The Hippie Counterculture: A Teen Finding his Place Within It

By: Kendal Packo

It’s the end of the 1960s and it’s the hippies versus the Establishment. Living in the midst of the social whirlwind was Bill Packo, a high school student from Randallstown, Maryland. Packo’s vantage point of this time is unique; he was an avid athlete and a dependable student, who was also involved in the music scene. “I wasn’t a hippie by any means”, Packo claims, “but I had a group of friends that were hippies… I would go to parties and I would just drink, but there were drugs like LSD and Quaaludes, hash, pot… they were doin’ it all.”[1] And these were in fact two of the trademarks of the hippie generation: music and drugs. Historian H.W. Brands acknowledges the relationship between the two, stating, “Their music matched their taste in drugs. The Grateful Dead, the Jefferson Airplane, and other new bands sang of getting high and staying high… Marijuana was for socializing, methamphetamines and cocaine for partying, LSD for probing the mysteries of the psyche.”[2] The hippies used both the music and the drugs to detach from society and create a social movement that shook the United States. Packo offers multiple memories that complicate Brands’ understanding of what it meant to be, or not to be, a hippie, and how the music could exist without the drugs.

The sudden prevalence of drugs was alarming for society in the end of the 1960s. One article from the Boston Globe in August of 1967 sought to express some of the concerns that non-hippies had about LSD, one of the most commonly used drugs of the time. It claimed that this drug would “lead the user to feel that he has found the answers to life’s problems, a chemically centered religion, or values that transcend his society and culture.”[3] Their scientific logic may or may not have been valid, but it certainly demonstrates society’s concern for the effects this drug would have on society. Packo validates that the invention of LSD helped to ignite the hippie movement. He explains, “There’s a little neighborhood in San Francisco called Haight-Ashbury where the hippie movement really began. A guy named Timothy Leary invented LSD and all the hippies… flocked to San Francisco. That was like the hippie headquarters. All they did was do drugs and have sex and hang out and protest the war.”[4] Brands mentions Haight-Ashbury and Leary in his book, and even quotes one of Leary’s famous catchphrases, “Turn on, tune in, drop out.”[5] The phrase was meant to encourage people to disengage from societal norms through the use of psychedelic drugs. One of the primary ways in which people did this was by protesting the war. Both Packo and Brands agree that peace was at the core of the hippie values. Packo himself disagreed with U.S. involvement in Vietnam, but unlike the extreme hippies, this did not lead him to completely rebel against the social order.

Promotion of peace and protestation of the war in Vietnam were largely asserted through music during the ‘60s and ‘70s.  As Packo’s interest in music developed, he became more in-tune with the anti-war efforts. He explains, “Music was really an important way for the hippies to be heard.”[6] Packo became directly involved in the music scene as a result of his friendship with a man named Doug Robinson. Packo elaborates, “He played guitar and piano and started a musical group called Crude Oil. It was five of us and we played different parties and small get togethers. I’m not sure if we ever got paid but it was a lot of fun… We would just listen to music all the time.”[7] And this is what defined many young people just like Packo. He used music as both an escape, and also a way to connect with his friends. In fact, his participation in his band led to some amazing experiences. One of the most memorable nights of his teenage years, he claims, was during the summer of 1969. He tells of him and his band mates, “We won tickets to a concert at the Baltimore Arena to hear a group called Blind Faith. Eric Clapton was the guitar player and after the concert we got to go back stage and we hung with him for a while. But during the concert, an MC fromtimes mag a radio station [in Baltimore] came out on the stage and said ‘Excuse me ladies and gentlemen, we have our first man on the moon.’ July 20, 1969—it was a great night.”[8] Knowing how monumental this night would be for America, Packo still couldn’t refuse the free tickets; “Most people were excited to stay home by their TVs,” he added, “but Eric Clapton was a god to us, and there was no chance that we were going to miss out on that concert.”[9] This story combines an epic night for a music fan with one of the greatest achievements for American modern technology, creating a lasting memory for Packo.

Another one of the most monumental events of the ‘60s was Woodstock, the three-day music festival in Bethel, New York during August of 1969, which featured some of the biggest names in music during that time. Some of the acts included Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, The Who, Creedence Clearwater, and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Packo didn’t attend the festival, but in a way was still able to experience it first hand. After a visit to his grandparents’ house in Connecticut, he recalls an abnormally long ride home on the New York Freeway. The cause of the delay was a mass of people walking along the freeway. Packo remembers, “A five hour drive for us to get home took ten hours because of all the congestion. We didn’t know what it was from; we found out later it was Woodstock. All we saw were hitchhikers and hippies everywhere—it was crazy.”[10] This concert, it turns out, was not expected to be as momentous as it was, and news of it hadn’t even traveled far enough for Packo to hear about it beforehand.[11] Although Packo didn’t consider himself a hippie, this coincidental encounter with the hippies was yet another reason why they were an inspiration for his musical interests.

While the culture of the hippies was certainly unprecedented, Packo downplays the magnitude of the generation gap that many people claim existed between the hippie generation and their parents. He describes a solid relationship with his parents, claiming they rarely argued and they shared many common political views. His personal experience illustrates an article printed in The Washington Post in 1973, which featured a study showing that the hippie generation and their parents were in agreement on most political and social concerns, such as integration and war.[12] These two sources suggest that many people, including Brands, may exaggerate the generation gap. Slight difference in opinion and social habits between generations is common, and Packo is proof that many members of the counterculture resided in the middle of the spectrum between ‘old-fashioned’ and ‘free spirit drug-addict’. It is the memory of the protestors and the rioters that has branded the hippies as being completely defiant toward their parents and society at large. While older generations also opposed the Vietnam War, it was the members of the hippie generation who protested in striking ways. “[They would] burn the American flag, which is illegal, women would burn their bras and men would burn their draft cards,”[13] recalls Packo. While his parents disagreed with the United States’ involvement in Vietnam, they were shocked at the hippies’ utter defiance towards the country. He comments, “My parents and their friends felt the burning of the draft cards was un-American and unpatriotic. My parents grew up during World War II when it was the citizens’ duty to defend our country.”[14] Because of the varying opinions and reactions of the hippie generation and the generations that preceded it, it is difficult to make a claim that the hippies were completely isolated from the remainder of society. There were undoubtedly many critics of the hippies, given that their era was a pivotal one in American history. However, to say that they rebelled against everything that their parents stood for is a complicated and misleading assertion, according to Packo’s memory.

Packo doesn’t deny the impact that his generation had on society, and that it made revolutionary changes for young people. The hippie movement and the battle against the ‘Establishment’ ended in a victory for the youth of society because “it just changed the way people thought of young people,” Packo claims. He elaborates, “Young people had a say in things now, you know? They could give their opinions. Before, you were just a kid… [kids] were to be seen, not heard. The hippie movement let young people not only make noise, but to actually be heard and not just ignored.”[15] The credit for these changes may be due to the extreme hippies, but had an effect on all young people, including those like Packo who were caught in between. While interested in the music, he stayed in school, got along with his parents, and stayed away from drugs. Packo embodies a large population that over the years has been overshadowed by the stories of the most unrestrained of hippies. Maybe he wasn’t a hippie by popular definition, but a part of the counterculture nonetheless.

[1] Email interview with Bill Packo, March 24, 2015.

[2] H.W. Brands, American Dreams: The United States Since 1945 (New York: Penguin Books, 2010), 146.

[3] Herbert Black, “LSD Makes Hippies Only Think They Love,” Boston Globe 1960-1983 (24 August 1967) [Proquest].

[4] Email interview with Bill Packo, March 24, 2015.

[5] Brands, 147.

[6] Email interview with Bill Packo, March 24, 2015.

[7] Phone interview with Bill Packo, March 25, 2015.

[8] Phone interview with Bill Packo, March 25, 2015.

[9] Phone interview with Bill Packo, April 29, 2015.

[10] Email interview with Bill Packo, March 24, 2015.

[11] Phone interview with Bill Packo, April 29, 2015.

[12] William Chapman, “Study Minimizes 1960s Generation Gap: Changes of ‘60s Not So Drastic,” The Washington Post, Times Herald (16 September 1973) [Proquest].

[13] Email interview with Bill Packo, March 24, 2015.

[14] Phone interview with Bill Packo, March 25, 2015.

[15] Phone interview with Bill Packo, March 25, 2015.


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