greg tate spaces out & zones in on the sixties.
The 1960s was all about the conquest of space, outer and inner, astronauts, acid trips, social revolt, one long strange return of the repressed trip…
— Greg Tate, “Why the Hell Ornette Went All Up In Eden”
1 thought on “Conquering Space in the Sixties”
During the early 1960s, young Americans, by virtue of needing to reinvent or discover a wilderness of their own and follow in Cassady’s footsteps, were forced to confront the question of where to find it now that there was almost no physical wilderness left. Initially there appeared to be several possibilities for locating that new wilderness.
While the exploration of the infinite wilderness of outer space appeared to be full of promise as a frontier experience for America, it was a viable option only for those few who possessed the necessary technological and financial resources to build, launch, and pilot spacecraft. As a result, the vast majority of people could only experience space travel and any resultant discoveries vicariously. They had no direct personal involvement in these adventures.
Initially, the jungles of South Vietnam seemed to some, at least, to hold the possibility of reaffirming the regenerative power of wilderness for Americans. America’s troops would be modern- day Natty Bumppos, Daniel Boones, and Davy Crocketts alive again in the forest and testing their wilderness skills and themselves in the defense of freedom against what now passed for Indians. In seeking support for the war, President Lyndon Johnson even invoked a powerful and almost sacred symbol of the frontier during a December 1967 trip to Cam Ranh Bay when he told American soldiers to “nail that coonskin to the wall.” (History News Network) In the end, however, the Vietnam war was to subvert the myth of the frontier and, in the process, turn American values and identity topsy-turvy. The war was to bring no sense of spiritual or physical renewal to America, just a sense of confusion and the finality of death.
Ultimately, many young Americans were to discover that the wilderness now existed within themselves and echoed that thought to each other. “All we had to explore was ourselves,” said Paul Kantner of Jefferson Airplane. (It Was Twenty Years Ago Today) Allen Cohen, publisher of the San Francisco Oracle, also recognized that truth and observed: “The only frontier left [to people] in America [in the 1960s] was their own mind and their own senses.” (Farber 29) And for Kesey, America at mid-century featured “uncharted realms of the mind [and] unexplored spaces of social territory.” (Cavallo 111)
These young Americans “answered a [time-honored] call to explore [this] interior New World, a twentieth century summons to stake a claim to a mythological American freedom lodged somewhere within the wilderness of the self.” (Cavallo 144) From these realizations came “an open and affirmative impulse set solidly in the American grain, a mass defection from straight culture in favor of contrived self-discovery in a wilderness of one’s own.” (McKinney 191
And this: Ken Babbs, one of the Merry Pranksters, saw firsthand the lifting power in the Grateful Dead’s music during the group’s stint with the Acid Tests, saying: “We always thought of the Grateful Dead as being the engine that was driving the spaceship that we were traveling on[. . .]Once the Grateful Dead got the engine cooked up and running that became the motor driving the thing. It provided something that kept everything going.” (Greenfield 73)
Babbs’ colleague Ken Kesey used the same space age metaphors to describe the Grateful Dead: “I saw them as the main afterburner of a spaceship that was going to leave this dimension.” (Jackson 66) That afterburner was powered by “audio rocket fuel” the basis of which existed in the Dead’s unique blending of musical styles that included folk, blues, country,
electronic, bluegrass, rhythm and blues, jazz, and rock ’n’ roll. (Sculatti)
Next JFK and the Russians in space together.