A Cultural History of Popular Music in San Francisco (1965-69)

Lead Research Organisation: Cardiff University
Department Name: Music

Abstract

San Francisco and the Long 60s is a cultural study of popular music in the San Francisco Bay Area between the years 1965 and 1969. Those years mark the period of psychedelic experimentation, countercultural revolt, and musical revolution, which I am calling 'the short 60s'. San Francisco and the Long 60s is also a reflection on the dissemination of the contemporary local community to geographically disparate pockets of countercultural activity, and the perpetuation of the local ideology beyond the confines of geographical and temporal space - what I am calling 'the long 60s'.

By 1965 the focus of San Francisco's alternative artistic community had shifted from beatnik North Beach to the hippie centre of Haight-Ashbury. Just outside of the city, author Ken Kesey and his band of Merry Pranksters started to hold what they called Acid Tests - multi-media parties, anarchic theatre, an attempt to find, in Kesey's words, a 'new reality'. The Acid Tests, and the ensuing multi-media events that followed in its wake, shaped the production and consumption of popular music in San Francisco, and ultimately provided a template for the live musical experience in cities across the United States and Europe.

At the time of the Acid Tests the 'sound of San Francisco' was yet to be codified; in the short 60s the Bay Area was home to a popular music that fused folk, country and rock with philosophy, anarchy and acid. The music emerged organically from, and served the needs of, the Haight community. The concerts held at venues such as the Avalon Ballroom and the Fillmore Auditorium satisfied the community's appetite for contemporary popular music, both local and international, and enshrined a particular musical-environmental ethos which is still palpable locally today.

The shift from the 'short' to 'long' 60s was not seamless, however, and the point of rupture was 1967, the moment publicized to the outside world as 'the Summer of Love'.

By 1967 San Francisco had become the destination for seekers of psychedelic enlightenment; but the Haight-based counterculture, shaped by the simple desire to care for the people in its immediate environment, could not sustain the influx of people. In October 1967 members of the original community staged a symbolic 'Death of the Hippie' funeral march down Haight Street; many other members of the community had already left the city to live simple lives elsewhere in the Bay Area.

The music of the long 60s reflects that shift. It became less about the psychedelic journey and more about a particular spiritual and political ethos. It bore little evidence of mind-altering chemicals, and was characterized above all else by acoustic instruments and tight vocal harmonies. San Francisco bands such as Moby Grape and the Grateful Dead embraced this musical style, and their musical output, from 1967 onward, allowed a more direct address, often crystallizing in their lyrics the simple truths gleaned from the short 60s.

San Francisco and the Long 60s is both an historical account of the 'short 60s' and an oral history of the 'long 60s'. During the Fellowship period I will write the first half of my monograph, an historical narrative of the short 60s, analyzing certain key musical texts that provide examples of contemporary articulations of the hippie ideology. I will also complete my fieldwork, capturing on digital video the reminiscences of members of the original Haight community. Many of these agents of the short 60s are now in their sixties and seventies, and while their experiences form the basis of a 'living memory', that will not be the case for much longer.

Planned Impact

The enduring fascination with the 1960s amongst a large section of the general public secures a pre-existing audience for the three outputs I outline in my Case for Support:

1) the monograph, San Francisco and the Long 60s
2) a radio documentary on the San Francisco band Moby Grape
3) an oral history archive of the 1960s Haight community

1) San Francisco and the Long 60s, while grounded in the inter-disciplinary realm of popular music studies, will nonetheless contain a narrative account of a vibrant and transformative moment in American social and cultural history. The popular music that emerged from that moment influenced the direction of popular music performance, production and consumption on national and international levels. San Francisco and the Long 60s will be of particular benefit to a general, international readership interested in the counterculture, 1960s San Francisco bands such as the Grateful Dead, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and Jefferson Airplane, and the resonances of the psychedelic period in today's popular music.

2) Of all the bands that emerged from San Francisco at the Fujicolor dawn of psychedelia, Moby Grape promised the most - the biggest record deal, the biggest promotional machinery pushing them onto mainstream radio and television; but they also suffered the most spectacular fall - the most unfortunately timed arrest, the most confused marketing strategy, the most protracted contractual dispute. Like many of the other mid-1960s San Francisco bands, Moby Grape boasted a roster of uncommonly talented musicians: five songwriters, five distinct voices combining in effortless harmony. Their career is the very definition of lost promise; yet despite their missed opportunities, despite their failure to capitalize on their success, their 1967 debut album, Moby Grape, stands as a defining recording of the era, hailed by many critics as one of the few perfect debuts in rock history.

As part of my research project I will be interviewing the remaining members of Moby Grape. In collaboration with Boomerang Plus, one of the fastest-growing independent multi-media companies in the UK, I will develop a 60-minute radio documentary about Moby Grape's ill-fated debut album, to be offered to the BBC for broadcast on Radio 2, the most listened-to radio station in the UK. Such a documentary would reach a substantial and engaged listening audience, both national and international.

3) The interviews I will have amassed at the end of my period of research for San Francisco and the Long 60s will be housed at the Regional Oral History Office (ROHO) at the Bancroft Library of the University of California, Berkeley. They will be accessible via the ROHO website, with audio and video clips, transcriptions, and links to my university homepage, and the homepage of my publisher. ROHO exists to preserve the history of the San Francisco Bay Area, creating archival oral histories intended for the widest possible use. My oral history of the 1960s Haight community will have a permanent, safe, and freely accessible home in the heart of California's public university system.

Publications


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Hill Dr Sarah (2016) San Francisco and the Long 60s
Hill Dr Sarah (2016) San Francisco and the Long 60s
 
Description University Research Leave Fellowship
Amount £30,000 (GBP)
Organisation Cardiff University 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK)
Start 08/2014 
End 07/2015
 
Description Choreographing 'In C' 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact This was a 20-minute conference presentation delivered at the annual meeting of the Society for Minimalist Music in Long Beach, California. It drew extensively from my interview with Carlos Carvajal of the San Francisco Ballet, and presented an unknown shadow history of a well-known work.

Impact primarily on my own further research into the topic.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Psychedelia and Its High Other in 1960s San Francisco 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact I was invited to deliver this talk at the Oxford University School of Music. The topic of my talk is not represented on the department's curriculum, so I had an invigorating series of questions following my presentation by graduate students and faculty members.

Helped to focus my research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Psychedelia and Its High Other in 1960s San Francisco 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact In this 60-minute presentation I explore the intersections between 'high' and 'low' culture in mid-1960s San Francisco: the birth of minimalism, in particular Terry Riley's 'In C' and Steve Reich's 'It's Gonna Rain', and the emergence of the psychedelic counterculture, in particular The Grateful Dead. I incorporate video clips of first-person interviews conducted with Ramon Sender and William Maginnis of the San Francisco Tape Music Center, where the Riley and Reich pieces were premiered, and

This was my first presentation of this material to a local, San Francisco Bay Area audience, both academic and general public, at Stanford University.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011
 
Description Psychedelia and Its High Other in 1960s San Francisco 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact In this 60-minute presentation I explore the intersections between 'high' and 'low' culture in mid-1960s San Francisco: the birth of minimalism, in particular Terry Riley's 'In C' and Steve Reich's 'It's Gonna Rain', and the emergence of the psychedelic counterculture, in particular The Grateful Dead. I incorporate video clips of first-person interviews conducted with Ramon Sender and William Maginnis of the San Francisco Tape Music Center, where the Riley and Reich pieces were premiered, and Carlos Carvajal, former choreographer at the San Francisco Ballet, whose setting of 'In C' in 1970 incorporated the visual and metaphysical trappings of the waning psychedelic counterculture. I also problematise Reich's dismissal of any countercultural connection by situating 'It's Gonna Rain' alongside the formation of The Grateful Dead, two of whose members were contemporaries of Reich's at Mills College, and consider their shared musical influences and early musical styles.

I presented this paper as part of the University of Nottingham Music Department colloquium series, at the invitation of Prof Adam Krims.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011
 
Description Psychedelia and Its High Other in 1960s San Francisco 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact Talk sparked questions and discussions afterwards.

Impact on my own research process.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013