It started somewhere in a whorl of swirling lines and color emanating from the source, pulsating, protoplasmic, spiraling outward like one of Jung's mystic mandalas. Suddenly the air was charged with an ineluctable sense of gathering as in a storm brewing or the threads of a fable being woven around an ancient fire. Through acid and pot, chanting or magic incantation, the most banal corner of the universe seemed charged with Technicolor meaning. Random waves of energy coalesced and transformed themselves into enclaves of bohemian promise and free space. Thousands of young people, "refugees from suburban internment camps," were drawn toward a common purpose, realizing that they weren't alone, making the scene in the East Village and Haight-Ashbury, the campuses of Berkeley, NYU, Ann Arbor, and other places.

The domestic movement of the new counter culture was downward. Everyone wanted to sit, squat, kneel on the floor, join hands in a circle, assume the lotus position, sleep, or make love on the floor. This was a major shift, one of the first actions taken in the transformation toward Aquarian living. It signaled a return to primitive origins, to Mother Earth and the beginnings of environmental consciousness as well as a more tribal mindset that would shape so many environments of the sixties. What had started with Hubbard Rooms and time chambers spread into urban crash pads and rural acid retreats. Pillows were scattered across the floor. Legs of tables and chairs were sawn off in what Tom Wolfe described as the "amputated" look. Unnecessary furnishings were limited or done away with altogether, and the floor itself became the primary piece of furniture. "The apartment is all one room, of the sort that might be termed extremely crummy," wrote Wolfe, after visiting a communal crash pad in the East Village. Like many journalists, he was shocked by the ratty decor, the cockroaches, and the broken windows, but worst of all, by the "flipnik litter" that was strewn across the floor.

And it was true. Most of the communal pads were crude affairs with drippy candles, broken windows, and backed-up toilets. But for young seekers, the crash pad was a first step toward independence, a place to begin new lives and overcome old taboos of ownership and personal hygiene. Living in such an anti-consumerist setting was, in and of itself, a moral statement for those who saw themselves as refugees from the psychic oppression of America's obsession with domestic cleanliness, its whiter whites and brighter brights.

Above: Galahad's Pad, the East Village, New York, NY, 1967 (photo: Ben Martin).

Topless women (above) and painted house, Haight Ashbury (photos: Gene Anthony / Wolfgang's Vault)

Chapter 1 - Enchanted Loom
Chapter 2 - Infinity Machines
Chapter 3 - Crash Pads
Chapter 4 - Soft City
Chapter 5 - Unsettlers
Chapter 6 - Magic Circles
Chapter 7 - Frontier Mystics

© 2009 Alastair Gordon