Chapter 9, Counterculture, Part III

Provo Park

When the Haight-Ashbury began to become more unpleasant than pleasant, and we went there less and less, I was not overly impacted because Berkeley was generating its own Hippie Hill in a place called Provo Park. Provo Park is not to be confused with People’s Park. The former, located downtown near City Hall, was an established city park whose true name was Constitution Park. The latter, near campus, was not a park until hippies made it one. The name “Provo Park” came from an obscure 60s movement of anarchistic Dutch young people with which no one I know was familiar. How it got glued on to a park in Berkeley I have no idea and neither did anyone else I knew. Somebody just started calling it that and it caught on, perhaps because Constitution Park is a mouthful when you’re stoned.

For reasons unclear to me then and now, there began to be free concerts in the park on weekends. Local bands, known and unknown, would play for people sitting on blankets on the grass smoking weed, sometimes until the fog rolled in. It was unlike Hippie Hill in that it was mostly hippies or soon-to-be hippies, not a good mix of people from other walks of life, as Hippie Hill had been. In the spring and summer of 1967, I may still have been hanging out on Hippie Hill on weekends, but as soon as the Provo Park scene started, I switched. Why waste time getting to San Francisco when I could walk to Provo Park from my apartment? And, it had the great added draw that I was bound to meet or see people I knew there. It was much more of a party scene for me for that reason. Picnic in the park listening to bands, some good, some godawful, dancing when they were good, sitting with Billy and his group, it was good times.

One day was so special, I never forgot it. We had been there all afternoon, John and I, Billy and others, the bands had been great. I was more stoned than usual, possibly having taken a tiny dose of something, probably hash. The regular bands had finished up, it was getting late, people were leaving but we were all lingering. The fog was starting to roll in, meaning that it was going to soon be cold and damp and we really would have to leave. Then, to our complete and utter surprise, there appeared four or five Indian men in saffron robes carrying strange-looking instruments. Eschewing the small stage, they arranged themselves under a tree and were introduced from the stage. The announcer said, “Well, we have a surprise group today, the Bauls of Bengal.” (Pronounced Bah-ools.) He said they had been discovered in India by Bob Dylan and that was all I needed to keep me there.  

Smiling at the by now tiny crowd, they began playing Indian folk music on their unfamiliar instruments and singing in that Asian way so strange to Western ears. It was a recipe for most Americans to leave fast, but we were anthropologists and I, in particular, had an Asian expert advisor and the wild dream that I might someday go to India. You could not have dragged me away if you had tried. Rock-oriented people and the faint of heart split rapidly, leaving the park to folk and international music fans and world travelers, who were soon, like myself, utterly entranced.

Almost in deference, the fog hesitated for a while as we all snuggled closer together and pulled our jackets closer around us for warmth. They never stopped smiling at us, apparently unfazed by the weather or the departure of two-thirds of the audience. It became a very intimate scene. The fog did come in and we pulled our blankets over our heads, making a roof to keep off the damp while I worried that their instruments would be damaged by it. Staring out of the blankets, getting colder and colder, feeling close to my friends, listening to a magic band that had seemingly dropped down from the sky, precious memories. And, they played and played and played. We did not leave, certainly in part out of respect, until they were through playing and they did not stop until it was well and truly dark, as it probably was often in India when they played. When their record came out, I bought it immediately and can still hum many of the tunes most understandable to Westerners. It was cross-cultural communication at its finest.

Provo Park was fun while it lasted but, like the Haight scene, it gradually started turning into a bummer. There were dogs and the dogs would fight and people did not pick up the poop left by their dogs. There were people fights and unpleasant loud arguments. Gradually, I stopped going, as did many people I knew, as it became less and less the peaceful Sunday interlude it had been. I did not feel the same kind of vibe again until I moved to Humboldt County, and not too surprisingly, I ended up in Humboldt County because of people I saw often at Provo Park. Whatever the countercultural vibe was that began to happen in the park is the vibe that landed me in the country.

Altamont—Sympathy for the Devil19

The final blow to my joy in countercultural events came with the rock concert held at the Altamont Speedway, a racetrack east of Berkeley, about 30 miles past the Santa Rita jail, to which I had been taken as an FSM bustee the  last time I went that far east from Berkeley. It was to have been the western version of Woodstock. I first heard about it in the Gifford Room from Cowan. Not at first interested, I had asked, incredulously, “You want to go to a huge loud rock concert miles and miles from Berkeley policed by the Hell’s Angels? Why?” But, it was the Rolling Stones, it was all our favorite bands, and as Cowan said, grinning, “Hey, it’s free, we’re obligated to go.” There was no answer to that argument, so we all piled into Billy’s car on the day and drove out of Berkeley in high spirits.

The best part of the day, for me, was the traffic jam on the way. Almost to the Altamont Speedway, cars were gridlocked bumper-to-bumper and we were beginning to review the wisdom of this enterprise, when a guy walked up to our car, motioned for us to roll down the window and, laughing insanely, handed us a smoking joint. We had plenty of dope, we needed no charity, but an intrinsic part of the ritual being that you pass it, we had to accept, which we did, also laughing insanely. He left the joint with us as he walked back to the car in front of us, saying, “If there’s any left, walk it on to the next car.” It was a masterpiece of comaraderie and, by God, though we finished off that one, we got out one of our own and passed it on to the next car back. Who knows how far that chain went, spreading the hippie value of sharing to people enmired in a traffic jam.

Everything changed when we got there. By the time we parked our car and then walked a very long distance to find a place to sit, some of the excitement had begun to wear off. Even though we thought we had started out early, the speedway was half-filled when we got there, so we ended up sitting on a blanket far up on one of the hillsides. There were endless delays and it seems to me that we were there almost all day, waiting for the concert to start or continue, or waiting for the next act. Although we were quite accustomed to hanging out together on blankets outside while stoned, we began to notice that a lot of people in this crowd were drinking, not smoking. I wondered if some people had come just because the Hell’s Angels were involved, not in spite of it, as we had. As more and more people arrived throughout the day, the density began to increase. People were packed in tighter and tighter. Several times during the day, the announcer, on the stage so very far below us, asked everyone who could hear him to take five steps backward, in an effort to relieve the crowding.

Fights began to break out in the audience. There was one near us in which the fighters almost fell on top of us, pushing each other. The men in our group, mainly John, who was probably the most familiar with fighting in general, started pushing the pushers back off our blanket and it almost got out of hand. We all began to get a little antsy about the whole situation, as did, we could see, many people around us. Moving backwards in response to the announcer’s requests did not seem to be relieving much of the pressure down by the stage. We could see that there was a lot of commotion going on there. And, it was really, really hot. I remember that, by the time the Doobie Brothers finally played, I was long past ready to call it a day.

Finally, all the other bands were done and it was time for the headliners, The Rolling Stones. We waited and we waited and we discussed just how badly we cared about the Stones. Then we all agreed, the hell with it, even the Stones are not worth this and just think what a traffic jam it will be leaving. We gathered up our stuff and began carefully trying to pick our way through the other groups on blankets to the edge of the audience to get out. It was impossible to take the route by which we had come in because that route was now full of people.

Mick Jagger came onstage as we did this, I remember hearing the crowd roar and getting a glimpse of his cape. Too late for us, we were determined to get out of there. As we left, we heard the rumor being passed that someone was dead. In the end, we had to climb over a fence and walk a very long way to find the car. We heard the next day that a man had been stabbed down near the stage by a Hell’s Angel at the exact time that we were leaving. I breathed a sigh of relief that I had been with a bunch of sensible social scientists who could spot a bad scene brewing in time to get the hell out of it. There were three more deaths that day, two from traffic accidents and one from drowning in a ditch, and many injuries before it was all over.20

I have been asked if there was any comparison between Altamont and the Human Be-in, to which I reply “none whatsoever.” It was a different kind of crowd and a different kind of expectation and, importantly, it was a very different physical environment. Rather than a San Francisco green park, it was an East Bay speedway on extremely hot hillsides after a kick-ass drive. I would go so far as to say that even though Altamont was out of town and the Be-in was in the city, the difference in the outcome could be the difference between rural and urban, with Altamont being the urban. The park was mellow and there were no headliners, it was the exact opposite of Altamont, where instead of “go with the flow,” people were anxious to get there and see some specific rock stars. And, of course, Altamont was much bigger. At one point during the day, I remember, it was announced that there were 500,000 people there, about the total population of the City of Berkeley at that time. I remember wondering why that was a point of pride when it looked like entirely too many people to me.

In the car, on the way home, we all agreed that that was the last big rock concert we would ever attend. It was certainly the last such event I ever attended. The death at the end had only been the culmination of the tension we had felt all day. I was somewhat bemused for a while that I had never gotten to have a Woodstock experience, but in the long run, I got way more than my share of Woodstock experiences, and without the mud.

Dropping out of anthropology

As departmental politics began to squeeze me out of the PhD program at Berkeley, I began to become disenchanted with anthropology for reasons other than spies. There was a movement in my discipline, often derided as the “lab coat movement,” that insisted on our emulating the hard sciences as much as possible. We were all going to become very objective. We were going to reduce all information to only that which could be quantified or recorded. We could analyze it, but we were strictly forbidden by this school of thought from applying it to anything, or to seek to use any anthropological data to change our own culture in any way. I became increasingly frustrated with this position, the more I came into contact with people who had it. When, years later, I entered graduate school at Washington State University, it was exactly because I had been directed to an anthropologist who shared my view of anthropology and had succeeded, in spite of it.

One of the classic arguments was that there was no such thing as a pathological society. This was a turning away from the functional school in which we had all been so thoroughly trained, in which society is seen as an organism in which the organs function together, and change together. According to the functional view, if the economy changes, religious practice will follow; if the technology changes, mating rituals will follow. It seemed obvious to me that if society is like an organism, then it can certainly be pathological in the sense that it becomes maladaptive. If organisms can get sick and society is analogous to an organism, then why can we not say that American society is sick because it is maladaptive? And, it seemed to many of us that it was very easy to quantify that in terms of adaptation. If our technology was such that we could now eliminate all life on the planet and we did not have the social institutions to prevent that happening, were we not maladaptive and therefore pathological? At that time, we were thinking mostly of nuclear bombs, but later on we began to think more about the environment.

That position, due to the lab coat syndrome, was very unpopular in mainstream anthropology, and if I brought it up in the wrong crowd I could be assured that I would be met with strenuous resistance. When I presented a similar idea, asking why it was that society could not consciously evolve, now that we knew about evolution, I was laughed at, belittled and patronized. The whole idea of a pathological society conflicts with that of cultural relativity, a viewpoint we were obliged to maintain in discussing other cultures, no matter what. It made sense to me that cultural relativity had to be maintained when studying other cultures, but I felt that I had a perfect right and obligation to apply anthropology to my own society. And, if my analysis tells me my own society is not only maladaptive for itself but maladaptive for the human species and perhaps for life on the planet, I have the right and the obligation to point that out. The more I ran into the mainstream position, the more frustrated I got. I was not the only anthropologist who felt that way. I knew Gerry had my back on this issue, as well as many other issues, such as the potential of anthropology to be a tool of imperialists.

I had expected anthropology to be a rational route to changing society for the better. I was very disappointed when I found out that that was not how other people saw it. Most of the anthropologists in my department were very much a part of the system. When I fully realized that, I was not just disappointed, but I also felt ripped off. I felt even lied to. Then, I felt very much the dropout position presented by Timothy Leary, that if you participate in the system you are helping to maintain it. My disillusionment with anthropology, which took place on several levels, was a big part of the discontinuity/dropout experience for me.

Dropping out of politics

Although I spent nearly eight years in the very center of the political events people associate with Berkeley and I was, indeed, busted, threatened, divorced and unfairly maneuvered out of grad school because of that participation, I never saw myself as a political person. The issues to me were never political, but moral, and what my intense religiosity turned into when my religion turned on me was morality. I am not speaking of morality in the way the preachers use that word, revolving largely around issues of sex and the proper place of women, but morality in the wider sense of what we are obliged to do as compassionate human beings–morality in the sense that Christ would have meant it, had he ever used that word.

As the counterculture became a greater and greater influence in my life, I became more and more aware of this morality vs. political action dichotomy. Living a moral life, in the sense that I am using the word moral, was bigger than participating in movements deemed political. Conversely, the idea promoted later by the Women’s Movement, that the personal is political, occurred to me before it was made explicit by the Women’s Movement. How political or apolitical the counterculture was and is, is a question that has never been completely settled anywhere near me. The countercultural community of SoHum is periodically riven by issues that pit the political action people against the don’t-draw-any-attention-to-us people and people who were in one camp with reference to one issue may join the other camp on a different issue. It dates back historically to the time when the goals of the counterculture and the antiwar movement briefly overlapped, such as the People’s Park movement and the Human Be-in.

When I announced to my friends, for the second time, a year after I had dropped out of graduate school, that I really and truly was now going to leave Berkeley and move to a countercultural community, the effort to talk me out of it was intense. I was perceived as one who was abandoning “The Movement,” to seek my own personal gain over the bigger goals to which I had devoted so much energy thus far. It was argued that the counterculture could achieve nothing because it was apolitical and the only route to changing America was the political route. Elections, campaigns, demonstrations, petitions, speeches, strikes and sit-ins, how could living in the woods with a bunch of hippies possibly compete with that in bringing about change? I was accused of wasting my talents, skills, intelligence and training.

There was a revealing exchange while I was still a student that shows the general attitude of my colleagues toward my increasing level of burnout. One day in the Gifford Room, Cowan and I got into it about my saying that I would not participate in whatever the latest thing was because I was just too tired. I said something like, “I think I’ll sit this one out.” Cowan went into one of his characteristic frenzies, telling me I had to do it or I had no social conscience, or something similar. I said something like, “I have no fears about the status of my social conscience, but I do fear for my health and sanity.” Cowan said, “Well, that’s not what you do. When things aren’t going your way, you don’t just pick up your marbles and go home.”

Listening quietly but alertly to this exchange was another activist graduate student, Chuck Dillon, whose opinion I greatly valued. Chuck had been slouching on the couch, looking up occasionally, but clearly following my efforts to hold my own against Cowan. Now, he straightened up, eyeballed Cowan pointedly and said, “Oh, yes she can. They’re her marbles. She can pick them up and go home any time she wants to.” Then he slouched back into listening position on the couch, leaving a stunned silence in his wake. I damn near dropped through the floor at this unexpected support on my flank, but rallied enough to flash Chuck a look of gratitude, wrap it up somehow with Cowan and flounce out of the room. My own crowd was opposing me, but some people knew exactly what I was saying. Before Chuck came to Berkeley, he had been a “Nader’s Raider.” I felt that his credentials to opine on who was or was not betraying The Movement exceeded even Cowan’s.

I had no conscious notion, until I had actually settled in SoHum, that I was doing anything but trying to save myself from whatever J. Edgar Hoover was cooking up, while staying in the company of sympatico people and finding the safest place possible for my daughter. But, I was not alone in being a burnt-out, scared former politico following other such persons into the country. Once there, it was soon obvious to me that what we were doing in that locality could have implications for change as much as or beyond anything I could personally do if I stayed in the middle of The Movement. I am of the opinion that, ultimately, the counterculture did more to change the culture of America than the would-be revolutionaries did. By that I mean the advocates of violence, from Stop the Draft Week to the Symbionese Liberation Army.

Those that say the counterculture ruined the revolution are taking a typically narrow viewpoint. Like any good hippie, I think real change comes from inside the heads of individuals. It grows out from there and grows into their lives and from there into the community around them, so that those who stuck with the counterculture, specifically those who moved the counterculture into the country, were doing a much more political thing, in the long run, than ever “the revolution” did. The way you lived your life, the everyday choices that you made as a result of how your head had changed, were in themselves political. In that sense, I would claim that I have lived my politics every moment of my life since Berkeley.

FOOTNOTES

1Anders, Jentri, 1990. Beyond Counterculture: the community of Mateel. Pullman: Washington State University Press. Available online through Humboldt State University Library, Digital Scholar Program.

2Ibid., pp. 15-16.

3Ibid.

4Cf. Festinger, Leon, 1957. A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

5Frost, Robert, 1989. The Road Not Taken, Selected Poems of Robert Frost. Fort Worth, Florida: Harcourt Brace College Publishers,.

6Gibran, Kahlil,1982. The Prophet. NY: Alfred A. Knopf.

7Fuller, Buckminster. This quote is widely used and attributed to Fuller but, apparently like everyone else, I cannot find the primary source. The quote is attributed to Fuller in Jon Lebkowsky and Mitch Ratcliffe, Extreme Democracy, lulu.com, 2007, p.101. The relevant footnote merely cites Fuller, 1982, St. Martin’s Griffin, without providing a title or page number. Since Fuller published more than one work in 1982, the primary source is apparently still unknown.

8Berkeley in the Sixties transcript, p. 60. California Newsreel, no date. Available at www.newsreel.org

9Zukav, Gary, 1979. The Dancing Wu Li Masters: An Overview of the New Physics. New York: Morrow.

Capra, Fritjof, 1975. The Tao of Physics: An Exploration of the Parallels Between Modern Physics and Eastern Mysticism. Boulder, Colorado: Shambala Publications.

11One Toke Over the Line, a song by Brewer and Shipley, 1970.

12Cf. Goffman, Irving, 1956. “The Nature of Deference and Demeanor,” American Anthropologist 58:473-502.

13Tart, Charles T., 1971. “On Being Stoned: A Psychological Study of Marijuana Intoxication,” Palo Alto CA: Science and Behavior. And Humphrey Osmond, 1964. “A Review of the Clinical Effects of Psychomimetic Agents.” In Soloman, David, ed. LSD: The Consciousness-Expanding Drug. New York: G.P.Putnam’s Sons.

13Cf. Sagan, Carl. 1979. Broca’s Brain. New York: Random House. The popularization and misrepresentation of the science relating to brain lateralization since Sagan’s work has resulted in a body of work referring to lateralization as a myth. None of these works that I have seen negate the original science, or Sagan’s presentation of it, only the popularized misrepresentations of it.

14Dylan, Bob. Like a Rolling Stone.

15Reich, Wilhelm, 1972. Character Analysis. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

16Berkeley in the Sixties transcript, op.cit., p. 35.

17Ibid., p. 62.

18Shaping San Francisco’s Digital Archive@Found website. http://www.foundsf.org/index.php?title=Human_Be-In

19Rolling Stones, Sympathy for the Devil, the song they were rumored to have been playing when the stabbing occurred.

20Rolling Stone, “Disaster at Altamont: Let it Bleed,” January 21, 1970.

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