The Age Of Hippies


I used to feel Cartman-level contempt for hippies: part of my Thatcherite '80s coming of age, I suppose. And Mark Harris' 1967 Atlantic article on them exhibits no romanticism. A lot of it was about drugs; and psychedelic drugs are not conducive to "community". But in the reaction to a doomed war, in their sense that mankind faced an existential crisis as destructive weapons technology spread, in their understanding that Christianity was not, at its core, socially productive or in any familiar sense, socially conservative, the hippies were onto something. We are wiser now, but, in my middle age, I can't help feeling that something in the Summer Of Love is worth remembering and retaining:

It was easy to see that the young men who were hippies on Haight Street wore beards and long hair and sometimes earrings and weird-o granny eye-glasses, that they were barefoot or in sandals, and that they were generally dirty. A great many of the young men, by design or by accident, resembled Jesus Christ, whose name came up on campaign pins or lavatory walls or posters or bumper stickers. Are you Bombing With Me, Baby Jesus. Jesus Is God's Atom Bomb.

The script was "psychedelic." That is to say, it was characterized by flourishes, spirals, and curlicues in camouflaged tonesblues against purples, pinks against redsas if the hippie behind the message weren't really sure he wanted to say what he was saying. It was an item of hippie thought that speech was irrelevant. You Don't Say Love You Do It. Those Who Speak Don't Know Those Who Know Don't Speak. But it was also my suspicion that hippies would speak when they could; meanwhile, their muteness suggested doubt. In one shopthe wall was dominated by an old movie advertisementRonald Reagan and June Travis in Love Is in the Air (Warner Brothers), their faces paper-white, blank, drained. I asked the hippie at the counter why it was there, but she didn't trust herself to try. "It's what you make of it," she said.