History of the Hippie

From ancient Rome to the 1967 Summer of Love, the history of the hippie is the history of America.

History of the Hippie

Long hair going down to the middle of his back, faded patched pants, beads and a psychedelic smile, he walked down the back roads of history, playing Sgt. Peppers Lonely Heart’s Club songs on a handmade wooden flute. He shunned dollars and material possessions, preferring flowers. He would often be seen hitchhiking and would always return your peace sign. He believed in free love, marijuana (which he held a religious sacrament) and peace on earth. He tasted of religious philosophies from eclectic Christianity to Mahayana Buddhism to the League for Spiritual Discovery. He was loved by children, hated by rednecks, featured in Hollywood films, such as Easy Rider, Godspell, The Big Lebowski, Zabriskie Pi. He became a familiar figure on the American Scene. And then quite suddenly, Jay Hippie, Esq., bright-eyed son of Joe Crewcut, disappeared.

Screenshot from Zabriskie Point

The time at which his abrupt departure has been marked varies. Some place it at the time of the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention, when Allen Ginsberg, poet-patron saint of the hippies, was gassed while chanting “ommm” in the park. Others locate it around the barbiturate death of Jimi Hendrix in September of 1970. But a funeral was held for Jay earlier on Haight Street on October 13, 1967. It was the end of the Summer of Love, and the Haight Ashbury was like a flower after blooming, when its petals begin to dry and the beauty begins to wane. A long procession moved down the street in San Francisco this autumn day. It was made up of young men and women, many under the influence of LSD-25, that biochemical mind-changer which escaped the scientists’ lab and began to be gulped freely at the beginning of the Sixties, igniting a wave of optimism and ecstasy that spread throughout America and around the world.

It was the most frolicsome funeral in memory. Through San Francisco's Golden Gate Park wended a legion of hippies, the lads bedizened with beads and serapes, the lasses with furs and long velvet dresses. Then came the casket, a 15 foot gray box labeled “Summer of Love” and behind it, an equally outsized stretcher upon which a hirsute “corpse” clutched a zinnia to its breast—symbol of death of the flower children. Television cameras ogled the scene as the mourners gathered around the casket and filled it with charms, peacock feathers, crucifixes and a marijuana-flavored cookie. As the strains of God Bless America and Hare Krishna echoed from the pastel hillsides of the Hashbury, the casket was set on fire and a shout went up “Hippies are dead: now the Free Men will come through!”

Timothy Leary, who was regarded as “guru” by many of those that turned on in the Sixties, had this to say about “the death of Hippie” at a reunion with his old comrade, Allen Ginsberg, “It was a media hype planted by the CIA. Nothing died. I think there’s a little hippie in all of us. Everything went exactly as planned… it all developed and is happening perfectly.”

Whether the hippie is indeed dead or just outside looking in, we can note that he was not a totally isolated occurrence in the flow of time. Throughout history, groups and cults have emerged that have been based on direct mystical experience, that frowned on materialism and conventional sexual morality, that adopted garb and grooming different from the standard costumes of society, that affirmed love and peace, that renovated the arts, music and philosophy of the times.

First There Was Love

We can recall the agnostic Christian sects in the Greco-Roman world of the second century, the “cult of pure love” of the 12th century Troubadours, the Brethren of the Free Spirit of 14th century England, as well as the pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood headed by the Rosettis which existed in England in the late 1800s and evolved into the Aesthetic Movement. We can remember the Dadaist Movement with its absurd style, initiated by the Frenchman Gautier at the turn of this century, and the Bohemians of the Twenties. All of these displayed aspects of the style which would later be adopted by the hippies.

We can look back with mixed feelings on the 1950s. Overpopulation was something they worried about in India. We burned surplus wheat in the fields. Pollution was something in downtown Los Angeles to which they had just given the name “smog,” but which was easily escaped, even there, by flight to that utopia called Suburbia.

The Fifties were also times of the conformist in the grey-striped suit, McCarthyism and the fear of witch hunt, and youth gangs in black leather jackets and greased hair who sowed their wild oats before they returned to the inevitabilities of life. The job. The marriage. The debts and the good citizenship.

Beatniks are Born

Then, like a lightening bolt from a blue sky, it struck—the Sixties. The Beatniks led in the new era; they were named by the press after the Russian Sputnik satellites that had thrust America into the space race. Beats dug jazz and jeans and sweatshirts and cool and nihilism. They recited poetry to bongo beats in coffeehouses, learned Indian peyote chants with a bitter aftertaste, and grooved on “Spades” (blacks) and Zen. Jack Kerouac wrote Beat’s liturgy and Lenny Bruce vented its rage. Gary Snyder, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsberg were its laureates and outstanding participants.

But there were never really very many Beatniks, and the masses in those years—when old Ike gave way to young John—remained in the doldrums. (There were never really many agnostics, or Dadaists, or Brethren of the Free Spirit, either).

LSD is Discovered

The seeds of the Sixties were sown way back in 1943, when Dr. Albert Hofmann quite by chance, had a bit of crystal LSD penetrate his hand and catalyze a chain reaction in his nervous system. LSD remained the province of a small number of doctors until the early 1960s, when it became the Philosopher’s Stone of alchemists Tim Leary and Richard Alpert (aka Ram Dass) at that bastion of Ivy League glory, Harvard.

The exploits of these young psychologists of the Harvard Research Project were hot press copy, and the knowledge of LSD became quite public. It began to leak into the hands of Hollywood stars like Cary Grant and Steve Allen, and various New York jet setters. Kesey began to tour with his Pranksters, and even Robert Kennedy was said to be giving it to foreign dignitaries. Soon, small seed groups of LSD users supplied by doctors began to germinate and grow.

Exponential Change

The late historian Arnold Toynbee comments on this period of American history, “I have been visiting the United States since 1925. Before my latest visit, I have been absent for two years, and I came away with the impression that in these two years there has been more change in American life than all the previous forty.”

That wild weed, the Psychedelic Flower, blossomed as the Sixties unfolded, and nowhere was the blossoming fuller than in California. Of course there was also the East Village in New York, Old Town in Chicago, and a number of other “scenes.” Theirs were a new and different phenomena than the beat scenes of North Beach and Venice, California, and Greenwich Village—in that hippies were more numerous and highly visible in their wild psychedelic plumage.

Photo via Haight Ashbury

As the song went, “When you come to San Francisco, be sure to wear flowers in your hair.” The Haight-Ashbury hippie district became a national media hotspot after the first Human BeIn drew national attention to “the street called Love.” It had started this phase earlier, around 1963, as a place the psychedelic contingent of the old North Beach Beatnik scene migrated to in order to find cheap rent. Communes and crash pads were started in San Francisco houses that were constructed back in the 1890s.

Until the first Human Be-In, the Haight was an amazingly idyllic place for being in the middle of a major US city. The Diggers would distribute free food, free clothes—they even opened a Free Store. The Communication Company kept the people informed with periodic bulletins distributed on the street.

The Haight of 68

Following the 1967 Summer of Love, and the nationwide publicity, the Haight became a mecca for people from all over the country, who brought with them bad drugs, such as methedrine and heroin, economic privation, and just plain bad manners. This marked the beginning of the end. Similar deterioration could later be observed in the communes of Sonoma– free land communes called Morningstar and Wheeler’s Ranch. (At first these were places that the “beautiful people” fled to as the Haight fell. Later, they too were invaded by motorcycle gangsters and speedfreaks. The Hashbury refugees also went to Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, which later in the Sixties became the scene of battles between Yippies and police, as radical action replaced flower power.)

Further down the California coast was a commune called Holiday Lodge, in the town of Boulder Creek, near Santa Cruz. Nearby was the homebase of the Merry Pranksters in La Honda, where Ken Kesey's magic bus, “Further,” would be parked during long stretches of cosmic party. While Kesey spread the psychedelic message, he frequently did so in the same way that the Army did—with involuntary dosings that on occasion produced freakouts.

Seventy-five miles to the south of Santa Cruz were the forests of Big Sur, which stretches 90 miles from below the town of Carmel to Piedras Blancas lighthouse. In the middle Sixties, you would see bright-eyed young men and women, their long hair perfumed by the freshness of this natural wonderland and by the newness of their young minds, cleansed by LSD of materialism and selfishness. They lived communally, sharing their food and dope and bodies by cold streams among tall redwoods.

In Los Angeles was Sunset Strip, with clubs like Pandora's Box and Lysergic a Go Go, and on Ventura Boulevard, the Magic Mushroom, where “Radio Free Oz,” with the Firesign Theatre, was broadcast. Oddly-costumed youth, sleek and psychedelic, made their way up and down LA’s streets, and whispers of “acid” and “grass” were heard by passers-by as the street sellers peddled their wares quite openly, just like the Haight. In later times, they would gather in the elderly Jewish Fairfax district of LA, in front of the Free Press Bookstore, Canter’s Restaurant and “Capsule Corner.”

The commune called Strawberry Fields/Desolation Row was located in Malibu Canyon. There, in a relatively paranoia-free environment, over 20,000 people passed through, many stopping for a while to take the freely-available LSD in this high spot in the sun. It was started by Gridly Wright, a 33-year-old “high priest” who was later arrested for smoking marijuana while on a radio talk show.

Laguna Beach

But nowhere, down the corridors of time, was like Laguna Beach. The pure scene. The electric beach community. A small town south of Los Angeles by sixty miles and north of San Diego about the same distance, separated from the rest of the coastal glut by a green belt of rolling hills. Artists colony, jet-set resort, retirement community for the wealthy, Laguna was clean and “quaint” in 1965 when the first head-shop opened there and sold blue Sandoz liquid over the counter.

A few Laguna surfers traveled to Millbrook, New York, to Leary's experimental community there on the Mellon Estate, and brought back the seeds of the Brotherhood of Eternal Love—a religious group of people holding LSD a Sacrament.

Psychologists and psychiatrists who used LSD experimentally lived in the Laguna hills and mingled with high energy surfers in a scene characterized by pharmaceutical LSD, strong Lebanese hash, and living in the Tao, the flow of life-nature.

The beaches there are rocky and the water clear blue. Often you would see young men and women with long dresses sit peacefully on the beach at sunset, eyes alive and electric. Timothy Leary comments on Laguna trippers in Secret of the Oval Room:

Aside from the cosmic God satoric business, what acid did to millions of young people was to ennoble them, crack them loose from the middle class monolith, free them to wander around the country, a new amateur royalty playing in the garden of incredible goodies, treating the world as a here-now paradise to be gratefully enjoyed. The Laguna Beach hippies used to dance barefoot through the beaches and mountains murmuring “Thank you God.”

An account of a Laguna Beach hippie named Chuck: “It was a high winter, 1969. Gentle people gathered on the beach to smoke hash and meditate, spaced out on pure psychedelics, watching the sun which always put on a beautiful play, pretending to be a giant flaming orange as it sunk into the ocean. A girl with black hair to her knees played a solitary flute to herald the transition between night and day.

“There were floods in California that year.” The canyons leading to the ocean, unaccustomed to the deluge, sweated highwater, closing roads and blocking traffic.“One day, after a particularly beautiful psilocybin trip, in which rain fell on the roof mingling with the sounds of Donovan on the stereo, I met a psychiatrist from England who lived in the hills above town. He turned me on to the eight tablets called Blue Pharmaceutical which were actually crystal LSD from Czechoslovakia manufactured by Spofa Pharmaceutical Works, made into small blue tablets of extreme potency and purity.”

“Later, at the Mystic Arts World, a headshop with many rooms selling books and beads and health foods, I decided to try some of the LSD with a girl named Jennifer. I split a tablet in half, giving one section to her and eating the other myself. As I came on to the effects of the LSD, I felt a desire to go to the beach, to meditate, to be one with the serenity of nature.”

“Although I had taken underground LSD, including Owsley Purple Haze, for about one year, the experiences induced by this particular material were infinitely more intense and profound. We walked down the beach and sat next to rocks. I felt the need to lie down. I noticed the cells of my hand were visible, they merged with color into the rock, which also had cells. All of the earth became one living organism.”

“The horizon became engulfed by bolts of electricity. A humming ommmmm ommmmmm pulsed through the auditory spectrum. It was as if an ancient process had been initiated. Rainbows fanned from my third eye in all directions. I would see all around the horizon at once. Consciousness-awareness expanded outward to encompass the entire universe, the whole cosmos at once! All of a sudden, I was gone. All was radiating energy—the Clear Light of the Void.”

But the pure scene could not be an island unto itself. The vast majority of the people of the Sixties did not take LSD. There were, according to one estimate, only about 200,000 true hippies and maybe a million “weekend” hippies and part-timers in the United States. In the case of Laguna, Orange County was a right wing haven and could not let the gentle hippies alone.

But it wasn't only the Establishment that destroyed the Laguna Beach scene, it was the head’s own greed that contributed greatly to the demise of this “metanoid” paradise. Into the small town came a group of people with ideas of commercializing the popularity of LSD. These dealers brought with them a new kind of LSD called Orange Sunshine, which they claimed was the best around. Chuck comments on this new type of acid: “It was not at all the same as the pharmaceutical Spofa, or even the Owsley LSD. Instead it made me nauseous, made me shake. It did not bring me to the clear psychedelic spaces charted by the pure LSD. It was distorted and impure.”

Indeed the August 1969 Woodstock Festival billed by the cinema as “where it all began,” was where it all ended, due in part to Orange Sunshine acid. A half million young people worshipped rock stars who would become a new elite, capitalizing on the “revolution” as the pigs did in Orwell’s Animal Farm. Orange Sunshine was distributed wildly, filling “freak-out” tents with young victims. It was a short way from Woodstock to Altamont, and when the wild eyes of jimson-weed-smoking psychotic Charlie Manson peered from the TV tube, it was evident that the magic was indeed gone.

Image via Etsy

Laws Limiting LSD

Basically, what destroyed the LSD movement were the government’s harsh laws against psychedelic drugs, which slowly depleted the existing world supply of pure LSD. Commercializers then made imitation LSD which had various impurities. Many thought there was something wrong with their own heads and that they couldn’t handle LSD, or that there was “speed” or “strychnine” in the LSD. Actually, it was usually either by-products of faulty LSD synthesis or degradation products resulting from not storing LSD correctly, or a combination of both that gave the impression that the material had been adulterated.

The effects on the hippies—or “Counterculture” as they became labeled toward the end of the Sixties– were lethal. Where they once united in Be-Ins and preached love, the effects of LSD impurity created bummers and misuse of the chemical, and also led to a burst of collective “insecurity” and a “freaked out'' psychology. The non-materialistic hippies fell victim to sellouts, hip commercializers and tranquilizer-swilling rock musicians who capitalized on the energy that the psychedelic movement produced, bought their Beverly Hills houses and their BMWs, and turned their coke-burned noses in the air, repudiating their psychedelic ways. The likes of Stephen Stills, Country Joe McDonald, Grace Slick, Bob Dylan and Steve Miller have recently admitted that they were “only in it for the money” as Frank Zappa once put it.

As the Seventies began, we saw former spiritual seekers like John Lennon drunk, brawling openly in night clubs. The once noble rock music degenerated to cliché-ridden disco and punk rock.

“Get your head together” replaced “stay high'' as credo when the Sixties turned to Seventies. LSD apparently didn’t work anymore, yet the self-realized seekers had a hard time getting it through their heads that they should be good robots and work, work, work, as their new President, Richard Nixon, was urging. They looked to all sorts of other methods of consciousness-expansion: Transcendental Meditation, Biofeedback, Scientology, the body therapies, and umpteen gurus and pop psychologists. Yet nothing worked for them like the authentic hippie movement did.

From The Hippies by the correspondents of Time Magazine, 1967:

Genuine hippies are always outnumbered by the hangers-on they attract—mod-togged teenyboppers, musicians, swingers and the plain curious. In fact, probably a third or less of the participants in any joyous Be-In are hippies. In the end, though, there’s one sure way to distinguish a real hippie from his assorted sympathizers: hippies drop acid. That is, real hippies frequently, if irregularly ingest LSD.

Indeed, without LSD, the highly-visible people whom the media called “hippie'' became as extinct as the proverbial Dodo. Hippie is a media-created word. It evolved from “hep-cat” of the Forties and “hipster” of the Fifties and became a label for many types of people in the Sixties. Yet it did characterize the “flower-children” who displayed a distinctive style of behavior and clearly defined values and social attitudes.

Photo via Wikipedia

Seventies Hippies

What was called “hippies” in the seventies was closer to the hobo or wino than the flower child. It wasn’t the long hair and colorful clothing and beads that made hippies, it was what was going inside their heads—there was a new and expanded level of consciousness and intelligence.

The drug scene of the Seventies is riddled with alcohol, Quaaludes and cocaine. Hippies of the Sixties despised alcohol, seeing it as part of the Establishment’s game. Marijuana was the non LSD drug of choice. They shunned depressants, seeing them as part of the medical brain-control game. They were victimized by speed freaks, and coke was just another type of speed.

The use of marijuana has changed as the number of users has increased to a quarter of the population by the end of the 1970s. Marijuana, never a major psychedelic, became the cornerstone of the new “hip” consumption pattern of passive hedonism that came to include health foods, Starbucks and the iPhone. Qualities of marijuana become symbols of class status not experimentation or intellect.

The sexual revolution corresponding with the breakthroughs in drugs, one of the characteristics of the hippie movement had also regressed. Marriage and possessive coupling had replaced the free love and experimental attitudes of the Sixties. Sex was again linked with material success rather than with love. The macho, aggressive, competitive style has replaced the gentle openness of the bygone days.

We can take a tour through the former scenes of California, to glimpse the changes that the 21st century brought. The overall population of California has swollen, due to a large influx of people from other parts of the US and Mexico. As in the United States as a whole, California’s resources are aggressively depleted and its economy damaged by the financial crisis. Population increases, spelled the end of the abundance upon which the hippies lived for so long.

Around Laguna Beach, a community with a million new people has replaced the orange groves and rolling hills of Irvine Ranch with many thousands of homes—all painted the same color by city ordinance—and high rise apartments in thick clusters. Laguna itself is now a playground for the rich. “Operation Brotherhood of Eternal Love” (a Drug Enforcement Administration codeword) cleared the drug dealers out of town. The lower class residents have been priced out of town. The Mystic Arts World was burned down in 1971, some say by local right wingers exhibiting a vendetta against the hippies. The only room surviving the blaze contained the Evolution Mandala of Dion Wright, which had magically escaped the flames.

There are no hippies walking Sunset. The psychedelic clubs are long gone. The only costumes seen on Sunset Boulevard are those of the tourists.

Big Sur is all fenced in now. The land where the communes once existed is now blocked by gates where tourists in Winnabagos pay fifty dollars a night for the privilege of a spot. The sign on a local grocery store which said “NO HIPPIES ALLOWED” was taken off and replaced with “Try our new Latte special.”

Speaking of the area around Santa Cruz, Kesey has left La Honda for Oregon. Holiday Commune is long gone, as are Strawberry Fields, Morningstar, Rancho Olinpoli and all the other free land communes where all comers were once welcomed.

Most of the hippies became middle-class or working-class couples with kids and a mortgage and a creeping sense of confusion at the violence and limitations of modern life. Others have gone out to the country, attempting to escape the disintegrating cities and paranoid suburbs, content to weather the storm in A-frames or geodesic domes, smoking homegrown with the old lady/old man to keep them warm. Still others have taken “love it or leave it” at face value and now live singularly or collectively in foreign lands.

Leary suggested that hippies are “premature evolutes,” one generation before the age of space travel. His concept of the future includes the building of large space-habitats, where people could create “mini-earths.” which are based on commonly agreed union principles.

But space-habitats are still along way off, even according to Google, and indeed Jay Hippie, Esq., is nowhere in sight. Yet perhaps he is more a Rip Van Winkle than a Judge Crater. There is a post-hippie phenomenon developing. Many former hippies have come into positions of power and influence in the political and economic spheres.

In 1984, by George Orwell, one of the characteristics of the negative utopia Orwell described was the rewriting of history. That is, the past is changed by the media to ensure the perpetuation of a strong central authority. This is what was done in America by the media to the hippies and their drugs. But as the Seventies drew to a close, many realized that the trips in the Sixties were mostly good, and that the smiling hippie seems increasingly preferable to the leering youth of urban centers across the world.

Indeed, it may be time for a comeback of the hippie, ignited by the legalization of marijuana, a welcomed replacement to the intensity of LSD. We can look back and learn from past errors of LSD, proper usage of marijuana must be imparted to insure safe sessions. And then perhaps the old question, "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" will be answered: They are not gone; it is spring and they are everywhere. You see, I hold the bud in my hand and I want you to have some too.

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Wendy Weedler
Wendy Weedler
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Wendy Weedler

Lives in Washington D.C. Has been part of the legalization movement for decades.

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