Hippie, Being There and Staying
Did anyone see the hippie movement coming? I didn’t.
The colors, the freedom, the free love, the drugs, the music it all seemed to rise like a miraculous balloon out of the counterculture. No, I didn’t see it coming. But I wrapped my arms around it and never wanted to let go.
The mass media made a mess of the historical legacy. As it always does, the ad-driven newspapers, magazine and television shows go for hot buttons that keep cheeks in seats.
(Television is not an entertainment medium. It’s an advertising medium. Any entertainment or information there exists only for the purpose of uploading viewers to advertisers. Everything else is incidental. It’s so bad now, ad reps sit in on scriptwriting meetings. Much the same can be said for newspapers and magazines.)
So, it may be true that you had to be there to get the best sense of it. Lucky for me, I was. I still am, although hippies from the Sixties have fanned out and no longer get together where the media can misrepresent us.
The media’s most common I-don’t-get-it moments are about drugs. You’ll never guess it from what you read, but a majority of us didn’t use drugs much. A very small percentage dropped acid. We were interested for two reasons. Drugs, like alcohol, could be fun, and they offered something alcohol never could they promised to expand our minds, to break us out of the conformist mindset and into expanded awareness.
That they did. But the laws were such that they scared the hell out of many of us, and what we knew about LSD, even without the mass media fear-mongering, seemed scary. Interest ran high, but drugs were a lot more available ten years later when we were trying to hold the hippie fabric together.
Music, a Hippie Language
Just as folk songs stitch cultures together with shared values and moral stories, our music brought us all to a central point of understanding. Our music was about the power of love, the importance of being yourself, the joy of dancing and, sure, freedom from sexual taboos and restrictions.
If anyone doubts the power music had in shaping our hippie counterculture movement, remember that Woodstock Nation, the greatest gathering of hippies ever, was essentially about nothing else. Music made community.
About Hippies and Sexual Freedom
Later, women recalled that sexual freedom wasn’t as free for them as it was for men. They are at least half-right. We were sexually ignorant. I confess that I never learned until after the Sixties that women had orgasms. I doubt I was alone in being foolish.
So, sure, we made mistakes, but liberation mattered. Before the hippie movement, women having sex before marriage with anyone but their future husbands were scorned. Hippie men edged back from that kind of judgment. We didn’t get all the way back, but set loose from traditional roles by the pill as well as philosophy, sex got freer. We learned to have some fun with it.
Peace and Love
No one doubts that the war in Vietnam drove as many people to turn on, tune in and drop out as did any other inspiration. The first nationally televised war exploded illusions about the romance of combat, and the draft became a crude method of greasing the insane killing machine.
Some of my generation signed up, accepted the assignment on patriotic grounds and marched off to Southeast Asia. Many others went reluctantly, and a few of us just said, ‘No.’ I was a ‘No,’ and it changed my life forever. The story of how refusing to kill or be killed estranged me from family and friends and forced me aways from how is one I wrote about in my first novel, The Garden of What Was and Was Not.
The times were so strange, none of us knew for sure where any action or conviction might take us. The war was an American and international catastrophe, but peace activists in the hippie movement forced an awareness that has kept American militarism more sane in the fifty years that followed. Yes, we still manage to get into wars but none as terrible, foolish and destructive as the disaster that consumed Southeast Asia.
See: Hippies, What We Won and What We Lost
Ten Years a Hippie
The hippie movement in the Sixties and all the intense experiences were not easily wrenched out. There’s an old cliche to the effect that ‘You can take the boy out of the farm, but you can’t take the farm out of the boy.’ That’s true for the counterculture and the hippie movement. They were emotional, political and spiritual tattoos.
Being a hippie in the Sixties meant being permanently maladjusted to the mainstream of life. My novel Traveling Without a Passport finds Peter McCarthy at a dead end in San Fransisco in an apartment in Haight Ashbury, ten years after the Summer of Love. He takes a long look at what’s become of his hippie legacy while hitchhiking off for a weekend with a friend from the past in Los Angeles. In his travels, he meets the best and the worst of what remains from the Sixties.
Writing the novel, I wanted to draw a clear picture in stories about the counterculture diaspora. The hippie movement may have disappeared, but its role in changing American was dramatic. Peace, love, mind expansion, free love and a lingering craziness of liberation threw long shadows across the Seventies.
A Hippie Conclusion
One thing I learned from my days I should say, years of being a hippie, however superannuated these days, is that nothing is ever as clear as we believed it was growing up. We were taught a lot of simple truths that didn’t hold up in the years that consumed us.
I loved everything about being a hippie. I still do. I mourn only our short lifespan as a power movement. What blossoms inside continues to flower if you don’t smother it and you give it lots of light.
Do you have a hippie movement reflection of your own?