Jimbob's Journal
Where 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 forty.

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 newspaper.

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.

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