Flower Power…America: Love it or Leave it or Make Love, Not War. A meeting of the hippie tribes at Monterey (where Boomers discover Jimi Hendrix)…Sgt Pepper confuses AM…Abbie Hoffman. The Great Society attacks the Rising Tide of Hungry Freaks, Daddy (Zappa). Hippies ridicule traditional American symbols and hold a Death to Hip ceremony.
Flower Power exploded into full bloom during the summer of 1967, and at the same time America experienced the worst inner city riots in history. The Beatles told us that All You Need Is Love, but President Johnson announced, “America needs a force of at least half a million soldiers (Boomer boys) to win the war inVietnam.” Choose your bumper sticker: “America- Love It or Leave It” or “Make Love, Not War.”
Hippies didn’t own TVs, and this had an interesting effect on the most thinly disguised reflections on the tube. No new soap opera titles premiered in 1967. The networks refused to leak any clues as to the mood of the country for reasons of national security. But the cover-up only half worked. Dig just a bit deeper and you realize that elimination can be just as revealing as addition. The networks cancelled To Tell the Truth and Candid Camera in 1967. There would be nothing candid and very little truth on the tube this year.
The Smothers Brothers’ Comedy Hour stood out as the only new television program worth watching. Tom and Dick constantly walked the razor’s edge of censorship. Ex-black list survivor, Pete Seeger, starred on their premiere show, singing his anti-Vietnam tune, Waist Deep in Muddy Water. The Smothers continued to push topical political issues throughout their run, even though they faced heavy censorship and the threat of cancellation on a week-to-week basis.
The TV networks gave up on the growing hippie market and aimed directly at innocent, younger Boomers. The new game plan tried to give the kids a good, hard look at the American Dream with fun new shows like The Dating Game, The Newlywed Game, Dream Girl of ‘67 and Supermarket Sweepstakes. What more could a teenager expect from life? But TV warned young Boomers, “If you stray from the accepted norms of society and fall under the influences of the Dark Side (the counterculture), The Man has both Coasts covered with Dragnet (in LA) and N.Y.P.D.”
The Western genre experienced a revival when the old Texan entered the White House. But now, Lyndon’s popularity waned in the polls. A growing dissatisfaction with his Vietnam policy chipped away at LBJ’s image, and reflected in the two new horse operas on TV in 1967. In Cowboy in Africa, the hero attempted to bring his pioneer spirit and the Code of the West half way around the world into a foreign, modern day setting. The show flopped, as did The Legend of Custer. Both shows appeared to be omens of Lyndon’s Last Stand in Vietnam.
ROCK & ROLL
If one had to choose an exact date when First Wave Boomers turned off TV, a good guess might be January 13, 1967. That night Ed Sullivan forced the Rolling Stones to sing Let’s Spend Some Time Together, instead of Let’s Spend the Night Together. Every teenager in America knew the title of the song and his blatant censorship didn’t fool anyone. One would think that old Ed might have learned a lesson from his “Show-nothing-from-the-waist-down” fiasco with Presley, but apparently not. Prior to the show, an innocent interpretation of the lyrics might have been “Let’s hang out together this evening,” but once Ed censored the line, millions of Boomers arrived at the same conclusion: “If the lyrics upset Old Stoneface, the song’s about fornicating!” The tune became a huge hit for the Stones.
Boomers tuned in to two songs inspired by the riots and ensuing crackdown on WASP teens on the Sunset Strip. The message far outweighed the talent of an LA garage band called the Seeds in You’re Pushing Too Hard (“on me/ What you want me to be?/ You’re pushing too hard about the things I say/ You’re pushing too hard every night and day/ You’d better watch out”). The Buffalo Springfield warned, “Something’s happening here/ What it is ain’t exactly clear/ There’s a man with a gun over there/ Telling me to beware… Step out of line the Man will come and take you away/ You’d better stop, Children. What’s that sound? Everybody look what’s coming down.”
The Beatles finally released a single to celebrate the New Year: “Let me take you down, because I’m going to Strawberry Fields (the location of an orphanage/asylum run by the Salvation Army in Liverpool)/ Nothing is real and nothing to get hung about/ Strawberry Fields forever.” If the Great Society served as the yardstick of sanity, then it would be, from this point onward, an honor in hippie circles to be considered as a potential inmate of Strawberry Fields. The little flurry of backwards music as a tag for the song made the perfect exclamation mark for the statement.
Ironically, the Beatles’ last live concert took place in San Francisco’s CandlestickParkin August of 1966, just as a wave of psychedelia overwhelmed the music industry. Instead of fighting the trend, and attempting to pull the Boomer audience back to a safer ground of good-time Rock, (where the band ruled as heavyweight champ) the Beatles decided to go with the flow. They created a sound more psychedelic than anything originating out of San Francisco. The lads spent more than 700 hours recording Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (as opposed to only twelve hours on their first album), and all of their hard work produced what many critics consider as the most important LP of our generation. The album is without question the most accurate reflection of the era and it revolutionized the music industry. Sgt. Pepper stunned their fans. Kids stopped dancing and then sat down to listen. Many Top 40 AM stations interrupted their normal programming, and, for the first time ever, played an album in its entirety over and over again. Radio stations had no choice. Teens insisted. No singles could be pulled for release because the album presented a cohesive opus with a theme. None of the cuts fit Top 40 formulas, and the songs confused AM stations and record companies. Music critics finally admitted that Rock & Roll might indeed be a legitimate art form. Rapt teens listened to “She’s leaving home after living alone for so many years,” and then, the Beatles added hope: “Does it worry you to be alone?/ No, I get by… I get high… I’m going to try with a little help from my friends.” One didn’t have to be a genius to reduce the title of the next cut, Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds, to the initials LSD. Band manager Brian Epstein begged his boys to stay away from controversial material but he no longer controlled them. The Beatles belonged to the counterculture (and vice versa).
As might be expected, Rock Hysteria raised its ugly head again. The press renamed Haight-Ashbury, “LSDisneyland,” and a local bus line offered visitors a tour of “The only foreign country on American soil.” Time, Newsweek, Look, Life and major newspapers droned on about runaways, delinquency, bad trips, VD and teen orgies.
London’s Evening Standard asked John Lennon for his views on organized religion in February of 1966. John honestly and accurately commented on the decline of the churches’ influence on modern society, and casually remarked, “It’s sad, but we’re more popular than Jesus now.” The remark went unnoticed in England, but five months later on the eve of the Beatles’ American tour, ugly headlines screamed, “Beatles Claim to be Bigger Than Christ!” A wave of anti-Beatles demonstrations spread across the South and clergymen, God-fearing AM stations and the KKK organized bonfires of their records. 35 radio stations banned their music, from New York to Salt Lake City. Pastor Thurmond Babbs of Cleveland threatened to excommunicate anyone who attended a Beatles concert. The audience threw trash and firecrackers at the band on stage in Memphis, as the Klansmen held a demonstration just outside the doors.
Paul McCartney announced in 1967 that SPLHCB did indeed drop a tab of acid from time to time. Even Brian Epstein admitted to experimenting a bit, but quickly added, “That was before LSD was declared illegal.” That statement was the final straw for many American parents. They had considered the Beatles as a safe alternative to bad boy groups like the Rolling Stones, but now, apparently even the Fab Four had been corrupted by the devil’s music.
Hollywood dusted off the Rock Hysteria genre and popped out Riot on the Sunset Strip (shades of High School Confidential), in which a cop’s daughter gets drugged and raped by LA hippies. The picture flopped.
Dick Clark called psychedelic music “the death of Rock & Roll.” Law enforcement agencies in every major city in America cracked down on teenage runaways, underage prostitutes, loiterers, panhandlers and dopers, but too late. Unlike wimpy teenagers from the First Golden Age of R&R in the 1950s, Boomers had an international communication network to rely on. The War Babies’ Army had been only half as big, and Boomer teens felt a special kinship, with Lyndon and his dirty little war as the common enemies. Boomer rebels were not without a cause.
Hollywood couldn’t afford any more flops like Riot on the Sunset Strip. If the kids wanted outlaws, misfits, rebels and antiheroes, so be it. The studios offered Bonnie and Clyde. Clyde, a good-hearted, bungling bank robber, thought of himself as a modern day Robin Hood, but was actually a cold-blooded killer who couldn’t get it up. When he finally does make it with Bonnie, the audience feels that Clyde now has a substitute for violence, and the two fugitives will probably give up their life of crime and settle down to raise a family. But in Hollywood, the bad guys must always pay for their sins, and thus a few hundred rounds from the good guys riddle the two outlaws just before the closing credits roll.
Boomers enjoyed The Graduate even more. Dustin Hoffman didn’t look or act like Cary Grant or Warren Beatty. He was a short, low-key guy with a big nose… just the kind of kid who Boomers could identify with. A friend of his father confided in Benjamin at his graduation party: “I’ve got just one word to say to you, Son. Plastics. The future is plastic.” Benjamin searched for the meaning of that word and found it in the world of his parents… cold, empty, lonely and phony old people everywhere. Money and security couldn’t compensate one for such a plastic life, and Ben decided to follow his heart rather than the good advice of his elders. He grabbed his girl and ran. The last shot of the film hit the teenager audience hard. The script called for the two fugitives to hop on the bus, laughing as happy refugees of that plastic world, but the scene just didn’t feel right to director, Mike Nichols. He forced the young couple to repeat the action over and over again. By the 30th take, Hoffman and Katherine Ross, tired and upset and on the verge of tears, felt very insecure. “Print and wrap!” Just the feeling that Nichols wanted as the perfect ending for the film. Millions of Boomer kids left home this year with those same mixed emotions… but they hoped that they could make it with a little help from their friends.
The soundtrack for The Graduate by Simon and Garfunkel blended perfectly with the story. Sounds of Silence and Mrs. Robinson captured the feeling of alienation that Boomers had for their parents, and Big, Bright, Green Pleasure Machine mocked the elder sets’ all-consuming passion for the dollar. The film raked in lots of those, and instantly rock scores became acceptable for mainstream Hollywood.
The first major Rock documentary hit the screen in ‘67, with Don’t Look Back. Teens waited two long years for a peek at Dylan’s 1965 European Tour. Bob held cue cards in the opening scene for a counterculture sing-along of Subterranean Homesick Blues. Allen Ginsberg, representing the Beats (of the War Baby Generation), pranced in the background to the song that first united folk protest lyrics with a solid R & R beat. Concert footage shows British Boomers falling right in step with Dylan’s music.
“What we have here is failure to communicate,” the authority figure lectured rebellious, antihero Cool Hand Luke. How right he was, and how ironic, that in the year that America celebrated the installation of the 100,000,000th phone (we now owned more than half the phones in the world), Boomer teens barely spoke to their parents. Hollywood offered a wonderful reflection of the event with The President’s Analyst. James Coburn’s star patient confides that the phone company is on the verge of overthrowing the United States Government. This black comedy seemed a little too realistic for teens and young adults currently reading 1984 and Brave New World while discussing the evils of Big Brother.
What is a Hippie? Answer: “Someone who questions authority.” What is the favorite question of a hippie? Answer: “In an insane society, who should be called sane?” The theme reflected best in King of Hearts, a film about a small French village, surrounded by the German and British/Scottish Armies during WWII. The citizens flee in terror in anticipation of a bloody battle, leaving the town in the hands of forgotten inmates at the local insane asylum. The lunatics escape, and then have a wonderful time playing the roles of normal merchants and tradesmen…until two opposing armies converge on the town. The whackos stop to watch the soldiers marching round and round the town square, just out of view of each other. Finally, one Private glances over his shoulder and spots the enemy. The two armies halt, turn and fire in an orderly fashion, and wipe each other out down to the last man. The inmates wildly applaud the spectacle, thinking it to be nothing more than a game. The crazies think it inconceivable that these men would actually kill each other. The village returns to normal by sundown… the Allied Forces take control of the area, the sane citizens resume their lives and the lunatics return to the asylum. As the Army marches away to its next battle, one soldier (played by Alan Bates) considers the situation and decides to desert. He stands naked at the gates of the asylum in the last shot, begging for them to let him in. He chose Strawberry Fields Forever over battlefields… and millions of Boomer boys agreed with his decision.
ROCK & ROLL
We didn’t get to see the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour in 1967. The lads were finally on their own because Brian Epstein (“Don’t do anything too controversial”) died of a drug overdose. The Beatles celebrated their new freedom by producing and directing a film. It aired in Britain, but the finished product shocked American network executives. They expected a nice little song and dance film from the Fab Four, but instead received what they considered as a drug-inspired, psychedelic bit of insanity. Needless to say, American TV refused to play the show.
The Beatles belonged to the counterculture and other groups climbed on board. The Big Mamas of Motown, the Supremes, in March sang, “It shook me, took me right out of my world/ It happened to me and it could happen to you… The Happening.” Peter, Paul and Mary pulled in folk music purists with I Dig Rock & Roll Music: “But if I really say it/ The radio won’t play it/ Unless I lay it between the lines.” The tribes gathered together. The music on FM radio became their 6 o’clock news. The Rascals were Grooving (“Couldn’t get away too soon”). Aretha Franklin, in April, revived Otis Redding’s prior request, and now she demanded Respect. The Grass Roots created a new anthem for Boomers in May: Let’s Live for Today, and Scott McKenzie recommended, “If you’re going to San Francisco/ Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair.” The Association claimed that you would find a beautiful girl named Windy there, “Tripping down the streets of the city, smiling at everybody she sees.” But they warned, “Windy has stormy eyes that flash at the sound of lies.” Even prefab puberty rockers, the Monkees, attacked the American Dream with Pleasant Valley Sunday (“Here inStatusSymbolLand”). All of this served as an overture to the real Summer of Love. The Doors seized the number one spot in June: “You know that it would be untrue/ You know that I would be a liar/ If I was to say to you/ Girl, we couldn’t get much higher/ Come on, Baby, Light My Fire.”
American parents gasped as Britain chose the Beatles as their representatives on an international live broadcast of Our World for 200,000,000 viewers. Lennon and McCartney composed All You Need Is Love for the occasion, and the band performed the tune with a sing-along choir of celebrities and friends. At that moment, Boomers truly believed that the magic of Rock & Roll would change the world for the better.America’s mainstream press claimed that the counterculture scene remained isolated to San Francisco, with an occasional flare up in Los Angeles and New York City, but now, the Beatles demonstrated that this was an international movement (or epidemic, for those over thirty).
American Boomers still craved their own arena… one specific place and time where all the tribes could gather to show their force to the world. In mid-June 50,000 hippies and freaks (most of them without money for tickets) showed up for the 3-day music festival at the Monterey County Fairgrounds (capacity- 7,100). A low-budget film crew cranked away as the kids turned on to sitar music from Ravi Shankar, Funk from Booker T & the MGs, Motown (Detroit) Soul from Otis Redding, Chicago Blues from the Butterfield Blues Band, Pure Folk from Laura Nero and Simon and Garfunkel, Folk Rock from the Byrds and the Mamas and Papas, SF Psychedelic from Big Brother (with Janis), the Grateful Dead and the Airplane, Hard Rock & Boogie from LA, the Buffalo Springfield and Canned Heat, and from Britain, the Who and Eric Burton’s New Animals. Tens of thousands of WASP teens heard for the first time a wonderful blend of world music that had never played on Top 40 radio. To hell with the established Music Industry… Boomers chose their own music from this day forward.
As a climax to the event, America discovered Jimi Hendrix. He could do it all. Jimi played roots Rock with Little Richard, funky R&B with the Isley Brothers, and lots of Soul and Blues on the “Chitlin’ Circuit.” He dug Dylan, and if Bob had the nerve to sing with that terrible voice, then so could Jimi. Hendrix didn’t have much initial success as he fronted a group at little clubs like the Café Wha? in Greenwich Village for $25 a night. But Chas Chandler of the Animals spotted Hendrix and convinced him to come to England, where he teamed Jimi up with Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell to form the Jimi Hendrix Experience. The band burned up all of Europe. The Experience remained a rumor here in America, and hadn’t even been asked to play at Monterey until Paul McCartney recommended the group.
The Experience managed to grab the closing spot on the bill, but they would have to follow two tough acts. The Who climaxed their set with My Generation. Townsend leaped all over the stage and smashed his guitar to bits, as Daltrey swung his microphone over his head and then crashed it on the cymbals as smoke bombs exploded. Next up, Jerry Garcia of the Dead wasted no time in winning over the crowd: “Folding chairs are for folding up and dancing on.” The audience obeyed. Finally, the unknown Experience took the stage and the crowd sat dumbfounded through the first couple of numbers. They had never seen or heard anything like Jimi. Hendrix plowed into a heavy-duty version of Dylan’s Like a Rolling Stone and the audience snapped out of its trance and leaped to their feet. Jimi played his guitar with his teeth, behind his back, over his head and between his legs. He humped one of the amplifiers as he continued on with Wild Thing. Jimi made tender love to his Stratocaster, caressing the strings, and then gently laying it down. But instead of climbing on top as the crowd now expected, Hendrix doused the guitar with lighter fluid and set it aflame. The screaming feedback from the Strat pierced the air with a terrible death moan. This was obviously a mercy killing of his dearest love, with thousands of witnesses in attendance. The Experience lived up to their name.
Ironically, the performance deeply impressed Peter Tork, and he convinced Dick Clark to book The Experience as the opening act of the upcoming Monkees’ tour. Their pre-puberty fans booed Jimi off the stage and the Experience retreated back to Britain. But the legend continued with the over-twelve Boomer crowd, and by the end of the summer, the album, Are You Experienced and the single, Purple Haze sat atop the charts.
The Beatles and Dylan will probably be rated as greater influences on the Boomer generation in the final analysis, but Jimi made all the pieces fit. Monterey became a melting pot in which the many voices of the counterculture movement blended together for the first time, and Hendrix acted as the catalyst. As a fluent artist in most of the major musical languages, Jimi translated Blues, R&B, R&R, Funk, Folk, Jazz and Psychedelia into a tongue that any Boomer could understand.
Like Jackie Robinson in baseball, Hendrix broke the color barrier in Rock. Before Jimi, even superstars like Chuck Berry and Little Richard played with all-Black backup bands, restricted to R&B, Funk, Soul and more recently Motown… the Negro League of Rock & Roll. White covers usually outsold the originals. But with Hendrix, color became irrelevant… He was simply one of the two best guitarists (kids called Eric Clapton “Godshead”) at a time when teenagers considered that to be the noblest of skills in the most honored profession. Clapton, and perhaps Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck and Mike Bloomfield may have been Jimi’s equals as far as technique went, but none could match his versatility or mastery of electronic gear. In Hendrix’s large, gifted hands a guitar became the blast of a machine gun, the roar of fighter jet, the fury of hell, the flutter of angel’s wings, soft rain or cross-town traffic. Young guitarists today still try to analyze the work of the master. Hendrix brought Rock & Roll into the Space Age. Jimi made Monterey, which in turn led to Woodstock.
TURN ON, TUNE IN FM RADIO
America owned more TV sets than toilets by 1967, and the over-thirty crowd obtained most of their information from sound bites on the network news. Boomers found alternative sources. Local underground newspapers sprung up in most major American cities, informing the growing hippie population of relevant news for their communities. Thirty of these no-budget rags joined forces in 1966 to form the Underground Press Syndicate, in an effort to share ideas and information. “We are in favor of evolution, not revolution,” explained Alan Katzman of NYC’s East Village Other. “We hope to transform the middle class by internal and external stimuli, by means of media and LSD.” Logically, the next step was a national counterculture publication with Rock & Roll as its raison d’etre. Finally, in October of 1967, Jan Wenner, a 21-year-old unemployed writer and a couple of his buddies scraped together $7,500, and began publishing the Rolling Stone in San Francisco. Now, even those teens freaking out in Mina-mina-mina-Minnesota could catch the buzz at their local newsstand.
DJ, Tom “Big Daddy” Donahue opened up another party line of counterculture communication. Unlike poor Alan Freed, Big Daddy escaped to the West Coast just before the payola scandals hit the East in 1959. Donahue had a good gig at Top 40 AM station, KYA in San Francisco by 1961, because management looked the other way when he snuck R&B and genuine Rock into the program. Big Daddy opened his show with, “I’m here to blow your minds and clean up your face.” He began promoting concerts in 1963, and created Autumn Records the following year. Big Daddy and his partner, Bobby “Mighty Mitch” Mitchell attempted to bring the Beatles to town in 1965, but had to settle for the lesser known Rolling Stones, and Mick and company turned out to be just the right band at the right time for Frisco. But Big Daddy Donahue became bored with the restrictions of AM radio by 1967, and he spent much of his time at home, dropping acid and spinning records for friends. One day, a man from Electra Records stopped by with the debut album of a LA group. The final cut swirled with drug-induced nightmare images and/or the ranting of a madman that rambled on for eleven minutes. “Did he just say, ‘Father, I want to kill you, and Mother, I want to Aaaarrrggghhh’?” asked Big Daddy. He knew that The End by the Doors and other counterculture weirdness would never clear the censors for AM radio, and yet, these bands packed in the kids every time they played. The product and the market begged for a connection… a way to deliver the goods. Donahue and a couple of friends decided to buy the 6 PM-to-midnight spot on a dumpy little foreign language FM radio station, bring down an armful of their favorite albums and give them a spin. Did Big Daddy invent underground FM radio? Impossible to say, because lots of little maverick stations popped up all over the country in 1967. We do know that Donahue was the first to broadcast from the heart of the counterculture (San Francisco).
Do you remember the early days of FM radio? The audience heard few, if any paid commercials and the DJs made little, if any money. The job only required that the applicant own an extensive and eclectic record collection (because the stations didn’t) and be satisfied with sub poverty-line wages. FM DJs spoke mellowese, exactly the opposite of AM rapid-patter hype, and played and rapped about whatever felt good. No business executives or corporate sponsors censored them. Only news that related to the hippie community aired on FM: play-dates of underground bands or next love-in, sit-in, teach-in or anti-war demonstration, who’s been busted, who’s been burned, and the latest updates on any bad acid that’s floating around town.
AM Top 40 formulas didn’t work on FM radio. No-budget operations didn’t hassle with two-and-a-half minute pop singles. FM jockeys had no play lists or charts and preferred to put on an spacey album and let it play: Black or hybrid White R&B, sitar music, Jug Band music, Folk or Folk Rock, LA or SF Psychedelic and even tapes from local garage bands. This, of course, exposed the Boomer market to the likes of Big Brother, the Dead, Quicksilver, Country Joe and the Fish, the Doors, Zappa, the Fugs and Phil Ochs.
Within a year, nearly every Boomer teen inAmericalived within range of at least one underground FM station. They handed down their AM transistor radios to younger siblings and bought albums, rather than singles. LPs became the Boomer standard, and this new, more expensive taste had an immediate impact… the record industry topped the billion dollar mark for the first time in 1967.
Top 40 AM stations suddenly found themselves competing with, or even trailing the new, much smaller FMs in many markets, and the Music Industry had no choice but to ease up censorship rules. Longer cuts with more radical lyrics hit the pop charts. Drug references, taboo before the Summer of Love, now couldn’t be separated from the appealing outlaw image. AM rationalized playing the Byrds’ Eight Miles High in 1966 because the song could be taken literally with an innocent interpretation about soaring through the skies, rather than the effect of drugs. In 1967 Rock lyrics pulled no punches. How could the music establishment explain: “I’d love to turn you on,” or “One pill makes you larger and one pill makes you small… Feed your head,” or “But have you ever been experienced… Well, I have”? AM even played a “how to” drug song, about covering up the fragrant aroma of marijuana with Incense and Peppermints.
Top 40 listeners heard references to casual sex for the first time, as the Beatles broke new ground: “Took her home and almost made it, sitting on the sofa with a sister or two (followed by heavy breathing).” Soon after, the sound of passionate lovemaking played on at least one cut of every psychedelic album. The topic heated up: “Play with me and you won’t get burned/ Let me stand next to your fire” and “Come on, Baby, Light My Fire.”
AM radio did, however refuse to compromise on songs that criticized the Military/Industrial Complex. Feel-Like-I’m-Fixing-to-Die Rag never made the Top 40 with, “Come on, Wall Street, don’t move slow/ Here’s your chance to make more gold/ there’s plenty good money to be made/ Supplying the Army with the tools of the trade…And it’s one, two, three what are we fighting for? Don’t ask me, I don’t give a damn/ Next stop is Vietnam.” Nor did Phil Ochs’ The War Is Over. But it really didn’t matter what AM played because, by the end of 1967, a Boomer teen could say, I Heard It Through the Grapevine on FM.
The National Counterculture Communication Network emerged independent, strong and complete by the end of the year. Boomers no longer depended on the censored newscasts of the Geritol Generation, and they didn’t miss the hype and mass manipulation a bit. They had been the main target of oldest con game in advertising for nearly two decades: Attach an attractive, forceful symbol to a boring product (as in “Tony the Tiger” to Cornflakes). As the original electronic, mass-media generation, Boomers were the first to figure out that symbols are more important than substance to Middle America. Young people performed a little mass manipulation of their own by attacking some of the most cherished symbols of our society: the flag, the dollar bill and the Pentagon.
How can you get a million bucks worth of media coverage for, literally, a fist full of dollars? Ask Abbie Hoffman. In 1967, he and a few friends scraped up as many one-dollar bills as they could lay their hands on, divided the money, and then waited in line with the tourists at the New York stock Exchange on Wall Street. The scruffy group was almost thrown out by security, but Abbie started screaming, “They’re trying to keep Jews out of the Stock Market!” This confused the guards and they allowed the kids to continue. The counterculture commandos approached the viewing area high above the trading action, stepped to the rail and tossed the money into the air. Chaos broke out down on the main floor as stockbrokers scrambled after the bills like a pack of hungry mongrels after a bone. The electronic ticker tape machine (“the heartbeat of the Western World”) stopped cold. Reporters had been tipped off in advance, and TVs and newspapers broadcast the story almost as soon as it happened. “Hippies Shut Down Wall Street!” Granted, only for a few minutes, but long enough to demonstrate to Middle America the epidemic of petty greed in Big Business. What was the total cost of this amazing National anti-ad campaign? $300.
The counterculture went after another of America’s sacred icons in October. If the “March on the Pentagon” had proceeded with the initial plan of peaceful and serious demonstration, America would have seen only token news coverage. The Hippies decided to add a little spice to the occasion to stir up National interest. They claimed in interviews that the unholy five-sided shape of the Pentagon had always been a common symbol in witchcraft and black magic, and therefore a spell must be cast on the evil building to raise it off the ground as soon as possible to exorcise the demon spirits within. They volunteered to take measurements of the building to determine the exact number of (good) witches necessary to accomplish the task. Hoffman claims to have applied for a “raising permit,” but a sticking point of “How high?” delayed the process. Finally, an official decision stated that the demonstrators would be allowed to raise the Pentagon “up to, but not exceeding, an altitude of ten feet.” This confused the media, but they ate up every word. News leaked that mace had been issued to DC cops to use on the crowd, and the Hippies confessed to reporters that counterculture chemists had created a new weapon called Lace… LSD mixed with mace. “The acid penetrates the skin and makes the sprayee so horny that he or she is rendered helpless. Thousands of Lace squirt guns will be distributed to the demonstrators.” Allen Ginsberg chanted “O-o-o-o-m-m-m-m,” the Fugs sang Kill For Peace, 647 people (including Norman Mailer) were arrested and thousands of stoned-out hippies, to this day, swear that they saw the Pentagon rise up off the ground in the dawn’s early light.
One of the most powerful and well-known reflections of the Flower Power era happened right there, just outside the walls of the Pentagon at this demonstration. Super Joel, a street person fromBerkeley, walked right up to one of the National Guard soldiers on the line, placed a flower into the barrel of his rifle, and then flashed him the peace sign. The photograph of the scene became the classic image of 1967, symbolic of the inevitable confrontation between the Great Society and “the rising tide of Hungry Freaks, Daddy.” What happens when an irresistible force meets an unmovable object? Boomers would see for themselves a few months later inChicago.
Meanwhile, back on the six o’clock news… Communist China exploded its first hydrogen bomb, Israel emerged the victor in the “Six-day War,” hundreds died and tens of thousands were injured in ghetto riots in several American cities and Stokely Carmichael broadcast a message from Havana urging Blacks to arm themselves for “total revolution.” Muhammad Ali, who single-handedly remade boxing into a popular sport, announced that he was willing to give up his career by refusing induction into the Army. “I’m doing this for my religion. I’m serious. I’m ready to die for my religion… why should they ask me and other so-called Negroes to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam when so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights? I am not going to help murder and kill and burn other people simply to help continue the domination of the white slave masters over the dark people the world over… The real enemy of my people is right here.” The news on New Year’s Eve told us that 9,378 American Boomers died during the year in Vietnam.
It was time for a change. The Rascals asked in August, How Can I Be Sure (“in a world that constantly changing?”), but in September, the Who boasted, I Can See For Miles. What had improved the perception of counterculture in such a short period of time? Gladys Knight explained, I Heard It Through the Grapevine. A group of hippies held a Death of Hip ceremony in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco in October. They cremated a coffin containing all sorts of hippie paraphernalia and marijuana cookies, sang God Bless America, and chanted, “Hippies are dead.” Now,Middle America was really confused. What were these kids trying to pull?