Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Human Be- In (1967)

“Well,” said Alpert, “it’s a hell of a gathering. It’s just being. Humans being. Being together.”
“Yeah,” said Allen “It’s a Human Be-In.”

"From the outset the costumed people in the Haight-Ashbury did not seem to form simply a new Bohemia. Almost immediately I referred to them in my field notes as "costumed people," partly because I had not yet heard the term "hippie," but also because I recognized that they could not be easily classified, that they did indeed hear a different drummer, that the meaning of their drama was hidden from me. Nor did my immediate colleagues use the term "hippie" at that time. referring instead to "the young tourists" or "the acid-heads." A young social worker who worked at the Institute and lived in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood immediately adjacent to the Medical Center initiated me into the use of the term "hippie," and I remember asking her to spell it for me when I finally realized that she was not using the older term "hipster." At about the same time as I began work, a long story appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on a commune of "acid-heads," who lived in a large old house in a poor neighborhood, not too far from the Haight-Ashbury; the word "hippie" was not used in the story at all, although in another month- so swiftly did the term catch on- the local newspapers were generally using the term imprecisely for various costumed young people anywhere in the Bay area."

Elegantly uncostumed costume- people

"Thus the neighborhood was in many ways ripe for the events that took place in such intensity during the period of which I write. It included a population geared in many ways to  the young and to new ideas, in particular to the idea of one world. Its flexibility can be demonstrated by the very fact that throughout the winter and spring, in spite of the influx  of young people whose numbers increased at an almost unprecedented rate in the life of any city, the neighborhood became increasingly accepting. By June, various estimates were  made that about 15,000 young flower children were living in the neighborhood, and most of this growth had taken place within the space of a few months."

Ginsburg holding court

"Thus within the space of a very few weeks, the nature of my feeling about these young people changed drastically. Mistakes they made, but they recognized them; they were critical of themselves; and they were flexible. To my amazement, they read many of the books that I had read as an undergraduate over thirty years before- D. H. Lawrence, Freud, James Joyce, Aldous Huxley, for example; and well-worn copies of books by these authors were pored over in the Psychedelic Shop, which periodically seemed to operate mainly as a  library. Moreover, they were concerned about the problems of child-rearing practices in middle-class American society and were exploring alternative solutions, such as the kibbutz in Israel; such books as Melford E. Spiro's Children of the Kibbutz were regularly borrowed back and forth by members of the young community whether they were parents or not. Under their influence, I read some of the books that they liked but that I had never gotten  around to reading, although most of them were at least familiar titles to me; the Tolkien books are notable examples. I discovered the importance of these books for the young people. Although Tolkien has denied that he was writing an allegory about Western civilization and the fear of nuclear destruction, the hippies read his books as an allegory for  their time and position. The consistently good people in the Tolkien books are Hobbits and  they have the lowliest status of all the groups of characters in the books. The hippies  thought of themselves as being or becoming Hobbits; from time to time as the winter wore  on, a sign would appear in the window of one of their gathering places to this effect: Do not add to the street confusion this weekend. There may be busts. Be good little Hobbits and stay home. I came to understand that the hierarchy of status in the establishment was one  of the serious concerns of this coalescent group of young people. As a member of the  second sex and as a marginal person in my own professional world- whatever that is- I found this concern congenial to me. What I am suggesting here is that with the passage of a relatively short time and some openness to this young community, the stranger began to feel at home."
The Human Be-In
Helen Perry, 1970

Human Be-In Flyer

The above flyer is a rare piece of cultural ephemera and evocative of a certain era. Designed by Michael Bowen and Stanley Mouse it announces “A Gathering of the Tribes for a Human Be-In”. This watershed event catapulted the hippie scene to national prominence. Participants were asked to “Bring food to share, bring flowers, beads, costumes, feathers, bells, cymbals and flags.” That they did. These ideas transfixed mainstream culture, and the phenomenon of the “hippie” burst full force into the public consciousness, transforming a generation.

Human Be- In Poster (one of several)

As a prelude to the first Summer Of Love which made the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco a symbol of the American counterculture and introduced a suburban generation to the word “psychedelic”, the first Human Be-In in 1967 focused key ideas of liberation against the prevailing social norms of conventional middle-class commonality. Organiser Allen Cohen invited speakers on the day including Timothy Leary who set the tone with his famous phrase – “Turn on, tune in, drop out” and Allen Ginsburg who chanted his poetry. Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane and The Grateful Dead provided the soundtrack to gathered masses who participated in the consumption of “White Lightning LSD” provided by underground chemist Owsley Stanley. Incidentally Stanley designed some of the first high-fidelity sound systems, culminating in the massive and infamous amplification rig used by the Grateful Dead in their live shows.

Ginsburg chanting mantras

It’s estimated that between 20,000 and 30,000 people showed up. The event was seen by many as a meld between philosophically opposed factions of the San Francisco counterculture. One on side were the Berkeley radicals, who were tending towards increased militancy in response the the U.S. government’s Vietnam War. On the other side were the non-partisan hippies who urged peaceful protest. Although their means were drastically different, they held many of the same goals- personal empowerment, cultural and political decentralisation, communal living, ecological awareness, higher states of consciousness and liberal political consciousness. The happening was more than a war-protest. Authority was questioned on civil rights, women’s rights and spawned it’s own alternative media in the form of newspapers and radio stations as well as new directions in music, art and technology. The dynamic milieu of San Fransisco in the 1970s gave birth to the ultimate gesture of modern personal power – the personal computer, countering the prevailing main frame computer paradigm which implied centralised authority.

Humans being-in

“The predominant feeling among the Hippies from about 1965 through the summer of ’67 was that they were agents and witnesses of a dawning of a new age. An age in which the warrior spirit, that had vaulted western man to the domination and potential destruction of creation, would be dissolved in the spiritual transcendence of the saint. Ghandi and Martin Luther King were our heroes and we had turned to the rich heritage of Asian mysticism and metaphysics for our inspiration and our practice. We leaped across oceans and through time to pre-Christian mythologies like the American Indian, the Egyptian and the occult and pagan philosophies of Europe. We studied with Buddhists and Indian gurus, native shamans, witches and yogis. We turned from Aristotelian and Christian dualism to the four pronged logic of Vedanta philosophy. We studied the Upanishads, the Tao Te Ching, Alan Watt’s books on Zen Buddhism, and Hermann Hesse’s novels, especially Siddhartha. We wouldn’t leave the house without consulting the I Ching, or our Tarot cards or our astrological charts.”

“Were we being naive or superstitious? No, I think this was the most important and long lasting aspect of the 60s despite the backlash of the 80s. It was the beginning of a renaissance in thought and culture similar to the Renaissance that brought Greek and Roman images and ideas back to Europe in the middle ages. Ideas that eventually led to the end of the domination of the Catholic Church, the rise of the nation state, the rebirth of democracy and the development of science.”

"The Gathering of the Tribes" in a "union of love and activism" was an overwhelming success, Over twenty thousand people came to the Polo Fields in Golden Gate Park. The psychedelic bands played -Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead and Quicksilver Messenger Service. Poets Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, Michael McClure, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Lew Welch, and Lenore Kandel, read, chanted and sang. Tim(othy) Leary told everyone to "Turn on, Tune in and Drop out", the Diggers gave out free food. The Hells Angels guarded the generator cables that someone had cut, Owsley Stanley gave out free acid; a parachutist dropped like an angel from the sky and the whole world watched on the evening news. Soon there would be Be-Ins and Love-Ins from Texas to Paris and the psychedelic and political aspects of the youth culture would continue to grow hand in hand everywhere." – Allen Cohen

"Turn In, Tune Out, and Drop One"

When will the next of the big free love- festivals be? 

North Utsire

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