Booze, Pot, and Silencing

John Astrop and Eric Hill: illustration and Design, June Dutton and Edith Vanocur, authors, 1967

Design history is a land-mine field of issues. Inherently, much of the work created in the past is linked to the cultural standards of its time. What we may deem unacceptable now, was celebrated then. Does that make it bad? Should the creator be vilified? Should the offending design work be eliminated from a classroom or book?

 

Recently, I was asked to remove Mary Wells’ “Air Strip” campaign for Braniff Airlines from a history lecture. It was suggested that someone in the class might be adversely affected emotionally by seeing the campaign. The point was not to promote the work as a way to use sex in advertising but to discuss issues dealing with our responsibility as communicators. For an article on propaganda, it was suggested that I should remove the racist posters attacking the Freedmen’s Bureau from 1866 for similar reasons. 

Read More

Excerpt from Design Observer, May 5, 2017

Sean Adams

Sean Adams is the Acting Chair of the Graphic Design Graduate Program at ArtCenter, founder of Burning Settlers Cabin studio, and on-screen author for lynda.com/Linked In. He is the only two term AIGA national president in AIGA’s 100 year history. In 2014, Adams was awarded the AIGA Medal, the highest honor in the profession. He is an AIGA Fellow, and Aspen Design Fellow. He has been recognized by every major competition and publication including; How, Print, Step, Communication Arts, Graphis, AIGA, The Type Directors Club, The British Art Director’s Club, and the Art Director’s Club. Adams has been exhibited often, including a solo exhibition at The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Adams is an author of multiple magazine columns, and several best-selling books. He has been cited as one of the forty most important people shaping design internationally, and one of the top ten influential designers in the United States. Previously, Adams was a founding partner at AdamsMorioka, whose clients included The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Disney, Mohawk Fine Papers, The Metropolitan Opera, Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, Richard Meier & Partners, Sundance, and the University of Southern California.

A Disgusting Piece of Filth

I have an embarrassing confession to make. I don’t get the theater. I can’t get past the idea that grown adults are up on stage “acting out” their issues. To make matters worse, I have remarkably pedestrian taste in theater. 

I make an exception for Joe Orton’s work. Between 1964 and 1967, Joe Orton helped reinvent the British theater with a working class attitude. He was the toast of an ‘alternative British intelligentsia’. His plays, Entertaining Mr. Sloane and Loot were commercial and critical successes. His career was cut short at age 34. In August 1967, his lover, Kenneth Halliwell, suffering from severe depression, murdered Orton before killing himself. Halliwell's suicide note referred to the contents of Orton's diary as an explanation of his actions: ‘If you read his diary, all will be explained …’

Years before Orton achieved success he spent time in prison for defacing library books. I don’t approve of defacing books unless it makes them better. I would much rather read The 3 Faces of Eve if one of Eve’s personalities were a house cat. And The Great Tudors has a far more interesting group than the actual Tudors. 

He also defaced the flyleaf descriptions for the books, making them sound far more interesting. 

And replacing the original text in the flyleaf of 'Clouds of Witness' by Dorothy L Sayers:

Orton also wrote complaint letters by the fictional Edna Welthorpe and other pseudonyms. Edna wrote about bad pie filling, or engaged in an ongoing argument with a catalogue company. Other characters wrote letters to the theater showing Orton’s plays to complain about the low morals. I've considered this myself, although I may do the opposite, create a fictional terrible design firm, Cutsie Pie Dezigns, and write glowing reviews of every horrible item produced.


Sir

As a playgoer of forty years standing, may I say that I heartily agree with Peter Pinnell in his condemnation of 'Entertaining Mr Sloane'. I myself was nauseated by this endless parade of mental and physical perversion. And to be told that such a disgusting piece of filth now passes for humour! Today's young playwrights take it upon themselves to flaunt their contempt for ordinary decent people. I hope that the ordinary decent people of this country will shortly strike back!

Yours truly,

Edna Welthorpe (Mrs)


15th November 1958.

Dear Sirs,

I am puzzled by several letters I have received from you. Apparently you are under the impression that I am organising something for you, or at least that someone in this flat is. I assure you that there is no one called Mr Orton living here. I am a widow and dwell alone. You state that catalogues are expensive. I have no doubt that they are, but what, may I ask, has that to do with me. You surely cannot imagine that I have stolen your catalogue. And as for selling anything which your firm makes ... Please believe me if I arrived at the New Acol Bridge Club with a catalogue under my arm and explained to my friends that all goods were at cash prices, yet payable by small weekly installments, why I think they would laugh at me. Will you please stop sending letters to me, or I shall seriously have to consider putting the affair into the hands of my solicitor.

Yours faithfully,

Edna Welthorpe. (Mrs)


30th April 1965

Flat 4,25, Noel Road, London, N.1

Dear Sir,

I recently purchased a tin of Morton's blackcurrant pie filling. It was delicious. Choc-full of rich fruit. Then, wishing to try another variety, I came upon Smedley's raspberry pie filling. And I tried that. And really! How can you call such stuff pie filling? There wasn't a raspberry in it. I was very disappointed after trying Morton's blackcurrant.Please try to do better in future. And what on earth is `EDIBLE STARCH' and 'LOCUST BEAN GUM'? If that is what you put into your pie fillings I'm not surprised at the result.I shan't try any more of your pie fillings until the fruit content is considerably higher. My stomach really turned at what I saw when I opened the tin.

Yours sincerely,

Edna Welthorpe (Mrs)


Sir

In finding so much to praise in 'Entertaining Mr. Sloane,' which seems to be nothing more than a highly sensationalized, lurid, crude and over-dramatised picture of life at its lowest, surely your dramatic critic has taken leave of his senses.

The effect this nauseating work had on me was to make we want to fill my lungs with some fresh, wholesome Leicester Square air. A distinguished critic, if I quote him correctly, felt the sensation of snakes crawling around his ankles while watching it.

Yours truly,

Peter Pinnell


Sir

I cannot recall a successful play - from, say, Othello to St Joan, from Tamburlaine to Look Back in Anger - which concerned itself with 'ordinary decent people'! Ordinary, decent people are the salt of the earth and the backbone of the country but they do not make subjects for exciting, stimulating, controversial drama. John A Carlsen Sir - Mr Carlsen's suggestion that Othello (the noble Moor!) and St Joan (belatedly canonised) are not decent people I find more than controversial. I find it completely unacceptable!

Jay Chakiris


Sir

Any oasis in the wasteland is welcome. And Entertaining Mr Sloane is not a mirage which disappears when the thirsty traveller approaches. If we find the customs of the country differ from our own - what else is foreign travel for?

Donald H Hartley

Sean Adams

Sean Adams is the Acting Chair of the Graphic Design Graduate Program at ArtCenter, founder of Burning Settlers Cabin studio, and on-screen author for lynda.com/Linked In. He is the only two term AIGA national president in AIGA’s 100 year history. In 2014, Adams was awarded the AIGA Medal, the highest honor in the profession. He is an AIGA Fellow, and Aspen Design Fellow. He has been recognized by every major competition and publication including; How, Print, Step, Communication Arts, Graphis, AIGA, The Type Directors Club, The British Art Director’s Club, and the Art Director’s Club. Adams has been exhibited often, including a solo exhibition at The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Adams is an author of multiple magazine columns, and several best-selling books. He has been cited as one of the forty most important people shaping design internationally, and one of the top ten influential designers in the United States. Previously, Adams was a founding partner at AdamsMorioka, whose clients included The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Disney, Mohawk Fine Papers, The Metropolitan Opera, Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, Richard Meier & Partners, Sundance, and the University of Southern California.

Shining City on the Hill

Last weekend I went to see Tomorrowland, the movie. It wasn't what I expected. For some reason, I thought it would be a magic portal to the 1967 Tomorrowland. After considering that, I realize this would make for a rather dull movie. George Clooney rides on the slow moving PeopleMover. Then he visits Adventure Thru Inner Space. The whole gang has lunch at the Coca Cola Terrace and listens to The New Establishment. Not too much action. No chases or ray guns.

In my mind, the 1967 Tomorrowland still exists. Somehow I'm always disappointed to reach the end of Main Street USA and realize the 1990s version has stomped out the bright future. 1967 Tomorrowland was a gleaming shining city on the hill. It was a world of turquoise, yellow, red, and light blue, clean white paint, metallic silver walls, and Univers 67. Corporations were not evil so logos were proudly displayed. There was no better way to spend time than to ride the PeopleMover on a sunny afternoon.

We've all seen how something is changed moments before it would be hip again. If they only waited a couple of years, by 2000 the 1967 Tomorrowland would be genius.

Sean Adams

Sean Adams is the Acting Chair of the Graphic Design Graduate Program at ArtCenter, founder of Burning Settlers Cabin studio, and on-screen author for lynda.com/Linked In. He is the only two term AIGA national president in AIGA’s 100 year history. In 2014, Adams was awarded the AIGA Medal, the highest honor in the profession. He is an AIGA Fellow, and Aspen Design Fellow. He has been recognized by every major competition and publication including; How, Print, Step, Communication Arts, Graphis, AIGA, The Type Directors Club, The British Art Director’s Club, and the Art Director’s Club. Adams has been exhibited often, including a solo exhibition at The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Adams is an author of multiple magazine columns, and several best-selling books. He has been cited as one of the forty most important people shaping design internationally, and one of the top ten influential designers in the United States. Previously, Adams was a founding partner at AdamsMorioka, whose clients included The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Disney, Mohawk Fine Papers, The Metropolitan Opera, Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, Richard Meier & Partners, Sundance, and the University of Southern California.

The Circle of Life Part II

As it’s Election Day, and almost every man in my family line was a politician, I’m posting about someone who went down another path. Chester Alan “Gavin” Arthur III was President Chester Alan Arthur’s grandson. His grandmother, Ellen Lewis Herndon Arthur is one of the family members who looks exactly like my mother. After President Arthur died, his son, Chester Alan Arthur II withdrew from Columbia Law School and sailed for Europe. He then spent his life mingling with the social elite of Europe and America. He was interested in horses, women, and fine cuisine. He owned a 250,000-acre ranch in Colorado, but never dirtied his hands with actual work. Oddly, I’ve found this to be a pattern with a large portion of family members.

Conversely, his son, Chester Alan Arthur III rejected the elegant living and embraced political and social issues. In his 20s, he joined the Irish Republican Movement. In 1930, he founded the magazine, Dune Forum, which promoted communication between the masses and intellectual elite. He was a member of the Utopian Society of America with John Updike. In the 1950s he taught at San Quentin State Prison.

By the late 1950s, Arthur moved to San Francisco and was part of the Beat Movement, devoting his time to astrology. In 1966, he wrote The Circle of Sex, a book about gay, bisexual, and gender issues in astrology. His life intersects mine in 1967. He used an astrological chart to determine the date for the Human-Be-In in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. I was there. At the end of his life, in 1972, he was a leader in the gay movement, and had been married to three women.

This seems to be the pattern in the family:

Generation 1: Someone works hard, does well, and is engaged politically.

Generation 2: Uses the money from the previous generation and enjoys the high life.

Generation 3: Goes counterculture

Generation 4: Works hard, does well, and is engaged politically.

And it starts again.

If I could do it again, I’d rather be in Generation 2, than 4. Its sounds like so much more fun to spend life worried about first class tickets on the Queen Mary, than going to meetings and meeting deadlines.

President Chester Alan Arthur I

Lot's Wife and Mushroom Soup

Over the weekend, I saw a television program about torture methods through the ages. One of these was forced feeding of large quantities of salt. This usually made the victim incredibly thirsty, or killed them. I know what this is like. My grandmother was a terrible cook. Everything was unbelievably salty or overcooked. Mushroom soup seemed to be the base of any recipe, and she deemed crisp vegetables undercooked and unhealthy. Her taco salad was of particular terror. As she aged and lost her sense of taste, the taco salad became increasingly salty. We would never be impolite and not eat it, so a large carafe of water was always needed.

I recently found her recipe for the taco salad. It is in a Better Homes and Gardens book, Jiffy Cooking, published in 1967. I am especially keen on the cover type. I need to find this font, or redraw it. I may be seeing things, but this cookbook is heavy on the phallic imagery. There are sausages, pickles, and other penis shaped foods on almost every page. I also like the spread for a teen party. Ice cream and pickles are featured. Here is a word of advice: if you have a teenage daughter and she requests ice cream and pickles, worry. If the sausages, heavy cream, and canned mushroom soup don’t kill you, there is always the cake with multiple balls of butter for everyone.

 

 

 

 

 

When Illustration Takes a Holiday

The first image we recognize as human beings is a face. Babies can recognize parents and mimic expressions within days of birth. We operate as social animals by identifying other people we know. The human face is the first place we look. It gets our attention. This is why every magazine cover is an almost life size image of a face looking at the viewer. It works to get our attention, but not particularly exciting or unexpected.

In the 1950s and early 1960s, Frank Zachary was the art director at Holiday magazine. He hired relatively unknown illustrators for the covers. Most of these star illustrators later. The illustrative covers never fail. They are light, often funny, beautiful, and smart. Holiday’s photographic covers, however, have been relegated to history’s sloppy seconds. Perhaps it is due to the surplus of photographic covers now. The illustrations seem completely fresh and new. But, why do I keep going back to the photos on the covers?

First, they are not the standard big head staring at the viewer. Second, the scale, point of view, and overall composition are often unexpected and odd. Third, the subject matter is never the obvious. An issue on Park Avenue has an abstract image of car lights. No attempt is made to show Park Avenue clearly. The issue covering the Caribbean’s photo is shot from a bird’s eye view, minimizing the bathing suit clad woman in the hammock. I especially love the September 1952 issue on Colorado. At first glance, it’s a standard portrait of a young woman and her horse. But, look closely. The young woman is not focus on the center of the page. The horse is. This is a beauty shot of a lovely horse.

many of these covers are from gono.com

Defense of Garish Acts

A few weeks ago I attempted to repaint my living room in sophisticated silver grey. This was a mistake. What looked beautiful in the Restoration Hardware catalogue looked like a prison cell in my living room. If I wanted to interrogate visitors, or slam them up against a wall with a shiv this would be perfect. I called my trusty painter Jeirro and he repainted it back to aqua and watermelon pink. Clearly I am doomed to what others refer to as bad taste or garish color.

In defense of garish color I point to some of our finest designers, Paul RandArt PaulTadanori Yokoo, and Paul Bruno. We think of these people as refined craftsmen. But did they shy away from magenta and orange, purple and lime green? No. They embraced it and ignored the calls from the sophisticated elite, “More beige, please.”

I’ve often used the baby mobile argument. If beige mobile and a brightly colored mobile are presented to a toddler, he or she will always gravitate toward the bright one. The bad things in life, rotten meat, deadly deep water, and coffins are dull and grey. The good things, non-poisonous berries, swimming pools, and pink Cadillacs are bright and cheerful. This is why clients react badly when presented a baby shit green poster, and cheer for the bright yellow and happy pink one.

Paul Rand, 1964

Words and No Pictures

Designers often ask me what I look for in a portfolio. I always look at typography. There are a million decisions and variables in type. If someone can manipulate the complex issues of legibility, form, scale, and meaning with combinations of 26 letters, and create something wonderful, they can probably manage any project. But what makes good typography? It’s not about choosing beautifully drawn typefaces (but that’s a big part), or setting everything at 4 point (some of us like to read the words). It isn’t about maintaining a rigid Swiss structure (but that’s a good place to start). It’s about making a dynamic, exciting, and meaningful experience.

I’ve seen solutions that are incredibly elegant, but make no sense. A refined cut of Didot is probably not needed for a poster about seal clubbing (the animals and blood, not the musician and nightclubs). I don’t like typography that's just nice. There’s enough boring stuff to look at already. If the type is classical and elegant, it should be so beautiful that you want to throw up. If the subject, such as The Angry Black South needs simple communication, let it be just that: simple communication. I like to think of typography as pictures of words. Which makes the statement, A picture is worth a thousand words,” a very complex math problem.

The Odd and the Ugly

As someone who needs organization, I spend an inordinate amount of free time collecting family photos, labeling and cataloguing them. I’m fortunate that I have a wide network that can send me a photo of a painting in a hall, or I can track down distant uncles, aunts, and cousins on the Library of Congress website. When I post about someone in the family, I try to find the flattering image. But there is a collection of the weird that I keep hidden. Like Diane Arbus images, these photographs seem to be of marginalized subjects.

There are odd out of place outfits, such as Hallie Erminie Rives Wheeler in full kimono. I find the painting of Constance and Maud Rives to be quite odd. Whose idea was it to dress them as Little Bo Peep? I have a macabre image of William Fontaine Maury in open casket. Why did my grandmother save this? It’s very “The Others.” What's with the cow? Was this the last prized possession after the Civil War? There is a strange photo of my mother and aunt with the poodle. Why did nobody say, “Mary Kay, you look like Sybil.” Most disturbing, though, and my favorite is an image of my sister, brother, and me in bizarre masks. What I want to know is where is that clown mask now? It’s the scariest mask known to man. I’d like to use it when I drive to meet with clients.

Tales of Gods and Heroes

Tomoko Miho.

Whenever I see the movie, Two For the Road, with Audrey Hepburn, I think about Tomoko Miho. In the 1960s, she and the remarkable Jim Miho spent half a year touring Europe in a silver Porsche. They visited designers and must have been the chicest people in every restaurant or little village.

Miho’s work is lucid, minimal, true to international style modernism, and speaks with clarity. But it also allows for spontaneity and the unexpected. In her words, she “Joins space and substance. It is that harmony that creates the ringing clarity of statement that we sense as an experience, as a meaningful whole, as a oneness-as good design.”

The Road To Tomorrow

One of my favorite objects is a piece of tile from the Coca Cola Terrace at Disneyland. While we were working on the Encounter Restaurant project, I mentioned that I was heartbroken about the refurbishment of the Terrace. The team at Walt Disney Imagineering graciously retrieved a tile from the construction debris and gave it to me.

The 1967 Coca Cola Terrace was magnificent piece of architecture. It combined modernism with a touch of California levity and space age forms. When I was young, we went dancing at the Terrace on weekend nights. During the day, it was a great place for cheeseburgers and chicken fingers. Oh, yeah, I’m that fancy. The ceiling was fantastic. Like stars in the night sky, it had a random pattern of lights rather than symmetrical ordered rows. The crowing jewel of the Terrace was the stage. When not in use, it was a sculptural planting bed. As a band began playing, it rose up from the ground and became an elevated stage. It’s still there, and is used for the Jedi Training Academy. If only the New Establishment were still together.

Many of these images have been sent to me over the years. Consequently I don’t know the correct provenance. Gracious thank you to those who have shared these. These sites are great resources and most probably the original owner.

http://gorillasdontblog.blogspot.com/

http://www.davelandweb.com/disneyland/

http://www.yesterland.com/

Tequila Sunrise

If you were “with it” in 1967 you went to cocktail parties in Malibu, drove a yellow Corvette, made macramé plant holders, and listened to Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. You may already know Herb Alpert from Casino Royale (the first one), or Pee Wee Herman’s dance to Tequila. In today’s hustle and bustle world, I find Herb Alpert to be the perfect music for the drive home. It’s relaxing, fresh, and pretty groovy. I have a special weakness for 1960s Victorian revivalist typography. This is the kind of typographic layout seen at Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlour. Alpert’s 1965 album, Whipped Cream & Other Delights, is the prime example of this. I tried using this kind of composition on a magazine project recently. I thought it was the hippest thing I’d ever done. The client just laughed and said, “That reminds me of something old timey. Like a Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlour.” And…

Reading Between the Lines

My father had a binder from work that was indecipherable. Yes, I can read, that wasn’t the problem. The company word mark had be twisted and turned into an insane pattern. That would be fine if he worked for a head shop, or music label. But he worked for an upstanding corporate computer program development firm, ADPAC. He wore a suit everyday. This was before computer companies played Nerf basketball. He explained that the point of the illegible, twisted pattern was to try and read it when you were high. I didn’t pursue it any further, and devoted myself to rational, modernist, legible typography.

As we grow older, we become more like our parents. Now, in my case, I certainly will not be getting high (except on life, because that’s just me), or taking LSD. However, I’ve grown to love the posters that are illegible. The point on all of these was to get stoned, or take acid, or something that puts you in another state of consciousness, and then stare at the poster. If you have a black light this only heightens the experience with the fluorescent inks. If you stare at it long enough, the message will slowly reveal itself. Alternatively, you may imagine yourself to be a piece of pie, in which case the experience is lost.

These images are from the Lou Danziger Archive.

The Chamber of Dreams

How many times have you heard, “You know, my parents had that same lamp/mug/sofa. I wish I’d kept it.” Fortunately, I haven’t had that problem. My grandparents saved every shred of paper they ever received. And my mother moves a lot, so you quickly learn that objects are transitory. There is one item, however, that my mother had for years that I now regret not saving. It was a poster for the movie Camelot. Growing up, I thought it was simply a 1960s groovy poster. Now I realize how beautiful it is. The poster was illustrated by Bob Peak and is a remarkable harmony of images and pattern. Since I spent 18 of my formative years with this poster, I find I know every square inch. I need to find out if my mother still has it, and if so, distract her and steal it.

My parents followed the philosophy that children should be exposed to many things and not sheltered. The first movie I remember seeing was Barbarella, followed by Camelot, and The Fox. The Fox is based on a D.H. Lawrence novella. This is imdb.com’s synopsis: Sickly, chattering Jill Banford and quiet, strong Ellen March are trying, hopelessly, to run a chicken farm in Canada. A gentle but powerful man, Paul Renfield, returns and puts things in order. But his proposal of marriage to Ellen awakens the lesbianism dormant in the girls: Jill uses her weakness to make Ellen feel protective, and the women become active lesbians.

Clearly this was not The Fantastic Mr. Fox. The art for the poster is also incredible. Based on the art for the book jacket, it is symbolic, sensual, and fluid. I may have been exposed to a whole batch of nudity as a 3 year old, but I also had a crash course in beautiful imagery.

Wrap Up Your Troubles

I’m sure everyone has different holiday gift traditions. Whether it’s Christmas or Chanukah, gifts are wrapped, and as they are opened, we watch for expressions of happiness. In our house, everyone patiently took turns unwrapping a gift. This was followed by any of the following statements, “It’s perfect. Thank you so much,” or “You have such a talent for finding the exact right thing,” or “Of course this multi-colored sweater is what the other boys are wearing. Thank you.” I once went to a friend’s house when they opened gifts and it was a mad free-for-all. After our civilized and polite Christmas mornings, this was like anarchy. If you’ve seen those old silent movies about ancient Rome with the orgies, then you know what I mean.

We’re also careful about unwrapping. I haven’t solved the problem of asking someone outside of the family to be more careful, and give me back the wrapping paper. It’s not about being cheap; it’s about the paper. Here is the issue: if I buy ugly new paper, I don’t care if it’s destroyed. But my friends and family deserve the good stuff, the vintage paper. So I am doomed to watch in terror with a frozen smile as a child tears through the delicate paisley paper from 1968.

Nobody Ever Called Pablo Picasso an A-hole

Most good designers know that the best logos are the simplest ones. Of course, it’s difficult to account for a long and arduous process of strategy, typographic studies, hundreds of icons, and system elements, and countless meetings when the result is a simple logo. Simple is hard. Desperation is not pretty on a date, or in design. But, it’s no fun to hear someone say, “That’s it? That took six months and cost ‘X’ amount of dollars?”

This is the same as looking at a Picasso and saying, “I could have done that,” or “my six year old child could have done that.” But, apparently, you or your child didn’t do that, and he did. That’s why he’s Picasso.

One of my pet peeves, including people who don’t use turn signals, is faux handwritten type. If it’s meant to be handwritten, I’d like to see something that was, surprisingly, written by hand. Those fonts that imitate handwriting have been put on earth by Satan to tempt people into laziness. Picasso’s posters should serve as the best example of this. His handwritten copy is light, playful, and energetic. If these posters were typeset in Felt Tip (no offense to the Felt Tip people), they would be flat and dull. And don’t even think about these typeset in Leonardo; you will never close your eyes again and not think about that tragedy. You will wake up in a cold sweat screaming most nights.

Being Not Square

I have never taken Lysergic acid diethylamide, or acid as they say on the street. I don’t endorse revolution (except for our original one in 1776). I don’t own any clothing with fringe or tie-dye. I get up every day, go to work, pay taxes, and keep my front yard neat. I am square. I’m the establishment. But, as you know, I did spend formative years in the Haight during the late 1960s. My parents were never pleased that I ended up so square, but they would be pleased that I love counter-culture culture. I love the colors, the attitude, the optimism, and the naïveté.

In San Francisco, in the late 1960s, a group of counter-culture characters formed the Diggers. This group was a theater troupe and endorsed a non-capitalist society without money. They provided free food service in the Panhandle every day, arranged places for homeless hippie teens to “crash”, and opened a series of “Free Stores”. They gave free concerts with the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, and Big Brother and the Holding Company. The Diggers are the originators of some of your favorite sayings: "Do your own thing" and "Today is the first day of the rest of your life". The Digger Bread, which was baked in coffee cans at the Free Bakery, popularized whole-wheat bread.

The Diggers did not "fall apart," they evolved and integrated with other groups: The Free Bakery, the Gypsy Truckers, and my favorite Up Against the Wall Motherfuckers, and became the Free Family.

Arthur magazine provided some new knowledge to me about the posters and broadside. Novelist and poet Chester Anderson and his protégé Claude Hayward, created the “Communication Company,” or more commonly, “Com/Co.” According to Claude, the broadsides were “handed out on the street, page by page, super hot media, because the reader trusted the source, which was another freaky looking hippie who had handed it to him/her.” This quite possibly was my mother or father.

C'est le ton qui fait la musique

In honor of Bastille Day, I am posting scenes from the incredible film, Playtime, directed by Jacques Tati. Tati’s Monsieur Hulot films have a running theme of cold modernism and urbanity interrupted by human nature. I’ve never particularly understood the Playtime’s plot. It’s in French, so that’s an issue for me. But, nothing seems to happen. Monsieur Hulot is put in a series of funny situations and the sets are wonderful. I know they are supposed to be cold and sterile. They represent the decay of true non-conformity and human creativity. I, however, love them. So much glass, steel, and modern devices can only be good for people.

Make Your Own Kind of Music

In 1968, my parents moved to a flat on Fell Street in San Francisco. This was the epicenter of the counter-culture movement. I was four, so I don’t know why we moved there. My parents were definitely anti-establishment, but were adamantly anti-drug use. The neighbors above us were band members from Big Brother and the Holding Company. We bought a big Victorian mahogany bed for my grandmother from one of the Grateful Dead guys. I went to concerts across the street in Golden Gate Park’s panhandle. I went to a volunteer co-op intercultural and interracial pre-school. After my father died, I inherited his Fillmore posters. He had them tacked up on the wall in his house with thumbtacks.

I rebelled. I didn’t get older and act out with loud music and anti-social behavior. I recall that I refused to wear jeans when I was five. I wore only khakis or trousers. I didn’t want long hair. I liked my grandfather’s clothes. And it only got worse as I grew older. By the time I was in high school, I was getting regular lectures from my parents about my bad attitude. I was told,  “Your are spending too much time on school activities. There is no need to be so conformist.”

My mother never made apologies about being non-traditional. She made it clear to us that they she was our mother, not our friend. But she was and continues to be endlessly kind. She taught me to value creativity, eccentricity, and beauty. She was direct and pointed out that she wasn’t the kind of mother who waited at home and made cookies. My friends had mothers who made fresh cookies, and insisted on being called by their first names. I’m glad I didn’t. My mother demands a level of respect that would make calling her “Sylvia” seem far too familiar.