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June 30, 2021 News » Cover Story

The Good-Vibe Tribe (Part 2) 

Idealistic, defiant hippies questioned authority—and reality.

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WIKICOMMONS
  • wikicommons

Essay and collage art By Stewart Rogers
Comments by Ken Sanders, Vicki Passey Williams and Steve Williams

Peaceniks. Stoners. Tree huggers. Freaks. The hippies of the 1960s and early 1970s were seen by many as immoral, drug-crazed kids too spoiled to work and too selfish to embrace the American way of life.

But these longhaired dissenters bent on peace, love and equality coalesced into a movement of ordinary young people whose belief in the power of ideas shook the rafters, influenced popular culture and left the world a different place.

Love It or Leave It
When I saw Trump and his minions squawking about NFL players who refused to stand for the playing of the national anthem, I remembered Tommie Smith and John Carlos, African American sprinters on the U.S. Olympic team who protested racism in America by raising a black-gloved fist in the air during their medal awards ceremony in Mexico City on Oct. 16, 1968.

You would have thought that these guys had bombed the Olympic Village. Within a few hours after their silent gesture, their "black power salute," both men were dismissed from the team and sent home to face bitter criticism from the American press. Sportswriter Brent Musburger, now announcer for the Las Vegas Raiders, wrote that the two looked like "black-skinned storm troopers" who caused "maximum embarrassment for the country that is picking up the tab for their room and board." Ironically, Smith and Carlos were eventually inducted into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame after playing professional football.

Meanwhile, other challenges to traditional patriotism were everywhere in the 1960s and early '70s. Flag burning, draft dodging, antiwar demonstrations and disillusioned Vietnam veterans trashing their service medals enraged the general public. Anarchists like The Diggers wanted the government to disappear peacefully, while Weather Underground and the Symbionese Liberation Army wanted to blow it up.

The cry of "Burn baby, burn!" threatened to incinerate our cities as student strikes and an unprecedented rebellion of children against their parents heralded a revolution against everything American.

Too many close-minded folks, then as now, believed that the only true Americans were white Christians dedicated to capitalism, military might and their superiority over everyone else. Blacks, Hispanics, gays, feminists, socialists, peace seekers and anyone else who mistrusted government and sought fundamental change in the country's laws and culture must, therefore, be unpatriotic. The old school made its position clear: "America: Love it or leave it!"

We of hippie persuasion weren't inclined to do either. We had our own ideas about patriotism. To begin with, many of us envisioned a world without borders, a nationless world without outsiders where resources are shared and conflicts resolved peacefully on a local level. We believed that people everywhere share the same hopes and dreams and that the vast majority of those in every country seek to do good.

Loving America meant loving its people—starting with family, friends, neighbors and strangers you meet every day. And America could be stronger by helping people everywhere to become healthier, happier and more financially secure—not by maintaining the largest military in the world.

We saw America as neither better nor worse than any other country. We refused to take the blame for every immoral act taken by our government. We protested the country's involvement in Vietnam and some even disrespected soldiers who fought there. We despaired that so many human beings died in unnecessary wars fought for ignoble purposes in the name of patriotism.

We knew that saluting a flag was meaningless unless we acted on our ideals. Allowing a culture of racism, sexism and homophobia to prevail—while denying justice and fighting wars all over the globe—is not patriotic.

Perhaps, more than any other factor, hippies hated the hypocrisy of the older generation who told us not to get high while they wallowed in alcohol, who told us not to have sex but cheated on their spouses. We couldn't tolerate those who recited "liberty and justice for all" while suppressing the rights of minorities, women and the LGBTQ community. We sought to redefine the American dream as a state of peace, justice and freedom—not as the accumulation of money.

In the end, we didn't choose to love it or leave it. We chose to change it.

As Dylan would sing, “Everybody Must Get Stoned!” And we did, starting in the ’60s and, for many, continuing to this day. - COURTESY ILLUSTRATION
  • Courtesy illustration
  • As Dylan would sing, “Everybody Must Get Stoned!” And we did, starting in the ’60s and, for many, continuing to this day.

Reefer Madness
On Dec. 1, 1938, the ever-helpful FBI released a movie called Reefer Madness that "exposed" the dangers of marijuana. Bill and Mary get stoned with some friends, leading to hallucinations, sex and murder.

But the real craziness started in 1915 when California (of all places) made pot possession a felony punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment. Dozens of state and federal laws soon followed and the War on Drugs commenced.

A 2020 American Civil Liberties Union report states that between 2001 and 2010, there were over 8 million pot arrests in the U.S., accounting for more than half of all drug arrests in the U.S. That's "one bust every 37 seconds and hundreds of thousands ensnared in the criminal justice system." While pot use is roughly equal among Blacks and whites, Blacks are 3.73 times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession.

NORML.org, citing FBI data, reports that nearly 5,800 Utahns were arrested in 2016 for marijuana possession. Now, that is what I call madness!

As Bob Dylan would sing, "Everybody Must Get Stoned!" And we did, starting in the '60s and, for many, continuing to this day. After all, we were hippies. To hear some folks tell it, you couldn't be a hippie unless you smoked pot, as though we belonged to a secret society with decoder rings, a hippie handshake and a flag with five leaves. I guess you could say that getting stoned was our patriotic duty.

If you're like millions of Americans, you've smoked marijuana at least once and don't need my explanation of the experience. If you haven't tried it yet, you're missing something extraordinary. Imagine feeling mellow and dreamy, yet insightful and aware, while connecting with other folks in happier, more accepting ways. Everything is funny. Music is awesome. You can dance and sing and laugh for hours or sit quietly in a corner contemplating the wonderfulness of an ordinary object suddenly revealing itself to you for the first time.

Many of us came from middle-class families ruined by alcohol. To paraphrase Neil Young, we'd seen the bottle and the damage done and wanted no part of it. So, as we had done with other facets of the culture we inherited, we looked for a better way—a safer, saner way to escape reality—a way that didn't transform ordinary people into raging abusers and lifelong alcoholics. Pot was the answer, and we loved her from the start. Like a giggling child on a spring day, she taught us to play, laugh, dance and sing.

You would have thought that ordinary folks would have applauded our discovery. After all, weed is, without doubt, the safest of recreational drugs. Cigarettes, alcohol, cocaine, heroin and opiates are proven killers. Like any drug, cannabis has side effects, but it's not known for causing violent behavior, disease and overdoses seen with other drugs. Cannabis studies have been stymied in all this time because, as of 1970, the substance was classified as a Schedule I drug under the federal Controlled Substances Act, so it was up to the people to experiment with the drug for themselves and determine its benefits.

But now, even straight folks are coming to their senses. After many long-fought political battles, since 2012, 17 states as well as the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for adult use, while 37 states (including Utah) have legalized medical marijuana.

UPI reports that one in 20 Americans smoke herb on a regular basis. An overwhelming percentage of adults—91% according to a 2021 Pew Research Center survey—favor marijuana legalization.

Just think how many lives could have been changed if folks had simply listened to the hippies and made pot their drug of choice. The millions arrested for pot possession would have avoided prison, and the violent drug trade could have been curtailed if only the moralists had minded their own business.

Mark Twain once said: "When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years." It's astonishing how much saner America has become about marijuana since my hippie days 50+ years ago.

“Tripping showed us that reality was wider, deeper and more mysterious than we had imagined.” - —Stewart Rogers - COURTESY ILLUSTRATION
  • Courtesy illustration
  • “Tripping showed us that reality was wider, deeper and more mysterious than we had imagined.”—Stewart Rogers

Doors of Perception
On Feb. 21, 1965, police in Berkeley, California, raided the clandestine lab of Owsley Stanley, thinking the soundman for the Grateful Dead was cooking meth. Instead, they discovered he was making a relatively unknown substance called LSD, which was legal at the time. He beat the charges and went on to synthesize over 5 million LSD doses by 1967, even though the drug became illegal in October of 1966. Who knows? Maybe I sampled his wares back in the day.

As hippies, we didn't pretend to have all the answers. Tripping showed us that reality was wider, deeper and more mysterious than we had imagined.

Based on his own experiences with mescaline, English philosopher Aldous Huxley described this psychedelic journey as opening the doors of perception and seeing infinite possibilities.

Should the definition of reality be based solely on what we see, smell, taste, hear or feel? Or can some things be true even when they're invisible to the five senses? Do we define reality by what someone else tells us or by what seems right based on what we perceive? Is truth a constant over the ages or is it a fluid understanding that evolves over time?

All of this sounds like psycho mumbo jumbo unless we consider the role that open-mindedness plays in our survival as a species. Several years ago, I came across a bumper sticker that read: "Militant agnostic: I don't know, and you don't, either." As creatures who crave certainty, our most difficult challenge is to admit that we might be wrong, that an assumption made about someone is off base, and that a fact we took as a fact isn't, in fact, a fact.

If we ever hope to live peacefully with our neighbors, we need to consider the possibility that two people with different perspectives can both be right at the same time.

Truth, like beauty, is in the eyes of the beholder. Just as two people dropping identical tabs of acid at the same time in the same place will see, hear and feel different experiences, each of us understands reality from our own point of view. One person sees a smile as a sign of kindness. Another sees it as a sign of ridicule. A gesture seems peaceful to one person and threatening to another.

It's easy for someone with my liberal sensibilities to think of Trump supporters as "deplorables" as Hillary Clinton so crudely described them. It's easy to imagine that they're racist, gun-toting, half-wits who crawled out from under a rock to vote. It's easy to conclude that Democrats are right, and Republicans are wrong, that those on the left are good while those on the right are bad.

But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe I don't really know what's in the hearts and minds of these folks. Maybe they have a good reason to be angry, a reason I would share in the same situation. Maybe they think I'm acting superior and elitist, even if I don't think I am. Maybe they believe I don't care, even if I do. Maybe we're all riding on the same bus, looking out the same windows and seeing different things.

You can't kill everyone who disagrees with you or convert them to your point of view. The road to peace is not a one-world government or a one-world religion but a one-world willingness to honor the perceptions of others.

Stewart Rogers is co-author/editor of What Happened to the Hippies? published by McFarland Press. Contact him at stewart@WhatHappenedtotheHippies.com.


Ken Sanders co-owned The Cosmic - Aeroplane Bookstore from 1975-1981 - NIKI CHAN
  • Niki Chan
  • Ken Sanders co-owned The Cosmic Aeroplane Bookstore from 1975-1981

Hippie head shops of old
Ken Sanders, KEN SANDERS RARE BOOKS

"The Cosmic Aeroplane was the center for all things counterculture and psychedelic in Salt Lake City throughout the '60s and '70s. Opened by Steve Jones and Sherm Clow in the spring of 1967, it started out as SLC's first hippie head shop at 9th & 9th. I was a teenage customer and bought a psychedelic poster there.

"Ninth & Ninth over those years was a fertile ground for the counterculture with places like the Black & White Bookstore, Dave Faggioli and Kurt Setzer's Round Records & Bound Books, The Connection (Larry Ficks & Jack Bills), The Nature's Way Sandwich Shop and Kite Shop.

"The Grass Root was another early psychedelic shop on 100 South with a black-light poster area in an old bank vault in the old brownstone at what was Martine Cafe. In the Avenues, there was Mother Earth Things and Whole Earth. Other places I remember were The Yarrow Books and The Open Book, both in the Avenues; Wally's Records; The General Store; Mama Eddy's Right on Beanery; Tape Head Company; and Chester's Drawers.

"About a year after opening Cosmic Aeroplane, Jones moved the shop to South Temple and 400 West, aka no-man's land, in a spot that is now the steps to Vivint Arena. Cosmic was next door to Ben's Railroad Exchange Bar (later The Sun Bar), and the Waiters & Porters Club was across the street in the Union Pacific Depot. Mrs. Ophelia Taylor's Cafe was around the corner on a back street alley.

"In late 1971, the underground theater Human Ensemble debuted Dracula and Rocks & Gravel Blues Band and Smoke Blues Band practiced and gave concerts there. SLC's only draft-counseling center and much more were located there.

"The FBI had the pay phone there wiretapped. Bruce Phillips ran for U.S. Senate back in 1968 and hung out there. Richard Taylor drew psychedelic rainbow artwork all over the ceilings, walls and floors of the place.

"I had a magazine rack full of sci-fi and comics and related books there, Roy & Claudia ran the leather shop and Jones slept on a cot in the back room. John Smokey Koelsch hosted a late-late night blues show and later ran the record store.

"In the '70s, radical activist and SDSer Bruce Roberts and I joined up with Steve Jones, and we created the Cosmic Aeroplane Bookstore.

"And yes, there was an SDS chapter here. The Grateful Dead did a fundraising concert in 1968. We had a chapter at Granite High School. Eldridge Cleaver came to the U. In the 1980s, I brought Abbie Hoffman here.

"Neil Passey was the most prolific psychedelic and counterculture artist of the era. He produced hundreds of concert posters, advertising and art posters."

click to enlarge Neil Passey:  1975 Bob Weir/ Kingfish poster - WIKI COMMONS
  • Wiki Commons
  • Neil Passey: 1975 Bob Weir/ Kingfish poster

Vicki Passey Williams: "The Church of Kindness"
I was married to Neil Passey, the amazing artist for many rock 'n' roll posters from that era and also the art for the Cosmic Aeroplane. Among our many amazing adventures, we lived on a commune in North Carolina. Of course, we lived communally in many SLC places, most of which were later knocked down! We traveled around the West with his band, Sunday, often with the popular SLC band Holden Caulfield.

Neil always made his living as an artist. He was an amazingly gifted man and died way too young [Passey died in 1995].

As it is now more than 50 years ago that I fervently embraced being a hippie, I think I have some hindsight. Mostly nostalgic, since life then is so different than the present. The hippie times certainly changed the United States and the world in many ways.

The best thing of that era, especially in Utah, was the music. It was superb and still seems like the best music ever. I was lucky I got to hear the top bands of the time—Mothers of Invention, Jimmy Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Big Brother and the Holding Company, the Doors, the Byrds, Cream, Jefferson Airplane, Joni Mitchell, the Mamas and the Papas, the Beatles, the Beach Boys, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young—too many to name but not forget. It was wonderful to dance and commune with the beautiful hippies! Utah was on the band circuit, so we got to see lots of fabulous groups. So lucky!

Another good thing was the love and sharing. I've so many fond memories of those who came into my life and showed me support and kindness. My group of friends always said we belonged to the Church of Kindness. It was inspirational because in Utah, if you weren't of the dominant church, you were an outsider.

Being a hippie in SLC was belonging to the best-connected group of free thinkers that one could wish for. Many of those friends are no longer alive but they are still part of my being and will always be part of my mindset. We had such a good time.

Steve Williams, longtime jazz host on KUER - and KCPW radio stations - KUER
  • KUER
  • Steve Williams, longtime jazz host on KUER and KCPW radio stations

Steve "Daddy-o" Williams: Bell Bottoms
I remember my first pair of bell bottoms. Long hair with beard and sideburns and long mustaches. Free love. Psychedelic drugs were fun. Especially pot. Volkswagen vans. Cool boots. Rock and roll music. The bands. The festivals. The parties. Loving compassion for mankind. Peace and love to everyone!

Vicki and Steve Williams have recently relocated to Chicago.

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