Janis Joplin (Jan/Feb Cover)
She headlined at Woodstock. Her spirit helped define the famed Haight-Ashbury district, much less the style of 60’s counter-culture. It’s hard to believe, then, that Janis Joplin, the “Rose” of San Francisco, would not live long enough to see her quadruple-platinum album, Pearl, become one of the best-sellers of all time. Her death at 27 years old, just weeks after Jimi Hendrix at the same age, devastated the music world so much that you can find tributes and references littered throughout the somber psychedelia and folk released over the following decade. She was a beat poet 2.0, a pioneer of modern experimentation, and, like Hendrix, publicly unabashed by a life free of inhibitions.
To her, freedom really did mean, “Nothin’ left to lose.”
In a time when white female singers weren’t known for bending notes, she delivered the blues, shrieked and cried each melody to the very extent they could be explored, from utter devastation to total catharsis. In tandem, she flipped the face of American womanhood, blasting her vulnerability like a battered soul-searcher, breaking from sexual norms, making tattoos and other taboos fashionably loud, ultimately defining the generation of hippies with her dissonant flamboyance. Even now, decades later, to listen to Joplin is to be moved--by the intimate and raw humanity she left behind in that haunting voice.
"Our awareness is all that is alive and maybe sacred in any of us,” Vonnegut wrote in his novel, Breakfast of Champions, “Everything else about us is dead machinery." Disillusioned by the way the U.S. treated its own citizens, traumatized by war, nihilistic towards the all-but-certain Malthusian dystopia awaiting us in the future, Vonnegut was a jolting shock to the clean-cut American superiority complex that celebrated grit and power. The poor souls crushed under the national pursuit of happiness (if not, world dominance)--and the twisted, psychological mess they carried with--became emblematic in his works, exposing the very mental distress that has unraveled our society since.
Perhaps his greatest achievement was Slaughterhouse Five, the story that sparked his rockstar career in the literary world, and one that spoke to an entire generation of anguished soldiers and the friends and family they returned to. There could be no greater criticism of the war, than by demonstrating how each soldier’s mind could become destroyed, unable to escape their own disturbing, devastating memories. Vonnegut, swimming upstream, turned national pride on its head, ultimately asking who we were fighting for, and who we were fighting against.
It’s no doubt that Peter Tosh is often the forgotten force behind reggae’s explosion (not to mention ska), as the guitarist who helped form The Wailers and taught them to play music. It was also Tosh, who, beyond Bob Marley’s quest to unite the world, pushed unapologetically for change and became an animated fighter for human rights and justice. Whether smoking a spliff onstage as he lectured politicians, or headlining in Africa to combat apartheid rule, Tosh was one of few to actually bring the revolution, untelevised, long after it was a fad for the world’s “flower children.”
It was in September of 1987 that Tosh’s troubled life came to an abrupt and horrible end. This autumn we remember him not only for the music and sound he brought to the world, but the ferocity of his convictions and determination to make a difference, despite the many obstacles at every turn.
As a group of bud-loving, wax-dabbing community members who’ve all echoed one of his battle anthems--like “Get Up, Stand Up,” “Fight On” or even “Legalize It” (pervasive in cannabis activism for decades)--we continue to channel his creed today. Sung aloud, through our votes, or protests for equality, there’s still a need to stand up, even 25 years later.
It was over July-August in 1955 that a pair of mycologists first took part in rituals using “magic mushrooms” with María Sabina Magdalena García of Oaxaca, Mexico. María Sabina didn’t ask to be thrust into the spotlight, or to be a counterculture icon--but it came nonetheless two summers later, when an article about the experience was published in Life. We celebrate her contributions to humanity despite the labels, fanfare and burdens that exploded upon her thereafter. She did what she believed in -- that simple nature is rare these days -- evident even up until her final days as she never “cashed in” -- but rather, served others to the point of financial and physical ruin.
To be clear: our cover image depicts María Sabina smoking a cigar, common for local women at that time. She was nothing like the hordes of hippies, alleged rockstars and other thrill-seekers that would descend on her village, whom she treated with unconditional hospitality. That hospitality would lead to her own community turning against her; her house was razed, her name soiled, her life ruined.
If there’s anything that we’ve taken away from her story, it’s that the search for enlightenment is important -- but never only for the sake of oneself. The tragedy is in what seekers took from María Sabina--but never gave back.
25 years ago on May 31, Counterculture Icon and "the most dangerous man in America" Timothy Leary passed away at his home in Beverly Hills, CA.
Although most widely remembered for his groundbreaking work with psychedelics, in 1968 he was sentenced to 20 years in prison for minor cannabis offenses. He escaped, absconded to Africa, then was later arrested by the FBI as he laughed uproariously. We are commemorating his life -- and ultimately this moment -- with the cover of our current May-June edition.
His last words came about six hours before the end. “Why?” Leary had unexpectedly blurted out. There was a long moment of silence, and then he said, almost in a whisper, “Why not?”
50 years ago on March 21, Hunter S. Thompson and attorney Oscar "Zeta" Acosta arrived in Las Vegas to cover the Mint 400 desert rally for Sports Illustrated ... and the rest is history.
You could almost say HST left his own “high-water mark” mentioned in Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, by being one of the pinnacle forces of the Freak Culture he helped define. Nearly elected Mayor in Aspen, he went on to obliterate the American political scene in writing for years to come.
For those of us who can remember his early-winter death, during the darkest hours of the Bush administration, it was a light going out. As if we’d lost our long-term caller-of-bullsh*t, the counter-balance to the Powers That Be, the last honest word in America. The deflation of his loss can still be felt, like an echo over restless water.