By Anna Merlan
By Albert Samaha
By Tessa Stuart
By Anna Merlan
By Roy Edroso
By Carolyn Hughes
By Chuck Strouse
By Albert Samaha
"Those things never start on time," I was informed.
So I showed up about 10.40 just as the first young man slipped off his shirt and pants. Within seconds half a dozen young men joined him, all body-painted, all well-lit by the over-lapping flash of photographer's bulbs.
On a stage at the far end of the gym, the Group Image was performing against a huge backdrop of multiple-projections. It isn't accurate to say they play extremely loudlylike many groups, they don't seem to make sound at all, but to have entered another sensory dimension altogether. Movies were projected on several screens hung from the ceiling, moving lights dappled the walls, and from time to time strips of paper were thrown from the balcony. Two or three hundred hippiesthe term is still valid in certain environmentswere dancing in various stages of consciousness.
And in a kind of pen at the entrance-end of the gym, about the size of a boxing ring, with fluorescent posts at the corners and a C-movie projected on a screen at the back, the naked dancing continued now 10 or 12 young men, and a few on the main dance floor itself.
"Put your clothes on," the owner of the Gymnasium vainly implored, but suddenly, in a heterosexual followup to last week's naked happening at the Palm Gardens, a fleshy blonde girl strode naked into the pen, and the crowd, merely curious up to this point, clustered quickly around the area. The girl danced for a few minutes, then disappeared as quickly as she'd comeinto clothes and into newsprint.
A little later, another girl lay down in a corner of the pen and casually smoked a dubious cigarette as her boy-friend gently lifted her skirt and deftly paintedbut not so deftly that it didn't ticklewhat John Cleland referred to as "nether lips." Eastman-Kodak stock must have jumped at least a point, and a Time reporter, more indignant than curious, asked "is this what's going on in New York?"
For the next hour or so the over-30 reporters and photographers waited around, Marty-like, for more what used to be called "action." But finally Kusama admitted that that was pretty much it for the evening, and she seemed as disappointed as anyone.
Actually, I'd very much wanted to like it. . . . After all, everyone had said that theAnn Halprin dance concert at Hunter College last year was exhilarating and liberating, many people in our time regard utopia as a sexual rather than a social ideal, and we have been told that the younger generation is finally overthrowing 2500 years of Platonic idealism in favor of tactility. This was to be a glimpse of the unrepressed future. Animal vitality and acceptance would sweep the world. Que viva body mysticism!
But how sad and depressing it was. The utopian fantasies, collapsed, and somewhere in between the titillated media and the post-civilization on 71st Street lay hopes that this was not to be the way of all flesh.
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Chicago: demonstrators gather at grant park (Aug. 1968).
photo: Fred W. McDarrah
"You afraid?" I asked a kid from California. He zipped his army jacket up to his neck, and filled his palm with a wad of Vaseline. "I dunno," he answered. "My toes feel cold, but my ears are burning."
We were standing together in Lincoln Park, not long after curfew on Tuesday night, watching an unbroken line of police. Around us were 1000 insurgents: hippies, Marxists, tourists, reporters, Panthers, Angels, and a phalanx of concerned ministers, gathered around a 12-foot cross. Occasionally a cluster of kids would break away from the rally to watch the formation in the distance. They spoke quietly, rubbing cream on their faces, and knotting dampened undershirts around their mouths. Not all their accoutrements were defensive. I saw saps and smoke bombs, steel-tipped boots and fistfuls of tacks. My friend pulled out a small canister from his pocket. "Liquid pepper," he explained.
Watching these kids gather sticks and stones, I realized how far we have come from that mythical summer when everyone dropped acid, sat under a tree, and communed. If there were any flower children left in America, they had heeded the underground press, and stayed home. Those who came fully anticipated confrontation. There were few virgins to violence in the crowd tonight. Most had seenif not shedblood, and that baptism had given them a determination of sorts. The spirit of Lincoln Park was to make revolution the way you make loveambivalently, perhaps but for real.
The cops advanced at 12:40 a.m., behind two massive floodlight-trucks. They also had the fear; you could see it in their eyes (wide and wet) and their mouths. All week, you watched them cruise the citynever alone and never unarmed. At night, you heard their sirens in the streets, and all day, their helicopters in the sky. On duty, the average Chicago cop was a walking arsenalwith a shotgun in one hand, a riot baton (long and heavy with steel tips) in the other, and an assortment of pistols, nightsticks, and ominous canisters in his belt. At first, all that equipment seemed flattering. But then you saw under the helmets, and the phallic weaponry, and you felt the fear again. Immigrant to stranger, cop to civilian, old man to kid. The fear that brought the people of Chicago out into the streets during Martin Luther King's open housing march, now reflected in the fists of these cops. The fear that made the people of Gage Park spit at priests, and throw stones at nuns, now authorized to kill. And you realized that the cops weren't putting on that display for you; noa cop's gun is his security blanket, just as Vaseline was yours.