“On Whether True American Virtue Can Ever Disembody the ‘Hippie’”

I just got done listening to the opener on the new Dumpster Babies album: the song is called “Gimme What I Want,” and it’s about deliberately initiating a meeting with a girl for sex (“I know she’s such an easy lender”). Similarly, the new Kendrick Lamar opens with a monologue of him throating out languid come-ons (or more like reactions to a GIRL’s come-ons) and vividly implying the beginnings of sex acts. Um, hippies, whatcha got for us? Oh yeah, we always make fun of you and yell at you, so you went away.
I mean I dunno, maybe going to a Phish show can actually diminish your level of lust, nodding your head to that endless mound of white-boy “funk.” But it sure is boring.
And we always thought we were eventually going to have virtue. Somewhere along the lines, somebody saw the blue sky, or the stars, in our eyes, and smiled at us in a way that made us sure beyond what we thought was a shadow of a doubt that within lay not purely desire, not purely selfishness, but a SOPHISTICATED STEW, a SOPHISTICATED STEW, that was not only unquestionably unique, but also paradigmatically intricate. We were like a walking art, or so we thought.
The ’00’s came around, and maybe we dove headlong into My Morning Jacket – Z and Band of Horses – Everything All the Time, two very EXASPERATED albums, [1] two albums marred and sullied by the gluttonous, treacherous “everything all the time” culture prevalent in America. [2] Ok, we’ll give ourselves this: we never really needed big screen TV’s, or trucks with “Hemis,” we never really hated Iraqis, we hated the military.
Of course, “hippies,” to me, stopped being a viable aesthetic and moral earmark along with the cessation of the 1960’s. [3] But maybe this is just why people hate them: the ’60’s ENDED. The hippie movement didn’t work: violence escalated to an all-time high in America’s ghettos in the ’80’s (following the fall of the Black Panthers), and we as a nation still enforced our will with brute efficacy in efforts overseas, oftentimes with questionable motives and surrounding untruths. Einstein once said, “Insanity can be defined as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”
Our society values sex, and says you’re a loser if you don’t do it: as a result, you hear about rapes all the time, and women run around scared, and grossed out. Technological trends come and go in almost the scant amount of time they take to load once you turn them on, and absurd trends sweep the nation, proof of not only a corporate WILL to behaviorally coerce, but an ability to do so, given the sickening malleability of the general populace.
More and more, within our continuance into this teens decade, our culture has become one of separateness. It’s a perfectly accepted customary norm to display overt distaste for interacting with others, and for voicing this taste to the specific person pertinent, in the event they should attempt friendly conversation. We still have behavioral rubrics. New pop-hop groups like LMFAO champion a victorious, self-serving brand of disposition, one which takes shameless pleasure in its own ability to own material possessions and sexual conquests. Asking them to comment about society would be like asking a penguin to comment on the periodic table. If it seems like people around you are actually making a genuine effort not to care about you, it’s because they are.
Now, it’s generally held that hippies love music, and I find this by and large to be the case. The glaring question at hand, regarding the present justifiability of “hippiedom,” is whether the specific music they like takes on a certain qualitative inferiority, to, say, “black music” — Motown, jazz, soul or hip-hop. As we’ve seen above with the Dumpster Babies, there’s little or no virtue in punk, at least not anymore. The worst song I heard in the wake of the Iraq war, which discussed the war, was this ska thing. Then, I didn’t hear any jam songs I liked particularly, either, but indie acts like MMJ and Band of Horses were vaguely psychedelic.
This is what made their music so brilliant — the songs ached with a certain otherworldly transcendence, but at the same time they were structured, exuding a life that’s exciting, not just statically “virtuous” like wallpaper is, a la critically unacclaimed jam music. The other ticket into post-war American “virtue” was the androgyny of The Decemberists, but as we know, neither are all capable of this, nor would we even want them to be.
People are unhappy, in America, from 1776 through today, because they EXPECT things. They see commercials, and they associate happiness with ownership of pointless crap. As we see with LMFAO (proof more than anything that abortion should be legal), this sort of attitude can bleed into the music too, and maybe, though not completely, we lose our concepts of music as hegemonic over the material realm, as a transcendent sanctuary whose value lies in its self-owning completeness, and not its ability to contribute to our constructed American notion of “success.”
This is why we have critics — to help to liken material “success” to this untraceable, elusive realm of artistic inspiration I’ve just mentioned. The problem is the general malady. The solution might not be hippies, but at least, I think, they’re trying. Marijuana does indeed calm the nerves, and drastically decrease the chance that the person using it will commit a violent crime. And if it’s this ambition toward ownership, and toward superiority, that causes the problems in our society, which I’d say it likely does, then the opposite of this, the step in the right direction, would just be the lack of ambition, another mental typology with which weed is associated. Hippiedom is the willed endeavor to represent virtue. Regardless of inner will or essence, no other AESTHETIC zeitgeist, no other mode of dressing, has materialized, to replace it. Punk, though its progenitors might be nice people, is essentially all about violence and abandon (freedom, in other words). This of course begs the question as to when virtue actually becomes correlative with revolution.

[1] And I’m thinking of Mike Doughty’s “I love my country so much man / Like an exasperating friend,” in “Move on.”

[2] In a recent post I discussed how Britain didn’t necessarily indulge in our indie rock, they were all about the Manic Street Preachers in the ’00’s.
[3] Check Rob Sheffield’s On Bowie for a solid demarcation of how the ’60’s ended IN SPIRIT, actually a Neil Young quote: “‘The sixties are definitely not with us anymore… The change into the music of the ’70’s is starting to come with people like David Bowie and Lou Reed… Homosexualism and heavy dope use and everything is a way of life to a lotta people…”


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