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


"Without him, there simply wouldn't have been enough acid for the psychedelic scene of the Bay Area in the sixties to have ignited."

--Grateful Dead archivist Dennis McNally recalling the 1.25 million doses of LSD produced by Augustus Owsley Stanley III between 1965-67

"To many of those ardent youth it seemed like the dawn of a new era of progressive American values. In hindsight it may appear to have been rather a flash of sunlight between clouds on the western horizon. Though it may seem so, the pendulum is not at rest. Somewhere, it will happen again."

--San Francisco Bay Area Sixties historian Walter Medeiros on the Counterculture's "golden age" in San Francisco, 1965-67

The Knight of Pentacles is the master builder. He manages the material world and moves the Kingdom's bricks into place with all his heart. He sustains with juicy mortar the Kingdom's concrete vision. He is a builder alive in his body and senses. He could be found at the convergence that transformed San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury neighborhood into an urban enclave of the Counterculture. The Beats of the 50s had cobbled from black blues, Eastern wisdom, and bohemian traditions the elements of a mutinous lifestyle that rejected America's prevailing organizational conformity and paranoiac Puritanism. But as it clustered at coffee houses to hear poets and folk singers, as it wandered on road trips and dwelt in poetic isolation, the Beat movement was not a counterculture. Compared with the flourishing hippy vibrancy that filled the streets of the Haight-Ashbury in the Sixties, Beats were subterranean and alienated and though they promoted, especially through the poetry of Allen Ginsberg and Gary Snyder, paths to expanded human consciousness, the depth of their vision sometimes hid beneath Zen koans and hipster jive and wasn't always accessible.

For a brief time from 1965-67, San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury held itself together as a progressive community whose major exports were drugs and music. Many residents supported themselves as small-time marijuana and acid dealers while rock bands co-existed in a dominion divided between two entrepreneurial barons, each with an exclusive venue for weekend concerts. Bill Graham, former manager of the Mime Troupe, controlled shows at the Fillmore Auditorium. The Family Dog, under the direction of Chet Helms, produced its shows in the Avalon Ballroom. Both houses were built in 1911 and featured ornate interiors that strongly appealed to the psychedelic hippie esthetic. It was in these halls that every weekend Knights swung their axes for adoring crowds of tourists and freaks. During the weeks before each concert, elaborately drawn and printed posters would hang like escutcheons from telephone poles and bulletin boards and advertise featured bands. The posters and handbills, created by a half-dozen artists including Wes Wilson, Stanley "Mouse" Miller, Rick Griffin and Victor Moscoso, were stunning creations in a relatively unremarkable medium that showcased exceptional creativity. They are collected today as premiere examples of early psychedelic art.

Large gatherings headed by local bands, from the "Tribute to Dr. Strange" dance and the Trips Festival (both held during the winter of 1965-66 at the city's Longshoreman's Hall) to the "Gathering of the Tribes" in 1967 in Golden Gate Park, were cultural centerpieces of the community. Hippies gathered by the thousands to hear loud, electric rock, consume doses of psychedelics, dance and sway en mass, and to share in at least some of the spoken understandings of the emerging Counterculture. These included: the reconciliation of "reality" with something perceived to exist as "the cosmos;" the pursuit and expression of an underlying truth beyond what appeared to be a "rational" existence enforced by the dominant society; the celebration and enjoyment of pleasure (manifest in eroticism, dance, music, and a spiritual satori believed induced in "flashes" spawned by psychotropic drugs); and a communal lifestyle built on acts of love that mandated the sharing of common resources and tolerance for a wide spectrum of deviant, non-threatening behaviors.

There were many proud Knights of the Haight-Ashbury realm, but most everyone wanted to be a musician. Musicians displayed an amalgam of desirable characteristics that included charisma, poetic insight, connectivity, and freedom (especially when rare success brought instant wealth). The Knight of Pentacles addresses directly the integration of joy with living and, in terms of the enlightenment promised by expanded consciousness, how to be "present in the moment." The musician's life seemed to many to have all the qualities of a hero's journey. And while many wanted it, few had the tenacity or talent to take it. Whether rock star or street drummer, the music maker of the Counterculture shared each moment with as many deaths as lives, wandering across borders but also following trails within, through landscapes of psychological-and frequently psychedelically induced-beauty and terror. If the Page of Pentacles' incipient lateral deviance inspired the Counterculture's birth, the Knight contributed the abiding and immutable soundtrack for its Summer of Love.