I sat down to write something worthy of my time, because after all isn’t always about me? But writing anything substantive or insightful in light of another senseless killing spree has put me in a melancholy funk. The authorities are unwilling to call it another terrorist inspired call from Allah to in cold blood gun down unarmed innocents,….so I will.
What is it today that is so different from the 60’s & 70’s? I really don’t need experts in psychology or other such examiners of the human condition to tell me something is missing. I saw the wrongs and misguided efforts of an inept government to fix things, but ultimately only put bandages on problems allowing them to fester from the inside. There was Vietnam, civil rights, political & corporate corruption, and of course sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll! Timothy Leary told us to “Turn on, tune in, and drop out” which many did! It was a tumultuous time in our history, yet even after the Chicago riots during the 1968 Democratic convention there were no acts such as we witnessed last Wednesday…only clubbing’s!
Why? What’s different today? I’ll save that for the Op-Ed section.
It was so exciting to be a part of my generation and be an artist headlong into the scene convinced I was on my way. I went to hundreds of openings and even had a few of my own; my future as an artist was absolutely certain…in my mind anyway. Of course there was Warhol, Johns, Rauschenberg, and Arneson, and was blown away by Claes Oldenburg’s work all spoofing on abject commercialism. Ceramic artists we’re now using their medium for social commentary going way beyond the traditional dinner set, and vase. Anything was possible and I was up for discovery wherever that led.
I frequently traveled the 100 miles to hang out in Santa Cruz, CA surfing in the morning and prowling the boardwalk and club scene at night not knowing exactly what it was I was looking for. I met Melissa who was occupying one of the many benches along the boardwalk selling beaded jewelry and leather (PETA wasn’t around then) sandals. I thought she was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen. After she sold her last pair of sandals she invited me to join her at a commune ironically in Woodstock, located in the Santa Cruz Mountains a short 30 minute drive. I immediately agreed and drove her up the winding narrow road.
Typically the “Hippie” movement comes to mind when one thinks of communes. However, the idea of a utopian society governed by socialistic ideals and equal shares in any and all material goods has been around a long time. There was the Pullman community (ended with riots), The Harmony Society, The Farm in Tennessee which is still in operation but only 175 people working it. Even the Mormon’s dabbled in ‘communalism’ but with the exception of a very few all of them failed.
I watched Melissa without hesitation deliver close to $200.00 to ‘Pappa Leonard’ who actually owned the property. Nobody seemed to recognize how hypocritical that was, but impressively he organized about 50 full time live-in members; all contributing to their shared existence. “Peace, love, and understanding” was their collective mantra.
I ended up staying three days and was heavily recruited to build and operate a ceramic studio to make stuff to sell on the boardwalk. It didn’t take long to see that a minority of believers were doing the lion’s share of the work while the majority benefited. They would always join in the Kum-by-ah moments but rarely broke a sweat. That’s the primary reason most communes fail. I left Woodstock never to see Melissa again.
Outside of a few fist-fights with local surfers who thought the Pacific Ocean was their personal playground, there were no mass murders! It was the era of ‘Age of Aquarius’ and Bethel’s Woodstock for God’s sake…”Make love not war” was the anthem of my generation…and what’s wrong with that?
In general I think most artists are self-absorbed with their work and have an inflated sense of their own importance. If you think about it, being an artist is truly a selfish endeavor. Yet their work can inspire or in its own way pedantic, but nobody should leave the work unmoved. One either embraces the message or refudiates it, but rarely is anyone shot and left for dead over it.