©1999 A.D. Sullivan
|Reasons To Hate Abbie Hoffman||A.D. Sullivan|
|This is not a Sixties poem||e. durling merrill|
|This Side Of The Looking Glass||A.D. Sullivan|
|In Memory of Abbie Hoffman||Terrance Ripmaster|
|Looking Back||David Gerry|
They found him dead in bed and fully clothed,
the Yippie, peace-nik,
lingering on the brink of unpopular thought,
a genius of press manipulation
with whom he'd held a love-hate affair for thirty years,
52-years old, no longer breathing,
the police looking over the Pennsylvania room for drugs,
one more search to complement the 42 arrests made in his life,
depressed over an auto accident
after a life time battling `the bomb'--
how foolish can a man be to worry over gnats
after fist-fighting God?
How careless to let his guard down
to a thing so simple as death!
He should have died at thirty like he'd promised.
He should have withered away with the other embattled,
embittered radicals out of time,
abandoned by purpose and place,
his heart as big as the moon and growing,
threatening to encompass the earth with love,
the cold facts of cocaine and bank bombings
there in his blood,
bleeding from his nose and mouth
with each bout of Chicago police,
the joke trial making him bigger than Hollywood,
but small as a boy who still loved rivers,
who changed his face to avoid police,
but could not change his habits,
who came to court under a new name,
the same, screeching voice for environment,
when the war had failed him--
How can a man die so unadorned,
pained less by the nails to his hands and feet
than a car door dented,
alone, after a generation of followers,
gray at the temples, gray,
Reasons To Hate Abbie Hoffman
I first met Abbie Hoffman in 1968 at a place called the Renascence Switchboard, one of many runaway-civic centers Abbie had set up throughout Manhattan, part of a revolutionary effort to keep kids from killing themselves when they finally tried to catch up with images of the Summer of Love.
I was less impressed with Abbie than my best friend was, not quite conformable with the jive he handed out, half comedy, half con.
In the years since, I've met other people who understood Abbie better, that sense of street that man exuded disguised behind social salvation.
He was confidence man first, a radical later, and was never beyond the point of padding his own pocket while doing some social service.
In New York, years later, he put on a reunion of sorts at the former Fillmore East, and wanted his cut of the profits before he would do anything.
That was his routine.
He, like many others in those years, saw nothing wrong with getting something for themselves while helping the world.
I went underground several years before he did, ran across people in the White Panthers who found Abbie less than pure, and were very angry when their bomb factory blew up in New York in 1970 and the police thought Abbie was inside.
He wasn't that kind of radical.
In 1968, Abbie nearly talked me and my friend into joining him in Chicago, telling us where to get on the bus so that we could be part of his "festival."
I felt something was wrong with it all. I refused to go, and incurred the anger of my friend, who said I was just being "reactionary" -- until the TV images of the police busting heads reached us, and then my friend knew I was right.
Abbie got busted, and spent the next year milking the media in a circus trial as I hit the road.
"Abbie didn't help end the war," one of his critics later said. "If anything his antics turned so many people off, he might have actually made the war longer."
In 1970, Abbie Hoffman -- on the verge of being busted for dealing cocaine -- went underground. Some of his followers tried to cover his tracks by claiming he was one of those who died in the explosion of a Weather Underground bomb-making factory. But a friend of mine, who had survived the blast, knew he wasn't, and told me as much. Just one more of Abbie's cons. Later, we began to hear rumors of a character named Barry Freed who was working to save islands from development near the Canadian border, but never thought that was Abbie in disguise.
I did not see Abbie again until 1981, when he reemerged after years of being a fugitive, and my professor had school brought him onto the campus of William Paterson College to speak.
Abbie didn't recognize me when my professor dragged me up to the front to ask my question -- I was only one of thousands deluded by him and his comic movement. Abbie did not like my questions about revolution, about confidence games, about how we finally lost innocence.
In May, 1986, Abbie slipped back into his old street wise ways, when trying to skim profits off a WBAI fund raising event, held at the site of the former Filmore East. Several members of the organizing committee protested the attempted ripoff so vigorously, Abbie turned around and accused them of the theft.
"He wanted a cut of the profits," said Tom Wisker, a producer of "Weaponry" program on WBAI who was one of those who worked with Abbie on the project. "When we refused to go along with it, he accuse us of wanting the cut."
That memory has plagued them ever since, and tainted their view of his place in history.
"He was a genius, utterly irresponsible, charismatic and a bit of a jerk," said Jim Freund, WBAI producer for "Hour of the Wolf. "As for lying, yeah. It's what he did. His grasp on what was important to people on a day-to-day basis never really got to the heart. Yet he had an insight into the Big Picture (socially and politically) that was truly enlightened."
A few years later, he was dead, and I was sorry I hadn't managed to get a little closer to him, to understand him better, and perhaps even, to forgive him.
This is not a Sixties poem
and what of the Sixties?
it was a time of explosion
expansion, expression and exploitation,
exceptions, experience and expatriates,
an exquisite experiment
given to exhilarating exclamatory
it was exasperating
exciting and existential
full of exaggeration and examination
and expeditionary sense of expectancy
once exuberantly extreme
and now some would add extinct
did not lead us here
we are here because too few chose
to follow what they saw
the vision was there
but too many fell to thinking
it was nothing
but a dream
This Side Of The Looking Glass
60s Rebels in the 80s
"When you're against Society there are two possible ends: the system either takes you and hold you in its arms like a prodigal son, or it hangs you on a cross,"-- Mario Savio, Berkeley, 1964.
Recently, two old rebels from the 1960s, Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman, met at a college in Jersey City, beginning a series of 25 debates slated for college campuses across the country. While the two shared a similar past, they have since gone in quite different directions.
"My views have changed, but the twinkle in my eyes is still the same," Rubin said before the crowd of curious on-lookers, young students for Ronald Reagan, the generation of the hippie clearly over, offering some poor explanation as to how Rubin could come all the way from the riot-torn streets of 1968 Chicago to the Phil Donahue Show little more than a decade later. He spout ideas now that seem utterly out of touch with what he stood for then, such as promoting change, love and peace through more modern means.
"I want to use money and power to implement the ideals of the past," he said.
While Abbie Hoffman had changed, too -- his face the world of a plastic surgeon's scalpel, his graying hair, the work of time -- his views seem to remain the same. He claims his old friend Rubin is "trying to attach morality to self-centered greed."
Rubin frowned in response, laughed, then accused Hoffman of "laying a guilt trip" on him.
"I know because nobody was a better guilt-tripper than me," Rubin said. "But those tactics don't work any more. I tell kids not to fall victim to guilt tactic of the Left."
This was the same Rubin that helped a pig run for president in 1968 and who, during the march on Washington in October, 1967, wanted to "go all the way," indicating an open and violent confrontation with the American government.
This was the Jerry Rubin that those out of a rebellious Berkeley campus, The Free Speech Movement clinging to his heals, who knew as well as anyone (if not now) that working within a corrupt system only corrupts, and that power and money only serve the people when there is a direct and participatory democracy (which, of course, America isn't.)
Rubin's image, however, hasn't changed. He sits as comfortably in a three-piece suit as he did in beads and headbands, a sweet cologne scenting the air around him instead of marijuana. The fact that he has "guilt-tripped" in his time hardly seems relevant. But morality has a strange affect on selfish people; it often causes them to admit old crimes and spout old proverbs. In Rubin's case, many of the old sayings still hold true: "The end justifies the means" or "Might makes right." And, of course, there is the old standard, "Power corrupts."
But how much are successful people willing to sacrifice for the public good?
Rubin had answers.
In his opening statement Rubin explained his old beliefs and his new. He defends his EST training and his public relations job for a Wall Street brokerage house, claiming they are relevant.
"I always wanted to be relevant and I think being a businessman in the 1980s is relevant," he said.
During this statement, Hoffman made a sour-looking face and claimed "We both screwed up. I betrayed the Movement by getting busted for coke, and you betrayed it by taking a job on Wall Street."
"But Abbie," Rubin quickly answered, his target not Hoffman, but the crime-conscious middle class audience. "What I did was legal."
So was the Vietnam War, Hoffman could have said, but didn't.
Abbie Hoffman is 47 and, at one time, the most sought-after man in the country, not merely for the cocaine. That came later. Hoffman, on the surface, seems to maintain his spiritual dedication to ideals no longer popular today.
He makes no claim that he was loved then, or now. Some people in the 1960s found nothing admirable about him at all, seeing him as a clown spouting revolting humor at very serious subjects. When he appeared before the House Committee on UnAmerican Activities -- after his red, white and blue American flag shirt had been ripped from his back -- Hoffman remarked: "I regret I have but one shirt to give for my country."
Some have even accused him of being a crook, of profiting from his protests, a regular thug of the street who happened to be alive at a time when his antics might be taken for political savvy. But then, that has always been the problem with 1960s activist. Unlike the previous generation of Leftists, those professing membership in the New Left lacked purity, imperfect beings whose motives were often mixed, and often conflicting.
Hoffman, Rubin, Hayden and others tended to set ideals that only someone like Christ could live up to, while they failed utterly to even come close. They often had clouded pasts or, at best, pasts that showed significant inconsistencies. At times, this brand of radical often showed no respect for anything, especially authority.
They were often hostile towards each other after the cover of the 1960s radical era had blown away and they were left to stand more or less on their own.
Hoffman had little good to say about Tom Hayden -- one of the author's of the Port Huron Statement (the defining document of the 1960s), claiming Hayden was worse that Rubin.
"(Hayden) is a real hypocrite," Hoffman said.
Yet others probably have an equally dark view of Hoffman, "hypocrite" is not a word they would use.
For all Hoffman's flaws -- and he has many, he still managed to maintain the bones of his beliefs. Even when he was among one of the most hunted men in America, he fought the good fight, emerging as Barry Freed, an environmental activist with nearly as notorious a reputation as his real name had.
In a talk at William Paterson College a few years ago, Hoffman described his experience fighting the Army Corps of Engineers when plans were made to dredge up and ruin the wondrous upstate New York landscape of The Thousand Islands. When asked about his most frightening experience, Hoffman mentioned standing in court less than 30 feet away from Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a man who knew Hoffman as Hoffman intimately.
"Listen," Hoffman said in his Jersey City College appearance, "The Sixties were a fluke -- even I know that. What you see now is student life as its been since time immemorial. Most of these kids don't want to make waves. All they want is to graduate, get a good job and participate in the plasticity of the rat race."
Yet those, non-students seated in the audience, might be thinking how much both men seemed right with Rubin echoing the millions of this generation's students when he said: "I love America. I think we're living in the freest country in the world."
Yet at the same time, Hoffman seems to love America, too, but wants to see it made more free than it already is, and would like to see it made honest and truthful as well.
Rubin claimed a great change occurred in the 1970s when those protesters of the streets grew up, got jobs and had children. shortages of gas and tales of massive bank corruption turned them all into neo-conservatives.
"Study the system, amass money, and don't be afraid to succeed," Rubin said, as beside him, Hoffman rose to speak, sighing for a long time before saying anything.
"There is more to life than watching General Hospital, playing Trivial Pursuit and throwing up your sweatshirt after a big game."
Rubin, however, was persistent.
"Abbie Hoffman says Yuppies have sold out," Rubin proclaimed. "We haven't sold out, we've taken over."
Looking around this and many of the other campuses these visit over the next few months, you can't help but believe this last statement true. When children grow, they inherit the earth. But Hoffman would only ask: "What have they done with their inheritance?"
In many ways, it is exactly what was done with the planet before the 1960s.
Marines have landed on and died in Lebanon before, and landed and fought in Nicaragua before, and guns still find their way to fight people around the planet. And the poor still linger on, hungry, disenfranchised. They do not start the wars, as Rubin hinted, they simply die in them, while some Yuppie somewhere stuffs his face while reading about it all in the New York Times.
in these late breaking days
rebellion has become
the most ragged of fashion statements
the banality of it symbolized
hairstyles, cigarettes, rock bands, automobiles
a saltpeter-fueled revolution
from our home entertainment centers
we see, we hear,
the latest corporate anti-heroes
as they sun themselves
along the banks of the mainstream
idolized by thundering herds
from the nearest shopping mall
were you to ask me
I would tell you
lovers with a cause
are the real rebels
the spiritual benefactors,
the wounded heroes,
the mystics eternally misunderstood
with fine grit paper
working against the grain
hands slivered and bleeding
creating hidden beauty
through their labor
defying the gravity
of power, greed, envy
these spirit artists become suspect
a kind of threat to social order
to be burned at a stake
nailed to a cross
assassinated by sniper fire
getting them out of the way
we make martyrs of them
coz the dead don't scare us
the way living flesh and bone does
it's easier to glorify a touched up past
than face a future
we seem hell-bent on desecrating
one by one
all are shot down
and when the fields where the wildflowers grow
have been bulldozed and destroyed
then spring is gone
and what's left
is a sort of somber confusion
as hard to define
as that 4 letter word
we so readily cut and paste
to fit our purpose
In Memory of Abbie Hoffman
by Terrence M. Ripmaster
Abbie Hoffman is dead. He was 52 years old. He was one of the most articulate and imposing figures from the 1960s radical era. I was privileged to have known Abbie.
To the "establishment" media, Abbie was a "yippie" radical. Abbie, who was deeply influenced by Marshall McLuhan, the media guru, realized that the media was little interested in content. For television, ala McLuhan, the media was the message. Thus Abbie realized that television was not concerned with what he and the 60s critics had to say, it was interested in only the symbols and colorful confrontations of the revolutionary counterculture. So, Abbie would dress up and conduct outrageous yippie festivals, burning Monopoly money on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange and holding anti-war blow-outs in parks and on the streets. He would paint his face and wear silly uniforms when he was called before government agencies and the courts. He giggled and jokes at the officials investigating him and his activities.
"That Abbie Hoffman ain't got no respect for authority," they would say.
"What authority?" Abbie would reply.
But there was another side to Abbie not generally known to the public. He was a brilliant, serious, disciplined and hard-working public citizen. He had been influenced by two professors in his undergraduate years at Brandeis University: Abraham Maslow, the psychologist, and Herbert Marcuse, the political philosopher. After graduating from Brandeis, Abbie attended the University of California, Berkeley, participated in the Civil Rights Movement, and became engaged in anti-war protests.
From Maslow and Marcuse, Abbie learned that oppression and limitations on human expressions & potential ranged far beyond political and economic measures. In his books: "Revolution for the Hell of It" and "Woodstock Nation," Abbie advocated a psychological revolution. Abbie felt that humans had to free themselves from the repressive features of social and cultural restrictions.
Put in "Yippie" terms, people should "turn-on" to the fun and joy of life, express their artistic and human feelings and stop conforming to a host of artificial and externally imposed strictures.
From Herbert Marcuse's "One Dimensional Man," Abbie learned that our "rich" and "abundant" consumer society was not necessarily a blessing. He shared with Marcuse the notion that people gave up their personal expressions to a packaged capitalistic, commercial culture, seeking their status and satisfaction in cars, canned entertainment, escapist drugs (of all sorts) and Club-Med, Disneyland vacations. In short, capitalism sells people their fun.
Politically, Abbie scared the establishment. The FBI and CIA spent untold amounts of money gathering files on him, tapping his phones, and even exhorted to trumped up criminal charges to jail him. Of course, the establishment media never invited Abbie to be seated for serious discussions of public and political issues. He was simply regarded as that "crazy yippie leader."
Abbie was part of a generation of free floating thinkers. He deliberately avoided the confines of academic institutionalization or intellectual entrepreneurialism. He received no grants or scholarly honors. Of course, he refused to write in the cool stilted rhetoric of aloofness. he disliked the "yes, but" and "on the other hand" sophistry of recognized experts.
"You ain't got no respect for authority," they would say.
"What authority?" Abbie would reply.
Abbie was never worried about how people and the public regarded him. He was a free spirit and a free thinker in an age of specialization, careerism, technocratic conformity and ideologies. Abbie disliked hard-liners of the Left and the Right.
In memory of Abbie, I do not wish to present a panegyric. He had his fault, follies and frailties. In short, he was one of us. He admits to his imperfections in his autobiography, "Soon to be a Major Motion Picture." Like many of us who went through the whiplash of the storm 1960s, Abbie wrote his autobiography at a young age. Only a few days before his death, he told a journalist that he was optimistic about the future. He thought that the oil spill on Alaska might re-awaken a serious concern for the environment and that the lies and deceptions pouring out of the Ollie North trial might generate new concern about American foreign policy. He hoped that the younger generation would see how they were being manipulated by the media and the American culture of narcissism.
In memory of Abbie, I share his hopes. In memory of Abbie, we should all adopt some of his health irreverence for the "yes, but.." and "on the other hand" authorities.
"What authority?" Abbie would say.
Those were good days
when we drank muscatel
by that river in New Hampshire
at 11 o'clock in the morning
reading poetry by a mathematics professor
we once had in college
laughing at his poetry
feeling insecure about our own
not sure of the future
but the musicians were alive then
so who cared
it was just juice-up and have a good time
to hell with everything
even though it was Labor Day
and getting colder
and the winter would bring us indoors
to whiskey bars, dreary mornings
and the news of the death of idols
and then we could stand alone
writing our own destinies
on bar glasses
having gin heartburn
two days later...
c/o A.D. Sullivan
271 Terrace Avenue
Jersey City, NJ 07307