Love, Mysticism and the Hippies - Vogue 1967
KURT VON MEIER
"We love you," now sing the Rolling Stones, who once projected the image of England 's-- and perhaps the world's--grittiest sounding and meanest looking pop music group. This transformation of December's Children (the title of a 1966 LP) into Flowers (the title of their recent 1967 release) symbolises the effects of a pervasive new mystical force centered around a revitalised concept, or experience of love. And rolling along with the Stones on "We Love You," millions of America's astute teenage ears have self-convincingly detected the four other familiar voices of the Beatles--themselves recent converts to the "bliss consciousness" of the Indian love and meditation mystic, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
Right behind the lead of these imported influences there are likely to follow a myriad of fans, including many of America's not‑so-tiny-any-more-boppers. For the conjunction of the Rolling Stones and the Beatles on the theme of love is but a generic reflection of potentially revolutionary effects for more than one generation: the mystical revelation in what we may refer to as a world-wide "hippie" culture, which is focused on love, and of which music is the leading vehicle of expression.
For example, the Scottish, folk-oriented singer, Donovan, is another recent convert to the Maharishi's message, "Enjoy what you are! The natural state of man is joy." And at one of the travelling mystic's recent lectures expostulating his system of transcendental meditation, the audience included jazz flautist Paul Horn, Herb Alpert of the Tijuana Brass, and the radical, post-rock and roll musician, Mayo Thompson. Were all of these to join with their overseas fellow professionals, this suggests a staggering stylistic extension of the pied piper potential.
On functional levels of ethics and morality, the general phenomenon of hippie mysticism creates some striking contrasts with "straight" society. As for morality (concerning motivation, ideals and one's own actions) to the Straight's code best described in practice by the term "expedience," the Hippie offers the alternative, "Get your own head straight first." As for ethics (concerning one's reactions in worldly situations, and human interactions) to the Straight's controlling code of consistency, expected at almost any cost the Hippie answers, "Let every human being do his own thing."
Tim Leary's paradigm, "Tune in, turn on, drop out," remains the classic statement of the hippie Weltanschauung. A highly individualized process of self-investigation, self-discovery and self-realization is characteristic of hippie mysticism. Such explorations of inner space can also be self-induced, or abetted by a panoply of arms and means: from various sources of inspiration in Western Civilization, through the disciplines of Zen, the asceticism of macrobiotics, the chance of the I-Ching, the magic of astrology, the wisdom of the Kabbala or the chemical combinations of LSD, DMT and STP, to the botanical benefits of cannabis sativa and indica, peyote or magic mushrooms. By and large excluded are only the bogeys of suburban America's continuous bad-trip: bought sex, bring-down established religion, booze and barbituates.
Within the hippie community, however, there are frequently conflicting approaches to the process of turning-on. Some of these were brought out dramatically when the master of classical Indian music, ragambassador Ravi Shankar, came out forcefully against various plant and chemical stimuli--he even asked his largely hippie audience at last summer's Monterey International Pop Music Festival please not to defile the air with cigarette smoke while he played. Most of the press failed to note that his admonitions were against alcohol too, and that they sprung principally from Shankar's regarding his own music as sacred--not from any attempts at moralization. "I have come to believe," said Shankar in a Los Angeles Oracle interview, "that sound is God. According to our people and the Yogis, there are two types of sound.... One is the sound which is heard and the other sound is not really heard by ears normally-. It is heard after a great deal of 'sadhana' or dedication, and by working for the sound which you hear through your insides."
By whatever means one turns-on, however, it is the first step in the process, the tuning-in, that bears most of the mystical or transcendental implications. (The dropping-out step, frequently discussed and almost as often totally misunderstood, leads to topics that extend well beyond the subject of mysticism, so intimately involved with the proceeding steps). "The absolutely primary thing," said Alan Watts in the San Francisco Oracle, "is that there be a change of consciousness in the individual...that he escape from the hallucination that he is a separate ego in an alien universe and that we all come to realize, primarily, that each one of us is the whole works."
Sometimes these realizations take weird forms. The Maharishi's term "cosmic consciousness" will appear as the title of Paul Horn's new LP release, which combines his Western flute with sitar, dilruba, tabla, tambours, and vocal in Kasmiri. New York's East Village Other recently featured on its front page a telegram announcing that "GOVERNMENT OF HATE HAS TAKEN OVER MOMENTARILY," and signed, INTERGALACTIC WORLD BRAIN. To counter this, there are the forces of the new god that is sound: the symphonic beauty of the Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations," the bittersweet "high" realm of Country Joe and the Fish's "Electric Music for Mind and Body," or the demesne of mythical sound in the music of an avant-garde group called United States of America. This is the far-out, or far-in region of both sensory and psychic perception elicited by the Jimi Hendrix Experience from England, the post-rock Department of Interior, and the soul-rock Fifth Dimension. By extension of its outward manifestations, there is the Electric Circus, the Kaleidoscope, the Cheetah, or San Francisco's famed Fillmore and Avalon ballrooms - most of which derived a strong original impetus from Andy Warhol's Exploding Plastic Inevitable above the Dom in New York. Similarly the Velvet Underground, a group produced by Warhol, was instrumental (if not always lyrical) in breaking new ground for radical musical style.
By its eclectic nature and syncretic effects hippie mysticism is difficult to relate to any one written doctrine or philosophical system. Norman Mailer's brilliant essay "The White Negro" was one of the first written realizations that a movement different in kind was growing out of the cultural context of the mid-1950s. But Mailer was paralleled and often preceded by the spoken words of the tremendously influential (if "officially" unrecognized) real philosophers of out times, such as Lenny Bruce and Jean Shepherd. Other heroes like poet Allen Ginsberg and Chester Anderson (head, as it were, of the Communication Company in San Francisco) both express and embody this extensive paradox recognized by Marshall McLuhan and by all of the rest of us who use media of the printed word in attempts to comprehend and communicate with an essentially post-literate culture.
Among the media employed by that culture itself, the human body has become the paramount vehicle for a whole host of sub-medial means of expression. This too is not free of paradox, as mystical perceptions are presented in quintessentially corporeal contexts. In the realm of grooming, for example, or more specifically in hair styling, the male animal in the hippie world demonstrates a freely "religious" protestant reaction to the closely-cropped, near-tonsure of the institutionalized, drab grey-habited businessman-monks. But the girls, if anything, tend toward the opposite direction with their ubiquitous, ascetically simple locks, in contrast to the anything-but-straight Straight girl's head (of hair).
Common to hippies of both sexes (but not limited to them, surely) are mostly exotic concepts of clothing, which suggests they regard themselves and their adornment as their own greatest works of art. The difference between them and the rest of the world here are possibly in extremes as well as in underlying mystical motivation. But it is false to equate the unusual with the unkempt. In the beginning the Beatles were constantly ribbed about their supposedly shaggy hair. It did, indeed, present a strange image for eyes long since grown accustomed to a hair range between Marine Corps scalp stubble and legitimate Ivy League length; but it was also perhaps the most meticulously groomed shag the world had ever known.
In the development of their clothing too, the growth of inner personal freedom and psychic self-sufficiency could perhaps be best exemplified by the Beatles. There are subtle changes in their four look-alike suits and boots, all the way up to the big breakthrough with the Sgt. Pepper album, and from there to the recent orientalesque opulence of cosmic consciousness-inspired robes.
The integral personality as a focal point for aesthetic decisions say participate as well in the larger art form of life itself, experienced as an incessant and refreshing sequence of instant theater situations. This is a concept most effectively carried out into life (and into the streets) by San Francisco's Mime Troupe, and extended by Peter Bergson and the Diggers. One mystical source for this is the idea that one's person is sacred--not uniquely hippie, of course, since it is also reflected in many ancient laws and several provisions in the U.S. Constitution and its Amendments. But some serious conflicts are centered around this point. If everyone's own body is viewed as something sacred, and thus respected as a shrine, then it should follow that no government can regulate what is fed to it or done to it by oneself. If these logical implications were followed consistently, clearly the capacity for turning-on and tuning-in by hippies and others might be extensively enhanced.
Among the more externally-oriented arts in hippie culture, an insistence upon impenetrable barriers between media, and the strict separation of the fine arts from the crafts or areas of popular and folk are, are becoming increasingly irrelevant (not that they are all entirely so). Leather, bead and jeweler crafts are essential for the fully adorned hippie--and their production often provided a viable economic alternative to participating in the economic structure of Straight society. Moreover, it is often in just these "minor arts" that there appears the most obvious and familiar mystical iconography: ankh., astrological symbols, talismans, and more significant of late the symbols derived from native American Indian cultures.
Another important medium by which internally-oriented mystical experiences are expressed is the dance, with its ecstatic and thoroughly idiosyncratic possibilities for manifesting freak-out esthetic perceptions. Again there are parallels and prototypes, from Indian or primitive African tribal cultures to the religious dance of dervishes or the mystical expressions of the Hassidim.
Advertisements for weekly dance concerts by rock bands have spurred a virtual Renaissance of graphic art, which extends to the extra. ordinary layout and typography of the beautiful underground news papers, such as the San Francisco and the Los Angeles Oracle. Key factors in the style of the new poster and paper design approach, ie, a great visual intricacy that elicits either contemplative depth-involvement or an alternative "mind-blowing" reaction. Other so-called psychedelic artists devote their energies to programming and presenting light shows, with complex combination of films, slides, liquid projections and strobe lights—often together with rock music at mind-blowing volume. For one of the guiding themes of these sensorial assaults is the simulation of a trip into the realm of expanded consciousness--as close an approximation as possible of the tuned-in, turned-on total environment.
With the exception of the music, a few posters, and the slightly different transient phenomena of limited personal experience, quite likely very little really first-rate work has yet to be produced by hippie culture, as judged by the conventional norms of the fine arts. But there are fine chances that some great art may emerge. What is, in the end, perhaps more meaningful than the creation of fine art -- whether for the limited enjoyment of the few or for the institutionalized enjoyment of the masses -- is the broader and surely more beautiful vision which, paralleling the ideals of Balinese culture, recognizes in every human being the potential power to become a creative artist, or at least to live his life as one great dance.
It is precisely this intriguing and increasing interpenetration between life and art, however, that make distinctions between the genuinely mystical and the mere mystique in hippie culture so difficult and at times so deceptive.
These problems only sees to be compounded by the recurrent and purest theme of hippie mysticism, the vision of respectful individualism in an ocean of universal love. It is easy and tempting to abuse this vision as a profane mystique or deviously to use it as a technique for seduction. In the last 2000 years, love has come to be no less vulnerable to attack by the cynical and vulgar. One of the bizarre characters in "Dick Tracy" sums up this aggressive image: the repulsive "Piggy" is seldom drawn without his transistor radio (the portable total-environment) blaring forth lyrics of love.
Nevertheless, there is a decidedly new and different understanding of what the mystical force of love can mean - one which has emerged with the hippie and teen-age culture in contrast to the "pre-mystical" connotation of the word in popular culture before the 1950's.
No really profound truths are the exclusive property of movements, groups, generations, cultures, or nations. The culture of hippies draws upon the world, and in return it gives back to the world. But whether through its mystical orientation, or in spite of it, if you prefer, the central point of what hippie culture stands for can be expressed by one word. As the Beatles would say: "All you need is love."
By Kurt von Meier
Vogue Magazine, November, 1967
After this article appeared, Kurt received a letter from a student in Peru, Nebraska, who inquired about how she might get more information about “hippies” for a term paper she was writing. While no copy of her letter is in his archives, his kindly response is shown below.