Growing up in a purple haze; Flower power may have wilted, but the movement's grown-up children are taking over the music business.
Thursday 13 April 1995
Back then, parents invariably had names like Bert and Doris (eg Keith Richards) or Abram and Beatrice (Bob Dylan). They didn't like noisy music, so they kept well back from their offspring's careers. If necessary they were excommunicated. In extreme cases (Jim Morrison of the Doors) they were pronounced dead, just to be on the safe side.
The hippie dream that enveloped music in the late 1960s and early 1970s changed that for ever. While key hippie events such as Woodstock, Monterey and John & Yoko's notorious "bed-ins" for peace are in retrospect pragmatically viewed as monumental calamities of style and taste, there is one point that many overlook. Almost all hippies conceived children somewhere along the line. Those children grew up in the eye of the hippie hurricane - nudity, LSD and all - not just in America, but in England, even in Iceland. The music business is starting to see the results.
The singer Bjorkinvoked the curmudgeonly spirit of Absolutely Fabulous's own resident hippie progeny Saffron when she spoke to Arena magazine recently of her "hardcore" hippie upbringing. "I was the only child, and there were seven people living in the house," Bjork recalled. "They all had long hair and listened to Jimi Hendrix all day long, and everything was painted purple, so I've got a purple allergy now. Can you imagine, being brought up by seven grown-ups who all hate work, and all they want to do is play games with you all day long and tell you four-hour stories and make kites? But I was about seven when I said, `OK, enough of all this bollocks.' "
Now 29, Bjork rejected the indolence and the tedium of hippie life, although not the whole package. "I've been breast-fed on all those things, which is good," she said. "Like, I know that acupuncture works. And I know for sure that the body has seven energy centres. But 90 per cent of all that hippie stuff is just bullshit."
Nor did Bjork's musical career (which began at the age of 11) show any remotely hippie trademarks until recently. Starting out in punk bands, she later fronted a wilfully perverse Icelandic art-rock group called the Sugarcubes. It was only with her jazzy, macrobiotic-sounding 1993 solo album, Debut, that Bjorkwas perceived to be tapping into a New Age way of thinking. In truth, she is much more flexible: fashion spreads on one hand, her own Spitting Image puppet on the other.
Kristin Hersh, guitarist and singer with the American rock group Throwing Muses, was raised partly on a hippie commune in Rhode Island. Allen Ginsberg wrote a poem for her when she was three. She told the NME in 1986: "I was the only child apart from another little boy who used to visit. In order for it to be a legal institution they had to call it a `college', which it wasn't because they were on acid all the time. Someone tried to write `Be Together' on the wall, but he was almost brain-dead so it said `Be a Tog-Eater'. That's where I learnt to spell."
Hersh's best friend (and later step-sister) Tanya Donelly, who fronts the band Belly, recalled her own childhood to Liz Evans for the book Women, Sex and Rock 'n' Roll. "There was a lot of nudity, a lot of drugs and a lot of very strange situations," she said. "Although I have to stress that my parents were very good parents." While Hersh and Donelly both remain on very good terms with their families, the music they each make exhibits no hippie values whatsoever. Indeed, far from writing optimistic anthems about getting together in fields, they are both renowned for writing highly imaginative, often disturbing and discordant songs about fear and craziness.
Donelly perceives a direct link between her songs and her childhood. "I have been left with a lot of images I wish I didn't have," she told Evans. "Pictures that won't go away. I think if I didn't have music as an outlet I would definitely be in therapy." Donelly's parents rejected the hippie lifestyle in the late 1970s.
Courtney Love, leader of the band Hole and widow of Kurt Cobain, was born with authentic hippie connections: her father Hank (whom she has since disowned) was in the entourage of the rock band The Grateful Dead. She told the US magazine Spin, "My mother had ties to a lot of the women around the San Francisco hippie scene, like Ken Kesey's wife and the Magic Bus people." When Love was seven, her mother moved her to a "hippie mansion" in Oregon. "All these hippies are there doing Gestalt therapy, running around the swimming-pool naked, screaming. My mom was also adamant about a gender-free household: no dresses, no patent-leather shoes..."
Like Hersh and Donelly, Love was noticeably absent from the line-up of last summer's Woodstock '94, a spurious, mud-swamped attempt to interest America's oft-discussed Generation X in rekindling 1969's long-dead hippie spark for a weekend of peace and music in the Nineties. Other than mud and the presence of Joe Cocker, there was little similarity between the two festivals. The original Woodstock had been a backdrop for protests against Nixon and Vietnam. At Woodstock '94 the loudest complaint was that there was no beer on site.
The audiences for Hersh, Donelly and Courtney Love are infinitely less gullible and - in keeping with the subject matter of these artists' songs - markedly more downbeat and depressive. All three attract committed followings and by speaking regularly and openly of their livesare recognised as serious writers with unusual backgrounds.
Over in England, life was much more sedate for the sons and daughters of hippies. Too sedate, in fact, for the parents of young Saul Hudson in Stoke-on-Trent. They moved to Los Angeles when Saul was still a boy - his father designed album sleeves for artists such as Joni Mitchell, while his mother made clothes for, among others, David Bowie. Growing up in such company, Saul decided a name change was in order. He became Slash, soon-to-be lead guitarist of Guns N' Roses. "I was given total freedom all the time," he recalled to Q magazine recently. "I used to not come home for weeks." Unfortunately, the clichs and emotional vacancies of Guns N' Roses' music suggest that it wouldn't particularly have mattered where - or under what circumstances - Slash grew up.
The mild-mannered English hippie lifestyle also gave birth to the brilliant and shocking singer Polly Jean Harvey, who grew up in a household in the West Country devoted to music and sculpture,and Blur's Damon Albarn, whose fatherwas an important cog in the underground music scene of late Sixties London, working with the rock band Soft Machine.Albarn, arguably more than any of his musical peers, grew up level-headed and richer for his experiences.
"Pop culture was never something new to me," he told Q last December. "It never served as a reference point for rebellion. I was always allowed to stay up late and stay around at parties with people smoking dope... so that never had any allure." It holds no allure for Albarn as a writer, either. The songs he writes for Blur are peopled by precisely those who do not rebel: commuters, shell-suit families, chronic suburbanites. And Blur's imaginative pop songs are as far removed from cod hippie psychology or the genre's legendarily endless guitar jams as it's possible to get.
If hippie children are to rebel these days, they are faced with two main choices. Firstly, like Saffron or Michael J Fox's character in the US sitcom Family Ties, they can grow into priggish, conservative adolescents. Or, like Jeff Buckley - son of the late American singer Tim Buckley - they can elect to do their old man's job even better than he did. The highly rated Buckley was born in 1966 and, in his own words, "raised on marijuana and rock 'n' roll". A swaggering, bohemian double-take of Buckley Snr (whom he met only twice before his death in 1975), Jeff bristles at comparisons with his father, insisting that "the cult around a dead person is ravenous and irrational to a point where I detest nostalgia as a leading punch. Now's the time. Now."
At least you can say one thing about the children of hippies. They certainly make entertaining interviewees.
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