Alice and the hippies

Nov 8th, 2009 | By | Category: Cross Channel

The singer of the greatest school end of term anthem ever written is quoted in the ‘Wit and Wisdom’ slot of this weekend’s Financial Times magazine.  Alice Cooper’s  reflection on the Flower Power era is very succinct:

The hippies wanted peace and love. We wanted Ferraris, blondes and switchblades.

There could be no complaints about a lack of truthfulness there

But take away the flick knives, and was the distance between the hedonism of Alice Cooper and the dropped out lifestyle of the hippies so great?

The hippies were like exotic beasts to the people of our conservative, traditional English shire.  They had ways of life which seemed strange to our old-fashioned farming community.  They drove battered old vans. They had long hair and brightly coloured clothes. Some grew and smoked cannabis, a lot of the time without much attention from the police. They were altogether different from the people we knew.

Some had come to Glastonbury because they believed that Glastonbury Tor, the hill outside of the town, was the centre of the Earth. Given the fact that I could see Glastonbury Tor from my bedroom window, I found it hard to believe it was the centre of anything. Some believed there were “ley lines”, lines of some sort of power or force; these lines went around the world and supposedly met at Glastonbury.

Some of the hippies believed odd things. Some believed there was power in crystals and pyramids. Some believed the future could be foretold; some  believed you could tell a person’s future by reading Tarot cards; some believed in astrology, that our lives were controlled by the stars.
It was supposed to be that if you were up in the air above Glastonbury, you could see the signs of the zodiac arranged in a circle in the countryside around the Tor. I looked at a photograph taken by an aeroplane of the area where you were supposed to be able to see these things; it looked just like fields and hedges to me.  Years later, looking at a picture of the area on Google Earth, the zodiac remains as invisible as ever

The people who gathered around Glastonbury included some who believed in what my mother called “black magic”; trying to call up the spirits of the dead; trying to use the powers of darkness. They seemed to have believed strongly in the black and sinister powers. One man who got a house in our village is said to have moved because someone painted a pentagram, a five pointed star, a symbol of black magic, on the door of his house.

To be fair, most of them were innocent and harmless. They said they believed in love and peace (except, presumably, with those on whose doors they painted pentagrams) and seemed to think they could find it in our little corner of the country.   For a while, there was a hippy encampment on a hill six miles from our village.  Family groups lived in tepees.  The women seemed to be responsible for most of the work while the men talked.  Where they found money for food and petrol and the stuff of everyday life was never clear.  Maybe they claimed National Assistance payments (or whatever social security was called at the time); maybe they came from wealthy families; what they did not do was to work.

So, what about their similarities with Alice Cooper?

Didn’t they both believe in sex and self-indulgence, except that Alice was honest enough to admit it?

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  1. I think being a hippy was an excuse to indulge in sex and drugs……….(On a higher plain of course,haha)…Do you also remember.Pilton pop festival Ian…which also drew in a lot of hippies……. Micheal Eavis,The music world and the media call it ‘Glastonbury’ now…I suppose to tag it along with the old mystisism of Glastonbury……..even though it is 5 or 6 miles from Glastonbury and nearer to Shepton Mallet!!!!!…..I still call it Pilton pop festival….I do get some odd looks…..!!!!!!

  2. Was the 1970 Pilton festival called ‘Glastonbury’? There were none between then and 1979 – and I remember walking the road from Pilton towards Glastonbury at 3 in the morning after the final night thinking that it was a very long walk – we got to Walton before getting a lift.

    The so-called ‘alternative lifestyle’ of the hippies depended completely on other people giving them money to live as they chose. (I was told once I was a ‘pleb’ for saying I didn’t see why working class people should pay taxes if money from taxes was subsidising people’s choices to do nothing).

  3. a lot of the old saints/mystics/monks tuned in, turned on and dropped out. the music festivals such as pilton, if you will, were (eventually) the work of money grabbing pretend hip-people. management companies and the like. innocents abroad are always taken advantage of. even within communes people were taken advantage of (women used as servants, to mis-quote a previous quote). it may well be the view that people became hippies because they thought they would obtain loads of sex and drugs. in truth there wasn’t that much. lot of yap yap.
    but to address your question “was the distance between the hedonism of alice cooper and the dropped out lifestyle of the hippies so great?”.
    You have set up the question so that both cooper and the hippies are portrayed as hedonists. as I have said or implied, this was the populist daily Mirror, times, establishment view of hippies. true hippies, above all, wanted peace. they also strived for a type of spiritual experience, be it through music, poetry, drugs or even sex.
    cooper wanted ferarris.
    case for the defence rests. for the moment.

    no capital letters, bar one, were used in this comment.

  4. make that bar 3

  5. The old mystics certainly ‘dropped out’ – the blokes sitting on top of pillars in Egypt come to mind, but they lived on whatever people gave them, not on the proceeds of a system they claimed to despise.

    The idea of ‘pretend-hip’ is intriguing – what does ‘hip’ mean if not pretence?

    Isn’t hedonism an attempt to have experiences in which one transcends the ordinary things of life? Is doing a ton in a bright red metal box less ‘spiritual’ than listening to Hendrix or consuming various substances? I skied black runs in Austria for the first time last January – there is a huge adrenalin surge – but I have no doubt that it would fall into the category of ‘hedonism’ rather than being ‘spiritual’

    Why did the Mirror merit an upper case ‘M’? Was it the worse of the media? It was always left of centre – would the Mail and Express have not been more representative of ‘establishment’ populism?

  6. My grandparents were greatly disapproving of hippies, hence I spent the first few years of my existence in a commune, before Bristol, the Mendips and then Tipperary. I applaud that they had the guts to reject the status quo, it seems rare these days, but if you are going to do that I feel there is more value in trying to develop a better alternative than self indulgence and occult nonsense. Some of the instigators possibly were, but the hangers on were mostly in it for the kicks.

  7. Thrifty,

    Maybe sustainability and self-sufficiency are the marks of integrity. I have a great fondness for Seventeenth Century radical Christian groups, the Levellers and the Diggers among them. In Cromwell’s time though, Protestant Evangelicals had the power and were not going to tolerate anything that deviated from their view of the world. (As the United States shows, if you discount Jim Wallis, Evangelicals tend not to be very evangelical)

    In the 1960s, the Diggers would have set up their Commonwealth and worked away on the land. It was the lack of work that struck me about the hippies. We lived in a community of small farmers who lived at not much above subsistence level – there was no agribusiness in our area – they were the very people who came nearest to what would no be regarded as as sustainable lifestyle – my grandfather kept machinery going for years and years – yet they would have been polar opposites to the hippies.

  8. Ian, I seem to have upset you a little, it is entirely due to my sloppy writing in my comment – written after a long day. I am trying to make the case for ‘true’ hippiedom as opposed to the common (both now and then) view. I was also trying to address your question – Alice Cooper v Hippies. Yes, Alice was honest to admit he lived in a world where his sole ambition was enjoy excess – as you state. Hippies did not. Of course there were those who used hippie culture as a cloak to hide their desires, but you referred specifically to hippies.

    Mystics living on hand-outs. So this is ok, whether or not you despise the system?

    ‘Pretend-hip’, sorry for the confusion here. I refer to those people who pretend to be part of a movement only to gain financially from it. It still happens. Even in Churches. Politicians are probably the worst.

    Hedonism. The quote you provide from Mr. Cooper truly shows a hedonistic life style. But I don’t see how you link hedonism with spirituality. Hedonism is all about pleasure – self-pleasure and nothing else. What hedonist would give a damn about peace, about loving your fellow man? The ski-run I’m sure gave an adrenalin high – but it was not spiritual. Surely that moment, only that moment, could be defined as hedonistic – pleasure for pleasures sake. A search for spiritual experiences through whatever means, drugs, sex, prayer, meditation, self-flagellation is surely not hedonistic, if the real goal is spirituality.

    The Mirror got a capital by mistake. I only intended the personal ‘I’ to be in caps. It appeared only once in the comment. It was only after posting I noticed 3 capitals!! Yes you are correct that the Mirror was slightly left. Perhaps ‘Fleet Street’ or some such would have been more apt.

    I really should take more time when commenting here!

    More articles please!

  9. Ah, an excuse to escape my backlog of correspondence!

    Upset? No, I love robust debate. Prods are good at standing up and arguing with each other – we’ve done it for centuries!

    I think my point about hedonism is that both it and ‘spirituality’ are attempts to transcend the present moment, are they not? Isn’t driving a Ferrari Pininfarina down the road at a 180 mph about escaping from the mundane things in life? Is there a difference in principle between flying down a ski run with a big adrenalin rush and a spirituality that is centred upon oneself?

    Of course, as a Christian, I would argue that true spirituality is other-oriented, towards God or towards one’s neighbour, but I feel that a lot of ‘spirituality’ now is about ‘self-realisation’, and I’m not sure there is that much moral ground between Alice and ‘spiritual’ people.

    Do please disagree!

  10. Give Adam Curtis’ documentary “The century of the self” a look.

  11. Checked it on Google and found all four episodes are online – must watch it.

  12. jaw jaw better than war war, I agree. But surely you see a fundamental difference between the ski run rush and spirituality? Some people get a similar rush through receiving pain, or even giving it.
    It is a difficult area, I admit.
    Is it better to spend my life whizzing down the cresta to experience a high than spend my life in meditation to experience a high? You have answered that in ‘that true spirituality is other-oriented’. I sense a slight distancing from spirituality in your comments – but that seems to be a trend in most Christian churches nowadays.
    Anyway, you may be having an effect on this kingdom dweller as I have quoted the good old bible in my latest post.
    Maybe a late admission to braemor road.

  13. I think it depends upon one’s definition of ‘spirituality’. Wouldn’t the stallholders who gather at mind, body and spirit fairs regard themselves as engaged in dealing with spirituality? Aren’t their products directed at the non-cerebral dimensions of human life? Aren’t they essentially trying to sell an ‘experience’?

    I think there is a suspicion in many churches about the whole area – much of what has been offered as the panacea to all problems is centred upon individuals and their personal experiences. But I would agree that the churches have distanced themselves from spirituality, we have been infected with the cult of managerialism as though you can manage people into Heaven. There are diocesan groups on ‘strategy’ and other such stuff, as though the Kingdom of God could be defined in terms of a bar chart.

    I think the Church of Ireland is at its best when our clergy have slipped from the pages of William Trevor, but being a grumpy, Protestant traditionalist, I would say that.

  14. maybe we could leave a discussion on spirituality for another day. It is a dimemsion of experience I am dappling in at present.
    The stallholders may either be hucksters or genuine believers in something else – a spiritualty if you will. They would not still be selling if there were no buyers. No different than the sign outside a church advertising various services.
    Love William Trevor.

  15. It’s too early and I was too young to remember! Or maybe I’m so old I forgot. The only hippies I know live in a community in Queensland called Nimbin. They’re largely self-sufficient.

  16. Ian….I think that it was sometime in the 80’s/90’s that it became ‘Glastonbury’…I can remember seeing Hawkwind at Worthy Farm, Pilton one cold winters night about 1980, I was then a biker, another alternative group, we all had jobs, worked hard, drunk lots of beer and took various substances, and rode our bikes as fast as we could everywhere to get our adrenalin rush…….From what I can remember there was nothing spiritual about it, it was just a good laugh……I had no responsibilities then!!!!!!

  17. If I was going to run into a gang of people in a dark street in the middle of the night, I think I’d be happier with a gang of hippies if that’s all right.

  18. Wishes about who you might run into on a dark street in the middle of the night would depend on who you were running from. If you were running from Les and a gang of Greasers, a bunch of hippies would not be my first choice.

  19. Bock, we were a pretty menacing bunch, but a more loyal bunch of guys you’d never meet, and we usually stood up for the man in trouble so if you had of run into us,as you were running from someone who was after you we would have sorted them out for you….The only trouble we had was from other gangs….A bit tribal I suppose…..

  20. Sounds like scenes from ‘Quadrophenia’!

    You wouldn’t have attacked hippies though – that would have been like attacking Neil out of ‘The Young Ones’!

  21. No I wouldn’t have attacked a hippie, they just wanted a quiet life without hassles… Now Mods were a different matter all together…and there was a resurgence of the Mods in the late 70’s early 80’s with the popularity of 2 tone and ska…they could never out run us on their upside down wheelbarrows!!!!!!!!!

  22. good gracious, is this a man thing…

  23. But, of course, it’s out of all that male bonding/conflict that the music comes. How many female bands are there? 😉

  24. Well if you take Jim out of the picture there is the lovely Corrs….!!!!!….They were so good I had to see them twice!!

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