Counterculture of the 1960s
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
The term counterculture came to prominence in the news media as it was used to refer to the youth rebellion and sexual revolution that swept North America, Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand during the 1960s and early 1970s. The term counterculture was first attested in the English language in 1968.
The counterculture of the 1960s began in the United States as a reaction against the conservative social norms of the 1950s, the political conservatism (and perceived social repression) of the Cold War period, and the US government's extensive military intervention in Vietnam. The movement quickly spread to Europe and the rest of the world.
Roots in the 1950s
Another important movement existed in a more fragmentary form in the 1950s, both in Europe and the US, in the form of the Beat generation (Beatniks), who typically sported beards, wore roll-neck sweaters, read the novels of Albert Camus and listened to jazz music.
During the early 1960s, Britain's new generation of blues rock gained popularity in its homeland and cult fame in the United States. Folk singers like Peter, Paul & Mary ("Puff the Magic Dragon") and Bob Dylan (The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan) influenced the British groups, and popular music became more closely aligned with the counterculture.
An international sound developed that moved towards an electric, psychedelic version of rock. In 1962 (see 1962 in music), The Beatles (Please Please Me) emerged from England and popularized British rock, while The Beach Boys' success brought harmony-laden surf music to the forefront of the American scene. With country and soul musicians unable to maintain their hipness, both faded from mass consciousness.
The Beatles went on to become the most prominent commercial exponents of the "psychedelic revolution" (e.g., Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band) in the late 1960s. American bands that achieved commercial success include the The Mamas & the Papas (If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears), Big Brother and the Holding Company, (Cheap Thrills), Jimi Hendrix (Are You Experienced?), Jefferson Airplane (Surrealistic Pillow) and The Doors (The Doors). The Grateful Dead are considered the first jam band of the 1960s. Psychedelic rock came to dominate the popular music scene for both black and white audiences.
While the hippie psychedelic scene was born in California, an edgier scene emerged in New York City that put more emphasis on avant-garde and art music. Bands such as The Velvet Underground came out of this underground music scene, predominantly centered at Andy Warhol's legendary Factory Club.
Detroit, Michigan's MC5 (Motor City 5) also came out of the underground rock music scene of the late 1960s. They introduced a more aggressive evolution of garage rock which was often fused with sociopolitical and countercultural lyrics of the era, such as in the songs "Motor City Is Burning" (a John Lee Hooker cover adapting the story of the Detroit Race Riot (1943) to the Detroit Insurrection of 1967), and "The American Ruse" (which discusses U.S. police brutality as well as pollution, prison, materialism and rebellion). They had ties to radical leftist organizations such as Up Against the Wall Motherfuckers and John Sinclair's White Panther Party (composed of white American socialists seeking to assist African Americans in the Civil Rights Movement). MC5 performed a lengthy set before the 1968 Democratic Convention held at International Amphitheatre in Chicago, Illinois where an infamous riot subsequently broke out between police and students protesting the recent assassination of The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Vietnam War. MC5, as well as The Stooges and the aforementioned Velvet Underground, have now been seen as among the most influential bands in rock music history and developed the protopunk sound that would lead to punk rock in the late 1970s.
As the psychedelic revolution progressed, lyrics grew more complex and long playing albums enabled artists to make more in-depth statements than could be made in a single song. Even rules governing single songs were stretched--singles lasting longer than three minutes emerged for the first time (Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" was the first of these).
Though not unheard of before the 1960s, the idea that popular music could and should lead social change came into its own during this period. Most existing musical styles were influenced, and new musical genres came into being, including heavy metal, punk rock, electronic music and hip hop.
Prominent Thought Leaders and Icons of the 1960s Counterculture Era (1963-1973)
This list includes selected notable persons who best represent primary elements of the larger movement in the U.S. The operative leaders of very well-established and very widely-supported legal movements (such as Civil Rights) are listed under those subject headings.
(Individuals noted as "Artists" are notable creators in multiple media. Specific arts are not noted here.)
- Saul Alinsky (Author, Activist)
- Bill Ayers (Activist, Professor)
- Joan Baez (Musician, Activist)
- Sonny Barger (Hells Angel)
- Walter Bowart (Publisher)
- Stewart Brand (Publisher, Environmentalist)
- Lenny Bruce (Comedian, Social commentator)
- George Carlin (Comedian, Social Commentator)
- Rachel Carson (Author, Environmentalist)
- Cheech & Chong (Comedians, Actors)
- Noam Chomsky (Linguist, Activist)
- David Dellinger (Pacifist, Activist)
- Bob Dylan (Artist)
- Daniel Ellsberg (Defense Analyst, Vietnam Protester)
- Betty Friedan (Author, Feminist, Activist)
- Jane Fonda (Actress, Activist)
- Jerry Garcia (Musician)
- Stephen Gaskin (Author, Activist, Hippie)
- Allen Ginsburg (Poet, Activist)
- Dick Gregory (Author, Activist)
- Paul Goodman (Sociologist, Writer, Poet, Pacifist)
- Wavy Gravy (Hippie, Activist)
- Che Guevara (Marxist, Guerrilla)
- Alan Haber (Activist)
- Tom Hayden (Activist)
- Hugh Hefner (Publisher)
- Karl Hess (Libertarian)
- Abbie Hoffman (Author, Activist)
- Ken Kesey (Author, “Merry Prankster”)
- Paul Krassner (Author)
- William Kunstler (Attorney, Activist)
- Timothy Leary (Professor, LSD Advocate)
- John Lennon/Yoko Ono (Artists, Activists)
- Abraham Maslow (Psychologist, Humanist)
- Michael McClure (Poet)
- Madalyn Murray O'Hair (Atheist, Activist)
- Phil Ochs (Folksinger, Activist)
- Richard Pryor (Comedian, Social Commentator)
- Jerry Rubin (Yippie, Activist)
- Mark Rudd (Activist)
- John Searle (Professor, Free Speech Advocate)
- Pete Seeger (Folksinger, Activist)
- John Sinclair (Poet)
- Smothers Brothers (Musicians, TV Stars, Activists]
- Owsley Stanley (Hallucinogenic Chemist)
- Gloria Steinem (Feminist, Publisher)
- Hunter S. Thompson (Author)
- Andy Warhol (Artist)
The Counterculture Revolution was affected by cinema. Films like Bonnie and Clyde stuck a chord with the youth. Films of this time also focused on the changes happening in the world. Dennis Hopper's Easy Rider (1969) focused on the counterculture of the time. Medium Cool portrayed the 1968 Democratic Convention alongside the 1968 Chicago Riots. The movie studios' only serious attempt to cash in on the hippie trend was in 1968's Psych-Out which is in stark contrast to Alice's Restaurant which portrayed the generation as “doomed” (J. Hoberman, 2003). The era ended with 1970's Woodstock, a documentary of the festival of the same name, which was a moderate commercial success.