Every new generation is eager to go against the grain and challenge society’s status quo. Perhaps the most famous of counterculture movements were the hippies of the 1960s. And perhaps the most famous of all hippies was John Lennon.
Prelude to Hippiedom
John Lennon was born on 9 October 1940. Had he lived he would have been celebrating his 78th birthday.
The image of a long-haired, bespectacled John Lennon wearing tie-dye and beads – the hippie garb of its day – holding up the two-fingered peace sign, is one of most iconic counterculture symbols of an era.
The year of Lennon’s birth, 1940, should give the hint to why young people of his generation were ready to have a good time by the late 1950s and 1960s.
Looking back to Europe in October 1940, France had fallen to Nazi Germany, Britain stood alone, bombs were raining down on Liverpool, a major port vital to the war effort and the city where John Lennon was a new-born.
Post-war rationing in Britain continued until 1954, and by then young people were ready to have some fun, let their hair down, and by the 1960s grow their hair long.
Ironically, despite having taken part in both World War II and the Korean War, the US never had rationing. Instead the Beatnik counterculture of the 1950s was a reaction against American middle-class materialism – they had too much.
The word hippie is in fact derived from being ‘hip’ in the 1950s vocabulary of Jack Kerouac and Alan Ginsberg, precursors of the psychedelic-type 1960s hippie.
Then another war pushed forward this US counterculture movement when protests against the Vietnam War brought about a rallying focus for American youth.
No such equivalent event occurred in any other country at that time. Not that there was complete contentment beyond America. Fifty years ago this year, France came close to all-out revolution with student riots leading to a general strike in what became known as Mai 68.
Counterculture Is Not New
While the hippie movement might be interpreted from the angle of revolution fed by drugs and music, it is worth remembering that in the 1920s Jazz was branded ‘the Devil’s music’. In the 1940s Swing music was banned in Germany as subversive.
In 1957 Elvis Presley’s third and final appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show was filmed from the waist up because of the censors response to outraged parents at the sight of Presley’s swivelling hips in earlier appearances.
As Bob Dylan, now 77, put it: ‘The times they are a changing.’
For every generation, times change because they give rise to another new generation that believes itself to be at the forefront of new ideas, new ways of thinking and what they consider to be ‘counterculture’ to the countercultures of their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents.
Music has provided the common link, the language if you will, for every youthful generation since sheet music could be mass produced.
Young Hearts Run Free
Although the world has many injustices to protest against, the mostly Western model of counterculture is something Millennials have to sort out for themselves.
For some, trying to be hippies like their grandparents is one form of self-expression. But this misses the point of what counterculture really is.
For every generation being young is to be hopeful, emotional, happy, disillusioned and everything else that your parents, grandparents, even great-grandparents experienced.
As John Lennon might have said, ‘Far out, man.’ But really, that is not a phrase Millennials would use.