The term "hippie" often brings to mind an image of flowing blonde locks adorned with flowers, VW buses adorned with flowers, and polyester bellbottoms adorned with, yes, more flowers. But for Alice Finer, who grew up in an urban hippie commune in the 1970s, the hippie generation is defined by an earnest desire to create social change. She talked to the Source about her childhood and the legacy of her mother's generation.
Source Weekly: What was it like to grow up on a hippie commune? How did you come to live there?
Alice Finer: My mother, a young British physician, made her way to Chicago in 1960 right after medical school. She became involved with a group called the Medical Committee for Human Rights and spent the '60s intensely politically active. She treated Martin Luther King, Jr., for a sore throat in the medical tent during a march, rallied at countless anti-Vietnam War protests and marches on Washington, [worked the] medical tent at Woodstock (mostly bad acid trips and dehydration apparently)—you get the idea.
She had lived communally before becoming a single mother of two (very much by design) in Brooklyn and wanted me and my older brother to grow up with the experience of cooperative living and a variety of adult influences. In the mid-70s she got a group together, mostly young activists she met through the local food co-op. In my 4-year-old mind they were all social workers. There was a rotation of housemates, some who lived with us briefly and some for years, until we stopped living communally right around when I started high school, though the "communal" nature of the group—shared cooking, shopping, chores and the like—became less and less in the later years.
SW: What aspects of your hippie upbringing do you carry with you, and which do/did you rebel against?
AF: It's no surprise that the hippie generation begot Gen X. I was all irony and eye rolls. Earnestness is still a challenge for me. You grow up with no meat, sugar, or salt and you can imagine the kinds of foods you crave. That said, I've come full circle on a lot of things. I sometimes eat tofu. Sometimes, I even make it.
SW: How did that experience shape your view of the world?
AF: I think any one would benefit from being raised around passionate, socially and politically aware people. And being that my brother and I were the only children in the household, the conversations around the dinner table weren't dumbed down for us. If we wanted to participate, we had to keep up. I'm grateful for that
SW: What does "hippie" mean to you? Is it specific to a time/place or can someone born in the 1990s be a hippie?
AF: I think it comes back to earnestness. In my experience, the movement came out of a sincere passion for social change, environmental issues, gender and racial equality, ending the Vietnam War—and a willingness to do something about it. You can find that passion in people from every generation. The style/lifestyle/culture/counterculture that came along with my mother's generation of activists was definitely co-opted by many who were far less motivated at the time and in subsequent generations.
SW: Are there different types of hippies?
AF: Again, it's style versus substance. Some might say that the "hippies" for whom it's all style shouldn't be described as such.
SW: Do "real" hippies use that word to describe themselves, or is self-identification as a hippie a sure sign of a poser? AF: I'm immediately suspicious of anyone who self-identifies as something so nebulous. As for the members of the commune, I do not recall the word being used much around the house, not that they would have been offended being referred to as such.
SW: What do you think are the most common misconceptions about hippies? Should we, as a culture, take them more seriously?
AF: Probably that it was all sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll. It was certainly an important part of the movement, but all of that came out of real social revolution on many fronts that were deeply felt to be desperate at the time.
SW: As the original hippies are getting older, do you think hippie culture is dying out? Or is it simply transforming?
AF: I think there are hippie equivalents, in the spirit that the movement formed, in many corners. But as a cohesive culture I think it's very fragmented if not entirely dead. In it's modern representation, it's become more of a caricature.
SW: What is the opposite of a hippie?
AF: A hipster. All self-conscious, self-motivated, and self-promoting. Or a hedge fund manager.
SW: Would you consider living on a commune again?
AF: I cherish having my own space and I think I'm too specific (read: intolerant) a person to make the compromises that it takes to live that way. However, I would love to have a lot of very close friends as neighbors in some sort of Melrose Place-like complex.
SW: Have you read The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test?
AF: Yes, but I was probably too young to fully understand it.
SW: How do you feel about patchouli?
AF: I do not feel good about it.
SW: How do you feel about the Grateful Dead performing their final show?
AF: They're still playing?