Friday, 22 February 2008

200 Trips from the Counterculture

Jean-Francois Bizot, Barry Miles. London: Thames and Hudson, 2006

As I wandered around another bookshop feeling visually deprived and in a vague search for something to stimulate my senses, I caught in a faraway glance a big fat book with Sixties graphics and a picture of a girl sitting in the feathers of an emu, with blue stripes like sky in the background. I moved a little closer and like Alice in Wonderland with the bottle that says 'Drink me', this book was saying, 'Read me. Now'.

Not one to turn down such an invitation, I bought it, pronto. Inside, as the title promised, were 200 trips pulled from Sixties underground press and counter-culture illustrations of protest, provocation and pot. Articles exploring the mind-expanding properties of LSD and marijuana, not to mention an article in the Berkeley Barb called Numb's the Word: Copping the Cocaine Horrors, with a big dark photograph of Freud, referring to his secret cocaine links. It reads, 'On the third day we slept. Or at least part of us slept … It was not blood that moved the body, that kept the body in cosmic harmony, that burned the energy of time and space in explosions of omniscience. It was cocaine and all else seemed beside the point'. Ooh, trippy.

Aside from a collection of curios concerning vintage controversies and ironic dalliance, '200 Trips from the Counterculture' is a history of underground graphic art, the experimental and surrealist illustrations and montage that inspired generations of provocative magazines such as The Face, Dazed and Confused, Little White Lies and Vice, and the ever-growing branches of internet magazines. This book is the genealogy of the phenomenon.

It is like reading a collection of vintage zines from the time of peace and love, only all the pages are smooth and perfectly reproduced, and the pages won't disintegrate in your fingers. There are excerpts from the French zine Actuel, The East Village Other, the Los Angeles Free Press, Interview (edited by Warhol) and the San Francisco Oracle (home of Ginsberg). There is social commentary, dolce vita, youthful rebellion and the dialogues and crowded texts of the writing that played alongside art of the avant-garde.

Aside from Wonderland-esque illustrations and political montages, hallucinatory skies for heads in clouds and grounded analysis to balance, Trips from the Counterculture includes material such as the first discussion about the greenhouse effect (in the Sixties they were worried), the African American Civil Rights Movement in the USA and even articles hand-written in French, if you're swayed in that direction. The graphics are incredible and altogether the book is endlessly entertaining and provocative. These are postcards from trips that inspired a generation of art, music and literature. They were the pages that illustrated Dylan, Woodstock and LSD. 'How to be a Magician in Your Spare Time' reads one page. This book tells you how; and, more importantly, it tells you why – why we have to keep writing these articles, illustrating ideas, expressing the tune of the age in colour and shapes and letters scattered dishevelled on a page.

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