Steve Abrams, a key member of the London 1960s counterculture, died last week. Abrams was principally responsible for the above advert, which ran in The Times in July 24 1967 declaring that ‘The law against marijuana is immoral in principle and unworkable in practice’.
The advert was paid for by Paul McCartney and was signed by numerous celebrities, including all four Beatles, Francis Crick, Graham Greene, David Dimbleby, Jonathan Miller, Brian Walden and many others.
Abrams told Jonathon Green in ‘Days In The Life‘ that ‘After the ad came out a friend of mine got on the train and delighted at each stop in watching people opening their copy of The Times and their expressions of disbelief. So wonderful was this that when he got to Victoria he took another train back and did it again just to watch.’
It is less well known that Abrams was also involved in Timothy Leary’s experiments with psilocybin, taking the drug at Harvard for Leary in 1961. Abrams then described his experience as ‘very pleasant’, giving him ‘tremendous insight’ even if it was ‘somewhat alien’, and he was ‘very eager’ to try it again, which he most certainly did.
After the The Times advert, Abrams co-organised a pro-pot rally at Hyde Park in 1967. Everybody got very high, including guest Allen Ginsberg, who wore a virulent psychedelic shirt given to him the day before McCartney and was warned by police for disturbing the peace by playing his harmonium.
The new issue of Uncut magazine contains my feature about the International Poetry Incarnation, which took place 45 years ago this month on June 11, 1965. It begins like this:
Allen Ginsberg is drunk. Big, bald and bearded, like a Jewish bear stuffed in a suit, the beat poet stands tall in the Royal Albert Hall, London’s sacred haven of the high arts, and proclaims to 7,000 fellow thinkers:
“Fuck me up the asshole”.
In the crowd was Heathcote Williams, the future poet, playwright and artist. Williams recounts what happened next: “A man with a bowler hat, beside himself with anger, shouted out: ‘We want poetry. This is not poetry’, and Ginsberg retorted, looking up towards the gods: ‘I want you to fuck me up the asshole.’”
And it goes on in a similar manner for another 2,400 words. If you think that sounds like fun, head down to your local newsagent now.
The International Poetry Incarnation – which featured Allen Ginsberg, Adrian Mitchell, Gregory Corso and Michael Horovitz – is said to be the moment that signalled the arrival of the 1960s counterculture movement in London. However, in ‘White Heat’, his otherwise splendid history of the 1960s, Dominic Sandbrook writes dismissively: ‘Seven thousand people was indeed an enormous attendance… on the other hand, it was still considerably smaller than the typical crowd for a Second Division football match… to millions of people, the event meant absolutely nothing. What is more, it had not even been a very good reading.’
Oh, really? Watch this extraordinary clip of Adrian Mitchell from Peter Whitehead’s film of the reading, ‘Wholly Communion’, and tell me it has the same impact as Torquay vs Rochdale.