It's Only Rock & Roll, But I'll Buy It
From the Print Edition:
Claudia Schiffer, Jul/Aug 97
Man, it was unbelievable. Two hours before the show was set to start, the line wrapped around the block. It didn't matter that this was yet another cold San Francisco night. There they were, long hairs and straights, old loyalists and young punks, in parkas and trench coats, T-shirts and flannels, blue jeans and khakis. Some kept warm by singing songs. Others were imbibing and inhaling, as they had done so many times before. Entrepreneurs were passing out business cards, hustling the licensed and bootleg products that are perennial players in this scene. The promoter, hyper as ever, paced around his office--a room filled with coffins, books, photos and other images that left you wondering whether his venue was a celebration of life or of death. The talent were looking crisp and primed for a big night.
At last it was show time. The doors flew open, and the fans knew the wait had been worth it. With the talent standing front and center, the familiar sounds filled the room. But there was no live band. Although a DJ was spinning such Grateful Dead tunes as "Terrapin," "Truckin',"
"Dark Star" and "Not Fade Away," this was only background music to the main event.
Welcome to "The Art of The Dead," an exhibit of the poster art of the Grateful Dead that ran for 10 weeks this winter. (The exhibit is now wending its way around the United States, with stops in as many as 50 cities planned, including the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland starting Sept. 15.) Hung elegantly on the wood-paneled walls of a 4,500-square-foot San Francisco art gallery called ArtRock, the exhibit displayed approximately 100 posters, flyers, postcards, tickets, lithographs, silk screens, photo-graphs, album covers and art originals. They ranged in price from $15 for a poster announcing the Dead's final tour in 1996 to $20,000 for the original artwork from the 1967 "Trip or Freak" concert that was canceled when San Francisco police got word that everyone attending was planning to take LSD.
Passionate, vivid colors jump forward. Red, yellow, blue, green and orange cohabit like some sort of graphic crash pad. They sug-gest the mood swings of the tunes, evoking the Renaissance Fair atmosphere of a Dead show and recalling a time when sex, drugs and rock and roll did not hold the specter of AIDS. Take Rick Griffin's 1969 "Aoxomoxoa" (available for $250 in the ArtRock catalog). The handcrafted letters, clearly influenced by LSD and other consciousness-raising agents, are intentionally designed for difficult reading. They demand close study. Funky guitars, embryos and a fried eye or sizzling sun doubling as an egg penetrated by sperm are also part of this popular poster.
Peering at the letters and the images, recalling past concerts and humming favorite songs, the show's attendees were loving every min-ute as they shared in the communal and personal joy that makes rock and roll the music of a generation. "These posters document the social history of my times--and yours, too," says 46-year-old Rusty Goldman, a poster lover so impassioned, dedicated and knowledgeable that he has earned the title Professor Poster, which is also the name of the collector's forum he runs from a venue that's been dubbed "Posterville."
Lurking everywhere was the Dead's trademark skeleton, as iconographic a logo as the Rolling Stones' tongue or the Nike swoosh. The commercial comparison is intentional. Rock and roll artwork has become more than a curious sidekick to the music. It is a big-money business. Not only will the wealthy shell out thousands for an original Fillmore poster; many more will spend hundreds for reprints that are available via telephone. Among the items offered in the 32-page December 1996 ArtRock catalog is a signed and numbered (1,500 copies) silk screen of "The Fiddler," a red-robed skeleton featured on the cover of the Grateful Dead's 1975 album, Blues for Allah, for $350. An 8 1/2-inch-by-11-inch handbill from 1966 of the band's "Skull and Roses" emblem goes for $450.
Flip through ArtRock's catalog and you'll find that the Grateful Dead is just part of a thriving rock and roll gallery. Other items of note include a 36-inch-by-24-inch original Woodstock poster that goes for $750, a poster for a 1967 Doors gig priced at $200 and a Jimi Hendrix concert poster for $650. And, although they aren't as popular as psychedelic images, a few pieces from the 1970s command high prices. A poster from the Rolling Stones' 1973 concert at Car-diff Castle sells for $1,750, a rare photo of Led Zeppelin is available for $700 and one of only three original flyers for a 1974 Kiss concert goes for $650. "Since they're not doing cocaine anymore, they've now got excessive money to spend," Jefferson Starship (née Airplane) legend Paul Kantner says of those eternal rock fans who are eager to shed their discretionary dollars.
A decade ago, Phil Cushway, the antsy promoter and owner of ArtRock, started his business in a 900-square-foot unheated basement in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Today, ArtRock leases a 25,000-square-foot San Francisco warehouse, which, in addition to the gallery, houses production, shipping and warehouse facilities. Hold-ing more than a million pieces of art in stock, ArtRock, Cushway claims, is the largest repository of rock and roll artwork in the world. (ArtRock's extensive full-color catalog can be ordered by calling 800/262-7249.) If the poster that's your Rosebud isn't here, it probably belongs to the ages. Then again, it might turn up someday in an abandoned warehouse, musty basement or random bedroom.
"If you're going to San Francisco..."
--"San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Some Flowers In Your Hair)," sung by Scott MacKenzie
San Francisco is to rock and roll artwork what Florence was to the Renaissance: the epicenter of activity, a densely populated urban area just cozy enough to make the genre relevant. Back in the '60s, in the days when acid rock and the FM radio stations that played it were still underground and the music had yet to be annexed by the big record labels, the poster was a vital marketing vehicle. It was cheap, it was hip and it was easily stapled to telephone poles in such neighborhoods as Haight Ashbury, North Beach and Berkeley's Telegraph Avenue.
Thirty years after the Summer of Love, the afterglow of the psychedelic era remains profound. ArtRock's top sellers are concert posters that feature such groups as the Grateful Dead, rock's most successful cult band, which finally stopped the show when lead man Jerry Garcia died in 1995; the Doors, the Los Angeles-based tortured souls who planted enough literary allusions in their lyrics to satisfy many an undergraduate; Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, the impassioned singer and the fiery guitarist, both of whom, like the Doors' Jim Morrison, died before reaching the untrustworthy age of 30; and Led Zeppelin, the exemplary hard-rock band of the '70s.
A popular poster defines a time and place. "Personality posters that just show the artists in action without featuring a concert and a specific date don't sell particularly well," says Cush-way. "Gigs sell." Winterland, Fillmore, Woodstock, Monterey Pop, Altamont, Watkins Glen and other venues are the markers of a generation, providing visual, tactile verification of one moment in time.
This emphasis on concert artwork explains why posters of the Beatles, though certainly popular, are neither among the biggest sellers nor the subject of much poster lover dialogue. For starters, the band stopped touring in 1966, two and a half years after its American debut. Furthermore, its manager, Brian Epstein, exerted tremendous control over any depiction of the group's name or images, thereby suppressing visual interpretations by anyone but Beatles-sanctioned artists. Beyond this infrastructure, the Beatles are so epic and familiar to one and all that putting one of their posters on the wall fails to make any personal statement. A Beatles poster in today's world is about as unusual as a horse painting in a hotel room. There are instances, of course, of rare Beatles posters, art and photos. Cushway has heard rumors of one Fab Four piece going for $30,000.
In contrast, the Grateful Dead gained its reputation as a live band, simultaneously inspiring the need for a stream of posters and creating a catalog of largely non-mainstream songs. By building a concert-going following that spans decades, the Dead has also managed to continually maintain an aura of youthful possibility--a yearning that is quite significant for poster lovers who are increasingly reminded of their own mortality. "Did you know that every eight seconds a baby boomer turns 50?" asks Professor Poster.
"Once upon a time," says Cushway, staring longingly at a '60s poster for a London concert of The Who's Peter Townshend, "we were that young, too." In the song, "My Generation," Townshend and his mates had requested that "I hope I die before I get old." Might a poster provide that spark of youth? Perhaps history does not run in a straight line but instead moves in a circular pattern, putting the past eternally in front of us for a tab of contemplation and a few hits of nostalgia.
"Rock and roll posters tell the story of an era that was special for many, many people, regardless of whether they were literally there or not," says Gayle Lemke, author of the forthcoming book Bill Graham Presents: The Art of the Fillmore (Acid Test Productions). "You can extract an anecdote, or that day in history, or any number of personal memories from those posters." One need not have been there for the allure to exist. For every Wood-stock attendee, there are thousands who wish they'd gone and millions more who heard the music. For many, the psychedelic era exists more as a dreamy state of desire than as a reality. Buying posters is a chance to ponder that night your older sibling came home buzzing with an intensity that you were probably too young to have experienced. A poster reminds its buyer of an era when the Doors sang, "We want the world and we want it now"--and such an achievement seemed possible.
As an artistic genre, posters stand at the crossroads of art and commerce, myth and reality, advertising and propaganda. They are primarily works of commercial art, designed to promote and persuade. Before the '60s, the last great era of poster art occurred during the Second World War, when Uncle Sam put out the call to potential soldiers. Rock posters were similarly committed to enlisting thousands in a cause. "There was tribal unity in that time, a chance to leap above and over the Judeo-Christian-Muslim myth and enter the world of freedom," says Ray Manzarek of the Doors. "Today's poster collectors would like to get a little piece of that tribe, and maybe even obtain a little peace in their own lives."
The initial rock posters employed a style similar to that used on bills for boxing matches--block letters, names, dates, spot color. "It was all very much a man-in-the-gray-flannel-suit kind of world," says Alton Kelley, one of the major poster artists of the '60s. "Everything seemed so flat in those days. Even the beatniks were black and somber."
The San Francisco sensibility of the '60s changed that dramatically. While it's not necessary to explain the decade's history in detail here, witness the convergence of events: the shock of John Kennedy's assassination, escalation of an unpopular war, the widespread usage of birth control pills, a vibrant economy, millions of privileged youngsters searching for emotional sustenance, and a burgeoning drug culture where psychedelics were taking off (LSD was legal in California until 1966).
On a more grassroots level, the rock and roll poster movement grew out of San Francisco's booming, freewheeling party scene, a world where it was easy to attend two dozen parties in a weekend. The parties kept getting bigger. With events in places like Berkeley, Selma and Hanoi nudging consciousness, the days of the sock-hop gave way to a convergence of music and politics. It was incumbent upon the poster to convey this nascent sensibility. "Posters before weren't making any kind of statement," says Chet Helms, the San Francisco producer who believes he was the first person to bring a strobe light to a concert, and who later launched the Family Dog series of events at such famed venues as the Avalon Ballroom. "No, I didn't imagine they would gain in enormity. Yes, I wanted to create an advertising vehicle that would have a life beyond the actual event. We wanted to create something that wasn't disposable."
It is interesting that both Helms and the Fillmore's Bill Graham, the other promoter who is most credited with bringing the contemporary poster to life, had a messiah-like sensibility. Helms, a humanities student, came from a family of evangelists and printers. Graham, a Jew born in Germany in 1931, wore the scars of coming to America as a refugee. Although he was never as overtly political as Helms, Graham was even more committed to putting a personal stamp on history through success in business--an ambition that surfaced in his ability to recognize the commercial viability of the budding music scene. Each promoter also knew that posters were a powerful and inexpensive means of generating ticket sales (Graham and Helms typically paid each artist $100).
The posters were another sign of an America that was rapidly going technicolor. Most photographs of the tie-clad activists who launched the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley in 1964 are in black and white. But between 1964 and 1967, from the NBC peacock to the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper album cover, the use of color in everything from advertising to television to fashion to automobiles accelerated. In step with this transformation was the Acid Test and the posters that dared people to take the exam in all of its sunburst, tie-dyed morning glory (one of which featured hand-coloring by Sunshine Kesey, the daughter of Ken Kesey, author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and a notable Acid Test leader). "It was an unofficial secret code that rested in those posters," says Paul Kantner of the Starship. "It was a language that reached out for freedom, that told people the only way to find out what's going on is to come out and participate."
Participation is a critical reason that posters are so popular. The posters that emerged in the '60s weren't hyping what we now think of as concerts--predominantly passive activities with assigned seats in arenas that hold more than 10,000. These new posters were designed to promote dances in small, intimate venues, packed with a few thousand roving youths searching for intellectual and carnal transcendence. Prior to the dances, posters were frequently ripped off telephone poles and hung on the refrigerators and walls of many a residence. "The scene was new, it was growing and we were doing posters for real events, like Lautrec in the Moulin Rouge," says Kelley. The artists loved the way their work literally entered the lives of their audiences. Many artists talk about being initially upset but subsequently delighted when their posters were torn down and plunked into assorted homes. The art was part of the audience's life.
Posters designed by Kelley and his long-standing partner, Stanley Mouse, pursued cultural engagement with a vengeance, drawing on eclectic images to create a sensibility for the '60s. As Mouse recalls in San Francisco Rock (Chronicle Books, 1985), "What we came up with out of the rubble was twentieth century teenage hip Ameri-cana. It's electrical age folk art." A 1966 Avalon poster, dubbed "Girl with Green Hair" by Mouse and Kelley, is essentially a recasting of a style originated years ago by the early twentieth century French artist Alphonse Mucha. Another of their posters from 1966, for a Big Brother & the Holding Company and Quicksilver Messenger Service gig, lifts the artwork from Zig-Zag, the popular cigarette rolling paper company. And the Dead's "Skull and Roses," arguably the most famous Kelley-Mouse work, was taken from E.J. Sullivan's illustration for the 26th quatrain of The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám. Legend has it that upon coming across this drawing, Kelley turned to Mouse and asked, "Stanley, is this the Grateful Dead or what?" The mixing of blue and red, the deathly skeleton ready for a karmic cleansing and the celebration of life through the rose convey the band's eternal themes of life, death and rebirth. It's made this piece the Dead's unofficial insignia.
"The Dead think of themselves as ugly," says Dennis McNally, the band's publicist and historian. "They're not into being photographed. They'd rather encourage artists to make images. The whole point of the band is utterly democratic. The Dead didn't want people sitting and watching. They wanted people taking part in the music."
"Don't you want somebody to love?"
--"Somebody to Love," Jefferson Airplane
In many cases, participation was far less concerned with changing the world and more focused on having a good time. "A lot of this was about sex," says Eric King, a poster collector who has compiled one of the most extensive collector's guides to posters, postcards and handbills of the 1965-1973 period. Wes Wilson's "The Sound," a 1966 poster for a Winterland/Fillmore series featuring the Jefferson Airplane, Muddy Waters and the Butterfield Blues Band, is less notable for its hard-to-decipher orange letters, set against a background of olive green and purple, than for his drawing of a nude, voluptuous woman. Another evocative female image featuring frontal nudity appears in Norman Orr's 1971 poster for a Poco concert at Fillmore West. "It never got any sexier than this," says King. "This is who you'd meet at the concert--a woman who'd make love to you with abandon all night long." The woman was Orr's wife.
With thousands journeying to San Francisco to take in the scene firsthand, millions more across the nation were listening to the music. Helms' Avalon Ballroom and Graham's Fillmore were arguably the two prime outlets from which rock and roll grew into a multimillion-dollar industry. Later in the '60s, Graham would open the Fill-more East in New York, a cross-continental link that made the Fillmore as fabled a '60s venue as the Apollo Theatre was to the Harlem Renaissance. But the seeds for it all had been planted in San Francisco. "It was a new world we were making," says Kantner. "And the posters were the flags of that incipient republic."
"San Francisco was this boutique city," says Kelley. "You couldn't do this in New York, Chicago or L.A. They were too big for the word to spread through posters. But San Francisco had this intimacy and this Victorian kind of style of top hats, bright colors, fun clothes. San Fran-cisco encouraged experimentation in all walks of life." Or, at least, as Scott MacKenzie sang, putting a flower in your hair.
"The class of '67, we were the new barbarians," says Manzarek. "Posters give you just a taste of that vision and that freedom. That freedom is loaded with energy. The Fillmore, the Avalon--they were great energy sources. It was a time when passion mattered. Art like in those posters comes from a spiritual, political place."
"Liberty," a 1968 Mouse work, spoke directly to America's woes by using a bloody red and a somber black depiction of the Statue of Lib-erty--punctuated by one small white tear dripping from her eye. The concert, featuring Blood, Sweat & Tears and John Handy, is long over, but the image of a saddened national icon remains a graphic and enduring depiction of democracy gone awry.
Lee Conklin's "New Year's Eve" piece for Dec. 31, 1968, shows countless bodies oozing through an hourglass, evoking Dante's Inferno and the Vietnam War's My Lai massacre, which had happened that year. Are America's youths, once so convinced that they could build a new world, now watching time run out like the imperiled Dorothy sitting in the witch's castle in The Wizard of Oz? "No question, that poster reflected a kind of dissolution with the political image of America the beautiful," Conklin recalls. "All of these things had been shattered."
The intensely personal and collectively political romance surrounding the posters--far outstripping any purported aesthetic resonance--personifies a generation's continuing desire to define and control its history. This is not to say that poster artwork is necessarily good or bad, or classic or creative. The cultural cache of rock and roll posters can be understood only in the context in which it was created and experienced. "These aren't meant to be worshiped and stashed like some Picasso original," says Paul Grushkin, arguably the dean of poster collectors, who wrote The Art of Rock (Abbeville Press, 1987), a nine-pound coffee-table book that is often considered the catalyst for the contemporary poster boom. "They are meant to be savored, enjoyed, hung up on walls and talked about. Posters are a people's narrative, a way to tap into our history."
That desire to parlay private interest into collective mes-sage, and, in the process, shape a nation's history, has been the eternal rallying cry for millions of Americans raised in the 1950s, '60s and '70s. Thanks to a radical shift in American family life, no generation has been given greater license to take such a course. It is a social revolution that to this day affects our relationship with both time and space.
Prior to 1945, only the wealthiest Americans resided in homes that were large enough to provide children with private bedrooms. But with the onset of postwar affluence, and the growth of suburbia, millions of young Americans were given the chance to occupy their own personal space. Moreover, they were granted the freedom to enjoy themselves strictly as children, with minimal worries about pitching in to work the land, help during hard times, take care of extended family members or share a room with multiple siblings (OK, maybe one, but usually one who was either dominated by the older sibling or enamored of his or her activities).
Suddenly, for the first time in history, millions could enjoy the pleasures of childhood in all its joyful, consumption-based glory. The concept of "my room" provided a forum for adorning its walls with pennants of sports teams, photos of celebrities and other items--icons that were simultaneously consumed and worshiped by lots of other kids in the neighborhood. The arrival of television in the late 1940s further propelled this mass culture, collectively saturating youngsters with compelling visuals of Howdy Doody, Davy Crockett and the biggest group of the '50s, the Mickey Mouse Club (drawn, of course, by that ultimate poster-artist ancestor, Walt Disney). "Maybe the reason we were able to trip so harmoniously in the '60s was because we'd already been tripping together without knowing it," says Kantner. So where once the child had been raised to keep quiet and eventually adapt himself to the somber living room--and public, externalized history--of his parents and other elders, he was now at liberty to create a room of his own--and a private, internalized history that would find expression in school yards and dance halls.
It was in the bedrooms of suburbia where the "do your own thing" ethos was spawned. Relent-lessly self-conscious, yet powerfully committed to seizing the day (be it in sex, politics or any workable synthesis), this sensibility would provide the perfect locale for rock and roll artwork. "It's exactly like baseball cards," says Grushkin. "Once we hung posters in our dorm room, in our 'fucking get stoned' room, and now we have the chance and money to put this stuff in our living rooms."
Posterville takes this declaration to epic heights. Professor Poster is so in love with rock art that he has rented a space separate from his residence that is exclusively devoted to his passion. The apartment where Posterville is based, just south of San Francisco, resembles the utilitarian, shag-carpeted dwelling of a college sophomore. Don't ask when the kitchen was last used for cooking. Couches and chairs are subordinate to an enormous Macintosh computer equipped with a large color monitor and a Web site that contains numerous pieces of poster art. Yet Posterville is no shrine. It is a never-ending rumination, a workshop where the professor chisels away, restoring old pieces, consulting with potential buyers, checking out new collections and, most of all, ardently advocating poster art as the visual expression of his generation's democracy.
"Posters to the people! That's my motto," says the professor, who also makes a living as a car renovator, a chauffeur and an assorted jack-of-all-trades. "Art? What is art? Art, my friend, is anything you can get away with. Where is Posterville? It's under beds. It's in closets. It's the cousin who got killed in Vietnam in '69, and his parents still have the posters he kept on his wall. I want to help those parents find a buyer for those posters, someone who will honor both that boy who got killed and his love for posters.
"Long after the music is over, the poster lives on. The artist needs a champion. We cannot recapture our youth. My name is not H.G. Wells, and I don't own a time machine. However, you put this poster in front of people who attended the concert and you will get 100 stories--about a joint that someone got high on, about meeting a wife, about an arrest, a party. These posters represent those golden years when we were free in our minds, when we were becoming filled with the food of life, when we were evolving, forming our opinions.
"And these posters speak to that. Sure, there are Deadheads who are lawyers and bankers and every job you can think of. Not everyone agrees on their politics. But music and posters are our international language. These artists drew the face of rock and roll." In making himself Professor Poster, Rusty Goldman, who cites P.T. Barnum as his hero, has taken his generation's spirit of participation to heart. He has created a persona that allows him to control history.
"That was the whole idea, to find what you could do to contribute as a craftsman in your own right," says Kantner. "We didn't want to sit on the sidelines. We wanted to make things happen. After all, we'd been raised by our parents and teachers to believe that in a democracy you could do anything you wanted. You see, the '60s was as much driven by the mainstream civic optimism of the '50s as it was by anything else."
That spirit of democracy reaching the masses is another factor behind the posters' popularity. "For just a few bucks, you can put some nice artwork on your wall," says Cushway. You needn't be a highbrow art lover or an ardent Deadhead or even enamored of any particular political ideology other than the populist voice of rock and roll.
"This is the end, beautiful friend."
--"The End," the Doors
Oddly enough, the ascent of counterculture bands into the larger market spelled the end of the golden age of poster art. Record labels started pouring in money. Arenas got bigger. Venues like the Fillmore closed their doors. The poster's intimate relationship with its audience dissipated. "In a way, the Fillmore era--'66 to '71--brackets the times for both the music and the posters," says author Lemke. David Singer's poster for the closing week of Fillmore West can be purchased from ArtRock for $1,000.
With music becoming far more of a corporate enterprise, the days of freewheeling poster art soon came to a close. Artists commissioned by Helms and Graham recall an easy approval process (in many cases posters went directly to the printer) and no concerns about copyrighted images. All of this began to change in the '70s. "No one was as worried when we were starting out," says Singer.
The '70s ushered in a new era of rock posters that were more sanitized and slick than their psychedelic predecessors. Yet the psychedelic sensibility lived on. The ascent of music videos in the late '70s and early '80s borrowed greatly from the collage-like techniques employed by such artists as Singer. The punk movement also drew heavily on posters to spread the word in much the same way San Francisco promoters had in the mid-'60s. Rejecting the corporate-driven art of the '70s, punk posters returned full circle to the boxing-style format.
In the '90s, another generation began creating vivid imagery for the stuff of bedroom walls. The development of desktop publishing and computer graphics, combined with the continued fracturing of rock from a mass market into a series of niches, spawned a renaissance in poster art. In 1990, 26-year-old Derek Hess, who had studied at the Center for Creative Studies in Detroit, was booking alternative rock bands into Cleveland's Euclid Tavern. "Disco and arenas had killed posters," he says. "Then we started going back to smaller venues, and the need for posters was reborn." Creating posters that are heavily cartoon-like and incorporating stylized violence and humor into what he calls "two-dimensional reflections of a desensitized culture," Hess aligns himself with the pessimistic, dark view of many of today's youths. "I am attempting to transcend the Pop Culture," he writes on a montage piece of his posters, adding that his work "serves as a direction where we might go."
Frank Kozik, 34, is another contemporary poster artist who grew up in the shadow of such cultural catalysts as the bicentennial mania of the '70s. Like Hess, his work borrows from animation and is satirical in tone. "Hey, look, everybody's a smart-ass these days," says Kevin Plamondon, one of Kozik's business partners. Kozik approaches his work with a pragmatism that is refreshing, sobering and totally lacking in any attempt to collectively alter anyone's destiny. "They're just fucking posters for rock shows," says Kozik. "This isn't a grand social statement. It's entertainment. There's no cosmic meaning to it. We know there's no 'movement.' People are trying to have a bit of an escape."
Maybe that's what posters and rock now mean. Perhaps in 1965, when it was easier to think the world could be changed for the better, collective confrontation with history was more palatable than personal retreat. Today's economy is eternally skittish. AIDS, harsher drugs and increased crime have drastically reduced experimentation. It's simply much more dangerous to be young. No one can foresee whether these times will yield a poster market with as much economic or historic resonance as the psychedelic era had for its contemporaries. Certainly Kozik and Hess, both of whom are given more to ironic distance than to the psychedelic era's headfirst immersion, would downplay any such ambition. But maybe these two artists are only protecting themselves from the very emotional tug of the music they're promoting. No matter how heatedly an artist may disclaim any apparent message, somewhere in the posters and the music bubbles the promise and unpredictability that made rock and roll so optimistic in the first place. "Spending $400 for the poster is just the beginning," says Manzarek. "Maybe then you'll really go psychedelic."
"Now it's dark and I'm alone, but I won't be afraid."
--"In My Room," Beach Boys
Or, maybe, as Grushkin recognized, you'll buy the poster and encounter living proof of the genre's potential for personal and social transformation. In the course of his research, Grushkin hooked up with Judy Bickford, the former owner of what was generally acknowledged as the world's largest collection of Elvis memorabilia. He envisioned encountering "some sort of hip, rocking chick, you know, like Patti Smith." When he arrived, he saw a woman who looked like his mother. But then, when she told him how Elvis had changed her life and that the spirit of rock meant everything to her, Grushkin realized that rock and roll's inherently infectious energy was the core of her passion. Regardless of the artists' advanced techniques, their use of color or any other aesthetic significance, the posters are meant to come alive. They click in perfectly with what Grushkin calls "the dance theater of madness. In seeing that poster as part of your life, you remember your rock and roll roots--your willingness to let go and go with the flow. And maybe, just maybe, you take a less hard and fast view of the world."
Oakland, California-based Joel Drucker writes frequently about popular culture and sports.
You must be logged in to post a comment.