men without woman: the futurist manifesto

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Born of upper class, intelligentsian stock, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti spent his youth in Alexandria, Egypt, before obtaining a baccalauréat at the Sorbonne, and training as a lawyer in his motherland of Italy. A passionate reader since childhood, he established a controversial literary review at seventeen, and eventually committed himself to a life of writing, experimenting widely with form and style. What we now know as his ‘Futurist Manifesto‘ was first published as ‘Il Futurismo’ in Bologna’s Gazzetta dell’Emilia on 5 February 1909, gracing the cover of significant French paper Le Figaro as ‘Le Futurisme’ two short weeks later, and provoking consternation across Western Europe. Widely regarded as the first artistic manifesto (historically a primarily political tool), it was a fundamental document in the development of modernist thought, not just capturing the automotive spirit of the era, but crystallising its fusion of criticism and creation, announcing the medium that would come to be regarded as prototypically Modern. Composed after a relatively serious car accident, from which Marinetti emerged physically unscathed but spiritually reborn, it calls for a corresponding cultural conversion, an awakening to the modern age; encouraging the glorification of masculinity and an enthusiastic embrace of the new century’s new technologies — of, in turn, the untold chaos and devastation they might bring.

We have been up all night, my friends and I, beneath mosque lamps whose brass cupolas are bright as our souls, because like them they were illuminated by the internal glow of electric hearts.

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 Marinetti’s wrecked car in a ditch, June 1908 (from Yale Library’s collected papers)

From this amazing opening line there is already an intrinsic blurring of the biological and the mechanical; an empathy drawn between the modern body and the technology that surrounds it. The Futurist figure rejects all of society’s “natural” cycles, fighting the night’s darkness with man-made electric light and forgoing sleep, instead ‘discussing right up to the limits of logic and scrawling the paper with demented writing’. Called forth by the sounds of the wakening world, symbolised not by the traditional daybreak or birdsong but by ‘the rumbling of huge double decker trams that went leaping by … the hungry automobiles roar[ing] beneath our windows’, the group rushes to join the melee, taking to the streets in their own cars. The automobile is the key Futurist symbol of mechanical modernisation, figured by Marinetti, in the phrase of Marshall McLuhan, as ‘an extension of man that turns the rider into a superman’. Racing through the streets, Marinetti’s protagonist casts aspersion upon the simple human body with its easily threatened skin and painfully dilating ‘mathematical eyes’, celebrating the driver’s ability to harness chaos through technology, to become one with the power and force of his ‘mechanical bride’. ‘We drove on, crushing beneath our burning wheels, like shirt-collars under the iron, the watch dogs on the steps of the houses.’ The external world is metaphorically destroyed by the Futurist being’s ultimate gaze; his take on reality all that matters. Indeed, the Futurist glorification of technology isn’t centred around creation, the pride of innovation for innovation’s sake, but the potential such advancements offer for destruction. This embrace of brute force approximates the Futurist version of carpe diem, as the narrator urges his friends out into the streets, out into this new unknown terrain: ‘We must break down the gates of life to test the bolts and the padlocks!’

Marinetti goes on to set out eleven Futurist conditions — ‘our first will and testament to all the living men on earth’ — the central tenets of his prospective movement. ‘We want to sing the love of danger, the habit of energy and rashness,’ says the first. ‘The essential elements of our poetry will be courage, audacity and revolt,’ the second. ‘We declare that the splendor of the world has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed,’ he extols in the fourth, and in the eighth: ‘We are on the extreme promontory of the centuries! What is the use of looking behind at the moment when we must open the mysterious shutters of the impossible?’ So far, so exhilarating. But as we reach Marinetti’s ninth point we begin to taste a curdle in the milk; to perceive the real, more sinister driving forces at the heart of his impassioned argument.

9. We want to glorify war — the only cure for the world — militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of the anarchists, the beautiful ideas which kill, and contempt for woman.
10. We want to demolish museums and libraries, fight morality, feminism and all opportunist and utilitarian cowardice.

Ah. We are of course unsurprised — in 1909 — always — to hear the misogynistic shoe drop. Drawn in the singular as ‘woman’, it’s not simply literal womankind but the symbolic ideal of the eternal feminine that is here figured as Futurism’s ideological opposite; yet another passive terrain to be commandeered by man. Though Marinetti’s ire is directed at abstract notions of essential femininity, the inherent misogyny of Futurist ideology is evident in the manifesto’s pointed lack of female presence. In keeping with his “leaving behind” of the mythologies of old, Marinetti rejects the traditional mythic homosocial motif in which a “band of brothers” bonds through battling for the favour (and/or in defence) of a wanted woman. As the men beetle through the streets in their cars en masse, they are blissfully uninterrupted, untempted, unfettered: ‘no ideal Mistress stretching her form up to the clouds, nor yet a cruel Queen to whom to offer our corpses twisted into the shape of Byzantine rings! No reason to die unless it is the desire to be rid of the too great weight of our courage!’ In Marinetti’s vision of male camaraderie there is no competition — in fact there is very nearly no ‘I’. The group of friends acts in almost thorough unison from the very first line, ‘hunt[ing], like young lions’. Even the manifesto’s eleven conditions are expressed in persistent terms of the ‘we’. But despite the lack of woman, this bonding is definitively homosocial as opposed to homoerotic. The men are sexually engaged with the Other, but for Marinetti the automobile — the technological item as opposed to any human being — is the ultimate sexualised object.

We went up to the three snorting machines to caress their breasts. I lay along mine like a corpse on its bier, but I suddenly revived again beneath the steering wheel — a guillotine knife — which threatened my stomach. A great sweep of madness brought us sharply back to ourselves and drove us through the streets, steep and deep, like dried up torrents.

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    Ford Motors Model T advertisement, 1908

By now this comparison seems intuitive, but it wouldn’t be until advertising’s “golden age” of the 1960s and 70s that luxury cars would become synonymous with the commercialisation of sexual fantasy and knowing sexist winks. The first automobiles proper had been produced in 1888 by Karl Benz in Germany, with mass production in place in France and the US by 1900. The ensuing flurry of technological experimentation in the field was dizzying, and this was reflected in contemporary car culture. Advertisements from the era trade in safety, reliability, beauty, and affordability, but in the days before driving tests, traffic management systems, or explicit anti-inebriation laws, driving was something of an extreme sport, with motor-vehicle deaths in the United States doubling from 1908 to 1910. ‘Death, tamed, went in front of me at each corner offering me his hand nicely,’ writes Marinetti, ‘and sometimes lay on the ground with a noise of creaking jaws giving me velvet glances from the bottom of puddles.’ This drive with death of course recalls the psychosexual notion of the death drive, le petit mort, the essential purgative quality of male sexuality. The ‘great sweep of madness’ that spurs the group to hypermasculine action also evokes the abandonment of the mind to the impulse of the body, the loss of rational processing, the doing-without-thinking of sexual craving. Indeed, the exhausting persistence of human desire — what Laura Riding calls ‘sex surviving the satisfaction of the appetite’ — is embodied in the easy restarting of the automobile. ‘We thought it was dead, my good shark, but I woke it with a single caress of its powerful back, and it was revived running as fast as it could on its fins.’ Remembering its essential role as an extension of the self, the driver’s glorification of the automobile is an already an acute expression of narcissism. But further, the revival of the phallic car by a ‘single caress’ is reminiscent of masturbation (Riding’s ‘throwing the damned thing out’), reiterated in the absurd fervour of the narrator as his road race reaches its climax.

‘I stopped short, and in disgust hurled myself — vlan! — head over heels in a ditch. Oh, maternal ditch, half full of muddy water! A factory gutter! I savored a mouthful of strengthening muck which recalled the black teat of my Sudanese nurse!’

In Marinetti’s landscape, while technology offers sexual stimulation, nature — the motherland — provides the vital maternal nourishment. In a Futurist sketch of the coming century, all womankind is negated: there is simply no place, nor need, for the literal, embodied female. This steer toward the pleasures of posthuman sexuality and hedonistic masturbation, away from the biological impulse to procreate, reiterates the Futurists’ ideological favouring of destruction over creation/preservation/commemoration in wider culture. In closing his manifesto, Marinetti calls for the death of cultural and academic institutions that glorify the past: the museums, libraries, and academies that serve as Italy’s ‘innumerable cemeteries’.’To admire an old picture is to pour our sensibility into a funeral urn instead of casting it forward with violent spurts of creation and action. Do you want to waste the best part of your strength in a useless admiration of the past, from which you will emerge exhausted, diminished, trampled on?’ Not satisfied then with wreaking havoc upon the present and disrupting the procreative order (thus fundamentally threatening the future), Marinetti longs to violently sever all ties with the past.

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Barocci Federico, Aeneas’ Flight from Troy (1598). Oil on canvas, Galleria Borghese.

To understand how truly radical this is in the context of Italian cultural history — what a profound act of destruction Marinetti is inciting — we must cast a long glance back to the first century BC and the earliest days of the Roman Empire, where deft, respected agricultural poet Publius Vergilius Maro was commissioned by the administration of inaugural Emperor Augustus to pen the founding myth of Roman Italy. Capitalising on the populist clout of an exceptional military career through the Gallic wars, Augustus’s adoptive father (and predecessor intended) Julius Caesar was instated in 44BC as the first and last dictator perpetuo, breaking from the constitutive tradition of year-long, curtailed-power consulships — an accolade that swiftly led to his bloody murder one short month later, a whole new spate of ensuing civil wars through 30BC, and the decisive disintegration of Rome’s five-hundred-year-old Republic. Wresting back power, emerging from this particularly tempestuous time in the nation’s generally turbulent history, Augustus worked to reinstate stability, prosperity, and (his unique interpretation of) traditional Roman values, ruling for forty-one fruitful years and credited with establishing Pax Romana: two centuries of (very much relative) peace and limited military expansion. Consolidating this cultural revolution, Vergil’s Aeneid traces an adamant lineage from the very settling of Rome in the wake of the Trojan War (13th century BC) down through mythic founders Romulus and Remus (8th century BC) to the Augustan period. Published shortly after the poet’s death c.19BC, it follows the events at Troy from the perspective of a minor character in Homer’s Iliad (c.850BC) — the apparently-charmed son of King Priam’s cousin and love goddess Venus-Aphrodite. Fleshing out Aeneas’s story from little more than a handful of Greek references, Vergil imbues his protagonist’s ideals and actions with Augustan ideology, and legitimates the authority of the Julio-Claudian dynasty by “foretelling” the Augustan emperorship. Beyond duty to the gods and submission to his fate, Aeneas pays due deference to the institution of the pater familias: the authoritative supremacy of a Roman household’s patriarch. As pater patriae — father of the fatherland — Augustus was morally responsible for the well-being of his citizens as well as the felicity of his nation, and knew only too well that the success of Rome as an international power depended upon its ability to produce fighting fit and zealous sons. As such, he introduced extensive marriage legislation, promoting a culture of familial stability and protected legacy. In his departure from Troy, Aeneas leads his young son Ascanius by the hand and carries upon his back his elderly father Anchises, who in turn carries the ash vessel of his ancestors, leaving wife Creusa to run along behind (and ultimately, spoiler, perish). ‘To waste the best part of your strength in a useless admiration of the past.’ In his escape to a brighter future, a brave new homeland in Latium, the hero’s symbolic priority is to ensure that both heir and sire survive; to preserve his lineage, his history.

It is in Italy that we are issuing this manifesto of ruinous and incendiary violence, by which we today are founding Futurism, because we want to deliver Italy from its gangrene of professors, archaeologists, tourist guides and antiquaries. Italy has been too long the great second-hand market.

With the fall of the Roman Empire in 476AD, Italy was divided and conquered by a rolling series of foreign powers, only officially unified as a kingdom in 1861 — less than fifty years before Marinetti’s manifesto. Nonetheless, the beginnings of a cohesive Italian culture came with the Renaissance of the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries, when advances in publishing meant easier access to (and revived interest in) the key texts of classical civilisation, and the beginnings of linguistic standardisation thanks to the peninsula-wide popularity of Tuscan Dante Alighieri’s poetry. In the Divine Comedy (c.1308-21), Dante has Vergil act as mentor, protector, and tour guide through hell and into purgatory; honours him as a literary and spiritual father figure. Again, the emphasis is on carrying forward the past, respecting one’s roots and forebears. That the entire concept of literature is predicated on love-lettering the tales of yore is fair argument, but when Marinetti argues that art can progress only in severance from what has come before — when he doesn’t laud Dante’s Inferno but demands that one be made of Italy’s libraries, of Italy’s galleries, of Italy’s thriving cultural heritage — it is a call to violence far more symbolically devastating than if wielded in the majority of other countries. Greece and Italy, after all, are the twin roots of western civilisation as we know it.

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Marinetti in 1933 before a portrait of himself with his family (Gerardo Dottori)

Despite Marinetti’s outcry against indulging in Italy’s past glories, he would later attach himself to the country’s rising Fascist movement of the 1920s (though he would continue to dispute the party on this point). In a fitting echo of Augustan realpolitik, NFP founder Benito Mussolini harked back to ‘the Roman tradition’ just as long as it served his purpose — setting a prototype for the good citizen and legitimating Italy’s moral right to head a great international empire — while taking the liberty of synthesising his very own totalitarian brand of national leadership. In another, Italy’s leader was once again highly invested in his country’s birthrate, and in 1925 Il Duce launched the ‘Battle for Births‘: tightening abortion laws, banning contraceptives, and introducing a tax upon unmarried men. As we have seen, this celebration of heteronormative union and procreation is also quite at odds with the Futurist polemic, but the two schools did share a model of masculinity in which power, aggression, courage, and virility were fetishised, and where bodies were symbolised as machines, ‘illuminated by the internal glow of electric hearts’ that beat to the clockwork march of patriotism. In the same year Marinetti crashed his own real car, Mussolini predicted a new breed of man [sic], ‘strengthened by war, a spirit equipped with a kind of sublime perversity’ — a description that certainly evokes the ‘vlan!’ mentality of ‘Il Futurismo”s fictionalised driver. Italian women under Fascism were dissuaded from education and employment, and were figured less as fully-fledged citizens than as a key asset to man and state, but they still did have their place in the movement’s private and public spheres — a significant step up from their complete eradication in the Futurist realm. Aeneas and his men sailing out from Troy in their ships, ‘hoisting their sails to fate’, is certainly reminiscent of Marinetti’s drive with death, but women are allowed aboard the Aenean fleet, and again Vergil gives the non-soldiering sex their place in the narrative — if only as vengeful goddesses, pep-talking ghosts, and connivers hell-bent on waylaying destiny.

It’s worth noting that the Trojan War narratives are key examples of the aforementioned “band of brothers” motif: fuelled by the “theft” of Greek beauty Helen, and the gathering of her once-suitors to help husband Menelaus, King of Sparta, fight for her return. This is perhaps what Marinetti had in mind when deriding those ‘ideal Mistresses’ and ‘cruel Queens’ — the women who would only serve to distract his friends from their havoc-for-havoc’s-sake ideals — but of course even Futurism in the end had its female players. In 1923 Marinetti would marry Benedetta Cappa, herself a bold and successful artist-writer, and the two collaborated on a series of mixed-media works branded Tactilism, before the man who once rallied ‘contempt for woman’ and deliverance from his country’s ‘gangrene of professors’ became in 1929 a full member of the Italian Academy. Hypocritical perhaps, but the manifesto is after all a slippery medium. Resting somewhere between a call to action and speculative fiction, its rhetoric is never quite intended as a moral promise, but as a fully realised alternate perspective — an advertisement, illustrating a happier alternative reality, if only. With 1909’s ‘Il Futurismo’, Marinetti sold his contemporaries a very modern utopia, substituting increasingly unruly ‘woman’ for the ego-propelling ‘mechanical bride’. In doing so he set the anarchistic tone for a dawning century that would come to be defined by technological anxiety, politicised artistic movements, and the creative manifesto concept.

and if you go chasing rabbits

The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour aired in CBS’s coveted Sunday night primetime slot for three seasons between 1967 and 1969 before its controversial cancellation with one episode still in the can. Pulling in around 12 million viewers per week — approximately one fifth of the total number of homes that owned a television in late 60s America — it more than held its own against NBC’s western hour-long Bonanza, whose fourteen-year-long popularity makes a lot more sense when you learn it was one of the first regular colour telecasts in a sea of grainy black and white (and even more once you’ve seen a young Michael Landon — aka Pa Ingalls from Little House on the Prairie — holding court as Little Joe). The charm of Tom and Dick’s shtick lay somewhere between Ant & Dec and Craig Ferguson: cheeky and affable, dapper without quite being handsome in their matching side-parts and blazers; spry and absurd, their subversive intent plated in glinting smiles and feigned naivety. As the show continued, with the help of a provocative young writing team including Bob Einstein and Steve Martin, the pair increasingly allied themselves with Haight Ashbury philosophy and the anti-Vietnam movement, pushing the boundaries of political satire both overtly and subtextually, and the show became so well-thought-of in countercultural celebrity circles that The Beatles chose it to premiere their 1968 proto-music videos for ‘Hey Jude’ and ‘Revolution’ in the United States (a full month after they were shown on The David Frost Show in the UK). Earlier in the show’s run, on 7th May 1967, Jefferson Airplane burst onto the mainstream with this performance of new single ‘White Rabbit’ — the first time the band had been televised in colour, with psychedelic special effects worthy of a 90s school disco and Grace Slick’s preternaturally steady gaze boring down the camera. Introducing the band, Richard Smothers encourages the audience at home (to the delight of those in the studio) ‘to… eat a banana while you’re watching this — or smoke a banana as my brother said, but actually he’s pretty far out, even for me.’

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It’s hard now to imagine an entire month’s wait between the transatlantic premieres of a new recording by the biggest band in the world, and just as hard to imagine what it must have felt like to watch this hallucinogenic spectacle as a contemporary adolescent (or as one of their permanently-disconcerted parents). Although the cultural sea change was well under way, ’67 was the year pop music outgrew the rainy day women and magic dragons of its gateway drug to embrace the mind-bending lures of LSD and psychedelic rock in the heady lead-up to the Monterey Pop Festival and San Francisco’s Summer of Love. The Beatles had already made their quantum leap from the woozy folk-rock of 1965’s Rubber Soul (featuring a brief sitar experiment from Harrison on ‘Norwegian Wood’) to Revolver and the trippy tamboura and tape-loops of ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ in August 1966, but Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, with its more deliberate ode ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’, would not appear for another month, and it was especially shocking to see an attractive and self-assured young woman — not a bedraggled bearded burn-out — espousing the sublime joys of drug experimentation. (Contemporaries such as Janis Joplin, Joni Mitchell, and Joan Baez may well have walked the walk, but didn’t so explicitly talk the talk. Though of course this presumes that the audience at home understood what the lyrics were truly getting at when in fact they — and the majority of censors at the time — didn’t quite.) Indeed, the acid anthem wasn’t just sung by Slick, brought to life by her trademark primal howl and shamanistic intensity, but was one of two tracks she had brought with her from disbanded project The Great Society, the other being Jefferson Airplane’s 1966 single ‘Somebody to Love’, which achieved a similar level of success and renown. In an unlikely meeting of influences, ‘White Rabbit’ is inspired musically by Maurice Ravel’s ‘Boléro’ (1928) and Miles Davis’s Sketches of Spain (1960), and lyrically by her childhood love of Lewis Carroll’s Alice volumes, as Slick guides us steadily to an orgiastic crescendo with her winding, cameo-heavy retelling of the tale.

The story of Alice in Wonderland is very much how I experienced things. She grew up in rigid Victorian England, but she arrives in Wonderland, and suddenly it’s nuts, it’s political, and she’s all by herself ­– no Prince Charming comes and saves her. Same thing with going from the 50s into the 60s, so you had to have faith in yourself, because nobody’s going to save you: if you expect that, you’re in trouble. Little girls read Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and in all of them the heroine is saved by some guy — they don’t do anything for themselves! Snow White worked a little bit,­ she made breakfast for a bunch of guys. I’m sorry, I never cooked anything for the band. You play the guitar, I sing, you don’t make breakfast for me, I don’t make breakfast for you. We buy breakfast. –GRACE SLICK, INTERVIEW MAGAZINE, 2007

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It’s apt here that Slick draws a connection between autonomy and food, independence and sustenance, because Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) is a story preoccupied with the boundaries of selfhood as they relate not just to tests of the heroine’s mettle, but to distortions of her body through ingestion. One pill makes you larger and the next pill makes you small. For Alice these are the Eat Me/Drink Me confections that affect her in a wonderdrug way; which she swallows moments after descending the rabbit hole in hopes of fitting through a tiny locked door into the beautiful garden on the other side. Of course, sizeshifting is a staple of children’s stories — a cousin to the low fantasy “while you were sleeping”-style narratives of The Borrowers, Toy Story, Grimm’s helpful elves, et al. In these examples, the protagonist/reader is allowed an awe-inspiring glimpse of a world beneath a world, operating outwith human hours but by its rules and upon its scraps, the secret often warmly shared with deserving children by an all-knowing, twinkly-eyed narrator. But sizeshifting narratives are far less to do with the invocation of the magical and more about questions of identity, personhood, and one’s place in society. Such tales often tap into the cultural anxieties of the time in which they were written. In Gulliver’s Travels (1726), the protagonist himself doesn’t shrink and stretch but he stumbles through a series of worlds in which he is rendered hugely disproportionate, first a giant among the Lilliputians then a pocket-sized doll in Brobdingnag. Through an odyssey of intercultural errors and astute satire, Jonathan Swift engages with theories of innate human nature and political philosophy, disorientating his protagonist at every turn in a reflection of the sociopolitical instability of the early eighteenth century. Poor Gulliver stays physically the same, but each time he arrives in a new society he brings the ideology of the previous one along, his sense of self-and-other knocked by each experience, a completely different man by the end of his travels. Meanwhile, Disney live action classic Honey I Shrunk the Kids (1989) toys with an 80s parent’s twin anxieties: achieving work-life balance (not letting your career absorb you to the point you sweep your quarter-inch-tall children out with the trash),keyz_web and the thought of growing children fending for themselves out there in an often hostile world (giant bees). On the kids’ part, it is a tale with a moral not unlike the vast majority of family blockbusters: you are stronger than you realise but also more vulnerable; if you settle your differences and work as a team you have a better chance of survival; your parents are just idiots who are trying to do their best. Simultaneously, it rides the wave of science-gone-awry movies of this period, which responded to recent progress in take-home technologies such as personal computers and cellular phones, and in the advancing field of genetic engineering. (This would later develop into the dark brand of early 90s computer-driven narratives, featuring hacking conspiracies, virtual reality, and other assorted “cyberspace” nightmares.) The Victorian era too was a time of prodigious scientific invention and experimentation, and great medical strides were being taken with the discovery of “laughing gas” anaesthetics and surgical antiseptics. But for most the apothecary — apprenticed as opposed to qualified, ancestor to today’s homeopath — was still king, and in Carroll’s brand of sizeshifting he plays with the anxiety of medicine-taking in a time of thriving cure-all trade; the prescription of an unknown substance that is going to affect you bodily, allegedly overwhelmingly, in untold ways. It’s this daunting prospect that fundamentally links the stories Slick loved in childhood and her experiences as part of the drug revolution — this idea of being metamorphosed by a substance stronger that your will, that makes you bigger and smaller, pushes and pulls you, but that also risks drawing out whatever is already inside you to create a different self, just as true if not truer, unbridled and unselfconscious. ‘How [Alice] longed to get out of that dark hall, and wander about among those beds of bright flowers,’ writes Carroll. For the acid generation, the beautiful garden was locked deep within the mind, and LSD was the key.

‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ was written in April 1966 when John Lennon visited London’s newly-opened Indica Gallery Bookshop, looking for a copy of The Portable Nietzsche, leaving instead with The Psychedelic Experience. Located in Masons Yard, St James’s (where White Cube now stands), the gallery was famous for its VIP-heavy happenings and groundbreaking support of the alternative arts scene, and is incidentally where Lennon would later meet Yoko Ono in November that same year, at an exhibition of her conceptual work with avant-garde collective Fluxus. Indica co-owner Barry Miles ran the bookshop side of the business, and its provocative range reflected his avid personal interests in experimental literature, drug culture, eastern philosophies, and ‘pataphysics (which would appear to have outlived the 60s). Timothy Leary hadn’t quite yet reached the heady heights of his eventual notoriety — President Nixon would purportedly name him ‘the most dangerous man in America’ come the early 70s — but by the time his Psychedelic Experience was published in 1964 the former clinical psychology professor had already been sacked by Harvard for his controversial drug trials, which were just beginning to embrace LSD, and which most notably involved famous beat poet Allen Ginsberg, and a group of the university’s Divinity Studies graduates, soon introducing a psychedelic culture across the wider campus. Based upon an ancient funerary text known in the west as The Tibetan Book of the Dead (c8BC), Leary’s book aims to provide a correspondent guide through a psychedelic drug trip, in the belief that both experiences involve a journey to ‘new realms of consciousness’, initiating a transcendence of the material and verbal, and ego-death. Borrowing its language and distilling its essence, ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ became a veritable LSD For Dummies. Turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream. It is not dying, it is not dying. In one of the most brilliant closing scenes of the ever-brilliant Mad Men, Don listens to the track for the first time at the encouragement of younger wife Megan, and the camera pans across other characters playing their part in the zeitgeist before we are jolted back to the Draper residence, where Don shuts off the music and retires wearily to the bedroom. When the screen cuts to black and the credits begin, the music picks up again from where it left off. In the dawning 60s, as the show began, Don was our blueprint for cool, for progressive. In his opening scene he talks to a black server as an actual human being, and in early seasons he fraternises with beatniks and has an emotional moment with Frank O’Hara. Despite some bumps in the road (homophobia, antisemitism, generic misogyny) he fondly encourages both Peggy and Dawn’s ladder-climbing, even making it as far as skinny ties, electric razors, and The Rolling Stones, before falling at the psychedelic hurdle. Here, the counterculture (and the show, thus the audience) happily leaves Don behind, playing on no matter how many times he would like to lift the needle. Absolutely worth whatever exorbitant licensing fee the show’s producers must have had to pay.

Bed In

Tommy Smothers, Rosemary & Timothy Leary join John & Yoko’s Bed-In, June 1969

On 25th June 1967, the first ever live satellite television event was broadcast around the world to an estimated audience of 350 million. Live on air, at the height of the Vietnam War, The Beatles cut their next single ‘All You Need Is Love’, playing over a backing track with a little help from some very special friends, in a performance that George Harrison would later describe in the Beatles Anthology as ‘a bit of subtle PR for god’. Timothy Leary too was no stranger to the power of advertising. As Mad Men has illustrated, this was an exhilarating time in the field of audiovisual media — the peak union of burgeoning globalism, forward-thinking creativity, and commercialism. Throughout his career as The Establishment’s Most Wanted, Leary assembled an arsenal of slogans to publicise what fast became not just a lifestyle choice, but a spiritual movement. In autobiography Flashbacks, he relates his 1966 lunch date with media theory titan (and king of the punchy one-liner) Marshall McLuhan, who advised Leary on the importance of ‘arousing customer interest’: ‘you are promoting a product — your product is the new and improved accelerated brain.’ With an academic background in English language and literature, McLuhan had by this time earned his reputation as a pioneering public intellectual in what would later become known as the field of cultural studies, with three popular works already in circulation and The Medium is the Massage (1967) soon on its way. ‘Prophet of the electronic communications age’, he in fact opened the Our World satellite link-up from Toronto’s CBC Studios control room, discussing the lightspeed evolution of the “global village”, and his ideas on the unique ‘all-at-onceness’ property of the televisual medium: the new worldwide tribalism he believed would result from this unified gaze upon the tv set. (In the end television would only occasionally rise to this challenge, becoming a primarily national as opposed to international tool.) Though difficult to trace the explicit source, legend has it that McLuhan gifted Leary with his most famous slogan at that very first lunch, the phrase that would come to define the acid generation and its reverberations down through the decades: turn on, tune in, drop out. Later, for a child of the 80s or 90s, Leary’s phrase might easily seem to be referring to the ills of television culture — a scathing criticism of late twentieth century westerners who would return home from work all too ready to numb their minds with another evening of “chewing gum for the eyes“. Not quite what McLuhan had in mind, but in 1968’s High Priest, Leary paints a similar picture of his life before psychedelics, describing himself as ‘A rootless city-dweller. An anonymous institutional employee who drove to work each morning in a long line of commuter cars, and drove home each night and drank martinis and looked like and thought like and acted like several million middle-class liberal intellectual robots.’ You don’t have to own a television to be alienated here, but it helps. When George Harrison visited Haight-Ashbury in August ’67 he found for himself that the reality of drug culture had long since parted ways with Leary’s evangelic teachings: ‘It wasn’t what I’d thought — spiritual awakenings and being artistic — it was like alcoholism, like any addiction.’ Even with the very best of ad campaigns, any medium can soon enough be twisted off-message.

‘Turn on’ meant go within to activate your neural and genetic equipment. Become sensitive to the many and various levels of consciousness and the specific triggers that engage them. Drugs were one way to accomplish this end. ‘Tune in’ meant interact harmoniously with the world around you — externalize, materialize, express your new internal perspectives. ‘Drop out’ suggested an active, selective, graceful process of detachment from involuntary or unconscious commitments. ‘Drop Out’ meant self-reliance, a discovery of one’s singularity, a commitment to mobility, choice, and change. Unhappily my explanations of this sequence of personal development were often misinterpreted to mean ‘Get stoned and abandon all constructive activity’. –TIMOTHY LEARY, FLASHBACKS (1983)

Hugely influential in its technical experimentation, ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ stands as an evocative document of its time, but it was ‘White Rabbit’ that soon became cinematic shorthand for trippy psychedelia and a character’s first steps into a strange new hallucinogenic world. By the 90s, however, it was coming to be used to more comedic or sardonic effect. In 1998, The Simpsons used the song to soundtrack Homer’s foray into peyote-laced juice peddling, and the next year it accompanied Tony’s first begrudging hit of prozac in season one of The Sopranos. With the commercialisation of drug culture, the domestication of serotonin-affective substances, the alluring strains of ‘White Rabbit’s intro had now generally come to symbolise being drawn, snake-charmed, into anything you might not be able to control. In the quarter-century since its release the song has been covered by a vast array of bands in a vaster array of styles, from jazz guitarist George Benson in 1972, to goth punk rock Londoners The Damned in 1980, to a bassline sample in the Sugababes’ stunning debut single ‘Overload‘ in September 2000. By this time too, at a different point on the “girl group” spectrum, third wave three-piece Sleater-Kinney were including ‘White Rabbit’ in their live set-list: a fantastic recontextualisation of the track. Here, Slick’s lyrics toy with the band’s recurring themes of gender inequality, female invisibility, body image politics, and the sins of the mother, evident since their riot grrrl beginnings but especially so on recently released All Hands on the Bad One (2000). Propelled in popular culture by Washington’s underground music scene, 90s feminism was rooted in the theory and groundwork of the second wave (60s-80s) whilst rejecting its “solutions” of learnt masculinity and corporate careerism, instead embracing community ethics, diy culture, and the iconography of girlhood. In blistering album track ‘Youth Decay’, Corin Tucker sings her narrator’s feelings of existential deterioration, causing her visceral bodily pain that others believe to be psychosomatically self-inflicted, and therefore easily-endable. ‘Am I rotting out? Daddy says I’ve got my momma’s mouth,’ she howls, indicting not just the overbearing, emotionally abusive father, but also his over-accommodating wife, who says she suffered just the same pains when she was young and yet allowed herself to repeat the cycle, leaving her daughter to suffer through. And the ones that mother gives you don’t do anything at all. More recently, an Arabic version of Slick’s song featured in twisted crime dramedy American Hustle (2013), and it’s interesting to note that both The Beatles’ and Jefferson Airplane’s trip tracks were covered for teensploitation action flick Sucker Punch (2011), in which a young woman in the 60s is institutionalised and slips into a computer game-like fantasy world. In this setting, in a film that upends misogynistic geek/gamer culture, the song is recast as an empowerment anthem, a rejection of the patriarchal institutional strictures placed upon “wayward women”, a rebellion against playing by their rules. When the men on the chessboard get up and tell you where to go. Refreshingly, Mad Men dodged the cliché for Roger’s first LSD experience — laced sugar cubes for dessert at a dinner party hosted by his wife’s psychiatrist — instead opting for a warped-out version of ‘I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times’, from easily the most solid, most elegant long-player of the decade: Pet Sounds (1966). As with so many moments in the show, hearing Brian Wilson’s sumptuous harmonies in their natural habitat packs a huge emotional punch, stripping away forty-plus years of mythologisation to illuminate the everyday human reality of life in such a tumultuous, careening period. We crowd silently round the tv set on the day of JFK’s assassination, we are rocked by Marilyn’s death, our minds can hardly comprehend the fact a man is walking on the face of the moon. And despite all the years of The Beach Boys as shorthand for harmless youthful folly and good vibrations, we finally understand Pet Sounds as an album not in celebration of its time, but itself laced with a tender melancholy, anxiety and alienation, wistful simultaneous yearnings for the past and the future, home comforts and new horizons. We imagine how it really felt to be there, in the fray, out of sync, shrinking and stretching, disorientated at every turn by the sociopolitical instability of the 60s revolution.

‘Electric technology, by virtue of its immediate relation to our nervous system, is itself a sort of inner trip,’ McLuhan wrote in 1974. Both he and Leary held that their belief systems fundamentally overlapped, each seeking better understanding of life through experimental mediums. While each ideology was built upon individualistic rites — defying hegemonic culture, chasing the white rabbit deep inside your own mind, experiencing the world for oneself through a screen — the paradoxic pay-off of these practices was communality, a breaking down of barriers, the profound realisation of essential human oneness. This is the kind of utopian language we’re now so used to hearing in social media discourse, from Arab Spring commentators to twenty-first century philosopher kings (‘I’m trying to make the world a more open place’), which is really just globalism taken to its furthest point. The internet is of course the ultimate act of communalism-by-individualism, and McLuhan would be posthumously celebrated for “predicting” its invention as far back as 1962, envisioning the ‘extension of consciousness’ through a post-television medium — ‘a computer as a research and communication instrument’. Leary, for his part, would wholly embrace the new digital age, proclaiming the personal computer ‘the LSD of the 90s’, and the internet as a freedom from the dominant media culture: turn on, boot up, jack in. As with Slick’s ‘White Rabbit’ and each of its later feminist incarnations, as with McLuhan’s wish upon a satellite, the driving moral of psychedelic philosophy was to question everything, to challenge the party line and transcend received wisdom. To work to see things clearly, critically, and independently: to stop following the crowd and join the stream. Remember what the dormouse said: feed your head, feed your head.