punks, hippies

Composite by Keith Hickey.

When I was young, very young, like 8 years old, I wanted to have long hair. Not really long hair, but long enough to cover my ears and at least touch my collar. It was 1968 and there was a new culture emerging in America—it was a counter-culture. It was ill-defined because it didn’t know what it was supposed to be. It was a work in progress and it included long hair and peace and love and lots and lots of flowers, and I had a very strong feeling that I wanted to be a part of it even at 8 years old. I was in catholic school and I was a boy scout, hardly the sort of place where one could or should express their individualism—these places were bastions of conformity and traditions. Most people cling to conformity. It’s a safe place, a place where blending in is easy. All the rules are known. No need test what has already been tested, no need to make waves, take your lead from the others around you, do as they do and everything should be right as rain. But history shows us that nature is also filled with individuals who are compelled to rock the boat, individuals who are willing to swim against the tide and even risk drowning to express themselves as individuals. I am one of those people.

I made the best attempt I could to get out of getting a haircut using all the dodges possible: time to do my paper route, time for wrestling practice, time to mow the lawn, and time to do homework. It actually worked for a while. My parents pulled me out of catholic school when they finally realized just how badly I was being physically abused, so now I was in a more mainstream setting. I quit the Boy Scouts and sports and got my first pair of bell-bottom pants and looked forward to the time when they began to wear out so I could adorn them with patches. Things were looking up.

Also about the same time, the counter-culture started to be seen as a bona fide threat to all that was pleasant in Pleasantville. Many of the young people who had been selected to risk life and limb to protect democracy in Asia wanted no part of it and began violently protesting. Most of these people had long hair and bell-bottoms and were referred to as “hippies.” My conservative father recognized the signs of them in me and the bell-bottom pants were replaced with straight-legged, polyester pants and my newly emerging long hair was replaced with an extremely short crew cut. I literally cried off and on for days.

Time passed and I remained under the rule of my father for another 10 years. He softened a lot over those years, growing wiser with experience and coming to realize those bastions of tradition and conformity were not always right, often not what they appeared to be, and were sometimes the opposite of the costumes they wore. My hair was allowed to grow a little longer over time and eventually reached my shoulders and the bell-bottoms were 90 percent patches, the denim underneath barely visible.  

As I mentioned earlier, I am a nonconformist by nature. I love watching boundaries being pushed and as a result of the push seeing change acting more fearless than ever. And then it came: The British Invasion. From another place in the world the youth of that culture arrived on our shores with rainbow-colored Mohawk hairdos, pins thru their cheeks, super-tight pants tattoos, mosh pits and a new style of radical rebellious music. I was blown away. Nowadays, nobody hardly blinks if you see a middle-aged woman with bright pink hair or young adults with tattoos from hair to heels, bullrings in their noses and big loops in their earlobes. Society as a whole has become more tolerant of change.

When I grew up, a husband and wife by FCC law could not be shown in bed together. Now, many TV shows often resemble soft porn and are continually pushing that boundary. People of the LGBTQ community and their behavior became main stream in a single generation. Dress codes at work have loosened considerably. Flagstaff not too long ago hosted a “Free the Nipple” protest and many cities host “Nude Bicycle Day,” along with other bawdy events. But it is much more than these things individually, something far greater has been ushered in: tolerance and acceptance of others and their lifestyles. It took a very long time to change things about my generation, but this generation is accepting change at a much faster pace than mine did. This generation is brave. This generation is fearless in its acceptance of others, and as a result we are building a more diverse and colorful world.

If you were born in the 1990s or beyond, none of the fashion freedoms—what you are experiencing nowadays—probably seem like no big deal. But if you were born long before then, you would see just how radical and far-reaching the change has been. I am so grateful to those who dared to be different. I applaud you all. Peace out for now, from a very grateful old hippie.

John Stebila is married to fellow artist Suzanne Stebila and they share two beautiful children together. He is a retired businessman, a landscape sculptor, wood carver, professional musician, artist and writer. John writes for the sole purpose of bringing peace and insight to those that read his work.

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