New Internationalist

The use-by date on hippies

January 2011

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.

Front cover of New Internationalist magazine, issue 739 This column was published in the January 2011 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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  1. #2 Rob Wheeler 06 Feb 11

    Hippies Now and Forever

    This article is bullshit. I am an aging hippy. I have a beard and occasionally long hair. I eat primarily vegetarian. I believe and work for love, compassion, and world peace. I still ride my bike. I represent the Global Ecovillage Network at the UN - which includes many sustainable new age communes - some of the best examples of living sustainably on the planet. I worked as a teacher for 25 years; and am out to change the world in the same ways I did 40 years ago - arguing for renewable energy, getting rid of toxic chemicals, protecting and restoring the natural environment, etc.

    It is hippies and most of the things that we stood, and still stand for, that will save the world from itself. The fellow described is an anomoly. Too bad there are not more of us real hippy folks - like 7 billion.


    Rob Wheeler

  2. #3 rob Wheeler 06 Feb 11

    How about a Story on a Real Hippy??

    By the way, if Anna Chen wants to write an article about a ’real’ hippy, she can contact me, Rob Wheeler, at 1-717-264-5036, skype: robineagle333 or robwheeler22 @


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This article was originally published in issue 439

New Internationalist Magazine issue 439
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