Hippies in the yard

Here’s another small clip from my novel, Hippies. In this one, several characters of the two-house commune are being introduced as they play around in the yard. (The two houses are the Duck and the Island.) Had you the decency to read the book, you’d know about half of these characters from the previous chapter.

Duck common residents: Ziggy, Jazmine, Ragman, Stormy, Rose Petal
Island common residents: Tex, Hoss, Gina, Pepper

x x x

Stormy paused, and Rag walked back into the elongated house, the Duck. Meanwhile, Gina and Hoss came out of the fat square house, the Island, from across the yard. Gina was a tiny, quiet thing, and Hoss a big, garrulous walrus of a man – perhaps too garrulous. Like Pepper, he did not know when to shut up, but with completely opposite results. She was all waspish wit, ready for a smack-down, and he was all love and trust and geniality, with a ready bear-hug for any stranger. Indeed, it was his affability that led him to think that a tray of pot brownies would be enjoyable for all at a faculty/student social his sophomore year. That he was expelled for such a kindness seemed a cosmic injustice, but he was good enough with the guitar to make a few bucks at cafes and on the street, and he did contract work at bigger music venues like The Warehouse, so he took it all in lumbering stride. Gina’s place in the Island was ambiguous, as the best anyone could tell was that she moved between the Island bedrooms of Hoss and Pepper, occasionally shifting to the couch if she needed her own space and no bohemian transients were in town and on it. Tex held the remaining bedroom in the Island and he mostly kept his room to himself.

“Hey, Stormy, where’s the Rag?” bellowed Hoss.

“He’s inside watching Rose Petal.” Rose Petal was Stormy’s two-year-old daughter. Together with Ragman, Ziggy, and Jazmine, this mother-daughter pair completed the permanent roster of Duck residents, at least for the time being. Of course, both the Duck and the Island had their parade of transients and hangers-on.

“Hahaha, that Rag,” roared Hoss inexplicably, shaking his head like a giant potato all covered with coarse, bushy hair.

He unclasped his guitar case, and he and Tex plucked out a few lines together. Then Tex strummed out the first chords of a song, and Hoss laid on with the notes. Hoss would sing this one, mellowing his voice to the sweet timbre of a Jewish cantor on a High Holiday.

A new day is coming, people are changing
Ain’t it beautiful, crystal blue persuasion . . .

In the pauses one could tell — Tex was good, but on guitar Hoss was master.

“My god,” Jazmine said. “Look at that crescent moon and Venus so bright. It’s like something planetary is really happening. A sign of something coming.” Everyone looked at the sky, a velvet blanket full of stars, no doubt, but with the moon and Venus most illustrious.

Stormy, spinning with her dress spread out as the song ended, chanted at the sky: “Gnomes of the earth, Nymphs of water, Sylphs of the air, and Salamanders of fire.”

“Where do you come up with this shit, Stormy,” asked Hoss cheerily, adjusting the guitar on his lap.

“Elemental spirits, baby, you can get ‘em from a book if it ain’t in your soul. Like Pepper says, don’t y’all ever read anything?”

“Hoss never got past picture books,” Tex quipped. Then he strummed another random chord while Hoss took a hit on the joint and sprawled back to look at the stars. But random as Tex’s chord was, Stormy knew what he was thinking, and as soon as he hit the strings again, she was singing along:

When the moon is in the seventh house
And Jupiter aligns with Mars

She sang it from a soulful, timeless depth, like it was no joke, and kept swaying, her carob skin gleaming a perfect blend of spiritual mystery and sensual presence.

Then peace will guide the planets
And love will steer the stars.
This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius . . .

Under that Venus and that moon on that early spring night of 1970, a half dozen hippies believed earnestly, joyfully, that indeed a planetary change was coming. The tragic naivete of their idealism had not yet hit.

* * *

BookCoverImage     year-bfly-cover     

 

Who were the hippies?

Intrigued by my hippie posts and new novel, some of my younger friends have asked for a nutshell clarification on who the hippies were. They are aware that a kind of cultural revolution was taking place in the late 1960s, but remain a little vague on it. Here’s my one-page summary.

Let’s start with the Vietnam war, which probably more than anything drove the urgency of the hippie movement. Teenagers were being sent involuntary (through the draft) and in droves to fight, die, and get maimed for no clear reason they could see other than to save the pride of some old white guys in stuffed shirts and suits in Washington. And it was ubiquitous – everyone in every neighborhood knew kids who went to Vietnam: hence, widespread anti-war rallies and public (and illegal) burning of draft cards.

The anti-war movement brought anti-Establishment thinking, which already had some threads in rock and roll and beatnik culture, in recent memories of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and Gandhi’s pacifism, to a new level of cohesiveness and to a whole new set of ideals. It was no longer just, “Fuck the Man, I’m going to celebrate my own eccentricities”; now it was, “There’s a whole generation of us fed up with the Establishment, and we’re bonding together in the public sphere – we can do this, we can effect a cultural paradigm shift and move out of the era of materialism, the era of the crushing corporate state, into a new age of peace and harmony, with a newfound respect for nature and simplicity.” So you had this fairly coherent anti-Establishment movement, absorbing the anti-war movement, civil rights and feminist movements, old beatniks like Allen Ginsberg, nascent environmentalism, a mushrooming interest in Eastern religions and philosophies as a possible alternative to the dead-end Establishment of the West. You had all of these groups together on the anti-Establishment wagon, and then you had the emerging phenomenon of the outdoor rock festival, a moveable public venue for the expression of mass solidarity. In 1962, Elvis Presley’s “Return to Sender” was the biggest hit of the year; by 1967, it was Jimi Hendrix and the Beatles’ Sgt. Peppers – an enormous change in the sonic contours of the culture in a very short span of time. It did look like it might be a millennial paradigm shift, a tidal wave ready to sweep all away before it. At least it scared the hell out of my grandma and Richard Nixon.

By the early 1970s, the hippie scene was faltering, a victim of both inner contradictions and external forces. The Vietnam war resistance, psychedelic drugs, sexual openness, the freedom of the commune – it seemed that everything about the 1960s could be incredibly liberating or wildly destructive. The hippies were perhaps not savvy enough to counter the destructive forces within and without and bring their beautiful ideals to full flower. But the cultural ground they broke was broken for good, and their legacy continues threading its way through subsequent cultural formations (from music to the fight for gender and racial and sexual orientation equality to organic foods and yoga centers). One could argue that the hippie dream of rewriting culture from the ground up around the ideals of peace, love, and flowers, not war, money, and machines, is not dead but running in multiple channels underground. The next time the Establishment gives us a catalyst with the same level of urgency as the Vietnam war, hippies might return in a more mature aspect, and “the world might wake up and burst into a beautiful flower” (Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums). Is this just a pipe-dream like Shangri-la or Atlantis? Maybe, but could it not also be that such visions in the collective unconscious only await a strong enough call from the next generation? Might I refer you to flower-child hippie, Donovan Leitch, as he invokes messianic forces from those submerged regions in the 1968 “Atlantis”?

And as the elders of our time choose to remain blind
Let us rejoice and let us sing and dance and ring in the new
Hail Atlantis!

(Vimeo h/t: Carlos Lara)

The HIPPIES are coming(click to view)

. . .

My new HIPPIES Facebook page