In a continuation of the series, we look at the hippie movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Emerging in San Francisco, Megan Farrimond explains why we shouldn’t associate the movement simply with a token hippie Halloween costume or the iconic Woodstock festival. So – turn it on, tune in and drop out.
It’s hard to find one fancy dress party without someone sporting a distinctive hippie look. Trapped in time, hippies represented a dream world of peace, drugs, and free love – a period of rebirth and the power in the peaceful collective. An adverse effect of a puritanical, conservative society in the 1960s, San Francisco became a hub of sexually liberated people preaching altruism and mysticism.
In a 1967 cover story, Time Magazine described the movement: “Do your own thing, wherever you have to do it and whenever you want. Drop out. Leave society as you have known it. Leave it utterly. Blow the mind of every straight person you can reach. Turn them on, if not to drugs, then to beauty, love, honesty, fun.”
When we think of the “hippie” movement it’s very easy to get caught up in the idea of the movement as simply a sexually liberated youth sprawled out on the grass, drinking LSD-spiked punch and listening to The Grateful Dead. You wouldn’t be wrong to think that, and this is definitely part of the fascination that we have with this time period. There is an air of romanticism associated with the 60s – the Summer of Love, Woodstock, and Altamont, a hazy dreamlike state. But to be a hippie was to be part of a massive reawakening and the birth of a counterculture. New York senator Robert Kennedy described this feeling: “They want to be recognised as individuals, but individuals play a smaller and smaller role in society. This is a formidable and forbidding arrangement.” In the 60s, alongside protests against America’s involvement in the Vietnam War, the American dream was dying. People were enraged and tired of the production and profit-driven way of life, searching for meaning in an exhausting life; the meaning often pushed under a pile of government files so far removed from the youth of the day. A climate of fear was created and in a post-war era, an “us v them” mentality was instilled in the media. The hippie way of life was a refuge from this, “a Shangri-La, a go-go blending Asian resignation and American optimism in a world where no one grows old” (according to Time Magazine).
As many of our stereotypes of hippies represent the culture as so far removed from politics, we forget that whilst the movement was intrinsically linked with pacifism, many groups, especially in San Francisco, turned to new creative ways of peaceful protesting. Even the term “flower power” comes from a supposed combination of Allen Ginsberg’s suggestion in his essay How to Make a March/Spectacle, to use flowers as barricades in protest, and the term “Black Power”, which was coined by Stokely Carmichael in 1966. The term was immortalised in the famous photograph of 18-year-old George Harris who, at an anti-war demonstration at the Pentagon, placed carnations into the barrels of the soldier’s rifles.
The idea of the hippie was not exclusive to those flocking to Woodstock, but a movement that spread across the world. From La Onda in Mexico, an artistic movement searching for systematic revision, to the anti-bourgeois Wandervögel that existed in Germany as early as the late 19th-century.
The cyclical nature of fashion and the “20-year rule” meant that a revival of the softer, fairy-like style of the 70s was revived in the 90s. Flares made a comeback, along with a neutral colour palette of browns and beiges; a contrast to the neon colours of the previous decade. Platforms returned, even higher than before, as well as designers such as Margaret Howell, making sure dungarees slipped, unnoticed, back into the limelight. But, could this fashion cycle return once again and bring with it this counterculture of the past? Something similar could be the case.
Additionally, in recent years we have seen a new rise in the popularity of psychedelic music, especially in Australia, which may pair with this resurgence in the subculture. Many artists such as King Gizzard and the Wizard Lizard, MGMT, Connan Mockasin, and Psychedelic Porn Crumpets are all clear examples of these desert rock undertones pairing with modern synths to create a new form of psychedelic music (it’s also nice to see that the power of the harmonica has not been lost).
As 2020 brought mass lockdown of populations, a collective mentality erupted and, whilst we will have to wait and see what this really means, new youthful subcultures may re-emerge. With the hope for change to come in 2021, a new age of Aquarius is dawning. The term was used in the 1960s to describe this new age philosophy that was associated with hippies, as the first six planets, the sun and the moon all aligned with the constellation of Aquarius. Could this mean a reemergence in this way of life? Playwright Leo Butler told BBC Culture: “There was a need – political, socially – for that LSD explosion in the 60s and the ecstasy explosion in the early 90s. You look at the world now and think, god it could really do with a super-strong psychedelic! We need something to bring us together – let’s have a third summer of love.”
Top hippie tracks:
Daemon Lover by Shocking Blue
The Inner Light by The Beatles
Woodstock by Matthews’ Southern Comfort
Witchy Woman by Eagles
Volunteers by Jefferson Airplane