1 Ocak 2011 Cumartesi

Psychedelic Pop Culture of the 60's / Sex, Drugs and Rock'n Roll

A guy walks into a bar, orders a beer and chats with the barkeeper. It’s midnight and the guy has nothing to do, since he has no family, girlfriend or any other responsibility. Later on, he would raise his voice to the barkeeper, claiming something about today’s music industry, how he used to write pages about rock bands for the Rolling Stone magazine, and ended up in a job where you had to write about certain boy bands people enjoyed to listen. One of the greatest Rock journalist Lester Bangs, maybe suffered from a lack of period or excitement that shaped millions of people, “To hell with them!” he would shout, in this old, cheap bar where you could listen songs of The Animals, if you were lucky.

What I want to type of understanding the Pop/Psychedelic Culture in U.S. is the acceptance and “adopting process” of hanging out around a certain musical aesthetic. In other words, it is the manifestation of the individual against the “outside”, to dress and behave, to act and think the way he/she wants. This kind of manifestation could be derived political or economical, but it follows a certain style and genre of music and produces essentially a certain “subculture” and we call it “Hippies” who is involved of this. At this point, it would be essential to understand the relationship between “physical-symbolic space” and “public moral panics”. Since subcultures are considered to locate in certain areas, it would be quite proper to say that there’s a relation of “us” and “them”, what we can also call as “the ghetto” and “the public space”. The essential conclusion of subcultures is that, it causes “public moral panics” and anxiety among societies. We begin to fear about something, if we don’t know what it is.

Regarding the sixties, it could be said that the assassination against J.F.K in 1963 started a sparkle against violence, war and politics. This sort of “common sense” was among young people who were persistently against the current government and which would be progress with the period of Lyndon B. Johnson. Moreover, the war in Vietnam was the starting point for the youth culture (Hippies) which took place in 1963 as well. In this sense, we should regard Pop music as a package of certain socio-political developments, which shaped the lyrics, live performance and positions of the artists.

It would be vital to remind that the American Pop/Psychedelic Culture found its actual potency in the mid-sixties: The first factor was Bob Dylan, a young rebellion, songwriter, poet and an active protester who was trying to say something about the war in Vietnam and American society. His second album “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” in 1963 was a big hit in American culture and offered a new way of writing and protesting. Songs like “Masters of War”, “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall” and “Blowing in the Wind” was a marvelous rise of a togetherness in pointing the middle finger to old generations and of course, to Vietnam. Just for the records, I would not like to continue with Bob Dylan, but it would be fair enough to know that Dylan could be regarded as the first sparkle in Pop music, in terms of not only playing a song for entertainment, but also to stand against “something” and to embrace music with a package of ideas. This was a concept, a new brand idea of typing lyrics to make money and to show people what actually could going to happen.

The second factor was the rise of the Beatles, again in 1962-63: They were from Liverpool and started a new subculture and life-style. The Beatlemania Culture was very effective in terms of fanaticism and in Pop culture. Their rise were progressing in a short run, people were somehow crazy about these four handsome good-looking guys. The screaming, the love, the requirement and the fanaticism were rising in a high level and couldn’t be stopped. The media started a new assertion in 1964, that the Beatles could be even more popular than Jesus Christ. Religious people were highly against the music of the Beatles and arranged even plenty of mass protests to break and burn all Beatles records. In a short time, the discussion progressed into different subjects: One man says “If people would give the same interest to Jesus Christ, maybe he wouldn’t die,” and another says “Jesus would be very offended if he’d saw all this Beatles crap!” We can easily say that American Beatlemania soon reached the proportions of religious idolatry in 1964 and the arrival of the Beatles in the United States was even more affective, since American culture was regarded in sort of a progressing freedom speech and a better enunciatively opportunities.

The Beatles Come To Town / 1963

In the article of Barbara Ehrenreich, Elizabeth Hess and Gloria Jacob’s “Beatlemania: A sexually defiant consumer subculture”, we witness a huge and frightened fanaticism about Pop music and Beat generation. It states in one line that someone got hold of the hotel pillowcases that had purportedly been used by the Beatles, cut them into 160,000 tiny squares, mounted them on certificates, and sold them for one dollar apiece. There’s an interesting star-centered hysteria in what we cannot describe it only through pop music: Pop culture, as I mentioned, is a great package of a certain life-style and defiance for older generations. In 1954, only ten years ago of the Beatlemania, girls who had screamed for Frank Sinatra had grown up to be responsible, settled to be housewives. We now arrive to our essential motivation of the sixties in Pop/Psychedelic Culture: Taboos were regarded old-fashioned and should be destroyed immediately as possible as it could and re-fill it with a new life-style.

At this point, it would be vital to say that “sexual depression” was also an important point of the rising Pop/Psychedelic Culture in the 60’s. It is interesting that pop culture embodied through music a self-referential relation against the individual. Despite the fact that music was also considered as a huge political expression against the state, but we cannot change the essential truth that both in the 60’s and 10’s, pop music has always captured dominantly a “self-referential” sense against individuals. So it makes sense when we say that subcultures should be examined by its own understanding and fashion. And moreover, the own understanding of one individual causes an “unknown image” against the “outside”. Both sides are not quite sure what they are expecting from each other: Music for the “outside” starts to sound irritating and annoying, while on the other hand, subcultures define themselves or makes references through pop music in sake of understanding the acceptance of the “adopting process” in order to define as well, their own life-style and common sense.

In the same subject but different artistic position, pop icon, painter and filmmaker Andy Warhol maybe was the most important symbolic figure, in breaking down sexual taboos and expressing an artistic work free as possible. He is also known as the movement of pop art and his “factory” which he usually used for his own ground area, film productions and fashion shoots. His paintings were appreciated, but as an avant-garde filmmaker, Warhol’s works were regarded amoral, disturbing and sexually exaggerated. Traditional authority figures, Conservatists, large group of families and institutions were highly against and disturbed, especially in a movie which four people tries to make erect a horse with their hands. This exaggeration of artistic expression was not derived only by a choice, but also as a question of to be anxious in saying “What if do these movies?” As we can see, artistic visions were shaped in trying to make something among the “unknown” and to present it as “immoral codes” to say that pop culture will change your life.

For years, the general anxiety of traditional authority figures for youth cultures and pop music could be considered as the threat of “self and social-destructive” fact. In this sense, we should add that pop music in both generations is being considered through images, lyrics and attitudes of the artists. It is quite normal in this sense, when a parent watches Jim Morrison on T.V. and says to his child: “Don’t make drugs!” Because the whole package of subcultures are always been examined by its own characteristic features. And in the center of Pop culture lays music, synonymously to “pleasure”. Moral monitors feel that pleasure should be policed, since our way of understanding the political world is highly connected to how and for whom we vote and support to.

Brett Ingram claims that “the personal is political”, suggests the idea that attitudes toward major social issues are conditioned by the emotional reactions. This is important to explain the importance of pop music, since emotional reactions are highly linked to songs: The high degree of usage in drugs in the sixties was beyond an issue of the state. Marijuana and LSD had an important role in shaping the worldviews of young people which progressed in arts, music, literature, fashion and philosophy. Especially in music, artists like pop/rock icons Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and John Lennon was an essential reference in understanding the process of the subculture “Hippie”.

There’s no specific definition for the Hippies, since it contains other subdivisions as nudist groups, vegetarians, communes or drug groups. But we can easily assure that the Hippie Culture was an important part of pop culture, regarding its changing development in fashion, literature, music and philosophy. As I mentioned: Values and ideas, ritual communications, the rhythmic cycle of ghetto life, marijuana, LSD and other characteristic features involved and highly shaped the pop culture.

Though drugs and music couldn’t affect young people without any experience; in other words, there should be an actual support to “make it live” in the daily life. At this point, nightclubs and discotheques were maybe the most essential feature in pop culture. Clubs like Whisky a Go-Go and The Matrix were the standpoint and common curiosity of the 60’s generation: These places were usually adopted by hippies, beats and barely rock critics for the sake of the rising music genre psychedelic. After the mid-sixties, we witness that pop music congregate with psychedelic music, a genre which we can define as using new recording techniques and drawing a chartless discipline, usually sourced by non-Western, Indian influences. So, let us put together what we drew above: From the beginning of the article, we drew a more “innocent era” from 1962 to 65’, a rising culture of struggling in it’s own curiosity and breaking the chains of a the old-fashioned, conservatists idealism. The real fun begins after the mid-sixties, maybe with Bob Dylan’s choice of getting rid from folk music and embracing the electronic music. And of course, the changing image of the Beatles, their sixth album Rubber Soul, Revolver in 66’ and Abbey Road in 69’ were the most essential albums in pop music: It wasn’t the best albums in pop/psychedelic genre, but it was a proof that pop music could turn into other genres, music and as we know, sub-cultures.

The era of putting two hands to cheeks and screaming as loud as possible was over. The increasing use of drugs in the daily life after 65’ was the main potential reason for young people. Nevertheless, this crowd was the same crowd, the one who screamed for the Beatles and kissed his girlfriend in front of his family and regarded as a huge step for the sake of “change”. He faced with a new culture and learned in short time that there was a place called the Whisky A Go-Go. This nightclub, located in Los Angeles, was the most popular place to see bands like The Doors, Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendrix and other essential pop/rock/psychedelic bands. As it mentioned above, drugs and music couldn’t affect young people without experience and entering to the Whisky A Go-Go was the best experience for the 60’s generation. The overwhelming sound system, “trippy” lightning, colorful costumes, free-form dancing and the countless usage of LSD provided a huge and frightening common sense to young people, that somehow, without any specific reason and meaning, nothing would stay the same until the opening gates of Whisky A Go-Go.

The psychedelic genre made a good friendship with pop music. It provided politically a more affective protest image, it frightened the majority of the States, their moves and motivations were went out from an innocent sense, re-placed it with a louder and complex sound. But first and foremost, it affected the relation of the teenagers with their families. For example, known as the Go-Go Dancers were symbolically regarded as a reaction to old-fashioned family system and simpler, the changing understanding of “having fun”. Go-Go Dancers dance in a cage and their moves are free as possible, even “strange” for one who dances usually with standard moves. There’s an interesting paradox: Dancing in a cage limits your dancing, but under the circumstances of a certain ethically limitation of the family makes you no other option. You start to dance as wild as possible, but you are still aware that you are in a cage and cannot be escape. This symbolic criticism of the entertainment business was progressed and introduced by people who were highly involved around radical protesters, idealists and artists like Andy Warhol and counting the drug usage into daily life by Timothy Leary.

We witness that teenagers in the 60’s had the difficulty to make embrace their new life-styles to their families. “Rock & Roll and Pop, with its sound, styles, and culture (including fashions, hairstyles, dances, etc.), helped promote generational solidarity. This does not mean the pop generation had a monolithic culture. Far from it. Numerous subcultures existed within the youth culture. Like the rest of society, teens divided along economic, racial, cultural, religious, ethnic, and geographic lines. Some like pop rock; others loved country rock; still others listened only R & B rock. Sometimes pop music and rock and roll even became the locus of confrontation between disparate youth groups struggling for control of the music. But these subcultures were all part of the larger youth culture which was quite distinct from the adult culture. And rock and pop music was one of the main boundaries separating the teenagers from adults.”

It is interesting to see that music in the 60’s had a telescopic relation, similarly to its culture and fashion. In other words, we witness that genres and styles started to intersect to each other, and one cannot make a clear distinction in what involves pop and rock. I always liked this comparison: Consider that you collect the fashion, subcultures and music and put them all into a blender and mix it until it finds its own color and taste. The year 1966 was maybe a mélange of different musical/cultural attempts and the starting point of a tough six years. The fun could be started.

As I mentioned, musical tastes and styles did highly intersected and it is interesting to witness how preferences and periods jumped into bands choices. Of course, the essential question will remain forever: Was it the listeners and drugs who decided to change, or was it the bands who made an opinion about changing and progressing? Maybe the answer blows in the wind, as Bob Dylan said, but we cannot deny the fact that a subculture completed its circle, with taking its all essential characteristic features and presented against cultures.

I would like to write about the Beach Boys, known as “the innocent” boy band of California surf/pop. In the beginning of the 60’s, the Beach Boys were a musical synonym of the California sound; the surfing, the image of high-school girls who eat ice-cream and roller skating beside the beach and Beat writers who read their poems as loud as possible. In this context, we could easily say that the Beach Boys were including the innocent happiness of pop music, with their clean-cut and grinning faces. Its childish idealism of “walking down the street with my ice-cream in a bright day” was in the same context as the Beatles did in 1962. The sound and its culture were simply about “being happy” and this was enough for its listeners in the years between 1960 and 65’. Their hit single “Surfin’ USA” in 1963 and “Fun Fun Fun” in 64’ were regarded as “innocently happy” in which they used strong beat features.

The Beach Boys / Good Vibrations (1966)

In the same context, let us imagine how the youth would respond: The innocent breeze provided to the youth a gateway, an occasion to have fun freely as possible, quiet contrary and threatening to social taboos in which caused limitations in the long run by the state. And of course, secondly, the rise of the Beatles was changing its shape and image in the mid-sixties: “Music supposed to be presented exaggerative, with a strong language. In this context, rock and pop music could be regarded as to accept the ‘kitsch’ with an ironic idea, to present music theatrical, as if one person would attend to a fancy dress-ball, to revolt against the world in a marginal community and to be seductive as much as possible. Foremost, it should be involved with erotic phantasies.”

Pop and rock music was transforming itself into another sense. The increasing usage of drugs in the States was countless, the youth started to regard pop music as an important channel to reach another stage: The combination of drugs and pop/psychedelic music seemed dangerously beautiful; it started a simple sparkle and broadened up quickly among important bands. The interesting part of the story is that, in the beginning of 1966 (consider as one of the heaviest years in terms of revolting against the war in Vietnam) few bands wrote protest songs (let us accept Bob Dylan as an exception) and it had been observed that bands were starting to sing about imaginary utopian songs, with a high relation of the countless usage of LSD. Maybe this could be a vital point to understand the high relation between pop music and the youth movement. A wide sub-cultural idealism in pop music shaped a sense of having a certain life-style and to regard lyrics as a vital messenger, in order to create a dangerous common sense. As Brett Ingram states: “Common sense tells us that popular music has a role in shaping the worldviews of young people which eclipses that of traditional authority figures. Our subjective conceptions of self-worth, sexual difference, social justice, and artistic merit have a direct effect on how we’ll vote, how we’ll raise our children, what we’ll buy, and what we will fight and perhaps even die for.” We witness certain kind of individuality in pop music; the broad and unlimited “music-channels” provides him to reach at a level in which families, institutions and states begin to fear against a sub-culture. “Moreover, music foregrounds pleasure and the pleasurable experience of one’s body in motion of a dance floor. Perhaps for this reason it has often been attacked by moral monitors who feel that pleasure should be policed and that bodily experience should be restrained because they are connected to sexuality, which of course itself, from a conservative perspective, should be controlled as much as possible.”

For example, lyrics of the band Jefferson Airplane highly referred convincingly to numerous youth cultures, mostly in the States, as a mélange of certain kind of a manifestation that limitations were going to start break away, in terms of using music and drugs as a channel to reach to the ultimate body experience in popular music.

Jefferson Airplane / Somebody To Love / Live (1969)

The song “Somebody To Love” was a big hit all over many countries, its outspoken implication appealed to millions of youths: “When the truth is found to be lies / and all the joy within you dies / don’t you want somebody to love / tears are running down your breast / and your friends baby they threat you like a guest / don’t you want somebody to love” Music’s social function was a threat to the practical function in the everyday life, and we can see that pop music shaped itself and around its listeners as a huge and broad strength. Again, we witness in Ingram’s words that pop music has a leading field in creating a common sense, in which shapes accidentally as a reaction against the majority of the society. “Much of our experience in a disciplined society that assigns proper places to certain activities and forbids them in others is limited and limiting. We unconsciously play by rules of motion and bodily experience that channel and determine what we can or cannot do in certain places. Music challenges those rules by creating pleasure and diffusing it across social boundaries – a tendency made more emphatic by digital music players. A capitalist society especially demands that we work in a disciplined fashion for others for their profit (the motto of the society being “Never have so many worked so hard so that so few could enjoy themselves so much”), but music gives everyone access to a certain degree of pleasure even if they are not on the wealth-magnet end of the social pyramid.”

On the other hand, it would be helpful to notice that the sexual role in artists (especially in female artists) have been used extremely in a seditious way, that is to say, the general side of the ‘disciplined society’ had to deal with a “threat” which would shape a generation’s regard to taboos. Maybe in the 60’s, artists like Grace Slick, Nico from the Velvet Underground and other plenty Go-Go dancers seemed less erotically in comparing today’s pop entertainment, but it can be surely said that live performances and lyrics were quiet enough to be astonishingly surprised. It would be wrong to say that the eroticism in the 60’s female artists were better, it was just loaded with a strong ‘background fashion’ and a better ideology and belief.

So, what changed really in pop music? We are still against a general adult culture that will warn us not to get out of the ‘disciplined society’. The pursuit of getting rid of social taboos and having fun without any constraint in the mid-late 60’s in pop music displaced itself into a vast and creepy eroticism and highly related curiosity of sex.

The best course of action could be made a distinction between the long and hard attempts of the 60’s pop music in order to break the taboos and change a sense of having fun with numerous drugs, and in today’s music sector, in which we face with a faster and pretentious sound, but quiet raucous for those who really wants to have fun through pop music. Style in dress, eating, drinking, talking and expressing is mostly entourage by pop culture and we still don’t have a quiet answer what the next one will affect the further generation. Pop culture, taking its essential mean of the ‘popular’ will provide numerous social understandings in which will bloom and die fastly, against consuming and curious generations.

Richard Aquila, “Rock and Roll: A Chronicle of an Era, 1954-63” (Billboard Publications, 2000) P.19

James Miller, “Flowers In The Dustbin” (Simon and Schuster, 2000) P.196

Brett Ingram, “Cultural Studies: A Practical Introduction” (Wiley-Blackwell, 2010) P.107-108-116

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