Drum circles on campus lawns, hookahs in residence halls and vendors peddling tie-dye and incense outside the EMU – all of these show that a cultural movement started more than 50 years ago is still in motion.
Jimbo said the hippie movement was a force of nature, like a tsunami.
“It just picked me up and swept me away,” he said. “It was kind of like the circus, and I always wanted to be in a circus.”
Jimbo is known by many to be the ultimate hippie. He has pow-wowed with Ken Kesey, Jerry Garcia, Willie Nelson, Neil Young and many more. His house is a museum of reminders of the culture, and he has given numerous interviews for several publications reporting on hippies.
Jimbo, to some, may be the answer to the question, “What is a hippie?” But most people can’t pinpoint the meaning of the term.
“You can’t generalize about the hippies,” said history professor Ellen Herman, who is teaching “Rethinking the 1960s” this term and has taught the “United States in the 1960s” in the past.
Everyone the Emerald interviewed agreed that the term hippie touches on myriad social groups of the 1960s counter-culture movement, but they have varying opinions about when the hippie movement started.
Eugene is still home to many emblems of the hippie culture, such as the annual Oregon Country Fair in Lorane; the weekly Saturday market, a commercial center for local farmers; and tonight’s premier of “Hippies,” a film starred in and created by Eugene residents that is playing at the McDonald Theater (see page 6 for more details). In these places, hippies aren’t gone.
Herman broke down hippies into three types. First, the prankster hippie: “The hallmarks of counter-culture … thumbing your nose at conventional values and society.” This category includes Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters and founder of the Youth International Party (Yippis) Abbie Hoffman. Second, non-political activists: young white people who grew up in privileged middle-class suburbs and found “it was a lark of fun” to take drugs, go to rock concerts and experiment sexually. Finally, those who wanted to create counter-institutions, most notably communes, and manage new forms of agriculture, trade and economic relations.
“For a lot of people it was just a good time,” Herman said.
Don Witten, an avid participant in the Country Fair and Grateful Dead shows and a self-described hippie, traces the movement back to the beat generation, led by author Jack Kerouac and poet Allen Ginsberg.
“In a way those are the guys who set the tone,” Witten said. “They really took things off the center line, showed you didn’t have to live in this straight white-collared mold.”
Jimbo said that Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, famous for putting on “acid tests” and driving cross country in their bus “Furthur,” were the first hippies. After all, it was Kesey who invited Jimbo, when he was a wrestler at South Eugene High School, to get on the bus and be part of the Prankster experience, Jimbo said.
Jimbo got a job with the New Riders of The Purple Sage on tour, then with the Marshall Tucker Band, then with The Allman Brothers Band and eventually he started working, traveling and touring with the Grateful Dead. “Work,” for Jimbo, master of the art of clowning as a kid, was taking care of the kids backstage.
“The band would be out on stage and I’d be in the back playing basketball,” Jimbo said. “Hell, that Luke Walton (current NBA player), I used to beat the shit out of him (at basketball) back in the day.”
Ken Babbs, an original Merry Prankster, said the first hippie movement started later than the acid tests.
“Kesey and I fell in the crack between the beats and the hippies. We were, and still are, our own thing,” Babbs said. Both Babbs and Jimbo will be at the premiere of “Hippies” tonight.
Famed cultural gatherings such as the “Summer of Love” in 1967 in San Francisco and Woodstock in 1969 represent the hippies who lived as far outside the circle of conformity as possible, said Lauren Bilbao, an instructor for the University Urban Farm class who doesn’t consider herself a hippie.
“It was about freedom from the tacit rules of commercial culture,” Bilbao said. “It was to celebrate human freedom and diversity through sexual expression, artistic expression and political expression.”
Witten remembers eating breakfast at a Holiday Inn in San Francisco in ’67 with his family. At the table next to his sat a “straight-laced” couple and their son, “who was obviously from the Height-Ashbury area … he was really letting his flag fly,” Witten said. “And you could just see the horror on the parents’ faces.”
Those of the Height-Ashbury crowd rejected the idea of the American nuclear family, where dad worked, mom cooked and the children went to college, said Bilbao, who left home at 13. Being a hippie was also about rejecting a money-driven society.
“There were people in the movement that didn’t even want to touch money,” said Walter Slocum, 69, a University graduate who retired after last term from more than 40 years of work with the University Libraries.
Slocum said he was intimately part of the hippie culture, despite being eight or nine years older than most hippies. He collected issues of hippie publications from “propaganda tables” located around the EMU in the late ’60s and early ’70s. The collection of papers is still on reserve in the Oregon Collections in the Knight Library.
The concept popularized during the hippie movement that is most visible in the University community today may be “Back To The Land,” which focuses on sustainable environment, counter-culture institutions and communal living, Slocum said.
Bilbao, who has lived in multiple communes, explained the philosophy behind this lifestyle.
“There was a desire to return to a more spiritual, more Earth-based lifestyle … to not participate in this established commercial culture,” said Bilbao. “A commune is shared responsibility, including economic.”
Witten says many practices started as part of the hippie movement make the world safer.
“Hippies want to safeguard our planet, make sure it’s a safe place for future generations,” Witten said.
Alex Patterson, a music student at the University, said he considers himself on the fringe of the neo-hippie movement, popularized in the ’90s.
“It’s up to (us) to do what our ancestors did but take it one step further,” Patterson said.