I recently found, on the website of L’Imagerie Gallery, a poster for a Grateful Dead show in March of 1970. I immediately paused for two reasons: the image itself, familiar to anyone who knows the Tarot, and the price: $1,500. I set out to discover why it was valued so highly.
ASR Waves People’s Radio
Information on this poster is pretty sparse. It is a benefit show for the ASR Waves People’s Radio (“ASR” is an acronym for Antenna Structure Registration, a database of the FCC that large antenna structures must register with), but I couldn’t find much information on the People’s Radio, at least online.
The show was held at the Carousel Ballroom in San Francisco, for the price of $2.50. San Francisco is of course the historic stomping grounds of the Grateful Dead, and by this time they’d already had several albums, and they’d just finished recording the landmark album, Workingman’s Dead, which was released only a few months later.
There were other performers. Shades of Joy was a short-lived instrumental jam group. The Gestalt Fool Theatre Company had been founded in 1968 by Paul Rebillet, who had taught at Stanford. He had served in the U.S. Army in Japan—he’d worked on their radio network there—and had been influenced by Noh drama while he was there. The theatre company he founded was a commune, actually.
The New Generation Singers is a choir group founded by Byron Meyers in 1970, and still very much in existence today. That Native American dancers accompanied church singers, a therapy-based theatre group, and two “hippie” bands is a testament to the inclusiveness of the 1960s.
Then there is the artist. Bergman’s murals follow the tradition of Diego Rivera, public artwork that references the political realities—whether of violence or of joy—of Hispanics, African and Asian-Americans, and Whites, as well. She grew up in the Mission District and in 1970 joined the Haight-Ashbury Muralists. She has gone on to a profound career in her murals.
Then there is the poster itself. It is, so far as I can tell, the only extant poster done by Bergman, but given her time in the Haight, it makes sense. And what it references, the image from the Tarot would have been instantly recognizable to its residents.
The image derives from the Ten of Cups, specifically from the Rider-Waite deck. The card, one of the Minor Arcana, is a symbol of completion, the fulfillment of family harmony, contentment, and peace. Naturally, this is a perfect image for the Haight-Ashbury, as this is exactly what they were trying to achieve in the culture.
But here, in Bergman’s poster, the little village in the background, or as may be the case, this family’s home, has been replaced by the image of radio and the raised fist that is centered on the sun—the symbol of empowerment is clear: community radio will bring us joy, peace, and contentment, not to mention the news and culture we need to create this family.
With all of this considered, it is no surprise that the poster sold for $1,500. It is almost certainly rare, a poster for a single show and a benefit, at that. Its artist is a central figure in not only Haight-Ashbury culture but San Francisco as a whole; her murals are all over the city. Its four colors reference a classic symbol that is really quite old, so it is aesthetically and historically relevant. And finally, it features a number of groups, one rare (Shades of Joy) and one quite famous (The Dead, of course). It is multicultural, which today is more important than ever.