Talkin’ Crunchy Granola Far-Right Lefty Blues

Andy Horwitz
32 min readApr 25, 2023
Was January 6 the MAGA Movement’s Woodstock?

Prelude: An Uneasy Feeling on the Day of Atonement

During Yom Kippur services this year at my progressive synagogue in Los Angeles, the rabbi invited to the pulpit Eric Garcetti, the Jewish mayor of Los Angeles, to lead everyone in a sing-along of Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin’”. Garcetti might be one of the most powerful people in the city, but he’s just an average singer, which made the whole thing feel home-y and familiar.

At first, the song choice made sense in this famously lefty Jewish community where so many congregants identify as old hippies. As a member of Generation X I have deep qualms about hippies and 1960s nostalgia. But I started singing along, albeit with a self-conscious, gently self-mocking chuckle, as if to affirm this is our song, this is who we are, this is what we stand for. I’ve been a Bob Dylan fan since I was 12 and I knew the words like I know my own heartbeat, but as Mayor Garcetti moved through the verses, I started to feel uncomfortable. Something was off:

Come senators, congressmen, please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway, don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt will be he who has stalled
The battle outside ragin’

All at once these words caught in my throat, suddenly calling to mind images of January 6, 2021. It was like watching a slow-motion car crash as these familiar lyrics took on a whole new meaning. The times they are indeed changing — but not in the ways that the 60’s counter culture imagined.

The rabbi went on to give an inspiring sermon about the national epidemic of book bans, censorship, and the incipient decline of our country into fascism — learn from history, see the signs. When services concluded we left the room reassured that the situation, though dire, was manageable. We’ll be okay. But will we be? Somehow everyone seemed to be missing the point.

Something about that moment disturbed me. How is that the lyrics to “The Times They Are A-Changin’”, an iconic 60’s Civil Rights anthem, resonate so closely with the rhetoric of today’s Radical Right? What is the relationship between the 1960’s and now? And what does Bob Dylan have to do with it? It was only a half-formed thought at best, but it stuck with me, and I haven’t been able to shake it loose.

Part I: Seduced by the 60's

The author, circa 1987

I was first seduced by the 1960's in 1980. I was in 6th grade when I found the original Broadway cast recording of the musical Hair among my parents’ LPs and fell hard for that record, for that imaginary tribe of youthful misfits and outsiders — the lovelorn pregnant teen, the gay kid, the Black kids — building a chosen family out beyond the bounds of square, oppressive, bourgeois society.

I was a smart, sensitive, Nice Jewish Boy growing up in a comfortable suburb of Baltimore — but those Hippies in Central Park? That was where I wanted to be, that’s who I wanted to be with. I would put the record on and sing along in my room, imagining myself as Berger (or Bukowski, I was never quite sure who was who), bravely standing up against the Establishment, on the edge of Death, poetically singing truth to power with the full, unalloyed conviction of youth.

Anti-war protests, fighting for civil rights, resisting the Draft, Woodstock, LSD, hippies, peace, love, Flower Power, freedom … From what I could piece together, the 1960’s had been the most exciting era in modern history and I had just missed it.

I read all the books — Siddhartha, On the Road, Trout Fishing in America and The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test but the most visceral way I could connect with the 60’s was through music. I listened to everything I could get my hands on, spending hours in my room listening to records.

But more than anyone it was Bob Dylan that really spoke to me. Former Nice Jewish Boy turned Visionary Bard and Voice of a Generation, he had transformed himself, and the musical landscape of the country, through talent, imagination and sheer will. I listened to his albums nonstop, teaching myself guitar by learning his songs, singing along, delighted by his lyrical wordplay, alternately playful and profound, heartfelt and cruel. He was the coolest.

And then, when I was 14, I started going to Grateful Dead concerts. Like many boys my age, we inherited bootleg Grateful Dead concert tapes from somebody’s older brother, along with hand-me-down tie-dyes, frisbees and bongs. I imagined that the parking lot scene at a Grateful Dead show was about as close I would ever get to actually being there in the 1960’s.

In the summer of 1987 I went to see Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead at Anaheim Stadium. I was spending the summer in Pasadena, CA, I was 18, away from home for the first time, and eager for adventures. I loved Dylan and I loved the Dead. I had seen a bunch of Dead shows on the East Coast but never in California. I had never seen Dylan at all. I was psyched.

Nothing felt more like coming home than wandering through that traveling band of freaky hippie gypsies hawking crystals, burritos and t-shirts, high on acid; raggedy kids strolling by holding up one finger and saying, “Need a Miracle;” those guys muttering “doses, doses” while always seeming to look the other way; walking past that guy in a tie-dye t-shirt reading “We Are Everywhere” and nodding conspiratorially back at him: yes, we are. City after city, parking lot after parking lot, no matter where you go, there you are. I had found my people.

It would be years before I realized that I had been deluded by nostalgic Baby Boomers in midlife crisis and at peak earning capacity. Not that the story I was being told about the 1960’s when I was a teenager in the 1980’s was wrong, per se –- just that it was really only part of the story, a very narrow part of the story. And by the time I figured that out, it was too late.

Part II: That Place Where Truth Once Was

Bob Dylan, “Blonde on Blonde”

The Times They Are A-Changin’” was released in 1964 as the title track of Dylan’s album of the same name. He later said, “This was definitely a song with a purpose… I wanted to write a big song, with short concise verses that piled up on each other in a hypnotic way.”

This was Dylan’s political folky phase, the first of many iterations and incarnations he would take over the course of his still-ongoing career. And while that political folky phase was my entry point to Dylan’s work, the era that truly gripped me, that I return to again and again, is the work from that two-year period after he “went electric” in 1965 and went on to produce a handful of brilliant albums with what he would later call a “thin, wild mercury sound.”

From Bringing it all Back Home through Blonde on Blonde, Dylan wrote and recorded some of the most visionary, imaginative, transporting, evocative and astonishing songs in the history of popular music. Audiences and critics alike look at that period with awe; it’s the kind of creative output that comes from ecstatic possession, where the artist might wake up from it, look back and go, “What happened? Where did that come from?”

Dylan has cited countless sources and influences, and he has made no secret of his reverence for the French Symbolist poet Arthur Rimbaud. Rimbaud advocated for a “derangement of the senses”, that a poet must alter their consciousness to achieve a deeper, truer understanding of themselves and the world. Rimbaud put visionary ecstatic experience at the center of his artistic practice. The poetry itself attempts to convey the artist’s visionary experience, and by resisting “realistic” representation, it points to a “truer” perception of the world, points to a world that exists beyond what we can perceive, experience and understand in pedestrian life. At least, that is the aspiration. And that is what Dylan seems to have been going for between 1965–1966.

My favorite song from this period is “Visions of Johanna” from Blonde on Blonde:

Ain’t it just like the night to play tricks when you’re tryin’ to be so quiet?

Ain’t it though?

We sit here stranded, though we’re all doin’ our best to deny it
And Louise holds a handful of rain, temptin’ you to defy it
Lights flicker from the opposite loft
In this room the heat pipes just cough
The country music station plays soft
But there’s nothing, really nothing to turn off

There’s this thing that happens with Dylan’s lyrics, particularly from this “thin, wild mercury sound” period: they feel profound, deep and moving, arouse your imagination as if lucid dreaming, but they never quite resolve into actual meaning — it is all inchoate, atmospheric. It is a startling artistic accomplishment and it is also an intimation that words need not be attached to specific definitions or meanings, that there is a truth that you can experience but not articulate, that words can at best point to that place where truth once was.

Part III: At Home in the Temporary Autonomous Zone

The author pictured in Spin Magazine, March 1995

In August of 1990 I moved to Seattle, then the epicenter of alternative youth culture. What San Francisco was to the 1960s, Seattle was to the ’90s. And like 1960’s San Francisco, the early 90’s in Seattle are easily reduced to stereotype, but it was so much more than what has been handed down.

In the early 90’s, Gen X’s dour — and justified — skepticism was was mostly dismissed or derided by the mainstream media. It was out of step with the sunny optimism Boomers projected as Bill Clinton and Al Gore ascended to the White House to the sound of Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop”. The Cold War had been won and also free markets and capitalism! Yay! The 1960’s had won! Why do you kids have to be such downers?

But despite the pejorative “slacker” narrative driven by the Boomers, the early 90’s was a heady, exciting, expansive time; Seattle was a space of seemingly endless possibilities and I said “yes” to pretty much every opportunity that presented itself, whether it was sex, drugs, music, art, technology or politics.

I fancied myself a poet in the lineage of Ginsberg and Rimbaud; I was intoxicated by an idea of poetry that points to a way of being.

Poetry implies — can imply — an ecstatic encounter with the world that shatters the cataract of familiarity. I know now, in retrospect, that this is only one of many possible functions and experiences of poetry, of art; that the project of art, in and of itself, can have as many effects, intents and outcomes as there are artists and individuals to experience the art.

I understand that this is not necessarily a sophisticated position to take, that art — poetry in particular — is an ecstatic technology and that ecstasy is, in and of itself, valuable. But for me, at that time, ecstasy seemed to be the only path worth taking.

T.A.Z. by Hakim Bey

In January ’91 while protesting the first Gulf War at Seattle’s Federal Building, I met some anarchists, one of whom was a bartender at The Comet Tavern, who later turned me on to Hakim Bey’s iconic collection of essays on anarchism, TAZ: The Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism.

A temporary autonomous zone is exactly what it sounds like — a space where for a short amount of time, a community of individuals arises, by design, to live freely and autonomously through self-determination, outside the scope of government and law. An anarchist utopia.

This idea of the TAZ was widespread in the alternative and counterculture worlds of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s and informed countless artists, events and spaces. Burning Man, for instance, was initially conceived of as a Temporary Autonomous Zone.

The Internet too. We can see traces of the TAZ in the words of Electronic Frontier Foundation co-founder John Perry Barlow’s “Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace” from 1996:

Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather.

We have no elected government, nor are we likely to have one, so I address you with no greater authority than that with which liberty itself always speaks. I declare the global social space we are building to be naturally independent of the tyrannies you seek to impose on us. [Emphasis mine] You have no moral right to rule us nor do you possess any methods of enforcement we have true reason to fear.

Hakim Bey was the pen name for the anarchist writer Peter Lamborn Wilson, a veteran of the 1960’s counterculture who rose to prominence in the 1980’s and 1990’s through his prolific ‘zine output. Influenced by his experiences at experimental communities like Timothy Leary’s Millbrook and Sufi mysticism, Wilson connects the artist’s ecstatic derangement of the senses in pursuit of truth with revolutionary political action. He builds a bridge between individual ecstatic vision and using artistic interventions to create similar ecstatic ruptures in society.

That book, and those experiences, profoundly influenced my world view and my work in the arts over the past three decades. While many of my peers went into mainstream performing arts or music or television and film, I found myself drawn to alternative, “liminal” spaces: queer, multicultural, experimental, radical. And I was not alone — Curator Hans Ulrich Obrist said that TAZ “changed the way [he] approached exhibitions” in the 90’s, treating them as “temporary autonomous zones in which we would basically invite collectives and artists to curate shows within the show.”

While working on this essay, I dug up my copy of TAZ; it had been decades since I had actually read the text. In 2023, I was unnerved to encounter passages like this:

“Participants in insurrection invariably note its festive aspects, even in the midst of armed struggle, danger, and risk. The uprising is like a saturnalia which has slipped loose (or been forced to vanish) from its intercalary interval and is now at liberty to pop up anywhere or when.”

As with hearing Dylan’s “The Times They Are a-Changing” in synagogue on Yom Kippur, I was struck by the resonance of this Radical Leftist text with the January 6 insurrection and the darkly gleeful rhetoric of chaos and disruption coming from all corners of the contemporary Radical Right, like Steve Bannon proclaiming, on January 5, “All hell is going to break loose tomorrow. It’s gonna be moving. It’s gonna be quick. And all I can say is, strap in […] You have made this happen and tomorrow it’s game day.” He made it sound like it was going to be a lot of fun.

Part IV: Something Is Happening Here But You Don’t Know What It Is

“Smash Cultural Marxism” T-Shirt

The first time I started to really worry about the rise of Anti-Semitism and authoritarianism in this country was the summer of 2018. I was walking around my friendly, suburban neighborhood of Culver City and saw a guy who looked like a hipster dad mowing his lawn wearing a “Smash Cultural Marxism” t-shirt. It was a cool-looking t-shirt but I had no idea what it meant, so I googled it when I got home.

There wasn’t a lot out there at the time, but I learned that Cultural Marxism is, basically, a far-right anti-Semitic conspiracy theory wherein the Jews are trying to destroy Western Christian civilization by allying with other minorities to promote multiculturalism, identity politics and other progressive ideologies.

The notion of Cultural Marxism derives from a deliberate oversimplification of the field of Critical Theory — the umbrella term for a wide range of ideas produced by Marxist intellectuals at, or associated with, the Institute for Social Research at Goethe University Frankfurt (thus, the Frankfurt School) in the 1920’s and 30’s. Many of these intellectuals were Jewish and fled the Nazis, bringing their philosophies to American universities. Over time their ideas moved from the margins into the mainstream of academia and figures like Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin and Herbert Marcuse have become familiar to college students of all stripes.

Critical Theory is, by definition, critical — of capitalism, to be sure — and of most aspects of modernity. It was first developed against the backdrop of the rise of the Nazis; the Frankfurt School thinkers were keenly aware of the dangers of authoritarianism.

Like the recent “culture wars” over Critical Race Theory (CRT), the anti-Semitic trope of Cultural Marxism takes this relatively obscure, and diverse, set of critical philosophies and collapses them it into a vast, interconnected, intentional conspiracy theory with Jews as nefarious puppet masters intent on taking over the world.

In researching this essay, I’ve noticed that there’s been an increase in writing about Cultural Marxism from “mainstream” right wing outlets, like the Colson Center for Christian Worldview’s journal Breakpoint. By intentionally conflating the diverse and complex ideological terrain of Critical Theory with the simplistic misnomer Cultural Marxism, these outlets legitimize the idea that Cultural Marxism exists as a coherent worldview, reinforcing the conspiracy theory even as they take pains to disavow it.

Even more recently we’ve seen voices on the Right actively co-opting the language and ideas of the Frankfurt School’s ideological predecessor Gramsci with Ron DeSantis and Christopher Rufo’s plan to take over and remake New College of Florida. While the Radical Right builds an ideological foundation for a Christian Nationalist takeover of the university and, eventually, the country, memes like CRT and Cultural Marxism are useful shorthand to incite and activate the foot soldiers on the ground.

In 2018, when I first learned what the t-shirt was referring to, I assumed that the guy was wearing it as an act of hostility like wearing a swastika, and that maybe the meme’s obscurity made him feel comfortable about wearing the t-shirt in public. But upon reflection, it seems more likely that the t-shirt wasn’t meant as a provocation at all but as a sign to people who already knew, who were already clued into the conspiracy, who already were familiar with the meme.

And then I thought back to the refrain of Dylan’s “Ballad of a Thin Man”:

Something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones?

In Dylan’s formulation — and by extension the entire cultural class that reveres Dylan, the class of people who go to elite universities and read Critical Theory — Mr. Jones from “Ballad of a Thin Man” is the square who doesn’t understand what the hipsters are doing.

In 2023, in the eyes of the conspiracy theorists, white nationalists, MAGA Republican Trumpist, and QAnon believers, everyone else is Mr. Jones. Straight, White, Christian “patriots” — once the ultimate squares — are finally cool, part of an inside joke that the sheeple just don’t understand. “Smash Cultural Marxism” — get it?

Part V: The New “Old, Weird America”

Bob Dylan and The Band, “The Basement Tapes”

Dylan’s “thin, wild mercury sound” era concluded in 1966 with a motorcycle accident, after which he retreated to Woodstock with his wife and kids. There, in 1967, he and his backing band, later known as The Band, recorded The Basement Tapes. The frantic, antic, giddy, urban thrill ride of his first electric period gave way to a countrified sound describing people and scenes in a place both mythic and real, a place that music critic Greil Marcus famously called “the Old, Weird America.

Dylan’s early, explicitly political, folk music like “The Times They Are a-Changing,” engaged directly with current events, calling out newsworthy villains like William Zantzinger, George Lincoln Rockwell and the John Birch Society. But politics isn’t fun, and it can be the death knell for artistic freedom. Dylan ditched it all for the “thin, wild mercury sound” era — a rejection of topicality all together and embrace of art-for-art’s sake. And while his lyrics from that period undoubtedly refer to real people, places and events, they are deliberately obscure and open to interpretation. Dylan set a precedent for euphony and inscrutability as the defining features of lyrical craftsmanship in mid-to-late 20th century popular song.

And then, with the Basement Tapes, Dylan returns to the world of folk music, only softer, tidier. The Basement Tapes’ playful, nostalgic Old, Weird America elides the darker, more violent impulses of American society — there are fat ladies and circus freaks, but no KKK or Nazis — rendering in sepia the hardscrabble world of Freak Shows and Tent Revivals, placing the “Old, Weird America” squarely in the rearview mirror.

You can see this conceptual move on the cover of the double album of The Basement Tapes that was released in 1975. The gatefold photograph features the musicians on one half wearing a mish-mash of what looks like hipster-y old-time-y garb and thrift-store finds. On the other half are, presumably, characters from the songs: a ballerina and a strong man, a fire-eating magician and a belly dancer, a sad clown, a midget newsie, a pirate, a hot nun and a fat lady in a t-shirt that reads “Mrs. Henry.” Life is a carnival in Old, Weird America and we’re just passing through.

Beyond the music itself, Dylan’s aesthetic turn marks a wider cultural turn with significant social and political ramifications. Over the next few decades, Dylan’s romantic, nostalgic, playful and essentially harmless Old, Weird America sound gave rise to entire genres and innumerable artistic descendants all drawing from the well of traditional American music. And the indie kids listening to alt-country on college radio grew into wealthy, progressive, aging hipsters listening to podcasts just as their Boomer parents before them grew old in the thrall of Garrison Keillor and NPR.

But the racist, xenophobic and violent parts of Old, Weird America never went away, they were never relegated to the rearview mirror, they just changed shape and appearance.

Part VI: Nazi Bikers at Santa Claus Beach

Hells Angels at Altamont Music Festival (1969)

The second time I really started to worry about the rise of antisemitism, authoritarianism and hate in the U.S. was the summer of 2020 when my family took advantage of a lull in the quarantine restrictions to go to Santa Claus Beach near Carpinteria, CA — incidentally, just an hour north of Bob Dylan’s Malibu compound.

Walking back from the beach to the car, we passed a café where I saw, sitting at a table among a sea of wholesome-looking families, three Hell’s Angels, Ventura Chapter, in full regalia: biker jackets flying colors with chapter insignias and chains, rough-looking jeans, engineer boots, smudgy prison tattoos and dangerous-looking facial hair.

One of the Hell’s Angels was proudly sporting a black mesh-back baseball cap with the words “White Resistance” printed on it in that Gothic font associated with German Identity — Nazis. Hell’s Angels Nazis eating lunch on Santa Claus Lane. It was surreal. Biker Nazis at the Beach sounds like a madcap mid-1960’s Russ Meyer film; now it’s the New Normal. But is it really that new?

The cover art for the 1975 release of The Basement Tapes was not sui generis, but of its time. The cover art for The Doors’ second album, 1967’s Strange Days, also features a little person and a strong man, those icons of the long-ago circus freak show of Old, Weird America that captured the giddy, drugged hippie imagination. From the R. Crumb comics on the cover of Janis Joplin and Big Brother & the Holding Company’s Cheap Thrills album to The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, from the mid-60’s to the mid-70’s and beyond, popular culture was rife with imagery celebrating the world as a decoupage rogues gallery of outlaws, celebrities and human oddities in black and white and living color as if to ask: who’s the freak, really?

The Doors, “Strange Days”

By 2020, the benign psychedelic caricatures of old weird America from the 1960s — the Hell’s Angels, Nazis and aggrieved Rednecks that once populated rock music and decorated album cover art — had escaped their frames and come howling back to life. It is not that they ever left (Altamont, Charles Manson), but that we imagined that they were somehow an aberration, less significant, less ubiquitous; that they weren’t everywhere, hiding in plain sight.

Part VII: Moving Books

The author in the Moving Books warehouse, Seattle, circa 1991

When I arrived in Seattle in 1990, I got a job at an “alternative” book distributor whose warehouse was in an industrial neighborhood called Georgetown, just around the corner from Jules Maes Saloon, Seattle’s oldest bar. The company was called Moving Books, which was also the job description. We would walk around the dusty, towering stacks of books in clockwise circles, pulling orders and leaving them at the packing station to be boxed up and shipped off to bookstores across the country.

Moving Books was a wholesaler, home to a unique inventory of titles, knick-knacks and paraphernalia serving the needs of multiple variant strands of alternative America. New Age books sat alongside self-help, self-realization and recovery, next to anarchist literature, deep ecology and kinky sex manuals. Countercultural classics like Be Here Now and The Anarchist Cookbook sat next to The Celestine Prophecy, Mutant Message Down Under and the teachings of Ramtha, an ancient entity channeled by a woman named JZ Knight from Yelm, Washington. Autobiography of a Yogi (Steve Jobs’ favorite book) was a perennial favorite; Marianne Williamson’s A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of a Course in Miracles complemented books by Louise Hay and Robert Bly’s Iron John. Shakti Gawain’s Creative Visualization sat alongside the Satanic writings of Alastair Crowley and Re/Search guides to Urban Primitivism; Leopold Von Sacher-Masoch’s Venus in Furs next to Our Bodies Our Selves, Women Who Run with the Wolves and Chicken Soup for the Soul.

Smudge wands, dream catchers, Tarot decks, scented candles and healing crystals; butt plugs and Buddhas and VHS instructional videos for prostate massage and Annie Sprinkle goddess worship videotapes were jumbled together with angel pins and affirmation cards. From crystal magick to survivalism, Old, Weird America was alive and well and embodied by the inventory contained within the dusty walls of the Moving Books Warehouse.

In the 90’s all this stuff was deemed marginalia, yet there was a huge market for it. And it was the first time that I got an inkling that ideology is not clearly defined, that there is a place where the elements of the far right and the far left converge, a “woowoo” place where things get fuzzy and overlap in surprising ways.

Bookstore owners from the area, and sometimes from other parts of the country, would visit the warehouse to peruse the stacks looking for new merchandise. It was not unusual to see women with frosted-blonde hair and angel pins on their bedazzled sweatshirts browsing the aisles with their Promise Keeper husbands alongside New Age hippies and tattooed and pierced Urban Primitive Wiccans, clouds of cloying perfume commingling with patchouli and musk. Imagine a frosted-blonde Karen in a MAGA hat standing next to the Q-Anon Shaman discussing angels, aliens and Jewish space lasers.

Eventually, Moving Books succumbed to Amazon and as the dystopian Internet ate reality, the weirdness moved into a new, more confounding space, the Internet. Here Conspiracy Theorists, Evangelical Christians, White Nationalists and Fascists calling themselves Patriots started hooking up with spiritualists, quacks, hucksters and New Agers; Angels and shamans and talk show hosts hawking ivermectin, colloidal silver, and assault rifles … and in that place a new religion was born: Q-Anon.

Thank you, Internet.

Part VIII: Scenes from the Counter Culture™ Lifestyle Trade Show

Dead & Co Tour 2021

In October 2021 I went to see Dead & Co at the Hollywood Bowl. If, in 1987, I’d been seeking to experience the 60’s, now, I guess, I was trying to re-experience my teenage and college years. Or at least tap back into that energy, the sense of belonging, that inarticulable feeling of connection, possibility and boundless horizons that I used to feel at Grateful Dead concerts. I wanted the warm feeling of coming home.

As I wandered through the parking lot scene — now formally structured with orderly vendor booths hawking mass produced tie-dyes, New Age stuff, drug paraphernalia and corporate Dead merch — I started to reflect on what held this whole thing together, besides capitalism.

It isn’t a single ideology or worldview, it isn’t even the shared experience of hallucinogens: it is some vague idea of the 1960’s, a loose, generalized collection of unspecific values — peace, love, be kind, love Mother Earth, harmony, balance, acceptance. It is not dogmatic or sectarian, it is just kind of a vibe, a tendency, an unspoken agreement and assumption of shared values.

High as a kite and feeling overwhelmed by Dead & Co.’s Counter Culture™ Lifestyle Trade Show, I asked my friend Peter what the area of overlap might be if we mapped Deadheads and QAnon believers on a Venn Diagram. He laughed. I wasn’t sure if I was joking or not.

In 1967, when Bob Dylan was recording The Basement Tapes, Time Magazine reported that there were about 300,000 self-identified hippies in the United States.

By the time I saw Dylan and the Dead in Anaheim twenty years later, the moniker “hippie” stood in for “devotee of 60’s counterculture,” collapsing the music and ethos of the hippie movement, the New Left, and a host of other activist causes into a kind of nonspecific, casually anti-Establishment catchall identity.

By 2021, “hippie” had become a lifestyle brand associated with once-fringe ideas like yoga, vegetarianism, environmentalism and a smattering of vaguely progressive political inclinations.

That’s the viral nature of human culture, to drift from the margins to the center, to replicate throughout the population, morphing as it goes to inhabit the maximum number of hosts.

A few months after the Dead & Co. show, I started reading about the ReAwaken America Tour, the far-right, Christian Nationalist roadshow launched by former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn and Oklahoma businessman Clay Clark. With speakers that include “New Age healers, conspiracy podcasters, and self-declared prophets as well as trusted members of Trump’s inner circle,” the ReAwaken America Tour serves as a kind of petri dish for Far Right ideology.

As Laura Jedeed wrote in New York Magazine, “The conspiracy formerly known as QAnon has proved wildly elastic, able to absorb the far right’s many conspiracy theories into one overarching whole.”

It sounds wacky, but it clearly hits a chord, and people seem to be following the tour around the way I once followed the Dead. One ReAwaken America-head was quoted as saying, “When you come to these places. You feel at home. You really do feel like you’re in and amongst good people and that’s a big difference.”

According to an L.A. Times article from November 2022 about a UC Davis study on attitudes towards political violence, “roughly 5 million Americans would be willing to kill someone to achieve a political purpose.”

The study concludes that there are currently 39 million MAGA Republicans, 15% of the US adult population. Twenty-seven percent of them strongly agree that “the government, media and financial worlds in the U.S. are controlled by a group of Satan-worshipping pedophiles who run a global child sex trafficking operation.”

Part IX: Good Ol’ Crunchy Granola Far Right Lefty Blues

The Quantum Consciousness Anti-Vaxx New Age Soul Tribe Expo PR Agency (name changed by the author)

I really, really started to worry when I suspected that there was some kind of strategy behind this merging of New Age and Alt-Right.

Because of my interest in “alternative” spaces, and my years as a culture writer, I’ve gotten on a lot of fringe-y email lists. In November 2022, I got an email from a New Age marketer who is usually hawking things like the New Living Expo, Soul Ascension, Past-Life Regression, Juicing and Shamanic Energy Healing. This email was different. It was promoting a 9-episode docuseries by a well-known conspiracy theory organization.

Curious, I clicked on the video, which is now hosted on Bitchute, having been de-platformed from YouTube. The ominous voiceover intones, “Journalism is Dead. We are being programmed. We’re constantly being told what to think and any information that contradicts the official story is censored. But the blatant censorship has awakened the sleeping giant and masses are waking up. We are at a tipping point. It is time to join forces and unite to fight for the free future of our children. If we do not stand up for health, freedom and liberty now then we may lose it forever.”

Then the video cuts to the filmmaker of Plandemic saying, “What a lot of people don’t understand is that these liberties never come back.” Which is followed by further ominous voiceover saying, “It’s time to stop obeying tyrannical mandates, it’s time for noncompliance” before cutting to Robert Kennedy, Jr. saying “We need to stop being scared and stop doing what we’re told.”

The website says the docu-series features “over 50 health and freedom experts” atop a rogue’s gallery headshot scroll of noxious “patriots,” libertarians, healers, actors, far-right activists and quacks, including the founder of a new conspiracy-theory minded social media network whose mission is to “strive to create a community that is inclusive, friendly, and empowering for our members.”

The whole thing — the distrust of The Man and the System — feels like the 1960’s. The presence of a Kennedy — even if only a minor dynastic failson — recalls Camelot, and creates a veneer of 1960’s liberalism. The language is less about actual meaning and more about mood and attitude; maybe it has been intentionally blurred to appeal to folks whose self-concept is countercultural and anti-establishment, tuning into higher truths and secret wisdom.

Or maybe the ubiquity of the 1960’s as the model for countercultural resistance has limited the available vocabulary of resistance and dissent.

Much of the1960's counterculture is now mainstream and those people who were once mainstream now feel themselves to be countercultural. Outside of overt hate speech the only acceptable language of resistance available to them is that of the Left.

It is possible to create a lot of space between the Christian Right’s ideological crusade against “woke indoctrination” and explicit hate speech. And it is possible to fill that space with reasonable-sounding arguments to attract well-meaning people, already predisposed to distrust the “establishment,” to hate-filled ideologies that sound spiritually enlightened.

Because there’s this thing that happens on the outer edges of acceptable society where fringe belief systems of all kinds converge. There’s this thing that happens around revelation and truth. There’s this thing that happens that is hard to describe because the baseline of shared assumptions and agreement on the basic facts of reality no longer holds.

There’s this thing that happens where nothing is what it appears to be, or means what it used to mean, where you just can’t tell what the fuck is going on anymore. When you arrive at this place, it is, I imagine, surprisingly easy to find yourself embracing some hateful views, and committing horrific acts of violence, all the time believing you are acting “With God On Our Side.

Part X: A Glittering Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall

Taylor Mac, “A 24-Decade History of Popular Music” at the Ace Hotel in Los Angeles

Over the years, I’ve seen Bob Dylan live a handful of times. Despite my love of his recorded music, most of those live shows were disappointing. Occasionally I’ll see a glimmer of the artist as I imagine him to be, but mostly I realize I am going to hear someone that no longer exists play music that can’t possibly have the same meaning to the artist now as it did when it was recorded.

Sometimes it takes an entirely different artist, and context, and time, to let us hear Dylan’s too-familiar songs as if for the first time, or at least in a new way. That’s what happened on Yom Kippur. And that’s what happened in March, 2018 when I attended all 24 hours of Taylor Mac’s “A 24-Decade History of Popular Music” at the Ace Hotel in Los Angeles.

I first saw the performance artist Taylor Mac sometime in the early 2000’s in the wee hours of the morning in a dingy little subterranean gay bar in NYC’s East Village called The Slide. He was standing on a tiny, precarious stage, covered in black ash body paint with shredded newspaper stuck to his body. I don’t remember what songs he sang, or what he was supposed to symbolize, I just remember being transfixed by his voice and presence. Even then, you could see that he had the gift, the magic, the ability to let the light in.

He was part of a radical queer performance scene in NYC with roots going back to the 1960’s and the Theatre of the Ridiculous that underwent a major revival in the late 90’s. One of the significant features of this revival was drag performers singing with their own voices rather than lip-syncing, and an expansion of the repertoire beyond kitsch and camp. Anyone who saw queer-punk-cabaret duo Kiki and Herb performing deranged covers of Nirvana and Wu Tang Clan, or their heartbreakingly beautiful rendition of Kate Bush’s “Running Up that Hill” in the mid-to-late 90’s, can attest to how revolutionary this work, and these artists, were.

By 2018, Taylor Mac had long since left the dingy bars of the Lower East Side and began producing works on a grand scale. His “A 24-Decade History of Popular Music” was his most significant work to date, exploring music popular in the United States from 1776 to 2016, with one hour dedicated to each decade, thus taking 24 hours to perform.

On the fourth and final night in Los Angeles we reached the 1960’s when Taylor started singing Bob Dylan’s iconic anthem “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.” Much like being asked to sing along to “The Times They Are a-Changing” on Yom Kippur — I smiled and chuckled a little bit. I mean, come on.

I didn’t think there was anything left to discover in that song until Taylor started singing it. Taylor opened that song up — and it was magnificent.

Taylor slowed the tempo of the song, made it very deliberate and dramatic with a loping tempo that moved us inexorably forward alongside our wide-eyed, horrified narrator on a journey to rival Dante’s; when we come to the gradually ascending refrain it is as if we are mounting the stairs to the Final Judgement with trepidation and awe:

And it’s a hard,
it’s a hard,
it’s a hard,
it’s a hard
(pause, brace yourself)
It’s a hard raaaaaaaaaaaaaaaain
(the word “rain” extended, ringing out like a trumpet blast from Gabriel)
And it’s gonna fall.

Now we come up to the final verse of the song where Dylan nearly doubles the number of lines — it is a technique in folk songs and Dylan does it in “Visions of Johanna,” too — to increase the drama and tension before coming to the refrain one final time.

Taylor sings “it’s a hard rain,” extending the note and the word even longer, his bright clear baritone ringing out strong and pure, like the blast of the ram’s horn on the Day of Atonement, like a celestial air raid siren, like the trumpet call that leads the soldiers’ charge; Sleepers awake! We are standing on the threshold of revelation!!

And for a moment it seemed that the sky would crack, the world would break apart, that a door had been opened through which the ineffable light of absolute love and truth would shine and we would be transformed, we had ascended and would descend, returning from our journey to a world that was new and innocent and good; we would exist in grace, we would be given the gift to begin again…

And it’s gonna fall.

Part XI: That Thing That Music Does

Janis Joplin on stage

The world, of course, did not end. Neither did the show, for that matter. But there had been a resurrection of sorts. Words that seemed dormant and empty were brought miraculously back to life and, possibly, as potent and strong as the first time they were sung. A connection seemingly severed was woven back together. The lineage of the bardic tradition in America was continued, the patchwork quilt of American imagination, the utopian dreaming of the democratic urge expressed in popular poetry and song, our greatest inheritance, was stitched back together by Taylor’s glittery, golden thread.

And this is the ceremonial function of ecstasy that undergirds all performance, all ritual, going back to its very origins: human beings gathering to create a collectivized Temporary Autonomous Zone where it is possible to break free from the quotidian and enter into a space beyond mere time and place. That night Taylor found something essential, majestic and visionary in that song, maybe the same thing Dylan tapped into all those years ago when he wrote it, and Taylor became the vessel that let the light back into the world.

Because that’s the thing, and Dylan might tell you as much, I imagine. It’s always there: the songs, the poetry, dances, words, music, myths and legends, they are always out there waiting to be summoned back into this world. They are deep and dark and macabre, magnificent, enchanting and terrifying. They are this world’s windows into the eternal, they are border crossings between planes of existence, outside of time. But you have to be listening, you have to be paying attention, you’ve got to be open and you’ve got to be humble in the face of something greater than yourself.

“A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” is not Dylan’s best song. It is early work, written in 1962 and featured on his second album, while he was still just figuring things out. But we can sense Dylan the artist straining up against the limitations of political speech. The evil he sees is not merely political, it is deeper, almost supernatural. It is as old as time. It is Old Scratch let loose in the world, creating havoc and confusion, mixing up peoples’ minds and hardening their hearts.

These, more than anything, are the words to heed today, because it is a hard rain falling, right now.

Part XII: The Perils of Ecstasy

Gregorio Lazzarini, “Orpheus and the Bacchantes”

There is this profound human urge towards ecstasy — in the original sense of the word — a desire to be outside of stasis, to experience a state of being beyond reason and self-control, to be caught up in something bigger and more profound, whether through artistic imagination, divine visions or revolution. Some versions of ecstasy bring wisdom, others destruction. In either scenario, when we try to bring it back, when we try to convey what happened in that ecstatic state, we almost always fail. It is too complicated, too much to convey in mere speech — it must be experienced.

There seems to be a generational cycle to the ecstatic disruption of society — the 1930s, the 1960’s, the 1990s, today. And we need to reckon with the past even while we brace ourselves for what is happening now — and what is yet to come.

In the 1980’s and 1990’s, when the Boomers tidied up the 60’s, eliding the complexity, factionalism and violence of the Radical Left into The Big Chill and Neoliberalism, they consigned the scary parts of Old, Weird America to the dustbins of cultural nostalgia. And what remained was a huge blind spot — at least among well-meaning Liberal White People. The simplistic narrative of the 1960s propagated by the Liberal establishment assumed eventual victory, assumed that the darkness was always waning.

And so, since at least 1995, every act of Radical Right insurrectionary violence was deemed an outlier, not part of a pattern, and the perpetrator a lone wolf. Oklahoma City, Charlottesville, Pittsburgh, Buffalo — only recently have we started to put it all together. Maybe we missed it because we didn’t want to see it. The Radical Right never went away, if anything they have been amassing power quietly and effectively since at least 1980, waiting for the opportunity to emerge from the shadows.

If we reckon honestly with the 1960’s and restore its complexity, we start to see its echoes in the current moment. When I started working on this essay I would tell people about that moment on Yom Kippur and ask them, half-jokingly, “What if January 6 was the MAGA Movement’s Woodstock?” But really, a closer analogy might be Chicago ’68 or the Days of Rage.

Just like the Radical Left in the 1960’s, each faction on the Radical Right has a slightly different agenda. The Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, Groyper Army, QAnon, White Supremacists, Christian Nationalists, Boogaloo Boys, Nazi homeschoolers, MAGA warriors, Constitutional Sheriffs, Conspiracy Theorists, Anti-vaxxers — everyone’s got a different reason for feeling aggrieved and thus justifying violent, revolutionary change. But you don’t need consensus for a revolution; only a coalition of passionate minorities and momentum.

Less than a month after Eric Garcetti led our synagogue in a “Times They Are a-Changing,’’ the so-called Goyim Defense League hung anti-Semitic signs on an overpass of the 405 that read, “Kanye is right about the Jews” and “Honk if you know” while giving Nazi salutes. Not long after that, Donald Trump hosted Kanye West and Nick Fuentes, notorious White Supremacist and Holocaust-denier, at Mar a Lago. A mother in Ohio starts a Dissident Homeschool Network to help like-minded parents raise Nazi kids. A gunman in Colorado Springs opens fire at a queer bar killing five people and injuring 17 others in a mere six minutes. A politician calls for the extermination of trans people. These are real things, that are actually happening. And they just keep happening again and again and again.

We can see the gathering darkness and we know what is coming; we can hear those dark voices in the distance, gathering, taking up the call:

Come gather ‘round people, wherever you roam
And admit that the waters around you have grown
And accept it that soon you’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth saving
Then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times, they are a-changin’



Andy Horwitz

Lives in Los Angeles. Writes about art, culture, technology and society. (