In November and December 1966, the young, predominantly white rock audience on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles battled police over curfew and loitering laws. Both the Strip’s protesters and their critics associated these “Sunset Strip riots” with the Watts uprising of 1965, when Black residents of South Los Angeles resisted police brutality and economic exploitation. White bohemians claimed solidarity with, or perhaps merely appropriated, the moral imperatives of Black protest, while Black critics argued that the mild oppression faced by white teenagers on the Strip was irrelevant to the serious, systemic abuses inflicted on Black communities such as Watts. Yet the Sunset Strip protests also led white activists to consider questions of privilege and authenticity and to make sincere attempts to support Black movements. Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention’s “Trouble Every Day” and “Plastic People,” songs that critically address Watts and the Sunset Strip, respectively, exemplify the complex interplay among political radicalism, racial identity, and musical creativity in the growing counterculture surrounding rock. In the Black Lives Matter era, when many white musicians and their audiences seek to be effective allies in Black struggles, the “Sunset Strip riots” can serve as both inspiration and cautionary tale.

You do not currently have access to this content.