The Thumbnail Book Reviews

by John Q McDonald --- 21 July 2006

Drop City

by Peter Rabbit

Located outside of Trinidad, Colorado, Drop City was one of the most famous countercultural experiments in communal living from the 1960s. It was also famous for its fantastical structures, geodesic domes and Zomes built from sheet metal recycled from automobiles. Photos widely available on the web show a somewhat bleak and littered landscape without shade or any apparent greenery. Surely, though, Drop City had its beautiful moments. There isn't much out there that documents the experiences of those who built it and lived there. This book, by early resident Peter Rabbit (poet Peter Douthit), is an almost contemporary 1971 history of the commune. It started out in 1966 as a retreat for a few artists who practiced what they called "drop art" (thus the name of the city isn't necessarily a reference to dropping out or dropping acid, though both certainly occurred there). Drop City was wildly well-known, and in that was its ultimate downfall, for which Peter Rabbit claims some responsibility. Once burned-out hippie kids from all over the country started to inundate this six-acre goat pasture, the residents found themselves as much amateur recovery therapists as artists. The founders ultimately left within a couple years, and Peter Rabbit drifted away a little later, having learned the critical lesson that a commune's survival depends, in a large part, on the way it interacts with the outside world. In the end, as little interaction as possible is perhaps most healthy for a commune, as much as that would sound counter to the goal of transforming society. It's a delicate balance, and not one achieved by many. People who wanted to live with no rules began to realize that a few rules helped preserve plans and dreams. This book isn't as self-indulgent, nonlinear and surreal as many such books of its era. The chronology is jumbled and the characters shift identities, but Rabbit gives us his portraits of Drop City residents, and a sketchy history of the place and its unique structures, and even a glimpse of its legacy. A valuable record of its time and place.

The countercultural experiments of the 1960s seem naive to some people today. But, that's a bad rap. Look around. Reckless consumerism, pollution and enviromental destruction, a government in a questionable war and in the thrall of corporate interests, all of these were what the 1960s counterculture rebelled against, and all of these are ever more resurgent today. How can we ridicule a countercultural critique that we need so badly again today?

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See Also:
[Memories of Drop City by John Curl]
[Famous Long Ago by Ray Mungo]
[What the Trees Said by Steve Diamond]

[Other books on Counterculture & the 60s]