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Sunday, 13 January 2013


In some ways it is hard to define who hippies actually were. It is easy to say that they were anti-establishment and could be identified by the way they dressed. Just like there are “drugstore cowboys” who have never been on a horse, back in the day there were many young people who believed in the hippy kind of culture but never made the full leap. Some just lived the lifestyle while in college while others lived at home in their parent’s house or held down 9 to 5 jobs but smoked a bit of reefer and listened to the music of the times in non-working hours.

When I left (quit) high school in Montreal in late 1964 I didn’t know anyone who smoked pot. The Beatles had been around for about a year and their songs like Can’t Buy Me Love and I Should Have Known Better were hardly what you would call deep. There were a few guys around town who tried to look like the Beatles and let their hair grow a bit so they had a mop top. There was one guy I would often see in downtown Montreal who looked a lot like Ringo Starr.
The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show 1964
The following are my own opinions as to how the hippy era came about. I am sure there will be those that disagree with me.
In late 1963 John Kennedy was assassinated and for many it was like a hard punch in the stomach. Many thought at the time that he represented a younger approach to things, the Peace Corp and the fact that he was in his forties and had a pretty wife. Previously to Kennedy, American presidents had been older men often with frumpy wives.
It was just a few months later that the Beatles first came to North America and they were a welcomed distraction, something fresh. It was kind of like there was still something out there to get excited about.
For the first half of the 1960s a lot of things were similar to the 1950s. There were drive-in movies, a cleaned up Elvis, hanging out at the local diner, Friday night dances at the high school, The Beach Boys and surfing music, spending a day at the beach, white jeans and madras shirts. We were dancing to songs like Woolly Bully and You Can’t Sit Down.
Most of us grew up in rather conservative homes back then. Rocking the boat in almost any fashion was considered a threat to the status quo.
But there were other things going on too. Most people were aware of who the Beatniks were. Bongo drums and goatees many of us thought. The pill had been introduced. Folk music and the messages about the downtrodden and injustices were popular around 1963. We saw the pictures on TV of black people being fire hosed in the deep US south. The Viet Nam war was beginning to rage.
The post war baby boomers were starting to go off to college, many with financial help from their parents who hadn’t done too badly in the previous decade. Kids rebelling against their parents weren’t anything new but this time a lot of other things seemed to come together at one time. This wasn’t the crowd of ex- soldiers coming back from WW2 and trying to get ahead in life by getting a post-secondary education. These were often kids who had pampered childhoods.
Many college students started to think for themselves for the first time. They were reading books written by Herman Hesse, John Steinbeck, Gunter Grass, Kurt Vonnegut, J.R.R. Tolkien, John Barth, William Golding, Ayn Rand, and others.
There were 2 books in particular that had a lot of influence, particularly on young men. One was J.D. Salinger’s frank and graphic description of a character named Holden Caulfield’s coming of age. It pretty well kicked conservative thinking right in the teeth. Some had already read it in high school. The other book was Jack Kerouac’s On The Road. Kerouac became a hero to many. The book also opened some people’s eyes as to a search for spiritual enlightenment. Kerouac was a pretty handsome looking dude but was a mess as a human being. Alcohol and heavy duty drugs destroyed his life. Dying young seems to be an attractive thing to some for some reason. A few years later, dying young would happen to a number of rock stars.

Jack Kerouac
A lot of people like road trip stories or movies, the adventure of being in places unfamiliar. Being mixed up with junkies, whores, and criminals may be interesting from a distance but is truly sad to see up close. I did my share of hitch hiking in the 1960s. I saw the poverty of Indian reservations, a wino with dried puke on his clothes waiting along with me for a day labourer’s job, I sang for my supper once at a city mission along with a number of other men who were down and out, I once got a restaurant voucher from the Sally Ann. It isn’t a pretty life.
The first time I noticed hippies was in the student ghetto area of Montreal near McGill University. I remember seeing a gal running barefoot to a small grocery store braless. It left a defined image in my mind. You would also see some of them in coffee houses like the New Penelope and the Yellow Door.
I knew a few American guys who were at McGill whose fathers were with the CIA. I also knew a few guys who got up on ladders on St. Catherine Street and gave political harangues. I ran down alleys with the rest of the crowd pursued by the police with batons when they tried to put an end to a Seperatiste march on Sherbrooke Street.
I remember seeing my first psychedelic light show at the McGill Student Union building in around 1966. I spent about 4 years living in the McGill student ghetto area. I never really thought that the people I knew or saw in the area were hippies because long hair and army surplus jackets had become the norm.
Very few of those that I had gone to high school with had embraced the alternate lifestyle. Most were either going to university or had found a 9 to 5 job with hopes of moving up the ladder in the business world. Hippies were always a small part of the general population.
I remember seeing a guy who looked like Jimmy Hendrix complete with a vest with fringes and a wide belt with silver looking things on it in a bar in Lake George, New York on Labour Day Weekend in 1966.
Jimi Hendrix
1967 was pretty well all about Expo 67 in Montreal. I didn’t have much of a clue about the “Summer Of Love” other than hearing Scott Mackenzie’s “If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair.”
In 1968 I was out on the west coast in BC for a short bit of time. I was pretty well broke so I never could really afford to go to the nightclubs like the Retinal Circus that were showcasing psychedelic music. I did notice the posters on telephone poles with wavy fat letters. Head shops were starting to open up on 4th Avenue.
I did a lot of hitchhiking in the late 60s and early 70s and would often run into hippies out on the road, More than once did I hear “Got an extra smoke man?” There were a number of times where I would leave some town and find as many as 20 or 30 hippies with their thumbs out hoping for a lift. Sometimes they had a dog with them. I was relatively clean cut and each time I would see these groups I would walk past them before sticking my thumb out. In most cases I would get a lift long before they did. I think it was because we were kind of living in an “us and them” time. After passing the hippies on the road “straight” folks including families would often pick me up as though they were rescuing me. Whatever, it worked for me.

Hippie VW van.
The shit really hit the fan in 68. First Martin Luther King was killed and then Bobby Kennedy. The draft was in effect in the US and American boys were being shipped home in body bags from Viet Nam at an alarming rate. There were anti-war protests everywhere. Racial tension was high and parts of cities in the US were burned to the ground. In the fall the Yippie movement surfaced in Chicago in riots and demonstrations around the Democratic convention in Chicago. 1968 was like the peak of craziness and madness.
Martin Luther King
Whether we were hippies or not we were listening to Simon and Garfunkle, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and a lot of British groups. We eagerly awaited each new Beatles album. We were getting messages from the music. The musical Hair opened on Broadway. Songs on the radio were no longer 2 minutes and 10 seconds.

Joan Baez and Bob Dylan
I totally missed out on Woodstock in the summer of 69. It wasn’t until the album came out that I became aware of what had occurred. It was probably the pinnacle of the hippie era. Over a half a million people, many wacked out on something, all getting along for the most part and a feeling that they were all on the same page.
It wasn’t until 1970 that I smoked my first joint. I had always been suspect about things I wasn’t that familiar with. I was living in a frat house at the top of University Street in Montreal at the time. The frat life wasn’t that popular back then and most of the boarders were students who weren’t brothers. A German guy named Klaus who lived down the hall lit me up for the first time.

Klaus was an interesting guy. I have no idea what courses he was taking. He converted his room into kind of a hippy pad. He bought a roll of burlap and covered the walls with it. Almost all of the furnishings in his room were close to the floor including his bed that was just a mattress. He had a rich girlfriend who had an old sawmill on her family’s property and Klaus made little tables out of split logs he got from there. Fat round rice lamps hung from the ceiling. He had psychedelic posters on the wall. In some ways his room seemed like a kind of shrine.
In the summer of 1970 the students all left the frat house and I was kind of left in charge of the place. I had lost my job because of cut backs and decided to rent out the rooms for my own personal profit. Some of the renters were hippy types including some guys from Sweden. A guy I had met in Nebraska the previous year turned up in his VW van. One day he brought home two hippie gals. One for each of us I guess. I remember renting a room to a big black guy from New York. He had two fat white girlfriends with him. Sexual values had kind of changed for some over the years you might say.
On day a hippie looking guy turned up at the front door of the frat house along with his girlfriend. He wanted to rent a room. I thought he looked familiar and it turned out he was at Westmount High the same time I was. I remembered him as a 14 year old with a blackwatch sports jacket. Now he looked a lot like Charlie Manson. He got behind on his rent and I decided to check out his room to see if he was still around. He had pushed two dressers together and placed a mattress on top of them. Weird.
Like the 16 vestal virgins I headed out to the coast again, British Columbia and Vancouver. One day I took part in a student demonstration out at UBC. It was more like something to do than being for a cause.
I also spent some time in Edmonton. One night an old friend from Montreal invited me to go with him to see Abbie Hoffman at the Edmonton Field House. I will always remember one really gutsy guy yelling at Abbie and asking “How much are they paying you Abbie?” That took a lot of balls considering the crowd.
Abbie Hoffman
In 1970 the Kent State shootings occurred, Nixon was president, the Viet Nam war was still raging and the first Earth Day happened.
Kent State 1970.
In late autumn of 1970 I found myself in downtown Toronto on a cold night. I was just passing through town and decided to phone an old friend from high school from Montreal. He came down and picked me up in his car and for most of the next year and a half I was a roommate along with another guy from high school. My friend had a pretty decent job as a sales rep but away from work was into getting stoned on weed or hash and chasing women. He had let his hair grow and had a droopy mustache. (I have to write a story about those days in TO.)
From time to time we would go down to a place in Toronto called Rochdale that was basically a large apartment building that had been taken over by hippie types. We used to joke about how the building dwellers scattering when we turned up in shirts and ties after work to buy some grass or hash. That never really happened but we were looked upon as being a bit suspect. We did learn about the accuracy of scales there.

The former Rochdale Builiding in Toronto
We were stoned quite a lot during that time. I remember my roommate driving down the Don Valley Parkway and not understanding how he could manage to steer the car so well. It seemed like we were almost inches away from the lighted guard rails. Paisley shirts had become quite popular. We were listening to stuff by Iron Butterfly, Janis Joplin, Moody Blues and a new album by Neil Young called Harvest. I thought my heart was going to burst a few times hearing In La Gadda Da Vida.
I went out to Banff in the summer of 71 and my roommate’s parting gift was a bit of hash rapped in some tin foil. Sometime later my roommates moved on to a penthouse in Don Mills and I found myself living in downtown Toronto. One night I was invited over to the penthouse and we did some hash. A plastic candle holder that had been swiped from a nightclub caught fire and the whole place was covered in burnt fibreglass residue. We were all asleep when the fire started. Luckily it was discovered  and there was hardly any damage other than to the coffee table.
Several months later I headed out to western Canada for good. Smoking weed kind of became a thing of the past for the next several years. I did another tour in Banff. Local businesses weren’t thrilled about hippies and it was made clear to them by the cops that they should move along to some other town as quickly as possible.
I spent some time in the early 70s in places like Vancouver, Victoria, Kamloops and Port Alberni.
In Vancouver I would often see the Hari Krishna folks outside the Bay store on West Georgia Street doing their “Rum-dum-dum-dum” thing. When I learned more about them I started to despise them. Mind control is one of the more disgusting things that people can do to one another as far as I’m concerned.
In the early 70s Vancouver had a very conservative mayor, a guy named Tom Campbell. He tried to shut down the underground newspaper The Georgia Straight and had cops on horseback break up protests. He also wasn’t thrilled about the hippie panhandlers in Gastown. “Got any spare change? I’m saving up to buy a Cadillac,”
For a few years there were “be-ins” at Stanley Park. Huge crowds would turn out. One year the newly formed Bachman-Turner Overdrive was the entertainment. We saw a few hippie streakers that day running through the throngs.
Easter Be-In Poster Stanley Park, Vancouver 1970s.
There was a “folky” place where hippies and others would sometimes go to on weekend nights that was located in a small town on the road to Whistler called Brackendale. There was also a church on the eastside of Vancouver that put on events that catered to counter culture kind of things.
Some hippie types headed out to Long Beach on the west coast of Vancouver Island where they spent the summer months as nudists. When I was living in Port Alberni some friends invited me to go swimming at a place called Jingle Pot mines on the outskirts of Nanaimo. Probably the only time I’ve been nude in public. Some guy on a ledge was playing a flute and even though I wasn’t stoned at the time I had images in my mind of Greek mythology.
I spent about a month in northern B.C. planting trees with a bunch of hippies from Victoria. They were pretty nice guys and few of them could be very funny. They were hard workers and would put in overtime as this type of work was a large part of their annual income.
There are a number of reasons why I never aspired to be a hippie even though I agreed with a lot of things they seemed to be about like being concerned about the environment and being anti-war. I didn’t like the assumption that one should identify with another person by the way they dressed. I didn’t care for the idea that someone had an immense amount of knowledge because they had a bushy beard and wore granny glasses. I also knew that a lot about what they talked about was second hand bullshit often meant to confuse you.
I had also come to the realization not long after I left high school that I felt a lot freer controlling my own direction rather than being a part of a crowd.
I have often thought that some of the reasons people banded together as hippies was partly because of previous unhappy events in the households they grew up in that many were the introverted types who had felt that they were on the outside from the time they were kids. Poverty also could make people band together. It wasn’t always about disillusioned middle class youth.
By the early 70s a lot of hippies were now in their mid- twenties and some had figured out that they needed to survive in another fashion other than living on a commune. Some found jobs like delivering the mail where it didn’t make much difference what you looked like. Some went back to school and got into teaching. Many got government jobs and joined a union. Still others had another look at capitalism and started small businesses like making clothes, candles, soap, and got into the burgeoning industry of health food.
We were all getting older.
Most hippies kind of packed it in eventually and joined the mainstream. Some kept their core values while others did a totally right turn and became conservative. There were still some holdouts but as the decade of the 70s continued they became less and less.
Around 1976 the Disco craze was going on. One night I decided to look for a place that had some other kind of music and discovered a place on 4th Avenue in Vancouver called Rohan’s. It was an interesting evening. I got into a conversation with a drunk guy at the bar who told me he was a pusher. To prove to me that he was who said he was he showed me a wad of bills that he claimed was 10 grand. That was strange enough but when the music started I saw a couple of hippie gals out on the dance floor. They kind of danced like whirling dervishes with their heads twisting and their waist length hair flying about. I thought to myself that I had discovered the last holdouts from a long lost tribe.
By the 1980s it was very rare to see anyone who looked like a hippie, at least in in the circles of people that I knew. As many other boomers I had gotten married and lived in the burbs. Every now and then we would go to a house party and the people I always enjoyed the most were the ones out on the back porch sharing a joint.
Over the years people became divided by politics. Most who had years before been inclined towards some of the hippie values are on the left. Some men, as they grew older and often balder, grew pony tails. In some ways they could almost be stereotyped. In their homes or apartments you could very well find floor to ceiling bookshelves, with titles that included topics like gardening, health, and spiritualism. They might have a large collection of old vinyl jazz records. On the reclaimed hardwood floor you might see a faux or real Indian rug.
Some had decided to get involved with charitable work or protecting the environment. Others gave up on any fighting about anything to do with politics. I have always had a lot of respect for those that volunteer their services to help out the less fortunate.
In the past few years I have written a lot of stuff in the comments section of the left leaning American Huffington Post. Times have changed. The fire in the belly has gone for a lot on the left. There are just as many or more things wrong about society in the US today but there seems to be a sense of futility sometimes in how the left has reacted to these things. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert organized a march on Washington a year or two ago with no signs allowed. No signs? WTF?  I have suggested a national sales tax a number of times of 1-2% to offset the increased costs of Medicare. Some argued that this would hurt the poor instead of seeing the possibilities.
Another thing that has changed is today’s youth. Many now spend a good part of their days staring at one screen or another. The Occupy Wall Street thing seemed to just fizzle. I guess on the upside there is the fact that gays now have more rights and Obama was re-elected. On the other hand a number of things like Roe v Wade and entitlement programs like SS and Medicare are under attack.
We could do with a lot more people like Chris Hayes, Rachel Maddow, and Matt Taibbi.
You kind of get an idea of how much time has passed since Woodstock when you hear a commercial on TV with Canned Heat in the background singing….”Going up the country….”
 And out!








1 comment:

  1. Great article! Love reading your first-hand accounts! Cheers!