Bells of freedom ringing

Thinking of freedom, we can see it as personal expression as well as political opportunity. For some of us, that was a big dimension of the hippie movement.

The 50th anniversary of Woodstock is coming up next month. Normally, that would mark a jubilee, some even acclaiming it as a celebration of the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. Alas, the dark ages we thought had passed have returned from the dead, in intensified deadliness at that.

Jubilee, by the way, is drawn from the Biblical book of Leviticus, and it’s a most radical idea. Every 50 years, all the wealth in the land is to be redistributed. The scriptural passage is inscribed on the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, so don’t tell me it’s not American.

~*~

One of the passages I cut before the final version of my novel What’s Left is one where she’s asking her aunt about the hippie experience:

I’ve never asked you about your own drug use.

OK? Can I say it was just enough to convince others I wasn’t a narc?

So were you really a hippie? I mean, you had such short hair!

You trying to say a hippie couldn’t have short hair? Don’t you know how radical my style was? You ever think I could conform to anything?

Well, you’ve indicated you weren’t stoned. I’m going down the list.

Have you considered the impact of the Pill? Or free love?

Oh, I’m so glad Cassia stopped talking like this! In the final version, she’s pretty snippy.

~*~

For the record, some of the truest hippies I’ve known weren’t promiscuous or do drugs. And some others never marched in a protest.

Still, as an image of the era, let me ask: What’s your impression of Woodstock? Have you ever been to a big, multiday festival? What’s your favorite music? How do you best express your free spirit?

 

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Ten reasons the hippie movement collapsed

  1. No clearly defined identity. Long hair or passing the pipe was pretty superficial, ultimately.
  2. No underlying unity or structure. It’s not like we had a manifesto or membership cards or even paid dues.
  3. And bad trips. Especially bad trips.
  4. No reliable leaders or prophets. And definitely no reliable followers.
  5. End of the military draft. Not that it was the end of the war now, was it? But it turned the heat off the burner.
  6. Not enough self-discipline. Even before we got to the hard stuff.
  7. Demands of jobs and families kicked in after all. And since many of ours weren’t like our parents’, we had to keep improvising. There weren’t many guidelines left to follow.
  8. The soul mate who wasn’t. Or as they say in Zen, what’s the sound of one clap handing.
  9. Everyone else left. Maybe with your lover.
  10. The Grateful Dead couldn’t carry the beat forever. Even with all these oldies still hanging on.

What would you add to the list?

 

Ten counterculture identities

I’ve been considering some differences and similarities of beatniks and hippies, but they’re just part of a much longer tradition that is often called bohemian.

Without trying to distinguish what identifies each of these (I do get awfully confused at times), here are ten to consider.

  1. Hipster.
  2. Boho.
  3. Grunge.
  4. Punk.
  5. Goth.
  6. Dread.
  7. Deadhead.
  8. Freak.
  9. Punk.
  10. Stoner. (Oops, I just saw that this one can be broken down into ten more categories!)

How would you distinguish any or all of these?

What would you suggest for the list?

Considering the negative image of some, what would you offer as more positive alternatives when it comes to alternative awareness and living?

Ten things hippies and beatniks had in common

While many beatniks despised the hippies who followed on the counterculture trail, the two did have some commonalities.

Here are ten I see.

  1. Alternative living: They both dressed in ways that weren’t socially acceptable, part of their rejection of bourgeois attitudes of American respectability. Hippies, especially, advanced that into group living.
  2. Beards: The beat goatee was signature. Hippies took facial hair in many distinctive directions.
  3. Sandals: On men, especially. Forget the polished wingtips.
  4. Incense: It became a staple of small alternative stores, along with interesting teas like Earl Grey and Gunpowder.
  5. Pot: Jazz musicians were the root for the beats. Having a toke together became a communal expression among hippies.
  6. Free love: Although the birth control pill was approved for public use in 1960, it was still illegal in eight states four years later. Still, it quickly grew in popularity, garnering the condemnation of Pope Paul VI in 1968. Well, if extramarital sex was already taboo, what additional fault would using the contraceptive have? This was having fun while scoffing at conventionality at the same time.
  7. Eastern spirituality: Zen Buddhist and Theosophist influences championed by the beats spread into yoga, Sufism, and other strands of Buddhism in the hippie era.
  8. Pacifism: Opposition to war, though, did not always carry a corresponding nonviolent outlook by hippies, who instead focused their opposition on the military draft and stopping that by any means possible.
  9. Cool: Beatniks liked to “play it cool.” Hippies had their own nuance in preferring to “be cool” as a way of displaying their individuality.
  10. Mass-media caricatures: Both were portrayed negatively in the mass media, usually as warped stereotypes.

Ten ways hippies differed from beatniks

While many hippies were profoundly influenced by beatnik writers such as Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg and their alternative lifestyles, many beatniks were contemptuous of the flowering of the hippie movement.

The term “beatnik” itself was coined by San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen on April 2, 1958, after the Russian Sputnik satellite went into orbit. It quickly encapsulated what had been happening since the early part of the decade in the city’s North Beach district.

The word hippie probably springs from the much older word “hipster,” and came to prominence when 100,000 young people from across the country converged on the city for the Summer of Love in 1967.

Here are ten ways the two cultures differed:

  1. Prime time: 1950s and early ’60s, the beats. Late ’60s and early ’70s, the hippies. A half-generation apart. My guess is that unlike beatniks, hippies grew up with television in the house, along with rock ‘n’ roll, and that this influenced the thinking.
  2. Hangouts: Coffee houses and bookstores, especially in San Francisco’s North Shore and Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, for the beats. San Francisco’s Haight-Asbury districts before moving out to communes and college campus fringes, for the hippies.
  3. Philosophical roots: Nonjudgmental, noncombative attitudes influenced by Eastern religions and philosophies, along with nuclear arms opposition, for the beats. Hostility to the military draft and parental control, plus opportunities for sexual freedom, for the hippies.
  4. Personnel: The beats were a much smaller group, primarily poets and essayists, centered on the fine arts and artists themselves. The hippies sprang largely from runaways, initially, and drug experimenters, musicians, war protesters, and laissez-faire independents.
  5. Political orientation: Beatniks eschewed political involvement but did benefit from crucial court decisions, especially involving pornographic expression. Hippies were politically vocal, especially with protests and rallies.
  6. The beat, er, sound: Jazz, primarily, and folk, for the beats. Breakthrough venue: Newport Festival in Rhode Island, starting in 1954. For the hippies, rock and some folk, for the hippies. Breakthrough venue: Woodstock, 1969, as well as the Filmore Auditorium in San Francisco beginning in 1966.
  7. Threads: Dark clothing, usually black with a European look, for the beats. Women went for dark leotards and long, straight dark hair. For the hippies, clothing was anything comfortable, often ratty, drab as well colorfully excessive with occasional global or back-to-the-land historical flavors. Think Gypsy, Native American, even India for influence.
  8. Recreational drugs: Beatnik pot use became widespread among hippies. LSD, though, was definitively hippie. Beats were known for cool. Hippies, for stoned.
  9. Mass media stereotypes: Turtleneck sweaters, bongos, berets, and dark glasses, for the beats. Tie-dye, long hair, headbands, tassels, beads, and bell bottoms, for the hippies. Both usually portrayed in negative light.
  10. Artistic expression: Poetry and novels, the beats. Rock and filmmaking, the hippies. Abstract impressionist painting, the beats. Installation art, performance art, and graffiti, for the hippies.