Thursday, July 13, 2017

Berkeley, Virginia City and The Love Pageant Rally

Janis Joplin by R. Crumb - Blotter Art
Chandler Laughlin, cofounder of the infamous Cabale Creamery club in Berkeley, California was greatly influenced by Beatnik culture. The name "Cabale" was taken from "Cabala," a medieval system of Jewish mysticism. No one seems to know how "Creamery" got attached to it - maybe the steamed milk in the lattes? In 1963, Laughlin recruited early psychedelic musical acts including The Grateful Dead, The Jefferson Airplane and Iron Butterfly to play the Cabale. Laughlin and George Hunter of The Charlatans, were true "proto-hippies" (borrowing the term from Proto-renaissance) wearing long hair and outrageous "threads." Together they opened the Red Dog Saloon in the old haunted mining town of Virginia City, Nevada. The Red Dog Saloon quickly became a focal point of drugs and psychedelic music festivals. Yep, don't let anyone fool you; it's not all about L.A. and New York, real hippiedom comes from Berkeley by way of Virginia City.

Virginia City, Nevada
During this time, LSD guru Owsley "Bear" Stanley, who also lived in Berkeley, provided much of the LSD to the burgeoning hippie scene. Bear, an ex-army radar operator, transformed his amphetamines kitchen to an LSD lab which became a key ingredient of the "Red Dog Experience," the early evolution of psychedelic rock and the budding hippie culture. (At the Red Dog Saloon, the Charlatans were the first psychedelic rock band to play live while high on LSD - how's that for a stat?) In October 1965, many Red Dog participants returned to San Francisco where they created a new collective, essentially a commune production company, called "The Family Dog."  On October 16, 1965, The Family Dog hosted “A Tribute to Dr. Strange” at the Longshoreman’s Hall in San Francisco. The event was the first psychedelic rock performance in San Francisco. Additional psychedelic rock shows followed, including the infamous January 22, 1966 Grateful Dead performance where 6,000 attendees were given punch spiked with LSD and treated to the first fully-developed, elaborate light show. (To spread the word about its live events, The Family Dog utilized a small army of graphic artists known as the "San Francisco Five." This creative crew was comprised of Rick Griffin, Alton Kelley, Victor Moscoso, Stanley Mouse and Wes Wilson - sound familiar?) 

The Charlatans
As attendance exploded at the psychedelic rock shows, The Family Dog became Red Dog Productions and event locations were expanded. More performance/parties were held at venues such as the Avalon Ballroom and the Fillmore Auditorium. These shows were full psychedelic musical experiences with light show and film projections that became the staple for bands from Pink Floyd to The Velvet Underground. 

By June 1966, San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury was the epicenter of the hippie movement. The area was already primed to become the center of hippie activity as its residents consisted of Beatniks, writers, artists, and musicians. About 15,000 hippies had moved to the area including the psychedelic bands, The Charlatans and Big Brother, and Holding Company. A burgeoning part of the Frisco scene was The Diggers, a collective espousing an alternative free society where every need and desire could be obtained for free. By late 1966, The Diggers had opened public stores that provided free food (some of which was stolen off the backs of trucks), distributed free drugs, gave away money, and organized music concerts and art events. Where The Family Dog promoted a true Marxist ideology of share the wealth, The Diggers instead were a part of the experiment gone awry.

In October 1966, California became the first state to make LSD illegal. In response to the criminalization of their psychedelic drug, San Francisco hippies staged a gathering in Golden Gate Park. The event was called the Love Pageant Rally. The purpose of the event was to demonstrate that those who used LSD were not evil, criminals, or mentally ill. It was the first incidence of political activism initiated by the hippies and featured The Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin. The Prophecy of a Declaration of Independence, written anonymously for the event states: 
When in the flow of human events it becomes necessary for the people to cease to recognize the obsolete social patterns which have isolated man from his consciousness and to create with the youthful energies of the world revolutionary communities of harmonious relations to which the two-billion-year-old life process entitles them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind should declare the causes which impel them to this creation.
 We hold these experiences to be self-evident, that all is equal, that the creation endows us with certain inalienable rights, that among these are: the freedom of body, the pursuit of joy, and the expansion of consciousness ** and that to secure these rights, we the citizens of the earth declare our love and compassion for all conflicting hate-carrying men and women of the world. We declare the identity of flesh and consciousness; all reason and law must respect and protect this holy identity.