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‘Bloody Hippies’ – A Heads-Up for Generation X

1 March 2009

hippiesBLOODY HIPPIES

When I was 18, in 1986, my last year of school, for me the culture of the late 60s was akin to oxygen. People thought I was crazy. Said I was living in the past. Personally, I saw my passion for the 60s as a necessary enrichment of my present in an age when, on a brand-new thing called MTV, the most important thing about a pop song was now the video not the music.

Were the people of the Italian Renaissance living in the past by delving back into Classical ideals to lift themselves up out of the Dark Ages? And why isn’t Mozart considered ‘retro’ whereas The Doors are?

For the original hippies – the Baby Boomers – the film they saw as defining the spirit of their generation was ‘Easy Rider’. What was that defining film for us Generation Xers? Oh, yes… ‘The Breakfast Club’. What a wonderful icon of a Golden Age it wasn’t. Perhaps Freddy Kruger targeted my age group precisely because we were so lame.

Indeed, Generation X seems to have been defined by its resentment of the original hippies. Why this resentment, this Gen X retro cringe at the youth of the Psychedelic Era? Because they believed that something as ephemeral as pop music just might change the world? Stop a war? Because this belief was hopelessly naïve and doomed to failure from the start? Of course it was.

But you have to keep in mind that the pop music of the 60s was of such high quality that it had the youth of the 1960s believing the illusion. And the First World youth of the 1960s weren’t ignorant apparition-seeing hill-dwellers either. They were the best educated generation in history. And their pop music was so intoxicating that it had them believing the Impossible might be Possible.

Ken Kesey, influential figure of late 60s hippy culture, gave us his book ‘One Flew Over the Cookoo’s Nest’, the story of a lone individual’s struggle against an oppressive regime. Immortalised in film with Jack Nicholson in the lead role as asylum inmate, Randal McMurphy, one of the film’s key scenes has McMurphy trying to pull off the impossible: In front of all the other inmates, he puts his whole being into an attempt to rip out the asylum’s concrete water bubbler. Of course, he fails. And the inmates see him fail. But then he turns to them: “But don’t y’see?! At least I TRIED.”

Perhaps the defining pop song of Generation X was Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’. (It seems I was the single person on the planet who wasn’t moved by this band.) But many times did I hear Cobain fans effuse how the song ‘really captured the spirit of a generation’. In fact, I heard this line so many times that I had a prepared reply for it. ‘In what way?’ I would always ask.

The thing is, every time I asked this, I always (always) got the same answer.

A blank stare.

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Memoirs of a Go-Go Dancer Full Cover

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. 11 August 2009 9:09 pm

    For those that grew up in the 60s and 70s the legacy of the “hippie” festival will live on… you’ll love my book on 70s sex, drugs & rock n roll … nostalgia, fun, hilarity and a time gone that is so different from todays high stress techno world.
    Remember Sunbury? Nambassa (the down under festival that bigger than Woodstock in per capita terms) and Sweetwaters?
    Those were the days my friend 🙂

  2. 11 August 2009 9:28 pm

    Lovely comment, Ms Poulter. Thank you.

    I was certainly aware of Sunbury. But Nambassa, Sweetwaters? I must investigate.

    I’m sure I’m going to love your book, having been a 60s music & culture devotee since I first saw The Monkees on TV at age 8. You’re clearly a devotee yourself, also a rock fan of excellent taste. (God, all those years I spent trying to be a rock singer myself…) Harder than making it in Publishing (!)

    For everybody reading this, check out the following title at bookstores and online at Amazon.com…

    “The Wong Way to Marry” by Colleen A Poulter.

  3. Jason Butcher permalink
    6 April 2012 4:24 pm

    Bravo mon ami!

    Here’s a few questions I would like to put to you and your many legions of fans.

    What is power? Is it a nuclear arsenal? Is it financial muscle? Is it the keys to the White House?

    Or is it something more ephemeral?

    I don’t proppose to go into this question of power in too much depth here (Beudrillard, de Bord, Foucault and Derrida are far better exponents on this question than me) but the central idea the highlighted authors propose is the nature of discourse and genealogy of language is ultimate power that we can possess as human beings. As Wittgenstein asserts it is language that sets the boundaries of all of our understanding.

    This being the case, then the language and symbolism (the most powerful language of all – think Jung) of Rock, Rock and Roll and Psychedelia did indeed change the course of history. It did eventually end the war in Vietnam and changed human behaviour in such a way that advertising, election campaigns and, as you hint in a later post, religion had to think of new ways of getting with the kids. This is not insignificant.

    This potent language that could change fashion, sexual ‘conduct’, attitudes to the environment, drugs, war in a way that no politician democratic or totalitarian could was at once to be co-opted and diminished. Hence, the evangelical ‘rock bands’ in church, the corporatisation of rock by the mid-to-late seventies, and the stream of ‘documentaries’ and revisionary historical renderings of the sixties, idealised, put on a pedestal and made unobtainable. To mock the sixties, its idealism and dynamism, is to take away an avenue of power available to the common man or woman, and force a new liberal conservatism, made with an unsubtle irony in the image of the sixties, down the throats of an unsuspecting youth.

    The net result is prepackaged rebellion sold in nihilistic corporate units – yes, think the aptly named Nirvana and a blank stare – as rock and roll shawn of its idealism and power is nothing more than an empty husk with all nutritional goodness, and appeal, of a Big Mac. To conclude, I would argue that the symbolism and language of rock and roll is and remains capable of change if people begin to rediscover its potency and power. It can change minds and move mountains if properly understood.

  4. 6 April 2012 5:31 pm

    What a lovely piece of writing by you, Jason. Excellent, sir, excellent. And thank you.

  5. Jason Butcher permalink
    7 April 2012 7:37 am

    Just my usual psychobabble Justin. Glad you enjoyed it.

  6. 7 April 2012 1:33 pm

    Certainly did, Jason. Psychobabblers Unite!

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