Jonathan Cape, 1970, London. 2004: richardneville.com
They want bread ? â Oh, they═ve got plenty of that, said Timothy, let them wear flowers. Fuck your flowers, said Stokeley, we want â Revolution? offered the Marx Brothers, Danny, Rudi and Tariq. No! sang the Beatles in three catchy versions. None of which, responded the man in the burgundy vest, will equal the impact of cigarillos ? the revolution in smoking pleasure.
´Whenever you ring me,═ he said, ´ask for Pete the Coyote.═ And whenever I did, no one had ever heard of him. It was the week before Christmas 1968 and Peter the Coyote, along with members of San Francisco═s Hells Angels, had flown to London with is immense gaudy bike to check out the traction. When I met them, they were stacked into a lush little room at the Beatle═s Savile Row headquarters, only mildly subdued by George Harrison═s efforts to evict them (´He said we ain═t got manners═). Ken Kesey had travelled with the Angels and was in the room tape-recording the visiting Dutch magician. Simon Vinkenoog, now babbling with mellifluous extravagance. Meanwhile, Pete the Coyote was laying it down: ´The cybernetic age entails a change in our frame of reference, man. The traditional spatio-temporal concepts are inadequate â the digital computer is easing us into the electronic/automotive age just as the steam engine pivoted us into the industrial revolution. In those days it was gin. It flowed like water. Kids were suckled on it, societies campaigned against it. Now it═s L.S.D. is for us what gin was for the Victorians. It lubricates out acceptance of a new age â═ A Hell═s Angel ? With his grim eye shades, weathered leather and stale Levis, he should have been boasting about wrenching a girl═s teeth with a pair of pliers.
You can═t drop just any flowers from an aeroplane. Some disintegrate, others drift to infinity. That═s why they have to be tested. At a crowded yippie meeting in Lower Manhattan, Abbie Hoffman regretted that his free-fall flower experiments from a nearby rooftop had been interrupted by suspicious winos; nevertheless he recommended sturdy daisies. Above the Central Park be-in the next day, the tiny specks spewed from a light aircraft only to float away past Fifth Avenue. They must have used prissy primroses.
I arrived late at the home of the man behind The Black Dwarf. It was obviously a solemn occasion. The living room was strewn with hand-picked London militants. The man in the chair was speaking heavy Marx in a German accent. It was Mr (˝Deadlyţ) Ernest Mandel, editor of Belgium═s left wing Le Gauche, and a respected economist. In measured tones, he precisely minimized the contribution of ´libertarian elements═ in the recent Paris uprising and spoke of the subsequent influx of recruits to ´the party═; of the seriousness of revolution and the importance being ideological. He came to praise Marx, and proceeded to bury him. In the discussion which followed, tense for those involved, three hours were spent arguing over the definition of ´neo-capitalism═. Ken Tynan was the first to leave.
One man═s revolution is another man═s purgatory.
The headmaster of Eton resigned. His ˝stress and strainţ had increased. What of the stress and strain of being a school boy? Some of the pupils had been toting guns and smoking pot. In the same month the second master of Rugby told the Daily Telegraph that fifteen boys had been rusticated in the past two years for drug offences. Another press report alleged that over thirty pupils had been dismissed for being ´hippy rebels═. After St Paul═s had expelled several boys over marijuana, I met one of them at the office of Release, the London drug-bust organisation . He was fifteen.
At fifteen I wore khaki shorts and a boater to school, cheer-led the football team, failed Latin and hummed ´Memories are Made of This═ during cadet drill. This young man, with his bright purple kerchief and friendly cool, talked amiably of eradicating compulsory sport and religion, abolishing prefects and punishment, putting an end to the arbitrary authority of masters â and I listened, uncomfortably conscious of being one of the mid-way generation, still-born into a limbo of chairmen═s reports, vicars on television and invitations to become a railway guard for a life of fun, travel and adventure, ú12 per week. My generation ? I═m almost thirty ? was already pubertal by the time Carl Perkins, pot and a kind of easy sex all happened. Our God was still in business, our Elvis in the army, our future in the Positions Vacant columns. We had to learn to waltz before learning not to.
Although we are still only half liberated ? secretly savouring the smell of brown ale, boot polish and Brylcreem ? our once furtive sub-culture has come out of the shadows, on to the hit parades, into the headlines and at the local Odeon. A bright elusive butterfly has landed on the shoulders of schoolkids.
A summer═s night; strolling at a pace which overtakes two girls. Both have sleeping bags slung over their backs, fringe leather jackets, mock Aztec jewellery and Eastern carpet shoulder bags. ´Hello,═ smiles one of them, ´isn═t it a good idea to say hello to strangers ? No one ever does. We just said good evening to an old man and he freaked out completely.═
We walked together. One is sixteen, the other a year older. They have just hitched down from Yarmouth, bound for Cornwall. ´You won═t be able to sleep in the pill-boxes there any more,═ I warn them, ´the council has filled them in with oil.═ ´That═s all right,═ says the younger of the two, ´ we═ll con some straight.═ We exchange good nights, one of them asking rhetorically ´Do you smoke?═ as she slips into my hand a pebble hash.
A casual meeting. Two young chicks. [Oops, but it WAS the 60═s.] Nothing extraordinary; except a reminder that girls like this are everywhere and they═re not going to grow up and marry bank managers [Ha!].
´One of the most astonishing sights of the Mary revolution was thousands of school children marching to the slogan ˝Power in the streets, not in Parliament.ţ ═ On 10 May 1968 French high schools declared a national strike in support of their elder brothers [& sisters] at the Sorbonne, nearly nine thousand joining in the demonstrations, manning the barricades and bloodying the ambulances. French lyc?es are now uncamouflaged training grounds for a repeat performance. In American schools, it is said that Che Guevara is thirteen years old and not doing his homework. Already there have been several successfully coordinated school strikes and the angriest Underground newspapers are often members of H I P S - the High School Independent Press Service.
A report to a London teachers' association in 1969 revealed how classroom anarchy is driving out teachers. The symptoms of a discipline collapse were listed as: chronic misbehaviour, breaches of school rules, challenges to teachers' authority, disturbances of lessons, lateness, incorrect dress, vandalism, and general deterioration in the tone of the school. In other words, it's goodbye to Goodbye Mr Chips. ˝This appears to be mainly due to an increase in neurotic types of children,ţ comments the report.
Neurotic types of children. That depends on your perspective. Maybe these children saw what it was like to be normal, on the ten o'clock news - and didn't like it.
The world was split into two camps, armed to the teeth and mutually hostile, droned our school history masters when outlining causes of the First World War: a text-book world view that is not inappropriate today. The two camps have become generational; an over-simplification, but those who are actually a part of either camp will know what is meant. Nowadays the weapons are more refined. The Big Bertha of both sides is culture - one inherited, the other do-it-yourself. From the outside looking in, the radical youth movement seems determined to destroy civilization as we know it. From the inside looking out, it is civilization which is destroying itself.
A unique feature of today's Youthquake - as Vogue once dubbed it - is its intense, spontaneous internationalism. From Berlin to Berkeley, from Zurich to Notting Hill, Movement members exchange a gut solidarity; sharing common aspirations, inspirations, strategy, style, mood and vocabulary. Long hair is their declaration of independence, pop music their esperanto and they puff pot in their peace pipe.
Even divisions within the Movement are broadly consistent. The terms New Left, Underground, and ˝militant poor'ţare loosely applicable throughout the wide and scattered domain of youthful insurgency. Sometimes these categories generously overlap, at other times, less generously, they conflict. The New Left is comprised largely of the ˝alphabet soupţ of student protest (SDS, SNCC, NACLA, RSA, BLF, RSSF, etc.) with just occasionally a dash of LSD.
That unpopular label, Underground, embraces hippies, beats, mystics, madmen, freaks, yippies, crazies, crackpots, communards and anyone who rejects rigid political ideology (a ´brain disease═) and believes that once you have blown your own mind, the Bastille will blow up itself.
In different areas, at different times, a different compound of these categories becomes the agency of disruption. The actions of the New Left are said to be ´political═. The antics of the Underground are said to be ´cultural═. In fact, both sociological manifestations are part of the behaviour pattern of a single discontented body. The days of nine-to-five radicalism are over. The hippie who has brown rice for breakfast, and the student who burns his examination paper are both learning to live the same revolution.
There is one quality which enlivens both the political and cultural denominations of youth protest; which provides its most important innovation; which has the greatest relevance for the future; which is the funniest, freakiest and the most effective. This is the element of play, and it will be elaborated upon in the final chapter.
Apart from the lightning evolution of a counter culture, the One Great Youth Unifier has been Vietnam. In the U.K. and U.S. outrage at the war grew naturally out of C.N.D. and civil rights movements - considerately nurtured by an oafish political rationale and horrendously inept generalship. It is na?ve to assume, however, that U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam will anaesthetize youth protest [It buried it]. Symbols are easily replaceable. Anything can be made into an issue - an irritating State occasion, the awkward presence of a police car, the untimely sacking of a university lecturer, the discovery of ˝confidentialţ files, a fenced-in vacant lot. All can trigger off a youthful show of force.
One law of Movement dynamics is that the Movement is never contained by political events - it is propelled by them.
Another law of Movement dynamics is that one thing leads to another - in geometric progression. Imagery knows no boundaries. Specific national characteristics impose a certain complexion on insurrectional activity, but the differences are becoming less obvious than the similarities.
For instance: The first draft card was burned in 1965. This single act rapidly assumed forest fire proportions, consuming even the bodies of three Americans, who in the same year ignited themselves on the steps of the Pentagon. A few years later, a Czech student, Jan Palach, became a national hero when he adopted the same form of protest against the Russians. Even in Lund, in placid Sweden, students were charged with desecration, during a performance of Tuli Kupferberg's Fucknam in which actors set alight the American flags which adorned the monstrous papier m?ch? penises in which they were parading. The stars and stripes have been lit up all over Europe and we may not see them go out again in our lifetime. In 1969, when all these early incendiary gestures were being sung and danced in the production Hair, Berlin school children demonstrated that they had not forgotten the lesson of the blazing draft cards by putting their report cards to the torch.
The mass media is partly responsible for today's
generational self-consciousness. It follows that the Movement regularly identifies mass media's instruments as objectionable: Amsterdam, 1966: Provos and construction workers besiege offices of the ex-fascist newspaper De Telegraaf. London, 1967: Hundreds of hippies attempt to block deliveries of the News of the World. Angry hand-bills reveal editor's home address and ask demonstrators to post him pot. (Weeks later, his residence is searched by the drugs squad.) Germany, 1968: Students sack Springer press office in Munich and raid distribution centres in all key cities. Police throw up barricades around every office.
New York, 1968: Thirty hippies storm live TV. discussion. At first, it was considered part of the show, `... but when one hairy type shouted that it was fine to hear a certain four-letter word on television and uttered it, doubts crept in.' The Times, 27 June 1968.
New York, 1969: Demonstration outside offices of New York Times for its failure to cover Movement news.
London, 1970: Jerry Rubin disrupts David Frost's TV show with the help of thirty hippy mercenaries. Arms include water pistols, dope, ˝obscenitiesţ and two (dud) smoke bombs.
Surprising exception: No demonstrations against mass media during the 1968 Paris uprising. This was regretted however, and the Cohn-Bendits have noted that this ˝is a point to remember for the future and one that we will be sure to take care of.ţ On the eve of the celebrated Vietnam demonstration in London in October 1968, the press cried Wolf! so often, it began to sound like someone yelling ˝Rape! - please.ţ On its front page, The Times warned readers that demonstrators planned to take over several of the city's key buildings, including newspaper offices. The Evening News announced the BBC was to be invaded. It even dispatched its ace reporters, suitably disguised, to demonstrate the weaknesses in Auntie's defences. The BBC retaliated by storming the washrooms of the Evening News with similar ease, televising the results. Despite this handy pair of blue prints, no move was made to occupy either building.
Among other symbols of oppression to come under fire by Movement radicals are department stores - although not literally, as this headline from a German Springer newspaper implies: FURNITURE STORE IN FLAMES: IS THIS DEMONSTRATION? IS THIS DISCUSSION? The fire as it turned out was the result of a bungled burglary. Members of the Berlin Kommune K, the nucleus of which has sparked off Berlin's most flamboyant confrontations, distributed to the public leaflets which suggested philosophically that many such fires should be started in Berlin, and saw the blaze as ˝the crackling image of Vietnamţ.
In New York at about the same time, April 1968, I was present at a yippie meeting in Union Park at which a department store loot-in was being planned. ˝We'll choose a shop. About twenty of us will go in, select the stuff we want, hand the cashier a flower and head towards the door ...ţ
A militant Lower East Side group, the Black Mask, once staged a mill-in at Macy's during the Christmas rush. Demonstrators flooded into the store disguised as shoppers, floor-walkers and counter assistants. Stock was either spoiled, stolen, swapped around or given away. Half-starved dogs and cats were let loose in the food department. A berserk buzzard flew around the crockery section, smashing china and terrorizing sales girls. Accomplices ensured that respectable middle-class shoppers were mistakenly roughed up and arrested. Inspired by such chaos, a London group swept into Selfridges one Christmas with their key man dressed as Santa Claus. ˝Free presentsţ were pressed into surprised but eager hands. Not long afterwards, shoppers were treated to the spectacle of police confiscating toys from small children, and arresting Santa Claus.
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