Chapter 2: THE CONTRACTORS-OUT
'John', a 15 year old Londoner, had left school three months before giving
the interview that follows:
I never clicked with school. I mean I suppose you can consider me
intelligent in quite a few ways, I mean with my writing, but I never clicked
at school, I never had done. It was an absolute frustration -- I mean I
must have been suspended about five times, which isn't expulsion, it's
suspension. You know, I mean things like uniform, and the way you talk
and the way you disagree violently with the lessons, the system, the way
they talk to you, not as adults but as kids, the whole thing, um .... They
thought ... well ... I was simply, you know, a bit of a long-haired moron
and the rest of it. I was one of those people who just did not want to
be taught and we just ... me and quite a few other kids'd go away and laugh
at them and if they took you into their office and caned you, we'd still
walk away and laugh, until with me in the end they didn't even cane me.
John's father, a professional musician, had to pay a £30 fine because
he and a group of friends had plugged a tape recorder into the amplifying
system in a central London tube station and played pop music over the loudspeaker
at 3 in the morning:
Now my Dad doesn't want to know any more apparently I've shown the
family up, the whole thing, I'm a disgrace, talk badly, you know because
they sort of ... well let's face it they're snobs, I mean I can put them
in that category, I don't like to but .... Well you know I thought: 'Cut
yourself off from them -- right, mix with the people you ought to mix with,
the people you're happy with,' and that's how I've ended up now.
John went on to describe the circumstances leading to my giving him a lift
on the Great North Road:
Now my Dad, he's um, he's like . . . quite a few people are like
this: he simply can't accept that maybe you've had a bit of bother. He
simply feels I'm holding out on him and he was saying something about going
to my bedroom and selling my record player. I thought: 'Christ, I'm your
son, you can't do that, you know ...' and mutter, mutter, mutter ... something
about what I've turned out to be and how I've let him down again and again
and again and off he went. So, oh dear! That record player means a lot
to me, I'd better watch out. So we came back at 4 in the morning and shifted
the whole thing. So either way there's nothing in my house for me now,
and the piano was moved out this morning through arrangement between my
Mum and me. So I drift towards the house, my thoughts have nothing to centre
on, no place to centre on, so I wondered: 'Right, now what?' then suddenly
just like that I thought; 'I'm going up North.' So I went home got some
extra clothing from my cupboard upstairs, quick as possible nipped out
again, no one was in anyway, --I've still got the key, and that was it.
Off I went, I was certainly cold, not exactly happy, but I sung (sic)
... and that's how you found me, you know. I had pretty mixed feelings.
Like some of the people in the last
chapter John was in conflict with his parents but unlike most of them
he was halfway to contracting out of his community of origin. At the time
of the interview he had got away from school and was in the process of
breaking more and more with his father, to the extent of clearing his cherished
possessions out of the house. He had three ways of living when away from
When I met him he was thumbing North, it didn't matter where. All he wanted
was to get away from London and the home situation.
dossing with friends,
riding underground trains during the day and sleeping in secret corners
of the tube system at night,
hitching round the country.
Except for hermits and the insane it is impossible to permanently contract
out of one community without joining or forming another. The sort of community
a rebel like John is attracted to is likely to be in conflict with the
society at large, either directly in breaking the law, or through its attitudes
and assumptions. Groups like London tube dossers, drug addicts, beats,
flower people, skinheads etc.... are sometimes referred to as 'sub-cultures'.
This is an intensely biased term, since the prefix 'sub', even if not intended
to when originally used this way, has strong pejorative overtones. In fact
these groups are made up for the most part of people who are in some way
reacting against aspects of the dominant culture. Not being happy
with the side implications of the adjective reactive in phrases
like 'reactive community', or 'reactive culture', I shall use the term
'anti community' to describe, for instance, the Picadilly drug addicts.
Anti here is short for 'antidrastic', simply a Creek forebear of
the Latin adjective 'reactive'. The implication is that these communities
spring from their members' perception or intuition of things wrong with
the dominant community.
To return to John: he dossed a lot in the underground and ran into a
crowd he liked there. Sometimes he would go and spend the night in the
houses they did. He loved the freedom and escape from accountability he
found in his new anti-community:
You might turn up at some house you don't know, and there's a girl
living there and you mention something about Steve and she says: 'Yea,
come in,' and you sleep in a corner there on the floor. I mean it might
be a bit of a small brothel, whatever it is, you know, it might be a hang-out
for addicts, or whatever it is, or whatever it is, you just take it for
what it is and it's terrifically easy going and free and we like it that
way, because there's absolutely no judgement at all. I mean if they ask
you what you've done, you tell them, if you don't want to tell them you
don't: right, that's it. They take you for what you are at that moment,
and it's terrifically free, I really got on in that place.
The anti-community contrasts dramatically with the dominant one, the basic
unit of which, for John, is his family:
I could stay at my parents" place, it is terribly depressing, in
fact it's got terribly psychological, I feel I can't even sleep there now.
Yes, you see it's that bad .... There's just that constant sort of thing
in the air and the bitterness. And so if I went there now, mmm:
Though John can't stand either his authoritarian school where young adults
are treated as 'kids', or his suffocating family, he isn't acceptant of
the values of the tube dossing, drug taking society he has gravitated into.
He likes their freedom but is shocked by some of the consequences:
'Hello,' and 'Where have you been?' and all the rest of it, have
something to eat and go to bed, I don't feel I could sleep -- the place
depresses me. It's got like that over the years.
Steve's house is in a filthy mess; I mean if you stub a fag out
on the carpet, there's no raised eyebrows. It's like that. The place is
just one hell of a mess now. It's got to the stage where you'd have to
pull it down to fix it up, because there's holes in the walls upstairs
.... There's Steve's sister, Teresa. She's a bit of a fool, you know. She's
um, you know, as filthy as they come -- there's one bastard living in the
corner there, and ... well I mean they're all, they swear like hell at
their mother and she might swear back and it's accepted, it's incredible.
John seems to be a person who has contracted out of his community of origin
but has not been fully able to contract into the anti-community he has
stumbled on. His decision to get a permanent job in a tape recorder shop
suggests that he is likely to have in a way contracted back into the dominant
community. One of the litmus tests for deciding whether a person has contracted
out of the ordinary community is his attitude to regular work.
John is an example of a person in a halfway house between the rebellious
teenagers of the last
chapter and the total contractors out. The pressures are too strong
for him to carry on his liberation struggle within the setting of the home,
so he cuts out. Hitch-hiking away from the home area is one of the forms
of flight and revolt he adopts. But the 'Steve' anti-community he joins
for a time is one into which he cannot fully melt -- in many ways it shocks
him. So in the long run John's 'contracting out' is likely to have been
simply a necessary episode between leaving school and taking a permanent
The drug addict 'George' is quite a different case. He has broken completely
with his family, not having seen his father for 3 years and his mother
only once in this period. Unlike John, he does not half-hanker to go home
-- the only other person from his family he sees from time to time is his
sister. This is how he describes the break:
When I first started ... when pills first came in, when I was 13
this was, you know, the sort of big thing at the school ... just used to
take, well, purple hearts it was at the time ... just one of those big
things used to go around. That's why I was kicked out of home eventually.
The old lady was going mad about it, fed up with me coming in stoned every
night, 3 o'clock in the morning for a 15 year old. In fact I was 16 by
then, getting a bit much, and my old man said: 'You'd better get out.'
I was in one of them 'didn't want to be told' moods, told him where to
get off and I went. I got a flat ...
For 3 years he's been a member of the drug-taking anti-community, on mainly
heroin and methadrine. For him hitch-hiking is not part of symbolic escape
from home -- the real escape is a matter of long established fact -- it
is much more a way of ensuring mobility with almost no money, it is an
essential part of the mechanics of this anti-community's life:
Interviewer: You haven't been back home?
George: No, won't go back neither. I'm too independent now, even
if I was starving-well, I have been. I'd still never go. Pride I suppose.
Mostly it's been hitch-hiking round London. Suppose I went, say,
to Barnet and I got stuck, I'd hitch-hike it back. But it's hard hitching
through London. I used to go down to Crawley a lot hitch-hiking, down the
A.23, sort of to get to Croydon .... I've got friends down there, get a
lot of junkies down there, mostly because there's a big drugs scene down
there, same as Welwyn Garden City.
George was an active, integrated member of the drug anti-community in that
he frequently pushed heroin, as well as obtaining supplies for his own
personal use. He seems to have felt safest in certain 'drug territories'
in central London where he could live within the drug scene, without his
membership of an anti-community bringing him into direct conflict with
the community at large. It is clear from his interview that he is happiest
in places like St Martin's-in-the-Fields and in certain clubs and coffee
bars round Piccadilly and Trafalgar Square. In the summer he sometimes
goes South or West but his anti-community stands out much more in small
seaside places like Torquay than in London, so there is more risk of clashes
with the dominant society, especially as represented by the police. One
can sense how comparatively exposed George feels when he leaves the London
Interviewer: Well how long did you stay down in Torquay when you
It is in places like Torquay that drug-takers and long haired people who
find it hard to fit into the patterns of the dominant society are welded
into real anti-communities by the hostility of the local host communities,
which particularly in the West Country tend to be conservative particles
of the dominant society. Methodist Devon and Cornwall already resent the
tidal wave of tourists who are their living, the only alternative to total
economic stagnation, so it is not surprising that they vent their bile
on the long-haired. The hippies become the scapegoats for pent-up resentment
against the economically necessary tourist invasion.
George: Only about a week, I suppose, a fortnight. I wasn't there
very long, but I do know that a lot of people I knew used to go down there.
There's too many fuzz around there anyway. So I came back. The fuzz there?
Oh they stop you all the time, pull you all the time, don't give you any
peace at all. It's better up 'dilly.
Interviewer: How do you mean?
George: Well up Piccadilly there's plain clothes -- down there they're
not so much plain clothes ... they just drive up behind you and jump out
and pull you, sort of 'What you got?' and this, that and the other, 'Where
are you living?' I mean 'You another of those bloody beatniks?' ... and
the rest of it.
Interviewer: They say that quite openly do they?
George: Yeh, more or less. They say to you ... but they give you
the impression in so many words ... just the way they go about ....
like George goes to the West Country, hitch-hiking is one of the only forms
of voluntary interaction he has with members of the dominant community.
The raised thumb is a request by the contractor-out for cooperation from
the community he has contracted out of. This rouses the wrath of 'ordinary
citizens'. So this Aston Martin driver, interviewed on the Exeter by-pass
and asked whether he would pick up hitch-hikers:
I certainly would not stop for them. I don't want those smelly,
lousy, hermaphrodite beatniks in my car.
A French social worker gives more articulate expression to a parallel line
In as far as I respect the hitch-hiker he should respect me, the
driver, and I wonder to what extent there is contempt for me on his part.
There seem to be a number of young people who take advantage of the bourgeois
as a matter of principle, well ... of the property owner, if you prefer,
of the person who has a place in.the materialist system and who has accepted
the society we live in. There is a whole group of people, call them beatniks
if you like, though the term is vague, for whom it is a matter of principle
to reject the society we live in but who at the same time take advantage
The contempt and hostility of West Country people for the hippies coagulate
them into a clear and visible anti-community. Take a place like St Ives
in Cornwall: the police do them for smoking pot, though drunken trippers
are left in peace unless they try and drive a car; shop-keepers and cafe
owners put up notices: 'No Beatniks here', with alI the overtones of: 'We
like doggies but ...', 'Whites only'. In the mid sixties the local council
appealed to the townspeople not to employ, accommodate or associate in
any way with this 'undesirable element' (August 1963). There was talk of
putting coping along the top of the harbour wall to deny it to sun-loving
beatniks, of hiring an ex-policeman with an alsation to make sure they
didn't sleep out on the beaches at night, and even of raising a vigilante
group from the local rugby team. St Ives' welcome to long haired people
throughout the sixties has been such that they inevitably coalesce into
a psychologically self-defensive group. They have to.
While St Ives has a mainly Southern tourist trade, Newquay, further
up the coast, caters more for Northern people and most of the hotel owners
are from the North. This town has taken a much more violent line than St
Ives, where worse was proposed than actually done. In the mid-sixties the
Newquay council made it impossible for anybody to sleep rough by organizing
night dog patrols all along the front and cliff tops. The result was to
drive long haired drug takers into the already overcrowded servants' quarters
of hotels where their friends were working. The hotels have to turn a blind
eye because they desperately need any staff they can get in season. When
the hippies are faced with a community like Newquay that terrorises them
with alsatians simply because they want to lie on the beach at night rather
than in the day time like other people, it is hardly surprising that they
jell into a quite definite anticommunity.
One of the things that probably most riles the puritan mind is that
the long haired seem to live without labour. They lounge around alI day
like Aesop's grass-hopper, instead of earning the 'right to leisure' by
hard work. Local people wonder suspiciously how they manage to get enough
food to stay alive, for even though the beatnik needs no money in summer
for shelter or travel, he does need a bit for drugs and food. The four
main ways of guaranteeing minimum subsistence are:
West Country people are quite right in thinking that hippies are opposed
to a certain idea of work. According to Mr Polkinghorne, probation officer
for the area round Torquay in 1969, a lot of the boys who get in trouble
tell him they have come down from the North of England: because I didn't
want to go into the mill. He feels that they came South because of
dreary home surroundings and because of the legend of easy drugs, easy
sex and a mild climate. Beatniks interviewed by an Exeter Express and
Echo reporter in 1965 said they didn't mind living rough:
to do the odd two or three hours casual labour, say dish-washing,
to find a girl friend in a job and get the occasional handout from her,
to extract an allowance, a kind of danegeld, from parents, on the undertaking
that you keep well away from home,
to pinch milk bottles from doorsteps and to shoplift.
'We enjoy it. I was an apprentice painter in Derby but these paint
fumes burn up your chest, and who wants to work for somebody else anyway?
The report goes on: This was a common outlook among the dozen or so
beatniks I met: 'We can work for £12 a week and be making a profit
of £60 a week for the boss. Why bother when we can get by like this?'
said 18 year old Mick Goodwin from Stockport.
Taken all in all it is not surprising that West Country people with
dour Methodist roots and traditions should dislike long-haired young people
who take the sun instead of working, who take pot instead of alcohol, who
sleep on beaches instead of in cramped boarding house beds, who travel
by 'begging' instead of paying their fares, and who, in a small number
of cases, can be triumphantly convicted of robbing doorsteps of the odd
bottle of milk. Hostility in the socially backward South West is no great
surprise to the investigator, but it is striking that the vast majority
of the items in my file on contractors-out are either derisory or condemnatory.
Most of the people writing about contractors-out take absolutely for granted
that the values of the dominant society are unquestionably right and that
those who feel differently are sick, wicked or odd. It seems to rarely
occur to anybody that if a young person gets to the psychological point
of contracting out of his society there must be violent pressures on him
to have driven him into it. It is not an easy or happy development, but
in certain situations it may be a sanity saving one. I would say that this
was probably so in the case of 'John', discussed at the beginning of the
chapter. He was almost certainly right to rebel against the authoritarianism
of his school, the irrelevance of much of the subject matter taught and
the attitudes of many of the teachers. He was almost certainly right to
react against the closeness of his home. Many people don't manage to actively
react against psychologically intolerable situations and this inability
is overcrowding our mental hospitals. If children are brought up in the
Dickensian slums of the Northern cotton towns is it unhealthy that they
should want to avoid going into the mill?
The existence of an anti-culture like the hippies or of a quite different
one like the skinheads ought to provoke people to wonder about the values
of the dominant society that these groups call into question. The emergence
of anti-communities is perhaps an indication that certain things are wrong
with the dominant community. The problem is not solved by making the hippy
cut his hair and the skinhead grow his.
Possibly the most complete form of contracting-out is to leave not only
one's home and occupation but one's country as well. The people who decide
to hitch off abroad indefinitely soon find themselves absorbed into an
international anti-community which is continuously on the move but which
has focal points in places like Tangiers, Paris, Rome, Istanbul, Kabul,
Katmandu and until summer 1970 the caves of Crete. A glance at press cuttings
documenting international reaction to the long haired gives some idea of
the hippy anti-community's transcontinental scale:
NEPAL DISBANDS HIPPY CAMP
Katmandu, Dec. 11, 1967 -- A hippy camp at Dhulikhel, a mountain
village 19 miles from here on the Katmandu-Tibet highway, has been disbanded
by Nepal police. They are said to have deported the camp leader and warned
others to leave too. (Times)
THAILAND TURNS BACK FRENCH HIPPIES
Bangkok, May 27, 1968 -- Two French 'hippies' who crossed the Mekong
river into Thailand from Laos, have been turned back by Thai immigration
officials, who said they were too dirty and broke to come into the country.
A police report said the two men obtained a free ride back to Laos.
Rome -- a hundred 'capelloni', young people with long hair, were
arrested here on Tuesday evening and taken to the police headquarters.
Most of them were French and Germans. Those without sufficient means will
be returned to their countries of origin. (Agence France Presse)
YUGOSLAV 'WAR' ON HIPPIES
Belgrade, July 27, 1968 -- Youths in the South Adriatic resort of
Dubrovnuk have declared war on hippies and beatniks visiting the town.
Groups of boys armed with scissors have been forcibly carrying out haircuts
on long-haired visitors. (Times)
NO BEATNIKS IN FRANCE
Paris, April 4, 1966 -- The frontier police have received orders
to ruthlessly turn back any foreigners whose appearance is incorrect or
who are without resources. Henceforth access to the national territory
will be denied to persons of either sex who cannot show they have sufficient
means for their stay and whose slovenly clothes, shaggy hair and evident
state of unwashedness, constitute, one feels, an undesirable spectacle.
(Revue de Crime et de Police Intenzationale)
PROTESTS IN DELHI OVER HIPPIES
Delhi, October 23, 1967 -- Police report that complaints are increasing
and that the Hippies, in spite of repeated warnings, continue to beg and
live off Indians, peddle drugs and flout conventions. In the past few weeks
twelve hippies, including a Rhodes scholar, have been arrested on drug
CRETE EVICTS THE HIPPIES
The huge, fluid anti-community moving ceaselessly over Europe and Asia
depends for its amazing mobility almost entirely on thumbing lifts. The
size of the hippy hitch-hiking migration along the classic route of the
sixties between Europe and Afghanistan and then on to Nepal is hard to
estimate with any accuracy. The Observer (24 September 1967) hazarded
this informed guess:
Athens, June 4, 1970 -- The hippies, who formed a picturesque troglodytic
community in the ancient caves of Matala, the South coast of Crete, are
being turned out of their Minoan sandstone beds to make way for archaeology
and propriety. (Times)
Figures provided by the immigration departments through which they
pass suggest that the number moving between Europe and India and back at
any one time is not less than 10,000.
In 1970 the Times Athens correspondent, Mario Modiano, reckoned
that the hippy population of the Cretan caves fluctuated between a low-season
figure of about 150 and rose to a high of 1,000 in the summer.
In the caves of Matala the hippies seem to have achieved the ultimate
in setting up an anti-community. They lived apart from the host community,
relying on it simply for the purchase of a simple diet. They neither molested
nor were molested. A sign on the beach at Matala read:
Stranger, you who come here' forget Vietnam and Biafra and love
man and nature.
In the cliff caves of Sourhern Crete, the hippies established a successfully
functioning, unharassed social unit of their own an anti-community similar
in some ways to the sort of anti-community a monastery is. It is the human
warmth and comradeship of places like Matala (now no longer thanks to the
Greek church authorities and the colonels) that make the roamings of the
international hippy bearable. Stays and stop-overs in places like this,
in the heart of his own community, away from the incomprehension
and hostility of the outside, allow the hippy to refuel emotionally and
then move on.
One of the most incredible documents to come into my hands is the Paris
Prefecture of Police report on beatniks published in the Interpol journal
(Revue de Crime et de Police Internationale) in the November 1968
issue. One might have hoped for a serious and unbiased examination of the
phenomenon of the Seine-bank hippies and beatniks, but the writer of the
piece mixes his statistical evidence with paragraphs like this:
The real beatnik -- at least in Paris -- is distinguished by dirt,
sloppiness, laziness and a liking for the tramp's life. Red wine flows
freely, they search each other for fleas, couples make love unashamedly.
Even if only a few indulge in such behaviour, the spectacle they make of
themselves is still intolerable.
This kind of writing on the contractors-out is of great interest. The author's
ludicrous hostility of tone shows the extent to which these young people's
contracting-out of his society worries him. If alI they are doing is drinking
red wine and picking mutual fleas why should we get so hot under the collar
about it? In fact the police writer's descent from objectivity of presentation
into subjective abuse betrays his anxiety.
All the same the obstrusion of the author's own state of mind does not
rob the statistics collected by the Paris Police of a certain qualified
interest. Of the 1,000 'beatniks' questioned in June, July and August 1966
in central Paris, 818 were men and 182 (18.2%) were.girls. Just under half
were foreigners, 491. 33 nationalities were represented, with the Northern
Europeans in the numerical lead:
'Nomadism' is one of the features of the beat anti-community which
most struck the Paris police investigators:
Travelling, especially by hitch-hiking, is one of the main attractions
of this type of life. The beatniks on the banks of the Seine are always
passing through, on their way from Amsterdam to Rome and elsewhere. There
was even a plan for large numbers to meet in Istanbul on 15 August 1967.
During the summer they travel throughout Europe.
One of the things the police wanted to find out was why young people joined
the anti-community. These were the answers they got:
38% Rejection of family, professional or social restrictions
Some of the verbatim replies they got were:
25% Liking for cheap travel
12% Love of freedom
10% Pacifist ideals
15% Friendship, equality, atmosphere, fashion for long hair
No one offered me a job I liked.
The police were curious to know how beatniks got enough money to live --
these were percentage answers:
I refuse to be exploited by the boss.
I don't want to work or be ordered about.
My father complains because l've got long hair.
My parents don't understand me.
Society is rotten and nothing will change it.
I hate middle class life, the house, the car ....
12% live with their parents.
Clearly these results must be read with some disbelief as the 1,000 respondents
were questioned at police stations by uniformed police officers or by people
from the juvenile crime squad under conditions of temporary arrest -- a
bizarre interview situation. This explains why no mention is made by respondents
of income from sales of drugs, and prostitution is not touched on. Only
2% speak of begging. These 3 activities, especially drug trading, would
certainly figure in less abnormally collected information.
18% don't live at home but return there
for food and money. 6% are kept by their boy or girl friends.
15% have a regular occupation.
6% work occasionally.
3% are on paid vacation.
2% say they beg.
32% say they are artists (of these 13%
pavement artists, 14% musicians, 5% poets or actors)
In the course of interviewing contractors-out I hit on one man who has
been on the road on and off since 1964 and who expresses the feel and thought
processes of the international anti-community so well I want to let him
speak in a piece, without the interruption of analytical comment.
Brought up by his grandparents in Leicester, he used to go on huge bicycle
trips in early teenage. He first hitched at 14, while still at school.
He left the dominant community at 16 and had been in the beat anti-community
for the 6 years previous to the interview. He was 22 at that time. 2 of
the 6 years had been spent in a Greek prison on a hashish smuggling conviction:
This trip was March '65, that I left England, just meaning to go
some place, any place, any place at all that would get me away from this
place, any place that would change .... I went with some other guys, wanting
to do the same kind of things and never get worried about working and things
like that, cos, er, work sort of puts you in a narrow little tunnel and
you can't get out of the tunnel till you're right at the end, and it's
ridiculous. In the process you reject beautiful things and you may not
accept new ideas, in a way. You know, I've spoken to a lot of guys that
work and they're really decent people but they've been there for twenty
or thirty years. They've got kind of set to have been working twenty years.
The thing is they allow themselves to get set. They just didn't know it
was happening, but it has. I mean it's an accepted way of life, well, I
mean, no way of life is really acceptable because it's a little unbalanced,
by war, by politics, by having to ... you know .... We just wanted to get
ourselves basically clean, we felt we were getting ourselves very rubbed
in the muck, so we wanted to get clean and we just set off: not too much
communication, a little quiet and plenty of fast lifts to get where we
wanted to go.
Next he went to Copenhagen:
First we hit Vienna because I had a girl friend in Vienna. We stayed
there a couple of months until the place we were staying was busted for
being a brothel, but it wasn't a brothel. The cops raided an apartment
where we were staying, all of us in an apartment, a big eight-room place.
We were paying for it out of our wages, you know, from painting, it's ridiculous.
I don't know, man, I don't know, man, there were certain personalities
all mixed up there together which made it an unbelievable ... sort of an
unbelievable happy plac' like; there was always a lot of dancing, singing.
In the morning, the person who had this place knew a lot of people because
he was local, would have a lot of school chicks coming up to listen to
the music, do the washing up for us, talk to us, and um ... generally fruit
around the place, just sort of walking around. Afternoons a lot of girls
from the university'd come up -- it was strange you'd get your small girls
in the morning about 16 or 15 and then in the after noon these old students
coming up, about 18, 20, 22 and creating havoc, man! And just bombing ourselves
out every night, afternoon, after we'd finished painting, because we used
to do the scene in the mornings and finish about 2 or 3. All these girls
going to this apartment attracted attention because in Vienna you always
attract attention if you're unusual or do something unusual -- it's the
conservative attitude of their minds which makes them notice this and all
these girls tip-toeing and running upstairs, not to mention the music and
the floating wine bottles in the air on their way descending to the street,
below, you know, not to mention what the neighbours said.
Well it was a very freaky time, things were coming ... things were
coming to a head after being subterranean for so long, you know ... people,
blues, jazz, happenings, poetry, it was all reaching the surface, now,
'65. Remember the epidemic of '66, '67, you know, Sergeant Pepper
scene, you know, flower children in Hyde Park. I mean '64, this was happening
in the smaller groups and it just got ... circle became stronger and more
intense and burst open and then flooded around and created more ... larger
circle until it finally exploded and this was going on in Copenhagen. It
was my really first contact with poetry and jazz sessions, introduction
to poetry and jazz that really turned me on. Poetry was just an imaginative
thought to me, never really realised. So when this happened to me I changed
a lot of outlooks ....
He married Maria:
... And this girl Maria, she was there, and she looked after me
and we became involved, we listened to the jazz and about three days later
it was just too much, we couldn't stand it, we just -- she asked me at
the same time as I asked her. The whole scene was really created for us
by a ... some poet who conducted this marriage ceremony (laughs),
it was so crazy ... ever heard of Ted Jones? American Negro poet? He's
a European sort of ambassador for the Beat underground ... One of the jazz
musicians playing in Copenhagen most of the time was Dexter Gordon, he
was always playing ... this cat turned himself on so much that ... to his
sounds that he just couldn't switch off -- you know, he was so basically
into them, I mean they flowed off in a rhapsody. He was another creator
of tightness and community -- he'd come down and sit among you and have
a beer and talk to you, and you would ask him questions and he'd tell you
and answer the questions about music and it was ... quite a close thing.
He's tried street painting in Copenhagen but the police stopped that. Then
he got a labouring job, but still needed a visa:
... So off I trot down to the immigration authorities. I thought
it'd be all right, it'd be OK, you know, I was working, nothing wrong in
that, working is a respected way of earning a living. At work I'd been
going to work with a hat on, you see with all my hair lounged up in my
hat, it was a Cockney style hat, and then when I got out of work I'd comb
it down again. But I didn't take it up when I went to this cop station
and the immigration cop just looked at me, screamed, leapt out of his chair
and screamed: 'Nej! Nej! Nej! No! No! No! No visa! No visa! Get out! Get
out!'. He asked me:
As winter approached he and Maria went South West to Istanbul:
'Would you fight for this country if there was a war?' I said:
'Ah, I'm not Danish, I know that, but it depends on what you're fighting
'No, no, you're not good enough for Denmark,' he says, 'No, your
hair's too long, get out! Get out!'
We stayed in Istanbul about two weeks. We blew our brains out, you
know, we smoked hash every night, um, we managed to make it down to the
hospital to get our immunisation shots, smallpox and cholera, we managed
somehow to make it to the consulate to get our visas for Iran and somehow
through a remarkable escapade we managed to get out of Istanbul, which
is so hard to do, as I know.
Interviewer: Why, because you wa... you want to stay?
No man, because there's kind of inpenetrable barrier which I enter
when I go there which makes me love that place. I just have a very very
deep tolerance and feeling for that place, for what it is. Like, it's just
where I want to be, it's just the place where I like to be myself, in between
East and West. We see the both sides. I sit there; I meet people coming
from the East, I meet people coming from the West .... It's a kind of cross-roads,
it's like sitting in a cafe watching the road go by: you see people and
you look at them and you drink your coffee, and you think: 'I bet that
guy's a banker,' and you think: 'Maybe this guy's a bus conductor,' or
you just think anything. You might even like the trees across the road,
or the weather for that matter, but you can't miss the people who are passing
through there. This is why I like Istanbul, it's a place where nothing
really dies in a way, it's kept alive, everything is alive, very much alive.
It doesn't get boring there for a minute. To me this is everything that
Leicester isn't (home town and place of interview).
Maria and he went as far as Afghanistan but turned back with dysentery.
The return to Istanbul brought the end to their marriage. He left her,
went to Greece, and was jailed for being in possession of pot. At the time
of the interview he was about to set off on a trip to Australia.
The above extracts from the interview with the Leicester contractor-out
show clearly how the international beat-hippy anti-community flows this
way and that over the map of capitalist Europe and Asia, coagulating into
definite, tangible scenes in various crossroad cities.
One senses from Robert's words how vital these focal points of the anticommunity
are. The contractor-out can fully be himself once he reaches a haven like
the net in Vienna or the cafe scene in Copenhagen. While hitch-hiking the
beatnik or hippy is an alien, he is a member of an anti-community entering
the world of the dominant community. Drivers may often treat him kindly
but they perceive him as an alien, and over a long period this in itself
is wearying, like being Gulliver on exhibition in the land of the giants.
The hippy anti-community emerges as a pretty structured society. It
has its own uniform, hair style, vocabulary, travel habits, cultural orientation
and practical philosophy. Its attitude to life, as seen through Robert,
is a quietist-hedonistic one. He perceives the dominant society as having
an upside-down set of values but his reaction is to withdraw and live his
own scene quite independently -- he shows no signs of wanting to convert
anyone else to his way of thinking. He refuses permanent work, a permanent
place to live, when travelling he refuses to pay fares and usually to pay
for hotels. But all these are negative refusals, not active, positive,
confrontational refusals -- they do not interfere with the day to day business
of the dominant community.
It is the quietism of the hippies that confuses and angers the conformist
members of the dominant culture. They know how to react to left wing protesters,
student demonstrators and people actively intent on transforming
society: throw the book at them, use vice-chancellors, police and judges
to repress them on every front. You can imprison a man who actively protests,
but what can you do with a man who, turning his back, forms his own new
community? Robert feels that the frontier authorities in many of the countries
along the road to India would like to stem the flow of beats and somehow
contain them -- he says this attitude is hitting people who are still
creating, you know, their own movements, by themselves without paying;
they're going from A to B without paying, you know, they're hitch-hiking.
It's a kind of capitalism in a way wanting to make them go by trains and
The impotent, pent-up rage of the Danish immigration official at shoulder
length hair is typical of society's reaction to the hippies' implicit calling
in question of the dominant cultural values. Robert's reaction to him was
simply to move on and remain unconstricted. He talks of settled work being
a narrow tunnel, he compares the breadth of Istanbul to the restriction
of Leicester, he insists on the right to move, to meet and to be free.
He spent 2 years in a Greek jail for his right to smoke pot if he wants
to. He and the whole of his scene stand very close to Walt Whitman when
he writes in Song of the Open Road:
From this hour I ordain myself loos'd of limits and imaginary lines,
Going where I list, my own master total and absolute,
Listening to others, considering well what they say,
Pausing, searching, receiving, contemplating,
Gently, but with undeniable will, divesting myself of holds that would
I inhale great draughts of space;
The East and the West are mine, and the North and the South are mine