19 Aug

“They’re selling hippie wigs in Woolworth’s, man. The greatest decade in the history of mankind is over. ”                                                        — Danny, from Withnail and I

So they scattered Richie Haven’s ashes over Yasgur’s farm yesterday, and old friends came to remember the man, and sing him to his grave.   As someone who remembers when World War I veterans were thick on the ground, it is a harsh lesson in human brevity to see the grand old men of the sixties begin to fade away.

I was a precocious six years old the summer of Woodstock.  A budding prepubescent hippie in a working class suburb of Detroit, where the Russell kids across the street were still having their heads shaved every summer by their auto worker dad, I fought every haircut tooth and nail, absolutely understanding that my teenage neighbors, babysitters and cousins were on to something with their long hair, denim and fringe.  The girls were beautiful, the boys were fun, and the music was amazing.

I don’t know if there was much more to get.   Because the alternatives were pretty fucking bleak.  Suits, crewcuts, Perry Como, a tour in Vietnam.  I may have been six, but I wasn’t stupid.  From the small town kid in upstate New York who refused to cut his hair, to the hundreds who got the holy shit kicked out of them by Daley’s police at the ’68 convention, their courage was palpable.  At the time I wanted to be those kids.  Today I just love them.

I have little patience for Sixties bashers, those prim young things who wrinkle their nose at the word “hippies.”  They are the walking proof of their parents’ biases.  I am fully aware of the many ways in which the era can be denigrated, and in this age of $600 Stones tickets, where all the good seats are snapped up by aging hedge fund managers  who were too busy listening to their  Bobby Goldsboro albums to make it the first time around, it’s easy to pretend they never mattered.

But the thing is, they did.  If nothing else, those times, and the feelings they inspired, worked their way into the DNA of a six year old boy, creating a set of beliefs and a path through the trees to the life I live today.

I don’t like suits.  I recognize them for the costume they are.  I didn’t much like the people who wore them as a kid, I don’t much trust the people who wear them now.  They’re basically a lie in cloth form.

Money is necessary, but not important.

What is important are people, meeting their eyes, and always being honest with them.  If you get some affection in there, even better.  And, of course, love is the best.

So, you can mock the sixties, you can bemoan them, you can twist them to your own selfish ends.  But you do these things at your peril.  Because life is short my friend, and the money’s not going with you.  But maybe, just maybe, the kindness you’ve shown to others, and that shown to you; the beauty you’ve beheld, or god willing, created; and the honesty and love with which you’ve dealt with others, and all the successes and failures along the way…  Maybe these will bring you to a place of peace.  I hope that’s where they brought Richie, whose gift of  a voice opened my heart and whispered into it the secrets of being human.

And close your eyes, child, and look at what I’ll show you; 
Let your mind go reeling out and let the breezes blow you, 
Then maybe, when we meet, suddenly I will know you.
If all the things you see ain’t what they seem,
Then don’t mind me ‘cos I ain’t nothin’ but a dream .*

Godspeed Richie, and thanks.

* Words by Jerry Merrick

(Originally posted at Playing in the City with Trains)



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