Cosmic Aeroplane and Alternative Culture
This section outlines some significant changes that swept
the youth of America and the World in the late 1960's,
as seen through my prism in the outlying region of Salt Lake
City, Utah. My peer group was made up of classic Baby Boomers,
and most of us lived in tract-house suburbs encircling the
very conservative city -- raised on TV, Cars,and Rock N' Roll.
We slowly awoke to what Eisenhower's Military-Industrial Complex
meant -- both good and bad, but most of us wanted a bit more
of what was good. What those good things were involved learning
a lot more about social minorities, non-suburban lifestyles,
and societies made up differently from the Father Knows
Best ideals pushed in the Mass Media as propaganda/entertainment.
There were some dire realities negativly affecting our outwardly-prosperous
lives that the "Establishment" refused to recognize
-- the most obvious being that the Viet Nam War was lost,
and had been lost for years. Time proved that billions of
dollars and hundreds of thousands of American troops only
made things worse, but those mistakes were official policies
of the USA, supported by "average" citizens, who
really should have questioned their overly-patriarchal leadership
a bit more.
whole state of Utah was downwind of the above-ground
atomic bomb tests near Las Vegas, Nevada.
Atomic Energy Commission waited until the winds blew AWAY from
Las Vegas (and California) to explode their bombs.
Jeff Jordan, a local weather man, telling his evening audience
about a fallout cloud blowing over our heads west of town:
If you go outside RIGHT NOW, you can see it!
(I stayed inside: Thank you very much, Mr. Jordan.)
uranium processing plant called Vitro, sat smack-dab in the
middle of Salt Lake County -- many times I sat beneath incoming
ore cars, waiting for the stop light to change, as they rolled
overhead on the Rio Grande Railway -- sloughing off radioactive
dirt from Southern Utah. While hiking in the mountains, I could
see the column of Vitros smoke, rising into the dirty
inversion layer, hanging over the entire valley.
Essay: The Cosmic Aeroplane -- An Appreciation
(Left) The Cosmic
Aeroplane relocated near the Union Pacific Depot from its original
spot near 9th & 9th. (Right)
1967 is widely
acknowledged as a watershed year in Alternative Culture. The
so-called Summer of Love drew uncounted tens of thousands
to San Francisco to celebrate a new, peaceful, tolerant "Hippie"
society with progressive music, visually stimulating art, and, frankly
speaking, illicit substances like Marijuana and LSD. (Harder drugs
would unfortunately coexist.) An ongoing sexual revolution metamorphosed
into Free Love, but it was easiest to just describe this
transformation of youth as "The Movement,"
Salt Lake followed The Movement with regular happenings in Memory
Grove and around Sugarhouse Park. All the popular radio stations
took chances with eclectic groups like Jefferson Airplane and The
Doors, which payed off, but they bravely tried other albums by Jimi
Hendryx and Cream that would take another year or more to catch
on with the American public. EVERYBODY embraced Sergeant Pepper's
Lonely Hearts Club Band, by the Beatles though.
My friend Michael G. Cavanaugh, a DJ on KCPX, took a well-publicized
trip to San Francisco where he saw dozens of local bands, sold some
underground newspapers. When he returned, he played Country Joe
and the Fish, Big Brother and the Holding Company, the Velvet Underground,
Canned Heat, and as much Progressive Rock as his bosses allowed.
During his nightly radio show, he told about a shop at 9th East
and 9th South called Cosmic Aeroplane which sold the kinds of art,
literature, and music that one would other-wise have have to buy
in New York, Los Angeles, or San Francisco. He'd play some interesting
Folk Blues or other Exotica and introduce them as a Cosmic Aeroplane
Other "Head Shops" sprang up around town. A classy brownstone
building downtown featured a black light room and a wide variety
of go-blind posters. The White Rabbit in The Avenues promoted some
of the first live concerts by San Francisco bands.
"Kief" poster graced the window of the original Cosmic Aeroplane.
Cosmic Links -- Sixties and Seventies and Beyond
I first visited
the Cosmic Aeroplane during the famous summer of 1967 and had
a good time hearing new music while browsing publications I'd only
read about in magazines like Ramparts, a radical publication
on the shelves of the local library. They had a community bulliten
board that was pretty entertaining too. On display was a prominent
sign that said (paraphrased):We do not know where you can
find or obtain drugs of any kind, if you have any questions, read
this sign again.
the Cosmic Aeroplane on South Temple.
a year, the Cosmic Aeroplane moved to a new location near my
old High School on the west side of Salt Lake, a hundred yards or
so from the Union Pacific Depot along a decaying row of railroad
bars. It had a lot more room, and became a gathering point for young
people all over the area -- the used record bins were always worth
a look, and you never knew who you might meet there.
of the Cosmic Aeroplane on South Temple.
During the four
years or so of the Cosmic Aeroplane's residence on South Temple,
I visited the place about twice a week. Besides obscure records,
and great deals on new albums by forward-looking rockers, they had
the wildest assortment of literature in the state. Every now and
then, the owner Steve Jones would come up with more amazing things
-- like a tableful of Black Cat books by authors like William Burroughs,
Henry Miller, Jean Genet, and the great Beat Poets. When it came
to buying gifts, the Cosmic Aeroplane acted as an incubator for
jewelers and fabric artists who would later open their own places.
The old Porters and Waiters Club on the corner became part of the
Movement when it turned into the Railway Exchange and hosted Smoke
Blues Band among other live groups -- it then changed its name to
The Sun Tavern and took on a whole new identity as an openly-gay
Disco, but by then the Cosmic Aeroplane had moved to a smaller place
on West Temple and struggled until some other partners signed on
to the enterprise in the mid-70's. They were a major commercial
success for another decade after that.
The floor of
the Cosmic Aeroplane on South Temple sported a well-worn painted rosette
Steve and his
various partners, especially Sherm Clow, were treasue-troves of
useful knowledge and recommendations for music, books, and madcap
events around the city. As a I grew up, Steve asked me to decorate
the entrance hall with a mad oversized collage that needed a bit
of censoring before it was ready for the public. Sherm let me play
music with the Nameless Uncarved Block in the back room -- even
for a wedding, over which he presided in his office as Minister
of the Universal Life Church.
One of the
painted windows, looking north, inside the Cosmic Aeroplane on South
The Cosmic Aeroplane
also functioned as a performance venue -- they had a HUGE back room
that was used by the Smoke Blues Band, a Modern Dance group called
Clock Mother & Company (with Wendy Leoff, Meridoc, Duffy, and
P.T. Holly), and the very important Human Ensemble Theater, led
by Judae Lundstrom, which eventually turned into the Salt Lake Acting
The greatest thing about the Movement in general was learning about
the wider world beyond the confines of our neighborhoods, and how
important things were NOT defined or confined by what TV, Movies,
or Radio claimed were important. Our idealism led us to occasional
disillusion or outright mistakes, but they were not the fault of
the people in the Head Shops, who educated the Boomers as much as
the colleges and public schools did.
Taylor of "Rainbow Jam" painted the interior decorations
of the Cosmic Aeroplane on South Temple.
but they tried everything to keep a good thing going, and eventually
You could read
all viewpoints at "The Cosmic,"
I preferred non-violence as my social policy.
soldiers produced this anti-war tract.
Read this historical document as
Comix and the "Big Bust"
Over time we
got used to the total lack of restrictions on what we could buy,
read, and see -- the old obscenity laws were unconstitutional, and
Freedom of Expression seemed to rule. However, so-called Community
Standards could be used as a legal weapon if a locality wanted to
get tough, and somebody did -- despite testimony in their favor,
a number of Underground Comix were deemed "obscene" by
a Utah judge, even though they were only sold to adults, and had
nothing to do with the market for pornographic books, magazines,
or films. (Was it because there was an article in Playboy
about Comix? I don't know.) Round Records, and the Connection had
their inventories of these small independent magazines confiscated.
Round Records appealled, but got no justice. Before them, the Cosmic
Aeroplane dealt with complaints over an "erotic" poster
and jewelry while they were still at the 9th and 9th.
Movement" becomes "Alternative"
The Baby Boomers
grew into adulthood -- simple as that. College didn't appeal to
everybody, so many of them just went to work, or founded businesses
of their own. Images of the short-lived "Hippie Era" lingered
on in the Mainstream Media though, and anyplace that was run by
a long-haired man, or even a woman, earned the label "Alternative,"
deserving or not.
I remember names of places like Desolation Row, Skin Company, Mother's
Earth Things, Chester's Drawers, Tape Head Company, Mama Eddie's
Beanery, Wally's Records, The Connection, Round Records, and Nature's
Way. The Blue Boutique spun off from the later Cosmic Aeroplane,
and still exists today!
by two deceased friends: (Left) Super Signage by Blaine Swanson;
(Right) Prolific Neil Passey.
business for 20 years -- The Cosmic Aeroplane spreads out along
First South circa 1984.
Photos and images from
personal memorabila, Charley Hafen, and Steve Jones -- published material
used for educational purposes in the context of these essays, and covered
by Fair Use provisions of International Law. Pages 17 and 18 were missing
from my original stapled copy of The Daisy #4. All
Rights Reserved © Michael R. Evans 2012