I’ve had to listen to people beating up on hippies for the last 45 years. I remember back in the mid-seventies
I had to meet my ex-wife at the bank in Downtown Crossing which was just Washington Street then.
I’d just gotten off one of the many night shifts I worked over the years and with that horrible empty belly
staying up all night gives you I bought the only take-out food available a carefully considered fish sandwich
from McDonald’s. As I squatted by the bank’s revolving door caught like a vampire that’s stayed out way too early
as the sun came up over the glass fungi of the big buildings to catch me in its glare, a pack of young suburban
kids came by and one of them commented on my pony tail, “There’s a hippy and he’s eating a McDonald’s”.
Caught and then caught again. That’s how simple it all was then. But then the complexity of it all was always
the most wonderful thing even as almost everyone seemed so dedicated both without and then within
to reducing the movement to its lowest common denominator cultural or political wing. I was so glad, glad, glad
that for once I finally got to hear all the things said I never thought I would hear. I knew most of the people who
suddenly turned up at parties wearing beads and headbands their hair was not really long enough to warrant
wouldn’t be there when we really needed them. I knew the belly of the beast was a much too vast and empty
space to change its leviathan nature anytime too soon as if we could ever really escape the monster
but only like Jonah still seething in our own rebellion contemplate our own navels in the belly of the whale.
Damned if we did, Damned if we didn’t. Damn it all to Hell if we did know something. There was monster on the
loose. With our head in a noose. They did have the guns but we had the numbers. It’s the Vision Thing, man.
Radical come from ROOT and there was something older than consumer commercial co-option causing a bad
case of heartburn in the belly of the principle imperialist power. I’ve never forgotten. What a wonderful time to be
alive. And much more alive then when we were all either a bunch of spoiled ivy-league ingrates or working class
dropout loafers, bums or dilettantes, slumming or four flushers. Some of us were, of course, but at least
we weren’t cold blooded mercenary mental midgets taking the future of the next seven generations on trust
from people who couldn’t see past yesterday’s bottom line or the niceties tomorrow’s real politic. I will always
remember those days of my young manhood as waves of ecological-political-feminist, revelation the whole
bottom of the cultural bag falling out and in shreds and its contents ever so much more than the empty form
that held it and within its constraining bondage it spit out on the shore the only answer to its own dilemma
a counter-culture beyond its mere discontents.
James Van Looy has been a fixture in Boston’s poetry venues since the 1970s. He is a member of Cosmic Spelunker Theater and has run poetry workshops for Boston area homeless people at Pine Street Inn and St. Francis House since 1992. His work appears weekly in Oddball Magazine.