Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Hippie Redux: #32 Why I'm Glad I'm Over 65!

From Marilyn to Angela

When I have watched a Marilyn Monroe movie, that beautiful woman has always disappointed. It is hard to imagine today the role thought appropriate for women in 1960. It was basically being a housewife and subservience to men. Marilyn never had a chance to appear as a real person.

In 1964 a congressman suggested that gender equality be included in the Civil Rights Act, he was greeted with laughter, but the law passed with the amendment intact.

There were a number of factors that enabled a new role for women in the Sixties. Childcare came on the radar. Abortion, generally clandestine, became an option. The Pill was approved. Economic and social changes required more women in the workforce.

The Sixties saw a massive wave of activism on the part of woman. That most of the current activist organizations were dominated by male chauvinism became obvious, so women formed their own structures. The FBI infiltrated the movement, considering it the enemy. There was considerable dissension within the movement between mainstream and radical elements, but overall it was a time of great gains.

Many powerful woman came forward, either as activists or in print. Germaine Greer, Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, Simone de Beauvoir and Angela Davis (pictured).

Successful events included the protest at the Miss America Pageant in 1968, the Women’s Strike for Equality in 1970.

As with the struggle for racial equality, the struggle for women’s rights continues.

Monday, 21 December 2015

Hippie Redux: #31 Why I'm Glad I'm Over 65!

Pictured: Several bands in front of one home.

San Francisco and the Summer of Love

Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco was an area of grand ornate Victorian mansions bordering on Golden Gate Park. In the early Sixties the cheap-rent rooming houses set up in the now run-down buildings attracted artists and musicians. Several local rock bands, including the Jefferson Airplane and Grateful Dead, lived communally each in their own house. With the freedom of the park next door and the Fillmore Auditorium and Avalon Ballroom not far, the area became the home of the Hippies. In January 1967 there was a Human Be-In in the park that drew 30,000. Communal groups like the Diggers, the Family Dog and the Free Clinic cared for the community and put on events.
The media covered it all. That summer, called the Summer of Love, I received a letter from a friend who had made it there. My hitchhiking took me as far as Cleveland where food poisoning and a hospital stay turned me around. But not others – 100,000 youth soon swamped the area. The scene became less than ideal. Dirt, disease, needles, abuse. In October a mock funeral was held called “Death of the Hippie” to encourage people to take the revolution back home.
The original culture, I suspect, slowly drifted out of the city to the North. In 1996-7 I made numerous visits to a girlfriend in Humboldt County, Northern California. Up in those wooded, pot-growing hills, I found many beautiful people, and discovered some of what I had missed in 1967.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

For The Last TIme

A poem I wrote in response to my cancer diagnosis.

I want my friends to know
that I will die.

When is not important...2 days?
…20 years? ...63 months?

And I want to start dying
today - now in fact -
I've waited too long.

As I sit here for perhaps the final time
in the evening sunlight under this tree.
And every breath becomes almost my last.

And tonight, I’ll savour
scallops in white wine
as if it's the last time I may taste them.

And tomorrow, if I'm still alive, I will
walk to the club on College street
that always plays latin music.

And dance like there's no tomorrow.

How sad these people around me,
obsessed with only living -
careening through life.
The forward momentum they must maintain
somehow so strident, predictable.
With no idea where their mad
rush is heading.

No such craziness for me.
I'm just hanging around
like a man who loves mountains.
The long climb up thrills him -
so does skiing all the way back down.

Ah, the sweetness of being mortal,
knowing I'm more ephemeral,
than the mountains the sky, the sea,
even that old tree over there.

How peaceful I feel sitting in a bar
enjoying what could be my last whiskey.
(Pleased I asked for an eighteen-year single-malt for the occasion.)

And that woman Anne
- eight months ago -
surely I need to send flowers now
in case she’s my final lover.

And I want my friends to know
that they will die.
I want my friends to start dying too,
to join me in dying.

And we'll sit there laughing, reading poetry to each other,
for maybe the last time.

Happy with our dying
and our living.

Hippie Redux: #30 Why I'm Glad I'm Over 65!

The Voices of Bob Dylan

In the early sixties, Bob Dylan was the darling of the folk musical revival. He sang with the rough rural tones of his hero, Woody Guthrie. And some songs, like Blowing in the Wind, were anthems for the protest movement.

In 1965 he changed his voice. He mounted the stage at the Newport Folk Festival with a four piece band behind him, strapped on a Stratocaster electric guitar, and tore into “Maggie's Farm”. There was booing from the audience. His new music, with surreal lyrics, was sung in a wry, often sardonic tone, with words twisted and elongated.

In 1967, after a long seclusion, his voice became spare and prophetic on the album John Wesley Harding, one of my favourites.

Two years later we reacted in dismay with rumours his new album was country. Nashville Skyline had Dylan on the cover smiling in a cowboy hat and even included a duet with Johnny Cash. Reluctantly perhaps, we accepting his lowered pitch and more natural phrasing.

In the following decades his voice shifted from album to album. This year's album, Shadows in the Night, his 36th, finds him covering Frank Sinatra songs. It has received critical aclaim. Dylan probably feels he has the right to try some mellow crooning. Any roughness now comes from his 74 years.

This man wrote some of the best music of the age, stood as a mysterious and charismatic presence, and treated us to one of the most unique and changeling voices.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

HIPPIE REDUX: #29 Why I'm Glad I'm Over 65!

Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds

Almost all my life I have lived in the modern rational western culture. It's worldview or understanding of reality has conditioned me and continues to impress itself upon me in a thousand subtle ways everyday. But despite our acceptance of it, this consensus reality is only an opinion about the nature of life and I believe rife with distortion and error. If I spent an hour within the body, heart and mind of a Yanomami native in the Brazil jungle, I might be amazed at how his reading of the real is different from mine. If I have had to continually wear blue-coloured glasses all my life, I soon fail to see the blue cast, but get a huge shock when I take them off.
There was a hope in the Sixties that taking LSD would be this shock. A shock to help you see that you are responsible for your own vision of life, rather than having it surreptitiously dictated to you by the dominant paradigm of the established order. Turn on, Tune in, Drop out.
It was suggested that every hippie do at least one LSD trip. I did my trip. It was beautiful, fun, but I can't say it was a game changer. I think it takes more than a few experiences of an alternate reality to develop an independent head. It is ongoing work, however much people like Timothy Leary (pictured) or Ken Kesey might have hoped otherwise. But I think a truth about our situation was emphasized.

Monday, 7 December 2015

HIPPIE REDUX: #28 Why I'm Glad I'm Over 65!

Photo: Art Kane
Jefferson Airplane, Take Me to the River !

This is one of my favourite bands of all time. They achieved a looseness and spontaneity in their music that was almost jazzlike. A wild and emotional feel. In Grace Slick and Marty Balin's duets they wound their voices in and out of each other like some ecstatic choir. With songs like White Rabbit, Somebody to Love, and the gorgeous Ballad of You and Me and Pooneil they were the ultimate San Francisco band. Photo: Art Kane.

Friday, 4 December 2015

HIPPIE REDUX: #27 Why I'm Glad I'm Over 65!

The Beatles !

Amazing how quickly the Fab Four entered our hearts. In the early days of Beatlemania the sheer joy and energy in their music was irresistable. So too the haircuts and cheeky manner. I remember sitting with friends in the cinema when Richard Lester's A Hard Day's NIght started playing. We were shocked that we almost couldn't understand their thick Liverpool accents, but we got their mad humour.
We heard eagerly every new single when it came out on the radio, and albums were major events. Their style began to shift with albums like Revolver, then came the magnificent Rubber Soul, followed by classics like Sgt. Peppers, and the White Album. Incredible music!
I saw them in concert in Toronto in 1965. It was almost impossible to hear what song they were playing, no wonder they stopped touring.
As with many bands who split up, solo work never achieved quite the brilliance as the ensemble. But John, George, Paul and Ringo all kept making great music. And Paul played a dynamic three hour arena set in Toronto this summer at the age of 73.
Their four very different personalites blended to a unique whole. We could love them all, but still have our favourite. Who was yours?

Thursday, 3 December 2015

HIPPIE REDUX: #26 Why I'm Glad I'm Over 65

Steal This Website !?!?

Abbie Hoffman was an american activist and perhaps one of the most colourful characters in the 60’s. He co-founded the Yippies (Youth International Party) in 1967, an organization that existed as anarchy only. The counterculture had two poles, the “flower power - change the world through love” extreme and the “revolution in the streets - off the pigs” side. The latter included the Black Panthers, the White Panthers (sic), the Anti-Vietnam War movement and the Yippies. Hoffman, like Jerry Rubin and others, was a master at theatre and communication and famously wrote a book called “Steal This Book”. He had trouble getting it published but then it sold well, (no records if it stole well!). Hoffman was one of the “Chicago Eight” charged with “inciting to riot” after the Chicago Democratic Convention of 1968. The drama of his life continued until his death in 1989.
Hoffman’s famous quote was, “We were young and arrogant and crazy and naive, but we were right!”