Sunday, July 16, 2017

Looking Fondly on the Past

An exhibition called “Voices of Counterculture in the Southwest”  is at the History Museum of New Mexico.  It covers the “Summer of Love” 1967 through the 70’s in the southwest by which time the counterculture had already been active on the coasts for some time.  The final moments of the latter were probably with the ousting of Nixon and the end of the Vietnam war 1974-1975.

Meredith Davidson is curator of the 19th and 20th century southwest collection.   She did the exhibition together with Jack Loeffler, the renowned, historian, author, musician, activist and a member of the southwest counterculture movement.  They cooperated both on curating of the show and gathering the articles for the book accompanying the exhibition.   Loeffler wrote a number of the essays and in the final one called “Ebb Tide” he write, “Through the ages, countercultures have been marked by a refusal of governance from on high, a hatred of bureaucracy, a profound strain of anarchism, a thread of pragmatism.”   In an article in El Palacio, the magazine for the State Museums of New Mexico, Ms. Davidson adds, “… back to the land lifestyle …” was also important.

Jack Loeffler at the Gallup Indian Ceremonial, 1971
(SOURCE: Museum Of New Mexico Press)

From the press release: “Curators, Meredith Davidson and Jack Loeffler, tell the story of cultural revolution through first person audio from over 50 interviews with those who lived through the era. Documentary photography and artifacts help reinforce the role that individual actions take in shaping the course of history. So many of the social and political issues of the day still resonate and the museum will invite visitors to share their own stories in an audio feedback booth.”

Ms. Davidson’s expertise is in oral history,  so naturally there is a great deal of material well communicated by voice. Alan Ginsberg’s reading of his poem, “Howl” which he wrote already in the mid-fifties,  comes at the beginning of the show. It is fascinating since it prefigures the entire counterculture movement. Unfortunately, there is a lot of sound bleed so it is difficult for my old ears to be able to distinguish where the sound is coming from or understand what I am listening to.

There is an admirable effort in this exhibition to show how southwest counterculture  differed from that of the east coast.  Haight-Ashbury in San Franciso which became famous as a hippie capital and cradle of the Gay Rights Movement had its equivalent in the southwest where  Taos, New Mexico was the refuge of the hippies.

A section of the show deals with the best known of the communes, The Hog Farm, started in California. In the mid 60’s they moved to New York and by 1969 they bought land in Llano, New Mexico near Taos, still they agreed to stay and be involved with the Woodstock Music Festival  building fire pits, trails and a free kitchen.  Here is a video by Roberta Price a well known photographer giving a good idea of the concept of the exhibition.  It is called across the great divide and made in 1969.  Music from the story “Woodstock” by Joni Mitchell.

One of the catalog essays is by Rina Swentzell, a native of Santa Clara pueblo who became a very close friend when we started to settled in Santa Fe. She wrote about early life and marriage to Ralph Swentzell, an Anglo, and of their time in Taos when they were absorbed in the counterculture life. Even when her husband became a teacher at St. John’s College and they built their own lovely home in Santa Fe, they would rent it out to those coming for the opera season and spend weeks at a time in a VW bus traveling around the country.  That did not change after their three daughters were born.

Peyote, Marijuana, Timothy Leary and LSD were all associated with the counterculture movement of the 60’s and 70’s. Even though Peyote was smoked by the Indians since time immemorial, in 1937 a law was passed against smoking any leaf that could produce a high.

Free love, drugs, back to the land, I regret never having participated in any of these and I have always ascribed it to cowardice!  On the other hand, they have always been fantasies of mine and this exhibition reawakened those fantasies.  I saw others at the show clearly reminiscing about the years of their youth .

1 comment:

  1. You were a good kid! I on the other hand was not. Will share my late
    60s early 70s stories with you sometime, right down to meeting Alice of
    Alice's Restaurant!!!