I have a certain fascination with the hippie era. Not as in, I wish I had been there, but more as an entomological study. On the Midwestern prairie we had no Summer of Love. We had a summer of working, a summer of riding bicycles and pressing transistor radios to our ears; a summer of stretching the coiled cord of the kitchen wall phone all the way around the corner into the hall so we could have private conversations.
The war was, of course, on everyone's mind, but more urgently than college kids who had deferments and spent their lunch periods carrying signs. To my big brother the war wasn't abstract -- he had to worry if his number was going to be pulled out of the big bingo jar and if he was going to die in a rice paddy. Working class boys didn't have a lot of options. They could flee to Canada or they could join the National Guard, which is what my brother did. My brother was hardly the military type, but he ultimately did his civic duty...and he stayed alive. Meanwhile, boys with wispy goatees in San Francisco twirled around in tie-dyed tee shirts.
I was twelve that summer. On TV I saw mystified CBS News reporters chronicling the Haight-Ashbury scene. All the characters looked like dizzy dorks. I especially loved the dance of the scarves, which was a classic. One could not flip the television dial without glimpsing some barefoot bra-less chick whirling on a hillside with a multi-hued scarf. So profound!
Old hippies probably don't grasp this, but we didn't envy them. We thought they were imbeciles.
Fifty-odd years later, I wonder how many of them have managed to maneuver life with all their brain cells intact. They'd be -- well, past retirement age. Do they entertain their grandkids with tales of past acid trips? Did some get elected to congress? (yes) Did they at some point learn to appreciate the joy of bar soap and penicillin?
Sage Midwesterners always knew that life was life, and there was no escaping it. My brother didn't "drop out", and I didn't, either. We didn't have that luxury.
Marty Balin died this week. He was a founding member of Jefferson Airplane, a band that encapsulated the summer of love. Reading about him, I learned that he was a pretty good guy, but that band epitomized everything I hated about the times.
In my town we weren't listening to Jefferson Airplane. This is what we were tuning in to on our local radio station:
And especially this:
See? We were hip, too.
And we still possess all our brain cells.