Tag Archives: Hippie movement

Bohemian Life: Romantics, Pre-Raphaelites, Hippies

27 Sep

Bohemian way of life has always been alluring to me and in this post I decided to assemble my love for Romanticists, Pre-Raphaelites and London Underground scene in the 1960s with a bit of fashion, aesthetics, art and music. I’ve also made collages which serve to substantiate the connection between these three art movements/counter cultures and the bohemian way of life. Enjoy 🙂

hippie romantics 1 text a(Click to enlarge)

‘Cult of genius’ emerged during Romanticism – for the first time in history an artist was considered an individual, an imaginative creature rather than a craftsman as it had been understood before. Romantics were the first rebellions, mostly artists and intellectuals led by the ideals of individuality and freedom they opposed the serious rules of the rationalistic world of neoclassicism. In the aspect of individuality, all the art movements that followed and the very perception of the artist himself owe a great deal to Romantic movement.

It’s not unusual that the word ‘bohemian’ appeared in the 19th century, though a bit after the romantics, but its meaning can fully be applied in context of Romanticists and their lifestyles. Term ‘bohemian’ was first used in French language to describe Romani people because it was believed that they came from Bohemia, Czech Republic, but it later came to symbolize any kind of unconventional lifestyle, often in the poorer but culturally richer parts of the city, involving musical, artistic, or literary pursuits. Bohemians are also seen as wanderers and adventurists. When Pre-Raphaelites arrived on the art scene in the mid-Victorian era, they opposed realism and materialism, and questioned the false values and morals of Victorian society.

A century later numerous young people chose more unconventional ways of living and  opposed the conformist and consumerist Western society – those were the hippies. As you can see, every time period has its bohemians or outsiders. I could write about the large number of artists/bohemians on Montmartre in the late 19th century or the crazy early 20th century bunch on Montparnasse, but in this post I decided to focus on three art movement/countercultures that share similarities in terms of values, ideas, inspirations and aesthetics. How could I not compare the dangerous and dashing Dante Gabriel Rossetti with dark and brooding Lord Byron, and both of them with Syd Barrett for example – art knows no time, art knows ideals, moods and feelings.

hippie romantics 2 a text

Romanticists were rebellions and idealists, and in their works (especially regards literature and music) they put emphasis on subjectivity, love and intimacy, appreciation of nature, and delved into mysticism: they celebrated everything that contrasted neoclassicism and enlightenment. Romantic painters focused on the glorious past, though it often carried characteristics of escapism. The need to escape time or space is a longing which arises from the sense of dissatisfaction in a hopeless reality, and this longing characterised the whole art of Romanticism. Similarly, members of the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood were fascinated with the past, and in the idealised Medieval world they found the spiritual and creative energy that was (according to them) lost in the industrialised Victorian world. Pre-Raphaelites also found inspiration in their ‘spiritual predecessors’ the Romantics, and their artworks show their interest in mythology, specially Greek and Roman.

A century after the Pre-Raphaelites, in the late 1960s London’s underground came alive. As the Mods and Dollies were on the wane, an alternative scene was thriving in obscurity. Acid heads, pop stars, different eccentrics, artists and outsiders graced the London scene in those years, among that horde was Syd Barrett. ‘Syd was happy being a bohemian, like the romanticised ‘poetes maudits’.* Just like Romantics and Pre-Raphaelites before them, the London hippies drank from the fountain of the past. They drew inspiration from Eastern mysticism (yoga, Hare Krishna, Buddhism, I Ching, Ravi Shankar, Tagore) European mythology, Celts, English folklore, astrology, occult, Ouija boards, tarot cards, meditation and vegetarianism.

hippie romantics 7 text

Music: Ravi Shankar

Parallels between Pre-Raphaelites and London Underground can also be drawn in terms of aesthetics. When artists Michael English and Nigel Waymouth were commissioned to make posters for the UFO, they sought inspiration in the 19th century Orientalism and artists such as William Morris who was a member of the Arts and Crafts Movements, befriended Pre-Raphaelites and shared their ideas and style. In terms of fashion, one can notice similarities. In both cases, a bohemian lifestyle needed a bohemian fashion to match. Pre-Raphaelites came up with the aesthetic dress movement in an effort to loosen and brighten up the rigid and somber Victorian fashion. Likewise, London bohemians found a unique way of expressing themselves by wearing brightly coloured satin, floral prints, wooden bracelets, antique silver jewellery, bizarre and floral prints, velvet trousers, flowing silks… Although they lived a century apart, in terms of aesthetics and style, Jane Morris with her loosely cut dresses in natural fabrics and Marianne Faithfull or Brian Jones with their extravagant psychedelic outfits rightfully belong to the same stylistic universe.

hippie romantics 3 textMusic: Pink Floyd – Chapter 24

Apart from the fact they were inspired by similar things, these three groups of bohemians also shared some ideas despite the fact that they lived in different times and in differently structured society and social norms. Romantics, Pre-Raphaelites and hippies all shared ideas of originality, idealism, emphasis on feelings and love towards nature. Love, intimacy and identification with nature was for Romantics a wellspring of deep, almost mystical rapture. In poetry Nature reflected the way artist felt, but also influenced his feelings. As for Pre-Raphaelites, their paintings speak for themselves, but I won’t fail to mention the patience with which Millais painted the nature surrounding his drowning Ophelia. For London Underground, a part of which was formed by a group of young people from Cambridge, including Syd, nature was part of the growing up; they all enjoyed the Cantabrigian landscape, long walks by the river, in the woods. For Syd nature was imbued with mystical overtones, and he had a spiritual connection with it. I’ll quote the book:

”This profound connection with nature never left him. In his lyrics, the sky was a woman, and love was air.”*

Another thing they shared in common was the ideal of ‘free love’; a social movement which rejects marriage and perceives it as a form of social and financial bondage. It’s not the same as supporting promiscuity. Although the idea of free love is mostly associated with hippies and counterculture of the late 1960s and 1970s, ‘free love’ was a much more radical and controversial concept earlier in the past than in the ’60s. Many Romantic poets supported the idea of ‘free love’, William Blake and Shelley among them. For example, Blake believed that ‘humans were ‘fallen’ and that a major impediment to a free love society was corrupt human nature.’ Percy Shelley, along with Mary Shelley who had inherited her mother’s liberal worldviews, also supported free love, along with vegetarianism – another trait common with hippies. As for the Pre-Raphaelites, one doesn’t need to go too far, Dante Gabriel Rossetti is a good example because he lived with Elizabeth Siddal c. ten years before they married, an act very scandalous in Victorian times.

hippie romantics 4 textMusic: Syd Barrett – Opel

Caspar David Friedrich, the most famous German Romantic painter, is well-known for his landscapes with figures turning their backs on the viewers, as if they are gazing towards something eternal and infinite. Syd Barrett’s song Opel reminded me of Friedrich’s painting ‘Moonrise over the Sea’ which can be seen in the collage above. The beginning of the song beautifully captures Friedrich’s landscapes of skies in the dusk, evening or moonrises, emptiness painted in soft transitions of purple and yellow colour, tiny figures against the vast backdrop of the sea…

On a distant shore, miles from land
Stands the ebony totem in ebony sand
A dream in a mist of grey…
On a far distant shore…” (Syd Barrett – Opel)

In addition to the ideas shared by all three groups of bohemians, Romantics and hippies also shared the idea of pacifism, specially Percy Bysshe Shelley. However, the mood of Romanticism was a mood of disappointment, melancholy, sadness, loss of hope in society, whilst hippies tended to be a rather cheerful bunch (maybe Romantics would have been merry too, had they used acid), putting emphasis on altruism and their inner peace. Live and let live.

hippie romantics 8 text

And last, but not least, we could see how these bohemians lived their lives in different times and expressed their ideas. Percy Bysshe Shelley for example, lived a short but turbulent and unconventional life (as did many bohemians =). In poetry he cherished a ‘cult of pure beauty’, and supported idealism, nonviolence, social justice and vegetarianism (he supported rights of all living creatures that he saw being treated unjustly!). With his strong principles and interesting ideas he became a hero for the generation that followed, poets beyond Europe, such as Rabindranath Tagore (whom the hippies loved) admired his work. Lord Byron ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know‘ led a completely different life, with more danger than integrity, but his actions are good examples of unconventionality. He had numerous love affairs, you could say that free love was his cup of tea, fought in Greece and died there also very young.

As for Pre-Raphaelites, well William Holman Hunt traveled a bit, Millais ‘stole’ Ruskin’s wife Effie and had eight children, and Rossetti lived with Elizabeth Siddal until she overdosed on laudanum and died, painted a few beautiful red haired models, then retreated himself in a house in Chelsea, London, surrounded by ‘extravagant furnishings and a parade of exotic birds and animals’. Oh, by the way, did I tell you that Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s mother Frances Mary Polidori was John Polidori’s sister? And John Polidori was a friend of both Lord Byron and Percy Shelley. Strange.

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First and foremost, London bohemians of the late ’60s disapproved the lifestyle their parents led so the natural thing to do was to behave in a totally different way; to begin with they listened to blues records, wore colourful clothes and accepted a laid back attitude to life. They traded the drab and grey post-war reality with a colourful, psychedelic and mystical world of arts, music, flamboyance, love and freedom.

All in all, bohemianism is a personal, cultural and social reaction to the bourgeois life. The choice is yours, ladies and gentleman. Peace.

*Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd: Dark Globe – Julian Palacios

Gimme Shelter – The End of The 1960s

18 Jun

There’s no doubt that the 1960s are my favourite decade of the 20th century. It’s a decade that symbolizes the birth of rock ‘n’ roll and hippie movement. For me it’s a wonderful decade inspiring in both musical and fashion sense. However, nothing lasts forever and so this decade came to an end but what it created culturally, musically and artistically can’t be erased.

1964. Pattie Boyd with The Rolling Stones

The year 1965. was year zero for rock and roll. It was the year everything begun. In the early ’60s music for teenagers was sweet, safe and slightly soulless. Radio stations were filled with manufactured pop created by song writing teams in pop factories. Teenage girls’ idols were nice, proper white kids singing pop with a little beat such as Bobby Vee and Bobby Vinton who would went to American Bandstand and lip synched. That sound was manufactured by the American market for the British market. However, people were getting tired of it. The new generation of British teenagers craved for music with more raw, rebellious edge. They found what they were looking for in blues; music of the American black underclass, music emerged from suffering. British working class totally identified with the black America. Blues had that element of underground rage, something which British teens craved for.

Out with the old and in with the new. By 1965. a generation of rebellious teenagers who had grown up listening to black American blues had invented their own adrenaline charged sound: Rock. The Who brought attitude and volume. The Rolling Stones brought swagger and sex. The Kinks came on the music scene with their distorted guitar sound. Even Bob Dylan was inspired by the new sound and with his leather jacket and hairstyle he was almost like a Rolling Stone wanna-be.

1960s the rolling stones

It was playing blues that melted the emotional polar frost of the 1950s post-war English austerity. Because of its emphasis on improvisations it unlocked the creativity in young artists playing it. In 1962. a band was formed in suburb west London – The Rolling Stones when the singer Mick Jagger and guitarist Keith Richards bonded over a shared love of the blues. When The Stones became more well known they stopped playing at venues such as The Crawdaddy Club. Instead, they gave up their place for the new band whose sound would be the first to denote the true Rock sound – band The Who.

The Who combined the rebellious spirit, Mod-scene image with the bold self-expression of the Pop Art. They were also very interesting because they made fashion statements with their clothes. Guitarist Pete Townshend wore particularly bold and memorable gear. He wore a jacket made out of a flag, for example and the drummer Keith Moon wore Pop Art T-shirts with targets and hearts. Pop Art was popular because it was not as confined as other art movements and consequently became an important part of 1960s culture, and an important part of Swinging London as well.  With The Who exploring more provocative imagery and ideas, it was clear that the new music movement was taking shape.

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syd 60

Swinging London or the capital of cool, as it was sometimes called, was a place to be in the 1960s. After the initial blues-inspired Rock came something more avant-garde, Rock evolved and psychedelic-art rock emerged from the sound of Pink Floyd with Syd Barrett exploring what he could do with his guitar. In 1967. Pink Floyd released a single Arnold Layne, a song about a clothes-stealing transvestite, introducing a new concept in Rock music – psychedelia. This was rock meets the mad hatter’s tea party. Pink Floyd’s debut album The Piper at The Gates of Dawn was released in August 1967; at the peak of London’s Summer of love. Pink Floyd had previously recorded a single See Emily Play on 23rd May 1967, and released it less than a month later. The song was about a psychedelic schoolgirl whom Syd Barrett had reportedly seen after taking acid and falling asleep in the woods. Characteristics of psychedelic rock in this song are use of echo and reverb, whimsical lyrics and the slide-guitar work done by Syd using a plastic ruler.

Syd Barrett enrolled in Camberwell College of Arts in London in summer of 1964. to study painting. Camberwell proved to be a hothouse of ideas. Actually, art schools developed what we today know as the 1960s Swinging London for they were the place where the creativity came from. Education authorities put those who did not fit in elsewhere into art collages. Entrance qualifications were vague, with academic scores waived when portfolios showed promise. Art schools produced gifted painters, promising fashion designers, artists and musicians. Even in art schools, the ground for psychedelia was set with drab post-war colours discarded in favour of violent pinks, aquas and reds. Art college students liked their music likewise amplified; sharp, short and shocking. Syd felt that art was made of the moment and the springboard to the next work and next moment. Other notable musicians that were attending art schools were Pete Townshend, Eric Clapton, John Lennon and Ray Davies.

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So at around 1967. psychedelic culture prevailed over the Mod culture that dominated during the first half of the decade. The Beatles’ album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band released in June 1967, just before the peak of summer of love, marks the transition between pop to the more psychedelic sound. Psychedelia might have opened minds to new ideas, sounds and images but it also propelled rock music into world of hedonism and excess. The Who came to America in summer of 1967. They shocked the hippies with their destructive and aggressive performance but Monterey soon established the festival as an arena for rock ‘n’ roll music, but it also represented the climax of summer of love for the optimism of the ’60s gave way to more volatile and uncertain times.

Utopia of the ’67 could not possibly last for it was not universally accepted. Psychedelic youth and hippies were only one segment of society, and only one fragment of it. You could just feel the change in the air; the atmosphere changed and it all became much more politicized. The Woodstock ’69 festival would see the sun set on the sixties hippie dream. By that time the business started to be more in control of the music; the freedom of the sixties was lost forever. It was a beginning of something; a beginning of the end.

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the rolling stones 3

The Rolling Stones quickly dragged inspiration from the changing mood and uncertainty of those times. They were one of the few bands that found creative zeal in the darkness. There was a new world going on but The Stones weren’t afraid to embrace it. They channeled all that darkness with morbid relish in one song; Sympathy for the devil. It was the theme that fascinated them since they dipped into blues. However, The Stones would be plunged into the darkness of their own in a year marked by controversy and tragedy, from the mysterious death of the guitarist Brian Jones to the murderous chaos of the Altamont festival in California in December 1969. when they recruited Hell’s Angles to provide the security. Hell’s Angels soon caused turmoil and the man was murdered as the cameras rolled. The innocence of the ’60s was lost forever.

In the song Gimme shelter it seems as if The Stones were asking for a shelter, some place safe from the turmoil, darkness and uncertainty that overshadowed the Sun like the dark clouds. (The floods is threat’ning/ My very life today/ Gimme, gimme shelter/ Or I’m gonna fade away) Another song from the same album Let it Bleed released in ’69 called You can’t always get what you want also reflects the atmosphere of the time. Each verse discusses a topic relevant to the ’60s: love, politics and drugs. The song captures the essence of the initial optimism and the eventual disillusion, followed by the resigned pragmatism of the chorus. (I saw her today at the reception / In her glass was a bleeding man / She was practiced at the art of deception/ Well I could tell by her blood-stained hands.) Rock provided a soundtrack for the changing times. It had become an incredible political and artistic force. It had given music volume and attitude.

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Still, the dark atmosphere at the dusk of the sixties had impact on other artists, such as Syd Barrett. Compared to Pink Floyd’s first album The piper at the gates of dawn that mirrors the optimism and decadence of the Swinging London, Syd’s main contribution to the second album was the song Jugband blues whose lyrics show that inside his mind he was still acutely self-aware despite the madness and darkness that had begun to engulf him. The dusk of the sixties proved to be a fruitful period not just for The Rolling Stones but for Barrett as well for its product was his solo album The Madcap laughs.

The Madcap laughs, released in January 1970. but recorded between 28. May 1968. and 5. August ’69, was Barrett’s debut solo album. It was warmly received and the madness of king Syd seemed to have touched a nerve with a generation who had seen the end of the decade take a darker turn with Altamont, the bombing of Vietnam and apparent failure of hippie culture. Its lyrics are introspective and range from lovely, almost child-like songs about love and friendship (Terrapin: I really love you/ And I mean you/ The star above you/ Crystal blue) to deeper and darker subject that mirrored what he was feeling at the time; I’ll take Dark Globe as an example; its a cliche to say that the opening lines are memorable, no, they are much more than that, they are haunting and loveable and strange, dark and crooked at the same time. (Oh where are you now/ Pussy willow that smiled on this leaf/ When I was alone/ You promised to stone from your heart.) In other songs he expresses his sadness and loneliness (You feel me/ Away far/ Too empty/ Oh so alone, I want to come home), something which young people at the time could relate to for they felt slightly betrayed and lost at looking at the ’60s the golden years of their youth gone by.

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1960s faded away, but they left us with achievements that cannot be denied. They produced numerous good bands, ventured into unknown areas of music, brought new and daring fashions and shaped attitudes and ideals that had not been forgotten despite the time gone by.