August 4, 2006

"The first so-called black hippie."

Arthur Lee died of leukemia, aged 61. His band was called Love, and if you remember one record, it's probably "My Little Red Book." (A song written by Hal David and Burt Bacharach.)

Black hippies... an interesting subject. We usually think of Jimi Hendrix. Here's an Amazon listmania list of black hippie music to remind you of some of the others.

Maybe you think of what Alice Walker wrote (back in 1967):
I think there are so few Negro hippies because middle-class Negroes, although well fed, are not careless. They are required by the treacherous world they live in to be clearly aware of whoever or whatever might be trying to do them in.

There were so many reason to decline to be a hippie, and some of these reasons must have been especially appealing to black people. But there were -- are? -- also some reasons to want to be a hippie, especially in the context of late 60s/early 70s music. Thank God for the music of the black hippies!

9 comments:

Jennifer said...

My entire life I have thought that song by Funkadelic was Free Your Mind and the Rest Will Follow. How bourgeois.

What about asian hippies? Yoko Ono is all I can think of. So, lets not thank God for the music of asian hippies.

Or hispanic hippies? Cheech and Chong weren't really hippies, were they? So corporate from the very start!

George Wallace said...

I see that Rick James is included on the "black hippie" list at Amazon. This, about five minutes after learning that he, too, has passed on by today.

Simon said...

"But there were -- are? -- also some reasons to want to be a hippie, especially in the context of late 60s/early 70s music. Thank God for the music of the black hippies!"

It's been my observation that some of the greatest music - particularly in the sphere of rock music - has been made by people in spite of themselves, not as a consequence of it. Perhaps the best example would be The Black Album, by Metallica, which is surely sufficiently thoughtful and carefully constructed that one might get the impression that perhaps the people making it were equally thoughtful and carefull - alas, 'tis not so. Likewise, it now appears that Dream Theater's first couple of albums were glorious accidents, rather than conscious design.

I love what Jimi put on records, but I think I would enjoy those albums less if I knew more about him. Was Jimi a hippy? I don't know. Don't want to know. My wife has had her enjoyment of Ray Charles' music damaged by learning that he was a philandering drug addict when the best of it was made. As contemptible as Coldplay already were musically, they became even more so when their "singer" (I use the term under protest)'s political views became known. Or consider Rob Reiner, who has made wonderful movies like Spinal Tap and The Princess Bride - but whose outspoken politics is a lurking poison in his work. He has a right to use the fame and money his art brings him to advance his causes, but in doing so, he loses the ability to complain if doing so makes people less willing to give him that fame and money for his art.

Sometimes I wonder if art is best enjoyed cold - with as little knowledge of the artist as possible. Since art is ultimately subjective - as Bono would be the first to admit after One, to put a piece of music into the public sphere is to lose authority over its meaning - each new bit of information about the person or people behind a piece of art provides little enlightenment on its "meaning", but also provides a chance for the art to be tained and corrupted by association. Could I really gain deep meaning and insight into his paintings if I knew more about Jackson Pollock? I doubt it. Their meaning - so far as they have one - has more to do with me than it does Pollock. But on the other hand, if I knew more about Pollock, I might enjoy his work less if he turned out to be an unpleasent person.

XWL said...

"When I did that album," commented Arthur Lee, "I thought I was going to die at that particular time, so those were my last words." This is borne out by perhaps the most famous lines from the album, on the song "The Red Telephone":

"Sitting on a hillside
Watching all the people die
I'll feel much better on the other side."


Seems as good an epitaph as any.

From the Wiki regarding Forever Changes an album that all of you should own already, and if not, should order (or buy, if you still actually go the brick and mortar route) today.

And Arthur Lee wasn't a hippie, he was more of a freak, there is a difference. When he referred to himself as, "the first so-called hippie," it was meant as a put down to those who insisted on grouping him with the peace and love crowd (if he liked the designation he wouldn't have modified black hippie with 'so-called').

Despite their name, the band Love were psychedelic, but not hippies.

ChrisO said...

I'm glad to see someone make the distinction between hippies and freaks. I was a freak for many years, and hippie was a term that was only used derisively. The people who try to ascribe some sort of overarching hippie philosophy to the freak movement are largely people who weren't there. When I talk to people about my youth now, I just say I was a hippie for many years, since it's convenient shorthand, and the term freak has many connotations. I figure it's better than always explaining to people that no, I wasn't with the circus.

J said...

How do you define "hippie"?

charlotte said...

How do you define "hippie"?

Depends whether this is another "fat" post.

SippicanCottage said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
me said...

Hendrix was very complex, and was a genious. The more you know about him, the more you would like him. The cause of his death has been erroneously described. He was jet-lagged and took too many sleeping pills. The paramedics came, put him the front seat of an ambulance, he vomitted, and choked on his own vomit. He probably would have lived had he simply stayed in his hotel room.