Two far-out books about California counterculture reviewed by Erik Davis

I'm honored that in the latest issue of The Burning Shore, Erik Davis, scholar of West Coast counterculture, reviewed The Family Acid: California, Roger Steffens's far-out photo album I published with my Ozma Records partner Tim Daly! Erik's excellent essay is a double review, also focusing on the Anthology Editions reprint of Dennis Stock's striking California Trip book from 1968.

From Erik Davis's The Burning Shore:

Steffens’s use of multiple exposures is perhaps the key gesture here. The decision to re-expose film is a dice throw, an act of faith in the playfulness of multiple perspectives and the value of subjecting an already captured image to the serendipity of leaps through time. Such images are also, of course, hallucinatory, and some of Steffens’ are trippy as shit. They not only recall the formal and symbolic palimpsests of psychedelic vision, but loop the question of the photographic object back into the eye of the beholder: seeing these impossible scenes, we glimpse our own seeing, our own congealing of reality from the virtual.

Other Family Acid images feature artifacts like diffraction spikes, iridescent orbs, and weird lensing effects. (Check out the cover shot up top, which juxtaposes the classic clerestory light of redwood groves with a mandalic UFO flare.) These are special effects, my friends, evidence of that hippie will to hack media tech in the quest for unusual experiences. They also recall the more sacred lights you can only chance upon, in the strangest of places if you look at em right, those wink-wink psychedelic glimmers that occasionally illuminate parking lots, or crumpled beer cans, or goofball commercial signage—Phil Dick’s “trash stratum,” temporarily kindled into something high and holy and wholly profane.[...]

Read the rest

Marianne Faithfull survives COVID-19 hospitalization, returns home

After 22 days of being hospitalized with symptoms of COVID-19, and developing pneumonia, singer and counter-cultural icon, Marianne Faithfull, has been released from the hospital. Her official Facebook page writes:

We are really happy to say that Marianne has been discharged from hospital today, 22 days after being admitted suffering from the symptoms of Covid-19. She will continue to recuperate in London. Marianne thanks you all for your kind messages of concern which have meant a great deal through what is a such a difficult time for so many. She is also very grateful to all the NHS staff who cared for her at the hospital and, without doubt, saved her life.

In celebration, enjoy this tribute song that Marianne wrote upon the passing of her lifelong friend, Anita Richards (Keith's ex).

"Forever loving you," Marianne.

Image: YouTube Read the rest

Counterculture icon and psychedelic pioneer Ram Dass, RIP

Ram Dass -- counterculture icon, psychedelic pioneer, and spiritual guide -- has died at age 88. After turning on with his Harvard psychology colleague Timothy Leary in the early 1960s, Ram Dass (formerly Richard Alpert) became an intrepid explorer of higher consciousness and dedicated his life to teaching what he learned to the world. From Tricycle:

In Be Here Now, Ram Dass‘s first book for the masses, which has sold over 2 million copies since publication in 1971, he offered seekers an engaging, unconventional, slightly zany roadmap for finding a spiritual path and a more enduring connection to higher consciousness than a tab of acid could bring. From then on, in close to a dozen books and countless teachings, retreats, and podcasts, Ram Dass continued to share the wisdom of a journey that had long gone beyond personal transformation to embrace a cosmic worldview and social agenda...

“My life has been a dance between power and love,” he observed after the massive cerebral hemorrhage in 1997 that left the charismatic, preternaturally articulate teacher groping for words. “First part, till Harvard: power, power, power, power. Up until drugs, I thought power was the end all and be all, because I was a little individual. Then drugs: love, love, love, love. My first mushroom trip was so profound that I saw radiance was inside, and I said, ‘I’m home, I’m home, I’m home.'”

Read the rest

Exploitative news clip about London punk squatters in 1983

A short, exploitative 1983 news clip about punk squatters in the London Borough of Islington, complete with an uninformed, patronizing narrator: "What they lack in grey matter between the ears, they make up for in color on top."

(via r/ObscureMedia) Read the rest

The Family Acid: California, a far-out photo album from a very unconventional family

For more than 50 years, photographer Roger Steffens has explored the electric arteries of the counterculture, embracing mind-expanding experiences, deep social connection, and unadulterated fun at every turn. After serving in Vietnam at the end of the 1960s, Steffens immersed himself in California’s vibrant bohemia. With his wife Mary and children Kate and Devon, he sought out the eccentric, the outlandish, and the transcendent. Just as often, it found him, grinning, a camera in one hand and a joint in the other.  

My Ozma Records partner Tim Daly and I are honored to share with you this new collection of Steffens’ spectacular snapshots taken between 1968 and 2015 during the foursome’s freewheeling adventures throughout the visionary state they call home. Think of it as a family album belonging to a very unconventional family. 

This is The Family Acid: California.

Based in Los Angeles, the Steffens family traveled up and down the West Coast, from the wilds of Death Valley and reggae festivals in Humboldt to fiery protests in Berkeley and the ancient redwoods of Big Sur. Along the way, they’d rendezvous with friends like Bob Marley, Timothy Leary, and war photographer Tim Page, the inspiration for Dennis Hopper’s character in Apocalypse Now. They’d take in the wonders of nature and, of course, the adults would occasionally lose their minds in psychoactive celebrations of creativity, freedom, and hope.   

The Family Acid: California is a 192-page, large format book manufactured with the finest materials and attention to design as you've come to expect from Ozma Records, producers of the Voyager Golden Record: 40th Anniversary Edition. Read the rest

Pioneering punk print 'zine Maximum Rocknroll is ceasing publication after nearly 40 years

Maximum Rocknroll, the seminal punk print 'zine launched in 1982, is ceasing publication of its paper edition. This truly marks the end of an era in punk culture and underground media. According to today's announcement, MRR will continue its weekly radio show, post record reviews online, continue its archiving effort, and launch other new projects that will keep the unbreakable Maximum Rocknroll spirit alive. From MRR:

Maximum Rocknroll began as a radio show in 1977. For the founders of Maximum Rocknroll, the driving impulse behind the radio show was simple: an unabashed, uncompromising love of punk rock. In 1982, buoyed by burgeoning DIY punk and hardcore scenes all over the world, the founders of the show — Tim Yohannan & the gang — launched Maximum Rocknroll as a print fanzine. That first issue drew a line in the sand between the so-called punks who mimicked society’s worst attributes — the “apolitical, anti-historical, and anti-intellectual,” the ignorant, racist, and violent — and MRR’s principled dedication to promoting a true alternative to the doldrums of the mainstream. That dedication included anti-corporate ideals, avowedly leftist politics, and relentless enthusiasm for DIY punk and hardcore bands and scenes from every inhabited continent of the globe. Over the next several decades, what started as a do-it-yourself labor of love among a handful of friends and fellow travelers has extended to include literally thousands of volunteers and hundreds of thousands of readers. Today, forty-two years after that first radio show, there have been well over 1600 episodes of MRR radio and 400 issues of Maximum Rocknroll fanzine — not to mention some show spaces, record stores, and distros started along the way — all capturing the mood and sound of international DIY punk rock: wild, ebullient, irreverent, and oppositional.

Read the rest

Erik Davis talks Jack Parsons and "Babalon Rising"

In light of the forthcoming Ridley Scott-produced miniseries on the life of U.S. rocketry pioneer, JPL co-founder, and occultist, Jack Parsons, it's wonderful to see this brilliant discussion of Parsons, at least the occult dimensions of his work, making the rounds.

On this Occulture podcast, host Ryan Peverly welcomes Boing Boing pal Erik Davis to discuss two significant academic papers that Erik has recently published about Parsons, "Babalon Launching" [PDF], exploring the odd interplay of techno-science and occultism in Parsons' work, and "Babalon Rising," which examines Parsons' relationship with the divine feminine and the form of witchcraft he was developing before his untimely death in 1952 in a home lab explosion. It is fascinating to speculate how modern witchcraft might have been different if Parsons' (and wife Cameron's) witchcraft had come to fruition in the early 1950s alongside Gerald Gardner's brand of Wicca. Erik and Ryan are joined in the discussion by Miguel Conner (host of Aeon Byte/Gnostic Radio) and Jeff Wolfe (Secret Transmissions).

If you are unfamiliar with Parsons, he's an extremely important figure in both the development of American/California aerospace and modern occultism. The best book on Parsons, the one the miniseries is based on, is George Pendle's Strange Angel. The book Sex & Rockets, by the pseudonymous John Carter, delves more deeply into the occult and hedonistic aspects of Parsons' life. Read the rest

JOHN WILCOCK: The Diggers' Death of Money & Other Counterculture Moments of 1966

A variety of events from 1966, including Ken Kesey's Acid Test at The Filmore, Charles Whitman's attack at The University of Texas at Austin, and John Lennon's statement about the Beatles popularity over Jesus.

30 Years of Garbage: The Garbage Pail Kids Story

Excited to stumble upon this recently-released documentary on a real '80s phenomenon: 30 Years of Garbage: The Garbage Pail Kids Story*.

In the 1980s a bunch of underground cartoonists parodied a popular doll. The resulting commercial product tapped into the international kid zeitgeist. That young generation felt, rather than knew, that this product spoke to the rebellious nature they had for the corporate pop culture that was being fed to them. To quote Art Spiegelman, "We were bringing the counter culture to a new generation of kids, only it was the candy counter."

You can watch it on Amazon, like I will right now.

Update: I just watched it and it's fantastic. It goes deep into the GPK story, from start to finish. As a pop culture nerd, I have to say that I loved every minute of it.

*This is obviously NOT to be confused with The Garbage Pail Kids Movie from 1987. That is a whole 'nother beast. Read the rest

Summer of Love 'trading cards' hit San Francisco bus stops

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love, the city of San Francisco has created a trippy 13-poster series of "trading card" posters.

Conceived by Kate Haug and produced by Ivan Uranga, both Bay Area artists, the groovy posters feature the "all-stars of 1967s counterculture and political scene," including the likes of Joan Baez, Timothy Leary, Jerry Garcia, Sly Stone, Sonny Barger, Bobby Seale, Lenore Kandel, Allen Ginsberg, Janis Joplin, Reverend Cecil Williams, Janice Mirikitani, Joan Didion, and even Ronald Reagan.

According to a press release from the San Francisco Arts Commission:

Haug collaborated with Ivan Uranga to produce the poster’s bold graphic style. Drawing from the vernacular of trading card, black and white photographs of each personage is set against a vibrant background, reminiscent of the era’s psychedelic rock posters. Each figure is given a title that reflects his/her role in the Summer of Love. For example, Leary appears under the title “Psychedelic Evangelist” along with his famous call from the Human Be-In, the prelude to the Summer of Love, to “Turn on, tune in, and drop out.” The use of the trading card format suggests that these diverse legacies have been commodified, gaining and losing value through the passage of time.

The series includes other details that are the artist’s own invention. For example, a price is included on the bottom of each card, which was not standard trading card practice. She also uses the figures’ birthdates for their serial number. For instance, Allen Ginsberg is number 26, because he was born in 1926.

Read the rest

Fantastic avant-garde and counterculture posters for sale

The intrepid counterculture archivists/publishers of Boo-Hooray have posted their "Top 100 Posters" for sale. What a stunning collection of avant-garde art and design. It makes me yearn for the downtown scenes of the prior century. Read the rest

When science intersected with the counterculture, things got wonderfully weird

In the late 1960s and 1970s, the mind-expanding modus operandi of the counterculture spread into the realm of science, and shit got wonderfully weird. Neurophysiologist John Lilly tried to talk with dolphins. Physicist Peter Phillips launched a parapsychology lab at Washington University. Princeton physicist Gerard O'Neill became an evangelist for space colonies. Groovy Science: Knowledge, Innovation, and American Counterculture is a new book of essays about this heady time! The book was co-edited by MIT's David Kaiser, who wrote the fantastic 2011 book How the Hippies Saved Physics, and UC Santa Barbara historian W. Patrick McCray. I can't wait to read it!

From an MIT News interview with Kaiser:

We want to address a common stereotype that dates from the time period itself, which is that the American youth movement, the hippies or counterculture, was reacting strongly against science and technology, or even the entire Western intellectual tradition of reason, as a symbol of all that should be overturned. In fact, many of them were enamored of science and technology, some of them were working scientists, and some were patrons of science. This picture of fear and revulsion is wrong.

We also see things that have a surprisingly psychedelic past. This includes certain strains of sustainability, design, and manufacture, notions of socially responsible engineering, and artisanal food. This stuff didn’t start from scratch in 1968 and didn’t end on a dime in 1982...

These folks were rejecting not science itself but what many had come to consider a depersonalized, militarized approach to the control of nature.

Read the rest

Dirty Kids: movie on “street” youth who find unlikely home at hippie Rainbow Gatherings

Over time hippie-inspired Rainbow Gatherings in the forest have become magnets for a new counterculture: homeless teens and young adults. Alice Stein's new film Dirty Kids explores the culture clash and commonality of the two free-spirited groups. Read the rest

Help fund Last Gasp Books!

For 45 years, our friends at Last Gasp have kept the counterculture busy with books, publishing wild, weird, wonderful, and subversive works by R Crumb, Robert Wilson, Diane di Prima, Mark Ryden, Timothy Leary, and a slew of other greats; Now they need our help. Last Gasp has launched a Kickstarter to fund the printing of their next season of books, a stellar line-up of projects by the likes of Camille Rose Garcia, Ron English, the Thanatos Archive, and Mike Davis. The awards are fantastic! Read the rest

The proto-hippy nature boys of Southern California

Hippies can be traced back to a late 19th century German naturmenschen countercultural movement that embraced nudity, paganism, and natural foods. Gordon Kennedy wrote a good photo-filled book about the movement called Children of the Sun. Here's an article he co-wrote with a lot of the same info and photos.

The movement spread to California in the early 1900s, where a few young men grew long hair and beards and lived in primitive cabins in the Palm Springs area. The most famous of them was William Pester, the “Hermit of Palm Springs.” Both photos of Pester shown here were taken in 1917.

Over at Harp Guitars, Gregg Miner has written a lengthy and fascinating article about Pester and his influence on the "California Nature Boys" who lived in Los Angeles in the 1940s. Read the rest

Documentary about UK counterculture in 1967

Over at Dangerous Minds, Richard points us to this fantastic 1967 short documentary "It's So Far Out It's Straight Down" from Granada Television. Allen Ginsberg, Pink Floyd, the staff of the International Times underground paper, and Paul McCartney all make the scene.

"The straights should welcome the underground because it stands for freedom," Sir Paul says. "It’s not strange it’s just new, it’s not weird, it’s just what’s going on around." Read the rest

Film about Austin's psychedelic history

Dirt Road To Psychedelia is a documentary about the underground culture and music scene in Austin, Texas during the 1960s. Above is the trailer.

"With a folk-singing Janis Joplin, the 13th Floor Elevators, peyote, LSD and the first psychedelic music venue in Texas, Austin was a fertile ground for the emerging counterculture of the 1960s," says director Scott Conn.

If you're lucky enough to be in Waxahachie, Texas this Sunday (3/23), check it out live at the wunderkammer that is the Webb Gallery as part of their "Big Hair & Sparkly Pants" Texas-themed group art show. You can also buy the DVD on Amazon. Read the rest

More posts