Did "The Establishment" hate "The Haight"?
Wear a flower in your hair?
"Fug You," the 2011 book written by Ed Sanders, had
completely gone stealth on the pop culture radar screen at the headquarters of
the World's Laziest Journalist until we noticed a remaindered copy for sale in
the Half-Price Bookstore in downtown Berkeley CA, last week. The snob appeal of being able to write about
Sanders Sixties Rock group, the Fugs, and casually saying "we saw them perform
in the Village in 1966" overpowered our usual tightwad tendency to avoid
spending money just to be able to write a column mit book
When we got the book home and leaned that the cover was a visual pun that referred to the time the Fugs were featured on the cover of LIFE magazine, we had a breakthrough moment that solved a conundrum that has been baffling us for a long time: "What makes the Bush era different from the Vietnam War era?"
The first time we read Albert Camus' book, "The Rebel," we
thought we encountered a passage that asserted that the Establishment, as
Society was called in the Sixties, would defuse rebels by absorbing them into
high society. (Subsequent rereadings of
the Camus' book failed to produce that particular passage for quoting
purposes.) That Camus insight, real or
imagined, helped us immensely in our various subsequent excursions into pop
culture analysis. Didn't a rebellious
band from England
eventually become The Rolling Stones Inc.?
Aren't the rights to the Beatles songs still earning royalties? Will new rock bands raise funds by selling
As we started to read "Fug You," we were delighted to see that a bunch of the references to the counterculture evoked some personal memories to add to our enjoyment level of Sanders recounting of the Sixties. (Was the Psychedelicatessen NYC's first "head shop"? [It was featured in a Time magazine story dated February 24, 1967.])
Then we had our breakthrough insight while staring at the
information that the Fugs were featured on the cover of the February 17, 1967
issue of LIFE magazine. In the Bush era,
underground cult heroes have zero chance of getting mainstream media
exposure. No corporation in its right
mind (pun?) will give free publicity to a movie maker, novelist, or band that
isn't a shining example of the capitalist philosophy and (even better) part of
that very corporation's "extended family" of subsidiaries.
It wasn't always like that.
When a book expert was asked to authenticate the validity of
a hardback copy of the first edition of Jack Kerouac's book, "On the Road,"
which was autographed and inscribed to Marilyn Monroe, his research revealed
that both the actress and the pioneer Beatnik novelist appeared on the Tonight
TV show on the same night, so he verified the authenticity of the item.
Sanders says (on page 230) that the Fugs were invited to perform on the Johnny Carson version of the Tonight Show but that a dispute over which song was to be performed caused the cancellation of that potential milestone in pop culture history.
On November 5, 1965, the Fugs added an extremely unusual
accomplishment to their resume (page 170).
Allen Ginsberg, the Fugs, and Country Joe and the Fish gave a concert
performance in a chemistry lecture room on the University of California
In the Bush era, the mainstream media does not feature stories on the counterculture and thus bestow legitimacy on the rebel artists and their anti-establishment philosophy. In the Sixties, underground celebrities were almost automatically given a ticket to fame by the mainstream media.
During 1969 while we lived in San Francisco, we were totally oblivious to
the fact that a co-worker from our college yearbook and newspaper, John Walsh,
was struggling with a counterculture venture in the very same city. (Woulda/coulda/shoulda) It wasn't until about two years later that
Newsweek magazine drew national attention to the feisty rock'n'roll magazine
being published in the city slightly to the East of Berkeley CA. That publishing venture called itself by the
same name that O. Henry had used years before when he attempted to publish a
magazine: "Rolling Stone."
San Francisco's band of rogues called the Merry Pranksters weren't the first people in the United States to buy an old bus and then go tearing around the country seeking fun and adventure, but the Pranksters were the first to have their escapades chronicled by a mainstream writer (from New York City) who just happened to be in the process of forming the Gonzo branch of Journalism, Tom Wolfe.
Hunter S. Thompson chronicled the exploits of the Hell's
Angles Motorcycle Club in the mid-Sixties in a book and then became a staff
writer for the previously mentioned Rolling Stone magazine.
Comedian Flip Wilson did a routine about keeping up with the latest news that included "The Church of What's Happening Now." Trend-spotting in the news media wasn't just a fad in the Sixties, it was an obsession.