Who were the hippies and exactly what was the hippie movement?
One can trace the origin of the word hippie back to the 1940s. Harry Gibson created a song titled “Harry the Hipster”. In it, he referred to beatniks, known for their anti-conformist beliefs, as hipsters.
A mention of hipster was also made by the novelist, Normal Mailer, in 1957. Mailer described hipsters as those who “believed in a carefree, spontaneous, cool lifestyle”. Those distinguishing themselves with their use of narcotics and their manner of speaking.
Journalist Michael Fallon first converted the word hipster into “hippie”. In an article for the Blue Unicorn Coffeehouse, he talked about beatniks who had moved from North Beach to San Francisco. The exact date when this article appeared in print was September 5, 1965.
Earlier in Germany, non-conformist attitudes and liberalized concepts of life had taken roots. This was with the youth movement known as Wandervogel. The movement translates as ‘migratory birds.”
The youth opposed the rapid urbanization in Germany between 1896 and 1908. They yearned for a simplistic and natural way of life. They did this through music, creative ways of dressing, and camping.
The German youth later moved to the United States. They opened numerous organic health food stores on the West Coast. The health movement caught on in the US, and many Americans later followed suit.
The song recorded by Nat King Cole in 1948, “The Nature Boy”, talks about the Wandervogel way of life. The author of the song, George McGrew started out as a piano player in a cafe owned by Wandervogel followers or “nature boys”. McGrew himself adopted the hippie look with a long beard and hair and lived in a cave while he composed the song.
The ideology of the hippie movement took roots and bore branches in the Haight-Ashbury district in San Francisco.
It was at this time that the hippie culture of yoga, organic food, and simplistic living became popular throughout the US.
The hippie movement drew inspiration from many places. It was greatly influenced by eastern spirituality. The European social movements in the early 19th centuries were a catalyst for them. The Bohemian culture in the 20th century was also their muse.
A 1967 article claimed the hippie movement was a statement against Greek culture. Hippies found inspiration through the teachings of Jesus Christ, Buddha, Gandhi, and St. Francis of Assisi.
Asian spirituality figures strongly in some of the hippie movement themes. For example, Yoga has “karma”, which symbolizes the accountability for past mistakes. It also has “nirvana”, referring to the attainment of absolute spiritual heights.
In contrast, author Marty Jezer describes the hipster movement as one without any definite ideology. In his words, the hippie movement was just a way of “being” and not about attitudes or explanations.
Jezer states that the ambiguous language the hippies used such as “cool” could mean contradictory things. Hippies, as per the author, could not construct coherent sentences. The word “like” was always a preface to any sentence.
The Hippie Movement
The hippies described themselves as “hip”. This was a level of consciousness. Not really having anything to do with political or spiritual beliefs, according to Jezer.
The “hip” attitude was in direct contrast to the “squares”. The squares were those who were conformists to the political, to existential beliefs and those who sought security.
The hippies believed that narcotics assisted in meditation and in creative expression, but not in pleasure. This led to a rally called the “Love Pageant Rally” in 1966. With LSD declared an illegal substance in the same year, they wished to create awareness about it. They claimed that hippies were not criminal or mentally ill despite their use of LSD.
The flower was one of the physical manifestations of the hippie beliefs. The Flower Power concept became the hallmark of the hippies’ opposition to the Vietnam war. Dressed in bright psychedelic floral clothes, they called the hippies “flower children”. They would hand out flowers to soldiers and the public as messengers of love.
The Hippie Revolution
Between 1965-67, demonstrations and draft card burnings to protest against the Vietnam war occurred. In October 1967, about 100,000 hippies set out for a peaceful march to the Pentagon.
Intended to be a peace march, it ended up in violence, the flowers in the barrels notwithstanding. It took 3 days for clashes between the soldiers guarding the Pentagon and radical hippies to settle down.
In 1967, the Hare Krishna movement gained momentum among the hippies. It drew inspiration from spiritual influences from India. The Mantra-Rock dance occurred in a ballroom in San Francisco. It was a fundraiser event for the Hare Krishna center. Characterized by psychedelic lights and pictures of Lord Krishna, the revered Indian deity.
With the end of Vietnam war and the rise of the work culture by late 1960s, the hippie movement began to die down. Youths were more focused on their careers in the fast-growing economy.
A theater group called Diggers signaled the end in an event titled “Death of Hippie” in the year 1967. The event involved a funeral procession that ended in Panhandle. It had many supporters in Buena Vista park. The supporters carried a casket that filled with trinkets, symbolizing the end of the hippie movement.
Haight-Ashbury district saw the end of the hippie ideologies. However, some aspects of the movement spread to the rest of the US, Europe, and Australia. Hippie fashions lived on in the form of bright florals, feathers and bells, and long beards, long after the hippie era.
YOUTUBE VIDEO (BBC) :