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Archive for the tag “hipsters”

From hipsters to hippies: 50 years

Fifty years ago hipsters got abbreviated to hippies, and the world seemed to change, at least for that generation. Things changed visibly, and sometimes in strange ways. Young people dressed in bright clothes, and the drabness of the postwar years was exchanged for a kind of spring-time exuberance. People spoke of the Prague Spring, but spring was appearing in many places.

Warning: This post is full of boring personal reminiscences of that time, so now’s the time to stop reading if you don’t like that kind of thing.

Steve Hayes at Merstham, August 1967

In August 1967 I was halfway through my studies for a postgraduate diploma in theology at St Chad’s College, Durham, England, and was spending the summer vacation with the family of Mervyn Sweet, who had been the Anglican parish priest when I had been an undergraduate in Pietermaritzburg. They were housesitting a mansion in Merstham, Surrey, for a doctor who was himself on holiday in Spain. The house looked a bit like the house in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe — the kind of place where anything could happen.

I stayed in a garret at the top of the house, reading and studying for a supplementary church history exam I had to write, and coming down to swim or play tennis or listen to Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

We watched top of the pops on television. On 13 August 1967 the cream was on the top: (1) San Francisco, by Scott McKenzie (2) All you need is love, by the Beatles (3) Death of a clown, by the Kinks, and what was underneath was real trash — Tom Jones wailing about something, and Vicki Carr who sang the most incredible mawkish mush about dying because he didn’t phone her. “All you need is love” stayed on top for several weeks and even Mick Jagger was in the audience singing with them, with flowers in his hair.

And on TV (black and white, in those days), a psychologist tried to explain changing styles of dress. As I wrote in my diary on 17 August 1967:

… we watched a television programme on long-haired boys, and a psychologist said why he thought their hair was long and their clothes so colourful — their parents were a hangover from the age when it was fashionable for men to dress like bankers, to show that they could offer security to their wives. Now the state looks after everyone’s security, so there was no longer any need for that.

Also the ratio of boys to girls was increasing, and so boys had to make themselves more attractive to girls by dressing in a more colourful way. They also said the previous generation of Englishmen had had compulsory military training, and so were more likely to fit into society because they felt society needed them, and with the present generation of youth it was not so — an interesting light on South Africa, where more and more whites are being called up for military service and a generation of conformist youth is being bred, and the short back and sides is considered a desirable symbol of young fascist manhood, like at Natal University among the Rhodesians, in whom the process had been more advanced — they were for the most part a close-cropped short back-and-sides rugby-playing type.

They had little to do with girls on a human level, and were happy with their segregated state behind the high wire fence of men’s res. Their attitude to girls was “fuck and forget”. True, they went to more parties and dances than John Aitchison and I ever went to, but meeting the opposite sex in such circumstances is an insulation rather than a catalyst. They only relaxed among males, and so their virility is really a sham. In fact they were afraid of not being able to hold their own in female company, so they relied on the security of that all-male ghetto, William O’Brien Hall. I went to bed and began to read Incognito by Peter Dumitriou.

Whereas in the 1950s the prevailing motif in clothing had been uniformity, especially for males, by the late 1960s diversity prevailed. While The Kinks satirised the “dedicated follower of fashion”, there wasn’t much fashion to follow.

The Beatles 1987

In the December vacation of 1967/68 I spent some time with some Dutch Augustinian friars in Breda and Nijmegen. They thought they were being “with it” by discarding their habits for business suits, and were distressed to find that I didn’t possess this latest item of relevant gear. They sent one of the fathers out with me to the shop to buy me one, and on the way to the shop, trudging through the snow and the slush, I talked him out of it. But on TV a DJ appeared wearing a monastic habit.

Even as a child I hated the idea of business suits, and dreaded the thought of growing up and having to dress like that, and so the “anything goes” freedom of the late 60s was a great relief to me. And it seemed that I was not alone, The hippie spring of 1967 seemed to express the repressed desire of a whole generation. It wasn’t just the Beatles music, they dressed the part as well.

The young Frank Sinatra

Yet this generation seems to be nameless,. People talk about Generation X or Y or Millennial or whatever, but the have no name for this hippie generation, or for the business suit generation that preceded it. But if the Beatles were the musical icon of the hippie generation, the musical icon of the business-suit generation was Frank Sinatra, whose childhood ideal was exactly the opposite of mine. When he was the age at which I dreaded growing up and having to wear a business suit, he was already wearing one by anticipation.

A couple of days ago a college friend from those days, Robert Gallagher, sent me this reminder of what else was going on at that time:

More of 50 years ago, in 1967

  • The number of American troops serving in Vietnam increased to 475,000
  • Peace-rallies and Protests increase
  • The Boxer Muhammad Ali stripped of his Boxing World Championship for refusing to be inducted into the US Army
  • Israel goes to war with Syria, Egypt and Jordan in the Six Day War and occupies more territory
  • Rioting in Detroit with America’s National Guard brought in
  • Charlie Chaplin opens his last film, ‘A Countess From Hong Kong’
  • Twiggy becomes a fashion sensation and mini-skirts became shorter with paper clothing a short lived fashion
  • The Discotheque
  • While The Beatles release ‘Sgt. Peppers Lonely Heart Club Band’, The Rolling Stones are involved in various drugs’ busts (thanks to ‘The News of The World’) and imprisonments, and release the single ‘We Love You’, with prison-door-slamming sound effects
  • The ‘Summer of Love’ and the birth of the Hippies
  • Donald Campbell killed on Coniston Water
  • Britain’s second Polaris nuclear submarine ‘HMS Renown’ launched at Birkenhead
  • The first North Sea gas pumped ashore
  • The supertanker ‘SS Torrey Canyon’ runs aground off Land’s End and bombed by the RAF
  • Anguillan-born Norwell Roberts the first black officer in London’s Metropolitan Police Force
  • ‘Puppet on a String’ by Sandie Shaw wins the Eurovision Song Contest
  • Tom Stoppard’s ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead’ Old Vic premiere
  • Harold Wilson announces the United Kingdom has decided to apply for EEC membership
  • The Roman Catholic Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King Consecrated
  • Celtic F.C. becomes the first British and Northern European team to reach a European Cup final and win it, beating Inter Milan 2-1 in normal time, with the winning goal scored by Steve Chalmers, in Lisbon, Portugal
  • Francis Chichester arrives in Plymouth after completing his single-handed sailing voyage around the world in his yacht, Gipsy Moth IV, in nine months and one day
  • The first scheduled Colour-television broadcasts on BBC2, with Wimbledon Tennis
  • Parliament decriminalised Consensual Adult Male Homosexuality in England and Wales with the Sexual Offences Act
  • UK Government announces closing its military bases in Malaysia and Singapore (Australia and United States do not approve)
  • The Welsh Language Act allows the use of Welsh in legal proceedings and official documents in Wales
  • The British Steel Industry is Nationalised
  • Astronomers Jocelyn Bell Burnell and Antony Hewish first to observe a Pulsar
  • The Inquiry into the Aberfan disaster blames the National Coal Board for the collapse of a colliery slag-heap which claimed the lives of 164 people in South Wales in 1966
  • Pink Floyd releases debut album ‘The Piper at the Gates of Dawn
  • Dunsop Valley Lancashire enters the UK Weather Records with the Highest 90-min total rainfall at 117 mm (As of August 2010 this record remains)
  • The ‘RMS Queen Elizabeth 2’ (the QE2) launched at Clydebank by Queen Elizabeth II, using the same pair of gold scissors used by her mother and grandmother to launch the ‘Queen Elizabeth’ and ‘Queen Mary’respectively
  • The Abortion Act, passed in Parliament
  • Charles de Gaulle vetoes British entry into the European Economic Community again – British troops leave Aden, which they had occupied since 1839, enabling the new republic of Yemen
  • Tony O’Connor the first non-white head teacher of a British school appointed head of a primary school in Smethwick, near Birmingham
  • Concorde unveiled in Toulouse, France
  • BBC Radio 4 panel game ‘Just a Minute’, chaired by Nicholas Parsons, first transmitted (still running under the same chairman 50 years later)
  • Ford Cars announces the end of ‘Anglia’ production to be replaced by the ‘Escort’
  • Liverpool poets Roger McGough, Brian Patten and Adrian Henri’s poetry anthology ‘The Mersey Sound’
  • Hilary Annison and Robert Gallagher Marry.

And now?

The last of those who were in their twenties in the Summer of Love will be reaching their seventies and retirement.

Remember the motto?

Don’t trust anyone over 30.

 

 

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An Orthodox hipster?

A few weeks ago I came across a Facebook group called Ask an Orthodox Hipster.

I’ve always had a yen to be a hipster, but I don’t think I’ve ever made it. I suppose the closest I got was a wannabe.

What is a Hipster?

My Concise Oxford Dictionary c1964 doesn’t have it, though I’d been using the word for at least four years before I bought the thing.

But my Collins English Dictionary (Millennium Edition) has:

  • hipster n 1 slang, now rare 1a an enthusiast of modern jazz 1b an outmoded word for hippy
  • hippy or hippie n, pl -pies (esp. during the 1960s) a person whose behaviour, dress, use of drugs etc., implied a rejection of conventional values.

It also gives hippy as meaning having large hips, which is why I prefer the spelling hippie for the other meaning.

Nowadays, however, hipster seems to have come back into fashion and is no longer outmoded, but probably about ten times as common as hippie.

I suppose the term hipster was first popularised with that meaning by Allen Ginsberg in his poem Howl:

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night,
who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz,

And after a few weeks as a member of the Ask an Orthodox Hipster group I can see that yes, it is a place for those burning for the ancient heavenly connection to ask questions.

Christian World Liberation Front, Berkeley, California, 1970

And even before the Internet took off, other Orthodox Christians have had a kind of hipster missionary outreach, or started a hipster ministry and then were drawn to Orthodoxy, such as Fr Jack Sparks of the Christian World Liberation Front.

From here on, this gets personal, so quit now if that’s not your thing.

I discovered that the Ask an Orthodox Hipster group differs from other Orthodox groups on Facebook, in that people do not seem to be angry, or attacking each other. If someone asks a question that people can’t answer, they don’t denounce the question as stupid and the questioner as stupid for asking it, they just pass on to the next thing.

I’ve also found that quite a lot of the questions are ones that I have already answered, at least to some extent, in blog posts I’ve written over the last 10-12 years, and if they aren’t, the question is also sometimes a good prompt for a new blog post.

And this perhaps can provide me with a useful occupation for retirement.

Before retiring one thinks of all the things one could do if one had the time, but one does not have time to do when one is working. Many of the things I hoped to do when I retired had to do with Orthodox mission and evangelism, and visiting Orthodox mission congregations and helping them along by teaching and training their leaders and so on. But they are fairly widely scattered, and visiting them costs money. And I think well, I can’t afford to get the car serviced this month, because I have to pay the doctor, or the dentist, so maybe next month. But next month the car not only needs a service, but also a new battery. And the month after that something else is broken, and the price of petrol keeps going up.

But helping people with answers to questions asked on the Internet requires no physical travel, and can actually reach much further, all over the world, in fact. So I think this Orthodox hipster business could be quite fruitful.

We still continue to visit the mission congregations at Atteridgeville (35km west) and Mamelodi (18km East) on alternate Sundays, but travel farther afield will be much more rare physically, but not necessarily electronically.

 

 

Beatniks

BeatniksBeatniks by Toby Litt

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I enjoyed this novel about wannabe beatniks in Bedford, England, perhaps because I too was a wannabe beatnik. The point here being that a wannabe beatnik is a wannabe wannabe, at two removes from the real thing. There were the Beats, a literary countercultural movement of the 1950s, and then there were their groupies, their hangers on, nicknamed “beatniks” by a journalist, by analogy with sputnik, the first artificial satellite to orbit the earth, launched from the Soviet Union in 1957, the year in which Jack Kerouac‘s novel On the road was published. As sputnik orbited the earth, so did beatniks orbit the Beats.

The problem is that the characters in this book, Jack and Neal and Maggie and Mary are just about 40 years too late. Jack and Neal are not their real names, they have adopted the names of their heroes, Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady. Jack, especially, is obsessive about being “cool” and “hip”, and sees them as angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night. But in the rather middle-class surroundings of Bedford it is rather difficult to picture them as those who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz, to quote Allen Ginsberg‘s poem Howl. Ginsberg read his poem at a now-legendary poetry reading in San Francisco, which sparked off a poetry renaissance. So in the book Jack organises a poetry reading in the Bedford Public library, reading his own poetry, which even his admirer Mary has to admit is excruciatingly bad.

As Jack Kerouac’s character Sal Paradise goes on the road, hitch-hiking across America, so Jack and Company go on the road… to Brighton, where they stay with a dead poet’s uncle, and try to live up to Jack’s impossible ideals of hipness and coolness, and will not acknowledge anything that has happened in the world after about 1966. But there is also a sense in which they get the time-frame wrong. Jack tries to follow the scenario of On the road, but though it was published in 1957, it was about the Beats of the 1940s, not the 1950s, and by the mid-1960s it was almost all over, though it had a kind of revival, in a form that Jack could not accept, in the hippie movement of the 1960s.

To say much more about the story would reveal too much of the plot, except that in the end even Jack comes to realise that he has been trying to live an impossible dream, and the shattering of his illusions has shattering consequences for them all.

The basic problem, of course, is that to be obsessed with the ideal of “coolness” is the antithesis of cool, and the harder they try to adhere to it, the farther away it recedes. So Jack becomes a kind of Great Gatsby of the 1990s, trying to relive an imagined past.

I don’t think you have to be familiar with Beat Generation literature to enjoy this book, but it wouldn’t hurt to have read a couple of books by Jack Kerouac, and Ginsberg’s poem Howl. You can find some useful links here.

View all my reviews

So much for the “review” part of this, which I shared on Good Reads, but perhaps there is more to be said. I was turned on to Beat Generation literatrue by an Anglican monk, Brother Roger, of the Community of the Resurrection, when he read a paper at a student conference. The paper was Pilgrims of the Absolute, and if you click on the link, you can read it too.

Waiting for Godot, in Linbro Park

Waiting for Godot, in Linbro Park

As I said, I could identify with the with the characters in the book to some extent, because I too was a wannabe beatnik. There we were, practising waiting for Godot in Linbro Park, which we drove to in a beat up old car with a half-jack of white Malmsey under the front seat. Godot never came, of course, and we didn’t wait all that long either — just till the wine was finished. That’s part of being a wannabe — when you get bored with it you can pack up and go home. Actually the place where the picture was taken is now all built up, and is called Far East Bank, but back then it was just empty veld between Alexandra and Linbro Park.

In the book beatniks Jack refuses to travel to Brighton on the motorway, because it wasn’t built in 1966. Well, we didn’t travel on the N3 highway back when the photo was taken, for the simple reason that it hadn’t been built yet. Now runs across the hilside a couple of hundred metres past my right elbow in the picture. And, like Jack, I still don’t drive on the N3 even though it is there now, but for a somewhat different reason — they’ve started charging tolls on it, but that’s another story.

I suppose the difference between us and the characters in the book is that we were closer in time, if not in distance, to the people we sought to emulate, perhaps 3-5 years after, rather than 35 years later. And we were not quite so obsessive as the people in the book about living other people’s lives. We thought some of their ideas were good, and some not so good, some things we would like to emulate, and others not. Most of it needed to to be adapted to other times, other places, other circumstances.

The hippies, who followed the Beats about 10 years later, adapted their movement, so that it was not mere imitation They coined a phrase for it, “Do your own thing”. But the characters in the book were trying very hard to do someone else’s thing, and that, as I’ve already said, is the antithesis of “cool”.

There is a saying attributed to Dostoevsky, “Talk nonsense, but talk your own nonsense. It is better to go wrong in your own way than to go right in somebody else’s.”

 

It’s cool to be hip but not hip to be cool

A couple of days ago there was some discussion about the following article in some Usenet newsgroups. I was interested in it because of the use of the word “hipster”. It seemed to be used with a meaning very different from the meaning I understood.

I’m interested in words and how they are used, partly because it used to be my job as an editor for several years, though it would probably be truer to say that I got into the job because of my interest in language and usage rather than the other way round.

Anyway, the article was The Daily Cardinal – Song causes local hipster to self-destruct:

MADISON, WI—Tens of twenties of Madison’s hippest are gathered in mourning this afternoon following the news of the tragic death of local hipster Charles “Wayne” Duchene, 22, who died a horrific and most likely cliche death late Monday evening at a Foo Fee Foe concert.

Duchene’s body was found in a puddle of his own PBR at approximately 11:15 p.m. Monday night at the entrance of The Dank Bank, an obscure venue located just off the Capitol Square.

Now this is a student publication and it’s obviously satire, but they have to be satirising something. I had to ask about PBR, which I at first took to be one of those three-letter abbreviations for various medical conditions that hypochondiacs sprinkle their conversations with and expect the rest of us to understand. It transpired that it did not stand for something like Personal Bodily Refuse, but was an allusion to a local beer, though I gather many people who know the brew think there is little difference, but more of that later.

So what is a hipster?

As I understand it, a “hipster” was orginally a jazz fan, and especially a fan of “cool” jazz, a “hip” or “hep” cat.

In Beat Generation circles it was extended to mean someone who was hip to the lies of mainstream culture, and who disaffiliated from it and rejected its values, who did not get over excited over the things pimped by the advertising industry and so on, who was detached from all the frenzy about brands and fashion. That was the essence of “cool” in those days.

As Lawrence Lipton put it in his book “The holy barbarians” (Lipton 1959:150):

The New Poverty is the disaffiliate’s answer to the New Prosperity. It is important to make a living. It is even more important to make a life. Poverty. The very word is taboo in a society where success is equated with virtue and poverty is a sin. Yet it has an honourable ancestry. St. Francis of Assisi revered poverty as his bride, with holy fervor and pious rapture. The poverty of the disaffiliate is not to be confused with the poverty of indigence, intemperance, improvidence or failure. It is simply that the goods and services he has to offer are not valued at a high price in our society. As one beat generation writer said to the square who offered him an advertising job: ‘I’ll scrub your floors and carry out your slops to make a living, but I will not lie for you, pimp for you, stool for you or rat for you.’ It is not the poverty of the ill-tempered and embittered, those who wooed the bitch goddess Success with panting breath and came away rebuffed. It is an independent, voluntary poverty.

So the hipster, or the beat, had a cool and detached attitude to the frenzy of the striving for success in mainstream society.

“Beatniks” were groupies or wannabes. The word was coined by a journalist by analogy with “sputnik” — beatniks were those who were in orbit around the beat movement, but were not central to it.

By the late sixties “hipster” had got shortened to “hippie”, and while the hippies were successors to the beats as a countercultural movement, they were a little less cool. To be “cool” suggested being detached, laid back, not excited by the constant changes of fashion and the striving for success. It was the role of a passive and cynical observer.

Hippies were more active, and more positive in trying not merely to disaffiliate from mainstream culture, but to try to create an alternative to it, an alternative culture and an alternative society.

But the impression I got from the article that sparked off this post is that the writer was using “hipster” in an entirely different sense, to mean something almost opposite from what it meant in the 1950s and 1950s.

I wondered how widespread that usage is — can anyone explain the writer’s usage, and do they share that understanding of the word today, and how did it get to mean almost the opposite of what it meant 50 years ago? “Cool” seems to have changed its meaning a lot in the last 50 years, so I wonder if “hipster” has likewise changed, so that it no means nearly the opposite of what it did back then.

I watch “Top Gear” on TV, and there they discuss what constitutes a “cool” car, and it is clear that their idea of “cool” is very different from mine. My 1961 Peugeot station wagon, with rusty door panels and empty cold-drink cans rolling around on the floor, bought cheap from an open air used car lot where a rickety wooden shack was the “office”, bought on the “zero maintenance” plan, was my idea of a “cool” car, but I doubt very much if the “Top Gear” people are using “cool” in that sense.

Another thing that illustrates the change in the meaning of words like “cool” is Levis jeans. They were cool back then and they are regarded as cool now, for entirely different reasons, and for entirely different values of “cool”. When I bought my first pair of Levis there was only one shop in Johannesburg that sold them, imported them from the USA. It was not advertised and nor were Levis. You learnt about it by word of mouth. It was also a decidedly unfashionable shop in a decidedly unfashionable part of town, Jeppestown, which seems to have escaped the gentrification that has transformed other run-down suburbs. Levis were the opposite of fashionable, tough working clothes that one bought a couple of sizes too big because they would shrink to fit. No one with any fashion sense would be seen dead in Levis. How have the mighty fallen!

But the guy whose death was described in the article in question sounded anything but “hip” to me, the very opposite of “hip”, in fact. So I still wonder what the writer meant by “hipster”, and whether other people understand “hipster” in the same way, and can explain what they mean by it.

To get back to PBR briefly, the Urban Dictionary defines it as:

PBR
abbreviation for pabst blue ribbon beer, which is simultaneously the best and worst beer ever brewed. it is typically on special at bars for twelve cents a pint. also doubles as a laxative.

Pabst Blue Ribbon is a lot like the band Bright Eyes,
Hipsters love it, but everyone else thinks its liquid shit.

Hipsters again. It’s got to mean something in Wisconsin that is different from what it means in the rest of the world… or does it?

Perhaps I should retreat into the past, to when I was a wannabe hipster, and a wannabe beatnik (and if a beatnik is a wannabe beat, then a wannabe beatnik is a wannabe wannabe). My twenty-year-old self went to visit Brother Roger, an Anglican monk of the Community of the Resurrection, whom I regarded as the authority on all things hip and cool (he lent me books by Jack Kerouac, and the Lipton book I quoted above, and many others besides). So I wrote in my diary for 23 June 1961

… later went to see Brother Roger. There he sat, outside the priory in jeans and sweatshirt, on the library steps, luxuriating in the sun studying Lipton’s Holy Barbarians. Studying, yes, truly it is the text book, and he said that he had a book by Clellon Holmes, The horn, about a jazz man, and he says it in that zestful rapturous way of his, which makes me think he gets the utter limit of enjoyment out of everything he does. “It’s wonderful,” he says, “simply wonderful.” And when he says it you know he really means it. He told me about what he is going to say at Modderpoort, and he isn’t giving them Bloy this year, but Jean somebody. The Observer calls him the poet of evil, who has spent half his life in jail, and is something of a misanthropist and hates society, patron saint of the Beats. He gave me a play for the AYPA, by Charles Williams, called House of the octopus, and there was a boy there called Abel, a black boy studying for his matric, and says he is a cat and loves jazz, and Bach, and plays a clarinet which got broken. So I talked a bit to Abel and found he lives in Orlando where he goes to AYPA meetings and is staying at the priory during the vac to study. He is a nice cat, a hip spade cat.

The AYPA was the Anglican Young Peoples Association, a youth organisation with branches in various parishes. Modderpoort was the venue of the annual conference of the Anglican Students Federation, where Brother Roger was going to read his paper about the Jean somebody, who was actually Jean Genet (that was the first time I’d ever heard of him), and you can read his paper, Pilgrims of the Absolute, here.

Yes, I’ve written about this stuff before, sorry if anyone was bored, but I suppose those who have seen it all before wouldn’t have got this far anyway.

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