Hippies are cool folks. I’m just not sure if the shoe fits me or not. In some ways yes but in other ways not so much.
Tommy Elf published a new blog post recently on his blog, ‘Footsteps On My Path’ entitled ‘The Grateful Dead, The Hippy Mentality, and Me‘ and I commented to him on the book of face, where I first saw the announcement of his new post, how interesting it was that he wrote a post on the topic of Hippies as I too have been kicking around some ideas in my head for a post of my own regarding Hippies, Pagans and Counter-culture. He said, go for it, he looked forward to reading it. So, here it shall be, straight from my warped brain to you. 😉
Unfortunately, unlike Tommy, I never really got all that in to The Grateful Dead although I enjoyed a few of their songs which got radio play during the 1980s when I did most of my listening to popular music radio. I have always heard that they are a band that you have to experience live to truly appreciate though and I can definitely relate to that. I know some other bands whom I enjoy that are very much the same way. But, my own history with popular music, culture and such is quite different. I grew up in a family which was raised by parents who were U.S. Army (my dad served 20 years) and Country Music promoters. (After my dad left the Army he became first a DJ then eventually a General Sales Manager at various Country Music radio stations in the northwestern U.S. (Spokane Washington) then eventually here in the Dallas / Fort Worth area. He passed away in 1977 at the age of 48 from Lou Gehrig’s Disease but before then he had been the General Sales Manager of KBUY then KYAL radio on the AM band here locally. Although it was before I was born, my parents and sisters got to meet and mingle with many Country Music stars of the 1960s and 70s including Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette, Faron Young and others. In fact, my dad argued with a radio station owner over playing Charley Pride’s records on air because the owner didn’t like it when he found out Charley Pride was a black man singing country music. My dad won and played Charley Pride’s records on his show.
What does all of this have to do with Hippies, Pagans or counter-culture? Not much, but I am trying to give some back ground on where I came from to better explain where I am. I’m finding as I write this that I apparently have far more to say on the subject than I had imagined so if you’re still with me you might want to grab a nice drink, make yourself comfortable and prepare for a long read. 😉
Basically, what I am getting at is that I come from a very conservative minded family of which, I am decidedly the black sheep (or maybe tie dyed?). At least, as far as my generation of the family goes. Several of my nieces and nephews kind of went along a path similar to mine but my parents and siblings, not so much. So, up until I was about 12 (1980) I, too, listened to country music and saw the world in a similar way as my mom and sisters. It wasn’t until then that I discovered Rock-n-Roll and my world was opened to a different sound and different way of seeing things. By that time, the Hippy Era was long over (or so I was told by the radio and television) and the Disco Era was winding down too. For a few years I really enjoyed the oldies stations and got very in to the music of the 1950s and 1960s. This was a bygone era that I had missed, having only been born in 1968 myself. It seemed exciting and wonderful to me though. Then I jumped straight from the 1950s and 60’s into the popular music of the time, the 1980s, completely bypassing the 1970s. I didn’t get into Led Zeppelin and other music of the 1970s until the 1990s when grunge was all the rage.
Now, during my High School years I was in the JROTC program because my plan was to follow in my father’s footsteps and join the Army when I graduated. So I kept my hair cut short and did a lot of marching, drills and stuff like that. After school I was even a member and eventually commander of the Ranger Team which practiced extra-curricular activities like rappelling, survival training and weapon care and use. Yes, I was heavily in to it all. Then fate stepped in and changed my course. One thing I forgot to mention earlier was that in my younger years I suffered from asthma. I had my last asthma attack at age 7 but still had occasional bronchitis attacks and sinus troubles afterwards. It just so happened that on the day I went to MEPS to get my physical to join the Army, having already scored highly on the ASVAB test, I had a respiratory flare up (not a full blown attack by any means) so I took some Primatene that morning to clear up the slight wheezing I had. (A very rare occasion for me at that time.) It turns out, that because I listed having taken that dose on the forms they had us fill out that morning, asking what over the counter medications we had taken recently, I was deemed still asthmatic and unable to join. Now, my recruiter at the time told me, that I could have my family doctor write a letter and say that I had not had an asthma attack since I was 7 and could probably get it waived. But instead, I chose to let the matter go and went to technical school to study computer maintenance. This was in 1987. Operation Desert Shield was initiated in Iraq on August 2nd, 1990. I probably would have been there. But instead, by that time I was working at American Airlines where I still work today. Interesting turn of events. Perhaps the gods had other plans for me, even then? I don’t know. It’s hard to say. It’s not that I think the odds are that I would have died or anything like that if I were there. But it’s very likely I would be a very different person than I am today had I taken that route. That, I believe, is significant.
So, as I said earlier, by the 1990s, music had changed from the style I grew up with in the 80s and I wasn’t really getting in to it. So, I went exploring other things and it was then that I got heavily in to Led Zeppelin (other bands too, but VERY much in to Led Zeppelin). To the point I annoyed some of my friends who had grown up with older brothers who listened to Zep all the time so it was all old hat to them. I would have to say that it was during this time that I began preferring to grow my hair long, influenced by them and the fact that it was the first time in my life (being out on my own, no longer regulated by JROTC or an Army family’s demand for short hair). So I did, and I found I liked it that way. I always found it curious during this time period when people would call me a Hippy for wearing my hair long. I thought of the hippies then as having been a culture from before my time, before I was even born (almost). I thought “Man, these people must really miss hippies to see them in just anyone who chooses a different hair style than they prefer.” By this time, even the big hair bands of the 1980s were beginning to cut their hair short so it’s not like it was “in style” anymore and still isn’t much today. I just wear it that way because I like it like that. It’s really just that simple.
For a long time though I didn’t get the whole “Dirty Hippies” thing. I didn’t see myself as one so much because, well, for one I don’t think we should be involved in wars of aggression and building an empire but I’m not a total pacifist either. I do believe there is a time to fight and defense is that time. World War II, I get. Invading small countries on the other side of the world, not so much. But, over the years, I have learned that, despite the heavy dose of popular culture programming I received via television, radio etc. in which decades are packaged up and sold in nice, neat collections of songs, movies and fashions that no, the hippy era did not actually end after the Summer Of Love in 1967 and the horrible Charles Manson murders of 1969. It wasn’t like someone flipped a switch and all of the sudden it was the 1970s and life was all about disco. Actually, many of those ideals lived on and many of them still survive today. Hel, many of those old hippies still survive today for that matter. You see a lot of crossover between the Pagan communities and Hippy Communities. We share a lot of the same ideals. Live and let live. Organic food. Love the earth, etc. Some Hippies are Pagan and some Pagans are Hippies. Am I? Hel, I don’t know. I guess it depends on how you define what exactly a Hippy is I guess. I do enjoy tie dye, psychedelic rock, lava lamps and freedom though. So maybe I am. For some people, it’s just the hair thing alone that defines it I guess. Odd that. A bunch of those founding fathers of America I like also wore their hair long. 😉
Am I counter-cultural? Oh yes, I most assuredly am that. I think the dominant, mainstream culture has a lot of serious issues and if more people don’t stop chasing the paper dreams that mother culture wants us to buy in to then a major reckoning will be coming. The use it up and throw it away lifestyle which mainstream culture has programmed us to live by can’t support a planet of 7 billion mutant monkeys forever. Resources do run out, clean air, water and food are important. So, I am very much counter to that type of culture. I don’t want my kids and grand kids to have to live in a wasteland and think of me as a short sited, wasteful, defiler of the life giving world upon which we live. I would rather leave a better world to those generations I borrow this one from. But there are many things I could stand to change in my own life to contribute to that. I could start growing more of my own food and using less wasteful modes of transportation. I could live more gently on this world than I currently do. There is always room for improvement. I’m working on it. Does that mean we all need to become luddites and shun all technology? No, I love technology. What it means is, we should think of ways to use it better and reduce the negative impact it has on the environment. It means, we can do things smarter. Not all at once. Little changes, here and there, add up. Try it, it’ll be far out man!