The American Counterculture

A History of Hippies and Cultural Dissidents

Damon Bach

Restricted to the shorthand of “sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll,” the counterculture would seem to be a brief, vibrant stretch of the 1960s. But the American counterculture, as this book clearly demonstrates, was far more than a historical blip and its impact continues to resonate. In this comprehensive history, Damon R. Bach traces the counterculture from its antecedents in the 1950s through its emergence and massive expansion in the 1960s to its demise in the 1970s and persistent echoes in the decades since.

The counterculture, as Bach tells it, evolved in discrete stages and his book describes its development from coast to heartland to coast as it evolved into a national phenomenon, involving a diverse array of participants and undergoing fundamental changes between 1965 and 1974. Hippiedom appears here in relationship to the era’s movements—civil rights, women’s and gay liberation, Red and Black Power, the New Left, and environmentalism. In its connection to other forces of the time, Bach contends that the counterculture’s central objective was to create a new, superior society based on alternative values and institutions. Drawing for the first time on documents produced by self-described “freaks” from 1964 through 1973—underground newspapers, memoirs, personal correspondence, flyers, and pamphlets—his book creates an unusually nuanced, colorful, and complete picture of a time often portrayed in clichéd or nostalgic terms.

“With great clarity, precision, and impeccable documentation, Damon R. Bach has crafted an important corrective to the myths, stereotypes, and long-held misconceptions about the sixties counterculture. Impressive in its scope and depth, The American Counterculture offers a highly accessible account of a movement that encompassed both hippies and allied cultural dissidents, interacted with other social movements of the period, extended from the coasts to the heartland, inhabited both rural and urban spaces, and shifted its orientation from cultural change to engagement with a wide range of political concerns. Moving beyond monolithic, static accounts of ‘hippies,’ the book brings to life a movement that was continually evolving in response to other social and political currents, lasted well beyond the sixties, and left an indelible imprint on American society. Compelling and original, this book will no doubt attract the interest of scholars and students as well as the general public.”

—Gretchen Lemke-Santangelo, author of Daughters of Aquarius: Women of the Sixties Counterculture

The American Counterculture offers a sweeping synthesis of an important national story. With brisk pacing and a wide geographical reach, Damon Bach’s book is especially valuable for its analysis of the relationship between cultural hippies and the New Left activists and the incontrovertible evidence it provides that the counterculture was not simply a bicoastal movement; it truly spread across the entire nation and made a lasting impact on American culture and politics. This is ‘a trip’ worth taking.”

—Sherry L. Smith, author of Hippies, Indians, and the Fight for Red Power

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This is the counterculture of love-ins and flower children, of the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane, but also of antiwar demonstrations, communes, co-ops, head shops, cultural feminism, Earth Day, and antinuclear activism. What Damon R. Bach conjures is the counterculture in all of its permutations and ramifications as he illuminates its complexity, continually evolving values, and constantly changing components and adherents, which defined and redefined it throughout its near decade-long existence. In the long run, Bach convincingly argues that the counterculture spearheaded cultural transformation, leaving a changed America in its wake.

About the Author

Damon R. Bach is a lecturer in history at Texas A&M University.