1968: The culture

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
1968. THE YEAR before the counterculture became commercial. Rock'n'roll heroes were still playing gigs up and down the country and crashing their Trannies on the way back down the M1. You could pull a musician from the front of house in 1968; he was so close he could actually look into your eyes. The watering-holes were few and you could cover them all. At the Macrobiotic Restaurant, the Chelsea antiques market, the Speakeasy, the Fillmores East and West and Max's Kansas City you saw everybody, sooner or later. Everybody had hair and lots of it, floating round their heads like smoke. Damsels with dulcimers were everywhere. The tits were real then and heterosex was still exciting, even without poppers.

Huge enterprises were afoot: the stopping of the draft, the levitation of the Pentagon, the legalisation of marijuana, and liberation - of women, of gays, of blacks, of oppressed nations everywhere. Despair didn't kick in until a year or two later when heroin drove out LSD and mescalin. Then youth grew pale and spectre-thin and gave up these struggles. The Yippies turned thirty-some and couldn't call themselves the Youth International Party anymore. The drop outs of 1968 were dreaming on time borrowed from the multinationals, who were biding it until the dreamers should wake up, come down off their cloud, and get a mortgage, as most of them did. Eventually.

A lot of the people in these pictures are dead. Tim Leary and Allen Ginsberg died full of years and bullshit; Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix were emptied out and annihilated when the industry started piling on the pressure. One of my godchildren asks every time I see him: "Did you really know Jimi Hendrix? The greatest guitar that ever lived?" And I say "Sure." And I tell him the story of that 30-minute friendship. And he listens as if he had never heard it before. The story's got so it takes 30 minutes to tell these days. There's so much explaining to do, you see. That's how different things were.