Looking into my “hippy” past…

I’ve been curious about the 1960’s lately. I was “there” in a sense, but not really. I was 15 in 1967, the Summer of Love, and had no thought of running away from home where my dad and brother were. Why would I? I loved my family and was needed there. I loved my school, my church, my friend (yeah, I had one). I might act out — I did — but I wasn’t going anywhere. I was going to stay and fight it out. 

Drugs had begun to penetrate the middle class world in which I lived, but I’d promised my dad not to use them. I smoked some pot my senior year, but that was it. 

The other night, out of curiosity, I watched a documentary, Orange Sunshine. It was fascinating — mostly stuff I knew nothing about. I liked the anarchistic behavior of the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, but I have always been very skeptical of synthetic trips to an exalted spiritual state. I never doubted the authenticity of an acid trip, but I also have always thought that real things require more commitment, challenge to that commitment, doubt… But maybe that’s just me. The Brotherhood was really all about turning on the whole world which meant they had to — and did — manufacture a ton of LSD. At one point they made enough to “turn on” 100,000,000 people.

That wasn’t all. They also made journeys to Afghanistan for hash — that part of the movie was especially fascinating. The film footage of the Kabul bazaar back then was amazing, exotic, provocative. I’d have gone if I’d had the chance.

I was fascinated by the way the Weather Underground set up Timothy Leary’s jailbreak. 

But from the film, I understood why so many people in my life have considered me to be, and called me, a hippy. Learning about “hippy values” from the film I understood. There’s nothing wrong with being a hippy — but I’m not.

I’m not a hundred percent sure where our values come from. Parents? Yeah, but also the books we read and the world around us. I think major influences on my values were my dad (and his precious Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam), Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, and the Sermon on the Mount. My dad was dying of MS right before my eyes, right there a huge argument for life’s brevity and unpredictability. All the while he was teaching me, “Drink! for you know not whence you came nor why: drink! for you know not why you go, nor where.” The entirety of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam is essentially argument after argument for “Sha, na, na, na, na live for today.”

“Waste not your Hour, nor in the vain pursuit
Of This and That endeavor and dispute.
Better be jocund with the fruitful Grape
Than sadden after none, or bitter, Fruit.”

From Thoreau I got:

“Remember thy Creator in the days of thy youth. Rise free from care before the dawn, and seek adventures. Let the noon find thee by other lakes, and the night overtake thee everywhere at home. There are no larger fields than these, no worthier games than may here be played. Grow wild according to thy nature, like these sedges and brakes, which will never become English bay…Enjoy the land, but own it not. Through want of enterprise and faith men are where they are, buying and selling, and spending their lives like serfs.” (Walden, chapter 10)

All pretty much boils down to, 

27  Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

28  If then God so clothe the grass, which is to day in the field, and to morrow is cast into the oven; how much more will he clothe you, O ye of little faith?

29  And seek not ye what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink, neither be ye of doubtful mind.

30  For all these things do the nations of the world seek after: and your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things.

31  But rather seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you.

32  Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.

33  Sell what ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth.

34  For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. Luke 12:27-40 (KJV)

These ideas spoke forcefully to me when I was a teenager. What was the point of acquiring a lot of things when you’re going to die, anyway? And life was (obviously) pretty short — what if I died in the middle of “selling my life like a serf”? I really did think those things. As an adult, I was lucky to spend every single day of my life doing something I loved until I didn’t love it any more. Then, by the grace of God, I was 62 and could get out of it with an income. 

Watching the hippy documentaries I understood. It seems LSD took some of my peers to some of the places I was looking for on my own. The “searcher” identity fit me as well as it fit them. The differences — which I’ve always known — are the peace thing and the community thing. I value peace, but I’m not peaceful. I’m also not a person who would want to live communally with a lot of other people. The way they lived, the ideals of perfection they seemed to hold, were at odds with my basic personality which is friendly — but solitary, and fierce.

Last night, pursuing my education into the world in which I reached adulthood, I watched the PBS program from The American Experience — “The Summer of Love.” I didn’t know how it all started, and it was interesting to learn. I did have accurate memories of how it ended.

A woman speaking from her experiences as a hippy on the Haight in 1967 said of the end of the hippies, “Acid deconstructs your world. You have to have the inner resources to rebuild it, and many of the kids who came up here that summer were too young or didn’t have anyway to rebuild themselves.” A lot of people were broken by those days, those experiences. Others remain there, remembering it as a halcyon moment in their lives when everything seemed possible and perfect. Others, like me, were never there. And others, more than we might have thought, moved along the conventional path of the military industrial establishment that the hippies (and I) reasonably questioned. 

I loved the film Orange Sunshine. I enjoyed seeing actual clips of The Brotherhood back in the day, seeing Laguna Beach in the sixties (it was one of my favorite destinations when I lived in Southern California), and listening to what the survivors of that time had to say. It was utterly fascinating — and the anarchist in me liked them. 

In case you’re interested in the film Orange Sunshine


Cult of Personality

One of the the best movies I’ve seen in EVER is The Death of Stalin: A Comedy of Terrors. True, you need a very dark sense of humor. It might even help to deepen your appreciation if you have lived some of your life under totalitarianism. Admittedly, my little venture into totalitarianism was brief and mostly happy, but I definitely got the big picture on what it is and means.

The film shows — in an almost factual way — the last night of Stalin’s life and ensuing events. The focus of the film is on the central committee, its fears, rivalries and corruption. The humor is grimly slapstick. The committee is brilliantly played by a bunch of actors I don’t know and two I do — Michael Palin and Steve Buscemi. The director is Armando Iannucci about whom I know nothing except this film is a masterpiece.

One of the puzzling things to me about history is that the entire burden of stories of atrocities against humanity during the 20th century rests on Hitler, somewhat unfairly. It’s suspected that more than 20 million people were killed under Stalin’s leadership. How could a funny movie be made about this? I’m not going to tell you. The film isn’t for everyone, but I laughed out loud several times.

The Death of Stalin carries a meta-message warning of the dangers of personality cults. Like Chairman Mao, Stalin was a real (not merely hyped) hero and beloved by his people (many? most? some?) but for thirty years, he maintained his power through death lists, sycophantic followers and an ignorant public. One revelatory (and darkly funny) scene shows Stalin lying on the floor unconscious in his Dacha. The committee cannot figure out what to do. When they finally decide to bring in a doctor, one of them says despairingly, “But all of the good doctors are dead or in gulags…”