What I see looking at a few more hippie novels

As I’ve previously posted, social critic Tom Wolfe was perplexed that the hippie era didn’t produce any great novels. He’s wrong, of course, starting with Norman Gurney’s deceptively modest Divine Right’s Trip.

Reactions to earlier Red Barn posts suggested that many of the most influential books were nonfiction, including Wolfe’s own Electric Acid Kool-Aid Test but extending to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and the Whole Earth Catalogs and a whole lot more.

But there was notable fiction, beginning with Edward Abbey, John Nichols, and Richard Brautigan.

More recently I’ve come across ebooks at Smashwords that attempt to reflect the wide variations in experiences of the era.

One, for instance, takes a hermit’s perspective in retreating to the mountains outside Los Angeles. Another, the trials of being an activist. Yet another, the life of sex and drugs. And then there’s the spiritual trip. We even have descriptions of living the life in the deep South. You get the picture. Hippies came (and still come) in many varieties. No one size fits all, and I doubt any one novel could cover the range.

Naturally, I have my own fiction entries yet to be considered.

To get a taste of what I’ve been reading, see the book reviews at my Jnana Hodson at Smashwords page.

Got any related books to recommend?

Are you sure you’d want your parents to see this?

In What’s Left, Cassia spends hour after hour organizing the chaotic mess of her father’s photo studio after he vanishes in an avalanche halfway around the globe.

He was something of a hippie, too, as she sees in some of his excesses from the period. Here’s something that popped up for her in a conversation with her aunt Nita. You won’t find it in the final version of the novel, though — some things just got toned down.

And? You ever see the movie he made about the courthouse?

The one with the dome turning into his girlfriend’s breast? Diz’s?

You remember he made that while he was still an undergraduate? Before all the really freaky stuff that followed?

Yes, and that reminds me. We need to have to get that reel converted to digital from Super 16. Before it starts disintegrating or fading. 

You know what a hit that was in some circles? How he was on the verge of notoriety or celebrity?

So why didn’t he continue in that vein?

How would he have paid the bills? The big bills? Where were his introductions? Producers, distributors, even actors? Or his confidence,

~*~

I’ve been trying to think if there’s anything in my past quite that outrageous, but it all seems to be included in my Freakin’ Free Spirits series. My kids would likely be disappointed, but I’m glad my parents never knew the details. I hate to think, though, of some of the things my two girls are hiding from me. My, the times have changed!

What’s something you or your friends are hiding from your parents? What’s most shocked or surprised you about them? What other directions might their lives have taken? What might you hope your own kids never ask you about?

~*~

The vibe lives on, one way or another.

~*~

 

Building a lingering legacy

As she asks her aunt Nita for details about the hippie era, she gets an earful. Here’s a passage that was condensed before the final version of my novel, What’s Left:

You know, peace and social activism. Environmental and ecological awareness. Racial and sexual equality. Sustainable economics. The whole spiritual revolution, including yoga and meditation. Education reform. Well, I miss the music – the fact it got lost in time. Don’t forget the health and nutrition angles, either – not just natural food and vegan. Farmers markets? We’ve certainly been participants on that front.

Weren’t there some communes around our Mount Olympus?

They’re hanging on, actually. The survivors turned into cooperative housing, where the members own their own homes but share the land. An interesting concept. Land trusts, too.

Thea Nita, you know how Theos Tito rants from time to time about the Establishment’s interference with the counterculture?

You mean, beginning with the CIA’s role in moving hard drugs into the country to undermine the peace movement? And Big Money’s work to undermine radical economics? Sure.

What do you make of it?

It’s another big book waiting to be written.

So we come back to politics?

Yes, Cassia. The nation’s divided by the fact we won’t look openly and honestly at the experience. Why should we be embarrassed by our hippie identity? Our antiwar righteousness? Our desire for liberty? There’s no real public dialogue, and that’s a disgrace.

~*~

OK, open up: Do you think the hippie generation should be embarrassed?

~*~

A large Queen Anne-style house with a distinctive tower something like this is the headquarters for Cassia’s extended family in my new novel, What’s Left. If only this one were pink, like hers. (Manchester, New Hampshire.)

Why tribe? As a poet once asked … 

In my novel What’s Left, she has every reason to proclaim:

Nobody breathes a word about hippie. We’re simply ever so hip.

She and her brothers and cousins had their own style and direction, apart from whatever their parents had done. And the quip didn’t survive into the final version of the text.

Still, though, if you look to the time of the pivotal Woodstock music festival , you might ask if we were trying to be neo-mountain men or newly converted Amerindians or spaced-out yogis or cool Victorians (without the inhibitions) or liberated urbanites or … ? Well, a huge stream of historic inspiration fed into the movement, and we were willing to play with just about any wild expressive fashion.

What’s easily overlooked is how huge the role of the Gypsy – or, more correctly, Roma – was.

The very term Boho or Bohemian – as in Puccini’s opera, La Boheme, dealing with starving underground artists in Paris – has far more to do with the Roma than with any geographic region of eastern Europe. Even Brahms’ famous Hungarian Rhapsodies are code words for Gypsy violin music. As for Spanish flamenco? Ditto. Play your guitar, if you will, or dance wildly.

So underground artists are …? You got it.

And here, drafting and revising my novel I found myself forced to ask:

Why are they so widely romanticized?

And why are they so widely reviled?

As Cassia investigates her father’s reasons for moving into the extended family where she’s grown up, she digs far beyond his counterculture inclinations.

Well, for a hint, here’s something else I cut from the final version:

The scandals, according to Nita? I’m not going there. Not that any of it was bad, on the contrary. There’s just too much to delve into now. And then, despite herself, she does.

~*~

Like Cassia’s father, I did live in a rundown farm where we all split the rent. And like him, I later lived in a monastic setting, where ours was based on yoga and its Hindu writings rather than Buddhism.

Not all hippies veered off in those directions.

Have you ever wanted to live in a Gypsy wagon? How about a tree house?

Ten threats to the hippie vision

When I first started to reflect on his, I was inclined to cite the obvious big forces – the superrich, their military-industrial-financial complex, and a host of similar drains on the common good. I’ll let Bernie Sanders carry that side of the argument for now.

Instead, I’m thinking of some of the themes that play out in my novels Daffodil Uprising and Pit-a-Pat High Jinks.

  1. Individualism. The do-your-own-thing outlook had its upside, but it also dampened our ability to come together for sustained work toward shared goals. Ultimately, it lessened our common identity. Like Kenzie’s housemates at the farm, finding much common ground could be elusive.
  2. Fuzzy goals. Knowing what we were against, often fueled by anger, was rarely balanced by knowing what we were for – nobody had a clear idea of how to go to the better world we sensed was possible. Lifting the draft, for instance, was only one step toward making a more peaceful world. And not wanting to have a marriage or a job like those our parents endured wasn’t the same as raising children in a new way or running a small-is-beautiful successful business.
  3. Disrespect for labor. Yes, I know the “lazy hippie” slur, but I did see a lot of effort put forth, too. An expectation of something for nothing, though, had a divisive impact. Respect for labor also means knowing how to perform a job well and how to earn a livable wage. We were so naïve on so many fronts here.
  4. Drugs. Admittedly, passing the pipe had a tribal quality, but too much simply removed an individual from action. In that sense, the rumors of CIA involvement in the importation of hard drugs as a way to blunt the peace movement begin to sound deviously rational. And LSD left a lot of wreckage.
  5. Sexism and racism. It was there, one way or another. By the way, we didn’t see a lot of black hippies, did we? That in itself could be another topic of discussion.
  6. Free love fallout. For many, it was fun while it lasted. Some even ended up in marriages that have lasted. For many, though, it led instead to betrayals, breakups, and bitterness – not exactly the ideal image when you define hippie as happy.
  7. Irresponsibility. Think of the vanishing food from your shelf in the refrigerator or the things that got permanently borrowed without anyone asking. The list of examples will be long.
  8. Aging. It was a youth movement, maybe the first generational tide in history. Geezer is not part of the definition of hippie – never has been, never will be. Besides, can we trust anyone under 30?
  9. Violence. Few of us have turned out to be as consistently gentle as we’d like. Even if we never crossed over into physical hostility, we’ve likely been verbally wounding. Anyone else remember a few from back then who bought a gun – for self-defense, as they always argued? Especially if they were involved in dealing?
  10. Global warming. I’m not kidding. This will completely thwart any Revolution of Peace & Love as everyone runs for the hills. Or tries to swim in the riptide.

What would you add to the list?

 

 

Ten notable American communes

Talk of pooling income and possessions thrived in the hippie era, though it rarely took form in practice – and, when it did, the results were often disastrous.

More common was the kind of shared rent arrangement like the farm I describe in my novel Pit-a-Pat High Jinks.

Here are ten from American history. Utopian socialism was a common theme.

  1. New Harmony, Indiana. Robert Owen, 1825-1829.
  2. Oberlin Colony. Ohio, 1833-1843.
  3. Fourier Society. Based on the ideas of French philosopher Charles Fourier, communes existed in New Jersey, 1841-1858; New York state, 1844-1846; Wisconsin, 1844-1850; Ohio, 1844-1845.
  4. The Transcendentalists. Brook Farm, George and Sophia Ripley, 1841-1846, and Fruitlands, Amos Alcott, 1843-1844, both in Massachusetts.
  5. Oneida Colony. John H. Noyes, New York state, 1848-1880. The first of a series of communes with radical ideas about free love and open marriage. (I love the name of one of those in Ohio, 1854-1858: Free Lovers at Davis House.)
  6. Icarians. Followers of French philosopher Etienne Cabet established communes in Louisiana, Texas, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, and California, 1848-1898.
  7. Home, Washington. 1895-1919, based on an anarchist philosophy.
  8. Twin Oaks. Virginia, 1967 to the present.
  9. The Farm. Stephen Gaskin, Lewis County, Tennessee, 1971 to the present.
  10. East Wind Community. Ozark County, Missouri, 1973 to the present.

Any you’d add to the list?

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?

 

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?