I had a black light in the headboard of my bed; that old double-bed, the one I'd inherited from my parents after they bought a new one, was where I spent many hours just listening to music and studying the posters under the purple glow of ultraviolet light. Memories of The Beatles' "Abbey Road" are never stronger than when I recall this time in my life.
Switch-on... flicker... hum
Undoubtedly, one of the finest harnessing of powers in my bedroom was the introduction of ultraviolet light-otherwise known as a "black light". My exposure (pun intended) to "black lights" came in 1968 and I began collecting the epic (and now famous) posters that came out. This new ultramarine glow was the innersanctum and the deepest level of hippie-dom. In the dark with a mist of blue cascading up from a narrow fluorescent tube was the guiding light. It was beyond cool how it turned most white things to a bright blue, and skin to the deepest, weirdest tan of all.
By early 1970, I began to collect black light posters as quickly as I could as a wider selection became available. Record stores began housing them in Black Light Rooms. These were notorious ambient spaces usually separated by a sheet, tie-dyed curtain, or curtains of hanging beads. Most of these stores and headshops carried them as regular items. They used to have these bins, or shelves, and the poster would be rolled up and sealed in cellophane. On the end of the roll was a tag with the bin number on it. The posters on the wall had the same corresponding bin number, so all you had to do was pick out your favorite, go to the bin, and try to find it. Yeah, right. My favorites were usually sold out, and I had to go to smaller, more out of the way stores and pay a dollar, or 50 cents extra for the best ones. It was a blessing that headshops usually carried a decent selection. I bought my best posters at headshops.
Florescent paints were awesome! The greatest invention known to mankind was contained in a series of brightly colored jars known as "Day-Glo Colors or "Fluorescent Paints". Interestingly, they also glowed in daylight if natural sun was available. It was great to just set them up on the dresser as they were illuminated whenever the old black light was on. They cost around a dollar a set, and the set came with a brush. Blue is my favorite color, and I used as much of it as possible. I had to reinforce my paint sets constantly. Pink rarely got used, but it was a great color under ultraviolet. Orange was barely discernible. I'm RGB color blind, so that would explain a lot. Yellow was a great color, as was Green. I really liked red as a glow color, but it was hard for me to work with as it seemed kind of a darker orange color.
My biggest breakthroughs came with the mixing of colors. The final outputs were not so great, but the experimentation was interesting. I soon realized that the fluorescent paints worked best with primary and secondary colors only. Purples, browns, and shades of blues and greens were places you just didn't want to go. They in fact created the finest mud you could ever hope for. Next came my disastrous attempt to create a "glo black". Lots of money was wasted on paints being wasted. In the end, my inventions led me to the question: "how do you create a neon black?" Obviously, I wasn't the brightest kid in the class. I realized that there were just some things that science needs to leave alone.
My first artistic influences of the psychedelic order were Peter Max, and most album covers. Without going into his history, Peter Max was probably the most famous poster and pop artist of all time. He was an extreme innovator and influenced an entire generation with his works. I know that I painted hundreds of "Max-ish" posters, and went through gallons of fluorescent temperas in the process. One of the leaders in that day of bottled tempera paint was Prang. They would have loved me and would probably have sent me Christmas cards every year. Soon, I was painting Max-style almost 100%. I almost lost my own true identity in the process. It wasn't until I picked up my first "foil-covered" Steppenwolf albums that I began to "Un-Max" myself, and find my true artistic identity again.
I was young, and knew nothing of posterization, Lithos, block prints, or any of the offset print tricks of the times. All I knew was that this new art form was incredible, and it not only balanced my creative self, but changed it forever. Experimentation was the new word; Try it all, do it all, live and grow. And grow I did.
My favorite albums in 1969 were:
1. The Beatles "Abbey Road"
2. Three Dog Night "Live at the Forum"
3. Three Dog Night "Suitable For Framing"
4. Steppenwolf "Steppenwolf the Second"
5. Creedence Clearwater Revival "Bayou Country"
The Psychedelic Sixties
1969 was such a tremendous year of change. Perhaps it was because the adult world was intruding on me, forcing me to leave childhood behind. Decisions were harder to make, and the things that I loved so much were presented to me in an entirely different light. For example, Matchbox Cars. I still loved them, but was getting too old to play with them. (in public anyway.) I found myself clinging desperately to a vanishing era, yet inexplicably drawn to the new decade. Some things were just too hard to say goodbye to, and some just too hard to say hello to.
The edgy 70's were moving in, and as I grew older, I gravitated further and further toward girls and music. The two seemed to go hand in hand and I was on the threshold of rediscovery of both. Music was getting better; more intricate and sophisticated. Girls were likewise more intricate and sophisticated; they'd traded braids for bras, and they became a steady focus for me. Guitars were moving from glitter to grind. Toy cars no longer held as much interest as the real thing. Fashion changed, and I found myself changing with it. In 1969, I bought my first medallion. I thought it was so cool hanging around my neck. The root of psychedelic fashion was beginning to take hold. I watched the "Mod Squad" faithfully, every Tuesday night at 8:00 on channel 2. It was from that show that I learned that guys really could wear poofy scarves on their necks complimented by a set of mirror shades. The world was wild, and full of color. Love beads were a clackin', and those big leather watch bands were moving into style.
The years 1968-1969 brought about serious changes, not only in me, but in the world around me. There was a universal theme that was quite appealing: Love, Peace, and Rock and Roll. Like myself, the music was also changing. It took some delightfully surreal turns around strawberry fields, through diamond skies, and over psychedelic bridges over not-so-troubled waters. The sweet, carefree melodies of the earlier sixties were now enhanced by "fuzz" guitar and the birth of what was known as "hard rock."
Still being an absolute Beatles fan, nothing was more sacred to me than the "White Album." This was to me, a cryptic, unusual side to the band; a place where they decided to show a more intimate, undercover view of themselves. And yes, you could play the records backwards and the secret messages would be there. "Turn me on dead man" was quite obvious on Revolution No.9. Look Magazine's famous lithos by Photographer Richard Avedon are an integral part of my 60's memories. I had these hanging on my walls among my other Beatle memorabilia. A world of color, Psychedelia, and incense canopied under the mystic blue of black lights was my new realm. Everything was fresh, seen through even fresher lenses of a youth gone wild. Again, "The white Album" plays like a silent anthem in the background. I can still hear "Back in the U.S.S.R." blasting George riffs through tinny basement speakers. (click on Beatle poster to enlarge)
Psychedelia was everywhere. It was in the fashions, the talk, the walk, the movies, the music. "Yellow Submarine" was the movie to see in 1969. I saw it on a double-bill with "The Thomas Crown Affair." George Harrison had just released "Wonderwall Music", a strange LP with a few good works on it. Iron Butterfly's "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" became the most played album in my collection.
Black Light Posters
Black light posters also became as legendary as rock groups, or albums. They had titles, and these titles live in infamy to this day. So, without further dialoguing, let's go to the black light room and relive some memories.
Click on Posters to enlarge