Have All the Hippies Gone?
by Jim Harris
A traveling musical review called "Hippiefest" passed
through the Mann Center last month, so I just dropped in to see
what condition the counterculture was in. You better sit down.
It's dead. Everyone looked pretty middle-aged, middle-classed
and middle-heavy. There were more guys with canes than with pony
tails. There were no stage-jumpers, and no one took their clothes
off (thank God,) or caused any ruckus whatsoever.
Oh sure, there were hippy reenactors
in historically accurate costumes, but for the most part, it looked
like the only hippies present were the acts on stage, and since
they were getting paid to be there, their hippy status was questionable.
To their credit, though, they were loud, delightfully irreverent,
and completely disorganized. Just like the good old days.
1969, Woodstock: When traffic
on the New York State Thruway stopped moving, the pilgrims simply
abandoned their cars in the middle of the road and continued on
foot. Along the way, there was no place to buy food, go to the
bathroom. or escape the rain and mud. It was like the formation
of Pakistan, except without the killing and rioting. Seeing the
enormity of the demographic group, Madison Avenue tried to sell
us No-Bra bras, No-makeup makeup, and Groovy aftershave, but we
weren't buying (or shaving.)
Here in Philly, "be-ins"
- free concerts on Belmont Plateau - started happening. The air
was always thick with incense. People wore colorful outfits, jangly
bells, and often had dogs, cats, parrots and various other exotic
animals in tow (not a good idea.) I still remember a regular
be-in attendee we called "Patch," because his hair was
falling out in patches. We figured he was aging in dog years because,
although he was in his twenties, he looked about a hundred and
Anyway, he would show up with
his own tambourine and surreptitiously ease his way onto the stage,
then play the instrument as if he were being attacked by a swarm
of killer bees. If no one chased him off after the first song,
he'd wangle his way to a backup singer's microphone and start
singing along - even if he didn't know the tune! Patch was one
of those guys who lived life at a much accelerated pace. We always
enjoyed his performances.
Of course, not all hippies moved
at light speed. I was once stopped by police on Germantown Avenue
for driving four miles per hour. I was merely enjoying the view,
and didn't realize that there was a minimum speed limit - there
was none posted. I guess my "I brake for hallucinations"
bumper sticker didn't help. Truth be told, I thought I was going
too fast. It's all relative, right?
The major venue for psychedelic
music in town was the Electric Factory at 22nd and Arch. It was
an old tire warehouse converted into a hippy paradise. I especially
recall the Day-Glo playground complete with monkey bars, seesaw
and swings. In a towering tribute to the naiveté of both
the architect and the users, no one seemed concerned that
the ground below was concrete, so the landscape was routinely
littered with plummeting, bleeding, glowing bodies. In spite of
this and many other completely preventable accidents, no one was
ever sued by a hippy.
Here in the Northwest, Hecate's
Circle, near Germantown and Chelten was host to local acts
(including Hall & Oates), and I personally almost remember
playing with my band at a place called the "Orange El,"
which I believe was housed in the present location of this very
When they have the parades for
the last surviving hippies, how will they determine who had actually
been a hippy? Was Bill Clinton one? He never had a real job, but
then he didn't inhale. How about George W.? He inhaled through
several orifices, but he had a couple of real jobs. Tough calls.
In the 1990's When I turned 50,
I briefly let my hair grow long (I couldn't afford a sports car.)
I noticed that everyone started addressing me as "man ,"
and once during a political discussion, a guy twenty years my
junior called me a "dirty hippy ." I almost cried. It
was the validation I had been waiting for all these many years.
So I will be in that parade, folks, waving my freak flag high
as the marching band plays "Purple Haze."
In the end, the conformists won
out, they always do, but the unconventional ones leave their mark.
Cowboys, flappers, hippies and more - they all become an indelible
part of our national identity.
Just a caveat to modern-day rebels:
when the times, they a-changed, we were able to clean up, dress
up, and move on.
By contrast, if you choose to rebel by tattooing your entire body
with satanic gargoyles, no amount of smart accessorizing will
bring you back into the societal fold. So keep your options open.