Ang Lee, always at the cutting edge of the culture, has picked up on the returning interest in the Sixties and Seventies by making a movie about Woodstock. (“Taking Woodstock,” now showing at Cannes.) But is he really? The diagnostic anecdote is that when Lee advertised for extras -- a LOT of young people willing to get naked, slide around in the mud, and have their faces painted with flowers -- there were plenty of applicants. The problem was a modern fashion: shaving one’s pubic hair. In the Woodstock days one didn’t even shave one’s legs and pits! What does it mean? My best guess is that it’s a refusal of adulthood. An unwillingness to risk being grabbed by the short hairs? I had no idea it was a fashion and it seems to me an inconveniently itchy one.
I’m always talking about the Aquarian Revolution in San Francisco -- as though I were there, even though in the Sixties I was in Browning, Montana, reliving the 1860’s, a steady stream of tragedy and loss for the Blackfeet. These were indigenous people the hippies intended to make common cause with, if they ever figured out where they were and what to do. I never heard any Blackfeet say he was at Woodstock, though some made it to Haight/Asbury.
So I thought I’d do a little research on those people a little younger than myself, the hedonistic idealists, the ones I wanted to join but didn’t. I've told about the young man on his way to Stanford who stopped in Browning long enough to help build the fireplace in Bob’s studio and then asked me to go on to California with him. (I wonder where he is now?)
My counterculture participation was mostly buying a copy of the Whole Earth Catalogue and writing theatre reviews for the Portland Scribe. I never tried weed, or even tobacco, much less alcohol and free sex. Where are those people now? I googled and my first hit was a win: http://aquarianrevolution.blogspot.com/ It’s a blog that is nothing but long interviews of former hippies now living in Arkansas. It was intended to become a book, though there’s no sign that it has. I realize now why Clinton did so well in Arkansas: there is evidently a huge population of free-thinking do-gooders, all quietly minding their own business. I can only hope this is true of other places.
The book it makes me think of is “Class: A Guide Through the American Status System” by Paul Fussell in which Fussell calls a certain kind of people, brought up in prosperity with “good” educations but living as hippies, “Class X.” This is not the same as Generation X, which is an age group, the children of the “boomers” I guess. Class X goes back to the rebel younger sons in Europe. Maybe it goes back to Caravaggio, about whom I’m currently reading. The group Fussell proposed was later corrupted to Bo-bo or “bohemian bourgeois” which is another book which I haven’t read. (“Bo-Bo’s in Paradise.") At least it breaks up the constant obsession with the Middle Class, which is much less the high-school-style uniformity that is assumed. At least I hope so.
These earnest life stories from people now old enough to be grandparents (maybe ten years younger than myself on average) are full of trap-doors and surprises, even though the over-all gist of them is about the same: “I had an easy childhood; in college I woke up to the draft, riots and urban blight; I couldn’t sustain an ordinary respectable job; and then I began to find my way to a rural life doing work with my hands and gardening. Since then I’ve tried to help others.” Sometimes there are sequential partners, other times only one. Always a lot of concern for the children. ALL the children. Always social action on behalf of the poor. Always worry about education, kinds of knowledge.
They’re an admirable lot, not in the least dangerous, quietly resisting Bush as they wait for an Obama. And they DID see the economic plunge coming. They were prepared. Along the way most lost interest in their early psychedelic explorations, though there are no regrets and many credit those epiphanies with finally putting their feet on the right path. Not many of them in this town. I can only think of a couple and they are as resented now as they were when they were in high school. In Montana one says they’re “different” and looks away. Lots of them up on the rez, though, but Montana isn’t the right climate for living in tents and raising veggies.
It’s been a while since Woodstock. Even the dangerous anarchists are out of jail and doing good works now. The generation of direct descendants has been mostly orderly, diligent, and honorable. But they DO know how to be hippies living on the edge of society if that should become necessary. I suspect that their books -- which they are bound to write -- won’t be conventionally published, but that these are the people who will be quite willing and able to self-publish. Maybe they’re doing it right now. After all, a blog is self-publishing and I just read a LOT of Aquarian Revolution stories this afternoon.
I suspect that the Aquarians, like every other category, exist in a continuum from mellow to pretty damn dark. I’m curious about that dark edge and what it might do if it got activated. I suspect that now it’s busy smuggling drugs, but if drugs (at least marijuana) is decriminalized, then what will happen? The last counter-culture was fueled in part by the Vietnam War, but these “sand wars” are different, they say. Still, the underculture, the criminal culture, the subculture is now global just like the international corporations that have screwed up our financial systems. How can we appeal to the JFK-style patriotism when the boundaries of nations have been erased? Or did the Peace Corps help to erase those boundaries? It's going to be different this time.