I was having a conversation with a bright young woman in her 20s, when she asked me what the ’60s were like. This is one of the reasons I wrote my memoir, Groovin’: Horses, Hopes, and Slippery Slopes. I wanted people to be able to taste the freedom we hippies experienced during that amazing period.
A lot about that era has appeared in print and media, but most of it deals with the unrest: the political climate, the Vietnam War, civil rights, and feminism. There’s also a profusion of material that reflects on the music scene. Even though those elements influenced our lives, there’s more to the ‘60s than the revolutionary components.
Those of us early to the hippie scene experienced a wonderful love-based brotherhood. If you were a traveler and needed food or shelter, you were welcomed by like-minded youth as a matter of course. As a group of free-thinking, deep-feeling individuals exploring a unique new paradigm, an effortless bond existed.
Unfortunately, the purity of our scene was short-lived. Media coverage attracted a less conscious element, lusting after drugs and free-love—spoiling the integrity of the movement.
Many other elements of the ’60s are rarely mentioned.
It was a whole lot easier to survive back then. Of course, wages were lower, but if you were content with a simple life, you could work for a week or two and live for months without breaking a sweat. In 1969, I bought a ’55 Chevy pickup truck for $150 and my carpenter buddies built a primo camper on it—just for the heck of it. And with gas averaging 29¢ a gallon, I could roam the country in my house on wheels for a very small sum.
It’s hard to imagine today, but our national parks and forests were free to the public. With much less traffic on the roads, you could pull into a campground, find an empty spot, and camp as long as you wanted—and it didn’t cost a cent!
A quick stroll around any campground put you in touch with others of your kind. It was common for wandering long-hairs to congregate at supper time, sharing whatever they had to offer. If you didn’t have food to put on the table, you contributed a good tale, a tune, an intoxicant, or simply some quality company.
We were family and we took care of one another.
In the ’60s, wildlife, birds, and insects were plentiful and our waterways and oceans were more pristine. I had a personal kinship with monarch butterflies and used to see them everywhere. Now it's rare to spot one in most parts of our country.
I remember the excitement of the first Earth Day. It signified a new awareness aimed at protecting our environment. Now, nearly 50 years later, it's sad to see how little we’ve done to preserve our planet’s precious gifts.
I was lucky to have grown up when I did and fortunate to have participated in a remarkable counterculture. Though it’s not impossible today, it was far easier to thrive as a free spirit back when I was a youth. Despite the challenges, I’m glad to report that there are plenty of hippie-minded souls out there (both young and old) still kicking up their heels.
And I’m grateful that most still sing the same song—one of inclusion, love, peace, and harmony.
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Today, I listened to some soothing music, which I often do. My old body has gotten, in the words of a friend, “a bit rickety” as I age, so I like to put on a beat and move to it. I typically run or dance on a mini-trampoline to work out the kinks.
As I exercised, I started thinking about the ideas people hold on to.
It’s difficult not to have opinions about almost everything around us, based on both our life history and what we’ve been taught. At the same time, we need to be careful because those beliefs can limit us, keeping us from enjoying new experiences and meeting new people. I’m sure we’ve all felt the pain of being misjudged when someone makes an off-base assumption about our intentions or about the type of person we are.
That applies to many of the opinions people have had about hippies. If you’ve read my book Groovin’ or some of my blogs, you know I was immersed in that scene back in the sixties. The conventional thinking then was that hippies never worked or bathed, were unpatriotic and always stoned, and had perpetual sex.
That’s still the common perception.
Some hippies might have been like that, but not the ones I hung out with. My friends were hard-working free thinkers who appreciated good hygiene, got stoned occasionally or not at all, loved their country enough to protest injustice, and, even with the sexual revolution, were discerning about who they jumped into bed with.
The hippie movement had much more diversity than most people realize.
For example, I listen to a variety of music, but you’d probably be surprised to learn which type I preferred in the sixties and still do today. Acid rock was the favored music among my peers, and I liked rock and roll just fine. But what I really grooved on was country music. I was attracted to its simplicity, even though I was a city boy who rarely heard country tunes when I was young—except for maybe in Western movies.
My appreciation for country began in my early twenties as I drove long distances listening to the AM radio in “Evergreen,” my old pickup truck. I’m not talking about country rock but rather the original sappy storytelling type of tune, filled with raw emotion and plain, understandable lyrics.
I even know the exact moment it happened. In 1970, on a very cold, drizzly Thanksgiving Day in the high Sierras, my friends Sam and Lil got five of us ripped on acid, stuffed us into their VW bus, and drove off into the woods on a dirt logging road. One of my friends spent the afternoon trying in vain to get soggy wood to burn. Sam opened the door to his bus and put a cassette into the tape deck. I slipped inside to warm up and found myself listening to Tammy Wynette singing “Stand By Your Man” in her velvety voice—and I fell in love.
I know what you’re thinking. Sexist pig! Yeah, the lyrics of that song are sort of rank, but that wasn’t what grabbed me. I fell in love with the music, the voice, and, most of all, the singer’s love blasting out of those primitive speakers. True, the lyrics of many old-time country songs can be comical but most contain some truth.
I even delighted in Merle Haggard’s “Okie from Muskogee,” which seriously trashed my hippie-hood. The first time I heard it, I laughed out loud. The music was good and the lyrics were clever. What was there not to like?
Music evokes feelings that touch us, just as the beat moves us. This is true whether we like rock and roll, classical, blues, jazz, hip-hop, rap, or other sounds.
I tend to listen to country when I need to be introspective—it’s everybody’s love and heartache, everybody’s loss and longing, but it’s also everybody’s joy and pride. The feelings of a human being whittled down to their bare essence. That’s why they were hit songs.
The emotions haven’t changed. We still long for a carefree world filled with down-home, friendly folks enjoying being alive. Hopefully we can learn to embrace that dream without focusing on differences—without excluding anyone.
I’m definitely not trying to sell you on country music. I realize it’s an acquired taste. But I am attempting to illustrate how we don’t have to be limited by the opinions of others. Even an old hippie weaned on rock and roll and civil rights protests can become a country freak.
If we resist putting people in a box, we might be pleasantly surprised.
As I sway to a country song, I remember who I was at a simpler time in my life, and it helps me get in touch with my authentic self. We all have a rhythm, and there’s music to match it. I urge you to take time from your busy life to indulge in your favorite tunes—the ones that help you forget the world’s problems and connect with your heart.
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