Halloween was only a few days away, and I was dancing downtown with the spirits, arms all pinwheels, barefoot ecstatic like an ancient pixie, hugging wildly anonymous crunchy townies in revolutionary euphoria. I had to leave the Ecstatic Dance early, having promised to connect with a dear friend at a co-op party. Up the hill I drift, living breathing Peace and Love in a poncho, and I throw in my three dollars at the door, toss my shoes in the corner, hit the dance floor with arms waving, and ...
... and they’re grinding. It’s Halloween weekend, the spirit world is all jazzed up, and the transcendental groovy whatever is just begging to be communed with, but our young people are stuck in basements, rubbing their genitalia together under strobe lights. My arms droop. My right leg lowers out of tree pose. My bare feet plant themselves on the sticky concrete. As I fall slowly into the monotonous bop-sway-waggle-thrust of the collegiate mating dance, loneliness sweeps over me. Where are they? My eyes scan the room, searching for a single pair of blissed-out eyes, a single wild body, a single carefree grin of understanding. Where are they? Where are all the hippies?
I’ve been scouring the campus since I got here at the beginning of freshman year, and I’ve almost given up hope. I tried the ultimate frisbee team, but they told me to bring my cleats to practice. Cleats! As far as I’m concerned, if you’re playing ultimate in anything other than bare feet, you’ve forgotten the spirit of the game. I thought maybe Indian religiosity was still a hippie thing, so I signed up for Walking Meditation and Yoga, but the classes were full of the same old overworked Cornellians, trying to lose weight or squeeze in some relaxation before their next prelim. I got all excited when I heard there was a big outdoor concert at the end of the year, but when I heard that Nelly was headlining, I knew at once that Slope Day is no Woodstock.
Of course, if I really want to pretend it’s still the 1960s, I can always head downtown and kick it with the Twelve Tribes of Israel or the Farmer’s Market crowd. It just doesn’t seem right, though, for a college student to outsource for hippies. Why do I have to trudge to an open mic night off-campus to hear some dude with a guitar sing anti-fracking songs? Why do I have to go loiter around the head shops on the Commons to find a beautiful girl with dreadlocks? Why do I know more hippies over 30 than under?
It’s at least in part a question of appropriation. For better or for worse, almost everything that was distinctly hippie has been appropriated by other groups. I’ve seen sorority girls do yoga, nerds smoke pot, bros play frisbee, hipsters subvert dominant cultural paradigms and all kinds of students get passionate about environmentalism.
Well, then, if everything hippie has been assimilated into the mainstream, do we need hippies anymore? Isn’t it a good thing that environmentalism is no longer a countercultural phenomenon? If I think yoga is so cool, shouldn’t I be glad that it’s gotten so popular?
In dismantling the hippie, though, mainstream culture has missed the point. And while I’m probably guilty of idealizing 1960s counterculture, and while of course I wasn’t there, I like to imagine that the point wasn’t the drugs, or the sex, or the music. The point was something so awesome, so breathtaking and so powerful that it deserves its own paragraph.
Peace and Love.
Not just “Peace and Love,” though. Not just a hokey bumper sticker or a bad folk song. Peace. And Love. We’re so desensitized to those words, so trained to filter them out and label them as silly, youthful idealism. But they’re such good words.
There’s some really bad folk music out there. Ultimate frisbee is not the greatest sport ever invented. Psychedelics will not lead you to enlightenment. Heck, I even have my reservations about unbridled sexual freedom. These are all things the hippies got if not wrong, at least not entirely right. Peace and Love, though. Peace and Love are really freaking cool.
Anyone who has ever sung songs around a campfire knows that folk music isn’t powerful because it’s “good music” or because no one except you has ever heard of your favorite indie folk band. It’s powerful because the sharing of song is a beautiful, loving event. Frisbee isn’t fun because of a high standard of athleticism, but because anyone can play, and all you need is a frisbee. Marijuana isn’t supposed to get you “wasted” or “trashed.” It’s just supposed to make you smile softly and hug freely. Perhaps most importantly of all, counterculture should’'t be an aggressive act, done with a condescending sneer (hipsters, I’m looking at you). Counterculture should be a loving act, an open, cheerful embodiment of the alternative, as if to say, “Hey man, you’re doing your thing, and I’m doing mine, and it’s all groovy.”
So where are all the hippies? Or, as Pete Seeger might ask if he took a wrong turn up Buffalo Street and ended up in Collegetown, “Where have all the flower children gone?” Long time passing, I guess — a culture picked to the bone until nothing is left unassimilated except the silly, youthful idealism that made it all worthwhile.
Tom Moore is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He may be reached at email@example.com. What Even Is All This? appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.