Sounds of the Age of Aquarius


September/October 2014


In 2009, California state archaeologist E. Breck Parkman sifted through the charred and weathered remains of Burdell Mansion in northern California’s Olompali State Historic Park (“Digging the Age of Aquarius,” July/August 2009). The mansion had been home to a hippie commune known as “The Chosen Family,” which was loosely associated with the Grateful Dead and other prominent countercultural figures, for two years before the mansion burned down and the group disbanded in 1969. Among the finds there were 93 vinyl records. The records were without sleeves and, in almost all cases, labels. Parkman set out to identify them. He tried to play a few, without luck, and scrutinized the surviving labels for clues, such as stray words or a distinctive color scheme. He also examined codes stamped on the record and even measured track lengths to compare the sequences with known albums. He has identified 53 so far, which range from the expected (the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Nina Simone) to the markedly more mainstream (Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand, Burl Ives). The identifications confirm the surprising diversity of age and taste among the commune dwellers.