I can only laugh now when I see kids dress up as hippies for halloween or costume parties. It’s a curious time period to them that is fun to imitate. But not to all. There seem to be three distinct interpretations of hippie life and how it affected society. The first group is those that were parents during the time and their memories are generally very negative. In their opinion the country was turned upside down and the gap between their vision of how kids should act was the exact opposite of how many kids were acting. Families were split apart as many youngsters moved away from home, dropped out of college, or just stopped doing as they were told by their parents. This group is well into their 70’s and 80’s by now and I’m sure still think it was a good-for-nothing time in our history. The second group are those that were in their teens and 20’s at the time between the mid 60’s – mid 70’s and were right in the middle of it. This group would for the most part have fond or mixed emotions about the time… fond memories of the music, bad memories about the rampant drug use. This is the hippie generation grown old with the majority in their 60’s by now. Those under the age of 50, by far the largest group, see hippies as a curious time to be made fun of…everything except the music. It means nothing to them, nor should it, the majority weren’t even born yet. To them it’s a reason to wear peace signs, beads, long wigs, bell-bottoms and John Lennon eyeglass frames to a costume party. Between my parents, my siblings, and my children we represent all three groups. It wasn’t an easy time on my parents as my older sister was right in the middle of the hippie lifestyle and soon found her place in a Santa Cruz commune, she was in deep. My parents post-war upbringing just couldn’t grasp the new youth movement as it questioned US policies, particularly Vietnam, and was seen as anti-American. The message of Love, Sex, and Drugs went over like a ton of bricks with them. Hippies had created their own communities, listened to psychedelic rock, embraced the sexual revolution and used drugs such as LSD to explore altered states of consciousness. The gap between parent and child was just too wide to overcome for most so kids fled to New York’s Greenwich Village, San Francisco’s Haight-Asbury district and anywhere other than home. The message was peace & love which sounds admirable in itself and if it had stuck to that it could have been. Unfortunately the drug use overcame the dream and young kids started to die from drug overdoses and the movement fizzled. I graduated from high school in 1972 which will be remembered as the year the military draft stopped from being mandatory to voluntary. After hearing stories from those that had witnessed Vietnam, and the strong public sentiment against the war, not too many of us were eager to sign up. The music is what hippie life meant to me. Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan,The Doors, Stones, Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Santana, Lou Reed, and the Beatles ground breaking Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band were just a handful of popular groups making the rounds at sold-out concerts and music festivals across the nation. I loved the music and still do. I went to the record store at least twice-a-week to see what was new and built a significant record collection. I also embraced the idea of peace, love, and understanding which I guess sounded better in a song than practicing it in real life. But for a time it was real which seems odd by today’s standards, even comical, which I find to be a bit sad. What probably caused the biggest split was the war in Vietnam. The politicians felt it crucial to stop the spread of communism in to South Vietnam while many questioned why we were even over there…it wasn’t our fight. These anti-war protests filled the TV airwaves and led to some violent confrontations which left a sour taste on both sides. Violence also erupted at the Altamont Free Concert (Rolling Stones), Charles Manson made headlines in 1969 which shocked many Americans including the Hippies themselves. The movement seemed to be veering off-course and again rampant drug use just made burn-outs out of peace activists.
Hippies sought to free themselves from societal restrictions, choose their own way, and find meaning in life. They declared their willingness to question authority. Hippie fashions and values had a major effect on culture, influencing popular music, television, film, literature, and politics. Since the 60’s, many aspects of hippie culture have been assimilated by mainstream society. The hippie legacy can be observed in contemporary culture in a variety of forms, including health food, music festivals, sexual acceptance, and art. It would have been nice to have had a happy ending with peace & love being more prevalent in our everyday lives particularly as the world grows smaller with the information age. Those ideas often get laughed at now with materialism being king…welcome to the 80’s. For almost a decade people tried a new path with good intentions only to have it end with drug abuse and violence. The music lives on and hopefully a piece of the innocence within us. Imagine.