I was only seven years old during the Summer of Love but I desperately wanted to be a part of it. I didn't fully get what the hippies were about—my understanding of the counterculture movement was a romanticized blur in which I left the stuffy confines of my conservative Jewish household and marched in peace rallies with my ultra-cool bellbottom-wearing brethren. One, two, three, four, we don’t want your fucking war! I was riveted by the free-spirited rebellion against capitalism and the hippies' response to our government's imperialistic tendencies. Not that I wanted to give up any of my own daily comforts. Talk to me about the war after I finish my spaghettios, please. Can that rally wait until my shows are over? Does anyone know what time “The Flying Nun” comes on?
Despite my total naivete, I spent much of my childhood wishing I had been born a decade earlier. I imagined myself swaying in a drug-induced reverie at the local be-in or love-in or three-day mud-drenched rock festival. Sadly, my musical tastes were more in line with the Monkees than the Jefferson Airplane. The Monkees, a fake pop group put together by middle-aged Jews in Hollywood, had a #1 song in 1967, “I’m a Believer” and I knew all the words by heart. In retrospect, I was far more influenced by the manufactured grooviness of Madison Avenue than by the actual icons of Haight-Ashbury.
I’m sitting at a Borders bookstore on Sunset and Vine, a short distance from what was once known as the Sunset Strip—Ground Zero for the hippies of southern California. On the way here I drove by the Whisky a Go Go, a pioneering venue that once boasted the Doors as its house band and featured such acts as The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, Van Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, and Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention. The concept of go-go dancers was born at the Whisky, and the club was one of the sites of the famous Sunset Strip riots. The glory days of the Whisky are long gone, but the club is still kicking. Earlier this week, it hosted the reunion of original Police members Sting, Stewart Copeland, and Andy Summers.
I’m lost in the 1960s right now because I just came from the Arclight Cinemas across the street where I saw “Factory Girl,” the new movie about Edie Sedgwick, Andy Warhol, and the various hangers-on during Warhol’s “Factory” days. I enjoyed the film despite the mostly negative reviews and a potential lawsuit threatened by Bob Dylan’s lawyers. Dylan is portrayed in the film as one of the causes of Edie Sedgwick’s drug addiction. Apparently the two were involved briefly, but Dylan rejects the depiction of his influence on Sedgwick’s life. Edie’s real-life brother, on the other hand, created quite a stir recently by claiming that not only were rumors of the affair between his sister and Bob Dylan true, but that his sister got pregnant during her time with Dylan and had an abortion. Because of the lawsuit, the Dylan character is only referred to as “the Folk Singer” in the final film.
Warhol fans must be none too pleased at the depiction of their idol as a sycophantic sociopath who enjoyed living off the trust funds of his rich-kids-turned-rebel followers. I thought Sienna Miller and Guy Pearce (below) were wonderful as Edie and Andy, and the film certainly outlines the dangers of the unfocused hedonism of Sedgwick, but Warhol’s actual groundbreaking ideas about art and society are given short shrift. Edie Sedgwick comes off as a spoiled socialite with major charisma who is bent on self-destruction, a byproduct of her “privileged” childhood in which, according to the film, she was abused in all manner of ways by her monster of a father. Sedgwick was considered the “It” girl of underground cinema and of Warhol’s inner circle until her drug addiction migrated from mischievous fun to out-of-control ugliness and Andy dumped her for the next Sweet Young Thing. These people are all supposedly rebelling from the oppressive culture they grew up in, but what do they actually stand for? What are their beliefs, their passions? The Dylan character, played by Hayden Christensen (who fares much better here than in his wooden performance as the young Darth Vader in the recent Star Wars trilogy) is presented as a prophet of his generation, but again, we don’t get a clue as to what he’s about or what is driving his music or his pursuit of Edie. I have to believe that the real-life characters of the 1960s had a hell of a lot more going on than these captivating but largely vacant characters. On the other hand, flagrant drug use has turned many bright lights (such as Sedgwick) into ghosts of their former selves so I’m sure there is accuracy to that part of Edie's sad story.
While at Arclight, I was looking at an excellent exhibition of portraits of public figures from the late 60s and early 70s by photographer Gilbert B. Weingourt. While perusing the beautiful black-and-white photographs, I was shocked to come face to face with someone I actually knew. Included in these images of people ranging from John Lennon to Abbie Hoffman to Squeaky Fromme was this shot of Bob Rudnick, political activist, DJ, and poet, among other things, who also happened to be a close friend of my Uncle Paul, himself a former hippie, and my brother Bruce. The photo above was taken by Weingourt in 1969, just a few years before Rudnick became a fixture at my grandparents’ Friday night dinners during the time he lived in Chicago. Who knew that we were eating matzoh ball soup with an actual 60s icon? I wish I had been aware enough back then to take more of an interest in his amazing life that was cut short when he died of liver cancer in 1995. I have no doubt that my uncle, brother, and many others have great stories about Rudnick and his counterculture cohorts, and I hope to hear more of these. I found a live radio show on the WFMU archives featuring Rudnick and Dennis Frawley (as part of the Kokaine Kharma team) reporting live from the 1968 Democratic Convention. Definitely worth a listen. I’m guessing that Rudnick put in some time with the hippies on the Sunset Strip.
The word “hippie” seems almost cloying today, a quaint relic from another century. I wanted to see when that word first appeared in the mainstream media here in Los Angeles, so I looked it up in the L,A Times online archives. The very first mention of “hippie” occurred on July 12, 1963, in an article about the use of common morning glory seeds as a hallucinogenic. The writer, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Herb Caen, tells of a letter he just received from Max Weiss, the bearded patriarch of Fantasy Records.
Mr. Weiss is a hippie and he writes like one. “Just heard a rumor that flipped me out of my skull. Seems it is no longer hip to sniff glue or take peyote. Even LSD is square. The real swingers chew morning glory seeds. After going through about 100 of them you go off to morning glory heaven. The Food and Drug scene was called into investigating because people who obviously were not flower lovers were buying up all the morning glory seeds in existence.”
References to hippies and LSD in 1963? In addition to the run on morning glory seeds, which actually do contain small amounts of a drug that is similar to LSD, there were several articles about hippies smoking banana peel, later proven to have no psychedelic qualities. But the word “hippie” did not appear in the paper again for over a year. Then, starting in late 1964, it exploded into the lexicon and countless articles were devoted to the phenomenon. At first the articles were respectful and curious, like explorers writing about a newly discovered tribe on some uncharted island in the Pacific. An article called “Teens Make the World Go-Go Round” began this way:
Between the ages of 15 and 19, there is a population sharing a world that knows no borders nor national identity. It is the teenager society, and in the Westernized nations of every continent, one hippie can scarcely be detected from the other. Long hair, radically styled clothes, a zest for groovy dancing and folk-rock music are but a few of the surface characteristics. Beneath the surface, it is clear that this is the new force in the world—a force that is not merely faithful to the trappings but recognizes the potential political strength in their growing and overwhelming numbers. The adults have to sit up and take notice.
Wow, can you imagine teens of any stripe being taken so seriously today? In a long expose called “The Flower Children and How They Grow,” journalist Richard Goldstein (who later became the executive editor of the Village Voice) states:
Hippies have twisted folk-rock into something mysteriously suggestive, something disc jockeys are afraid of. They call it psychedelic music. Sometimes that means a deafening burst of dissonance coupled with a dazzling light show. Sometimes it means a veiled or direct reference to LSD.
Come mothers and fathers throughout all the land
Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command
Your old world is rapidly aging
Get out of the new one if you can’t lend a hand
For the times they are a-changing.
That is Dylan’s most resilient song, because it describes the very core of American culture. Our order is always fading and our future is a fringe of the present. Those body-snatchers who have taken up residence in your house, with their pubescent pomp and circumstance, those aliens pretending to be your children, are a logical reaction to a cataclysmic series of events which have made style as we know it unworkable. There is no mystery about hippies. They are here and now because of here and now. They stand apart, disenfranchised. But they are what Jack Newfield calls “a prophetic minority.” The culture-definers.
It’s mind-boggling to read of the availability and acceptance of drugs during this period. The Fairfax District of L.A., a neighborhood that I frequent almost daily, was a virtual haven for drugs. Many articles featured the hippie crowd that used to hang out at Canter’s Deli, most of them stoned on LSD during the interviews. Columnist Burt Prelutsky went to Canter’s in early 1967 to check out the scene:
Ask a hippie why he comes to North Fairfax and you get, “It’s here. It’s all happening here…You can get everything up here.” And he’s not referring to the menu inside.
My own impression of Canter’s hippies is that they’re neither so bad as most people think nor nearly so special as they, themselves, think they are. They have the decency to regard a man’s color as inconsequential, but in their own way they’re as biased as any redneck. It’s just that their criteria isn’t color, it’s age and costume. At the age of 16 they’ve convinced themselves that the right sugar cubes can expand their minds, without having given the right books equal opportunity. While propagandizing in favor of individuality, they conform with religious zeal in matters of dress, drugs, hair style, jargon and beliefs.
Prelutsky, who migrated from the left to the hard right, became a TV writer and knew Kendall’s dad and uncle. He has his own blog and I imagine his conservative leanings would make him far less indulgent of hippies today.
Some people, mostly parents, started to sound the alarm bells for the free use of mind-altering drugs. Following an article in the Times extolling the virtues of the hippie quest for self-discovery, one worried mother wrote:
What about my healthy, athletic, religious, talented son who has given up everything for his psychedelic trips and his self-assumed role of modern missionary for the “hang loose” ideology? I could believe that he may eventually find his way back from the way-out beliefs and that eventually he may even learn to shave again and wear decent clothing. But what is going to happen to him because of the LSD he’s been using? Reliable medical authorities tell me that one “trip” can cause permanent brain damage or it may possibly take a dozen “trips,” depending on the user’s physical and mental health. What chance does my son have who has been on LSD for three years?
I resent doctors, professors and ministers who tell us we have nothing to worry about. I resent these modern songs glorifying psychedelic drugs. The long, greasy hair, the bare dirty feet and the horrible clothing are minor problems. LSD is a major problem and although there is probably little we can do for the kids who are already on it, I pray constantly that something will be done before any more of our young people’s lives are ruined because of it.
I’m sure if I’d read that article when it first appeared I would have quickly condemned this mother’s ravings. Today I see her as a solid voice of reason.
Despite their initial wariness, it didn’t take corporate American long to see the hippies as a potential consumer base, and the entire hippie movement as fodder for the production lines.
A large furniture ad for the May Company department store blared the headline “IT’S THE HAPPENING!! We are having a ‘Finish-In!’” They declared a lingerie chest, “FAB!” and hyped a “MOD!” rocking chair that didn't look mod at all. Other ads assured readers that flower children and hippies were welcome and that no shoes were required.
Then, all of a sudden, the tide turned. Around the time then-Governor Ronald Reagan described a hippie as someone who “dresses like Tarzan, has hair like Jane, and smells like Cheetah,” the Times was inundated with negative articles about the group.
When young adults act like children, they should be handled and punished as children. I have yet to see anything but children on the “Strip.” No one will ever convince me that this represents our “future generation.”
Hippies: Their talk of true love (but with few legal marriages), their orientation to drugs and the proclivity to begging rather than working are causing growing concern among police and health officials and other community leaders.
Hippies were declared a fad, a cult, and a dangerous threat to society. One columnist called them “super children at play.”
When is the dance going to end? And when and if it ends, who is going to wake up the kids and send them to their homes and to their hospitals?
I screamed with delight when I found the April 1967 ad announcing “the most shocking film of our generation,” a campy, fear-mongering exploitation movie based on the actual teenage riots that occurred several months earlier at the hippie hangouts on Sunset Boulevard that were targeted by the police for curfew violations. “Riot on Sunset Strip” starred Aldo Ray, Mickey Rooney’s son Tim, and Mimsy Farmer and is a hoot to watch today. Some scenes were filmed on location so the film provides valuable archival footage of a world that is no more even though the Hollywood-produced storyline is as absurd as the one in “Reefer Madness.”
In “A Far-Out Night with Andy Warhol,” young staff writer Kevin Thomas (now the movie critic for the Times) wrote about Warhol’s swoop into Los Angeles to open up a new discotheque.
For once, a Happening really happened, and it took Warhol to come out from New York to show how it’s done. Out came Nico, the long-haired, deep-voiced German model to sing songs as beautifully banal as herself, and The Velvet Underground, a rock group that goes beyond rock…It was like a searing sound from another planet. Out came Superstars Gerard Malanga, a gypsy type, and Mary Woronov, who looks like Joan Baez—really a beautiful pair—to dance their abandoned, frenetic, frenzied dances.
The whole show took on a ritualistic, incantatory quality. Everybody, but everybody, was turned on. The arrival of Andy, the hippie’s hippie, on the Sunset Strip, the hippie’s paradise, makes for the most perfect combination since peanut butter discovered jelly. “I love L.A. I love Hollywood. They’re beautiful. Everybody’s plastic—but I love plastic. I want to be plastic,” says Warhol. Speaking of those ladies he has made the pop girls of the year—Baby Jane Holzer in ’64, Edie Sedgwick in ’65 and Nico, a candidate for ’66—Andy feels that “Edie was the best, the greatest. She never understood what I was doing to her. I don’t know what’s going to happen to her now.”
Edie Sedgwick died of a drug overdose on November 16, 1971. She was 38. Her death was not mentioned in the Los Angeles Times but an article the next day bore the headline, “Flower Children Lose Militant Ardor.”
In 1967, the “summer of love” burst in Haight-Ashbury like a soap bubble in the sun. It was almost over before the rest of the world knew what a hippie was. Some of the seeds the flower children planted were flowers of evil, as the original hippies themselves came to realize. Countless American youths fell victim to drugs.
The first large hippie event in the mid-1960s, the “trips festival,” was organized by novelist Ken Kesey. Nowadays he leads a quiet life on a farm in Oregon. Kesey views Haight’s 1967 summer of love as part of a movement to put pressure on the United States in all areas. “The revolution has happened,” he said. “Now we are all hanging out waiting for its maturity.”
Did that maturity ever arrive? Not really. Certainly a lot of good things happened as a result of the political and social consciousness raising of the 60s, despite the excesses and misguided explorations by many hippies on the Sunset Strip and elsewhere.
On the way here I passed a club on Sunset Boulevard called the Skybar in a location that was once the nerve center of the Strip. Where hordes of hippies once participated in love-ins and peace rallies, vapid twentysomethings now wait in line for hours for the privilege of buying $15 drinks at this hideously trendy nightspot, only to be turned away by bouncers wearing silk suits because they are not cool enough to mingle with the likes of Paris Hilton and the Olson twins. Sigh. I don’t mean to condemn a whole generation because of the jaded gaucheries of places like the Skybar, but boy, no matter how that generation turned out in the end, sometimes I really miss the 60s.