All summer long, I heard about the Summer of Love exhibit at the Whitney Museum.
Four decades after hippies gathered at a “Human-Be-In” in Golden Gate Park, the Grateful Dead released their first album and LSD was outlawed in the US, the Whitney Museum of American Art revisited this period of psychedellia, flower power and civil unrest, examined the creative and cultural explosion that took place in San Francisco, New York and London, and put it all into an historic context.
All summer long, I met former hippies and wannabees who assured me that the exhibit was “far-out, man,” and an authentic representation of their drug-soaked youth (at least, as far as they could remember).
And all summer long, I thought I’d eventually get around to making a trip to the Madison Avenue and seeing the show. Then, suddenly, I realized that this was the closing weekend.
I ran to the Whitney and spent the evening in psychedellic bliss, gazing at the intricately-drawn concert posters, watching the light shows, viewing “mind-blowing” experimental films, wearing goggles intended to create distorted visions, crawling through brightly-colored, sculpted environments, blinking at the strobe lights and spinning metal circles and listening to Janis Joplin and the Grateful Dead.
Listening? Yes, this is the first major museum show I’ve seen where the audiotour included a complete soundtrack, with songs tied to most of the major works. For example, stand in front of the case full of underground magazines, push the number posted on the wall and you’d listen to Bob Dylan singing Take me on a trip upon your magic swirlin’ ship / My senses have been stripped, my hands can’t feel to grip / My toes too numb to step / Wait only for my boot heels to be wanderin‘.
The program’s musical selections included:
* The 13th Floor Elevators – You’re Gonna Miss Me
* The Beatles – All You Need Is Love
* The Beatles – Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds
* The Beatles – Revolution No. 9
* Big Brother &Amp; The Holding Company: Piece Of My Heart
* Eric Burdon – San Franciscan Nights
* Butterfield Blues Band – East-West
* The Byrds – So You Want To Be A Rock ‘n’ Roll Star
* The Charlatans – Baby Won’t You Tell Me
* Chicago – Someday
* Country Joe & the Fish – Acid Commercial
* Country Joe & the Fish – Bass Strings
* Cream – Crossroads
* Crosby, Stills, Nash And Young – Ohio
* The Doors – Break On Through
* Bob Dylan – Mr. Tamourine Man
* Fleur Des Lys – Circles
* The Fugs – Kill For Peace
* Allen Ginsberg – Tonight Let’s All Make Love In London
* Grateful Dead – I Know You Rider
* Great Society – Somebody To Love
* Hapshash And The Coloured Coat – H-O-P-P Why
* Jimi Hendrix – Are You Experienced (Live)
* Jimi Hendrix – Foxy Lady
* Iron Butterfly – In A Gadda Da Vida
* Jefferson Airplane – White Rabbit
* Jefferson Airplane – Won’t You Try Saturday Afternoon
* Janis Joplin – Mercedes Benz
* Janis Joplin – Raise Your Hand
* Moby Grape – Dark Magic
* David Peel – I Like Marijuana
* Pink Floyd – Interstellar Overdrive
* Purple Gang – Granny Takes A Trip
* Quicksilver Messenger Service – Mona
* The Rolling Stones – Street Fighting Man
* The Rolling Stones – Wild Horses
* Santana – Samba Pa Ti
* Santana – Soul Sacrifice
* The Velvet Underground – Venus In Furs
* The Velvet Underground – What Goes On
* Frank Zappa & Mothers Of Invention – Willie The Pimp
I descended to the Museum’s lower level to catch a glimpse of one psychedellic masterpiece that didn’t fit into the main galleries: Janis Joplin’s painted Porsche, exhibited on the museum’s patio. As I passed through the gift shop to reach it, I happened upon workers busily setting up seats for a one-time-only performance of Hotel Cassiopeia: The Backstory.
Part of the museum’s “Whitney Live” series, the show, hosted by Anne Bogart and playwright Charles Mee, was based upon the life of artist Joseph Cornell. It included an excerpt from the play Hotel Cassiopeia and presentations by filmmaker Jeanne Liotta and Cornell’s former assistant, sculptor Harry Roseman.
I joined the audience for what proved to be the perfect end to the evening: as part of a small, curious company tucked away below Manhattan’s busy streets and engrossed in an hour of art, film, music, magic and love.