History of the counterculture

The 1950’s in America were considered a true awakening of youth culture. If this is true then the 1960’s was a decade of discovery. It was a decade marred by social unrest, civil rights injustice, and violence abroad. These were some of the factors that lead to a revolution that attempted to bifurcate the fabric of American society. Teenagers were breaking away from the ideals that their parents held, and were attempting to create their own society. If they were to accomplish this they would turn the current system upside down. In 1962, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said his most famous words: “I have a dream.” (Constable, 144) He was not the only one who felt this way. For many, the 1960s was a decade in which their dreams about America might be fulfilled. For Martin Luther King Jr., this was a dream of a truly equal America; for John F. Kennedy, it was a dream of a young vigorous nation that would put a man on the moon; and for the hippie movement, it was one of love, peace, and freedom. (Constable, 34) The 1960s was a tumultuous decade of social and political upheaval. We are still confronting many social issues that were addressed in the 1960s today. In spite of the turmoil, there were some positive results, such as the civil rights revolution. However, many outcomes were negative: student antiwar protest movements, political assassinations, and ghetto riots excited American people and resulted in a lack of respect for authority and the law. However, with all the talk and the tension that this movement created it turned out to be an empty rebellion. While it did voice important concerns about civil rights, the Vietnam War, and the injustices of society. (Constable, 27-28)
It is important to first examine the change in music that was the fuel of the counterculture revolution. Rock n Roll was born in the 1950’s. It was this birth that allowed the counterculture to be born. Without the innovation of the Rock n’ Roll of the 1950’s the rock of the 1960’s would have never evolved. It became an outlet for the teenagers of the 1960’s to express themselves and voice their concerns about society.
Rock n’ Roll emerged from rhythm and blues, a music similar to jazz played by blacks. This kind of music started to attract white teenagers. Disc jockey Alan Freed was the one who introduced this music and later gave it the name of Rock n Roll. (Groliers, 1) Record companies distributed records played by whites but composed by blacks. Whites were frustrated because there werent any white artists and they didnt want the blacks to be the stars until Bill Haley appeared with his “Rock Around the Clock”. This typifies the racial attitudes of the decade. It showed the segregated view of society that existed among the races. By teenagers acknowledging black music it was a move that started to separate the culture of the teenagers from their parents. (Constable, 71-72) In this decade, Elvis Presley introduced a music that was sexual suggestive and outraged dull adults. In time he changed the style of the music by adopting a country and western style and became a national hero. By the end of this decade and the start of the next, Rock n Roll started to decline because it was formula ridden and it was too sentimental. Teenage audiences transferred their allegiance to Folk music. In 1963 the renewal of Rock n Roll came when The Beatles started to play. (Frank, 13)The Beatles, for some the best rock group ever, were from Liverpool, England. Through the 60s, The Beatles dominated the record industries and with their dominant instrumentation, which included: electric leads, rhythm, and bass guitar, drums and sometimes an electric organ, changed the name of Rock n Roll to just Rock. During the 1960s, many other styles of music arose from Rock like, Motown, Soul music, Jazz-rock , Folk-rock and others. Folk-Rock the most appreciated of this derivations and was first suggested by Bob Dylan. (Groliers, 1-2)This kind of music brought to folk music a hard beat and amplification; and to Rock, a new poetic style. California was one of the major centers of rock activity and experimentation during the decade. First it was characterize for its surfing music, a very joyful music that reflected the fun people had while surfing. The Beach Boys were the ones who introduced this kind of music. At the end of the century this happy kind of music changed to a more rebellious style that was designated the name of “hippie music”. Groups that played this music were Country Joe and The Mamas and The Papas. Along with this hippie ideas popularity of hallucinogenic drugs produced a psychedelic style of music called Acid Rock. By the end of the 60s the distinctions between Rock n Roll and Rock were evident.(Groliers, 2)
The early instruments- saxophone, piano, amplified guitar, and drums had been changed to electric guitar and bass, amplified drums and other electronic devices. Not only did the instruments change but so did the ideas behind the music. For example, “to the lyrics of teenage love and adolescent concerns were added social commentary, glorification of drugs and free-association poetry”(Groliers, p.1). Groups like The Beach Boys, Crew Cuts and The Everly Brothers were replaced by
more imaginative, non-descriptive names groups like The Who, Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and Holding Company. The Who, the most famous of these groups, were originally from England and were renowned because of their bizarre stage performances, they would destroy their instruments after their performance finished. The Who was one of the first rock groups.

Another important aspect of the 1960’s that influenced the evolution of the counterculture was that of the civil rights movement. In 1964, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, and in 1965 they passed the Voting Rights act. (Constable, 153-55) The Civil Rights Movement did not just affect American minorities, but everyone who lived in the United States at the time. The momentum of the previous decade’s civil rights gains led by Reverend Martin Luther King carried over into the 1960s. But for most blacks, the tangible results were minimal. Only a small percentage of black children actual attended integrated schools, and in the South, “Jim Crow” practices barred blacks from jobs and public places. New groups and goals were formed to push for full equality. As often as not, white resistance resulted in violence. (Constable, 148-150)In 1962, during the first large-scale public protest against racial discrimination, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave a dramatic and inspirational speech in Washington, D.C. during a march on the capital. “The Negro,” King said in his speech, “lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity and finds himself an exile in his own land” (Gitlin 77). Under leaders like Martin Luther King, blacks were trying attain all the rights a white man would have. In 1965, King and other black leaders wanted to push beyond social integration, now guaranteed under the previous year’s Civil Rights Act, to political rights. Reverend King announced that as a “matter of conscience and in an attempt to arouse the deepest concern of the nation,” (Gitlin 84) he was compelled to lead another march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. When the marchers reached the capitol, they were to have presented a petition to Governor George Wallace protesting voting discrimination. However, when they arrived, the Governor’s aides came out and said, “the capitol is closed today” (Gitlin 85). Unfortunately, the event that moved the Civil Rights Movement most significantly was the assassination of Martin Luther King in 1965. Moments after the assassination, terrible cruelty replaced the harmony. Rioting mobs in Watts, California pillaged, killed, and burned, leading to the death or injury of hundreds and millions of dollars in damage. The civil rights movement was a very important factoring in molding the counterculture.

Besides the Civil Rights movement, there was another important movement during the 1960s: the Student Movement. Youthful Americans were outraged by the intolerance of their universities, racial inequality, social injustice, and the Vietnam War. The Student Movement led to the hippie culture. This movement marked another response to the decade as the young experimented with music, clothes, and drugs. These young people became known as hippies. Hippies preached mysticism, honesty, joy, and nonviolence. (Time 7 July 1967, 4-5) In 1969, they held the famous Woodstock Festival for peace in New York, a three day concert that emphasized their beliefs. One of the chief movements that came from the Student Movement were the antiwar protests during the Vietnam War. (Time 6 Jan. 1967, 22) The United States first became directly involved in Vietnam when Harry Truman started to underwrite the costs of France’s war against Viet Minh. Later, the presidencies of Dwight Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy increased America’s political, economic, and military commitments in the Indochina region. (Constable, 71-73) Starting with teach-ins in 1965, the massive antiwar efforts centered on the colleges, with the students playing the lead roles. The teach-in approach was at first a gentle approach to the antiwar activity. But soon other types of protest grew to replace it. These demonstrations were one form of attempting to go beyond mere words and to “put direct pressure on those who were conducting policy in an apparent disdain for the will expressed by the voters” (Gitlin 30). In 1965, the United States started strategic bombings of North Vietnam, catalyzing the public opinion of what was happening in the region. These bombings helped sustain the antiwar protests and spawned new ones, “and the growing cost of American lives coming home in body bags only intensified public opposition to the war” (Rubin 54). The antiwar movement spread directly among the combat troops in Vietnam, who began to wear peace symbols and flash peace signs in movement salutes. Some units even organized their own demonstrations to link with the activity at home. The war in Southeast Asia and the war at home dominated newspaper headlines and the attention of the White House. Only a quarter of Americans approved of his handling of the war in 1968. The antiwar movement that began small became giant. Americans were soon shocked to learn about the communists’ massive Tet Offensive on January 31, 1968. The offensive demonstrated that Johnson had been making the progress in the war seem greater than it really was; it appeared to have no end. Johnson withdrew from the election in 1968, and the communists planned to do battle with their new enemy, Richard Nixon. Besides the unsuccessful Vietnam campaign, the United States was also involved in another unsuccessful battle: the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of 1963.

Now that we have examined the aspects of the counterculture, we must look at the key to the counterculture: the hippies. The culture of the hippie was meant to occur because of the tumultuous events that surrounded the decade of the 1960’s. With the development of new technology, a war against Communism, and an internal war against racial injustice, a change in America was sure to happen. As the children of the baby boom became young adults, they found far more discontent with the world around them. This lead to a subculture labeled as hippies, that as time went one merged into a mass society all its own. These people were upset about a war in Vietnam, skeptical of the present government and its associated authority, and searching for a place to free themselves from societys current norms, bringing the style they are known for
today. Eve of destruction; no satisfactionand a third motif went rippling through the baby-boom culture: adhesive love (Gitlin,200). The freedom they found came with the help of drugs. Marijuana evolved from its black and Hispanic, jazz-minded enclaves to the outlying zones of the white middle class young (Gitlin 200). This new drug allowed a person to open their mind to new understandings and philosophies. But it wasnt just marijuana that opened the minds of the youth; a new drug known as LSD came into existence: Depending on who was doing the talking, LSD is an intellectual tool to explore psychic inner space, a new source of kicks for thrill seekers, the sacramental substance of a far-out mystical movement- or the latest and most frightening addiction to the list of mind drugs now available in the pill society being fashioned by pharmacology (Clark 59). With politicians and law enforcement
officers looking on the drug as a danger to society, many expert
chemists set up underground laboratories and fabricated potent and pure LSDkept their prices down, gave out plenty of free samples, and fancied themselves dispensers of miracles at the service of a new age (Gitlin 214). It wasnt just the youth in America who was using these drugs. A statistic from 1967 states that more American troops in Vietnam were arrested for smoking marijuana than for any other major crime (Steinbeck 97). The amazing statistic wasnt the amount of soldiers smoking marijuana; it was the amount of soldiers America was sending over to fight a war that nobody understood. Between 1965 and 1967, troops doubled and redoubled and redoubled
twice more (Gitlin 261). In a letter to President Johnson sent by
student leaders from 100 American colleges and universities and
published in Time, this problem was addressed: Significant and
growing numbers of our contemporaries are deeply troubled about the posture of their Government in Viet Nam. Even more are torn-by reluctance to participate in a war whose toll keeps escalating, but about whose purpose and value to the U.S. they remain unclear. With the fear of being sent to Vietnam, many potential draftees looked for a place to run. Some went to Mexico, some went to Europe, some went to Canada, and some just burnt their draft-cards to resist the draft. For those who went to Canada, they received assistance from the Committee to Aid American War Objectors. The committee helped the young immigrants with advice and aid on the Canadian immigration laws. For those who didnt flee, life was full of harassment from the Government. Popular music and literature help display this message of repression. Jimi Hendrix released a song titled If 6 was 9 that described his oppression: White collared conservative flashing down the street/Pointing their plastic finger at me/Theyre hoping soon my kind will drop and die…Go on Mr. business man/You cant dress like me. During Woodstock, the music festival in 69, Country Joe and the Fish sang lyrics that were both comical and intense: What are we fighting for?/Dont ask me,I dont give a damn/Next stop is Vietnam…Whoopee were all gonna die. Jerry Rubin illustrated his anger in the government, in the book he wrote while spending time in jail. We Are Everywhere describes Rubins hatred towards all authority admitting, heroin is the governments most powerful counter-revolutionary agent, a form of germ warfare. Since they cant get us back into their system, they try to destroy us through heroin (Gitlin 118). This repression of the elder generation sent the youth to accepting communities, particularly out west. Most of the people leaving their homes came from working-class families whose parents and communities had driven them out for simply for supporting the civil rights movement. Being alienated from their towns and considered communists, they found it easy to side with the anti-war movement. It was also easy for them to discover drugs and the free-love idea that was already being spread. The new culture identified themselves with the Native Americans and their unquestionable oppression, sacramental drugs, and true ties to America. The style that they developed was true to this philosophy. Described by Gitlin: Dope, hair, beads, easy sex, all that might have started as symbols of teenage difference or deviance, were fast transformed into signs of cultural dissidence…Boys with long and unkempt hair, pony tails, beards, old-timey mustaches and sideburns; girls unpermed, without rollers, without curlers, stringy-haired, underarms and legs unshaven, free of makeup and bras…A beard could be understood as an attempt to leap into manhood…Clothes were a riot of costumes…Indias beads, Indians headbands ,cowboy-style boots and hides, granny glasses, long dresses, working-class jeans and flannels; most tantalizingly, army jackets.(Gitlin,215) There was a tour bus that ran through the Haight-Ashbury area
in San Francisco called the Gray Line. The tours promotional
brochure contained the statement: The only foreign tour within the continental limits of the United States (Sutton, 36). The
significant people in the city didnt like the idea of a large
hippie community growing in their city. The city didnt contain any photographs on file, nor did they dig the idea of journalists doing reports on the hippies. Ronald Reagan thought of the hippies as someone who dresses like Tarzan, has hair like Jane, and smells like Cheetah (Gitlin, 217). But with or without such outside influences, the hippies continued to pursue their make love not war and free love attitudes. No movement in our history defines a cultural change more accurately than the hippie movement in the 60s. They had their own laws, music, clothes, and writings. The view of what a society should be was a common one to all hippies. Their ideas were important all throughout the late Sixties and early Seventies, and there is still a hippie population in America today.

The counterculture was a movement that occurred because of the environment of the 1960’s. It was created from the racial inequality, social unrest, and the growing need for the baby boomer generation to distinguish themselves from their parents. These so called hippies created a culture of their own that grew from the heavy use of drugs, a new style of rock that evolved from the rock of the 1950’s, and a sexual revolution that changed the values of society. The 1960’s had a pronounced effect on future generations. It brought about a change in civil rights, and the publics’ voicing of concerns about governmental decisions.