When I recall my “hippie” days, it’s the music I remember. I was divorced, alone, living in a rented room near the University of Toronto with a varied assortment of young men and women. I don’t remember the address – the house is probably long gone. But I remember it had a brass plaque on the door observing that the discoverer of insulin once lived there.
I wasn’t an authentic hippie (whatever that was), but I felt like it. I felt like part of a movement. By day, I worked at the Toronto Telegram as a mild-mannered reporter. By night, I sat on the front stoop (in the summer, of course) with a group of fellow-renters and sang rebellious songs.
I don’t sing any more. I have since learned that I have a terrible voice. But nobody enlightened me back then. I raised my voice with theirs and they didn’t utter a word of complaint.
The songs were easy to sing, too. Folk songs they were called. “If I had a hammer” … “Michael row the boat ashore” … “We shall overcome” … “Where have all the flowers gone”…
I don’t remember any of their names, those kids who sang with me. One young man had a guitar. And there was a girl with long, straight, black hair. And a young man who worked for the Ontario government and hated it, a young man who drank a flask of rye on his way from the bus stop to the house every evening, and sometimes struggled up the stone steps on his hands and knees. I could hear him yelling the words of Phil Ochs songs late into the night, long after the rest of us had gone to bed … “I ain’t marching any more” … “Here’s to the land you’ve torn out the heart of, Mississippi find yourself another country to be part of” … “I got eyes like a bat, my feet are flat, and my asthma’s gettin’ worse” …
Looking back, I don’t see what difference we could have made, protesters though we thought ourselves. But we were a small part of a massive groundswell of resistance that was sweeping through the world, and somehow great changes came of it.
I didn’t know it then but most of the songs we sang were from Pete Seeger (above), who died yesterday at the age of 94.
Seeger’s music fueled the protests of the Sixties, following in the tradition of legends like Woody Guthrie, and paving the way for the next generation – Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Leonard Cohen, Gordon Lightfoot …
There are no Pete Seegers today, only the likes of Beyoncé and Jay Z, drunk on love, as they proclaimed at the Grammy Awards (which I had to turn off because the so-called music was fraying my nerve ends). Drunk on love, and not on injustice, not on oppression, not on the cruel inequities of a corrupt society.
That might be what’s wrong with the world, after all. The music died.