Hippie by Lee Martin
Hippie is Gloucestershire-born adventurer Lee Martin’s “metaphysical pseudo-biography”. It is a first-person narrative of Martin’s teenage and adult years, focusing on his experiences of some of the key moments in the hippie cultural phenomenon; including the 1967 Summer of Love and Woodstock in the US, along with the Stonehenge and Windsor Free Festivals in the U.K. during the 1970s and ‘80s. Dedicating his book to “anyone who wants to break free from the banality of convention,” Martin defines being hippie as having an understanding of the unique zest for life that comes with travel, and of “the relevance of music and certain types of plant life.”
Psychedelics are certainly more intrinsic to the hippie lifestyle, as portrayed in Martin’s book, than this description suggests. Indeed, Hippie’s passages on psychoactives are arguably its greatest strength. There is an impressive pharmacopoeia within its 261 pages and many of the narrative’s anecdotal highlights are fueled by psychedelic substances consumed round campfires. A mushroom trip in the Forest of Dean which leads to a chillingly gothic paranormal encounter is a particular treat.
Centralizing the role of psychedelics in Hippie still further, Martin’s story is set in motion when he swallows an acid-soaked sugar cube aged 13. His first trip is full of glorious horseback-riding imagery which he revisits to poignant effect in subsequent chapters. When it ends, he is left holding the feather of a passenger pigeon, a romanticized, extinct migratory bird species. This tangible memento from his juvenile psychedelic experience sets the tone of the rest of the text, serving as an extended metaphor for Martin’s budding wanderlust.
The acid-derived pigeon feather serves two an additional key literary functions: it precipitates Martin’s decision to make for the open road, smuggled in some blankets on the back of a horse-drawn vardo, thus beginning his literal and metaphorical journey. Secondly, its manifestation post-trip usefully blurs the lines between the psychedelically-inspired and the real. Elements which could all-too-easily be confined (by the reader’s classification) to one or other camp – such as hallucinations and the emotions, and the relationships and destination changes they inspire – are all equally pivotal to the plot progression throughout Hippie. The acceptance of conceptual oneness with which this story is meant to be read is thus established from the get-go.
Martin’s travels enable him to render personal, eyewitness accounts of many important episodes in the evolution of counterculture. Events such as the Battle of the Beanfield, as seen through Martin’s eyes, differ refreshingly and substantially from their portrayal in the tabloids: “suddenly [the police] came at us with truncheons and riot shields”. Indeed, the media-fueled evolution of anti-hippie sentiment is a phenomenon which Martin explores in detail throughout Hippie, charting the formation (and demonisation) of the “hippie” stereotype in step with the unfolding of his comparatively authentic experiences.
Hippie sheds light on a sinister flipside of anti-hippie sentiment: the ease with which the hippie aesthetic and its fun trappings have, and continue to be, co-opted by commercial enterprises which have lost sight of its ideological underpinnings. Also enlightening is Martin’s discussion of the extent to which the “thirty-pieces-of-silver hacks” and the tabloids have actively shaped hippie culture, not only by means of negative stereotyping, but by providing stimuli, like war, for them to react against in culturally defining ways: “You can’t talk about hippies without mentioning peace protesters because they intermingle and become one another at times.”
Although some powerful, nuanced defences of hippie ideology come from Hippie’s more cerebral passages, their presence contributes to a tension between the several writing styles in the text. It turns out that a “metaphysical pseudo-biography” necessarily pulls in tropes and tones from multiple genres: Hippie is at turns a novel, a flowery philosophical reverie and a political commentary. The storytelling strand of Hippie is its best one. Its other stylistic elements sometimes present as abrasive and substantial interjections that break up the psychedelic prose, akin to being catapulted mid-chapter from the cozy flow of a good novel into a bracing (if righteous) polemic.
For the most part, however, Hippie is a satisfying read which operates successfully on both of its intended levels: as a “history of the hippie phenomenon” and as an autobiography – just avoid developing a strong preference for the writing style that pertains to either. Befitting a personal memoir, it brims with witty characterizations and relatable reflections. In its provision of a timeline, the text successfully evades the danger of reading like a checklist of historical hippie moments, whilst nevertheless providing a useful chronological overview.
Martin’s book joins up the dots: his personal narrative functioning as a connective thread which helps the reader to situate iconicized festivals, demonstrations and the traveller / new-age lifestyles within a schematic conception of the countercultural movement as a whole. In this sense, Hippie is a vivaciously engaging improvement on a history textbook, ideal for anyone who wishes to vicariously experience the formative years of hippie culture at the same time as learning about its roots.
Hippie (Gatecrasher Books: 2016) is available as an ebook / paperback from: http://thehippiebook.com/