Wednesday, May 27, 2009

And Finally: A Bit About The Decline of The Hippie Subculture

 There is no one event or reason one can point to for the decline of the hippie movement. What's more, there is no one date one can point to for when the movement official "died". To be sure, some would claim that the movement is still alive and well today! This post will aim to  venture into some explanations of how when and why the hippie culture began its decay.

In a quite ironic sort of way, many historians and cultural theorists point to the 1967 "summer of love", a time when the subculture was at the height of its popularity, as the beginning of its downfall. Like a roller coaster that has reached its peak, many theorize that the hippie movement began its long descent  just as it hit its apex. In a recent journal essay, Anthony Ashbolt agrees with other experts that it was the 1967 summer of love that sparked the decline of the counterculture. In the summer of 1967, hundreds of thousands of teenagers abandoned their mediocre suburban lives in search for deeper meaning, and plural acceptance. Their journeys landed  them in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco, a region that was already famous all over the nation for its alternative, beatnik culture, and liberalized ideology. Though the summer of love has been represented  in sort of Utopian and euphoric terms by most in the mainstream media, Ashbolt points out that the summer was highlighted more by misery than by free loving happiness.  The main problems stemming from the summer had to do with the fact that the Haight-Ashbury district simply could not physically handle the amount of kids that invaded the region in 1967. Many hippies were relegated to living in small quarters with tens of others, while some were forced to the streets. Such overcrowding caused widespread illness as hippies living in such confined and unsanitary  spaces easily transmitted diseases to one another. In addition to overcrowding, the widespread use of drugs brought with it the problems of overdosing and crime. A 1968 Journal of Nursing report finds that over 10% of the medical problems reported to the free medical clinic in Haight-Ashbury in July 1967 were, "drug related." Overuse of drugs, speed and alcohol in particular, caused an increase in both petty crime(i.e. thefts) and more violent crimes. To be sure, drug-induced rapes and gang-bangs were not uncommon during this time period. By the fall of 1967, Haight-Ashbury was nearly abandoned, trashed, and laden with drugs and homeless people. Most of the kids that descended upon the Haight with such hope and optimism in June returned home sick and out of money by September. Yes, the subculture still carried on in the sense that psychedelic rock bands were still making music, drugs like LSD were still popularly used for recreation and many still maintained the hippie ideology of liberation and plurality; but most would agree that the movement was never the same after the destructive summer of love. 

At the most obvious level, the summer of love contributed to the death of the counterculture because it ransacked and ravaged the culture's capital city, Haight-Ashbury. With the Haight in ruins and most of its residents gone, it was simply unable to operate as the hippie hub for music, poetry, art and drugs. This is the most common, and transparent, explanation given for the summer of 1967's role in the decline of the hippie movement. I think there is more to it than this simple explanation, however. To be sure, the decadence stemming from the summer of love shook the very core of the hippie culture's ideological foundations. As established in previous posts, the hippie movement was established on the ideals of optimism, liberalism and pluralism; it was founded by beatniks that simply desired to experiment with new things in their search for life's meaning. In the early years, drugs were used as a means to an end, whether that end be greater artistic craft or deeper emotional feeling. There was an innocence and an idealism about the hippie movement in its early years. The summer of love, with its crime, sickness and moral vacuity, shattered this innocence; it showed idealistic hippies across the globe that utopia was impossible. In short, the summer of love was where the reality of everyday life crashed into and badly damaged  the idealism of hippie life. In the years that followed,  other hippie-related "tragedies"  would further damage the potency of the hippie subculture. For example, the Altamont Music Festival of 1970, promoted as the Woodstock of the west, was violently cut short as the concert's security staff, The Hell's Angels, wantonly killed a young  teen as The Rolling Stones performed on stage.  The early 1970's also saw a series of violent clashes between US National Guard and "hippie" student activists, ending with the death of 17 students in colleges across the nation. These events were sobering reminders to those in the counterculture that the idealism and pluralism preached by the hippies was unattainable, even in towns dominated y hippies(as per Haight Ashbury 1967).

This is not to say that the hippie movement didn't continue to "flower" in some respects. To be sure, the Woodstock festival, essentially a celebration of  hippie music, was a success, and psychedelic bands like Crosby Still Nash and Young and The Band continued to pump out great music through the 1970's. Yet the summer of love stole away the movement's innocence, and further, it proved that hippie idea was one that may work at an individual level, but certainly not on a grander scale. 

Hope this post wasn't too long. If there's one thing you can take away from this blog, it may be that this subculture, and virtually every other music subculture, is pretty involved!

                          Works Cited

Ashbolt, Anthony. “ ‘Go Ask Alice’: Remembering the Summer of Love Forty Years

On.” Australasian Journal of American Studies 26(2007): 35-45.

Sankot, Margaret and Smith, David. "Drugs Problems in the Haight-Ashbury." The

 AmericanJournal of Nursing 68(1968): 1686-1689. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Drugs, Music and the Hippie Ideology

      It seems as though whenever one looks back on the hippie culture of the 1960's, two things come to mind: drugs and music. To be sure, both these things played central roles in the ethos of hippie lifestyle. This post aims to look at the specific role drugs played in the hippie subculture. Moreover, this post will examine how drugs and music became so interconnected under the greater banner of hippie culture.

    No other music subculture in the world, apart from rave perhaps, seems to have as deep a connection between its music and drug-use than the hippie culture. And so while the hippie movement meant a lot of different things to a lot of different people, drugs and music seemed to be the two items that binded and united the everyone under the grater hippie banner. In his essay, "The Intoxicated State", David Farber reviews the history of how drugs and music became so intertwined and how they eventually made up the central tenets of the hippie ideology. Farber's main focus is on  LSD(Acid) and its role in the hippie culture. With Harvard Professor Timothy Leary as its main proponent, LSD production and consumption became more and more popular as the decade progressed.  Farber points to San Francisco in the mid-1960's as the hotspot where a mix of liberal-minded beatniks, experimental musicians, and drugs all converged to lay the foundations for the subsequent hippie movement. The most prominent of these connections occurred in 1966 as author Ken Kesey would invite friends and fellow colleagues over his house to drop acid(these parties were labeled, "Acid Tests"). Kesey invited a local band, the Grateful Dead, to drop Acid with the others and then play their music. The intense and euphoric feeling Kesey's guests felt when listening to the Dead's music while on Acid, coupled with the different ways the Dead played music while on drugs, helped solidify the importance of LSD in the making, and enjoying, of rock music. The delicious combination of LSD and rock music helped popularize other bands like Cream and Jefferson Airplane, whose versatile, "trippy" rock music came to be termed, "Psychedelic Rock." There is no doubt that the success of bands like The Dead and Jefferson Airplane was inextricably linked to the rise in recreational drug use, particularly LSD. This is not to say, however, that LSD was the only drug used in conjunction with listening to, or creating, music. Indeed, marijuana, with its soothing yet intense power,  also played an important role in inspiring music-makers and enthralling music listeners. Artists from Bob Dylan, with his song "Rainy Day Woman", and Tom Petty have glorified marijuana in their music. 

    So we have seen how drugs became so intertwined with music by the 1960s. The question is: how do both these things relate to the hippie subculture. Farber accurately notes that the hippie subculture was all about abandoning the monotony of everyday society in search of something different, in search of something "real". Since reality could not suffice, it follows that the hippie search for something real actually was a search for something surreal. To this effect, teens came by the thousands to Haight-Ashbury in the late 60's as part of this "journey" for authenticity, reality and the sublime. Experiencing the surreal clearly involved experimenting with various drugs, from weed to LSD to magic mushrooms. A combination of drug-use and music helped many hippies experience the "surreal"; it helped them get in touch with whatever they believed they were searching for. It follows that Haight-Ashbury, the capital of the hippie culture, became on of the drug hubs of the nation.
        Any further statements about the subculture's connection to drugs would be generalizing too much. As mentioned in a previous blog post, the hippie ideology was very much a pluralistic ideology. In other words, hippies accepted and practiced various different rituals and cultures. It follows that drug-use falls under this pluralistic paradigm as well. To be sure, some hippies would use drugs for meditative purposes while others simply preferred to get high and forget about their troubled pasts. In their 1968 journal ethnography on hippies and drug cultures, Fred Davis and Laura Munoz, break down hippie drug users into two mains categories: Heads and Freaks. The Heads were those that used drugs for a "head high"; for that surreal experience that can open up ones mind and get on in touch with the true reality. The Freaks, on the other hand, were those that used drugs for the rush, for the adrenalin, and for the aggression involved in it all. These users typically preferred drugs like Heroin and LSD. The broad division expounded upon by Davis and Munoz highlights the greater point that the hippie culture used drugs in a pluralistic fashion. Indeed, drug-use was so common among hippies because it, in combination with music,  provided something for everyone. 

     This post is long and a bit scattered for the very reason that its complex subject matter lends itself to this type of writing. The upshot is that drugs and '60's rock music became inextricably linked in cultural hubs like San Francisco and New York because of the their use complemented one another. This linkage was reinforced and expanded by the emergent hippie subculture, which used drugs for a plenitude of reasons, not the least of which was to experience the "surreal" and live in the moment. 

Davis, Fred. and Munoz, Laura. "Heads and Freaks: Patterns of Drug Use Among Hippies."   Journal of  Health and Social Behavior  9.2(1968): 156-164. 

Farber, David. "Intoxicated State/Illegal Nation." Imagine Nation: The American Counterculture of the 1960's and 1970's. Braunstein, Peter. and William Doyle, Michael. New York: Taylor & Francis, Inc., 2001. 17-38.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Ethnography of 1960's Life on Haight-Ashbury

Found another great youtube link about the hippie subculture. This link is more along the lines of an "ethnography". The clip is actual footage of hippie life on Haight-Ashbury during the later the famous 1967 sumer of love. The clip sheds some new light on the everyday happenings of this vibrant district. The conclusion I derived from this video is that the hippie life in the Haight was more mundane and prosaic than anyone in the media would have led you to believe.At the same time, I think the video shows that the Hippie's did have a passionate, albeit pluralistic, ideology and there were those hippies, like the guy at the end of the clip, that were radically passionate about issues like the war in Vietnam.  Feel free to draw your own conclusions and comment about them in the comments sections. Enjoy.

*Note: Please do not grade this post. 

Monday, May 4, 2009

"Talkin' Bout My Generation"- Older Generation's Perceptions of the Hippies

While doing some further research into the hippie subculture, I stumbled upon the following youtube clip(Please watch before reading any further):

The clip is a 1967 CBS News report on the hippie culture in the Haight-Ashbury district of San-Francisco. The piece is narrated by an older newsman named Harry Reisner. The clip helps shed light on how the hippie counterculture was perceived and understood by outside observers, particularly those of the older generation. The perception those in the older generations had towards hippies has largely been ignored in the greater study of the subculture.  As understood from this piece, the older generations had a very difficult time making sense of the hippie subculture. In this clip, the hippies are treated as some sort of foreign  species that may look like homo sapiens, but share nothing in common with everyday Americans. Indeed, the piece comes off as some sort of an Anthropological ethnography of a far-off culture. Throughout the piece, Reisner maintains this condescending tone towards the hippies, and refers to them as, "Bizarre", and "irregular" on more than one occasion. More important than the tone taken by the narrator, is the content of the material he is reporting on. In attempting to make sense of the culture, Reisner notes that the Hippies', "concept for a new life is what unites them."  Yet Reisner never really delves into what comprises this hippie "concept of a new life." Throughout, the narrator defines the hippie's in opposition to mainstream culture, without ever concretely making sense of what the group stands for.  In his interview with a local band, the Grateful Dead, Reisner's colleague, Warren Wallace, searches for the broader hippie agenda as he asks the group what the Hippie movement is trying to ultimately accomplish. Indeed, throughout the clip, CBS News appears to be searching for the subculture's underlying ideology,and for its main purpose and goals. When Reisner fails to arrive at a single "mission statement", he declares that the movement is one of, "style without content." What began as a news story that set out to understand a different way of life  concluded as an authoritative rejection of a culture that CBS News could not quite successfully  grasp. The way in which CBS treated the hippie culture highlights the greater negative attitude held by those in the older generations towards the counterculture. Just like Harry Reisner, many older Americans were quick to dismiss the subculture as "bizarre" and devoid of content. 

This newsclip is useful less for the facts it reports than for the attitudes it portrays. To be sure, much of the conclusions reached by Reisner are simply untrue. In her book, Counterculture Kaleidescope, Nadya Zimmerman aggressively attacks this notion that the hippie movement was defined in opposition to mainstream life. Moreover, she criticizes the idea that the movement lacked any true purpose, or content. On the contrary, Zimmerman argues that the Hippie movement promoted a pluralist lifestyle. She notes, "...the counterculture negated its association with any single cultural thread by pursuing pluralism, by adopting everything."(13) It follows that the hippie subculture did indeed embrace various aspects of various different cultures, and did indeed stand for a variety of different platforms, all at the same time. So while some hippies preferred to become one with nature by tripping on Acid, others studied Hare Krishna, and others protested the war in Vietnam. Hippie phrases like "just go with it" and "let it be" all seem to fit within this greater pluralistic paradigm. This pluralistic ideology seems to explain Hippie culture of the 1960's far more effectively than the labels attached to the culture by dismissive and jaded members of the older generations. 


Zimmerman, Nadya. Counterculture Kaleidoscope. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2008.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Welcome to my Blog!

Hello and welcome to my MSTU 2000 blog. Though I'm still not quite sure as to where I plan on taking this blog, the main topics I will be discussing is the Hippie subculture of the 1960's, from its origins, to its efflorescence,through to its decline. My particular interest is in the dreams and ideals espoused by the movement, and how such dreams were left "unfulfilled" when the culture began to decline in the late 1960's. Another main area of focus will be on the circumstances surrounding the decline of the culture, the the implications of such a downfall. Of course, central to the hippie subculture on the whole is music. It follows that this blog will primarily focus on how the music of the era helped shape and define the hippie dream.

I also plan on using this blog as an avenue to write about other music subcultures, some related to the hippie movement, some not. In many ways, the hippie subculture was the first subculture to be defined by music.The precedents set by this "father subculture" will be also be explored in posts about subsequent music subcultures, like punk, and hard metal.

Looking foward to my posting again soon. Enjoy!