The hippie apocalypse

I've been discussing this with my son, and I think I will write a paper on it at some point, if I get the time. But the 1960s had a strong apocalyptic tinge to them that is probably worth exploring, in terms of how it was similar and how it was different from earlier apocalyptic movements.

"Hippie" song writers were self aware of this apocalyptic tendency to varying degrees. Joni Mitchell obviously sees its connection to earlier myths when in "Woodstock" she writes:

We are stardust
We are golden
And we've got to get ourselves
Back to the garden

I am sure you could come up with many other expressions of this sort of straightforward apocalyptic sentiment. But what is more interesting to me is the writers who were casting a skeptical eye upon such ideas almost as soon as they were being composed. So Blues Image sings:

Seventy-three men sailed up from the San Francisco Bay
Rolled off of their ship, and here's what they had to say
"We're callin' everyone to ride along to another shore
We can laugh our lives away and be free once more"

But no one heard them callin', no one came at all
'Cause they were too busy watchin' those old raindrops fall
As a storm was blowin' out on the peaceful sea
Seventy-three men sailed off to history

(The "captain" here is likely a reference to Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead, who was known as "Captain Trips.")

Here, the "saints" of the New Age fail only because others were not listening. But others are even more skeptical. For instance, we have Roger Whittaker expressing doubt that the promised paradise is coming at all:

Now, everybody talks about a new world in the morning
New world in the morning takes so long

But one of my favorite deflations of the apocalyptic expectations of that time is from Robert Hunter. About halfway through the song "Scarlet Begonias," he writes:

I ain't often right
but I've never been wrong
It seldom turns out the way
it does in the song

And how does it turn out in "the song"?

The wind in the willows played Tea for Two
The sky was yellow and the sun was blue
Strangers stopped strangers
just to shake their hand
Everybody's playing
in the Heart of Gold Band

So Hunter is gently poking fun at the vision of the hippie apocalypse. Not surprisingly, many Grateful Dead fans failed to get the joke, and took the end of the song as a promise of a soon-to-arrive time when everyone will be playing in the "heart of gold band."

There is a lot more to explore here (and with very similar sentiments appearing in Rastafarian music), but I wanted to get my preliminary thoughts down on this topic.


  1. But you tell me
    Over and over and over again, my friend
    Ah, you don't believe
    We're on the eve
    of destruction.


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