Journeying the Sixties: A Counterculture Tarot     index     <prev     next>


"Knowing was an 'illumination.' During the last weeks of craziness and timelessness I've had these moments of 'knowing' one after the other, yet there is no way of putting this sort of knowledge into words. Yet, these moments have been so powerful, like the rapid illuminations of a dream that remain with one waking, that what I have learned will be part of how I experience life until I die."

--Doris Lessing, The Golden Notebook, 1962

"I wanted the life of an outlaw rather than the kind of life my mother had had."

--Joyce Johnson, girlfriend to Jack Kerouac, 1957

She might be called a transitional medium of the soul. Her voice pours out from within, extending persistent energy and calm authority. The Queen of Wands, in every cycle of change, controls the outcomes even if she doesn't always appear to hold the floor. Her fire and her thought are the instruments of a course correction; they breed possibilities that sparkle in the psyche long before they are described. Here on a San Francisco streetcorner in 1967 she sings it, the voice tremulously fluent with a personal poetry that sells melodic, allusive parables of love. The Wand in her hand projects that voice - bluesy, ecstatic, acknowledged, and memorable. She will be heard.

The Sixties produced a plethora of Counterculture Queens, easily recognized, widely acknowledged - and heard. Many were celebrities, nearly a requisite for a Queen of Wands whose fiery presence burns brighter than a spotlight. After her incubation as a model and ingenue film starlet, Jane Fonda found her voice as an anti-war feminist, submitting to arrest and traveling to North Vietnam to protest U.S. bombing. Folksinger Joan Baez marched with Martin Luther King, making famous the signature civil rights hymn "We Shall Overcome." She sang it again for the Free Speech Movement in Berkeley in 1964 and in 1967 was arrested twice attempting to block the Oakland Induction Center. Yoko Ono, a Dada artist immersed in the Fluxus art movement of the Sixties, found in her relationship with Beatle John Lennon a partnership through which to promote world peace. Singer Nina Simone, known as the "High Priestess of Soul," incorporated civil rights themes into her music with poignant renditions of Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit" and other ballads that expressed her outrage at racial injustice. Janis Joplin, a 20-something from Port Arthur, Texas, arrived in San Francisco in 1966 and within a year stood on a stage at Monterey, belting soulful psychedelic blues in see-through nets, a bottle of Southern Comfort at hand.

It was Breakfast at Tiffany's, a 1961 movie based on a 44-page novella by Truman Capote, that brought to life the bold, independent heroine Holly Golightly, played with chic impertinence by a 30-year-old Audrey Hepburn. The widely popular film told the story of an eccentric young woman who lands on New York's Upper East Side to make her own life on her own terms. Men fall in love with her and, while she enjoys their friendship, she prefers to remain wild and free. Hepburn's portrayal, in a long black dress and elegant gloves, came to represent a new kind of Hollywood female character (critic Susan Douglas called her the first androgynous and nonconformist female protagonist in Hollywood film). Even though the movie diluted Capote's richly ironic ending by having Hepburn fall into the arms of co-star George Peppard, it had an indelible impact on the millions of young women who saw it, young women ripe for infection by wild yearnings for freedom and choice. Holly was an unmistakable departure from the "good" girl of the 50s and her rebellious spirit offered a desirable alternative to decades of slavish gender obedience. To this day both the film and the novella are considered highly influential harbingers of feminism's Second Wave.

The following year English author Doris Lessing published The Golden Notebook, her 640-page novel about Anna Wulf, a writer and single woman who lives with her young daughter in a London flat. Anna struggles to integrate what she considers her fragmented personality by keeping four notebooks. Out of "fear of chaos, formlessness - of breakdown" she writes in each a component of her life. Through these notebooks, Anna reveals her multi-layered pain as she confronts sexual betrayal, emotional rejection, traumatic family tensions, and profound artistic disappointment. The four notebooks piece together four different versions of Anna's life until, finally, in a golden notebook, she integrates the disparities of her crack-up into a vision of self-healing. The novel, certainly one of the greatest of the century, was the first to probe as a grand literary theme the interior monologue of a creative, sensitive woman attempting to come to terms with an emotionally repressive social patriarchy. Lessing's conclusion transcends sexual politics, and the author has expressed resentment that her novel is frequently characterized as a feminist work. But there is no question The Golden Notebook offered an influential interpretation of a woman's deepest struggle to uncover the truth at her core and to discover a way to bring that truth into the world.

Breakfast at Tiffany's and The Golden Notebook, one spread as wide as the other was driven deep, inaugurated the Counterculture's decade with a feeling for new details that confirmed embryonic but coalescing convictions about living as a woman. In the next year Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique and from that point forward an irresistible dialogue was underway, ignited by a firestorm of literary and polemical chatter. Wand Queens emerged, framing in both thought and action increasingly explicit illuminations of womanly experience.