June 3 – August 27, 2017
Hallie Ford Museum of Art
Gary Westford – Organizer and Guest Curator
By Steve Slemenda
When the music’s over, don’t turn out the light; just paint it black to see behind the beyond.
In the summer of 1967, when I was 15 years old, I bought Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band for $2.98 (monaural—stereo was a buck more). It was a little store off Melrose in Hollywood crammed with boxes of vinyl LPs. One of the great “underground” FM stations was on—KMET with legendary disc jockey B.Mitchell Reed (“You gotta dig this new cut from Procol Harum called ‘Whiter Shade of Pale.’ Stop and listen to the lyrics; it’s poetry, man, and and it will send you”).
Wedged between records in one of the boxes was a square of cardboard with the handwritten “Stealing is Bad Karma.” Behind a counter slouched a skinny kid with stringy spills of hair parted in the middle. Just the point of his nose peeked through as if from between curtains, catching the sweet pungent waft of patchouli oil from a browsing girl in a gypsy skirt.
On the walls were posters promoting area rock concerts. These were singular works of art—loud and colorful, outrageous and flamboyant expressions of a countercultural phenomenon called The 60s. In the cooler parts of town these posters were everywhere: stapled to telephone poles; on display outside rock nightclubs like The Whiskey a Go Go on the Sunset Strip; taped to windows of a new hip capitalist enterprise called the head shop.
And if you riffed through those LP covers, you’d find a litany of odd and colorful appellations:
Quicksilver Messenger Service The Grateful Dead Big Brother and the Holding Company Sons of Champlin Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels The Byrds The Strawberry Alarmclock Sir Douglas Quintet Fleetwood Mac Canned Heat Vanilla Fudge Steppenwolf Iron Butterfly The Doors Jefferson Airplane Jim Kweskin Jug Band Chambers Brothers Velvet Underground The Association The Grassroots Country Joe & The Fish Moby Grape The Who The Band The United States of America Ten Years After Led Zeppelin
These rock groups are among the many you’ll find within an array of era posters showcased in the Behind the Beyond exhibit now at Willamette University’s Hallie Ford Museum. The show is part of a broader summer-long exhibit offering rich glimpses into a short-lived cultural zigzag that spawned an explosion of unique art, music, fashion, poetry, and journalism.
Of course you have to adjust your vision accordingly—the doors of perception and all that—to discern those names in swollen playful swirls of paisley lettering (think calligraphy on steroids and ‘ludes). You have to soften your eyes to parse the text.
Exhibit organizer and local artist Gary Westford was there—Haight Ashbury, San Francisco in the flare of the times. His amazing collection of posters from the day are the exhibit’s centerpiece, complemented by fashion displays, blacklight graphics, photographs, and historical/cultural descriptors. Together they combine for a full-flavored sensory walk through the looking glass into a time of youthful fervor, idealism, activism, naiveté, and the street corner jingle jangle of Krishna consciousness.
The heart of it was 1967 and the so-called Summer of Love. The murder of John Kennedy four years earlier was a concussive national trauma just healing over. Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy would still be around for a few more months. The Dems were looking forward to partying down the next summer in Chicago. Flower Power seemed to paint the world in broad and fleeting flourishes, and a generation thought that maybe love was all you needed (along with a little help from your friends).
And this summer, 50 years later, the beat goes on at the Hallie Ford. It’s an amazing show. Don’t miss it.
For more info, go to the museums exhibit website at http://willamette.edu/arts/hfma.
Steve Slemenda is a retired Chemeketa Community College English instructor who never once wore a flower in his hair.