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The use-by date on hippies

Let’s hear it for hippies! Hippies changed the world. Without them, we’d have no alternative society, ecology wouldn’t be mainstream, and Richard Branson wouldn’t be a billionaire.

They might have roamed the earth in abundance in the way-back-when but, like sparrows, brontosauri and socialist Labour politicians, they’re now seen only rarely, in rural backwaters and fossil form. So the other day when I sighted one at the local bus stop, I felt like a palaeontologist stumbling across a lost colony of woolly mammoths.

I don’t mean the pretend hippy manqués where a few greasy strands of hair and wispy facial fuzz approximate the luxuriant follicular growth of the beaded brethren and sistren of the 1960s. I mean one of the magnificent hairy beasts who roamed the globe from Kathmandu to Kilburn, sampling the sort of high-octane inebriants superpowers go to war to control. These wandering wonderers trudged their trails through exotic parts, most of which are now war zones. So much for spreading peace and love, maaaan. Coincidence? I think not.

There he stood like Moses – in the mirrorball in his head, anyway – clad top to toe in vivid primaries (organic fabric, natch!) and topped with a pixie hat. Wild-eyed and grizzled, he smote the ground with his thunderstick, which was not only a prop for his arthritic body, but also some sort of wind instrument, as he insisted on demonstrating to puzzled passengers determinedly avoiding eye-contact.

Strange how in my youth I found the ‘vibe’ emanating from guys like this attractive: their challenge of authority and philosophizing bullshit always engaging and sometimes thrilling.

Yet here I was, recoiling from his Old Testament emanations, finding his relentless face-offs down the line of passengers just a bit too, well, full-on.

Was my aura all out of rainbow hue? Was I now capitalist fodder, a cog in the machine grinding myself into psychic sausage meat?

It was, after all, hippies who had come to my early rescue, providing shelter when domestic upheavals led to adolescent homelessness, plus initiations into Frank Zappa and certain substances.

But no beacon of benevolence and wisdom, this one. It was possibly the moment when he bore down on a head-scarved Muslim schoolgirl waiting for the 139 bus, making that devil sign at her, that I realized he was stuck in a time warp where barons ruled, and contracting leprosy was preferable to modern medicine ’cause it was natural.

He yelled ‘Jehovah!’ and ‘Jihad!’ at the kid. I told her to stand with me before the hippie and I had an eyeballing contest to end all stare-outs. Hollowed out by too many hallucinogens, he roared and stomped while I watched out for his stick, working out how many ways I knew to take it off him and familiarize it with his fundament.

Not all my heroes with their anti-materialist ideals have degenerated into demented flower-trolls, but sometimes it doesn’t half seem that way.

Hippies. They don’t make them like they used to.


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