Sunday, 30 March 2008

Great Book on 65 to 72 in US














“There’s a riot going on, revolutionaries,rock Stars and the rise and fall of ‘60s counter-culture” by Peter Doggett’


Peter Doggetts “There’s a riot going on, revolutionaries, rock Stars and the rise and fall of 60’s counter-culture was one of the best featured books at the recent Aye Write festival in Glasgow .

The book recalls in detail ( its 525 pages) the uneasy relationship between rock stars, political activists and the counter –culture in the 8 years between 1965 and 1972.

Doggetts’ raison d’etre for the book:-

“ In an era when Bono, the hand in glove darling of the global political establishment and Bruce Springsteen, the personification of cosy liberalism, are revered as rock and pop icons, its timely to be reminded of an era when artists were prepared to court popularity ( And worse) for their ideals.

Dogget also attacks some of the myths that have been created by the artists themselves about the period citing the documentary ‘The U.S. against John Lennon’ as sanitising the role of an artist who gave both money and publicity to the IRA, Black Panthers , The Vietnam solidarity Committee, Zippies, Yippee and ,not least, the “Dylan Liberation Front “.

The book begins with an account of how a key figure like Jerry Rubin began to channel the Berkley Teach- in - in May 1965 for free speech against the war using artists like Phil Ochs . Rubin also attempts to revive and use a by now disgruntled Dylan through Alan Ginsberg. He describes the role of Ginsberg, Ed Sanders and Tulin Kupferberg and their musical ensemble “The Fugs ” exploring the limits of censorship as they travel across America.

Dylans' attitude by 65 is described in discussions with Ginsberg and quotes from Dylan himself. The more Dylan tried to distance himself from the political activists the more they, in turn, tried to reclaim and re-activate him. This took on bizarre proportions as the Dylan obsessive A J Weberman makes it his sole mission to “ liberate Dylan “ launching a “ Dylan liberation Front “ campaign . One of the more unsavoury of Weberman’ tactics was raking through Dylan’s garbage to find incriminating sell-out evidence about the artist.

And Black Panther leaders like Bobby Seale and Huey Newton read coded hidden messages into Dylan’s' lyrics on’ Bringing it all Back home’ and ‘Highway 61 revisited’ supposedly telling them what tactics to use in their war against “ The Man”.

There are recurring chronological accounts of the relations between artists like ,Dylan, Mick Jagger, Jefferson Airplane, Country Joe McDonald , The Who, Joan Baez etc and the key underground activists of the time. This is interspersed with arguments that took place within the counter -culture between Abbie Hoffman , Jerry Rubin ,Elridge Cleaver, Bobby Seale, John Sinclair, Michael X and key organisations like the SDS, The Weathermen, The Black Panthers over tactics, aims and the very nature of protest itself.


(Mick Jagger comes in for particular criticism for all the tax exile stuff)
Though others are also exposed -( like Jefferson Aeroplane making excuses for not going to the Chicago convention ) where there was likely to be police violence. This is the central ongoing theme of the book.

Doggett is particularly sharp on the absence of women from the revolution. Joan Baez notwithstanding, they were largely expected to roll joints and throw themselves into the cause of sexual freedom.

Asked about the position of women in the black consciousness movement, Stokely Carmichael, “honorary prime minister for the Black Nation”, replied “prone”. Women were not allowed to bear arms in the Black Panthers but would have found a role in the British underground press.

One advertisement in The Black Dwarf read: “Dwarf Designer Seeks Girl. Head girl typer to make tea, organise paper, me. Free food, smoke, space. Suit American negress.”

Dogget also recalls the stories of the big events of these years,Kent state, Woodstock, the Isle of Wight festival, Altamont, Biafra , Attica, the Chicago democratic convention, the Newport Folk Festival , Grovenor square and the Prague Spring - sometimes taking time out to talk about the civil rights protests in the fifties.

There is an ongoing invaluable discography informing readers of seminal albums and individual songs and the affect they had on different individuals and a number of great anecdotes -Country Joe McDonald bursting into anti --Vietnam song at the Chicago Conspiracy Trial having being been primed by pranksters Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin to do so- Dylan cycling after A J Weberman to beat him up after one too many intrusions.

There are also details of meetings between Tariq Ali , Robin Blackburn and Lennon and Yoko and the relationship between Hoffman, Rubin and the Lennon’s in the early
70’s .

“There's a riot going on” is an invaluable book about the counter-culture in the US at a crucial time and the limits of the New left . There are also many lessons for us about successful and unsuccessful tactics through his examination of both the underground activists methods and the American states’ response.


Peter Burton

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