Wednesday, January 20, 2010

I Was a Teenaged Hippie!

The first person I’d ever heard use the word hippie was a kindred spirit in the astronomy class I took my first year of college because I was an idiot and didn’t realize it would involve a lot of physics, for which I’d found out that I had no knack whatever my senior year in high school. Bill Wolfe looked pretty outrageous by the standards of the day, and turned out to be a guitarist. He made a reference one day to an effects pedal or something that all the guitar-playing hippies on the Strip were excited about.

When I heard the word again, it no longer had the meaning of someone who was unusually au courant, but defying conventional expectations. Whatever you called them, they seemed, when my girlfriend Mari took me up to Haight Street to gawk at them, to be a cheerful bunch, and my understanding is that they had lots of sex, so I thought I’d give it a shot.

I didn’t drop out of college because I knew it was costing my parents a fair bit of money, and I didn’t want to forfeit my student exemption from the draft, but I did start attending lectures barefoot, and in a beaded necklace I, embracing the creativity that was a hallmark of the movement, had strung myself. Nobody seemed to notice or care, but did they imagine I could be dissuaded so easily?

I’d fallen in love with the Art Nouveau-inspired artwork Wes Wilson was doing up in San Francisco for Bill Graham’s Fillmore Auditorium, and spent every free moment up in my dorm room trying to replicate it. I had a few of my more appealing pen-and-ink drawings printed on fluorescent paper, took my shoes back off, and headed up to the Sunset Strip, where I would sit on a wall in front of an office building a block east of the Whisky and offer them for sale to passers-by for 25 cents. I wasn’t much of an artist, but in many cases the brightness of the paper was enough to make prospective customers regard my posters as groovy, and sometimes I earned as much as $7, half what I’d made the year before parking cars for eight hours at a Polynesian restaurant in Malibu.

The Strip was a real magnet for young servicemen in those days, as I suspect it remains, and I had lots of shouting matches with uniformed boys from the flyover states who seemed to regard me as the living embodiment of beatnik depravity. More important, I became an object of interest to the likes of a young nursing student from the sleepy faraway seaside community of Portuguese Bend. Her attire and bouffant hair marked her as provincial, but one as shy as I couldn’t afford to be fussy, and we wound up paired romantically for a few months. She later married one of Led Zeppelin’s road managers just to spite me, or because she adored him.

I made a nuisance of myself at the first head shop in West LA, Headquarters in Westwood Village. One of the proprietors, the journalist Jerry Hopkins (later to co-author a best-selling Doors biography that recounts an apocryphal confrontation in an elevator between me and Jim Morrison) offered me a job taking apart huge sheets of lapel buttons bearing such zany slogans as Take a Hippie to Lunch. I knew from the first hour that it wasn’t what I wanted to do with my life.

It soon occurred to me that I generally found hippies pretty grotty. I didn’t want to believe we were all one, man, and scoffed at the idea of anybody thinking they knew anything at all about me on the basis of my astrological birth sign. I always felt foolish trying to speak in hippie patois; the “man” in the foregoing sentence was satirical. I repudiated barefootedness, removed my necklace, got what we Americans, to the infinite amusement of Brits, call a shag haircut, and went on to lead a life of uninterrupted bliss.

[Exciting news: On, where you can hear my new album Sorry We're Open, I am now ranked 80,573rd; next stop: stardom! Facebookers: Read more little essays and subscribe here.

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