Aquarian Revolution

In the late 1990s, I pursued a project that called to me, which was to interview people of the 60s generation who lived in Northwest Arkansas. Many of these were immigrants to the area, the hippies, the drop-outs, the radicals. They came from New York, Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles, New Orleans, and bought cheap Arkansas land where they could build lives with meaning. Some of the interviewees were locals, also of the Baby Boom generation who saw, rightly, that “the times, they were a changin’.”

What I found in common among those interviewed was a profound understanding that they and the rest of this cohort were responsible for what the future would become. Each acting passionately in his or her own way in arenas of personal interest, these people brought important changes to the region and the world. Whether protecting the environment, furthering the rights of women or racial minorities, or opening their hearts to so many other problems, these were the engines of social changes that are still being fought in our politics.

Often the topic of heated rhetoric and armchair analysis, those who went ‘back to the land’ are rarely heard in their own voice. Now documented in these breathtakingly honest, personal interviews, their stories reveal the guts, glory, and grief of the 1960s social revolution.

Paperback, $12.95, Amazon

His Inner Search

Furthur is a 1939 International Harvester school bus purchased by author Ken Kesey in 1964 to carry his “Merry Band of Pranksters” cross-country, filming their counterculture adventures as they went. The bus featured prominently in Tom Wolfe‘s 1968 book The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test but, due to the chaos of the trip and editing difficulties, footage of the journey was not released as a film until the 2011 documentary Magic Trip.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, an exodus from the cities brought hundreds of new settlers to the Arkansas Ozarks. Their personal stories are testaments to an awakening shared by many of the Baby Boom generation, personal and communal. This interview is one of 32 personal stories gathered in 1999-2000, and published in Aquarian Revolution: Back to the Land.

I didn’t like the way I was treated as a kid. I was beaten regularly. I don’t think I’ve cried since I was seven years old, because if I cried, they would beat me with a leather strap until I stopped crying. I had a bleeding ulcer from age twelve until it healed up after I left home right before my eighteenth birthday. I had a shrink and a probation officer trying to get me out of my house legally.

I ran away at thirteen and was involved with a stolen car. I remember when we ditched the car, this other kid I was with, he was fifteen, big kid. We were on our way to pick up some fake plates and police chased us because they recognized him so we dumped the car. We jumped out of the car doing about 45 mph, leaving my guitar case and suitcase with birth certificate, everything telling them who I was, and we ran, picked up a third guy, jumped on a bus to Baltimore, blew all the money we had, started hitchhiking. We were on our way to California. The police picked us up at two a.m. on the highway. I never gave them my name. I was planning on breaking out of jail.  I can remember when I was riding that bus, I was thinking about my parents and how much I loved them, but I just couldn’t stand to live with them.

That was about the time I started getting high. A lot of things were about to break then, one way or another. It was either going to come out of me in violence, or… I think I found a channel to do it naturally and just chill out. Just reach in. 

They made me see a shrink when I was thirteen because of the stolen car. He said I was afraid to express myself with my dad and that’s why, if anybody crossed me, I’d be right on them. After thirteen, I was getting into a lot of trouble. I was a practical joker who did things I probably shouldn’t have been doing, but I did it with a smile. I had my destructive period. One night three of us smashed a car that was parked alongside the road. We used sticks and rocks and beat it in. Totaled it. Those were heavy years.

I think it was being able to smoke that pulled me out of it. My friends were mostly tough guys, had attitudes. By the time I was seventeen, I had started to drift off with the ones who didn’t.  I remember violence on TV, violence was everywhere. It was either protests or Vietnam. At sixteen, if anyone defied me, I would be down their throat in a second. One time a teacher put me in the front seat of the class, wouldn’t let me sleep. I was, man, you won’t let me sleep, what kind of a deal is this? I might have been getting a D at that point, but I didn’t care about that class. He put me in the front seat, banged my shoulder or something, made me wake up and started talking to me, I told him to leave me alone and he did something else to irritate me, and I jumped out of my seat, grabbed him by the lapels, dragged him across his desk, and smashed him into the blackboard in front of the whole class, and said “Leave me the fuck alone.” So of course they threw me out of school instantly.

That was my attitude with anybody. People would come to me from the grade ahead, bigger kids than me, and say hey, this guy’s doing this and that, and I’d go confront him. And I wouldn’t just confront him and intimidate him with anger, I’d put it into words. I’d say something to them that they couldn’t argue with. I didn’t want to argue with anybody, but if you’re going to argue with me, stand back or get out of the way, save yourself. My dad didn’t think I was a man because I wouldn’t be angry with him and fight back. Yet I’d go out and fight and do all this.

Coming out of that, I started being friends with all the teachers I had given trouble. My shrink might have been talking with my parents then. I had two shrinks, one my mother took me to and one that came to my school once a month. I had a probation officer, too. First time I went to the shrink, I sat to talk to him, and he said, ok. Then I went out and he talked to my mom. I come back in and sit down and he looked at me and said, K–, I cannot talk to your mom.

She was so headstrong. You did as she said or whack, or twist your ear. Most of my physical abuse was from my mom. It reached a point with my mom that I was more verbal. By the time I was ten or so, my mom didn’t scare me.

I ended up getting married my senior year. I was moving out. I’d run away another time, it was the third time. It wasn’t like running away. I was walking back and forth with my clothes, patting my mom on the back, saying it’s ok Mrs. C–, it’s ok.  I was outta there. My wife’s parents took me in. The probation people were trying to get me out of my house before I was eighteen, if I could find somebody. They knew that anything was better than where I was. As hard as I might have been trying, chilling out, it was hard pretty much to the end.

Finally, I argued back with my dad and that was it. I made a quick exit because he just wanted to knock my block off. I think that changed him. He kind of stopped by the time I was seventeen, eighteen, when I was working for his business doing electrical. …


Now retired from a successful self-employed career, the subject of this interview moved to Hawaii where he has opened a meditation retreat. Read the rest of his compelling story, available for only $4.99 (ebook) or $11.32 (paperback), at Amazon

Talkin’ About My Generation

Last week a friend posted on his Facebook page a Boston Globe guest article by Bruce Cannon Gibney, author of a book released today, March 7. The article summarizes Mr. Gibney’s polemic entitled A Generation of Sociopaths: How The Baby Boomers Betrayed America.

Apparently failing at careers as a hedge fund manager and attorney, Mr. Gibney now claims to be an author. In choosing an inflammatory topic, perhaps he hopes to igniting interest and hence, sales.

I doubt he’ll gain either. The target of his scorn, the Boomer generation, are the primary buyers of books and there’s little chance they’ll spend money to hear his half-baked allegations.

Gibney, like my young friend who praised the article as “what he’d been waiting for,” has fallen for a half century of corporate propaganda meant to discredit Boomers.

In defense of my generation, here are a few rebuttals to his claims:

The author claims:

In 1971, Alan Shepard was playing golf on the moon. Today, America can’t put a man into orbit (or, allegedly, the Oval Office) without Russian assistance.

The truth is that Russian/American cooperation in space programs saves both nations money and furthers efforts to discover distant worlds, investigate dark matter, and watch for potentially deadly asteroids that may need to be diverted from direct impact. We are, after all, one planet facing a daunting universe. Space program advances not only include men and women living in space but also such amazing technological feats as the Hubble telescope.

The author states:

Improvidence is reflected in low levels of savings and high levels of bankruptcy. 

Assertions are free, so Gibney spends nothing but his credibility asserting that this state of affairs rests solely on some deficiency of the boomer generation and has nothing to do with old-money one-percenters and corporate profiteering over fifty years of gobbling up an increasing share of the economy.

Further, he states:

Interpersonal failures and unbridled hostility appeared in unusually high levels of divorce and crime from the 1970s to early 1990s. 

Hard to know how crime and divorce should be considered jointly, but here’s the thing about divorce. Until women gained better footing in the job market circa 1970s, divorce meant losing financial support. Women stayed with abusive husbands who, like Don Draper of “Mad Men,” caroused at their pleasure while the little woman stayed home to suck it up.

As far as rising crime rates, one only must look at the Nixon/Reagan drug war to figure out why the numbers went through the roof. Drug prohibition creates flourishing criminal markets and a marketplace that can only be policed by underworld gangs. It’s been 80+ years since alcohol prohibition, apparently too long for us to remember the lessons it taught us.

Gibney continues:

[Boomers] were the first generation to be raised permissively, the first reared on television and subject to its developmental harms, and the only living group raised in an era of seemingly effortless prosperity. 

Few of the Boomer generations escaped physical punishment by parents and teachers, so this idea of being raised ‘permissively’ is Gibney’s fantasy. We were also raised with regular schoolhouse drills to hide under our desks if nuclear war erupted. So much for the laissez-faire childhood the author imagines.

As far as ‘developmental harms’ caused by television, granted Boomers weren’t out in the fields each day hoeing cotton. But television made them more aware than any previous generation of the world around them—the plight of children starving in Africa, the devastation of the environment, and the butchery of war, a war that plucked brothers, lovers, and classmates up from whatever they were doing and dropped them into a fetid jungle with napalm and guerilla fighters. The world suddenly wasn’t what they’d been told, all those fairy tales about happy endings and the greatness of America. Watching their illusions die on television screens motivated Boomers to try to make America what the Founders had promised.

The author continues:

 In the 1970s, the older establishment had already begun bending to boomer power, though not always cravenly enough, a problem boomers resolved by becoming the establishment itself.

Patently absurd. The older generation never bent to boomer power. It bowed up as Boomers tried to stop the war, stop environmental destruction, and gain liberty and justice for minorities, disabled and women, not only beating demonstrators (and at Kent State killing  them), but more pervasively by sending them to jail. The drug war specifically targeted Boomers and provided a government tool to disenfranchise, bankrupt, and discredit an entire generation.

Gibney evidently has zero understanding how Boomers transformed from the materialism embedded in 50s upbringing to a New Age of awareness. Mind-altering drugs along with the events of the times fostered a change in consciousness. Boomers walked away from corporate jobs, fancy houses, and the latest fashion in shoes.

Nothing could have terrified the corporations more. Their entire marketplace was at risk of going bankrupt. Together with government already in bed with the military-industrial complex, corporate power brokers destroyed what they could of the Boomer generation’s credibility and co-opted the rest. By the end of the 70s, ‘hippie’ had become a dirty word.

So no, the “older establishment” did not bend. They came back with Reagan and it’s been a street fight ever since.

The author conveniently skips over the 80s when Reagan handed a death sentence to worker unions and then Geo W Bush followed on his heels, both the manifestation of corporate power and ‘older establishment” control. To claim that Clinton served the selfish Boomer agenda with disastrous results is simply making it up as you go along.

But hey, this guy has a book to sell.

Gibney tries to have it both ways as he explains that all the excesses, failures, and wrongheadedness currently facing the nation is a result of this sociopathic generation when in fact every possible side of politics and social attitudes can be found within this large population of people. To claim that despite the staggering diversity of the generation, they somehow all arrived at a more or less equal degree of selfishness and shortsightedness is clear evidence that Gibney has a theory in need of real facts.

He states, for example, that

The 1 percent is, by definition, just 1 percent, unable to dictate national policy on its own.

But that’s exactly what the one percent does with ownership of the jobs, real estate, and the wealth upon which the other 99% must depend for survival. It also owns the government, most assuredly since the SCOTUS decided that corporations had the same rights as real people.

In his desperation to bend reality to support his paper-thin thesis, Gibney states that

Reagan lowered taxes on income while raising them on capital gains (when boomers had salaries but not portfolios)

as if Reagan, hero of the aging Silent Majority, suddenly reversed his position and catered to the Boomers.

Then there’s Gibney’s outrageous claim that the increase of the national debt is due to Boomer extravagance while he ignores all the other factors that have created the debt, towering above all else the corporate exodus to third world countries for cheap labor and lack of environmental regulations.

The author states:

Finding decent growth requires stretching all the way back to the 1990s, and even so, the 1990s barely edged out 1970s’ squalor on a per capita GDP basis. Thanks to boomer policies, the new normal is 1.6 percent real growth, well below the 2.5 to 3.5 percent rates prevailing from the 1950s to the 1980s. For the young, the price will be incomes 30 percent to 50 percent lower than they could have been.

In truth, real growth has been dropping as the nation exploited the vast trove of natural resources gained when settlers killed off the native population. Within a relatively short time, the gold and silver was mined, most of the forests cut, and natural fisheries depleted. A modest growth spurt occurred with the development of technologies that produced food without armies of people hoeing crops or steel girders without men scorching their faces as they poured molten metal into molds. The downside was that with each wonderful technical advancement, people lost jobs. As more and more jobs fell to technology and cheap foreign labor overseas, more of the per capita GDP dropped.

The author’s whine is loud and long. ‘If only’ those self-indulgent shithead Boomers hadn’t been such sociopaths, incomes today for the ‘young’ would be 30 to 50% higher. I’m wondering what magical metric he used to arrive at these statistics.

Mr. Gibney’s vantage point is that of a disillusioned young man with enough anger to fuel him well into his 50s. I suggest he get out of his suit and out of the big city and wade around in the real world for a while where millions of Boomers go about their lives with dedication, caring, and enthusiasm. I could almost forgive him for this screed, considering that I know how hard it is to sell books. But I won’t. His immature ideas malign an entire generation without offering any rational solution for his litany of woes. Short of nuking the entire generation, I’m not clear on what Gibney wants to do about it. [I won’t be reading his book to find out.] At the least, his writing outlines a self-serving excuse for his failures.

One thing is certain. If it weren’t for the Boomers, he and his fellow millennials along with the rest of those younger folks looking to assign blame would live in a much more dismal, broken world.

More Bits from Aquarian Revolution

“We thought we were going to buy eighty acres—it was $75 an acre—but after we moved in, we found out that the front forty acres had already been sold, so we had no road access. We had to walk through the woods to get to it. We dragged lumber, built platforms for tents, we lived in tents, we dragged beds. In the rain.” Chapter 7

“We were tearing the shit out of that country, bulldozing over a million acres of trees, spraying defoliant over more area. Once you got over the ohhh, shit, here we are in this war zone and realized that well, about as many people have died here in the last five years as are killed yearly on the American highways, you kind of adapted to it. I really didn’t like the way most Americans treated the Vietnamese.” Chapter 8

“The Black Fox thing was the beginning of our local Peace and Justice Center. We needed a place to do stuff. We started the center to have a place to meet, a place to work, type a newsletter, fold it, etc. The environmental work was ongoing, although it was getting harder. It became obvious that we weren’t going to be able to close down Arkansas Nuclear I, especially from here, and the group down there was having too many problems.” Chapter 9

“S. G–’s caravan came through. He was a college professor at Berkeley, and he decided to get a bus and travel around the country. He’d been holding these Monday night classes, kind of group gatherings, where they talked about peace and cooperating. He wanted to end the classes and travel around, but everyone said, no, you can’t stop the classes, so he said go get a bus, and before you knew it, about two hundred people had joined him in old school buses, VW vans, and campers.” Chapter 10Aquar Rev photoshop copy