What Can We Learn from 1967’s Summer of Love to Help Us Through Our Current Political Nightmare?

ACTIVISM
Danny Goldberg discusses his new book about a magical and often misunderstood era in U.S. history.

Photo Credit: Radharani / Shutterstock

Editor’s Note: Danny Goldberg is the modern version of the Renaissance man. He has a long and colorful history as an activist, author and influential music executive. Goldberg came of age at the height of the hippie era in 1967, experiencing the powerful and haunting mix of excitement, hope, experimentation and despair. He captures it all in vibrant detail and political nuance in his newest book, In Search of the Lost Chord: 1967 and the Hippie Idea (Akashic Books). AlterNet’s executive editor Don Hazen interviewed Goldberg in his offices at Gold Village Entertainment on July 12.

Don Hazen: Let’s start by addressing what lessons we can learn from 1967. In the book, ‘In Search of the Lost Chord,’ there is a lot about that classic split between the hippies and the radicals. And is that a Bernie/Hillary split? Is that split still with us? How do you look back 50 years and apply it today?

Danny Goldberg: Well, there are things to learn to do, and things to learn not to do, from the ’60s. A major feature of the Be-In, in January 1967 that led to event of the Summer of Love, was that it was a “gathering of the tribes” to try to address that split.

There were also serious divides within the civil rights movement. Stokely Carmichael and Adam Clayton Powell sometimes mocked Martin Luther King publicly and questioned his non-violent strategy. On the other hand, when Martin King came out against the war, the NAACP board voted 60-0 to condemn him for that position because they feared pissing off President Johnson.

There were splits in the peace movement between the pacifists and non-pacifists; among those who focused on replacing LBJ with an anti-war Democrat there was bitter resentment between many of those who preferred Gene McCarthy and Bobby Kennedy supporters.

DH: And the Digger critique of Abbie Hoffman was what?He was not ‘lefty enough’?

DG: It was that the Diggers were committed to anonymity and Abbie was the opposite of that. There’s no question Abbie Hoffman was a self-promoter, but on the other hand he had the ability to popularize radical ideas in a way no one else could. The Diggers saw themselves as the conscience of all these movements.

DH: And Peter Coyote was a Digger, right?

DG: Yes, Coyote was one of the thought leaders. The Diggers organized the free concerts near Haight-Ashbury. They made and gave free meals to hundreds of people. They ran a “free store.” They came from the experimental theater world and did a lot public displays that challenged conventional thinking.

They had a mimeograph machine, and distributed circulars in the neighborhood, and when the Black Panthers started in Oakland, the Diggers lent them the machine for the first three issues of their newspaper.

But they also had a self-righteousness that judged almost everyone else in the counterculture adversely. They had a commitment to ideals that were distinct from people that were more commercially minded, so hip capitalism was one of their targets. They also had a jaundiced view of Tim Leary. They were often confrontational with radical political groups that they felt were too mired in old ideology. In some ways, they were the forerunner of the most intolerant anarchists of the Occupy period. But they also had the creativity to create some of the purest expressions of countercultural idealism.

DH: Let’s step back for a second and ask you to explain how people should really understand the hippie idea, and what if any of it could be applied to solving the problems we are confronting today.

DG: The question I ask myself a lot, as I’ve been talking about the book, is: What difference does something that happened 50 years ago matter? Other than nostalgia (which I don’t think is a completely bad thing) the relevance depends on the extent that there are values that are not driven by the 24-hour news cycle or by who’s president, but endure from generation to generation, basic concepts about what it is to be a human being. To me, the hippie idea was a spiritual movement at its core, even though the word hippie and the external symbols like tie dye or long hair or hip language like “groovy” or “far out” or “cool, man,” soon became passé.

DH: Don’t forget the peace sign.

DG: Yes, the peace sign, too—all of these things were quickly drained of meaning because of commercialization, the media magnifying glass, predators, etc. I understand why the punk generation that came along 10 or 15 years later had contempt for it, because they weren’t reacting to the experience I had; they were reacting to the cartoon version of it. I’m sure if I were of that generation, I would have been a punk also, because it was all about trying to seek integrity, authenticity, and meaning.

But to me, the hippie moment was a critique of materialism. Ayn Rand’s philosophy was just as pernicious in the ’60s as it is today, or maybe the way to say it’s just as pernicious today as it was then.

DH: Is there any model of a counterculture theme or anti-materialistic vision that’s applicable today, anything like ‘back to the land’? Because the country is so split. The differences are just enormous. Even the way of thinking.

DG: The thing I keep hoping is that the meeting place is spirituality, because I do think that most people who identify as Christians are sincere about it. Even though many of the right-wing American leaders who exploit them seem quite removed from the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount, Pope Francis is a compelling and powerful moral and spiritual voice who, to me, evokes counterculture values as much as he does Catholic tradition. Some of the attitudes of conservative evangelicals are primarily tribal. But I think that the words of Jesus Christ are so powerful that they can have unintended effects; the idea of loving thy neighbor as thyself is essentially the same as hippie idea.

In researching 1967, one thing that blew my mind was reading some of the speeches of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, neither of whom, as far as I know, ever took LSD. They both wore suits and had short hair and didn’t identify as hippies in any way.

DH: No dashikis for Martin Luther King.

DG: And no love beads for Bobby Kennedy… But they came to the same meeting place in terms of the ideal that there’s more to life than just money. Kennedy gave this great speech about how the gross national product measures everything except the things that are most important in life. And King, in sermon after sermon, talked about the inner world, of man as a spirit and as a soul. Of course he coupled this with an ethical code which required activism in an immoral world.

So it is my hope is that there is a critical mass of people who see themselves as being in different tribes, but who in their souls share some values that could create some kind of a moral clarity in the country.

The other big thing, I think, in terms of changing the politics of the country now, is to focus on young people, because that’s also a similarity with the ’60s. You’ve got this gigantic generation, the biggest generation since the Baby Boom generation, and more progressive. Those of us who were against the war were never a majority until way later when the whole country turned against the war by the mid-’70s. But the proportion of younger people who voted for Bernie, the proportion of younger people who vote Democrat, is very, very high.

DH: Let’s go back to the spiritual theme. The heroes of your book are really Ram Dass and Allen Ginsberg. I’m interested in how you think that Allen Ginsberg and Ram Dass were able to carry that message, and whether it’s succeeded in beginning inside the culture, or the culture just went all materialist.

DG: I think it’s a mixed bag. One of the things about being older is knowing that I have more life behind me than in front of me, and it’s quite clear that the odds of all the problems of America or the Western world being solved in my lifetime is extremely low. The rapid success of the civil rights movement on certain issues and the explosive spread of hip images and rock and roll, I created a set of expectations regarding timing that were not realistic. But the fact that everything’s not perfect or close to perfect doesn’t mean that all the efforts to advance the species are a failure; it means that history is to be looked at in terms of hundreds or thousands of years, not just one generation.

In terms of the individual lives, I think Ram Dass is exemplary. He’s been committed to service. The money from Be Here Now went to his foundation that he and Wavy Gravy among others set up that has helped cure blindness in millions of people in third-world countries.

DH: I read a review of your book on the Be Here Now network. I never knew that existed.

DG: It’s a podcast network that is a spin-off that is associated with the foundation that is built up around Ram Dass and run by Raghu Markus. I do a podcast on it called Rock and Roles.

DH: Let’s talk about the riots, and segue from Martin Luther King to Detroit and to Newark and what a huge impact the uprisings had on the black community. We do not seem to have made much progress on race in this country. The riots of 1967 seem to have been a product of somewhat raised expectations from civil rights and the poverty program. Today, the black community has very little expectations. That might be a reason why white males are dying at a much higher rate than blacks and Latinomen,because their reality is more accepted.

DG: The scale dwarfs anything that’s happened since. In Detroit there were 43 dead, 1,189 injured, over 7,200 arrests, and more than 2,000 buildings destroyed. And much havoc in other cities as well.

Not everyone called them riots—they were called rebellions, revolts. They were usually triggered by police violence. But the tinder box of frustration, poverty, oppression was so great, and the raised expectations were followed by only marginal improvement especially in the North where the problems was “de facto” segregation that wasn’t fixed by the civil rights bill. Before he was killed, King had become a much more radical and complicated thinker as the years went by and he saw the complexity of the legacy of racism.

DH: What else from the ’60s is applicable in the Trump era?

DG: Number one, ease up on tribalism on our side.

DH: Yeah, well, tribalism’s natural for corruption. And also for loyalty and protection.

DG: True. It’s incredibly seductive, because it feels good. It’s why people join gangs.

DH: Nepotism is one of the most powerful forces in the world. Taking care of your own, your family. Everyone protects their family, or else they’re thought of as having bad character.

DG: Taking care of your own family isn’t the problem. Doing it in a way that hurts other people’s families is what is immoral. The Mafia will claim you have no choice. The Mafia is the ultimate Ayn Rand entity.

DH: So, 1967 is the year that you picked, but ’68, ’69 and ’70 also were huge years for me: 1969 was Woodstock, of course. 1970 was Kent State and Cambodia and the biggest student rebellion ever. It seems to me that the reverberations of 1967 just kept rolling along in different ways. And ofcoursethere’s Altamont versus Woodstock.

DG: Well, I think it’s about the balance, and that’s the conceit of the title, In Search of the Lost Chord, that there were these different notes and relationship to them, and it’s about the balance of the energies. Things got darker in ’68 with the assassinations of King and Kennedy. Another inflection point was the decline of Haight-Ashbury. There was a community in ’65 and ’66 and the beginning of ’67, it was a model of an alternative lifestyle that couldn’t survive the glare of the media. The media definitely killed it. There was actually a formal ceremony in Haight-Ashbury called Death of the Hippie in October ’67. And the drugs got worse very quickly.

DH: The brown acid.

DG: Yes, some of the LSD sold by less than idealistic dealers was mixed with speed. Pure speed, then as now, brought out the worst in people. Heroin, then as now, destroyed lives. So even though shards of countercultural idealism cropped up in places well into the ’70s, the peak was already in the rearview mirror. Even the purest kind of LSD had limits in its value to people.

I’m someone who is very happy with my memories of LSD trips. I’ve never had a bad trip, thank god, but it became like seeing the same movie too many times. It’s been decades and I have no plans to take it again.

DH: Yeah, it doesn’t tell you how to figure things out.

DG: Yeah, at the end of the book, I quote Peter Coyote saying that LSD is like a helicopter that takes you to the top of the mountain, but then it brings you back down again, so if you actually want to live on the top of the mountain, it’s a lifetime of work to get up there, not a helicopter ride.

DH: But the hippie period triggered a lot of things such as the back-to-the-land movement and the Grateful Dead, right?

DG: Absolutely. There are still reverberations from that period that continue to this day. Environmentalism had antecedents with people like Thoreau, but its explosion as a mass movement was the direct outgrowth of hippie culture. Many of the creators of a lot of the internet in the ’90s, including Steve Jobs, took psychedelics. On the political side, there is a direct line from the civil rights and anti-war movements to feminism, the gay rights movement, CodePink, Occupy Wall Street, and many aspects of the Sanders campaign.

In the spiritual realm, in 1967, Richard Alpert, the fired Harvard professor who was Tim Leary’s protégé in popularizing LSD, went to India, met his guru Neem Karoli Baba, was renamed Ram Dass, wrote the book Be Here Now, a major catalyst of the New Age movement. And in 1967 the Beatles, who were the most famous musicians in the world, were introduced to meditation, which overnight went from being a word known primarily in monasteries and theology departments to being part of the language of pop culture.

DH: Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, right?

DG: Yeah, the Maharishi was the first one that became a public figure when they visited him, but almost immediately afterwards, George Harrison and John Lennon became interested in the so-called Hare Krishna guru, Swami Bhaktivedanta.

And all this opened up a wellspring of a zillion different spiritual paths explored by people in the mass culture, some of the bogus but some real. The I Chingwent from selling a couple of thousand copies a year to 50,000-100,000 a year, and was quoted in numerous rock lyrics. A lot of younger people were relieved that you don’t have to choose between the religion you were born into or purely secular materialism. There were lanes you could go down to try to integrate the idea of identifying yourself as a spirit without having to be enmeshed in the hierarchy of rules and structures that seemed irrelevant to a modern life. Some people found transcendence in mainstream religions, but a lot of us didn’t find it there.

DH: Is there something that you want the world to know about this book that you’re not getting out there?

DG: Well, the main thing about the book is its complexity. There were so many things happening all at the same time. It’s a mosaic of a couple hundred pieces, and there were another couple of thousand that I couldn’t deal with because I didn’t have the time or the wisdom to do it. I feel guilty dumbing it down sometimes.

DH: Somebody in the book said that New York was always two years later, but you said by ’67 it had caught up. Is that really true?

DG: Ken Kesey said that to Tom Wolfe in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.

There was this sense of you had this magical thing that no one else had. When it was the province of universities and psychiatrists and people that were authorized to experiment with it, it was very limited. But once it was illegal in late 1966, it became easy to get. High school in New York kids couldn’t get acid in 1964, but could in ’67.

DH: They had no Summer of Love in New York.

DG: I don’t know, man. It was nice to be young there then. That’s the year I graduated from high school.

There was a Be-In in Easter of ’67. There were these things that Bob Fass would organize, this Fly-In and sweeping up streets on the Lower East Side. It was a bit darker than the Bay Area, but we had the peace and love thing going too for a minute.

DH: I was both a hippie and a radical and most of my hippie friends were not so political, and most of my radical friends had disdain for drugs. And then there was, within SDS, the progressive labor faction, the ones that cut their hair off and went to the factories and worked.

DG: But there were people who struggled to bridge the divide. Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin and Paul Krassner—all had dual citizenship.

DH: Abbie Hoffman was one of our best political strategists. I traveled to Nicaragua with him and then I spent some time with him in Zihuatanejo. But I saw his dark side, too, which obviously led to his death. He was amazing. He was a manic depressive, yeah. And when he was manic, there was just no one, no one, who could compete with him as a speaker, as a thinker, a strategist, a performer.

DG: I think he’s a little underrated by history because the depression became more part of the story. Hoffman and Jerry Rubin and of course Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Brian Jones and Jim Morrison had tragically premature deaths. On the other hand, the people I dedicated the book to—Paul Krassner, Wavy Gravy and Ram Dass—didn’t self-destruct, and continued to live righteous lives with real consistency about who they said they were as younger people, as did Bob Dylan and Joan Baez and Peter Coyote and many others who are not famous, but who are worthy role models.

So overall, it certainly is a mixed bag. I have a romantic view of it, but hopefully not a delusional view of it.

DH: Well, that’s a good way to stop: A romantic but not delusional view.

Don Hazen is the executive editor of AlterNet.

Danny Goldberg is the author of In Search of the Lost Chord: 1967 and the Hippie Idea (Akashic Books) and is the president of Gold Village Entertainment, whose clients include Steve Earle, Against Me!, and Peaches.

http://www.alternet.org/activism/danny-goldberg-hippie-trump-interview?akid=15966.265072.Fwt3cL&rd=1&src=newsletter1080924&t=4

Ken Kesey’s Furthur bus on the road to restoration

By Michael Taylor

Published 6:10 pm, Monday, January 20, 2014
  • Ken Kesey stands next to the overgrown Merry Pranksters bus on his Oregon property months before his death in 2001. Photo: Brian Davies, AP
    Ken Kesey stands next to the overgrown Merry Pranksters bus on his Oregon property months before his death in 2001. Photo: Brian Davies, AP
It was one of the glorious symbols of the laid-back, acid-laced ’60s in Northern California. Now, half a century later, Ken Kesey’s psychedelic bus, with its quixotic name “Furthur,” has been rescued from an Oregon swamp and is on its way to restoration, minus the LSD that fueled its passengers so long ago.

Furthur – the name veered occasionally to Further, but Furthur stuck – was the bus used by the Merry Pranksters, a group of 14 happy friends of Kesey’s, for a cross-country trip (in more ways than one) in 1964. The goal was to visit the World’s Fair in New York and, incidentally, celebrate the publication of Kesey’s second novel, “Sometimes a Great Notion.”

Kesey had already scored big with his first book, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” and the voyage was going to be kind of an educational journey. LSD was legal at the time, and the Pranksters set out to explain the drug’s mind-expanding powers to anyone they met along the way who wanted to try it out.

Station wagon

Originally, the Pranksters were simply going to pile into a station wagon and set out for the East. But when the crowd grew too big for a wagon, Kesey, who was living in the Bay Area, bought a 1939 International Harvester school bus, which had been converted to a camper by its previous owner. Kesey turned it into the rambling acid lab on wheels that was immortalized in Tom Wolfe‘s 1968 best seller “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.”

Once the Pranksters set to painting it, they decided it was not going to be school bus yellow. As Wolfe’s book put it, the bus ended up “glowing orange, green, magenta, lavender, chlorine blue, every fluorescent pastel imaginable in thousands of designs, large and small, like a cross between Fernand Léger and Dr. Strange, roaring together and vibrating off each other as if somebody had given Hieronymus Bosch 50 buckets of Day-Glo paint and a 1939 International Harvester school bus and told him to go to it.”

This was not a body shop paint job.

“Being psychedelic characters, we were taking LSD, and LSD opens your mind to other things,” Ken Babbs, one of the original Pranksters, said in an interview the other day, by way of explaining the inspiration for the paint job. “LSD goes into areas where you’ve never been before, and you’re using all that newfound consciousness with all those psychedelic colors.”

Goldwater gag

Babbs, who is 78 and lives outside Eugene, Ore., said that when the bus rolled into Phoenix, home of Barry Goldwater, the Republican presidential nominee in 1964, the Pranksters painted “A Vote for Barry is a Vote for Fun” on the side of the bus and then drove it backward down the main drag, while blaring out the national anthem from the bus’ prodigious bank of speakers.

Reaction to the bus, as it wound its way through big cities and small towns, ranged from puzzlement (adults) to delight (children).

“For the little kids, it was like the circus coming to town,” said another Prankster,George Walker, 74, who lives in Scappoose, Ore. “When we hit New York, we drove around the city, and the traffic was slow. We looked like the pied piper, with maybe 100 kids running along behind us. Adults were perplexed by it. Kids got it.”

The New York trip was a whirlwind – the Pranksters met up with such ’60s notables as LSD guru Timothy Leary – but eventually the trip was over, the ’60s ended and life moved on.

Kesey returned to California, but after a while he “kind of hung up his spurs and moved back to Oregon,” said software company executive and ’60s scholar Jason Johnson, who is executive director of the Furthur Down the Road Foundation.

Sunk in a swamp

Kesey, who had relegated the bus to a swamp on his farm, died in November 2001. About four years later, his son Zane hitched up a tractor and pulled Furthur out of the muck and towed it up to the house. It’s now in covered storage, awaiting restoration.

The foundation, which has raised about $15,000 for startup expenses, is spearheading the effort to resuscitate Furthur. The restoration itself has not begun. Johnson said it will take at least $300,000 to make the bus sound again, down to the unique paint job.

“We’d like to create a rolling exhibit,” Johnson said from Oregon, “and take the restored bus around the nation or loan it out to universities and educate people about Ken Kesey’s life, his art and his work.”

As for Zane Kesey, 52, he remembers “when I was a little kid, painting on the bus. Painting it (those colors) made all the sense in the world. Didn’t seem silly to me.”

Michael Taylor is a former staff writer for The Chronicle. E-mail:metro@sfchronicle.com

BLOGGER COMMENT:  Finally. The restoration has been planned for some time. I met Kesey several times and rode the bus, last time at Woodstock ’69. I actually saw Furthur at the World’s Fair in New York when I was visiting with my grandfather although I had no idea what was up then:) I have a photograph of the bus signed by him and several of the original Pranksters. 

The Culture That Gave Birth to the Personal Computer

I am sketching a draft of my next book on the innovators of the digital age. Here’s a rough draft of a section that sets the scene in Silicon Valley in the 1970s. I would appreciate notes, comments, corrections

The idea of a personal computer, one that ordinary individuals could own and operate and keep in their homes, was envisioned in 1945 by Vannevar Bush. After building his Differential Analyzer at MIT and helping to create the military-industrial-academic triangle, he wrote an essay for the July 1945 issue of the Atlantic titled “As We May Think.” In it he conjured up the possibility of a personal machine, which he dubbed a memex, that would not only do mathematical tasks but also store and retrieve a person’s words, pictures and other information. “Consider a future device for individual use, which is a sort of mechanized private file and library,” he wrote. “A memex is a device in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility. It is an enlarged intimate supplement to his memory.”

Bush imagined that the device would have a “direct entry” mechanism so you could put information and all your records into its memory. He even predicted hypertext links, file sharing, and collaborative knowledge accumulation. “Wholly new forms of encyclopedias will appear, ready made with a mesh of associative trails running through them, ready to be dropped into the memex and there amplified,” he wrote, anticipating Wikipedia by a half century.

As it turned out, computers did not evolve the way that Bush envisioned, at least not initially. Instead of becoming personal tools and memory banks for individuals to use, they became hulking industrial and military colossi that researchers could time share but the average person could not touch. In the early 1970s, companies such as DEC began to make minicomputers, the size of a small refrigerator, but they dismissed the idea that there would be a market for even smaller ones that could be owned and operated by ordinary folks. “I can’t see any reason that anyone would want a computer of his own,” DEC president Ken Olsen declared at a May 1974 meeting where his operations committee was debating whether to create a smaller version of its PDP-8 for personal consumers. As a result, the personal computer revolution, when it erupted in the mid-1970s, was led by scruffy entrepreneurs who started companies in strip malls and garages with names like Altair and Apple.

Once again, innovation was spurred by the right combination of technological advances, new ideas, and social desires. The development of the microprocessor, which made it technologically possible to invent a personal computer, occurred at a time of rich cultural ferment in Silicon Valley in the late 1960s, one that created a cauldron suitable for homebrewed machines. There was the engineering culture that arose during World War II with the growth of defense contractors, such as Westinghouse and Lockheed, followed by electronics companies such as Fairchild and its fairchildren. There was the startup culture, exemplified by Intel and Atari, where creativity was encouraged and stultifying bureaucracies disdained. Stanford and its industrial park had lured west a great silicon rush of pioneers, many of them hackers and hobbyists who, with their hands-on imperative, had a craving for computers that they could touch and play with. In addition there was a subculture populated by wireheads, phreakers, and cyberpunks, who got their kicks hacking into the Bell System’s phone lines or the timeshared computers of big corporations.

Added to this mix were two countercultural strands: the hippies, born out of the Bay Area’s beat generation, and the antiwar activists, born out of the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley. The antiauthoritarian and power-to-the-people mindset of the late 1960s youth culture, along with its celebration of rebellion and free expression, helped lay the ground for the next wave of computing. As John Markoff wrote in What the Dormouse Said, “Personal computers that were designed for and belonged to single individuals would emerge initially in concert with a counterculture that rejected authority and believed the human spirit would triumph over corporate technology.”

The Counterculture

Ken Kesey came to Silicon Valley in 1958 as a graduate student in Stanford’s creative writing program. While there, he worked the overnight shift at a mental hospital and signed up to be a guinea pig in a CIA-funded series of experiments, Project MKUltra, testing the effects of the psychedelic drug LSD, known as acid. Kesey ended up liking the drug, very much. The combustible mixture of studying creative writing, dropping acid for pay, and working as an orderly in an asylum led to his first novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

While others were starting electronics companies in the neighborhood around Stanford, Kesey used the proceeds from his book, combined with some acid he had been able to liberate from the CIA experiments, to form a commune of early hippies called The Merry Pranksters. In 1964, he and his posse embarked on an acid-fueled cross-country odyssey in an old International Harvester school bus dubbed Furthur (spelling later corrected) that they had painted in Day-Glo colors.

Upon his return, Kesey began hosting a series of Acid Tests at his home, and at the end of 1965 he decided, since he was an entrepreneur as well as a hippie, to take them public. One of the earliest took place that December at Big Ng’s, a music club in San Jose. Kesey enlisted a bar band that he liked, led by Jerry Garcia, which had just changed its name from the Warlocks to the Grateful Dead. The hippie movement began to flower.

Concurrently there arose a companion cultural phenomenon, the peace movement, that shared the rebellious spirit. The confluence of hippie and antiwar sensibilities led to memorable period pieces, amusing in retrospect but considered deep at the time, such as psychedelic posters exhorting “make love not war” and tie-dyed t-shirts featuring peace symbols.

The hippie and the antiwar movements of the 1960s were both wary of computers, at least initially. They were seen as depersonalizing and Orwellian, tools of Corporate America and the Pentagon. In The Myth of the Machine, sociologist Lewis Mumford warned that the rise of computers could mean that “man will become a passive, purposeless, machine-conditioned animal.” At peace protests and at hippie communes, from Sproul Plaza at Berkeley to Haight-Asberry in San Francisco, the injunction printed on punch cards — “do not fold, spindle or mutilate” — became a slogan to be ridiculed.

But by the early 1970s, attitudes were shifting. “Computing went from being dismissed as a tool of bureaucratic control to being embraced as a symbol of individual expression and liberation,” John Markoff wrote. In The Greening of America, which served as a manifesto for the new era, Charles Reich denounced the old corporate and social hierarchies that imposed authority and called for new structures that encouraged collaboration and personal empowerment. But instead of deploring computers as tools of the old power structure, he argued that they could aid the shift in social consciousness if they could be made more personal. “The machine, having been built, may now be turned to human ends, in order that man once more can become a creative force.”

A technotribalism began to emerge. The LSD guru Timothy Leary updated his famous mantra “Turn on, tune In, drop out” to proclaim, instead, “Turn on, boot up, jack in.” Stewart Brand visited the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab and wrote an article in Rolling Stone in which he pronounced it “the most bzz-bzz-busy scene I’ve been around since Merry Prankster Acid Tests.” Tech gurus such as Norbert Weiner, Buckminster Fuller, and Marshall McLuhan became required reading in communes. Richard Brautigan was the poet-in-residence in 1967 at Cal Tech, and that year he captured the new ethos in a poem, “All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace.” It began:

I like to think (and
the sooner the better!)
of a cybernetic meadow
where mammals and computers
live together in mutually
programming harmony
like pure water
touching clear sky.

Stewart Brand

The person who best embodied and most exuberantly encouraged this connection between tech geeks and the Sixties counterculture was a lanky enthusiast with a toothy smile named Stewart Brand, who popped up like a gangly sprite at the intersection of a variety of fun cultural movements over the course of many decades. “The counterculture’s scorn for centralized authority provided the philosophical foundations of the entire personal-computer revolution,” he recalled in a 1995 Time essay titled “We Owe it All to the Hippies.” As he explained:

Hippie communalism and libertarian politics formed the roots of the modern cyberrevolution…. Most of our generation scorned computers as the embodiment of centralized control. But a tiny contingent — later called “hackers” — embraced computers and set about transforming them into tools of liberation. That turned out to be the true royal road to the future… youthful computer programmers who deliberately led the rest of civilization away from centralized mainframe computers.

Brand was born in Rockford, Illinois, where his father worked for an ad agency and, like so many fathers of digital entrepreneurs, was a ham radio operator. After graduating from Stanford as a biology major, Brand was drafted into the Army, where he served as a photographer, and then began a joyful life journey meandering among different communities and communes at that exciting juncture where art and technology intermingle.

Not surprisingly life on that techno/creative edge led Brand to become one of the early experimenters with LSD. After being introduced to the drug in a pseudo-clinical setting near Stanford in 1962, he became a regular at Ken Kesey’s Merry Prankster gatherings. He also became a photographer-technician-producer at a performance art commune called the US Company, which produced what became known as “happenings.” These involved psychedelic drugs, acid rock music, technological wizardry, strobe lights, multimedia shows, projected images and words, and performances that required audience participation. Occasionally they would be accompanied by talks by Marshall McLuhan or Timothy Leary. A promotional piece on the group noted that it “unites the cults of mysticism and technology as a basis for introspection and communication.” It was a credo that could have been emblazoned on the posters of the personal computer pioneers. Technology was a tool for expression. It expanded the boundaries of creativity and, like drugs and rock, could be rebellious and socially transforming.

For Brand, the Sixties protest slogan “power to the people” also applied to computers. This meant that computers needed to be democratized. “Ready or not, computers are coming to the people,” he wrote in Rolling Stone. “That’s good news, maybe the best since psychedelics.” Invoking the spirit of Vannevar Bush, Brand hailed “the youthful fervor and firm dis-Establishmentarianism of the freaks who design computer science.” For too long computers had been the “province of rich and powerful institutions, who, understandably, have developed them primarily as bookkeeping, sorting and control devices,” he wrote. That would be upended by the hackers, he pledged. “Until computers come to the people, we will have no real idea of their most natural functions.”

All of these experiences led Brand to become the impresario and techie for one of the seminal events of the Sixties counterculture: the January 1966 Trips Festival at Longshoreman’s Hall in San Francisco. After the fun of the Acid Tests — which had been held weekly throughout December — Brand proposed to Ken Kesey that they throw a blowout version that would last for three days. It opened with Brands’s own troupe, “America Needs Indians,” performing a “sensorium” that included a high-tech light show, slide projectors, photographic images, music, and Native American dancers. It was followed by what the program described as, “revelations, audioprojections, the endless explosion, the congress of wonders, liquid projections, and the jazz mice.” And that was just the opening night. The next night was kicked off by Ken Kesey in person, sort of. In hiding because of a drug arrest, he sat in the balcony wearing a shiny plastic Mylar space suit and helmet. Using a public address system, he addressed the crowd, but without revealing where he was. Performing that night were The Merry Pranksters and their Psychedelic Orchestra plus the Grateful Dead, the beat poet Allen Ginsburg, and the Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang. The writer Tom Wolfe captured the technodelic essence in his seminal work of New Journalism, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test: “Lights and movies sweeping around the hall; five movie projectors going and God knows how many light machines, interferrometrics, the intergalactic science-fiction seas all over the walls, loudspeakers studding the hall all the way around like flaming chandeliers, strobes exploding, black lights with Day-Glo objects under them and Day-Glo paint to play with, street lights at every entrance flashing red and yellow, two bands, the Grateful Dead and Big Brother and the Holding Company and a troop of weird girls in leotards, leaping around the edges blowing dog whistles.” The final night celebrated technology even more. As the program said, “Since the common element of all shows is ELECTRICITY, this evening will be programmed live from stimuli provided by a pinball machine.”

Yes, it was weird. But it was, significantly, the quintessential display of the fusion that shaped the personal computer era: technology, the counterculture, entrepreneurship, music, art, and engineering. From Stewart Brand to Steve Jobs, those ingredients fashioned a wave of Bay Area innovators who were comfortable at the interface of Silicon Valley and Haight-Ashbury. “The Trips Festival marked Stewart Brand’s emergence as a countercultural entrepreneur—but in a deeply technocratic mold,” wrote the technoculture historian Fred Turner in From Counterculture to Cyberculture.

A month after the Trips Festival, in February 1966, Brand was sitting on a gravelly rooftop in San Francisco’s North Beach enjoying the effects of 100 mg of LSD he had just dropped. Staring at the skyline, he ruminated on something that Buckminster Fuller had said: our perception that the world is flat and stretches indefinitely, rather than round and small, is because we have never seen it from outer space. Abetted by the acid, he began to grok the smallness of the earth and the importance of other people appreciating it as well. “It had to be broadcast, this fundamental point of leverage on the world’s ills,” he recalled. “I herded my trembling thoughts together as the winds blew and time passed. A photograph would do it—a color photograph from space of the earth. There it would be for all to see, the earth complete, tiny, adrift, and no one would ever perceive things the same way.”

He resolved to convince NASA to take such a picture from space. So with the goofy wisdom that comes from acid, he decided to produce hundreds of buttons so people in the pre-Twitter age could spread the word. “Why haven’t we seen a photograph of the whole Earth yet?” they read. His plan was simple. “I prepared a Day-Glo sandwich board with a little sales shelf on the front, decked myself out in a white jump suit, boots and costume top hat with crystal heart and flower, and went to make my debut at the Sather Gate of the University of California in Berkeley, selling my buttons for twenty-five cents.” University officials did him the favor of throwing him off campus, which prompted a story in the San Francisco Chronicle, thus helping propel his one-man crusade. He took it on the road to other colleges across the country, ending at Harvard and MIT. “Who the hell’s that?” asked an MIT dean as he watched Brand give an impromptu lecture on the planet earth while selling his buttons. “That’s my brother,” said Peter Brand, an MIT instructor.

In November 1967, NASA complied. Its first ATS-3 geosynchronous satellite took a picture of earth from 21,000 miles up, which served as the cover picture and title inspiration for Brand’s next venture, the Whole Earth Catalog. As its name implied, it was (or at least dressed itself in the guise of) a catalog, one that combined the sensibilities of hippie communalism with technological empowerment. Its subtitle was “access to tools.” As Brand wrote on the first page of the first edition: “A realm of intimate, personal power is developing—power of the individual to conduct his own education, find his own inspiration, shape his own environment, and share his adventure with whoever is interested. Tools that aid this process are sought and promoted by the Whole Earth Catalog.” Buckminster Fuller followed with a poem that began: “I see God in the instruments and mechanisms that work reliably…” The first edition included items such as Norbert Weiner’s book Cybernetics and an HP calculator along with buckskin jackets and beads. The underlying premise was that a love of the earth and a love of technology could coexist, that the back-to-the-earth commune dwellers should make common cause with tech geeks.

Shortly after the first edition of the Whole Earth Catalog came out, Brand helped to produce a happening that was, in many ways, was similar to his techno-choreography of the January 1966 Trips Festival. Dubbed “the Mother of All Demos,” the December 1968 extravaganza became the seminal event of the personal computer culture, just as the Trips Festival had been for the hippie culture. It happened because, like a magnet, Brand naturally attracted and attached himself to interesting people. This time it was an engineer named Douglas Engelbart, who had taken on as his life passion inventing ways that computers could augment human intelligence.

(The next section will be on Engelbart…