Comment: The hippy who made me swing for his supper

Utterly self-serving, the hippies used their ethic to scrounge off others and bully girls into bed

I WAS a free man in Paris, unfettered and alive: after university and before the first real job, sitting around in Left Bank bars, reading Frederick Exley, discovering sex, going to Leo Ferre concerts, running away from my Englishness. It was the early Seventies.

For any young foreigner with literary leanings, the place to hang out was Shakespeare and Company, a rackety second-hand bookshop run by George Whitman, a small, unkempt American with a straggly goatee beard and few teeth. It was how Paris should be, we thought. Upstairs, making tea on a grime-encrusted gas-ring, would be George's house-mother of the moment, usually a plain, sweet American with a slightly tragic past. There were beds in the two book-lined rooms where "young writers" could, in return for work, stay the night and be eaten by the most vicious bedbugs in the city. Photographs of Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti and Corso hung on the walls, and, occasionally, earnest poetry readings would be held. It was all pretty fake; the young writers were as near to being Henry Miller or William Burroughs as George's shop was to Sylvia Beach's original Shakespeare and Company of the Twenties.

One would-be Ernest Hemingway I remember with particular pain. Slightly older and more travelled than we were, he was said to be working on a novel, was widely perceived to be a real writer and was invariably to be found in the company of several admirers. One night, this man - almost certain to have been called Tex - delighted me by asking me to join his group for dinner at a local restaurant. I was less flattered when, having wolfed down their food, my fellow diners did a runner, leaving me with a large bill to pay.

I returned to the bookshop. Tex was nowhere to be found, but his typewriter was there. I considered heaving it into the Seine but, in the end, hid it on top of a cupboard. Then, unwisely, I sat down to wait for him. When he returned, my suggestion that, if he wanted his typewriter back, he should repay me was not well received. He leapt across the room, grabbed me by my hair and whirled me round the room for about five minutes. This tactic, which is a lot less girly and more effective than is generally believed, convinced me quite soon that I cared less for my 100 francs than I had previously thought. Tex got his typewriter back. We haven't stayed in touch.

I find myself thinking of Tex quite often these days. A hippy control freak and counterculture bully who used the spirit of the age for his own ends, he's there when Ken Kesey puts on a nostalgia show at the Barbican, when Hunter S Thompson humiliates some luckless journalist or when Dennis Hopper appears on the cinema screen. His vibe hung over this week's oddest TV documentary, in which Iain Sinclair and Chris Petit explored, in a weird, dislocated fashion, the life and high times of a sinister Sixties figure, Peter Whitehead.

It was all there: the crazy theories, the whiff of paedophilia and misogyny, the cruelty and the exploitation of others. From what one could gather from the doped-up narrative, Whitehead ended up stealing falcon eggs to sell to Arabs and weaving a seedy, self-important story about incest and spying.

For every self-mythologising prat who actually achieved something (a novel, a film, a poem, but rarely much more), there were hundreds of frauds like Tex. Their brains pickled in narcotics, they had a sort of fake articulacy which allowed them to float through life on a sea of pretentiousness and paranoia, spouting crazed theories which they plucked, without any intellectual coherence, from Reich, Krishnamurti, Chomsky, Crowley or the I Ching. Because they seemed to represent freedom from the suburban values which we held in such contempt, the idiocies they spouted were rarely challenged. Utterly self-serving, they used the hippy ethic to scrounge off others and bully girls into bed with them as the brief, early innocence of the mid-Sixties gave way to a creepy, voyeuristic sadism that made victims of the young and gullible.

At the time, I envied them their freedom, the way they let the good times roll whatever the price. Now it's clear that they were smug, beaming would- be fascists whose political commitment was incomparably less interesting or genuine than that of modern protesters, including even the benighted idiots who release mink into the wild in the name of animal rights.

A couple of years ago I visited George Whitman, still holding court and drinking disgusting tea at Shakespeare and Company. Tex, he told me, was caught drug-smuggling and is in a Thailand gaol. I wonder if he ever wrote that novel.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

    Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

    The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
    Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
    Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

    Meet Racton Man

    Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
    Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

    Garden Bridge

    St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

    An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
    Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

    Joint Enterprise

    The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
    Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

    Freud and Eros

    Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum
    France's Front National and the fear of a ‘gay lobby’ around Marine Le Pen

    Front National fear of ‘gay lobby’

    Marine Le Pen appoints Sébastien Chenu as cultural adviser
    'Enhanced interrogation techniques?' When language is distorted to hide state crimes

    Robert Fisk on the CIA 'torture report'

    Once again language is distorted in order to hide US state wrongdoing
    Radio 1’s new chart host must placate the Swifties and Azaleans

    Radio 1 to mediate between the Swifties and Azaleans

    New chart host Clara Amfo must placate pop's fan armies
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'It's life, and not the Forces, that gets you'

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'It's life, and not the Forces, that gets you'

    The head of Veterans Aid on how his charity is changing perceptions of ex-servicemen and women in need
    Torture: It didn't work then, it doesn't work now

    Torture: It didn't work then, it doesn't work now

    Its use is always wrong and, despite CIA justifications post 9/11, the information obtained from it is invariably tainted, argues Patrick Cockburn