Note: I write about the 60s here and now because no other era is so pertinent to this crucial moment in time. If you ask me, we should learn our history and get off this crazy-assed merry-go-round before somebody puts an eye out.
If you're going to San FranciscoBy the time Scott McKenzie's song came out in 1967, I was a committed young hippie. His lifting lyrical opus was a siren call to many in my generation - a majority I would say. We wanted flowers in our hair, not guns in our hands. We wanted to be and be among gentle people. We wanted nothing to do with the killing, the waste and the selfish, plastic, greedy, empty-headed world of consumption-for-the-sake-of-consumption being shoved down our throats. We wanted a love-in.
Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair
If you're going to San Francisco
You're gonna meet some gentle people there
Scott McKenzie, San Francisco
A lot of us either were or wanted to be hippies, but there was no manual, no place you went to sign up. We were all improvising, making it up as we went. The closest thing we had to directions was our music. As the youth rebellion took hold across America, Europe and elsewhere, the music, rock 'n roll, which was always subversive, became ever more so. Sixties rock went from Twist and Shout and I Want to Hold Your Hand to For What It's Worth, [Four Dead in] Ohio and Revolution.
There's something happening hereComing of age in our time was a matter of awakening to the horror of a wrong-headed society dominated by Eisenhower's Military Industrial Complex, Wall Street grifters, The Draft, The War and a Madison Avenue mind-twisting machine devoted to programming mass consumerism, promoting a shallow, know-nothing, denial-based mindset and fostering an environment of don't ask, shut up and get in line, hate those commies, salute the flag, buy a new car and don't ask any fucking questions. Resistance will be met with force.
What it is ain't exactly clear
There's a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware
I think it's time we stop, children, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down
Buffalo Springfield, For What It's Worth
The situation was so extreme then (it's even worse now) that peaceniks became public enemy number one. That should tell us all we need to know about 'the public,' or rather, the ones who manipulate that concept so skillfully, our beloved 1%.
It seems that at any given time, as true in the sixties as it is now, that there is a subset of unusually smart people attempting to steer us in a productive, progressive and sane direction based on science, insight, knowledge, understanding and sound judgment while going virtually ignored when not being viciously attacked by the larger society and its tools of mass deception and distraction. We who were young or came of majority in the 60s woke up to a world run by greedheads who cared nothing for humanity or posterity, who had no respect for our duty to be proper stewards of the planet and who possessed no vision beyond the next quarter's profits and their own personal bank accounts - the inevitable results of which we see today. My generation, while certainly not the first to get wise to these assholes, was surely the noisiest and busiest. We built an entire subculture from scratch based on our opposition to, and rejection of the idiotic, self-destructive status quo with which these geniuses had blessed us. We decided that if we're all committing suicide anyway, we might as well raise a little hell. (Echoes of Occupy.)
It was painfully obvious to the majority of my generation that our society had fallen into the hands of seriously evil bastards. And most of adult society was simply pretending it wasn't happening...much as we see today. We questioned their denial and rejected their hypocrisy, and many of them hated us for it. Conditions aren't that different today. In fact they're worse.
White collar conservative flashing down the street,We called ourselves freaks back in the day and we flew our freak flags high. The term hippie quickly became a victim of the Madison Avenue vulture brigade as they swooped in to suck as much money out of the phenomenon as they could. The Diggers (whom I mention with deepest respect and highest regard for my friend, brother and original San Francisco digger, claude) even threw a funeral for 'Hippie' in 1967. We wouldn't be put in that box with the paisley wrap. Our movement was anti-commercialism. We were against everything the Madison Avenue vultures stood for. And so we didn't like being called hippies back then. These days I use it simply as a term of convenience. People may not have a remotely accurate idea of what I mean by 'hippie' because of all the conservative cultural propaganda, lies and bullshit, but they sure as hell don't catch my drift when I talk about being a freak. You really had to be there for that.
Pointing their plastic finger at me.
They're hoping soon my kind will drop and die,
But I'm gonna wave my freak flag high, high.
Wave on, wave on
The Jimi Hendrix Experience, If 6 Was 9
Those of us who were there and who experienced it as participants tend to share the view of Hunter S. Thompson, who saw the time and the experience as something very special.
“Strange memories on this nervous night in Las Vegas. Five years later? Six? It seems like a lifetime, or at least a Main Era—the kind of peak that never comes again. San Francisco in the middle sixties was a very special time and place to be a part of. Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run . . . but no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time and the world. Whatever it meant. . . .There is no point in trying to say it any better than that, other than to say that it wasn't only San Francisco where these things were happening. It seemed to take root there and then spread outward in all directions until it covered the earth - until there were hippies, freaks and counterculturals in Patagonia, Switzerland and Timbuktu.
History is hard to know, because of all the hired bullshit, but even without being sure of “history” it seems entirely reasonable to think that every now and then the energy of a whole generation comes to a head in a long fine flash, for reasons that nobody really understands at the time—and which never explain, in retrospect, what actually happened.
My central memory of that time seems to hang on one or five or maybe forty nights—or very early mornings—when I left the Fillmore half-crazy and, instead of going home, aimed the big 650 Lightning across the Bay Bridge at a hundred miles an hour wearing L. L. Bean shorts and a Butte sheepherder's jacket . . . booming through the Treasure Island tunnel at the lights of Oakland and Berkeley and Richmond, not quite sure which turn-off to take when I got to the other end (always stalling at the toll-gate, too twisted to find neutral while I fumbled for change) . . . but being absolutely certain that no matter which way I went I would come to a place where people were just as high and wild as I was: No doubt at all about that. . . .
There was madness in any direction, at any hour. If not across the Bay, then up the Golden Gate or down 101 to Los Altos or La Honda. . . . You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning. . . .
And that, I think, was the handle—that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting—on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. . . .
So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.”
Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream
Like I said, there were no clear cut rules for being a hippie and the phenomenon was very much a mixed bag: neo-beatniks, cultural revolutionaries, radical dissidents, deadbeat dropouts, flower children, proto-punks. back-to-the-landers, Jesus freaks, enlightened poets, inspired intellectuals, mad scientists, crazy artists, rock 'n rollers, peaceniks, those who were a mix of any two or more of these things, those who were fakin' it (some of whom had badges) and those who were just there for the party. It was, like I say, a mixed bag, a mixed bag of cosmic nuts, any one of which (with few exceptions) could thrill my soul. The one thing they never were was boring.
What being a hippie meant to me was, first and foremost, a rejection of the predominant social values up to that time: shut up, do as you're told, fight for Old Glory and don't ask any questions. I could not see a future for myself in mindless conformity and slavish obedience to authority gone mad. Some people say we were simply conforming to a different standard and there is some truth in that, there is of course nothing new under the sun, but our standard at least celebrated non-conformity, was embarrassed by its own to the extent that it did exist and never demanded it of others as a condition for inclusion. It was okay by us if you preferred your hair short – just ask Hunter S. Thompson. We honored and valued eccentricity. We embraced the different. Hippie-ness or freak-nature was all about attitude. Either you got why the status quo was unacceptable or you didn't. If you rejected the status quo you were with us – provided you weren't rejecting it in favor of something even worse. There were always those who thought the problem was that we had too much goddamned freedom. Of course those guys were the other side, the Nixonites, the conservative hate groups, the KKK, the John Birch Society, the McCarthy-ites and later the Reaganites and the Bushites and the modern Republican party, the guys who in the end prevailed and gave us the plastic POS greed-based, war-loving, bomb-dropping, torture-embracing, eco-polluting, self-absorbed, unsustainable, deep-in-denial, superficial suck-ass society we have today.
The ultra-conservative monied class were too comfortable, self-satisfied, power-drunk, unimaginative, greedy and short-sighted to see that we could not afford to keep doing all of the wasteful and destructive things that most of them had built their fortunes on. They could never swallow the truth of those who were smart enough to see the handwriting on the wall. What could a bunch of scientists and intellectuals know anyway? Never mind the damned hippies.
They could never imagine that their chickens would one day come home to roost. Well the chickens are coming folks, they look like some kind of giant mutant zombie pterodactyls – and man are they pissed!
Global warming will punish the guilty rich as surely as it will the innocent poor. That may be the one silver lining.
We should've listened to the damned hippies.
For whatever it may or may not be worth, I keep arguing for a new paradigm. One the hippies would approve of. One where ecology, sustainability, science, compassion, kindness, peace and the general welfare are the highest values. One where we don't drop bombs on people, and one where even poor people matter.