Heroes and other strangers

Last night I went to bed way too late. Not because I was out partying. It’s true I did go out for a drink. But the way-too-late bit is thanks to the fact that when I came home I made myself a cup of tea, got into bed with my laptop and stayed up till 3 am watching a documentary about Steve Jobs.

I’m not even interested in Jobs (sorry). But I couldn’t find any episodes of Pan Am on the BBC iplayer (what? has it ended already?!) and I’m all caught up with Death in Paradise. So while I wasn’t all that interested in Jobs, I was already committed to the idea that I was going to unwind by watching TV in bed on my laptop … that I was going to stay up late just because I could!

The only bit of Jobs’ story that I was curious about was the reference to him as The Hippy Billionaire in the strapline of the show. Ever since I went to see my friend Zac’s play at The Fringe Festival in New York this summer (Heroes and Other Strangers*), I’ve been wondering about something:

How come a whole generation of people went counter-culture in the 60’s and they still turned out wealthy and bourgeois? Or if not wealthy, then certainly not poor. How is it possible to drop-out in your early twenties and then come back in your 30’s with a house and a car and not even a job but an actual career?

Zac Jaffee, writer and performer, in Heroes...

Jobs may be an exceptional case, but from the anecdotal stockpile in  my head, he’s not the only hippy drop-out made good.

After Zac’s show (which has been described as a hippy-fueled coming-of-age detective story), I asked his partner about this. His partner also happens to be my high school buddy. I thought she might know because along with most of my other high school friends, her parents were around for the 60’s (while mine were in Ireland — a country that skipped that decade).

The difference between my parents and the parents of my high school friends seemed stark to me at the time. Other parents had done drugs. Other parents had had some pretty intense “experiences”.

Other parents had different attitudes towards parenting than my own.

It was also clear that by the time I met these Other Parents they wore suits (with padded shoulders) and did things like commute to an office. At the time I didn’t think this was weird — but now I do.

My high school friend’s reply to my question had been that I was over-estimating the number of people that participated in the counter-culture movement and while many of these parents might have been at college at the time and up for the odd protest here and there, my friend explained to me that they were not necessarily fully-fledged members of the moving images I had in my mind. (Think Forrest Gump). They never really dropped out, she said. It was just fashionable at the time to be a bit of a hippy … but not necessarily to embrace the full Yoko Ono.

While I do trust my friend on this matter, I remain curious and let’s face it – clearly envious, that lots of people did opt for a life of love-in’s and parties and questioning the Vietnam War and fighting for civil rights …. So how did these people re-enter the commercial world and begin to command the sort of paychecks and lifestyles that their more conservative peers had been sweating over and working more steadily towards …

How did they have their cake and eat it too? The answer in Jobs case seems to be that he was amazingly visionary and utterly ruthless. But what about the average hippy? Or were none of them all that average — were all of them special sorts of people to begin with.

I still wonder about this.

The Jobs documentary shed no light on these matters for me. So if anyone out there can either shut down or verify any of the sweeping generalizations I make in this post — or even better, recommend a good book about what happened to all those hippies … please share!

* * *

*I loved Heroes and Other Strangers – and for anyone who knows me well, live performances are not really my thing — normally I get too stressed out for the people on stage to lose myself in the show and can never quite forget I am watching make-believe. But Heroes really grabbed me. Here’s a bit more about it straight from the show’s writer/performer, my friend Zac.



Filed under Current affairs, History, Identity, Money

3 responses to “Heroes and other strangers

  1. In many ways I see the rampant individualism of the hippies and the people they influenced as being the driving force behind their success. They learned new ways to sell things. Hipper ways. And there isn’t so much difference between free love and the free market.

    I saw a documentary once that I can’t remember the name of that made the argument that modern consumerist attitudes and the style of advertising that engages with it came out of that change in attitudes that happened in the 60’s. I was pretty convinced by it but I saw it 10 years or so ago so can’t do an efficient job here of summing up its arguments.

    Both my parents engaged with hippy culture but didn’t drop out. They had the fun and the thoughts whilst keeping their day jobs. That’s the case for the majority of hippies I think.

    For every jobs there’s someone who died of a heroin overdose in San Fransisco in the 70’s or someone who lives on a commune still, happily dropped out. The successes are loader because they are successful. I think it just rings strange because it seems they betrayed something about the hippy movement by becoming successful. Punk era is similar in that seeming hypocrisy in its followers finding commercial success. But in both cultural movements people were part of them for a vast variety of reasons. And where they have ended up is in a vast variety of positions.

  2. nathaliehourihan

    That’s really interesting — esp the bit about the rampant individualism of the hippies being an ingredient in their success and the rise of super smart advertising that plays to people believing that they are creating a more meaningful, rather than a more materialistic, life — the Jobs documentary talked about that a lot. What we’re really buying when we buy Apple. I hadn’t made the connection re hippies being very individualistic — which is weird, because I do see them as a group of people who acted in ways that we were very brave, very spoilt and very idealistic. Which makes me wonder if I am just old and this is always what people think of a younger generation (if you know what I mean — since hippies are older than me, but what we watch of them dates back to when they were kids). I think my particular interest in hippies does stem from my exposure to Other People’s Parents who encouraged my friends to go off and become writers or film makers or actresses. And I’m exploring the sense of fear and responsbility I felt from a young age about making sure I could pay my way and doing whatever was required to guarantee a paycheck. I deeply admire + but also do not understand & sometimes resent fearless people. And I see that generation as a bit fearless. Anyway, I;m sure I;m antagonizing plenty with my generalizations but the Jobs documentary brought up some of my deeper prejuidices

  3. nathaliehourihan

    OH and PS. The bit about your parents makes me think that yes, the main flaw to my thinking is that most people did NOT drop out, they just dipped in.

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