Counterculture Berkeley e-Plaques

While we have only had the term “counterculture” in the lexicon since Theodore Rozak’s 1969 The Making of a Counter Culture, the idea of an oppositional culture on the fringes of mainstream cultural mores had been around before then and it was virtually synonymous with Berkeley.

The stereotype of Berkeley was anchored in the counterculture, or more accurately, in stereotypes of the counterculture. There is much more to Berkeley than a countercultural heritage, but its countercultural heritage is not a two-dimensional caricature; it is in fact a very real, very three-dimensional and robust cultural legacy. Granted, some manifestations of our countercultural zeal were not without excesses, at least as viewed from the safety of yesterday’s tomorrow.

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B.N. Duncan 8 from Nature and Spirit  (1989), courtesy Bob Levin collection

B.N. Duncan 8 from Nature and Spirit (1989), courtesy Bob Levin collection

In the late 1950s, campus activists formed the student organization SLATE years before the emergence of the New Left elsewhere, and Mario Savio and other Free Speech warriors led and tens of thousands followed. In the 1960s Berkeley had national counterculture superstars, but it also had homegrown Stu Albert, Big Bill Miller, Super Joel, and the Red Rockets. There were Max Scherr’s Barb and the Red Mountain Tribe’s Tribe, underground comics and later the street-forged comic visions of Bruce Duncan and Ace Backwards, the Vietnam Day Committee and the troop trains and People’s Park, communes and collectives and co-ops, folk clubs and rock clubs and later punk clubs. And above all, there was Telegraph Avenue, where Boulevard St. Michel meets Bourbon Street. Berkeley’s counterculture is a unique mix of radical New Left politics, countercultural hedonism and exuberance, and Bohemian intellectualism.

In this section, we remember and honor our countercultural “saints and angels and martyrs and holy men” (John Steinbeck: Cannery Row, Prologue). Some you may recognize, others not. Countercultures wax and then they wane, leaving their mark. In these pages we celebrate the mark they left.

Tom Dalzell, Counterculture Editor