September 05, 2015

The Birth — and Death — of “the Hippies”

Credit for the origin of the term “hippies” is generally given to San Francisco journalist Michael Fallon.

Fallon coined the term in an article published in the San Francisco Examiner on September 5, 1965.

It was the first of a series of articles he wrote about the “new generation of beatniks” who hung out in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco, at places like the Blue Unicorn Café on the corner of Ashbury and Hayes.

It’s likely that Fallon came up with hippies as variation of the jazz buffs’ term hipsters.

When he wrote his series of articles, beatnik was the common, somewhat-derogatory name applied to  counterculture types by people who weren’t themselves beatniks.

That term was coined in 1958 by journalist Herb Caen in his “Bagdad-by-the-Bay” column in the San Francisco Chronicle.

The headline for Fallon’s first article about hippies actually used Caen’s more familiar term.

Some online sources give the headline as “A New Haven for Beatniks,” though more authoritative sources say it was “A New Paradise for Beatniks.”

During the next couple of years, the term hippies was picked up by other journalists, by the media in general and by many hippies themselves.

It also became an epithet in the mouths of critics of the Sixties counterculture.

For example, by 1967 — “The Summer of Love” — California Governor Ronald Reagan began using an oft-quoted joke in his speeches, comparing hippies to Tarzan, Jane and Cheetah.

“We have some hippies in California,” Reagan deadpanned. “For those of you who don’t know what a hippie is, he’s a fellow who dresses like Tarzan, has hair like Jane, and smells like Cheetah.” 

By the fall of 1967, many hippies were tired of the term and all the media hype about them.

In October of 1967, a group of counterculture leaders organized a mock funeral event in San Francisco, called the “The Death of the Hippie,” to try to symbolically put an end to the term and the hype.

Some of the event’s organizers thought that the term freebie should be used to replace hippie.

That didn’t quite catch on — at least not as a replacement for the name commonly used for those of us who “dressed like Tarzan” and had “hair like Jane” back in those days. (My late father called us “He-She’s,” God bless him.)

September 5th is also the anniversary of On the Road, the most famous book by the coiner of the term “Beat Generation,” the grand-daddyo of “the beats,” Jack Kerouac.

It was first published on September 5, 1957 and includes a famous quote about “the mad ones” that might seem applicable to both the Beatniks and the Hippies. (See this post for more about the Kerouac quote.)

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