When Ed Sanders made the cover of Life magazine 40 years ago -- on February 17, 1967 -- the editors took note of a growing resistance to the mainstream with a cover line that read: "The worldwide underground of the arts creates The Other Culture." The "human be-in" in San Francisco had made news four weeks earlier, on Jan. 14. The "summer of love" -- now being memorialized in a show at the Whitney Museum, "Art of the Psychedelic Era" -- was still several months away.
Sanders was not only a founding member of The Fugs, whose songs included "Kill for Peace," "Slum Goddess," "CIA Man," "Group Grope" and "River of Shit," he owned the Peace Eye bookstore on Manhattan's Lower East Side, where he published a mimeographed literary rag called Fuck You / A Magazine of the Arts. (Arrested and charged with obscenity, he was found not guilty.)
Meanwhile, the hippie counterculture was turning political. Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin and others (including Paul Krassner, who reputedly coined the term Yippie at a 1967 New Year's Eve party) founded the Youth International Party. Peace activists led huge protests against the Vietnam War later that year. On Oct. 21 more than 100,000 demonstrators marched in Washington, where Yippie leaders tried to "levitate the Pentagon" and Sanders performed an "exorcism."
The most dramatic, most violent culmination of the politicized counterculture -- bombings by the Weather Underground excepted -- came on the streets of Chicago. Yippies clashed with police during the 1968 Democratic Party Convention and were charged with conspiracy in the notorious trial of the Chicago Seven. (Their convictions were reversed on appeal.)
But while all of that has receded into history, the counterculture itself has merged so comfortably with the mainstream that its concerns, if not its aspirations, are often similar to those of today's homogenized society. Issues that were once too "far out" to take seriously are now part of the common debate. Just yesterday, referring to his antiwar stance, Michael Moore said in a press conference for Sicko, his latest movie: "I am now in the mainstream majority, which is weird."
Still, it's worth recalling the nascent days of the counterculture, when "beatnik" was the opprobrious term applied to Sanders, Tuli Kupferberg and their ilk well before underground art turned psychedelic and the "summer of love" had hippies putting flowers in their hair. For a fine retrospective, check out the current summer-long show "FUCK FOR PEACE: A History of The Fugs." It runs through Sept. 8 at Printed Matter on Manhattan's West Side in Chelsea. Psychedelic it's not, but it opens your eyes.