I was in junior high when psychedelia hit the modern world — or my modern world, anyway. My aunt was heading to San Francisco for a business trip and my mom teased her by singing, “If you’re going to San-Fran-Cisco, better wear some flowers in your hair.” Psychedelia had an enormous impact on music but it was also really pretty exciting for fashion and pop culture. It affected decorating all through the early 70s (if you don’t believe it Google “70’s wallpaper”). At bottom, though, it wasn’t about flowers or decorating or music or even peace and love.
It was about drugs. Psychedelics were seen as a conduit to a spiritual experience. I can’t answer to that.
In high school (’68-’70), psychedelia lurked around the edges of our “time.” I vaguely remember discussions about Huxley’s Doors of Perception. Many of the people I knew “tried acid.” It was a pretty common question for a while, “Have you tried acid yet?” like it was inevitable. I never did even though, as most high school kids, I was concerned about being “cool”. I’d promised my dad WAY back in 1966 (psychedelia had reached our world, just not my little world of softball and summer days) I’d never do anything to my mind because, as he explained, “Even if your body doesn’t work anymore, MAK, if you have your mind, you can still work.” He had MS. My dad loved Aldous Huxley and I suspect that — besides the usual research done by this man with his questioning mind — he’d read Doors of Perception.
By the time I finished high school and entered college, psychedelia was entering its decayed phase, but it was definitely still there. It had been around long enough to have begun garnering consequences. The saddest of these were the involuntary or accidental suicides and the runaway kids who ended up on humanity’s rubbish heap sometimes right then, sometimes decades later.
Obviously, music was a huge part of psychedelia. Bands I didn’t like, couldn’t like, still can’t like — but some I liked such as Cream and Jefferson Airplane.
For a while anyone who wanted to sell albums in the rock genre had to have, at least, a psychedelic album cover. My two favorite bands — The Who and Steppenwolf — were not psychedelic bands but did have a couple of album covers that nodded to psychedelia.
And then there were all the rock-stars who “choked on vomit.” Booze — sometimes mixed with downers — still seemed to have been the “drug of choice.”
Once I was in college and away from home I did give being a hippy a decent shot, but it wasn’t for me. I found it very boring, got tired of being stoned and knew that in my deepest core, I’m not a peaceful person. I’m a fighter. I have felt alienated several times in my life, but those three months were some of the most alienating. I wondered if being a hippy weren’t just an affectation. It’s OK. Experimentation and self-discovery define the post-adolescent period of life.
Because I was not a drug user, my dorm room was sometimes the destination for friends who’d dropped acid. I seem to have had the ability to “talk people down” from a bad trip. I can still see in my mind’s eye the sleeping forms of tortured souls on the empty bed in my double dorm room.
It wasn’t until I was in my 40s that I knew anything about what was behind psychedelia. It was very interesting and it was science. My roommate — a post-adolescent — was very curious about drugs and resolved to try them. Stanislav Grof’s book, LSD Psychotherapy hung around in our bathroom for a while. I found it fascinating, scientific and persuasive, but I still didn’t “try acid.”
Or any other psychedelia. I think a person needs to know his or her own brain and I always suspected that there was something different — glitchy? — about mine.
There were — are — also many, many, many hippies in my life most of whom would have answered “yes” to the question, “Have you tried acid yet?” they’re great people. BUT…along with telling me to protect my brain, my dad encouraged me to retain my individuality no matter what. My experiments with “belonging” never worked out, so here I am, still believing that individual diversity makes the world work. Those who “belong” and those who stand outside have equal value in human social evolution. And while love really isn’t ALL you need, what are we without it?
Sometimes I look at the cultural schism in this country, and I see hippies on one side (liberal Democrats) and I forgot what we called the other side — Fascists? — on the other side. This is same divide that existed in my youth. The young progressives who despise the oldsters are still basically shouting, “Youth is truth!” and they’re just as ignorant as the hippies were and as likely to change the world in the direction they wanted to. The late 60’s and early 70’s were violent. The rosy lens of nostalgia sometimes obscures that, the pipe-bombs, the broken glass, the beaten bodies, the shootings on college campuses. The big issue was the Vietnam War and the draft.
The upshot of that, for me, is the all volunteer military which we cannot protest because anyone in the armed forces today signed up; they weren’t drafted.
So I dunno’ about this psychedelia thing. Far more honest to me in terms of music related social movements are those which came later, punk — even disco. Disco was about random sex and punk was about senseless noise and social protest. I can definitely get behind either of those.