The other day I found myself and an old compadre seated in elevated honor on a couch on the back of a Model “T” flatbed truck, parading down the main street in commemoration of something called Hippie Day. As two of the original founders of the infamous “Red Dog Saloon,” we are generally credited with starting the rock revolution and dance hall movement that came to symbolize the San Francisco hipster scene of the ‘60s, later to become the “hippies” of national repute.
As we waved and smiled at the sidewalk audience, both of us commented on the fact that we had never been whatever it was that was being celebrated by the marching mass of rainbow tie dyed dancers chanting anthems of “Peace and Love.” Back in the day, we were made of sterner stuff!
It must be understood that the dissent of the late ‘50s was the real beginning of the cultural battles that marked the following decades. The “beat” generation was real, and made up of angry dropouts from the mainstream of American post-war culture. Intellectuals, workers, musicians and an underclass of loose opposition to the whole great lie: from segregation and soda pop to
police state anti-communism and the unwed mothers wars. Hypocrisy was the order of the day and the scruffy poets of ’Frisco were the only voices raised in defiance.
The beat movement took root in off-campus coffee houses across the nation. Anthologies of short stories and poetic dissent sold well and quarterly reviews became a literary venue of note. This trend, in turn, contributed to campus unrest over the decreasing relevance of the curriculum, and that begat disorder in the form of student strikes and demonstrations.
Then came Reagan, riding a wave of bourgeois anger at the antics of their children. Next thing, there are troops in the streets of Berkeley with bayonets fixed, mass arrests of anti-war demonstrators and a war on drugs that made felons of pot smokers for having long hair.
The final straw for me, and many other FBI targets of the time, was the Cuban missile standoff. We collectively decided to die in rural surroundings, forest or desert, if the long-awaited nuclear war was going to happen, and running ahead of city cops was tiring at best. We headed for the hills.
Beatnik was not, however, a friendly image in the outback west, and those of us who went on the road soon adopted the style and costume of the old frontier, with boots, western shirts only a Navajo would wear and the traditional western hat, worn and stained for authenticity. The costume allowed for long hair and a mustache without declaring outlaw attitudes as we trucked and traveled among the natives, trading rugs and pottery and “Indian pawn” jewelry to pay the way.
Now we are museum pieces in a parade of colorful freaks dedicated to some sort of free-for-all society, which we never made. The hippie label diminishes those of us who were hip before it was hip to be hip, and none of us ever, on our lowest day, asked anybody for “spare change.”
“Travus T. Hipp” is a 40-year veteran radio commentator with six stations in California carrying his daily version of the news and opinions. "The Poor Hippy’s Paul Harvey,” Travus is a member of the Nevada Broadcasters Hall of Fame, but unemployable in the Silver State due to his eclectic political views.