Rolling Stone Magazine: Rediscovering the Counterculture's Bible
I finally took the time to rummage through a wall of boxes that I've had stored in my parent's basement for more than 20 years. It was a trip, literally.
The boxes contain an assortment of books and youthful memories.
Most are sentimental items that I can obviously live without, but wouldn't want to lose.
There's an extensive collection of baseball cards and memorabilia, dating back to the mid-1960s.
Ironically, a good portion of the memorabilia involves the Chicago Cubs, who just happen to be playing in the World Series for the first time since 1945. That's the year my 90-year-old father, a die-hard Cub fan, was driving a tank across Belgium and into Germany. I hope they win it for his sake. He was born in Chicago.
After going through about 10 boxes, I made a exciting discovery. Well, for me, anyway.
I found three original issues of Rolling Stone magazine from the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Proclaiming to contain "All the News that Fits," I fondly recall anxiously awaiting the arrival of this monthly publication.
Sadly, there's no longer anything of real substance within its covers.
The issues I found are in extremely good condition and they feature articles on a few of the biggest events in American history, ranging from music to politics to war.
One is Vol. 3, issue No.42, which hit the newsstands on Sept. 20, 1969.
It features an event held in an alfalfa field outside the village of Bethel, New York, that drew 500,000 music fans. They called it the "Woodstock Music and Art Fair," but it would become known simply as "Woodstock."
You may have heard of it?
Those were the hey days of the so-called "Counterculture."
Young people, often referred to as "hippies," were rebelling against the societal norms established by their parents and grandparents.They were also protesting against an extremely unpopular "conflict" in a place called Vietnam (they never declared it a war).
But, on the home front, it was the days of sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll.
And, yes, I had hair down to my shoulders, wore bell-bottomed jeans, and carried a transistor radio -- everywhere.
At the time, Rolling Stone was the counterculture's bible. It started out as a music magazine, but quickly became a platform for the outspoken revolutionaries of the day. More on that later.
Today, it's taken the place of People Magazine. It's a damn shame.
Even the headlines were revolutionary. And, this issue was a prime example.
"It Was Like Balling For The First Time," reads the front-page headline, beneath a photo of cows relaxing along side a tent city of festivalgoers. The quote was attributed to a young woman with "her voice shredded, her mind a tapioca of drugs."
The article, written by Greil Marcus, continues inside, featuring a photo of a young Grace Slick, from the Jefferson Airplane, and a gathering of naked hippies bathing in a large pond.
I recall that kind of thing being rather eye-popping in itself back in the day.
The festivalgoers, for the most part, were reported to have been surprisingly friendly toward the local residents, security forces, and to each other.
"Notwithstanding their personality, their dress, and their ideas," said a local law enforcement official. "They are the most courteous, considerate and well-behaved group of kids I have ever been in contact with in my 24 years of police work."
"If these hippies bump into you," said a local resident. "They actually say excuse me."
However, not all the nearby residents had a glowing review of the event.
"Last night, I was awake most of the night with these kids coming by and stopping here," said 81-year-old shopkeeper, Ben Leon. "They were making so much noise I had to come out with my 30.06 and I shot it 10 times into the air.That got them moving. Ten, fifteen years ago, I could have licked the whole bunch of them."
Overall, the crowd appeared to impress everyone who was responsible for keeping a lid on things.
"These people are really beautiful," reported the festival's chief medical officer, Dr. William Abruzzi. "There has been no violence whatsoever, which is remarkable for a crowd of this size."
There may have been no reported violence, but there was plenty of medical attention required.
Two people died. One was accidentally run over by a tractor while asleep. It was being used to pickup the heaping mounds of garbage. The other died from a drug overdose.
There were also two births, three tracheotomies, a case of pneumonia, a broken neck, and a diabetic coma.
By the festival's end, 5,000 cases, most of them minor, had been treated, according to the report.
Four hundred were from drug trips.
Near the conclusion of the three-day event, Max Yasgur, the 49-year-old dairy farmer who rented the land to the festival committee for $50,000.00, summed up the festival with his historic address to the crowd:
"I don't know how to speak to 20 people, much less all of you ... you are the largest group of people ever assembled in one place at one time ... we had no idea there would be this many ... and you have proven something to the world .. that half-a-million kids can get together for fun and music and have nothing but fun and music."
In fact, enough people amassed at the site over the three-day event, that it constituted the third largest city in the state of New York.
I also found Vol. 4, No. 55, from April 2, 1970.
The cover features the infamous Abbie Hoffman. The story is entitled: "Chicago: The Trial of the New Culture."
More commonly referred to as the "Chicago Seven," the story is a very in-depth look at the circumstances surrounding the federal government's charges that the group had conspired to incite the riots at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968.
I clearly recall that fiasco. As a result, Mayor Richard Daley Sr., took the opportunity to bust a bunch of hippie's heads.
The accused consisted of Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, David Dillinger, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, John Froines, and Lee Weiner. You may have recognized a few of the names. They would later enter into mainstream politics and serve as elected government officials. Hayden would eventually marry Jane Fonda. More on her later, too.
Black Panther Party Leader Bobby Seale was also charged with conspiracy, but he was eventually severed from the case for his continual outbursts during the trial. He actually had to be bound and gagged in court.
As a result, he was sentenced to four years in prison for 16 counts of contempt of court.
Ironically, he ended up being the only one who actually served time. The others, some convicted and some acquitted, never received jail time or even fines due to appeals, reversals, and retrials.
Seale was quite the volatile young black man. Funny how that continues to impact decisions to this very day.
Another issue, Vol.6, No.109, published on May 25, 1972, contains articles associated with the Vietnam conflict.
Everybody, except political and military leaders, were urging us to get the hell out of Vietnam. In 1968, Walter Cronkite had appeared on television in our living rooms, declaring that, "It seems now more certain than ever, that the bloody experience in Vietnam is to end in a stalemate."
Nonetheless, the fighting and bombing continued, resulting in an increasing number of celebrities choosing to voice their opinions. However, none had more of an impact than Jane Fonda, earning the nickname "Hanoi Jane." She visited North Vietnam three months after the interview entitled, "Jane Fonda:The Woman & The War," appeared in this issue.
During the interview, she never even hints that she had a trip planned that would end up labeling her as a traitor, but, looking back, maybe she did.
"I wish people of this country really knew what they're doing in Vietnam right now," she's quoted as saying. "If they did, I think they'd rise up. I really don't believe there is a human being in this country who would not change overnight if he knew what Nixon was doing to the people of Indochina."
For most Americans, it's water under the bridge, but not for many Vietnam veterans. They still despise her with a passion. One of my buddies still won't eat rice. That's how much he still hates having been drafted and sent out on patrols through soggy rice patties while serving as a medic. He received a Purple Heart, having been stabbed in the shoulder while attempting to dress an enemy soldier's wounds.
To him, she'll always be a traitor.
The photos the North Vietnamese government were pleased to have released, showed Fonda smiling and laughing as she sat on the seat of an anti-aircraft gun. Supposedly, it was located just a short distance from where American POWs were imprisoned while being beaten.
Ironically, I have another buddy who was a POW from 1968 until the mass release in 1973.
You can imagine how he feels about her.
Give it a spin.