‘Hippie’ is a ragged encyclopedia of the ’60s
When I was a kid my siblings used to tease me about reading the encyclopedia.I didn’t read it so much as get engrossed in a few choice items. I would look up some topic, usually a Civil War general, then another interesting item would grab my attention and force me to turn a page, or eight.
I raise that mundane little detail of my childhood because a book I just read seemed like browsing an encyclopedia. “Hippie” by Barry Miles isn’t particularly well-written. It has numerous typos, seldom cites sources and sort of oozes rather than flows.Nevertheless, it’s a good read. It chronicles the rise of hippie culture, music, activism and fashion from 1965 through 1971. Miles was a central figure in the London social scene of the 1960s, so his recounting of British topics like the rise of Pink Floyd seems especially credible, as well as fascinating.The strength of the book is the pictures. It’s crammed with shots of psychedelic pop stars from Jefferson Airplane and the Byrds to Sgt. Pepper-era Beatles and Pink Floyd. You get a good feel for the club scene in San Francisco and London, and of the big festivals that paved the way for Woodstock.But it’s the images of the foot soldiers in the front lines of the hippie movement that are particularly “groovy,” since I was too young to experience the era firsthand. There are pictures of freaks in San Francisco communes, freaks at Acid Tests, freaks on Haight-Ashbury street corners and freaks at concerts. There are naked freaks, stoned freaks, happy freaks and protesting freaks. (Miles dedicated the book to “all the old freaks and hippies everywhere.”)The fashion shots make you say, “Good God – people really wore that stuff?!”
The book is valuable for condensing the roots of the hippie movement. I learned a lot about the roles of characters like Allen Ginsberg, Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, Chet Helms, and the Diggers.I also learned, to my dismay, that many veterans of the hippie movement felt the idealism of the era was kaput by the time of the Summer of Love in ’67.