Tales from the 1970s counter-culture: Drugs, sex, politics and rock and roll
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Steve Otto's Books
Memoirs of a Drugged-Up, Sex-Crazed Yippie takes the reader through the life of a 1970s counter-culture drug user. Mark Spies goes from casual pot smoking to habitual use of pharmaceutical narcotics and cocaine. Due to the changing sexual attitudes, Spies has several unconventional sexual encounters. The 1970s brought us the "Woodstock generation." There was a sense of idealism that developed at the beginning and died at the end of that decade. Many counter-culture books focus on the 1960s, yet there are plenty of events in the 1970s that deserve attention. Nixon's war in Vietnam and Cambodia dominated the news and affected America's youth. Nixon's war on drugs impacted the counter-culture life style. Then there was punk rock, disco, casual cocaine use and revolutions braking out around the world by 1979. With politics in the background, this book gives the reader a look at drug use and the difficult business of drug dealing. The drugs, sexual attitudes, music and politics made the 1970s what they were. Taken as a whole, this book will give some insight into the people and events of the 1970s counter-culture. Steve Otto is a free-lance writer, living in Maize, KS. He is the author of War on Drugs/ War on People, published by Ide House, 1995, an expose of government corruption connected with the "war on drugs." Otto has published numerous articles in magazines, journals and newspapers.
When my friends and I watched the movie “Woodstock” in 1970, we could only imagine such an event. There was nudity among the concert goers, a nude swimming hole, open air markets for drugs and many concert goers were stoned out of their minds on acid. We had all been to many concerts in Kansas, but nothing like Woodstock. I was lucky to have made the last Woodstock-type festival, which was called the Ozark Music Festival.
It was in July of 1974 when we started hearing about it on the radio:
“The Ozark Music Festival, featuring the Eagles, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Bachman Turner Overdrive, The Ozark Mountain Daredevils, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Bob Seger, America and REO Speedwagon.”
That was quite a line-up. The event was to be at the Missouri State Fairgrounds in Sedalia. It was a three-day event hosted by radio celebrity Wolfman Jack.
“We’ve got to go to this,” I told Janet as we were driving to my job one day.
“That sounds good” she replied. “I’ll bet some of my friends will go. It sounds like an actual rock festival.”
“That’s what I’m hoping. It’s a three-day event.”
The festival started on Friday, July 19. I had called in sick for the day off of work. Naturally we packed my Galaxy with a cooler, our sleeping bags, and the same green pup tent we had slept in at Marion Lake.
It was a long drive to Sedalia, at least six hours. We were just a little west of Kansas City, when we got off the Kansas Turnpike for a bathroom break. We both went into a service station to use their bathrooms, which had the usual stench of urine. When we came out, we both grabbed some Cokes. We sat down on a wooden bench just outside the station’s glass door and walls. A woman who was about my mother’s age with dark hair, glasses and wearing a dress, walked out the service station door and asked us where we were headed.
“We’re going to a rock festival in Sedalia,” Janet said.
“I admire you kids today,” she said. “You can do so many things we were afraid to do when I was young.”
I’m not sure exactly what kind of things she was talking about, but in general, I realized we were the generation that learned to live free of all the restraints of the last generation. We probably didn’t think much of it at the time, but the older generation was bound by restrictions that were hard for us to imagine. It was natural a few of them would realize what they had missed.
As with Woodstock, this was an enormous event with people pouring in from across the country. The traffic was miserable. There was a huge line of cars waiting to get to the fairground’s gate. It took us an hour to get in. Once we got in it was worth the wait. The festival was like a free-for-all. There were people holding up signs, mostly cardboard or poster board with magic maker lettering, for just about any drug we wanted:
“Acid, Speed, Downers, Mescaline, Cocaine,” the different signs people held up said.
Almost every type of psychedelic drug and any type of pot we could want was for sale.
“There’s some opium,” said Janet. “We got to stop. I definitely want some of that.”
We stopped the car. The tall young guy with black shoulder length hair had a brown, fold-up card table full of little round foil wrapped balls. Janet walked up and opened one of them. She smelled it and examined it carefully.
“It’s $10,” the guy said.
“I’ll take it,” said Janet.
As we drove down the roadway along the fence we headed for the campgrounds, which were set up all around the edges of the fair grounds. There were extra green port- potties set up. There were tents and cars everywhere. A huge stage was set up at one end of the fairground. The amusement rides were open and running. There were food vendors operating just as if it were an actual state fair.
As we searched for a camping spot, we ran into Mari and Rhonda. We stopped the car as we passed in front of their tent.
“Why don’t you guys set up here with us?” Mari said.
We agreed. We parked the car and began to pitch our tent. We had some Pabst beer in the cooler. Once we got settled in we decided to walk to the stage. As we walked there was a sea of people. The overwhelming majority of them were under 30. It looked like a freak festival with many longhaired guys and lots of tie-dyed T-shirts. It was hot and many of the guys had no shirts on.
As we ventured down the path to the stage, holding beers in our hands, I noticed a woman in her thirties, with cropped dark hair and glasses. As she passed me I noticed she wore a long dark colored dress and had bare saggy boobs. I suddenly realized that there was actual nudity at this event, just like I saw in the Woodstock movie.
We also passed by some guys barbecuing naked. Janet joked:
“Get some clothes on Ethel,” using the line out of the Ray Stevens’ song “The Streak.”
When we got to the stage it was standing room only. The bands had begun to play. I remember seeing Bachman Turner Overdrive playing but I don’t remember which day it was. There was a lot going on. People were getting stoned. I noticed another brunette woman, about my age and my height, who had untied her pink halter-top and pulled it down over her jean shorts to bear her top. She had long flowing hair and her boobs were average size.
“I don’t see anyone selling heroin,” Janet said as she looked at the drug stands. “I don’t see any real narcotics. I could settle for morphine or Dilaudid. Keep your eye out for Dilaudid. It’s a synthetic form of heroin. It’s really good.”
That was the first time I had heard of Dilaudid. I later found out it’s also called hydromorphone, a synthetic narcotic that junkies refer to as “drugstore heroin.” Janet seemed obsessed with finding narcotics. I just wanted to have some fun. There were plenty of joints being passed around and we had plenty of liquor.
As the bands wound down for the night, we headed back to our campsite. We walked past the food vendors to get some dinner. There was plenty to choose from even though it was a little expensive. We bought some beef stew from a vend0r and ate it at one of the many white wooden picnic tables that were set up in the area.
As we walked back to our tent, I noticed a group of people camped just down from us who were smoking a joint and passing it around. There was a tall longhaired guy with a green tie-dyed T-shirt holding a bag of dope. With him were a tall slender blond guy with a yellow tie-dyed shirt and a girl with long dark hair flowing down her back, who wore a long red dress down to her feet, with no top on. She had large breasts shaped like basketballs, with small, thick, dark nipples.
“At other rock festivals I’ve been to people shared their drugs,” Janet said. “Everyone here seems to be off to themselves. There’s not much sharing. It used to be... ‘Hey come in this tent and do some MDA’ or ‘let’s do some acid in here.”
I had to think to myself, was it really like that? Or was Janet remembering things better than they really were. She had been to other festivals and this was my first one.
When we got to the campsite, Mari and Rhonda weren’t there.
“I’m drunk enough I can take my shirt off now,” Janet said. “If a guy can take his shirt off I don’t see why a woman can’t. It’s stupid for a guy to act like a monkey just because a woman takes off her shirt. People need to just get used to it.”
She lifted up her white T-shirt and took it off. She walked around to the campsite, most of the night with her boobs boldly and proudly displayed for all to see.
“We might as well smoke some of that opium,” Janet said.
She picked up a beer can and flattened the side of it, then poked holes in it. I had seen other people make emergency hash pipes that way before. She put a little piece of the black opium on over the holes.
“At least we can share,” Janet said.
She called over to a couple in the next tent:
“Do you guys want to smoke some opium,” She asked.
The guy, who was tall and had long dark hair, and his girlfriend, a short skinny blond girl, came over and joined us.
“I’m Rob,” they guy said.
“I’m Jill,” the girl added.
Of the four of us, Jill was the only one wearing a top.
High Across The Prairie
Steve Otto's latest novel takes an honest look at 1970's Kansas.
Memoirs Of A Drugged-up, Sex-crazed Yippie ---Tales from the 70's Counterculture: Drugs, Sex, Politics and Rock and Roll.
By Steve Otto
Reviewed by Tim Pouncey
Kansas in the late 1970's was so different from today; the Sunflower State might as well have been located in Holland.
Remember what it was like to share drugs with close friends and complete strangers? Remember when casual sex was so casual you didn't even know your partners name? Remember when the political climate of Kansas came down squarely on the side of tolerance? Remember when your personal philosophy of life was defined by rock lyrics and not a mission statement?
Well, Steve Otto does. In his latest semi-fictional novel, Memoirs Of A Drugged-Up, Sex Crazed Yippie (Authorhouse Press/2005), Otto excavates 1970's counterculture like an archeologist loving dusting off a Mastodon tusk. In a brisk 349 pages, Otto gives us a lucid look at a Kansas few people remember --- or can't remember due to a plentiful supply of "controlled substances" that were constantly and cheaply available. Characters romp through Wichita, Lawrence and even Sedalia Missouri when a cheap thrill was worth what you paid for it and pleasure was just the flipside of danger.
But to dismiss this book as just another nostalgic stoner reminiscing about the last days of the counter-culture would be a major mistake. Although there is a certain "back-in-the-day" wistfulness about the time before political correctness was a mantra, Otto tempers his dreamy history lesson with brutal honesty.
The narrator of the story --- a composite of just about every old druggie you ever met --- may graphically describe the bliss of mainlining MDA, he also reminds us that brief moment of pleasure most often occurred in a squalid apartment at broken kitchen table next to sink full of dirty dishes.
Like all good storytellers, Otto takes the reader places they've never been before. Like William Burroughs and Charles Bukowsky, Otto sometimes takes you to places you've never really wanted to visit. Yet, Otto makes it worth the trip by including generous portions of political discourse, Cyrenaic philosophy, post-adolescent lust and near-suicidal thrill seeking to keep the narrative moving along like a junkie careening through a police roadblock.
Otto's work is always provocative and this book will undoubtedly draw the wrath of both solid conservatives and neo-feminists. Otto's characters never mask their contempt for the right-wing agenda and Otto's narrator never hides his obsession with female anatomy. However, criticizing Memoirs because it baits conservatives and objectifies women is missing the point. Filtering 1970's Kansas counterculture through the sensibilities of a naive middle-class, catholic school educated, twenty-something is no easy trick but Otto mostly pulls it off. He has a good ear for times-past and tries --- often successfully --- to make his prose read like it would have been written by someone experiencing these situations 30 years ago. Trying to be simultaneously innovative, entertaining and honest is a juggling act on a unicycle, but Otto is generally at his best when everything's up-in-the-air and he's peddling frantically. When the narrator's budding Marxist politics and his discussions with Iranian nationalists clash with his dawning awareness that Kansas politics has taken a sharp turn to the right, Otto makes it work.
Is Otto's look into the rear-view mirror a true reflection on the 70's, or do the objects simply appear bigger than they were? Ultimately, it doesn't matter. Memoirs resonates with characters buckling under the weight of the America Dream with redemption harder to find than next snort of Cocaine.
Memoirs of a Drugged-Up, Sex-Crazed Yippie
Book review by John J. Mesh,
First of all as a small-town, semi-poor journalist, I have no shame. If there's free stuff -- food, beer, books, CDs, etc. -- I'm there without batting an eyelash. I have few ethics in this regard.
I am also a big suck-up.So when my friend Steve Otto sent me a copy of his book for free -- which I will refer to by its first name Memoirs -- in the mail, I was euphoric.Then I started to read the book and realized what a deprived, sheltered upbringing I had.So my review -- like Steve's book -- should have a sub-title:
"I was born a poor, deprived, sheltered, small town, middle-class Catholic white boy."I had a sister who ran away from home when she was 15 to become a hippie -- she's now the yuppiest of yuppies who owns two homes. But that's the closest this sheltered child of Hutchinson, Kansas got to the counterculture other than listening to his sister's Beatles records.However, I am trying to make up for lost time and I am living vicariously in the 60s and 70s, and this book is helping me do that.What's bizarre is Steve Otto is one of my best friends and I knew nothing of this life in the 1970s and early 1980s which is the backbone of the book, which is a realistic but fictional account of Steve through the experiences of Mark Spies -- his alter-ego.
The book details the fact that -- much to the surprise of many -- there was a thriving counterculture in the late 60s to mid 70s in Kansas.Mark Spies was there.
Spies started as a casual pot smoker as a 14-year-old high school student to being a habitual user of pharmaceutical narcotics and cocaine. He also becomes a dealer.The book also goes into full-blown detail on all the things associated with drug use such as the "rigs" used and violent confrontations and guns.
Sex also plays a big part in Memoirs -- Mark gets laid a lot. The sex and the drugs are interwoven throughout Mark's experiences.Then we have the rock and roll part. Mark goes from grooving on the best music of the 60's and early 70's -- John Lennon and Frank Zappa among others are a big part of the soundtrack of Mark's life -- and hooks on to the punk music scene in the late 70's -- bands like the Sex Pistols and Blondie and icons like Patti Smith.
Disco music in the late 70's and the drug use associated with it -- namely cocaine -- is also examined.Politics is also front and center in Memoirs -- from Nixon, Cambodia and Vietnam to various revolutions that occurred in 1979.
The best thing about Memoirs is that it takes me to places I never really got to experience -- that's what happens when like me, you are born in a vacuum 10 years too late and you miss all the good stuff.Steve Ottos is a free-lance writer living in Maize, Kansas. He is the author of War on Drugs/War on People, published by Ide House in 1995. He has also owned and worked for several newspapers and written numerous articles in magazines, journals and newspapers.
He currently runs a political blog:http://ottoswarroom.blogspot.com.
Memoirs costs $18.95 can be found at these sites:
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