It was during the summer of ‘62 that I became radicalized and realized where my path lay. I was a junior in high school and was going away for the first time, to a job as a counselor at the School of Creative Arts, an arts camp on Martha’s Vineyard. The other counselors were older, mostly artists, and all in college in the Boston area.
Hanging with them put me hip to the radical scene that was in full force in Boston, in the arts and in politics. That was where I wanted to be, so the following year I was off to Boston University, School of Fine Arts, scholarship in hand. A superior education was to be had then, as our elders were fully engaged in expanding our consciousness and leading the Youth Movement in the creation of a modern and enlightened future for our country.
Howard Zinn was teaching there, and Dr. Timothy Leary was doing his LSD experiments at Harvard. The first I heard about acid was from one of my classmates who had signed up for his test trial. He said that Dr. Leary pricked his finger with the tiniest drop and he was off like lightning. He was forever changed. He even looked different.
Those years were a full-on education for me, in and out of school. When I wasn’t studying in Boston, I was making a beeline to Manhattan, for me The Center of the Avant-Garde Universe. The museums were showing such artists as Niki De Saint Phalle, galleries were having Happenings, filmmakers like Stan Brakhage, Jonas Mekas and Jack Smith were showing their work, Andy Warhol’s Factory door was open, Betsey Johnson had her shop in the Village and Courrèges was on Fifth Avenue. Life was Grand. It was Future Forward and I was on board.
After graduating in ’67, I sublet a basement apartment on 10th and Hudson in the West Village. This was the Summer of Love and the hippie enclave in Manhattan was on 10th Street, stretching from the Lower East Side to Hudson on the West Side. Everyone was out on the street. That summer the activists herded buses all along 10th, east to west, and had us climb on board to drive to Washington for the Pentagon March. I was teaching myself photography then, so I got on camera in hand. The mood was serious. This was the biggest protest to date and there was a heavy military presence. Would they really shoot us? People collected in small groups, discussing the course of action. But this was a Peace Protest to end the War in Vietnam, so the guns were met with flowers.
That year there were colorful magazine spreads of San Francisco’s Be-Ins and Haight Street scene. But it was the Irving Penn photo spread in Look magazine that completely turned me around. He did family portraits of the groups and communes of San Francisco, and they looked so extraordinary to me that they may as well have been not only from a different time but from an alternate Universe as well. And indeed they were. I could see that San Francisco was the next destination.
So I forged my way west the following year, in the summer of ’68. My first stop on the way was Aspen, Colorado – a hippie destination point, just a funky old mining town in the midst of the glorious Rockies. I wanted to paint from nature, like Cézanne, and I had my own camp way out in the woods.
Every few days I’d hitchhike into town. One day a panel truck stopped to pick me up, and when I opened the back door I fell into my own private rabbit hole. The ride that changed my life. The front seat held Nancy Gurley and her two-year-old son Hongo Ishi (Mushroom Man) – the wife and child of James Gurley, guitarist for Big Brother and the Holding Company.
When I next woke up in my tent in the woods, there was frost on the ground and I could just make out the dark silhouette of a bear on the other side of the creek. That, plus the fact that meeting Nancy was such a profound experience, made me pack up my tent and move into the gold mine hotel. For the next few months I was taught by the Master. Every morning began with throwing the I Ching and reading the Tarot. While we hiked the mountains Nancy told me the tales of the Family Dog, the original tribe that came from Detroit, got mind-blown in the mountains of Michoacán, migrated to North Beach and then into the Haight. No one has influenced me more than Nancy Gurley. To me she was the woman of the Future, fully realized and with her feet firmly planted in the land of Truth and Love. Nancy was the original Mother Earth, with a PhD in English literature.
When I arrived in San Francisco, Nancy brought me into the heart of the Family Dog and another education promptly ensued. Within a week I had sampled every psychedelic available. I was the new hippie girl in town and they all wanted to turn me on. I was never happier.
Haight Street in ‘68 was like a Pioneer Town somewhere on the edge of the Future, a visual feast that made the mainstream look like yesterday’s news. The seeds of the new Cosmic Consciousness had been sown in the Summer of Love, 1967, and they began to blossom full on by the following year. The streets were filled with my beautiful, colorful peers all thinking about how to materialize the Magic of their visions.
People of like mind came together and began living communally, as this was the best way to focus on what was important, creating an Alternate Reality. A reality based on that particular long view, the landscape of Cosmic Consciousness perceived ever so clearly, through mind-expansion psychic energizers – organic, of course.
The ethos that had developed in the city was again the polar opposite of the driving force of the mainstream; it was an ethos of mutual respect, of seeing each other as individuals, of contributing to each other’s best version of one’s self, of rising above petty bullshit and coming from a place of Truth, Beauty and Love. We did not take these things lightly. We were committed.
This was only the beginning of what became my life in the Counter-Culture Movement. I grew up and thrived as an artist, as did many others who contributed creatively and whose work is being acknowledged now as significant aesthetic achievements.
Without that abiding ethic of embracing diversity and dissolving old ideas and boundaries, our group The Cockettes could not have come together for one minute, much less three years, because we were as different from each other as could possibly be. Yet we lived together, loved each other and produced a tremendous body of work. Our creative output evolved rapidly in those three years, and its conceptual complexity and scope are only now beginning to be fully understood. In the intervening 48 years, our unique Visual Language permeated into just about every cultural medium worldwide, most specifically in Fashion. Our ideas of expressing the Inner Self via an assemblage of timeless elements can now be seen everywhere from mash-up vintage fashion to surrealism on the runway.
Regarding the Counter Culture as history is a beautiful thing. But to delve a bit more deeply into the form, trajectory and message of the movement is to see its power and strength – which could not be more relevant to today’s world. The focus on The Summer of Love presents a unique opportunity to rethink a way of life that is inclusive and peaceful, with the ability to create a future that is modern, beautiful and sustainable for us all.