PERSPECTIVE: Hippie years — a 50-year lookback at turbulent 1968

Smithsonian magazine recently published as its cover article “1968, the year that shattered America.” Got him thinking about his own 1968 and how it changed everything. He was 27 then, and close to the “hippie” culture in the Dayton area. He was older, so he served sometimes as a sympathizer and sometimes as a counter-foil, and his home became a gathering place.

In many ways he was conflicted. He worked for the Air Force, had a USAF general for an ex father-in-law, had previously decorated a cake with “AU H2O ’64.” But change was blowin’ in the wind in 1968. The Vietnam War was eating our kids, while LBJ refused to be “the first U.S. president to lose a war.” Being in white suburbia, this hippiedom was admittedly not involved with the racial unrest which marked 1968, but was sympathetic to the cause of social justice in general.

He spent lots of time in Yellow Springs, attended concerts by County Joe & the Fish, Arlo Guthrie, and Jimi Hendrix (actually heard his “Star-Spangled Banner” played in feedback!), had sometimes-heated discussions while imbibing Big Cat Malt Liquor, and wrote lots of poetry. The favored Dayton hangout was the sadly long-gone “The Lemon Tree,” where among the visiting entertainers were Ravi Shankar and Joan Baez. And of course local talent like Michael H., John A., and Sandy R. Even heard an authentic jug band. Actually Sandy is still playing (with a new initial) as a well-known accomplished musician/composer. Hi, Sandy!

Were there drugs? Well, he knew some people that probably participated, but was emphatic that nothing would be in his house. The stuff going around (LSD, hash, pot) was nowhere near as addictive and deadly as today’s opiods. The purpose seemed to be to compose weird music.

Nationally, he felt the rumbles of the racial protests (“I Am a Man”; the granddaddy of Black Lives Matter) following the assassination of Dr. King, the National Democratic Convention in Chicago after the assassination of Bobby Kennedy, and the anti-war protests, trying to understand. Personally, he talked with long-haired white and Afro’d angry black friends, saw people heading for Haight-A in San Francisco (and Canada if the draft got too close).

In retrospect, the good: They carried a healthy suspicion of the system, the government, the police, and any authority figures. Healthy because those authorities desperately needed an overhaul; standard operating procedures in the 1960s were appalling. The “hippies” were instrumental in stopping the futility in Vietnam, and encouraged much-needed social justice here at home.

In retrospect, the bad: They were too idealistic, looking for quick utopian solutions without compromise. And they ignored the many good things about the systems they despised, like marriage, responsible child raising, beneficial societal rules (like Arlo’s litterin’), education, sobriety, and steady jobs. Many didn’t plan ahead well on these things either, living day-to-day with simple needs: music and a place to crash.

1968 was a definite turning point for him as well as for the USA. It’s better now, but history is always looking for a chance to repeat.

David Shumway is one of our regular contributors.

About the Author