Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Drugs, Music and the Hippie Ideology

      It seems as though whenever one looks back on the hippie culture of the 1960's, two things come to mind: drugs and music. To be sure, both these things played central roles in the ethos of hippie lifestyle. This post aims to look at the specific role drugs played in the hippie subculture. Moreover, this post will examine how drugs and music became so interconnected under the greater banner of hippie culture.

    No other music subculture in the world, apart from rave perhaps, seems to have as deep a connection between its music and drug-use than the hippie culture. And so while the hippie movement meant a lot of different things to a lot of different people, drugs and music seemed to be the two items that binded and united the everyone under the grater hippie banner. In his essay, "The Intoxicated State", David Farber reviews the history of how drugs and music became so intertwined and how they eventually made up the central tenets of the hippie ideology. Farber's main focus is on  LSD(Acid) and its role in the hippie culture. With Harvard Professor Timothy Leary as its main proponent, LSD production and consumption became more and more popular as the decade progressed.  Farber points to San Francisco in the mid-1960's as the hotspot where a mix of liberal-minded beatniks, experimental musicians, and drugs all converged to lay the foundations for the subsequent hippie movement. The most prominent of these connections occurred in 1966 as author Ken Kesey would invite friends and fellow colleagues over his house to drop acid(these parties were labeled, "Acid Tests"). Kesey invited a local band, the Grateful Dead, to drop Acid with the others and then play their music. The intense and euphoric feeling Kesey's guests felt when listening to the Dead's music while on Acid, coupled with the different ways the Dead played music while on drugs, helped solidify the importance of LSD in the making, and enjoying, of rock music. The delicious combination of LSD and rock music helped popularize other bands like Cream and Jefferson Airplane, whose versatile, "trippy" rock music came to be termed, "Psychedelic Rock." There is no doubt that the success of bands like The Dead and Jefferson Airplane was inextricably linked to the rise in recreational drug use, particularly LSD. This is not to say, however, that LSD was the only drug used in conjunction with listening to, or creating, music. Indeed, marijuana, with its soothing yet intense power,  also played an important role in inspiring music-makers and enthralling music listeners. Artists from Bob Dylan, with his song "Rainy Day Woman", and Tom Petty have glorified marijuana in their music. 

    So we have seen how drugs became so intertwined with music by the 1960s. The question is: how do both these things relate to the hippie subculture. Farber accurately notes that the hippie subculture was all about abandoning the monotony of everyday society in search of something different, in search of something "real". Since reality could not suffice, it follows that the hippie search for something real actually was a search for something surreal. To this effect, teens came by the thousands to Haight-Ashbury in the late 60's as part of this "journey" for authenticity, reality and the sublime. Experiencing the surreal clearly involved experimenting with various drugs, from weed to LSD to magic mushrooms. A combination of drug-use and music helped many hippies experience the "surreal"; it helped them get in touch with whatever they believed they were searching for. It follows that Haight-Ashbury, the capital of the hippie culture, became on of the drug hubs of the nation.
        Any further statements about the subculture's connection to drugs would be generalizing too much. As mentioned in a previous blog post, the hippie ideology was very much a pluralistic ideology. In other words, hippies accepted and practiced various different rituals and cultures. It follows that drug-use falls under this pluralistic paradigm as well. To be sure, some hippies would use drugs for meditative purposes while others simply preferred to get high and forget about their troubled pasts. In their 1968 journal ethnography on hippies and drug cultures, Fred Davis and Laura Munoz, break down hippie drug users into two mains categories: Heads and Freaks. The Heads were those that used drugs for a "head high"; for that surreal experience that can open up ones mind and get on in touch with the true reality. The Freaks, on the other hand, were those that used drugs for the rush, for the adrenalin, and for the aggression involved in it all. These users typically preferred drugs like Heroin and LSD. The broad division expounded upon by Davis and Munoz highlights the greater point that the hippie culture used drugs in a pluralistic fashion. Indeed, drug-use was so common among hippies because it, in combination with music,  provided something for everyone. 

     This post is long and a bit scattered for the very reason that its complex subject matter lends itself to this type of writing. The upshot is that drugs and '60's rock music became inextricably linked in cultural hubs like San Francisco and New York because of the their use complemented one another. This linkage was reinforced and expanded by the emergent hippie subculture, which used drugs for a plenitude of reasons, not the least of which was to experience the "surreal" and live in the moment. 

Davis, Fred. and Munoz, Laura. "Heads and Freaks: Patterns of Drug Use Among Hippies."   Journal of  Health and Social Behavior  9.2(1968): 156-164. 

Farber, David. "Intoxicated State/Illegal Nation." Imagine Nation: The American Counterculture of the 1960's and 1970's. Braunstein, Peter. and William Doyle, Michael. New York: Taylor & Francis, Inc., 2001. 17-38.

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