In the new book 1973: Rock at the Crossroads, writer Andrew Grant Jackson gives a comprehensive account of the year of 1973 and its legendary music and momentous social change. He breaks down the iconic year chronologically, from the release of Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy in March to The Exorcist hitting theaters in December. Read a chapter below, titled “Counterculture ’73,’ in which Jackson breaks down the pivotal counterculture moments of the summer.
The Summer Jam at Watkins Glen, New York, on July 28 makes the Guinness Book of World Records for largest concert with the Grateful Dead, Allman Brothers, and the Band. Esalen fuels the Human Potential Movement. Time puts Carlos Castaneda on the cover while the authorities put Timothy Leary in a cell next to Charles Manson. George Harrison and Steve Jobs pay heed to Ram Dass. The Sexual Revolution reaches a peak with New York Yankee wife swappers, key parties, streakers, and Deep Throat court cases. The New Hollywood filmmakers bring visionary realism to the big screen.
Woodstock, Isle of Wight, and Watkins Glen — those were the big three for us,” said the Band’s Rick Danko. They played Watkins Glen’s Grand Prix Racecourse after two long sets by the Grateful Dead, interrupted by a thunderstorm. The Allmans played last, as they were the biggest draw, a few days away from releasing Brothers and Sisters, which sold 760,000 in less than a month. All three jammed for the encore on “Not Fade Away,” “Mountain Jam,” and “Johnny B. Goode.”
The Dead had inspired the Allmans to incorporate jazz into their extended blues rock improvisations, while the Band had inspired the Dead to explore their Americana roots on Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty. The Dead was moving away from Americana now toward a smooth jazz sound with the arrival of keyboardist Keith Gordchaux. The cover of their new album, Wake of the Flood, featured a benign reaper, reflecting the loss of their original organist, the blues-oriented Pigpen (Ron McKernan), who died on March 8 from gastrointestinal hemorrhage due to alcohol abuse. It also reflected how the band was beginning to reap the rewards of their endless trip. They were now able to fill stadiums, and they’d done it all their way: through touring, regardless of record sales, establishing the economic model for jam bands like the Dave Matthews Band and Phish.
For a time, Watkins Glen was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as “largest audience for a pop festival,” with a crowd estimated at 600,000. It beat Woodstock by approximately 200,000 but carried none of the cultural resonance. No movie was released, and only a couple songs made it onto record: “Come and Go Blues” on the Allmans’ Wipe the Windows, Check the Oil, Dollar Gas and an eighteen-minute sound check on the Dead’s So Many Roads box set.
It had already been done: the hordes getting in for free, dancing in the nude, breastfeeding. There was no longer any war they needed to bond together against. But its very meaninglessness revealed the extent to which the counterculture had been absorbed into the culture. Documentarian Michael Moore wrote in his memoir that by 1971 the longhairs outnumbered the jocks in his high school, though hippies still had to travel in packs or get jumped. Even the hair of conservative kids jutted out from behind their neck in yearbook photos. Richard Carpenter visited Nixon in the White House with hair over his ears. Merle “If you don’t love it, leave it” Haggard’s thick muttonchops puffed down to his neck.
The original hippie mecca Haight-Ashbury had fallen on hard times. The New York Times reported that a third of its shops were boarded up. But the Dead transformed the neighborhood’s spirit into a movable holiday through its tours. Believers could check in once every few years, or follow them around in a raggedy caravan of Volkswagen buses for months at a time. As Robert Christgau noted, “Regulars greeted other regulars, remembered from previous boogies, and compared this event with a downer in Boston or a fabulous night in Arizona.” Dead Heads sold items in the parking lots to finance their treks: jewelry, fanzines, burritos, dope, tie-dye shirts (a tradition carried over from Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters, who made tie-dye shirts on their own 1964 cross-country road trip).
One thing they didn’t sell but traded was tapes of Dead shows. The tradition started when fans hungered to replay the music the Dead performed in concert but realized they couldn’t find it in their studio albums. The band seldom played a song the same way twice and made a point of playing at least one different song a show. Fans started taping shows off radio broadcasts or sneaking recording equipment into gigs. The Dead had been close to the Haight-Ashbury activists the Diggers, who promoted the radical policy that “everything should be for free,” so they did not complain when mic stands rose above the crowds, reaching for better sound. One of the central figures in the Dead tape exchange was Dick Latvala; decades later, his favorite shows were officially released through the Dead under the name Dick’s Picks. The first concert he chose to release was their December 19, 1973, concert in Tampa, Florida, because it included “Nobody’s Fault but Mine,” a track prized for its rarity.
The Dead officially released one live album in 1973, and it introduced two of their most enduring logos. Bear’s Choice was named for their soundman Owsley “Bear” Stanley, originally one of the biggest acid manufacturers, and featured marching bears on the back cover. The front showed a skull with a lightning bolt in the brain cavity, representing the effect of his lysergic product. Stanley originally designed the image to print on stickers that he slapped on band equipment, to identify it as theirs when they played gigs with other bands.
The Dead community propagated another hallucinogen-related tradition that spread far beyond their own scene. Bassist Phil Lesh had a personal manager who was brother to a San Rafael high school student who ran with a clique that called themselves the Waldos, after the wall they sat on between classes. One day in ’71 the Waldos gave each other the code “420 Louis”— meaning meet at the school’s statue of Louis Pasteur at 4:20 p.m. in order to get high and search for a marijuana patch they heard had been planted in the area. “420” became the teens’ go-to term for pot, so parents or teachers wouldn’t know what they were referring to, and spread into the Dead’s orbit. Years later, the Oxford English Dictionary credited the Waldos with originating the term, after studying a 1974 issue of their school paper in which they used it.
The main Dead Head tradition, of course, was going to a show, ingesting hallucinogens to block the serotonin receptors, and “somehow hitting that chord of realization of the unity of God in you all,” as comparative religion scholar Joseph Campbell put it in his symposium with Dead drummer Mickey Hart called Ritual and Rapture: From Dionysus to the Grateful Dead.10 As Tom Wolfe noted in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, hallucinogens created a chemical reaction in the brain analogous to religious awe.
Or a plunge into the abyss, depending on how your trip was going. But Wake of the Flood included “Eyes of the World,” which became the new happy anthem to bring audience members back from staring at their shoes on the edge of freaking out. “Wake now, discover that you are the song the morning brings,” and look around at the concert and realize holy shit how beautiful everything is and we’re all made of atoms and we’re all just one field of energy endlessly permutating on the surface and everything is one, and WHOOOOOOOO!
The fates of the original Dynamic Duo of Acid, Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert, illustrated with jarring clarity just how well — or how bad — the great mental/spiritual experiment could go. They had been professors at Harvard investigating the benefits of psychedelics until the university fired them because the program had grown too controversial, and because Alpert gave a hallucinogen to an undergraduate. (“He was an attractive kid,” said Alpert.) With the help of theorist Marshall McLuhan Leary concocted the slogan “Turn on, tune in, drop out” and proclaimed it at the San Francisco Human Be-In, which might have been fine, but he followed the line with “I mean drop out of high school, drop out of college, drop out of graduate school.” They gave him twenty years in prison for two roaches of marijuana. The acid cartel the Brotherhood of Eternal Love paid the Weather Underground militants to help him escape from prison. But officials nabbed him again in Kabul International Airport on January 17. As the authorities dragged him past the news cameras, it was terrifying to look at him. He’d always been handsome, known for his smile. McLuhan advised him always to smile to the press, so he did so now, to show that they couldn’t crush him. But he looked crazy, like the Joker or Dracula, or a scary beaten dog. They took him to Folsom two days before Nixon’s second inauguration and stashed him in the cell next to Charles Manson.
Alpert embodied a preferable trajectory: Western academic psychiatry to psychedelics to Eastern mysticism. He traveled to India and met fellow seeker Kermit Riggs, who had renamed himself Bhagavan Dass. “When my mind would go off into Jewish neuroticism, Bhagavan Dass would say, ‘Come back here and be here now.’” Alpert renamed himself Ram Dass (“servant of God”) and published Be Here Now in 1971. He hit the lecture circuit in a white robe, sponsored retreats, and sold tapes. Be Here Now sold two million copies and was followed by Doing Your Own Being in 1973.
George Harrison included a song called “Be Here Now” on Living in the Material World. On the title track Harrison proselytized for the Hare Krishnas. The Krishna teacher Srila Prabhupada had arrived in the States in 1965, the year the US ended its policy of severely restricting non-European immigrants. Prabhupada started chanting in Tompkins Square Park with Allen Ginsberg. Not long after, Harrison and Lennon heard his first album, Krishna Consciousness.
After the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, many swamis and yogis arrived in the States, often teaching yoga, an Indian tradition since 1500 BC. By 1975, Time estimated that 600,000 Americans — including Mike Love, Shirley MacLaine, and Joe Namath— practiced it. On January 13, Cat Stevens’s song about meditation, “Sitting,” peaked at No. 16.
March saw the release of Lost Horizon, about survivors of a plane crash in the Himalayas who stumble upon the utopia of Shangri-La. The author of the original novel, James Hilton, probably named his city after Shambhala, a Sanskrit word that means “peace/serenity/joy.” Ancient Tibetan Buddhist scripture referred to it as a fabled city in the Himalayas. The movie didn’t perform well, despite a Burt Bacharach/Hal David soundtrack, clanging the death knell for the big Hollywood musical. The songwriters stopped working together. Not very Zen. But perhaps it inspired LA-based songwriter Daniel Moore’s euphoric “Shambala,” which Three Dog Night took to No. 3 in July. Its yodeling groove was so uplifting that Moore rewrote it as the secular “My Maria” and got another hit out of it when it was released a month later by “progressive” country artist B. W. Stevenson.
Many were still “on the road to Shambala” in real life, on the hippie trail to India. Tony and Maureen Wheeler traveled from London through the Middle East to India to Australia, arriving down under with $0.27 to their name. They shared what they learned in Across Asia on the Cheap, the first of their Lonely Planet Travel Guide books.
John Lennon celebrated all the journeys he’d been on— “in space and in time,” from meditation to primal scream therapy — in “Mind Games,” recorded that summer. He was inspired by a book called Mind Games: The Guide to Inner Space by Robert Masters and Jean Houston, consisting primarily of exercises to increase visionary thinking and intuition (hence another song on the Mind Games album, “Intuition”).
Houston was a figure in the Human Potential Movement, which had its own Shambala in Esalen, off the winding Pacific Coast Highway in Big Sur. Nude sulphur baths built into the mountains looked out over the ocean as the surf crashed and shimmered in the moonlight. Founders Michael Murphy and Dick Price brought in speakers and held workshops covering the latest advances in Western psychiatry along with Eastern philosophy and psychedelics. That was the Great Synthesis: Western psychiatry + Eastern mysticism + psychotropic shamanism. Buddhist scholar Alan Watts gave the first lecture at Esalen. Aldous Huxley provided the movement with its name when he gave talks on Human Potential before his death in 1963. Leary and Alpert spoke there alongside others promoting self-actualization techniques ranging from Gestalt to Rolfing to biofeedback.
The Esalen encounter group was recreated in Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969) and in the 2015 series finale of Mad Men. It rose out of the “Sensitivity Training Group” pioneered by social psychologist Kurt Lewin. In 1946, the Connecticut State Interracial Commission asked him to create a program that could help fight racial and religious discrimination.13 He gathered forty-one people together, half of them Jewish or black, so psychologists could analyze their interactions and give them feedback in a group setting, helping them become more “sensitive” to the other attendees’ feelings.
Now Marvin Gaye sang, “We’re all sensitive people,” in “Let’s Get It On.” “It’s all right to cry,” Rosie Grier sang on the Free to Be You and Me album, in development for a TV special. In 1970, approximately one million Americans went to therapy. In five years the number was six times as great. Celebrities like Hugh Hefner, John Denver, and Peter Fonda spoke of their sadness at their parents’ inability to demonstrate affection. I’m OK — You’re OK and How to Be Your Own Best Friend were on the bestseller list throughout the year.
The No. 1 bestseller from January 1 through March 18 was Jonathan Livingston Seagull, a fable about an outcast yearning to fly on a higher plane. Many readers wondered what religion author Richard Bach himself belonged to (if any). His son said, “Dad regards flying as his religion, and he’s very serious about that.” Bach had been a pilot in the US Air Force Reserve in France, a member of the New Jersey Air National Guard, then a technical writer for Douglas Aircraft and contributor to Flying magazine.
In 1959, Bach heard a “voice” behind him say “Jonathan Livingston Seagull.” John Livingston had been a race pilot. Bach asked the “voice” what it meant, and the story poured out of him onto the page, unfolding like a movie in his mind. Eight years later he published part of it in Private Pilot magazine.
He’d been a Christian Scientist, then decided that “organizations can ruin anything” and started searching through occult bookstores. “It took nerve, just to go in one of those places,” he told Time in their cover story on him. Time reported that his interest led him to a medium named Jane Roberts, who claimed to channel a spiritual being with an Indian accent named Seth.
The movie version of Seagull was poorly received by critics, like Lost Horizon, but the Neil Diamond soundtrack went to No. 2 and won the Grammy for Best Original Score, along with a Golden Globe.
Another bestselling writer made the cover of Time in March. Carlos Castaneda was an ethnobotany student whose anthropology professor instructed him to interview a shaman about psychotropic plants. Castaneda supposedly found one named Don Juan on the Arizona/Mexico border. His thesis was eventually published as The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge (1968), which made Castaneda a millionaire and inspired three sequels. Castaneda had more surreal visions than Aldous Huxley or Ram Dass; on Don Juan’s medicine he witnessed giant gnats and talking coyotes and turned into a bird. But his message of enlightenment was the same: stop the world to see, a.k.a. be here now. The Eagles’ name was partially inspired by his books; Marvin Gaye dug them. But Time and other journalists couldn’t find a real Don Juan. The tribe Castaneda said Don Juan belonged to didn’t use the same kind of peyote Castaneda said he used. Critics noted that Don Juan’s personality seemed to change from book to book. After the Time piece, Castaneda claimed Don Juan died in 1973, then retreated from view for the next twenty years, after which he returned to teach seminars about Mexican shamanism.
A third author who combined ancient mysticism with psychedelics was about to join Castaneda on the chart, though he was painfully up-front about his tortured past. Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance recounted his attempt to reconnect with his son on a motorcycle trip following a nervous breakdown and electroshock therapy, precipitated by his quixotic attempt to create his own system of metaphysics. After serving in Korea, Pirsig had become intrigued by Buddhism and studied in India, then did peyote on a Cheyenne reservation. The next year he was institutionalized on Christmas. When he got out, he grew violent toward his wife and received shock therapy. After recovering, he worked on Zen for four years, the last few months working in a camper in Minnesota. He sold the book in January 1973, and it eventually sold five million copies.
Alongside those authors, the “Occult and Astrology” bookshelf in bookstores now offered up much of the entire Western mystery tradition, a catalog that once had to be studied in secret, lest the reader incur the wrath of the Church. Samuel Weiser’s Inc., Specialist in the Occult, Orientalia, and Metaphysics, was one of New York’s oldest occult bookstores. Weiser started selling Aleister Crowley’s papers in the ’50s but was not able to expand his operation until the ’60s, when he began selling to the new occult bookstores bourgeoning in California. A watershed in occult publishing occurred in 1973 when two competing versions of a book called Pyramid Power sold a million, abetted by chain bookstores in malls rapidly spreading across the country, Waldenbooks and its competitor B. Dalton. Eventually the Trade Association of Independent Bookstores gave the “Occult” category a new name, “New Age,” replacing a horror-movie term with one used by theosophists and the Fifth Dimension in their hit from Hair, “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In.”
A few rows over in the bookstore, the sexual revolution had arrived with an explicitness unimaginable to earlier authors crushed by obscenity court cases. Alex Comfort’s More Joy of Sex, his sequel to last year’s smash The Joy of Sex: A Gourmet Guide to Lovemaking, featured positions illustrated by Chris Foss and Charles Raymond. The New York Times later ranked the author on par with Dr. Spock in terms of impact, while Planned Parenthood’s executive Joan Malin said, “The groundbreaking publication of this book took us from an era of silence and shame about sexuality to one of greater openness and discussion.” It started out as a textbook for medical students by Comfort, who admitted he was hardly an expert on the topic at the outset. “That’s the way to find about anything, to write a book about it.” He advised that female armpits “should on no account be shaved” and deodorant should be “banned absolutely,” and he cautioned, “Never fool around sexually with vacuum cleaners.”
Next to it on the shelf was George and Nena O’Neill’s Open Marriage: A New Life Style for Couples, which spent over forty weeks on the bestseller chart. “We are not recommending outside sex, but we are not saying that it should be avoided, either. The choice is entirely up to you.”
By the early ’70s there were over 650 swinging publications. Typical was the scene at the Swing Bar in LA’s Studio City, with a marquee that read LUV THY NEIGHBOR. The bartender determined whether you got the invite to the mansion party, where men had to arrive with a date. The Swing’s owner, Greg McClure, told Newsweek, “In my first marriage I cheated and never felt comfortable about it. Swinging is way ahead of the infidelity scene. I swing so I won’t break up my marriage.”
The Club 101 mansion boasted waterbeds and a chamber of mirrors. In a Detroit swingers gathering, guests mingled as at any cocktail party until the appointed time, when the host announced that “anything went” as long as all partners consented. Some couples waited in line for private rooms; others made do with the rows of cots in the basement. The “key party” was recreated in the 1997 film The Ice Storm. Attendees threw their car keys in a bowl, then plucked them out at random to see who would go with whom. The National Key Club (NKC) staged hotel events.
Key parties reputedly began on air force military bases during World War II, according to historian Terry Gould, “as a kind of tribal bonding ritual, with a tacit understanding that the two-thirds of husbands who survived [the war] would look after the widows.” Gould maintained that military bases across the country had swing clubs, which spread into the suburbs in the early ’50s, along with swinger magazines.
On March 4, 1973, wife swapping reared its head in the great American pastime when New York Yankees pitchers Mike Kekich and Fritz Peterson figured they’d better get ahead of the story and held separate press conferences to announce they had switched wives.
Peterson later explained, “During (a) party, we all had a couple of beers and were having a great time. When we were deciding to leave, we had driven two different cars and happened to park behind each other out in the street. I said to my wife, Marilyn, ‘Why don’t you ride with Mike to the diner in Fort Lee, N.J., and I’ll take Susanne with me and we’ll meet there and then we’ll go home from there.’ We did that and we had so much fun together, Susanne and I and Mike and Marilyn, that we decided, ‘Hey, this is fun, let’s do it again.’”
Peterson and Susanne Kekich remained together over the ensuing decades, but Marilyn Peterson soon wished she was back with her former husband and split with Kekich. Marilyn’s mother lamented to the press, “Fritz is not the same person he used to be. We can’t understand any of his ideas or his problems anymore.” The crowd booed Peterson, both players’ games suffered, and both were traded within the year. Dr. Joyce Brothers opined, “It’s very rare that a four-way swap ever works.”
Still, curious couples ventured to the Shambala of swinging, Sandstone Retreat, in the mountains of Santa Monica. The fifteen acres in Topanga Canyon looked out at Malibu and the Pacific Ocean. If you were over eighteen, the nude woman at the front desk interviewed you to decide whether you could come in. Sometimes people had sex in the reception room, but more typically downstairs by the fireplace on pillows and mats. Gay Talese wrote that in 1973, “often the nude biologist Dr. Alex Comfort, brandishing a cigar, traipsed through the room between the prone bodies with the professional air of a lepidopterist strolling through the fields with a butterfly net. With the least encouragement — after he had deposited the cigar in a safe place — he would join a friendly clutch of bodies, and contribute to the merriment.” Its five hundred members included Bobby Darin and Daniel Ellsberg. Sammy Davis Jr. and Peter Lawford visited.
Alas, the owners had to sell the resort in ’73, though it stayed open for another three years. Barbara Peterson, founder with husband John, observed, “Sandstone had been a great source of fulfillment, learning, and pleasure. It had been everything, in fact, except financially viable.”
Even in the mainstream, Puritan/Victorian conventions were rapidly melting away, such as the need to be a virgin until marriage, the need to be in love to have sex, the need to marry early, the traditions of female subservience. More unmarried couples lived together, as did the protagonists in McCartney’s “C Moon,” though they “never told her daddy.” There did not seem to be any permanent STDs. If you got the clap, you got a shot. “We had a soft spot in our hearts for the free clinics,” said Jackson Browne. Steven Tyler wrote about lighting his pubic hair on fire to get the crabs to run out, but that seemed as bad as it got.
In March, a reporter covered a nude run at the University of Maryland with 553 participants and popularized the name for the new trend when he cried, “They are streaking past me right now. It’s an incredible sight!” Time declared streaking a Los Angeles fad, reporting on a female streaker in tennis shoes who led the police on a chase across the ice during a hockey game at the Inglewood Forum.
The braless look graced Carly Simon’s No Secrets cover and Linda Ronstadt’s publicity photos, though Ronstadt lamented, “In all of the world, outside of California, if you don’t wear a bra it supposedly means you want to fuck everybody.” When a man at the airport asked her, “Hey, chick, you wanna get laid?” “I just hauled off and slugged him right in the mouth.”
Advertisements even hawked bras with nipples built into them. “Imagine having that sensual cold weather look all the time. It’s so sexy, it’ll give your shape a whole new eye-opening dimension.”
Responding to competition from Penthouse, Playboy showed a few wisps of pubic hair in 1971. Marilyn Cole (later on Roxy Music’s Stranded cover) went full frontal a year later, but with a shadow across her. It wasn’t until March 1973 that Hugh Hefner presented the first unobstructed view, with Playmate Bonnie Large.
That was the same month Judge Joel Tyler decreed Deep Throat obscene and fined Manhattan’s New Mature World Theatre $100,000 for screening it. His decision came down after a ten-day trial during which experts argued over whether oral sex was “within the bounds of normal behavior.” The prosecutor against Deep Throat, William Purcell, argued, “A woman seeing this film may think that it is perfectly healthy, perfectly moral to have a clitoral orgasm. She is wrong. She is wrong. And this film will strengthen her in her ignorance.” Defense experts countered that educating couples in sexual practices helped prevent divorce.
For a brief moment, before stories of Linda Lovelace’s abuse leaked out, seeing porn became an idealistic cause célèbre. It was exercising the First Amendment, embracing personal liberation against outmoded Victorian repression, asserting that nudity and sex were beautiful, not sinful. Deep Throat’s attorney, Herbert Kassner, argued, “It indicates that women have the right to a sex life.”
The New York Times’s Vincent Canby opined, “You can argue that Linda in her way is a kind of liberated woman, using men as sex objects the way men in most porno films are supposed to use women.”
Even Bob Hope joked about it now. “I went to see Deep Throat because I’m fond of animal pictures. I thought it was about giraffes.” On Maude, Bea Arthur fought to stage a burlesque show for a library benefit.
The groundbreaking sex scenes between Last Tango stars Brando and Schneider emboldened director Nicolas Roeg to attempt to top them in Don’t Look Now with Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland. The latter film was shot in Italy just as police were seizing all of the countries’ copies of Last Tango on grounds on obscenity.
Filmmakers with counterculture sensibilities had, for the moment, the run of Hollywood. After a string of box office bombs, the studios realized they were out of touch with modern sensibilities and (briefly) gave young filmmakers carte blanche to experiment in films like Badlands, American Graffiti, The Long Goodbye, and Paper Moon. Though the studios sometimes drew the line: Hal Ashby’s The Last Detail was delayed for six months because the film included the word “fuck” sixty-five times, until praise for Jack Nicholson’s performance as a navy lifer forced Columbia to release it.
Many of the New Hollywood directors gathered in Nichols Beach Canyon along the Pacific Ocean (a few minutes from where Neil Young lived at Zuma), at the homes of Julia and Michael Phillips (producers of The Sting) or actresses Margot Kidder and Jessica Salt, who lived down the block, where they flew a tie-dye flag and sunbathed topless. Hitchcock disciple Brian De Palma wrote Sisters as a vehicle for them. Steven Spielberg worked on Watch the Skies, his concept based on a great wave of UFO sightings that spiked in the fall of 1973, with the Phillipses and screenwriter Paul Schrader. In the end he didn’t like the script Schrader wrote. Spielberg wanted the film to be about how average Americans yearned to transcend their mundane lives of quiet desperation through contact with mystical higher beings. Schrader nevertheless interested the Phillipses and Martin Scorsese in his script for Taxi Driver. Scorsese meanwhile was inspired to use the tracking-shot technique he saw in the Pink Floyd concert film Live at Pompeii for his new film Mean Streets. His use of classic songs by artists like the Stones and Ronettes changed the way the movies used rock in soundtracks, as did George Lucas’s American Graffiti. Lucas was already working on the script for his follow-up, a science-fiction epic loosely based on Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress by way of Flash Gordon. “It was really about the Vietnam War, and that was the period where Nixon was trying to run for a [second] term, which got me to thinking historically about how do democracies get turned into dictatorships?” John Milius surfed and shot off his guns. He was the token conservative in the clique, a script doctor for Dirty Harry and writer of Apocalypse Now and Big Wednesday.
Even big-budget studio soap operas that year had radical heroines. The Way We Were starred Barbra Streisand as a Communist idealist who pushes her screenwriter husband (Robert Redford) to stand up to the blacklist and write art instead of easy entertainment. He doesn’t want to work that hard, however, and they split — a conflict that resonated with activists who had to decide if they wanted to keep on pushing or become proto-yuppies. Arthur Laurents wrote the screenplay; he’d been blacklisted for years before bouncing back with West Side Story.
Along with daring to play a sympathetic Commie, Streisand led the vogue for actors who broke the WASP mold of beauty that dominated the industry. Her own mother had warned her she wasn’t pretty enough to make it, and others had advised her to change her nose and accent, but she ignored them. Movie historian Lester Friedman wrote, “Streisand’s name and nose in their unaltered state represents a turning point in the cinematic portrayal of Jews, one that shows Jewishness as something to be proud of, to exploit, and to celebrate.” Cher, too, turned her unconventional, half-Armenian beauty into an asset, making it the theme of her hits “Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves,” “Half-Breed” (which made No. 1 in October), and “Dark Lady.”
Dustin Hoffman’s success in The Graduate also helped open the doors to performers who never would have been offered leads before: Al Pacino, Elliot Gould (Streisand’s husband), Richard Dreyfuss, Donald Sutherland, Gene Wilder, Robert De Niro, Jill Clayburgh. The vogue for cinematic authenticity paralleled the ascendance of offbeat musicians like Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, Janis Joplin, and Neil Young, whose appeal was partly based on the fact that they looked and sounded real, not like airbrushed product. For Redford, The Way We Were was a cautionary tale he spent the second half of his career refuting. His character mused uneasily that “everything came too easily to him . . . he was a fraud.” Redford turned that into the theme of the movies he directed, which centered on the guilt of golden boys who have everything handed to them while their brothers struggle. He became the patron saint of the Sundance Film Festival, which became the haven for artistically ambitious films after the studios lost their brief interest in funding experimental directors.
The bête noir of the counterculture was, of course, the military-industrial complex. But in a mind-boggling twist, the antagonists merged toward a great synthesis that determined the next phase of human evolution.
Significant milestones in computer technology that year included the first TV typewriter and the first computer monitor. Motorola’s Martin Cooper made the first call with his invention, the handheld cell phone, inspired by Dick Tracy’s wrist radio. Xerox Palo Alto Research Center employees created the Ethernet when they linked all the computers and printers in their network with a coaxial cable. The forty-three high-powered US computers linked in the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) network made their first connection to computers outside the US in England and Norway.
Author Dean Koontz riffed off the Rosemary’s Baby premise with his bestselling novel Demon Seed, about a computer that takes a woman hostage and impregnates her, creating a cyborg. But the Dead Heads who worked in Silicon Valley found benign uses for the technology, employing proto-messaging boards to arrange rides to concerts and compile lyrics to Grateful Dead songs, a resource the band itself eventually used. Merry Prankster Stewart Brand, creator of the commune-oriented Whole Earth Catalogue, wrote in Rolling Stone, “Ready or not, computers are coming to the people. That’s good news, maybe the best since psychedelics. Half or more of computer science is heads. The rest of the counterculture is laid low and back these days, showing none of this kind of zeal.”
In the article, Brand asked Alan Kay of the Xerox Research Center to describe the “standard Computer Bum.” “About as straight as you’d expect hotrodders to look. It’s that kind of fanaticism. A true hacker is not a group person. They’re kids who tended to be brilliant but not very interested in conventional goals. And computing is just a fabulous place for that, because it’s a place where you don’t have to be a Ph.D. or anything else. It’s a place where you can still be an artisan. People are willing to pay you if you’re any good at all, and you have plenty of time for screwing around.”
The man who most famously epitomized the archetype walked around barefoot, dropped out of college, read Be Here Now, ate at the Hare Krishna Temple, saved up to go to India, lived at his friend’s commune, and pruned the commune’s apple orchard, which inspired the name of the computer he eventually created with compadre Steve Wozniak. “I came of age at a magical time. Our consciousness was raised by Zen, and also by LSD,” Steve Jobs said. “LSD shows you that there’s another side to the coin, and you can’t remember it when it wears off, but you know it. It reinforced my sense of what was important—creating great things instead of making money, putting things back into the stream of history and of human consciousness as much as I could.”
U2’s Bono said of the techies, “The people who invented the twenty-first century were pot-smoking, sandal-wearing hippies from the West Coast like Steve, because they saw differently. The hierarchical systems of the East Coast, England, Germany, and Japan did not encourage this different thinking. The sixties produced an anarchic mind-set that is great for imagining a world not yet in existence.”