Saturday, September 17, 2016

Memo from an aging Hippie

My old Republican friend Jack Mueller once called me “an aging hippie.” I took no offense.

Imagine my delight upon learning that Laramie, the town to which I relocated six months ago has been named “The Most Hippie Town” in all of Wyoming. It’s not clear whether any other Wyoming community competed for the title but Laramie has the trophy.

The honor was bestowed on only one well-deserving community in each of the 50 states by the travel website Boulder and Berkeley were considered unfair competition because they’ve been professional hippies for 50 years.

Judges acknowledged it’s no easier today than it was in the 60s to define “hippie.”  My sense is that, like Jack Mueller, you know ‘em when you see ‘em.

Thrillist called Laramie “a strange and surprisingly bohemian oasis in the middle of Cowboy Country.” They noted the town is home to the University and “a generally bizarre cast of big Western characters.” People come, they said, to attend UW but “fall in love with Laramie's beautiful surroundings, happenin' music scene, and slow pace that eschews the American rat race.” They concluded, “Wyoming's isolated, leave-me-be attitude finds a happy balance with the Laramigos who just want to live life and do their own thing up there in the mountains.”

Is that what defines “hippie”? Thrillist says, “Once upon a time they were the flower-power counterculture that dropped acid, drove inexplicably operative VW buses, and protested the bejeezus out of the Greatest Generation.”

Most of us never owned a VW bus, never “dropped acid,” and suffered the same inability as Bill Clinton while attempting to inhale. I didn’t protest “the bejeezus” out of anything though my long hair and hero-worship of Muhammad Ali annoyed my parents. Dad worried aloud that I was a hippie. I liked it that he thought his oldest son was one, though I’m certain his definition was darker than need be.

We were hippies when being a hippie meant something. It’s much murkier now. Yet half a century later the term “hippie” still means enough that travel writers thought the descriptor would stir interest in 50 communities around the nation. That is evidence the term has much milder, less threatening, more consumerist notions today than when the movement’s slogans were “make love not war” and “sex, drugs, and rock and roll.”

We grew long hair, wore clothing that announced disdain for fashion, and claimed we didn’t trust anyone over 30 until we celebrated our thirtieth birthdays. We applauded when TIME said, “God is Dead.” John Lennon was more popular than Jesus. We protested the war in Vietnam hoping to end all wars. That didn’t work out very well. Nor did the drugs with which many of my fellow hippies experimented. Even Timothy Leary gave way on that.
Maybe all we have left is the music. Maybe that’s enough. Think about that. There is no music from any other time than the hippie era that a radio station can play 24/7 and make money doing it. Maybe it was the 60s music as much as anything that defined hippiedom.

I write as I listen to the memorable classics of that era. Judy Collins is singing “Both Sides Now.”

“Rows and flows of angel hair and ice cream castles in the air and feather canyons everywhere. I've looked at clouds that way. But now they only block the sun. They rain and snow on everyone. So many things I would have done, but clouds got in my way.” But then she ends with, “Oh but now old friends, they're acting strange. They shake their heads. They say I've changed.”

I have. We have. Has what it means to be a hippie changed? Suddenly half a century passed and I’m happily living in a nationally recognized hippie community, one of “a generally bizarre cast of Western characters,” listening to hippie music, and flattered that someone would remember me as an aging hippie.

“There’s something happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear.”

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