Old hippies never die 

They come back to fight another groovy battle against a new war

I had never thought of myself as a hippie until five friends and I drove through Blue Spring, a little town in the Florida Panhandle, early one morning in 19-sixtysomething. A patrol car pulled in behind us. We weren't speeding but, yes, I owned a VW bus and, yes, a girlfriend had slapped some peace symbol decals on it.

The cruiser's blue light flashed on, and I stopped. I opened the door and was yanked from the car by a cop. He had two pals with him, neither in uniform. Pointing to my long hair and beard, one of the gentlemen said: "Look at this fucker. He must think he's Jesus Christ."

The cop then proceeded to interrogate me in what I presumed was by-the-book Blue Spring protocol: "You think you're Jesus Christ, you fuckin' hippie?"

I replied negatively, but I mused to myself: "Is that what I am, a hippie?"

At that point one of the cop's friends moved behind me and held my arms while the other guy hauled my friends out of the van. One of the girls was wearing a big scarf tied as a halter top, and that came off in the manhandling. As she reached for it, the guy stomped on the cloth and told her that he didn't think "hippie girls" needed to wear clothes.

The cop kept calling my male companions and me "draft dodgers," and I finally got pissed enough to say something. My words were to the effect that all three of the men in the van were veterans. I may have inserted my own expletive. Wrong thing to do. The cop turned around and gave me several spirited hits in the gut. I resisted asking, Is that my thanks from a grateful country?

The men started talking about how the world would be better off if they just shot us -- did I mention that all three kept pointing shotguns at us? They allowed as how we were dead if we drove through Blue Springs again, and stalked off.

Fast forward a decade or four. The "culture" of the 1960s permeates all of society, for good and bad. Rednecks grew long hair (but predictably got it wrong when they cut it into mullets) and smoked dope. The Beatles, Eric Clapton, Buffalo Springfield, the Doors are still bestsellers, and there is an entire rebirth of '60s sub-genres such as folk music. "Oldies" radio stations flourish, and while today's pop musicians sell incredible numbers of CDs, they have never achieved the cultural gravity of what was happening in San Francisco, New York and even Atlanta 35 years ago.

Back to my little adventure in Blue Spring. We were, one, shaken at the thought that we had almost become roadkill and, two, astounded that the cop hadn't searched the van, which, if you get my drift, might have posed problems. So, in a cloud of smoke, with Janis and Jimi melting the radio speakers, we continued to blow along our route. The ensuing conversation went something like this:

"Wow." (Ten minutes pass.)

"Yeah, just what I was thinking." (Seven minutes.)

"Heavy shit, man." (Eleven minutes.)

"Fucking fascists." (Five minutes.)

"That's really profound, man." (Eight minutes.)

"Yeah, I know. We got anything to eat, man?"

That high level of intellectual discourse may confuse you, but this is what's instructive about why whatever happened in the 1960s proved to be so defining.

We were on our way to pick up some friends in north Florida, and then we were heading for Washington, D.C., for one of the massive anti-war rallies. This was pre-Kent State massacre, so the movement was still ramping up -- Nixon had not yet been forced to retreat into the White House and, paranoid that he was, surround himself with machinegun nests.

Here's the point: I had never regarded myself as a hippie. I never looked good in love beads, and I never, ever, ever, ever uttered the phrase: "Groovy." But I was political, meaning anti-war and pro-civil rights. I owned the "underground" newspaper in Gainesville, Fla., the Crocodile, later renamed the Hogtown Orifice after the town's original moniker. And for about two years I lived in a commune. Sadly, The Revolution never came, but boy did we fight with abandon the tough trench warfare of The Sexual Revolution.

I'd look at the true hippies, meaning less political and more cultural than my pals, and I understood that there was continuity. We had all thumbed noses at the mainstream society. We hadn't all been repulsed by the same thing, but we had all been repulsed.

Another vignette. A few months after the Blue Spring adventure, something happened in Gainesville (besides the Gators going another year without an SEC championship), and what it was was precisely clear. Young people speaking their minds, getting so much resistance ...

There was a humor magazine at (rather, banned from) the University of Florida called the Charlatan. I was a member of the Charlatan Intergalactic Croquet Championship Squad, but that's another story. The publisher had run some tasteful nude photos of his girlfriend, and the university had expelled her. That bummed us out, and about two dozen Charlatan folk strolled over to the administration building hoping to meet with a dean. The school's president, having read of student RIOTS in California, panicked and evacuated the offices. We didn't know this and found ourselves in possession of one very fine building.

Within hours, national TV crews arrived. By now numbering a couple of hundred happy hippie protesters, we were drinking wine, playing guitars, and in a few dark corners making love not war. A TV guy asked me why this southern university had become so radical, and I responded, "Why don't you know, Gainesville is the Berkeley of the South?" The comment made the 6 o'clock news (which didn't make my mother's day).

Prior to that little drama, Gainesville's "movement" had been pretty anemic. "Demonstrations" were declared victories if they had 10 people. After the admin building takeover (inadvertent as it was), the cultural underground and the anti-war political movement began to fuse. When Kent State happened about 18 months later, 10,000 students and faculty -- hippies, firebrands and fratty club boys united -- ringed the campus in protest, and shut down the university, mirroring what happened at 500 other schools across the nation.

Each generation has icons, lore, heroes and benchmarks. But unless there is a galvanizing event, a catalyst, the brew just simmers and never boils.

In the 1960s and early '70s, two words quickened the culture: Vietnam and Woodstock. We had a culture and we had a cause.

In the mid-1970s, the nation began an awful and delusional slumber. Corporate avarice became a religion, income gaps widened, a generation was so media-consumer exploited that it tried to define itself by claiming its antithesis, the brandless "X." Democracy eroded, the Republicans became extremist and the Democrats became Republicans. And, media with a vested interest in advancing all that was wrong with society, chose not to see what was happening.

A lot of old hippies and activists never forgot, however. We cut our hair, got jobs, gave up bad habits. Or, some of us didn't. Whatever our lifestyle choice, we had been there.

Vietnam defined us. Woodstock (no, I'm not one of the 50 million people who now claim to have been there) gave us our anthems.

Even if you were a Young Republican Nixon loyalist, that was conditioned by the war. Heck, Lynyrd Skynyrd's popular tune, "Sweet Home Alabama," was a rebuke slung at Neil Young's slam on ol' Dixie. But it was the overarching culture that birthed Lynyrd Skynyrd -- contemporary Southern culture is a partial embrace, partial rejection of hippie, Vietnam-delineated culture.

Keep in mind, Vietnam was just a test run at a time when America was one of several superpowers. Now, with a war budget larger than the rest of the world combined, the Bush junta is dead set on conquest and imperium.

Like I said, a lot of us remember. That's why the anti-war movement -- even before the war has officially claimed its first "collateral" victims -- is already huge. It is also not just a youth movement -- it defies demographics. But this generation is being galvanized and defined by Bush's imperialism just as the Boomers were with Vietnam. And the aging hippies are still here to help.

And that truly is groovy.

Senior Editor John Sugg has confessed -- he still owns a Nehru jacket. He can be reached at 404-614-1241 or at john.sugg@creativeloafing.com.


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