1966: A Magic Year

Look Magazine 1966

One of my magic years is 1966. My 12th birthday was in June of that year. Sociologists and psychologists describe the ages of 12 to 14 as early adolescence, the onset of puberty, the ability to form more complex thoughts, and a moving away from parents in search of individuality.

1966 felt like I was on the cusp of something new, something wild, maybe even weird. Images filtered into our home via magazines, television, and film – images of Andy Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable, featuring The Velvet Underground and Nico, for example. I didn’t know what it all meant, but it was something not for the parents. We could buy cool wrap-around sunglasses, similar to the ones worn by members of the Velvet Underground.

Of course, there were other good years after 1966, and in real life you can’t really draw a line between years; one blends into the other. But 1966 was the last year I could truly enjoy the tactile, glittering combination of plastic, electronics, sugar (on cereal, in bubble gum and Coca-Cola), and unlimited potential, without the teenage angst, the far-off dread of the Vietnam war, new pressures of school, and the guilt imposed by environmentalists. Don’t get me wrong – I want to save the planet – but I’m just talking about the way I felt as a kid. After the 1967 Summer of Love, plastic became a derogatory word for fake and hypocritical, and it was ruining our planet because plastic is not biodegradable. The hippie communes fascinated me. I read Thoreau’s Walden and briefly considered a hermit’s life in a cabin in the woods. It never would have worked. Even camping out in the backyard with my friends had drawbacks. It got cold at three o’clock in the morning!

I know it sounds strange that a 12 year old would be worried about going to war. I should explain that in my small town, 1966 seemed to last until 1969. By 1969, the ’67 Summer of Love had given way to what some called “the death of the American Dream,” or “America’s loss of innocence,” with events like the Sharon Tate murders and the killing of a concertgoer by the Hell’s Angels at a Rolling Stones concert in Altamont. In one of my favorite book passages of all time, Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1972), subtitled, A Savage Journey Into the Heart of the American Dream, writes about the great wave of sixties hope finally breaking and rolling back.

“We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. . .
So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.” ― Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1972)

 

In the April 8, 1966 issue of Time Magazine, John T. Elson wrote the cover story, Is God Dead? It was an even-handed look backward and forward about the questions of faith and doctrines. You might say it formed my theology because we didn’t go to church when I was growing up. My mother used to read things to the rest of our family in a kind of conversational, “oh-this-is-interesting” way. I think it was her way of teaching my brother and I things, which she didn’t know how to put into her own words, knowing we could read it for ourselves but probably wouldn’t. I remember her reading excerpts from the Time magazine article, like where Elson said,

“Protestant faith now means not intellectual acceptance of an ancient confession, but open commitment—perhaps best symbolized in the U.S. by the civil rights movement—to eradicating the evil and inequality that beset the world,” and “In search of meaning, some believers have desperately turned to psychiatry, Zen or drugs. Thousands of others have quietly abandoned all but token allegiance to the churches, surrendering themselves to a life of ‘anonymous Christianity’ dedicated to civil rights or the Peace Corps.” Now I attend services an Saint John’s Cathedral, an Episcopalian church that specializes in feeding the hungry and housing the homeless.  

The luxury of being 12 years old in 1966 is that I felt as though I had plenty of time to figure out religion. In 1966, we were a household of smiles, laughter, my brother’s first bicycle, with butterfly handlebars and a banana seat; my first camera, a Kodak Brownie 127 model; our family’s first combination record player/8-Track tape stereo. My father taught my brother and me to solder wires and helped me build a crystal radio from a kit. We hooked up a plastic skull to a small motor and put it in a cabinet. When you opened the cabinet, the skull’s mouth opened and a little tape recorder said, “why are you looking in here?” or “Oh, my aching bones” or anything else we recorded on the three inch reel of tape.     

Ford Motor Company introduced eight-track tape players in three of its 1966 models: Mustang, Thunderbird, and Lincoln. RCA Victor introduced 175 Stereo-8 Cartridges from its music catalog.

1966 media landmarks, for me, include:

The Jeff Beck/Jimmy Page version of the Yardbirds, who, along with Keith Relf, Jim McCarty, and Chris Dreja, had a cameo appearance in Michelangelo Antonioni’s film Blow-Up (1966). Film critic Andrew Sarris called the film “a mod masterpiece.” Blow-Up reflected sights, sounds, and mood of “Swinging London.” In the New York Times, Bosley Crowther called the movie a “fascinating picture, which has something real to say about the matter of personal involvement and emotional commitment in a jazzed-up, media-hooked-in world so cluttered with synthetic stimulations that natural feelings are overwhelmed.” Fuzz-tone guitar electronics was getting more popular.  

If I had to pick a favorite Beatles album, I would choose their 7th studio album, Revolver , released on August 5, 1966, a marriage of philosophy, romance, and rock & roll. Revolver embodies a perfect balance of exuberant summer warmth, autumn-like gothic melancholy, and meditative psychedelia, driven by whip-snap drumming, hot ringing guitar tones, and the drone of Hindustani classical music. My verdant valiant summer took on a pleasant chill as leaves began to ripen and die, while I, like a grinning glow-skull, reveled in the profound implications of getting stronger while simultaneously aging in time and place, living outside of time looking in, knowing I could always return to this window of scrutiny at any age. Lennon and Harrison, in particular, were experimenting with LSD. McCartney was experimenting with avant-garde techniques like musique concrète. Starr’s top-notch drumming held it all together. One need only listen to the plodding, wobbling outtake of Tomorrow Never Knows on the Beatles’ Anthology Album to appreciate Starr’s dynamic drumming on the superior Revolver version.          

Truman Capote described his book, In Cold Blood (Random House, 1966) as a “nonfiction novel.” He also called it an “experiment in journalistic writing.” This style of writing would come to be known as “New Journalism.” Traditional journalism is objective, concerned only with the facts. New Journalism is subjective and includes the author’s personal reaction to the subject they are writing about. The writers of New Journalism often insert themselves into the story. Hunter S. Thompson’s first published book, Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs (Random House, 1966) is also considered a category of New Journalism called Gonzo. Other New Journalism writers include Tom Wolfe, Norman Mailer, Joan Didion, Terry Southern, Robert Christgau, Gay Talese, and others. According to literary critic Seymour Krim, the term New Journalism was first used in 1965 by Pete Hamill.

Television shows Star Trek (NBC), Dark Shadows (ABC), The Monkees (NBC), Batman (ABC), Mission: Impossible (CBS) all debuted in 1966. The Hollywood Squares (NBC) pilot episode aired in 1965, but the regular series began in 1966. On weekdays, when not in school for whatever reason, I enjoyed watching Hollywood Squares with my mother because it brought nine guest celebrities together in one place to display their knowledge and practice their shtick. Also in 1966, The Marvel Super Heroes animated series marked the first appearance of Marvel Comics characters on television. The show was syndicated to local TV stations, independent of the major networks. My friends and I were excited to see Iron Man, Captain America, The Hulk, Thor, and the Submariner on the tube, but disappointed by the low-budget animation, which usually involved still pictures with just the mouths moving when the characters spoke.

Singer Johnny Rivers had a 1966 hit record with Secret Agent Man, a song written by P. F. Sloan and Steve Barri. A short version of Secret Agent Man rocked the opening credits Secret Agent, a television series starring Patrick McGoohan. This series originally aired in England as Danger Man beginning in 1960 with a different theme song (actually two theme songs: first, The Danger Man Theme, and later, High Wire, both composed by Edwin Astley). During the sixties “spy craze” ignited by the popularity of James Bond, Danger Man came to American television as Secret Agent, with the Johnny Rivers song.

Speaking of Patrick McGoohan, his career move in the sixties illustrates a perfect analogy of what I like to call the “1966 transition.” Danger Man, especially the early episodes, reflected the traditional image of a spy wearing a suit and tie; it harkening back to the 1950s, invoking the cold war and international espionage. Eventually, the series introduced a few spy gadgets as a nod to the James Bond films. McGoohan quit Danger Man in 1965 and spent 1966 planning and producing The Prisoner. During this time, he obviously had his hand on the pulse of popular culture. The Prisoner debuted in 1967. Filmed in the enchanting, storybook-inspired village of Portmeirion in North Wales, The Prisoner reveled in surreal imagery and counterculture rebellion against dubious authority. The dubious authorities subjected the title character (McGoohan) to mind control techniques, including hallucinogenic drugs and dream manipulation. Instead of traditional suits, the characters wore toned-down version of the mod designs found in Swinging England’s Carnaby Street. If a prisoner escaped from the island by boat or swimming, a giant bubble chased them down, skimming across the ocean surface, and returned them to captivity. The bubble added an element of science fiction to The Prisoner.   

Speaking of science fiction (or was it nonfiction?), Look Magazine featured a story in their October 4, 1966 issue called “Aboard a Flying Saucer: The Incredible Story of Two People Who Believe They Were Kidnapped by Humanoids in a Spacecraft.” This was the story of Barney and Betty Hill, a real-life couple who claimed to have been abducted by a flying saucer. The Look article consisted of excerpts from the best-selling book, The Interrupted Journey (1966, The Dial Press), as told to John G. Fuller by the Hills. The book was made into a television movie called The UFO Incident in 1975, starring James Earl Jones and Estelle Parsons. This book is a major source of all the “experimental probing” tropes that are so common today. This story fascinated me as a 12 year old kid, and there were nights when I could have sworn I heard weird electric buzzing in the walls and saw unexplained lights in the sky. Incidentally, Look Magazine’s advertising revenue peaked in 1966 at $80 million. I’m reminded of Ray Palmer, editor of Amazing Stories magazine in the 1940s, who said Amazing Stories sales increased dramatically when he published a series of stories by Richard Shaver, known collectively as The Shaver Mystery. Shaver claimed that space aliens, left behind on Earth many years in the past, had evil mutated descendants still living underground in caverns. These mutants would sometimes emerge from their lairs to kidnap humans for nefarious purposes, and they frequently tampered with Shaver’s mind by sending invisible rays into his brain. Funny thing – Shaver also claimed his stories were true.

To be continued  . . .

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Nothing Is Real

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The story, of course, is just a simplistic retelling  of the animated feature film, but the reason I’m including Yellow Submarine in Bill’s Bookshelf is the extras at the end of the book. It had been years since I pulled this book from the shelf, and I had totally forgotten the humorous meta-fictional entries in the back, after the story ends. There is a farcical essay, complete with footnotes, called The Yellow Submarine and the Tradition of Western Literature, supposedly “Reprinted by permission of the International Journal of Comparative Angst.” Among other things, the essay ponders the disagreement among scholars as to the correct translation of the submarines color. “C. H. Whitman refers to the Homeric epithet xanthos, meaning golden, yellow, or perhaps not…W. J. Sloane makes it mauve, with dove-gray trimmings, but this is a fringe viewpoint.” Of course, it’s all nonsensical. There are also instructions for a submerging that include boiling water for tea.

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Mikey Georgeson’s Cosmic Spirit

Multi-dimensional Renaissance man Mikey Georgeson is a writer, illustrator, singer, performer, painter, college lecturer, and movie maker. He writes prose, song lyrics, and comic strips. He sings and performs as “Vessel” for the indie rock band David Devant and His Spirit Wife, as well as a musical side project called Mr. Solo. One of Mikey’s paintings, “Dopamine – Molecule of Intuition,” bubbled brightly in a recent John Moore Exhibit at Liverpool’s prestigious Walker Art Gallery. Georgeson attended the Worthing College of Art, the Chelsea School of Art, and received a postgraduate degree in illustration at Brighton University. He now shares his knowledge and experience with students at the University of East London, where he is a Senior Lecturer. As I wrapped up this interview, I learned that Mr. Solo’s song Kiss It Better has entered the final round in the YouBloom Music Awards competition. The judges include Bob Geldof, Conor McNicholas, Sarah Lewitinn, Rupert Hine, and Nigel Grainge.  I hardly know what question to ask first.

Bill: I mentioned to you in my first email that I was intrigued by the name of your band, David Devant and His Spirit Wife. As you may know, I’m a fan of mysticism.

Mikey: And I’m a fan of Charles Fort, who is mentioned in one of the blurbs on your book, Tamper. The late, great David Devant was a turn-of-the-century stage magician. One of his illusions was to make a girl appear onstage, ghostlike, which he called his “spirit wife.” My discovery of him was almost casual (but then, this is the feeling that accompanies much significant creativity). I was rapidly drawn into the notion that fate had brought us together. Coincidence and synchronicity abounded. Then as now, I had a strong disposition towards finding totemic significance in the world around me.  Life and magic coalescing. Our drummer, Professor Rimschott, and myself would spend days in the theatre museum that used to be in Covent Garden, accessing papers and pamphlets that might contain clues to this prestigious prestidigitator. We lived it. Revelling in all the coincidences. His nickname was monkey face and so was mine. He was one of the first operators on the London to Brighton telephone line and I had just moved to London leaving the Professor in Brighton. We staged a concert in Egypt and so did Devant.

My relationship with Devant is odd in that he is not a character I would intuitively gravitate towards.  I mean, he was the Anti-Fort, going out of his way to how spiritualism was phony.  We (members of the band) found wonderful contemporary press cutting illustrated with spectral photographs of the court battle in which Devant’s partner, Maskelyne, was sued for libel having challenged a spiritualist to make a ghost appear.  He demonstrated how this could be done by material means but I think he still lost the case. I guess, ultimately, Devant’s catch phrase of “All Done By Kindness” draws our band together. I’ve recently been interested in George Price and his doomed quest to find the source of kindness.

Bill: Ginger is one of those songs I can listen to over and over and still get a high-powered rush every time. I don’t understand why it’s not big here in the States.

Mikey: For one thing, we suffered from the curse of Brit Pop in that the label didn’t release it in America believing we should crack the UK first.

Bill: Are you making any headway in Europe?

Mikey: People said that Ginger could take us to the top. On the Friday before its release, Radio 1 reported they were putting Ginger on the B playlist, which after a week as ‘breakfast song of the week’ would have taken it top 40. By the Monday someone upstairs allegedly said “over my dead body” and it was removed altogether from the playlist. This is something we laughed off at the time but it’s hard to square. There were people who were convinced it was a faddy tune for Chris Evans and I even had a letter comparing us to the Nazi party.

Bill: That’s odd. It seems to be about people who don’t fit in because they are different.

Mikey: Thanks, it’s good to see the message still occasionally seeps through though. Ginger is clearly about outsiders.

Bill: The New Musical Express accused David Devant and His Spirit Wife of hiding behind theatrics. But I would put you in the category of performers whose talent shines through and past the theatrics, like early David Bowie or Marilyn Manson, as opposed to hacks like Screaming Lord Sutch. Having said that, I was wondering if you ever performed a Lord Sutch number just for the fun of it.

Mikey:  No we’ve never covered Screaming Lord Sutch, but as a child I had an album of Monster Hits and Sutch’s Jack the Ripper was on that.  That album has stayed with me. Much as I admire worthy songwriters, I am drawn back and back to the mystery of the sound beneath the vinyl of novelty alien music.

Bill: Tell me about writing you’ve done other than music and songs.

Mikey: I,ve been writing quite a lot recently, so here’s a link to my blog. I love it when writing reveals something you had sensed was there all along but couldn’t define. Steve Aylett  mentioned how you include real life in your book, Tamper, mixed with the fiction, and this is the area that’s brought me the most satisfaction in my work. I sometimes think of it as glistening globules – those times when life and metaphor overlap. I also recently wrote a children’s story, which I hoped was somehow primordial, beyond the life coaching tone for tots I find in my sons’ books. Something with no message but feeling like a half remembered dream. I put it on kindle. It’s called Kimey Peckpo by Mikey Georgeson.

Bill: I recently watched Martin Scorsese’s documentary, George Harrison: Living in the Material World. Have you seen it?

Mikey: I managed to watch half of it when my son came downstairs and put a cartoon on. I came in on the part where Astrid and Klaus were talking about Hamburg. I just read that she refutes the idea that she styled their hair, saying that it was a popular haircut with arty types they knew then. Interestingly, Pete Best had very curly hair, which wouldn’t go into the classic mop-top (conspiracy theory!).

I thought it was interesting when George talked about seeing yourself on TV as if it was a different person. They showed great strength of character to be able to ride that particular vortex and survive as themselves. Now days, artists have an idea of what being a celebrity in the media storm means and seem to play to it but the Beatles were as baffled as anyone else.

Marshall Mcluhan spoke about them as an example of Participation Mystique, which is where the tribal whole becomes as one. I tried to explain to some students that the Beatles captured a zeitgeist, but could think of no frame of reference that would help them grasp this. McLuhan’s talk of tribal man fascinates me. He was bold enough to grapple with an indeterminate idea. I mean tribalism is both bad and good. In short he seemed to say that centuries of literacy had rewired our brains and distanced us from the ‘all at once-ness’ of life. The Beatles inhabited a three hundred and sixty degree horizonless space. We all merged into this. Unfortunately this morphed into celebrity as we know it now, which is much more about them and us. Like gods from Olympus. More Classical than Eastern, which is why I think George never saw himself as a godhead. When I was becoming socially aware (say seven years old) there was still a sense of awe surrounding the Beatles. They were indeed mythical. Ringo the mischievous monkey god, George the enlightened Brahman, Paul the inspired Apollo, and John the Kali-like destroyer of worlds (conventions). Apparently The Brahman is the essential essence of material phenomena. Quite apt for George, then.

I was impressed by George talking about the need to experience belief rather than just have blind faith. I find myself surrounded by creative people who are outwardly cynical of all matters ineffable. There is a vein of irony that runs through British humor and whilst I frequently laugh, I often find myself thinking that it’s a pissing contest to see who can be the most detached and intelligent (Did you know that the IQ test was developed to help identify children to who traditional education techniques might prove detrimental? Amazing how it turned into the exact opposite – a means of reinforcing traditional ideas of intelligence). Intelligence is increasingly seen as an end itself like a beautiful complexion. I really believe that art and music are a direct manifestation of the creative process but the drive towards specialization means that art can be about how good you are at drawing horses or submitting proposals to funding bodies. Because I have experienced having thought stuff up through consensually approved methods of intelligence and then at other times wondered where my songs or paintings have come from I find it hard to be anything other than pantheist. Admittedly this can irritate me especially when I’m down – in a depressed state it’s hard then to feel connected to something beyond the surface of consensus reality. What I’m skirting around is that the idea of “feeling” something is a quality that resonates with me. This makes being a tutor a challenge because I want students to “feel” their work rather than just apply accrued skills. I am careful not to get too passionate lest I feel too much like a Robert Pirsig creation.

Today I found out that the German word bild, meaning picture, is the same word for painting is the same word for metaphor. This excites me. Metaphor is beyond the determinate realm of either or. In other words how can you access spirituality in terms of rationality? This is unfortunately what organized religion does in order to validate themselves in an age of reason. Living metaphor is what keeps me sane. It frees us from that Aristotelian ring fencing. I’ve tried a purely rational approach and I feel less than half a person that way. In another life, maybe.

This answer was a bit cosmic, I know. All from “what do you think of George Harrison.”

 Bill: I want to end the interview by asking everyone to vote for your Mr. Solo song, Kiss It Better. Rumor has it that Bob Geldof himself is a fan of the song, but that guarantees nothing. It’s up to the voters! Everyone, click here to show Mikey Georgeson your support. Please.  Thank you.