The Times and Tales of a 60s Freak
|15-17||Psychedelic & Progressive|
|41-43||American West Coast|
|45-46||Cars and Motorbikes|
|47-48||American East Coast|
The Times and Tales of a 60s Freak
Gold and Rose the colour of a dream I had
Not too long ago
Misty Blue and Lilac too
Never to grow old
69 was a good year, whichever way up you look at it! There was something in the air – most probably ghanga. Everyone was suffused with a strange optimistic outlook. Everything was imbued with change. All the old crap was being jettisoned – ideas – thoughts – careers – suburbia. The world was new. People sat up all night enthusiastically discussing the creation of the universe, the size of infinity and the intensity of the human spirit. Hair sprouted out of every available orifice – well- almost every orifice. People smiled and flashed peace signs. People shared things with each other – things both mundane and profound. You wanted a lift you got it! You wanted food, a smoke, sex, a book – it was given. You wanted ideas, thoughts, philosophy? The 60s was about sharing!
1968 was a good year to be 18 in and London was a pretty cool city to be eighteen in. So 69 was great to be 19 and 70 and 71 were also just far out. I could go on. The seeds of 69 were sewn in 54 with the Beat Generation, fertilised with Zen, Rock and Jazz, liberal doses of Dylan, social change and politics, fermented with war and racism and brought to the boil with dope and acid. It’s a recipe you don’t find in any of society’s menus. You mixed your own amounts, fed of each other and grew your own. You were nurtured in the heady dung of possibility and camaraderie. These were the days of hope and substance. These were the times of new brooms. These were the barricades of change.
You could buy Oz and IT and read about Kerouac, Mao, Che, Ian Anderson, Captain Beefheart and Cochise. Everyone was dropping out into more meaningful existences involving creativity and positive life forces and hugely wonderful esotericosities. You could spend hours discussing the obvious fact that T.S. Elliott would have definitely been straight while Shelly was probably a Freak. You enthralled to the tales of Black Consciousness, as epitomised by the Black Panthers, that had emerged from the civil rights campaigns, Vietnam draft dodgers and Utopian dreams of perfect societies based on freedom, creativity and harmony. There were free concerts, sit-ins, marches, demonstrations, happenings, love-ins and other conscious expanding activities.
Find the cost of freedom
Buried in the ground
Mother Earth will swallow you
Lay your body down
Crosby, Stills and Nash
The Underground created instant identity. You were either a Freak or Straight. It had something to do with the length of your hair and the ideology you identified with as well as what drugs you used. Freaks were pacifist sexual explorers embarking on chemical explorations and human, spiritual, political and environmental investigations. The ‘Revolution’ was just around the corner. In many ways it had already happened. Straight society was superfluous. We had our own press, music, fashion, drugs, life-styles and culture. We were the alternative culture. Fuck the turgid ethics of ‘straight’ society’ with its old strictures and stereotypes. Fuck convention. From where we stood convention was death! The old were a bunch of sad old fossils who’d forgotten how to live. The institutions of society were meaningless drivel perpetuating a social order and etiquette that had had its day. We were rainbows sweeping aside the grey. We were ‘outsiders’ living by new rules. We created the rules! Our language was permeated with the Black hipsters slang, man. Black swing. Black thirst for life. Black rhythm. The underdogs. The disenfranchised. They certainly knew how to live, swing and enjoy themselves. We were gonna change the world! Our dreams were megalomaniac.
He who is first will later be last
The order is rapidly changing!
I have my own theory that the planet just happened to pass through a cloud of hallucinogenic dust that only infiltrated certain young minds. We were turned on! We were alive! We refused to accept anything. We were creating the new social order, the new view, and the new rules. We wanted to build a better world that wasn’t based on consumerism and ownership. Our world was going to be based on fun, relationship, equality, helping one another, meaning and creativity. We hunkered after fulfilment. We wanted to discover and find the real questions. We were free. We were FREE!! No one was gonna tell us what to do! No nine to five hell of turgid castration for us! We were building a different world and music was the backdrop and fabric that held it together.
You say you want a revolution
Well you know we all want to change the world
But if you want money for people with minds that hate
Brother I tell you you’re going to have to wait
Of course it was a hugely naive and pretentious bubble that could not hold its breath too long and it subsequently produced a lot of disasters and chemical casualties. Still, even with the power of retrospective sight, it was wonderful to be there and be part of it, even if it was not a very smart career move for most of those concerned in doing it. For others it proved a great opportunity to rip people off, exploit new markets, and make a killing – good old-fashioned capitalism with a caftan, spliff and a mountain of hair. One is also forced to acknowledge that for most of the pseudo-freaks it proved to be little more than just another fashion statement or passing phase, which was fun at the time and got you laid. Sadly the idealism went over their heads. Even so, it was an age of re-evaluation and individuality that engendered huge creativity in dress, thought, art and music and was the genesis and spawning ground for a lot of political and social things that did not bear fruit until much later.
The most important thing about it all was that it was so incredibly vital and energetic. There was no accepted doctrine, no social restrictions, no rules to adhere to. We were pioneering the future without a map. The rule was creativity and individuality. There was so much to do, so much stimulation, so many places to be, people to meet, thoughts to share. Doors were open. The 60s was a huge university and the curriculum was open-ended.
Something happening here
What it is ain’t exactly clear
There’s a man with a gun over there
Telling me I’ve got to beware
Look children, what’s that sound
Everyone look what’s going down
London was part of the driving force of the counter-culture. You could drop acid and do the Tate Gallery, 2001 or The Bonzos.
The club scene was alive and diverse. There was Blues like Chicken Shack, Fleetwood Mac and John Mayall; Folk with Bert Jansch, John Renbourn and Jackson C Frank; Psychedelic Rock with Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Hawkwind, Traffic, Nice, Cream, Family, Free, Tomorrow and Jethro Tull; West Coast Acid Rock with Country Joe, Beefheart, Mothers and the Doors; Black Blues guys like Son House, John Lee Hooker, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and Jimmy Reed; old Rock ‘n’ Rollers like Jerry lee, Little Richard, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry and Gene Vincent; mad songwriters like Roy Harper and all mixed in with Jazz, Indian and pseudo-classical like the Third Ear Band. Not only that but it was ridiculously cheap. You could regularly see Floyd or Edgar Broughton doing a support for free. Hyde Park was a regular freebie. The festivals were 3 days for £1.50. A gig was often 15p and Led Zep at the Toby Jug was a staggering 25p – rip off or what? I could go on and on and on and get even more grotesquely nostalgic. Aye Lad, when I were young. Those were the days.
There was no time to think – you were too busy doing stuff. The Incredibles at an all-nighter. Eel-Pie Island bouncing up and down on the rotten floor to the flames of Arthur Brown. Giving Demons hell with the Broughtons. The Marquee with Ten Years After. Hendrix smashing ceilings at Klooks Kleek . Killing unknown soldiers with the Doors at the magical Roundhouse. The Nice knifing organs at the UFO club. The Who smashing amps and Mooney driving Rolls’s into swimming pools.
The Moving Being Dance group naked and cybernetics at the ICI. Too much. Too much so that it was far out, man. Somewhere to the side straight society was landing on the Moon but that was a side issue – we’d already visited other universes.
Even though the politics was getting out of hand in Grovenor Square and Kent State, Peoples Park and Chicago the Yippies put a pig up for President and Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin went to court in war-paint and jesters costume.
Life and theatre had become confused.
Obscenity was on trial and was let off.
In among it all there were young dudes like me wandering around sampling the universe, looking to get high on sound, life and chemicals and looking to get laid. We’d been brought up on Rock n Roll, Beat and Beatniks. We’d read Kerouac and were bursting for experience and instant sartori. Our minds were ripe for expansion and as absorbent as sponges. Our prejudices had been blown away with the cobwebs of the new generation gap.
We were the kids that the older generation had fought wars for and now crossed roads to avoid.
We knew it all and wanted to do it all – to go everywhere and try everything. The universe existed to be shocked. The present culture had tried and failed. The only way forward was to abandon it altogether and create a new culture. In the words of Beefheart – ‘ Let the Lying lie – Let the dying die!’.
Everything about us had to scream that we were different. We were seeking a new way, an exciting life and a reason for being, doing and understanding. The whole universe was up for grabs.
Born on Rock and 50s Beat we grasped the cool of black slang and sought the ground to make our idealistic stands. The revolution was just around the corner. We might be young and incredibly naive but nothing could stand in the way of progress. We were making the rules – ‘Talking ‘bout my generation’. There had to be more fairness, integrity and purpose out there somewhere. There had to be a better way of living that that old ‘rat-race’ with its status games, career traps, moribund religions, and boredom! We would drop out of that shit and make a new world that was a little more fun, exciting and purposeful. There had to be more to life than work and sleep; position and voting for no alternative; worshipping mammon on the altar of status to the tune of ‘Pie in the Sky’.
We were looking to burst out of the land of pink coats and no sex into a new rainbow world of honesty and reality. We were gonna explore, man. No Saturday night down the pub, Sunday down the church. No banal love songs and drudgery, marriage and a place in society.
No more coins to be slotted up society’s arse.
I don’t claim to be anything more than a stupid, naïve, punk arsehole. I lived it, breathed it and built my life round it. It failed. I failed. But at least we tried for the sun and had a great time doing it. And yes, we did change the world. We dragged the world around to look at racism, sexism, green issues, spiritual issues, sexual issues and the purpose of life. There wasn’t any revolution, man, but the Soviet Union bought a lot of jeans and grew their hair, there was no nuclear war and governments cannot just do what they like with impunity. Who knows if we made a difference? So we dropped out and dropped back in. Some of us went all the way. We had our casualties, traitors and users. Some of us didn’t sell out and those that did still kept their memories and a seed of what might have been.
At least we were colourful and had a good time!
Since then there have been many glorious experiments and heroic individuals swimming against the tide of uniformity, fashion and blandness. May there be many more!
You may belittle, laugh, ridicule and condemn. You may take your stand from whatever ground you stand on
‘But if you’re no nearer now to just being you, then both of us might just as well forget it’.
‘Up against the Wall, Motherfuckers!’
I make no apologies for what appears in this book. The memory plays tricks, concerts run together, some get played up, some down, some forgotten. I can’t always remember when, with whom, or what. Some memories are so strong and others are gone. Some are distorted with time and some with perspective. I am aware that any two people at the same event experienced different things according to the baggage they brought with them, mood, company and circumstance.
I just had a conversation this week with Rockette Morton from the Magic Band, I am sure that I saw him come on stage at the Rainbow circa 71 wearing a space helmet. He assures me that it was an electric toaster on his head!
All I can say is that talking to others about those times not only brings it all back but confirms that it was a magic time to live. We all felt it, lived it and breathed it. It wasn’t a fashion thing. It wasn’t a style. It only affected a small percentage of youth. It was an attempt to live a different way, with different values and a real sense of shared adventure and community.
This is just my view and perspective. If it doesn’t conform to your experience then who’s to say which is the more valid.
This is one man’s history. We are not always how we would like to be.
I was at home last night
I was all alone
Long about twelve o clock
My baby come crawlin’ home
Now what kind of scent is that?
What kind of scent is that that you bring in here in my home?
Bo Carter – What kind of scent is that?
Following the British Beat Boom of the mid sixties there was a great interest in authentic American blues. This most probably had its roots in the Folk Blues that had gone into British Skiffle through Leadbelly, Big Bill Broonzy and others. In Britain Folk Blues had worked its way through into R & B and Rock in a different way to how it had evolved in America. In America it had developed into heavy electrified black urban blues or been merged with Country to make Rockabilly and then Rock and Roll. But the Skiffle movement in Britain had come out of Trad Jazz and black American Country Blues. The process was further aided by the burgeoning contemporary Folk scene, which had been sparked off by the success of Bob Dylan whose act had been very much rooted in the black American Folk-Blues and the social observation of white rural singers such as Woody Guthrie. The result was that in Britain Country Blues was seen as respectable. It was not so much seen as commercial music but as the result of a genuine need to express things that were deeply felt through the idiom of music. It had credibility.
The old Trad Jazzers of the late 50s took their music very seriously. That had set the seeds for black artists to be taken seriously. It had provided black Americans with an audience that they didn’t have back in the States. The American Blacks had a great appeal. They were authentic. These were outsiders. They had been brought over as slaves. They had suffered great adversity and prevailed. Despite the prejudice, ruthless persecution and exploitation they had come through it all with pride, humour and an inner strength that had enabled them to rise above it all. In the days of saccharine sweet love songs written by middle class white writers for money these guys were writing about real experience. Of course, they were writing their songs for money; they were trying for a hit single, but their writing was coming straight from experience. It had a realness to it. They were hard living, hard drinking, hard fighting, and hard loving men or women. Whatever they wrote about their true nature came through. There were the plantation songs, songs about drinking, sex, fighting, murder and prison. There were even a few songs about prejudice, lynching and their uneasy relationships with whites, although, with the Klan about, these were difficult and highly dangerous areas for blacks to get involved in. It gave a lot of white middle-class kids an empathy with the plight of blacks. That was surely a spark that helped ignite the civil rights movements of the 60s.
The result was that there was an interest in the roots of Blues. Most of the Folk-Blues guys had given up playing back in the 40s when the music had gone electric. They had lost their audience and couldn’t compete with the new urban Blues young-bloods with their raunchy heavy sound. Some had died and a few had electrified but most of the original crew had simply melted back into obscurity.
In the late 60s bands like Cream, Rolling Stones, John Mayall, Fleetwood Mac and Chicken Shack were doing covers of country blues and there was a renewed interest in hearing what the originals sounded like. They had a new white European audience. They were hunted out, re-equipped and put back on the stage. People were opting out of the shallow, pointless, meaningless, pop culture and looking for something with more depth, emotional integrity, and honest; something that dealt with real life. The blues was simple but honest. It hadn’t been over-manufactured and sanitised into a clean product for sub-urban consumption. There was something of the hard life in it, some of the hard living, loving, drinking, fighting, killing and partying that the guys had lived. This was music from slavery, long days working on the land, and nights spent in pleasures that were not quite considered to be the done thing for middle class society. Well fuck middle class aspirations this was the generation that was looking for something more real. If that meant facing death and getting out of your head then so be it.
When I was 14, in 63, I was listening to standard pop (I have to admit it), Rock and Roll with Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Bo Diddley and Eddie Cochran, early acoustic Bob Dylan through my mate Mutt, and Blues.
Dick introduced me to the Blues through Lightning Hopkins and Howling Wolf but it was only a matter of time before I discovered the Folk Blues roots of Robert Johnson, Son House, Charlie Patton, Bumble Bee Slim, Sleepy John Estes, Skip James and Bo Carter.
Baby if you don’t like my peaches
Baby please don’t you touch my tree
If you don’t want me to have your potatoes
Don’t mash my digger down so deep
Cos when I get to use my digger
I use it different ways
I dig potatoes for these women folk night and day
Bo Carter – Don’t mash my digger so deep