Category Archives: Cultural milestone

Haight Street Head Shops

Haight Street Head Shops

On January 3, 1966 the legendary Psychedelic Shop on Haight Street opened its doors. It was likely the first, but no one was keeping track.

Haight Street Head Shops

Haight Street Head Shops

Why “Head” ?

Why did the word “head” come to refer to someone who used marijuana? The association between the word head and drug use goes back at least to 1911 when the writer C B Chrysler wrote in White Slavery Opium smokers, ‘hop fiends,’ or ‘hop heads,’ as they are called, are the fiercest of all the White Slavers.”

In other words, the drug of choice, usually an illegal one, was the prefix for the word “head” until the word alone referred to a drug user.

In the 1960, the most common drug was marijuana, of course, so a “head” commonly referred to that person and that drug.

Haight Street Head Shops

Feed Your HeadHead shops

While that use of the word may have been an underground one, entrepreneurs would still shy away from using that specific a word to name their establishment.

Head shops were not simply a supply store. They were places where so-called underground news was found whether it be in newspapers, flyers, or political conversation.

What were a head shop’s supplies? Black lights for posters that used inks containing phosphors. When the ultraviolet light hit those inks the posters glowed. A nice enhancement to an evening atmosphere in a dorm room or a basement rec room.

The pill case, but not the pills, The grass container, but not the grass.

Candles and incense. The Beatles influence went beyond music, of course, and their delving into Eastern philosophy meant those things associated with the East were automatically interesting.

When tie-dyed clothing became popular, it joined the scene along with other “hip” clothing along side water buffalo sandals.

Haight Street Head Shops

Accouterments

Haight Street Head Shops

Not that a head shop sold the drugs themselves (at least not directly), but the shop sold those things necessary for drug use. Rolling papers (Zig Zag? Big Bambu?), hash pipes, and water pipes (for those harsher cheaper blends that were the only mixes sometimes available or adding a bit of mentholated mouth wash to the water for a cooler drag).

Haight Street Head Shops

On line

Google “on line head shop” and not surprisingly one will discover that that they are there in full. “Smoke Cartel,” “Dankstop,” “Everyonedoesit,”  “Smokesmith Gear“, and many others offer both the new necessities (vapes) and the old school standbys.

As always, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Haight Street Head Shops
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Fonda Hopper Easy Rider

Fonda Hopper Easy Rider

Byrds, “Ballad of Easy Rider” (Roger McGuinn)
The river flows, it flows to the sea
Wherever that river goes that’s where I want to be
Flow river flow, let your waters wash down
Take me from this road to some other town
All he wanted was to be free
And that’s the way it turned out to be
Flow river flow, let your waters wash down
Take me from this road to some other town
Flow river flow, past the shady trees
Go river go, go to the sea
Flow to the sea
Fonda Hopper Easy Rider

Woodstock away

When Michael Lang and the other Woodstock Ventures partners agreed that they’d do not just an outdoor festival, but an outdoor festival in the country, away from the city, back to Nature, away from the Establishment’s concrete lives, they were tapping into an old American view of the freedom of travel.

Fonda Hopper Easy Rider

Premiered July 14, 1969

Fonda Hopper Easy Rider

Fonda Hopper Easy Rider

Road stories

We humans love stories and we particularly love stories about journeys. Ever since Homer sat down and recited the tale of Odysseus and his attempt to return home to Penelope, multitudes of tales have followed creating variations on that theme.

The list of those variations is far longer than any little blog like this one could delineate, but Mr Chaucer’s 1478  Canterbury Tales comes to mind as does Jack Kerouac’s 1957 On the Road. And of course Mr Tolkien’s tale of Mr B Baggins of Bag End.

Fonda Hopper Easy Rider

Road films

As soon as Americans started to build roads for motorized vehicles, a plethora of films about people and their travels ensued. The movie of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath novel couldn’t have happened without cars and roads. At least not in the same way.

Visit the Federal Highway Commission’s site for its extensive list of road-related films.

Fonda Hopper Easy Rider

Easy Rider

By the summer of 1969 the cultural revolution was in high gear. Rock festivals dotted the summer calendar. War protests continued. The anti-hero reigned. In 1967, The Graduate had shown us the suburban anti-hero. Easy Rider introduced  us to two western hippie anti-heroes.

Fonda Hopper Easy Rider

Captain America & Wyatt

Peter Fonda played Captain America and Dennis Hopper played Billy. Both dress in a counter-cultural style: Fonda in a leather jacket with an American Flag stenciled on it;  Hopper in leather pants and jacket in imitation of some Native American tribal dress.

They leave California with a gas tank filled with drug money, intending to head east to New Orleans and thence to Florida. Such a trip is the opposite direction of what traditional American history books told of Manifest Destiny and going west to explore, settle, displace, and claim the American dream.

Fonda Hopper Easy Rider

Easy Rider Itinerary

Along the way they visit a commune, experience free love, get arrested, introduce a new friend (“George Hanson” played by Jack Nicholson) to marijuana, get beaten by locals, use LSD, and witness death.

Fonda Hopper Easy Rider

Impact

The story reinforced the counterculture’s view of the Establishment’s worthlessness and corruption, and that most Americans saw those who tried to live freely as a threat to their way of life.

The soundtrack’s artists reinforced that view. Included were The Band, The Byrds, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, and Steppenwolf.

Fonda Hopper Easy Rider
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Furthur Departs Arrives

Furthur Departs Arrives

June 17, 1964

Furthur Departs Arrives

sound from the trailer for “Magic Trip”

When did the 60s begin?

When did the 60s–“those” 60s–begin? Not with Elvis Presley’s return from the Army and becoming a movie actor. Not with JFK’s Camelot: neither its captivating start nor tragic end. Not even with the Beatles USA arrival.

When the words”the 60s” are said, people typically think of psychedelics, the Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix, Woodstock, Vietnam protests, assassinations, political turmoil, and general cultural revolution.

Furthur Departs Arrives

Ken Kesey

Ken Kesey was a writer who participated in the US Government’s top secret 1950s Project MKUltra. At a time when the fear atomic warfare between us and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics dominated our daily consciousness, any way of stopping such an apocalyptic war seemed reasonable.

The idea was that human drug testing might help us get their spies to reveal secrets and to keep our spies from revealing secrets. Our sensible aim, our necessary aim was to learn how to strengthen, to weaken, or to demoralize.

Furthur Departs Arrives

LSD

LSD was among the various drugs given to him and Kesey found that it seemed quite enlightening, enjoyable, and even entertaining. Legal still, he and Ken Babbs helped form the Merry Pranksters who used LSD recreationally.

Furthur Departs Arrives

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

             Kesey was also a successful writer having landed in 1962 on best seller lists with One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.  His next novel, Sometimes a Great Notion (1964) required his presence in New York City. And 1964 meant the start of the New York World’s Fair. What better way to get to New York and its Fair than do a cross-country trip (literally and figuratively) with friends, i.e., the Merry Pranksters?

Furthur Departs Arrives

Furthur

They bought a 1939 International Harvester school bus, decorated it, named it Further (or Furthur), built an observation turret on top, and installed a sound and recording system. Neal Cassady was the bus driver and scenery docent.

Furthur Departs Arrives

Furthur Departs

They left their base in La Honda, California on June 17, 1964. They only traveled 40 miles their first day due to a mechanical (actual, not figurative) problem that temporarily stalled them.

The Pranksters’ trip was a living art project, performance art. They stopped regularly to visit friends or experience the world through LSD. On the east coast and New York, they visited fellow LSD aficionado Dr Timothy Leary in Millbrook, NY. The Pranksters’ west coast approach to LSD and the more academic east coast approach did not meld and the two camps left with no detente.

Furthur Departs Arrives

Tom Wolfe

The best-known account of the whole Prankster scene and Furthur’s journey is Tom Wolfe’s Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.  The Pranksters themselves did film their trip, but understandably the visual and sound were rarely coordinated. It was not until 2011 that the movie Magic Trip, with overdubbings, revealed the trip’s many interesting facet.

Furthur Departs Arrives

Acid Tests

The Acid Tests began back in California after the Pranksters’s return. The Warlocks–soon to be the Grateful Dead–were the house band. Thus began that amazing partnership between hallucinogenics and music.

The last official acid test was its graduation on October 31, 1966. Kesey went to jail for 6 months shortly after.

Furthur Departs Arrives

Woodstock

The last trip that the original Furthur made was to the Woodstock Music and Art Fair in 1969.  The bus returned to Oregon and the colorful bus and melted into its damp shady resting place. [NYT obit for Kesey]

Furthur Departs

Furthur Departs Arrives

Resurrection of sorts

I had originally written here: For the 45th anniversary of Woodstock, the new generation of Pranksters, including Kesey’s son Zane, created a new Furthur and crossed the country. On August 15 the Pranksters visited Bethel Woods Center for the Arts.

One of the comments below by a Zane (the son?) suggested a correction and said:

The new bus was created by Ken in 1990
The Merry Pranksters had MANY trips in the new bus.
Zane drove the new bus to NY and around for the 50th anniversary of the 1964 bus trip. Going to Woodstock wasn’t even on our schedule, We went there because something else fell through.

Of course by Woodstock, the comment means Bethel, NY. It is odd  to me that Woodstock/Bethel was not on the schedule, but…

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Furthur Departs Arrives

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