Both of these pieces are part of a larger project I’ve taken to calling Old Hippie in Training. Earlier this year, I racked my brain for stories, knowing I’d have to write them up in the near future. I kept on coming back to my experiences with, well, old hippies. I realized how much they had influenced me and that some of the most important knowledge I’ve gathered over the years came directly from them.
The first piece deals with one of the few remaining bastions aged hippie community, what one Village Voice comic called “The American Association of Retired Potheads,” the bizarre world of #9, a building inhabited by a man I’m calling Willard Deal. The piece deals with an issue I’ve always dealt with, and something I consider a defining characteristic of the so-called information age. Ours is a time when we pick and choose historical trends at will, whipping them up together stripped of all contexts. There are moments when I really don’t know where I am chronologically. At #9, time stood still. It’s so easy to get lost in history when one loses their frame of reference. It isn’t until a cell phone goes off or a video off YouTube is casually mentioned in conversation that you’re reminded what present day even is. Let’s face it, when we talk about modern art, we’re talking about something that happened a century ago. We’re living in the future, and it’s a mind-fuck.
The second piece, “Make More” deals with the emotional toll of intergenerational, mentor/protégé relationships. My good friend Mayer, who taught me how to copyedit, how to write news stories, and so much more is just as flawed as he is brilliant. He was also a major point of contention between me and “Willard”. Depressed since the late 70s, and unable to breathe properly since the early 90s, Mayer deteriorated into a serious alcoholic and addict. Often using the refrain “codependent and proud of it,” he insisted that those closest to him not only enable his vices, but enable his depression. Between moments of pure human misery, though, his genius shined through. That’s what kept me coming back, kept me running his errands, and listening to his stories: a nearly-complete oral history of the Yippie movement as well as forty-plus years working in the underground and mainstream press. In both stories, time stands still. I didn’t plan this, but through the editing process it became clear that time is at the center of these stories. It may seem obvious now, but so does all of the past.
There are other stories and other old hippies who I’m seriously gun-ho about documenting. The world keeps changing, they grow even older, and a lot are dying out. I have no grand illusions about preserving their legacies, all of these people are public figures anyway, but still I feel obliged enough to write these stories.
- December, 2011, NYC