The opening line of my profile is: "First, I was a hippie. I danced whether there was music or not."
I know now, having spent most of today thinking about this, and remembering all kinds of things, that that's not entirely true. There were some lives before being a hippie and here they are:
First, there was Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse and Estes Kefauver.
The year was 1956 and I wanted to watch the MICKEY MOUSE CLUB, but the Democratic National Convention was on every channel. (All three of them.) People were yelling about votes, and the great State of Blah, Blah. I was pissed and I told my mother so. She said "Maybe you should watch, you'll learn something."
I was nine. I watched. I learned that politics involved adults acting oddly and that Estes Kefauver was a name that was an awful lot of fun to shout out loud. Pretty confusing though, Davy Crockett, another Disney character who was appearing on TV on Sunday nights also wore the same hat as Estes Kefauver. My uncle Marty, the first adult who ever took me seriously, explained that Davy and Estes were both from Tennesse, but Estes was just using the hat to get votes. That was my first inking that politicians would do stuff to get votes. I had a Davy Crockett hat, but I was for Dwight David Eisenhower because I thought it was fun to say "I like Ike." (I still have some of the campaign buttons.)
Talk at our dinner table, we were five kids and Mom and Pop, always involved the news. We got three newspapers a day at our door; in the morning, the Hartford Courant, (pronounced Current) and in the afternoons, the Hartford Times and our hometown, Manchester Herald. My parents, after the meal was done and the coffee was on, would read through the afternoon papers and comment on whatever it was they found. My sisters and brother , the older ones and I, were all allowed to chime in and talk. (The youngest boy. five years younger than me, was pulling his own weight when he reached the age of nine or so.) There is no greater lure into reading than having the people you love do it with you.
Now it was 1957, things were happening. There was talk about another steel strike. Pop was worried, he worked for Hamilton Standard Aircraft and the plant had had to shut down a few years before for several weeks of strike. He blamed the Democrats. My mother was a thick
Irish Catholic Massachusetts Democrat and always put up a good argument. There had been no pay, she said, because there was no union. I was ten. These words flew around my head like birds. (The strike, btw, came not long after, seemed to last a long time and my father joined the union.)
I read all three papers everyday. I did. I loved to read. It was around about that time that I got in trouble for just walking out of school and going over the library, sitting there and reading. School was terriffically boring and I wanted to read all of the biographies. I think I read them all and all of the Hardy Boys books.
Three things then happened at about the same time: I read the biography of Booker T. Washington, I watched on TV as firehoses were used against black people who trying to register to vote and my sister's friends began to come over to our house to sing and play guitars. Now, in our family, we sang all the time. My mother loved it. The sisters and I (not really much of a voice on the brother who ended up a priest. He's much better now.) sang three part harmony while we did the dishes, we sang along with the radio and on the frozen pond down the hill at Center Springs. With the group at the house, we sang folk songs.
I'm eleven. I'm singing songs about coal miners, mighty hard roads and "Which side are you on, boys?" I bought my first guitar. $11.00!! And every day in the newspapers, there was something else being said about the situation in the South that my mother saw as no different than the way the Catholics were being treated in Northern Ireland. I sang a lot of "Foggy Dew" and other songs about various people going to the gallows bravely. My Protestant father with the British name would grimly read the sports section in search of Boston Red Sox victories. So, in that respect, we were all on the side of the underdogs of this life.
And that's where I've stayed all these years, on the side of the underdog. In Catholic schools, where I was a trial to the faith and perseverance of all the Sisters, the phrase "Whatsosever you do to the least of my breathren, you do unto me." rang out to me like Jefferson's firebell in the night**.
In America, at least for the past hundred years, it has been the Progressive Liberals who have led the way towards increasing the most power to the most people. I can remember when there were such people in both
of the major parties. So I stood with them and marched with them and sang with them.
And that's when I became a hippie.
Joe(and began the dance I'm still dancing)Nation
(For those who aren't familiar with the tale: Thomas Jefferson is supposedly quoted as saying that when he realized he had written the US Constitution without delineating a Bill of Rights, the danger to the Republic rang out to him like a firebell in the night.)