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Religion and Psychoactive Sacraments:
An Entheogen Chrestomathy
Thomas B. Roberts, Ph.D. and Paula Jo Hruby, Ed.D.
Author Index | Title Index

San Francisco Rock Posters, 1965 to 1971.

Tomlinson, Sally Anne (1991)
Victoria, BC: University of Victoria.

ISBN: none

Description: Master's Thesis, [9] + xvi + 303 pages.

Contents: Consent forms, abstract, list of illustrations, acknowledgments, introduction, 3 chapters, bibliography, illustrations.

Note: Master's Theses and Doctoral Dissertations in two sizes and bound in hardcover or softcover are available from UMI, Inc., in Ann Arbor, MI.

From 1965 to 1967 members of the Haight-Ashbury community in San Francisco formed a set of ideals which today are considered representative of Sixties youth. Their opinions on the American military involvement in Vietnam and their resistance to authority in general, along with the upheaval of society which their lifestyle represented, created a model for youthful emulation across the country. The San Franciscans organized get-togethers where experimental music, dance movement, color, and the effects of psychotropic drugs were celebrated. Even before the term "hippie" had been coined, the San Francisco dance concerts were the cradle of hippie society. And the posters created to advertise the early gatherings helped to shape and promote the interests and ideals of this social group.

The initial series of rock posters did not terminate with the abandonment of the Haight-Ashbury community in 1967, however. In 1968, concert poster imagery reflected the head-on collision between the hippie ideals of peace and love and the reality of increasing violence in America. The posters created between 1968 and 1971 reflect the mood of despair during the transitional period between "flower power" and the time of facing issues which were shaking the foundations of American society. A careful examination of the course of rock poster art from 1965 to 1971 reveals that the later posters acknowledged young people's awareness of widespread drug abuse and other disturbing issues, such as environmental pollution, which were just then coming to light.

For the last two decades, the posters which were identified with the outdated hippie subculture and with the era which immediately followed, were, like the cultural periods they represented, largely forgotten. More recently, however, authors and media representatives have turned their attention to the Sixties decade. As a result, our fascination with the personalities and with the music of that period is being rekindled. More than nostalgia, our looking back has involved a re-evaluation of the idealistic philosophy which was then so prevalent. Since the Haight-Ashbury community is an integral part of that decade's history, enthusiasm for it and for the early concert posters is also on the rise. The recent inclusion of the so-called "psychedelic" posters in several books on poster art is evidence that their impact on the history of modern poster are is beginning to be evaluated. (pages ii - iii)

... On one of these figures, Wilson has written prominently in dark purple letters the phrase, "Truth Search." His inclusion of this phrase reflects his inquiry into the nature of the universe (remember he had been a philosophy student), which he attempted to express in visual terms in a number of posters.

Walter Medeiros has suggested a relationship between the "multiple, merging figures" in Wilson's posters with an awareness which he says "occurred to most people who 'dropped acid,'" which was a perception of the existence of a "unity and continuity of life." In Chapter One, I touched upon the subject of how art may reflect the artist's awareness of cosmic unity with reference to Salvador Dali's 'paranoiac-critical method" and Lee Conklin's lion poster. At that point, I argued that Conklin's picture could serve as a double metaphor for both drug hallucination and for the penetration of deeper levels of reality by means of yogic practices. For many, the drug and the meditative experiences seemed to bring about similar revelations; Timothy Leary wrote a book in 1964 which drew an analogy between Tibetan notions about an afterlife and the visions of an LSD user. Several writers have discussed the serious attitude of many who ingested LSD as a quest for knowledge about life and the universe. Robert Rosenstone, writing in 1969, referred to what he called a "search for personal experience, primarily of the 'mind-expanding' sort." He explains:

Throughout the music - as in the youth culture - there is a search for a kind of mystical unity, the ability to feel a oneness with the universe. This is what drugs are used for; this is what the total environment of the light and music shows is about; and this is what is sought in the sexual experience.

In Charles Perry's history of the Haight-Ashbury, he discusses a "psychedelic philosophy," which he describes as:

... an attempt to draw conclusions from an endlessly changing experience that in its very mutability seems paradoxically to reveal a unity. As boundaries between things dissolve, everything tends to become One, and also ideas merge.

We might understand Wilson's work as an expression of a "mystical unity" linking together all life forms. In Wilson's art, people and objects lose their individuality as they melt into liquid pools, in which "boundaries between things dissolve." His stylistic treatment is quite unlike Conklin's precise drawing in that Wilson's art conveys the visual distortion associated with LSD. However, Wilson's combination of words and picture may be understood as an attempt to convey the "acid" user's desire to seek truth behaind the organization of the universe. This poster shows that Wilson was not interested in simply conveying visual impressions, as some writers have suggested. His endeavor to incorporate into his poster images the reverent attitude of many who took LSD was an ambitious undertaking, and it reveals the nature of his approach to "commercial" art. For Wilson, poster art was not so much a form of advertising as it was a medium for reflection on a topical philosophical inquiry. (pages 126 - 128)

An "Indian incarnate" serving as Master of Ceremonies announced to the crowd, "Brothers, the spirit of the New Messiah may not be coming to us, but from us." The feeling prevailed during that day, and the months following that a new era was dawning, which seemed to promise peace and greater spiritual awareness for all humanity. For many of those who had come from all over California to attend the "Human Be-In," it seemed that the mantle of leadership for a new brother/sisterhood had been granted to the residents of the Haight-Ashbury community. While today the contagious optimism which prevailed at the "Be-In" may seem to have been naive and its proponents self-absorbed, still it is important to understand that on January 14, 1967, there were thousands of sincere advocates of a new faith, who were themselves determined to carry the message to many thousands more across the Western world. (pages 143 - 144)

Chet Helms worked from a set of ideals very different from those of Graham. To understand Helm's conception of his role, and of the place of his club within the hippie community, we need only consider his habit of donning a frock coat for Avalon happenings, and his greeting guests with "Welcome to our church." He once denied the Avalon stage to a popular local band, because, as he told them, they lacked "missionary zeal." He was committed to a "hippie sensibility," because he himself had helped to create the style of wit, the vision, and even the music which eventually intertwined with the identity of the Haight-Ashbury community. When that community disbanded, he continued to focus on "The Dog" as the nucleus of a brotherhood of like-minded individuals. Helms thought of the hippie phenomenon as a new religion, and of himself as proselytizer, promulgator, and later, guardian. He produced audience-participatory total-environment shows through 1968, with something of the determination of a zealot maintaining relics for visiting pilgrims. (pages 183 - 184)

Around the same time, an inevitable reaction against hippie music was signaled by David Bowie's rise to fame. Bowie's personal style became as important as his music, indicated by the term "glitter rock" which was coined in reference to his performances. Bowie's costumes, his green- and orange-colored hair, and his heavily painted face contrasted the faded jeans and T-shirts worn by groups like the Grateful Dead, while his adoption of alternate egos challenged the whole concept of "being yourself" on stage. Bowie's glitter act was followed by Elton John, rock music's own Liberace, and later by Frank Zappa's protégé, Alice Cooper. The popularity of Cooper, whose concert performances included hacking baby dolls to bits and staging macabre self-executions, made it clear that the concepts of "personal honesty," "peace" and "love" had vanished from the rock music scene by the early 1970s. (pages 211 - 212)

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