Thursday, December 17, 2015

Bombs or Vermont?

"Daydream Sunset – the 60s Counterculture in the 70s,” by Ron Jacobs, 2015

The 1960s – which ended around 1975 or later – exercises its influence to this day. Jacobs specializes in the history of this period, as he wrote a prior book on the Weather Underground. The book uses Jacob's own reminiscences as the basis for this short history. He was a young kid entranced by rock music bands like the Grateful Dead and also influenced by various Maoist groups. He traveled the country in the '70s as a post-hippie with friends, attending both musical and political events, working temporary shit jobs to survive. Jacobs helped organize some protest activities like rents strikes and marijuana 'smoke-outs' and seemed to be a freelance nomad. Music and politics in this book are entwined as they were at the time. A free-wheeling counter-cultural identity was formed in the 60s and 70s similar to the 'gig' economy of many of today's youth. The book describes a time that may be decidedly familiar to them.

1970s Hippie Commune
No one can encompass a decade, so Jacobs does his bit to fill in some blanks. He covers the collision of the counter-culture and history, paying attention to the groups that attempted to combine them, not ignore them. Familiar cliches about Altamont are supplemented with information on the activities of the White Panther Party, the Diggers, the Yippies and Zippies, the Mayday Tribe, High Times magazine, the German Autonomists and the Italian Autominia.

 Jacobs highlights the more radical nature of the counter-cultural / political movements in Europe, as the proletarian-oriented groups there did not shy away from self-defense against the police. He contrasts it with the 'non-violence' of the U.S. anti-nuclear movement, which was dominated by middle-class pacifists. Jacobs illustrates the role class plays in the attraction of pacifism.  

Jacob's first concert was a performance by the Who that he and his young friends came upon accidentally in New Jersey in the '70s. It was downhill from then on! Jacobs went to a lot of concerts and festivals, including what he considers to be the last real hippie concert in 1977, in which the Dead headlined. His love of music leads him to note that Patti Smith, a working-class girl from New Jersey, was a key link between the beats, the hippies and the punks - a remarkable feat. He reminds us of the 'culture-wars' between sub-cultures that defined themselves by their choice in music - in disco, punk, rock and country.  Jacobs was an enthusiastic user of various 'hippie' drugs like LSD, psilocybin, weed and hashish and doesn't shy away from saying he inhaled.  He describes the history of the Vermont co-op movement which started around the “Free Vermont” slogan. This ultimately moved the whole state to the Left, including the formation of the Vermont Progressive Party and the various candidacies of Bernie Sanders.

The extreme poles of counter-cultural politics became, according to Jacobs, either moving to Vermont and forming communes to grow food, or becoming a Weatherman and planting bombs in government buildings. These poles reflected the fault lines among hippies between the more political and the more cultural revolutionaries.  

The book suffers from being breezy and familiar (at least to me). His description of 10 years of history sometimes just ends up being a list. His capsule of the Progressive Labor, for instance, describes it as a 'culturally conservative' group wearing ties, suits and crew-cuts. No one in 1970 in PL looked like this, so I suspect some other points might be a bit thin. Yet the book is a nice intro to this lost decade for those unfamiliar with rebel youth culture during that period.  And it also might help those who lived through it remember that decade in all its shabby glory.

Also reviewed below: “The Way the Wind Blew,” (Jacob's book about the Weather Underground); “Hippie Modernism,” an art show review; commentary on the Grateful Dead, “Let us now Praise the Dead,” and “Laurel Canyon,” about the LA rock music scene in the 1960s-1970s.

And I bought it at Mayday Books!
Red Frog
December 17, 2016

1 comment:

jron said...

thanks for the comments.
ron j