so forcibly the power of music to shake the foundations, as in the iconoclastic and bombastic sixties.
But if the music was the herald, what it was announcing was even more urgent and portentous: a quivering seismic change that reverberated, pulsed and plunged through walls of sound that were heard, listened to, poured over, drunk, philosophised about, agonised over, analysed and broadcast loud through the multi-coloured streams of the underground.
Rocked by Nagasaki and Hiroshima and the terror of nuclear annihilation and possible extermination of the species, an armagedon that seemed then almost immanent; and out of which terror grew an awareness that gave birth to a new kind of organic species consciousness, and an awakening of our collective oneness.
This thundering moral backlash had been advancing for some time, fomenting since the end of World war 11 and Gathering apace as we entered the atomic, nuclear age and the post-modern world. A backlash that left a long trail of nihilism in its wake, producing towering anxieties, crisis, numbing schizophrenic panic and moral anguish and despair.
Just a s the 1950’s saw the first contemporary teenagers appear and rock and roll dominate the era – frothing into teds, mods, rockers and fomenting skinheads and mods, scaring the establishment with its irreverence, mockery and music ,and promiscuity. That is up until the mid -1960’s, and emerging from the radical beat culture and rock and roll.
From the late fifties on, western youth ,( also in Japan, Germany, Eastern Europe and Russia)* revolted at this moral bankruptcy and the spiritual vacum and cultural void it left . Now joining arm in arm, with CND, – students and public alike; stirring along with and an international youth movement, left-wing youth groups, all pressed together with the momentous civil rights movement and the political protest movements and the general unrest of the time …
Yet pausing and looking back , the flash points are many and far flung – flying amongst the liberating sparks, gradual and swiftly a-falling and descending in a cultural storm ; from the publication of Kerouac’s On The Road, the Kennedy assassination , Lady Chatterley’s trial in 1960 and the beginning of the ‘sexual revolution’, the march to Aldermaston , Harold Wilson’s election, the Beatles, LSD, the Vietnam war, and the momentous civil rights movement , the fervent feminist upsurge, gay rights movement, the international folk-scene , protest, student rebellions -a momentous gathering on almost every front, multi- tectonic shifts; planetary , political, personal, intellectual, religious, scientific , sociological, psychological upheavals, a molten magma mix that engulfed the psychedelic sixties and that made it the crucible, the chrysalis, and the cure.
The dream is over Lennon later sang and, in a personal way, sad to say, it was, for him, and for many others. Yet he was wrong in the broad sense and missed the point. This was only the beginning…
TEMPLE OF FIRE.
ALPHA/OMEGA. THE BEGINNING AND THE END.
Revolution: to revolve back to the beginning.
We live in unprecedented times, unprecedented , though perhaps not altogether unforeseen by some, and perhaps there has never yet been another time like this on Earth before? And therefore no history or guide, no past or marker to point the way forward, or to compare it with? And it is still near impossible to judge the future by the past or even the present?
At once a time unique in the history of the human race. A time pregnant with possibilities so great in proportion to it’s difficulties?
Where to start, where to begin to make sense when there is so much information, advice, propaganda, hype and hypocrisy,not to mention outrageous lies, with never a hope of getting through the throwaway media babble?
Let me say it boldly, the crust has shattered and consciousness has broken through, uprooted everything, and all nations, all cultures in one way or another are affected and infected both. Today, the whole planet and everything and everyone existing on Earth has just moved that little bit closer, and our species now indissolubly linked together in a trillion, billion different ways …
According to Daniel Gilbertson ‘We are the first species to consciously affect our own evolution. And, because of this, Homo sapiens will soon be extinct. After a reign of more than 300,000 years he will sacrifice himself beneath the greatest evolutionary wave ever. The prophets who predict doom from nuclear holocaust, energy starvation and bio – detonation are wrong. Homo sapiens will succumb to the one threat he is powerless to resist – a new species better suited to new worlds.*
A powerful idea, whose time has not yet come perhaps, and like many of the over-optimistic philosophers of the sixties, their time calculations were a little skewed , for example, in the pregnant use of the word ‘soon? How soon will we be extinct and and a new species emerge ? A hundred, a thousand years, -immanent? Will it be sudden, overnight? It seems unlikely, but in the vernacular of sixties counter-culture , the direction was ‘right on’ as, broadly speaking, both inwardly and outwardly, the signs were there merrily a -blinking. Let me try and explain…
However, it seems nature works progressively. It advances then retreats , forward and backward , then goes further backwards than before and twice as fast forward, at least according to the theory of the Great Year, which explains the sun’s apparent revolutions around the earth and the procession of the equinoxes. And as we are part of nature, indeed we are nature and also spin and reflect her great cycles of revolutions and change .
An eternal recurrence of sorts, whispered in the cosmic breath of infinity. And, ever mindful of the immortal words of The Thrice Great Hermes Trismagestus , ‘As Above, so Below, As Within, So Without’, whose ancient tablets of esoteric wisdom continues to ripple and reflect the cosmic mirror, informing us of the primordial macro and microcosmic worlds we participate in and inhabit.
In other words, here on earth, it seems great evolutionary changes are mostly incremental, unless of course, a meteor strikes , an ice age erupts, a volcano explodes, a comet collides…
And as the procession of the equinoxes continues to move around the great constellations; and so according to astronomers and astrologers alike – though there are differences of opinion as to the exact date and time, it seems we have entered or are about to enter ‘The Age of Aquarius!’
THE FIRST AQUARIAN’S
Art degraded, Imagination Denied: war Governed the nations
Rouse up, O Young Men of the New Age! set your foreheads against the ignorant Hirelings! For we have Hirelings in the Camp, the Court and & the University, who would, if they could, for ever depress Mental & prolong Corporal War.
‘Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, but to be young very heaven’
If both those sayings applied to any time in recent history, then it would surely be the psychedelic sixties! Vast, pulsing like an exploding nebula bursting forth into new life, flashing quantum leaps of dramatic creation and destruction, where all previous assumptions about life, nature and civilisation are challenged and eclipsed, swept aside in the cosmic current of an evolutionary spiritual roller-coaster, tilting like a gyroscope, whirling around the curve of consciousness, ascending the spiral spine of evolution!
Hippies – all there peeling naked and painted under the orange glow of a new horizon coming into view, like the Earth seen in space for the first time ,surely a synchronistic sign of universal oneness , of joy and wonder at the times!? At least it was so for the Hippies. Let other generations envy them and future generations inherit the collective spirit of: The Colourful and Kaleidoscopic Hippies! The first (collective) Aquarian’s.
HIPPY. N. Late 20th century person with a psychedelic attitude to life. (Greek PSYCHE,Soul, and DELOS, expand.) – The Encyclopaedia Psychedelica, VoI .1
Hippy -a rag -tag name that even now, still disturbs, provokes, irritates and upsets ,annoys, even terrorises some, and thus its potency and relevance persists today and cannot easily be dismissed or forgotten.
I say collective spirit because there are/were many types and a broad range of distinct and different individuals and groups, countries and origins, isms and schisms amongst and between them -blooms if you like; but let me jump right in and say right away that the one thing that united them altogether under a rainbow umbrella was their unique collective experience of Oneness.
The Planet was one. The Universe was One. You too, Pilgrim, could be One.
You might say triumphantly , musically, mythologically, magically , and definitely even romantically that they were the fruits of Earth’s fibrous nerve centres, its most sensitive antenna called by Gaia and the Universe to sprinkle a little love and wisdom . Oh yes , those very colourful, horny and flamboyant and, broadly speaking, dynamic and zoned out Hippies. I jest, of course, because all that seems touchingly quaint now, so naive, all that flower power and paint, – bleached and blotched out…
Snigger if you must and yawn if you will, I admit I get a little dismayed at times, not to say pissed off, with the time and tide and all the tripe that is written about them, from time to time , stoned (haha) by the media, governments and institutions, ridiculed , vastly distorted and misrepresented and outright degraded and dismissed. Yes, it irritates still, and I very much want to give a little attention to them and to what makes them so important and relevant still, and in particular to appraise their long over looked and under appreciated legacy, which is immense.
Let me first refresh you with some of the explosive mind expanding contents of the time they absorbed. Cosmic consciousness and LSD . Planetary Species and the One Universal Mind. Music, metaphysics and magic, insanity, madness, revolution and change. The sexual revolution, and Woman’s Liberation. Civil rights and Vietnam, San Francisco, Swinging London, Khatmandhu, psychedelic music, UFO, the contemporary avant-garde, angry young men and women, outsiders students agent provocatures , strident feminists disillusioned left wingers. Signs and symbols that went global from CND, to Yin-Yang, the Dove of Peace, Woodstock, One whole Earth, and that together evolved into – the ‘Counter-culture and the alternative society.
A new universal symbol was on the horizon, and it was the picture of the Earth in space, just as a the chrysalis of a new type of person began to appear in larger numbers…
Renaissance Flower-Children of the Revolution! Long Haired seed carriers. Psychological children, psychological people with hidden insights into the soul of man, who sang psychological songs and played metaphysical music about mystical states of being, blending music and magic, madness and metaphor, in a synaesthetic loop of cosmic consciousness.
The gentle dope dealer (not the hustler), the musician and the swelling underground gathering of artists, writers and travellers, troubadours and poets were the shapers , the primal architects and archetypes of the long haired hippy: the original role-model if you like , that went global. The precursors of the green ecologically minded care takers , scientists and environmental explorers , saviours and eco-warriors, planetary healers, global awareness brigades and cyber suited surfers that have spawned since.
Something is happening and you don’t know what it is , do you Mr. Jones? The words and music sent an electric current of knowing, that shot like a needle through the fevered skin of the underground, and evaporating, spreading like invisible spores…Everyday something fresh and new hit you, stunned you awake!
I suppose it all began with a now famous bicycle ride that Alfred Hoffman, a Swiss Chemist (soon Alchemist) took one day in Switzerland, where the properties of LSD were discovered by accident in 1943 as we was cycling!*. In the 1950’s it began to be used in therapies and in laboratory experiments .
Budding writer Ken Kesey, volunteered for such experiments in a hospital around 1960 and started turning on his friends.
He wrote his stunning novel ‘One Flew over the Cuckoos’ nest’ , while also getting very high. The Merry Pranksters were born on an epic trek across America in a day glow painted bus, equipped with sound and film equipment and a stash of LSD in orange juice. In 1965 Kesey invited Hell’s Angels round to a psychedelic party and the Pranksters also blew the minds of the Unitarian Church by putting on a show at their convention. Kesey ran into Augustus Owsley, who had an LSD factory in Los Angeles , and the acid tests began initiating thousands . This and much else is described in The Electric cool -aid Acid Test, – a must read book on the subject written by Tom Wolf.
Timothy Leary was a psychologist, who took magic mushrooms in Mexico also around 1960, and began giving psylocybin to undergraduates at Harvard as part of a research programme. This led to trouble and expulsion from Harvard, as well as deportation from Mexico. Leary was offered a large estate at Millbrook, upstate New York, owned by three young millionaires, the Hitchcock’s. There, between and 1964 and 1968 three centres of psychedelic religion appeared ,the Ashram of Guru Ji, and Bill Haynes, Art Klepps Neo-American Church, and Leary’s League for Spiritual Discovery.
Many Police raids later , This crashed n 1968 . Klepps and others were arrested, while police smashed shrines, took away money and forced Haynes to his knees on the Ice. Soon after Tommy , least sympathetic of the two brothers evicted everyone from the grounds . And soon after Leary went on the run as ‘The Most wanted man the world’. And later still, Kesey and some of the Pranksters moved to Oregon.
You could say it was the Pranksters who begat the Diggers and the Yippies that included Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin and Emmit Gorgan, the other Major players in the psychedelic drama.
LSD was outlawed and made illegal in October 1966 and Height Ashbury celebrated with the first ever be-in, or Love-Festival in which spectacular fugitive Ken Kesey turned up for a token appearance as the psychedelic Scarlet Pimpernell…
THE ORIGINAL HUMAN BE-IN.
A little cosmic history.
Michael Bowen and I became concerned about the philosophical split that was developing in the youth movement, and realized the change in consciousness and culture we were experiencing and which had to be communicated throughout the world could be damaged: The anti-war and the free speech student movement in Berkley thought the Hippies were too disengaged and spaced out – and the leaders were afraid their influence might draw the young away from resisting the war. The San Francisco Hippies thought the anti-war movement was doomed to endless confrontations with an establishment which would react with violence and fascism.
We decided we had to bring the two poles together. We felt that the ideals of peace, love and community could transform the world and end the war in Vietnam. We wanted to turn the world on, and we’d need to attract the spotlight from centre stage Vietnam/Washington to centre stage Height Ashbury, San Francisco.
Michael Bowen grounded much of the organising energy for the Be-Ins. He invited Timothy Leary and the Beat Poets to the Human Be -In, and arranged for it to be a worldwide media event. It was an overwhelming success.
Over 20,000 people came to Golden Gate Park. The psychedelic bands played: Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service. Poets Alan Ginsberg, Michael McClure and Lawrence Ferlinghetti read, chanted and sang.
Tim Leary told everyone to Turn on, Tune in, drop out.
The diggers gave out free food.
The Hells Angels guarded the generator cables that someone had cut.
Owsley Stanley gave out free acid.
A parachutist dropped like an angel from the sky and the whole world watched on the evening news.
Soon there would be Be-Ins and Love-Ins from Kansas to Kathmandu, and the spiritual, psychedelic and political aspects of youth culture would continue to grow hand in hand everywhere.
Allan Cohen, editor San Francisco Oracle. 1967.
BROADSIDES OF THE UNDERGROUND.
It was the broadsides that bequeathed a philosophical view underpinning the times
The sixties underground was international in breadth and scope – and the source of the alternatives that now exist. Widely spread through-out the period, alternative publications were a vital link in the dissemination of counter-cultural ideas that were linked to a press syndicate serving publications in Europe and in America. The UPS was set up in San Francisco in March 1967 had the following objectives:
(i) To warn the ‘civilised world’ of its impending collapse
(a) To set up communication among aware communities outside the establishment
(b) To reinstate reality -responsibility to mass media
(c) To note and chronicle events leading to the collapse
(a) to observe facts which reflect and unveil in advance the undercurrents dangerous to freedom.
(b) To provide an accurate history of the rapid changes coming about technological acceleration
(c) To advise intelligently to prevent rapid collapse and make transition possible
(a) To offer as many alternatives to current problems as the mind can bear
(b) To consciously lay the foundations of the 21st century
(c) To prepare the American people for the wilderness
(a) To instruct in survival techniques
(b) To seek out others of like thought and to recognize each tribe.
(c) To prepare ways of living should the machine stop.To fight a holding action in the dying city
(a) To advise how to reinstate balance to ecology
(b) Publish programmes for conservation and reclamation
What is astonishing in part is that, give or take a few tweaks here and there, how much of it is still radical today.
On the other side of the pond In Britain, International Times and Oz provided intellectual nourishment for the burgeoning and simmering avant-guarde underground that included Paul McCartney, RD lainge, Germaine Greere to just name a few; and something we will later explore in part two: Britain’s first Summer of Love.
THE LEGACY OF THE HIPPIES!
Oh!, and the drugs as well of course, catalysts of the mind, body and spirit: those delicious and exotic floral scents that added to the sweet perfume of the times, mixing with the exotic aromas and aromatic effects of other cultures , others places.
And brought back in a caravan that stretched from Amsterdam, Turkey, Iran, Morocco, Afghanastan and India. Holy-Smoke, blow, hash, weed, Paki, red leb, gold seal. Acapulco Gold,. Stoned words like heavy, ripped, Bogart, horrors, spaced out, roach, straight, toke, too much, quid deal, trip, uptight ,vibes, freak-out , hang-up, Karma, spike ,smack, acid, tabs, amp of meth, chillum,-bombed out , mind-fucking, high, way out, far out, happening , fucking, come down, bring down, man, blowing and billowing, and smokin’ and talking from the lip in the ergot of hip….
Ok, no denying, there were excesses all round, casualties, a dark side looming in the dark underbelly of the times, in the decadent and sublime overflow into indulgence and stupidy, insanity, madness and death. But that was only for some. For the majority it was an earth shatteirng, life transforming experience and one that had changed their lives forever. And for the better! And, you could say , that Woodstock was the Zenith.
But they were young, let us not forget, rosy cheeked and choked with naive optimism and reckless hope. And no wonder they seemed to be so overwhelmed at times, and not just by the power of L.S.D. Acid, in which the Genii, uncorked, unchained, granted heaven and hell and enchanted visions that plunged into cosmic consciousness, awakening the now fabled journey to the East.
The young vibrant Siddarthas , Hippie pilgrims on the road to Kathmandu. Pilgrims reading Hesse, Jung, Madame Blavatsky and Carlos Casteneda , Ken Kesy, In Search of the Miraculous and Meetings with Remarkable Men!
And in that move forward, rediscovering other worlds hidden inside and around us and bringing them forth.
INHERIT THE EARTH.
Ironically, because over looked, the Hippies were the great preservers and revivalists, considering they tore the wall down. One particular success of the hippies was to salvage and nourish interest in still living traditions of religion and philosophy, folk-lore , Shamanism, folk history, ethnology, and stimulate a cultural exchange that has been booming since – – even revitalising hidden aspects of Christianity , as well as developing sciences of neuro-psychology, alternative healing, ecology, wholistic energy sources and the first computers and concepts of recycling -a plethora of fresh and far reaching innovations,exciting ideas and life-styles that have since spored the Earth.
And birthing a new generation of ecologically minded caretakers, husbander’s, nourisher’s of the Earth. American, Canadian and Australian hippies reawakened an interest and pursuit of native traditions like Shamanism, tribal wisdom and community, nature and plant life.
Reviving and revivifying much that was lost or forgotten or ignored or unheard of .
WISDOM OF THE EAST.
Indian tradition and lore – eastern mysticism, esoteric traditions and teachings, Sufis from central Asia and Japan , Tibetan Buddhism. The list is long and distinguished .
Uncovering ancient traditions, some still thriving. Time honoured, venerable traditions and disciplines of wisdom and knowledge, philosophy and ideas, Gurus, and Teaching, disseminated in a fusion of East and West.
Buddhism, which had the widest impact in the west, first filtered through the Beats; just as the Swamis and Theosophists of the twenties and thirties before them with Madame Blavatsky, Annie Besant and Krishnamurti, and Rudolph Steiner, and swept forward in the titanic wave of the sixties on-rush.
Since then alternative centres have mushroomed, not to mention the plethora of alternative medicine, wholistic lifestyles, green sciences , health food, and a wide variety of psycho – therapies that have grown since. Places like Esalin, Poona and Rajnesh (the last of the sixties gurus) Brockwood park, Findhorn , to name just a few of the diverse blend of colleges where practical methods and means of study meditation and science and consciousness converge, embracing a new paradigm. music and metaphysics , technology and science
Now there is an astonishing array of literature on these subjects. And lastly – today in the west , perhaps the most successful of all: Yoga. In striving for balance (yin-yang) inside and out, they brought the cure.
In some ways hippie ideals and ideas will remain the touchstone, the brimstone and the treacle, and for some time to come, because that remains the imperative still: the evolution of consciousness and the awareness that provides the basic blue-print for saving the planet. –
‘Take the wisdom of the East and the Science of the west , and Seek! G.I. Gurdjieff.