Let me provide some back story before getting into the nitty-gritty of this.
A couple of days ago, I was at Starbucks with my mother when a challenged was proposed. If you could sit and have a conversation with anyone deceased, who would it be? Of course, since this my mom and I rolling into intellectualism, we divided our answers into categories:
It seems like an interesting enough conversation on it’s own merits, but since I am the type to take it one step further (at least), I’ve decided to refine my answers to a specific time period. Robert Franklin’s Psychedelic Breakfast is a collection of personalities relative to the 1960’s. Why the 1960’s? Because in my opinion, there is no more radical a decade in the last century than the 1960’s.
So, without any further delay, enjoy.
Robert Franklin’s Psychedelic Breakfast
A large wooden table. An elegant dining room.
I enter, taking in the scene, then take my own seat at the head of this table, awaiting the arrival of the ghosts. Through the use of a medium, who will be present shortly, I summoned these personalities to my table, in the hopes of discussing with them the cultural impact of the 1960’s, their contributions, and how those contributions are still resonating five decades later.
I hear the shuffling of footsteps. Enter…
Syd Barrett. Syd is one of the founding members of Pink Floyd and remained with the band until mental illness and drug addiction forced the band to relieve him of his duties in 1968. Pink Floyd is considered one of the most important bands of all-time, but before they achieved stadium status — something they wielded with authority in the mid-70’s through early-80’s — Pink Floyd was at the core of Britain’s psychedelic movement. Syd Barrett’s contribution to the psychedelic breakfast is for insight into psychedelic movement. I could have easily invited other personalities within the psychedelic music community — such as John Lennon or Jimi Hendrix — but Barrett’s insights, to me, are unique.
Syd takes a seat and scans the dining room, taking in the effects of the walls and table, much in the same manner as I had, but with more concentration. Introductions were made, then silence washed over us while we waited for the others to arrive. No more than a minute later…
Che Guevara enters the room and takes a seat. The sweet smell of tobacco fills the senses.
Guevara is arguably the most polarizing and enigmatic figure of the 1960’s, at least in retrospect. Author of The Motorcycle Diaries and a revolutionary figure, Che has been branded everything from a defender of the poor to a cold-hearted executioner, admired, sanctified, romanticized, and derided for his Marxist views and revolutionary actions in Cuba and parts of Latin America. Guevara’s contribution to the psychedelic breakfast lies in his history as a revolutionary. The 1960’s was a time of revolution and new ideas. While I could have invited someone such as Martin Luther King, Jr. or Huey Newton, Guevara represents the radicalism of revolution. The man even once called out the United States, who claim to be the “guardians of freedom”, on their treatment of minorities at the time. Guevara had freedom in mind for everyone.
Syd and I introduced ourselves to Che and little more than a second later, the next influential figure entered the room.
Lamar Hunt is a revolutionary in his own right. He is the principal founder of the American Football League, and for a decade, his league managed to stay competitive against the National Football League, taking their fans, taking their advertising, and taking their players, even signing 75% of the NFL’s first-round draft choices in 1960. The AFL — while internally unstable — managed to be enough of a threat to the NFL that they put the possibility of merger on the table, in spite of the NFL having fought off several rival leagues over it’s forty years at that point. Hunt, as well as the other team owners and league representatives, most of which were businessmen who failed to buy NFL franchises in the previous two decades, agreed to the terms, and in 1970, the NFL and the AFL merged. The Super Bowl was actually created by Hunt and NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle via terms of the merger agreement. Also, all ten of the AFL’s franchises still exist in the NFL today. Hunt’s contribution to the psychedelic breakfast is, obviously, in the realm of sports and the cultural impact of his league. Hunt also represents business, and how the common thread of the 1960’s — revolution and change — can be applied to all aspects of culture, even businesses.
At the same moment Hunt arrives, in steps…
Former Governor of Alabama George Wallace. With all of the revolution and political upheaval that commenced in the 1960’s, Wallace represents the other side of the coin. Wallace was a notorious supporter of segregation, even saying during his 1963 inaugural address: “In the name of the greatest people who ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” Wallace even tried to stop integration personally, at various times attempting to physically block black students from enrolling or attending schools, most notably when he stood in the doorway of Foster Auditorium at the University of Alabama on June 11, 1963. “The Most Influential Loser” of the 20th century is in attendance at the psychedelic breakfast because of his staunch opposition to the changing climate around him.
The next figure to arrive is…
Yuri Gagarin, pilot. Gagarin, a colonel in the Soviet Air Force, was the first man in space. Gagarin’s flight caused the United States to accelerate the Apollo program, and is considered to be one of the most important moments in not only Russian/Soviet Union history, but one of the most important moments in the development of science and technology, and of the Cold War. Gagarin had the respect of not only his peers and superiors, but also the respect of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. Gagarin is also quoted as having allegedly said “I don’t see any God up here” during his orbit of the Earth. Of course, that’s only speculation, but the fact that such quotes exist further cement the folk hero status of Gagarin, especially as it relates to the space programs.
Small talk commences around the table as five of my guests have arrived. Represented so far are music (Barrett), general history (Guevara), sports (Hunt), politics (Wallace), and science (Gagarin). The chef creating this breakfast (who is essentially irrelevant, but for the sake of putting names to faces, let’s say it’s Julia Child… in keeping with the 60’s theme), takes drink orders from my guests and disappears into the kitchen. An “oops” resonates from the clatter of pots and pans, and I can only assume Julia Child dropped sausage links or something on the floor.
The next personality to enter my dining room is…
One of the most prolific cinematic minds in history, Stanley Kubrick. Kubrick’s body of work and cinematic vision is unparalleled. His contributions to his craft spanned five decades, but many of his most notable films were created in the 1960’s. Spartacus (1960) was an absolute epic, rivaling today’s big-budget blockbuster films, and helped to not only catapult Kubrick’s name, but revitalized blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (see Hollywood Ten), and even got President John F. Kennedy to cross picket lines and see the film in an effort to stop Hollywood blacklisting. Spartacus would contribute to the abolishing of the Hayes Production Code. 1962’s Lolita proved to be one of the most controversial films of not only Kubrick’s career, but in the history of cinema. 1964’s Dr. Strangelove is considered one of the greatest films of all-time and not only kick started the careers of George C. Scott and Peter Sellers, but satirized the Cold War and nuclear scares, turning the story on which it was based (Peter George’s novel Red Alert) from a serious thriller to a black comedy. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) is considered by many to be Kubrick’s magnum opus, and frequently makes lists of the ten greatest films ever made. Kubrick’s attendance at the psychedelic breakfast represents the film industry, not just in his own influential work, but how the 1960’s changed the Hollywood landscape and how artistic, large productions would become the norm and avante-garde films would finally see mainstream appeal.
Stanley Kubrick takes a seat and pours himself something to drink, his eyes piercing everyone at the table. For as influential as all of these men are, there is something more about Kubrick. All eyes focus right back on him as he breaks his stares, and takes a drink. Suddenly…
Jean-Paul Sartre enters the dining room and takes a seat. Sartre is one of the most prolific thinkers of the 20th century, who’s notable works helped the development of existentialism, a very common term used during the 1960’s, and the reconciliation of existentialism with Marxism. “Existence precedes essence”. In 1964, Sartre was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, which he would refuse. Sartre always refused official honors, saying that “a writer should not allow himself to be turned into an institution.” His works would become some of the most influential in the fields sociology, critical theory, post-colonial theory, and literary studies. Sartre’s attendance at the psychedelic breakfast represents the philosophical climate of the decade, providing insight into the collective thought.
Julia Child exited the kitchen once more to inform us all that breakfast will be ready in about twenty minutes. She asked me if everyone was accounted for, to which I replied one person has yet to arrive. Just as I finished my answer…
Betty Friedan entered the dining room and took her seat. Friedan represents the literature of the 1960’s, with her book The Feminine Mystique becoming a best-seller and kicking off the second wave of feminism that took the 60’s by storm. She was an outspoken feminist and her books would continually revitalize the movement. Her books are considered the cornerstone of feminism, but their content also influenced the civil rights of other groups, such as minorities and gays. further influencing humanism. Friedan is considered to be one of the most pivotal authors of the 20th century, and while that’s something heavily debated, her influence on the 1960’s in cemented.
With everyone gathered, conversation began while the smell of breakfast meats, warmed bread, pastry, and fruit filled the room…