Anyone who was lucky enough to be a teenager during the ’60s can recall the iconic image of the not-yet-famous Jimi Hendrix summoning ghosts from his flaming guitar.
When people reflect on the Monterey Pop Festival of 1967, that’s mostly what they recall, too.
A Perfect Haze: The Illustrated History of the Monterey International Pop Festival, by Harvey and Kenneth Kubernik — brothers infused with the spiritual fury of rock‘n’roll — chronicles the moment in musical history that, perhaps, demanded the most attention.
The Kuberniks have been compiling information — interviews, artifacts and photographs — about the festival since 1997. Their interest in Monterey dates back to 1968, when documentary filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker released his film Monterey Pop, which Harvey Kubernik saw on a date as a teenager.
The Kuberniks’ book is a comprehensive study of the festival that helped solidify rock‘n’roll music’s impact on the consciousness and pulse of the United States and the world in the middle of the 20th century.
The book, which is much more than just a coffee table read, details the myths of our greatest rock‘n’roll shamans: Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Otis Redding, for example. And it gives remarkable attention to the culture of the audience, the offstage moments and the production of the epic event.
The Kuberniks secured never-before-seen images, such as Janis Joplin walking her dog, that uncover random moments in the lives of significant American musicians of the 20th century and highlighted how rock stars used to sit among notable festival attendees (The Rolling Stones’ Brian Jones and Warhol/Velvet Underground associate Nico in thrall with someone else’s act, for instance).
Interviews with audience members and scans of actual telegrams sent from the managers of bands, like Jefferson Airplane, narrow the scope of the festival to moments of humanity that fill in the abstract concept of the 1960s rock festival. Who knew rock‘n’roll had time and energy for telegrams?
The modern rock fan is too often led down a road of inaccessibility; they are trained by the way contemporary culture relates to famous people or made to believe talented musicians have access to a level of soul or mind that is above and beyond him or her. What the Kuberniks’ book shows is how the original spirit of rock‘n’roll served to include everyone in the bliss.
Popular music in the ’60s encouraged a communal spirit. The music’s goal was to tune everyone in to the blues of a guitar, the aesthetics of stage antics and the colors music can create in the mind. The book illustrates that the Monterey Pop Festival harnessed the opportunities that this music presented and shifted how human beings relate to albums and live shows.
The form of a concert was extended into a theater show and spiritual experience in addition to an artistic performance. It wasn’t perverted by any sort of public obsession with larger-than-life personalities, and it certainly didn’t need to beg you to feel something. There are no photos of fans screaming for autographs, nor does there seem to be any sort of security force protecting performers from audience.
The festival was about finding something new — a new way to look at life, love and art. Its power lies in the fact that it’s one of the few American events in the last hundred years that didn’t celebrate myths.
More than anything, the unique aspects of the book accurately paint rock‘n’roll phenomena as a truly involved process. There are color pictures of The Doors at the Mount Tam Festival, a precursor to Monterey and Woodstock, before “Light My Fire” brought them enormous acclaim. The Doors did not merely explode in popularity and turn into legends. These pictures show them on their steady climb.
A Perfect Haze shows, in scrapbook form, the genesis of the Summer of Love, a cultural movement that turned the tide of American identity.
Readers discover the intricate webs of this historical moment. The snapshots of moments like Jimi Hendrix shopping for flowers or Art Garfunkel watching a show have such a level of documentary realism that flipping through this book is like taking a stroll through festival grounds.
The Kuberniks’ intent in the aesthetic of this book seems to have been geared toward providing a portrait of Monterey from a primary source perspective. The oral history interviews that make up the text transcend any form of secondhand reporting. They let the festival speak for itself by being the sum of multiple first-person accounts from musicians, organizers, documenters and festival attendees alike.
And, like the moment itself, the festival sees no need to invent its own worth or beauty — it has absolutely nothing to do with myths.