The American Imagination on Acid:
The San Francisco Sound from
was an event to start a tradition. It
was the momentous beginning to an unparalleled
The San Francisco Sound
Bay Area of Alta California was the center of the counterculture. It was the focal point around which nearly
all of the radical movements of the era coalesced. Drawn there by the tradition of the Beat
generation, the hippies made the area around
Alice Echols writes of the bands of the area, “For better or for worse, they
were committed to eclecticism and experimentation, drawing on everything from
free-form jazz and jug band music to Indian ragas” (37-38). Extensive borrowing was one feature o the
June 16th through 18th, 1967, the Monterey Festival was supposed to be the first in a series of possibly annual events. Nearly all of the area’s most popular bands performed, along with a few invited guests. “Although [Otis] Redding, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and the Who gave knockout performances that weekend, the real star of the festival was the San Francisco scene—its music, light shows and groovy vibe” (Echols 39). The area bands were the most popular of all the acts, and the even garnered national attention for the local style of music.
was the Monterey Festival that brought the
changed with June 1967's Monterey International Pop Festival.
It was through this sudden
popularity that the
central feature of the
This experience became almost religious in nature. Bromell explains, “As research in the fields of psychopharmacology, religion and anthropology makes perfectly clear, psychedelics do something no other drugs can, and that mysterious something lies very close to the human sense of wonder that is formalized in the world’s religions” (62). LSD is able to stimulate the same areas of the brain to produce the same response as a deeply personal religious experience.
Through this type of experience, LSD succeeded in permanently altering the consciousness of its users. “People who dropped acid returned to ‘the real world’ with an altered sense of reality” (Farrell 210). The change, it seemed, triggered such a strong psychological response that it became permanent.
was this sense of altered reality which musicians attempted to convey in their
music with the
A previous wave of rebellion, earlier in the sixties, was marked by political radicalism. Like the hippies, these political radicals were reacting to the military-industrial complex which permeated the Bay Area. However, when they had run the course of their rebellion, these radicals awoke as if from a bad dream. With the counterculture, it would be impossible to return to their former lives as if nothing had ever changed. To a large extent, this is due to the LSD experience.
Political activists and politically-charged students of the early 1960's rebelled against “the Man” and “the Establishment.” However, in After All These Years: Sixties Ideals in a Different World, Lauren Kessler tracks these same people from their avocations in the sixties to their jobs in 1989.
Although they may retain their former beliefs, these people have almost become the very thing they once rebelled against. Another section of the book follows the “Cultural Activists” over the same time period. A surprising number of them are doing the same thing in the eighties as they were in the sixties.
While the author may have tailored her findings to support her hypothesis, it still seems significant that the political radicals have mostly returned to “normal” lives, while the counterculture radicals are still living their “alternative lifestyles.” Again, the LSD experience doubtlessly plays a large role in this dichotomy. Once they experienced
That dramatic event came in the form of the open-air concert at Altamont on 6 December 1969. “In the era’s lore, Woodstock [held only four months before] has become synonymous with the ‘good sixties,’ . . . while Altamont . . . has come to stand for the decade’s underside and the end of all that was hopeful in the hippie subculture” (46). Hastily organized and poorly planned, the concert soon turned into a catastrophe. It seemed the ideals of the Summer of Love, which had already been waning, were suddenly and violently expunged in the dark of the race track. Even before the concert was organized, or the location selected, former Digger Emmett Grogan dubbed it the “First Annual Charlie Manson Death Festival” (Graham 294). His words would prove prophetic.
Echols described the event as “A hastily thrown together open-air concert at a
speedway on the outskirts of
Stern, who attended the
For security, the Hell’s Angels were hired for $500-worth of beer. The Angels took this as a free license to take a pool cue to anyone they disliked. After dark, the Rolling Stones took the stage and the violence reached its peak as they started into their song “Sympathy for the Devil.” Lead singer, Mick Jagger, stopped singing at the commotion near the stage.
The audience could tell someone was badly hurt; people were trying to pass a body up to the stage. Mick Jagger, panic in his voice, pleaded, “Hey, we need a doctor here.” After ten more minutes of turmoil near the stage, the Stones finally finished the song.
kept singing “Sympathy for the Devil,” directly in front of him the Angels were
stabbing to death 18-year-old Meredith Hunter, a black youth from
murder had a profound effect on the community.
Organizers of the concert, like the Grateful Dead, refused to talk to
“outsiders” for some time afterward.
Stern says, “Thousands of believers in the
use of LSD, so vital to producing the San Francisco Sound, greatly influenced
the American imagination as the San Francisco sound hit the national music
scene. When it came to Altamont, however,
the hippies themselves were through.
Just a few months after
Bromell, Nick. Tomorrow Never Knows: Rock and
Psychedelics in the 1960s.
Cavallo, Dominick. A Fiction of the Past: the sixties in
Alice. Shaky Ground: The ‘60s and Its
James J. The Spirit of the Sixties:
The Making of Postwar Radicalism.
Graham, Bill, and Robert Greenfield. Bill Graham Presents: My Life Inside Rock and Out.
Lauren. After All These Years:
Sixties Ideals in a Different World.