The word hippie, generally speaking, applies to people who are concerned with things of the mind, concerned with things of the spirit.
That doesn’t mean that
they’re aesthetes. On the contrary, you know, they also fling a mean Frisbee.
- 5/8/78 conversation in Billerica prison, with Oliver Trager
quite an interesting thing happened in Paris immediately following
World War II. There was the surfacing of a group of young people who
really lived what we’d call today "a hippie lifestyle" -- and this is
very early in the game, this is 1946, ’48, ’49. I got there in the
Spring of ’48….
They'd just came out of a horrible war. I mean, it was really a hell of war. And I use that term with care. If you’ve ever read a book called The Theory and Practice of Hell, about the concentration camps, you get more of an insight into the enormous impact of the psyche of Europe. Camus catches it in his novel, La Peste, a book about the plague. But, of course the plague is an allegory or a metaphor for what was happening to Europe at that time. And there was just this feeling of being overwhelmed, by something that was totally beyond comprehension or sympathy. It was a mechanized monster of some kind that no one had every seen before. So, they had this tremendous shock that hit Europe during the war years, and coming out of all that horror was this rather amazing movement of young people who were creative. They painted up their cars and they put flowers on things and they seemed to get on with the business of life, whereas everybody else was still stuck in the depression that amounted to near neurosis, and in some case, near psychosis. And here was this bunch of young people into jazz, into smoking cannabis, into traveling around Europe in makeshift vehicles, who weren’t too concerned with accumulating a great deal of physical possessions and worldly wealth, and so and so forth. And this was a new thing. It had an impact like a breath of fresh air. Of course, obviously, there were many people who were put off by this phenomena and thought of them as dirty beatniks. We’ve seen that sort of thing over here too. But, it seemed to be the place where a good deal of what today has recognized as the youth culture, the youth movement, the change of values that has come down, all over the world among young people. The thing that was interesting to me was that when the early beat movement in this country used to congregate in a little bar down on Sixth Avenue called Fugazy’s, which is not far from Washington Square Park…
Cause they used to come back and they’d get into these long discussions about how, there I was up 30,000 feet on my back... and they would be explaining all this stuff, and they’d make gestures like this, so they got the nickname Zoomies. You know, like Dr. Strangelove, it’s a classical illustration of the extreme syndrome. See what I mean? I don’t got nothing against flyboys at all. It’s not that. I’m just saying that every person that flies knows a few guys that have gone nuts with it. And these guys were just back from the war. They felt they won the war. That they were sort of the flashiest of the three, of the four services, including the Marine Corps, so, there was this psychological gulf between the Zoomies and the Hippies, who were the ones who came back disenchanted by war.
These were the guys who spent the war sitting on a tin can pitching up and down in the stormy North Atlantic Seas listening for something on the radio that never came. You know. They came home just fed to the teeth with war, man, they didn’t want to hear about it, right. And somehow they got the nickname Hippies. And that sort of dichotomy is part of the development of the later movement. But the word hippie, generally speaking, applies to people who are concerned with things of the mind, concerned with things of the spirit. That doesn’t mean that they’re esthetes, on the contrary, you know, they also fling a mean Frisbee.
But, ah, it’s interesting, seeing how all that history kind of confluences its way through the last couple of decades. There is a connection to the story that’s not often perceived by the media. But, eventually, it would be fascinating to go back and try to reconstruct the whole history of the movement in Paris and Europe generally through the ‘50’s and ‘60’s.