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As all that is solid melts to air and everything holy is profaned...

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Freaks not Hippies- Crass and Counterculture Generation Gap

Gerard/FITD has got the impression from the Undercurrents / Crass in Context sections below that I am calling Crass 'hippies' and points out they had nothing to do with 70s west London 'hippy' scene (e.g. Hawkwind and Pink Fairies etc) . And that Dial House became a commune in late sixties not in the seventies .

What I was trying to do was outline a broader picture of the pre-punk era rather than neatly locate Crass in any particular region. In particular to flag up the existence of a 'non-musical' alternative/ counterculture as represneted by Undercurrents magazine - which included a strong direct action /protest element - esp. in Europe, with tens of thousands mobilising against nuclear power stations.

In the UK, it was the construction of Torness nuclear power station which was the target - in 1978 around
10 000 turned up and occupied the site... so that the anti nuclear weapons protests of the early 80ies did not come out of nowhere, but followed on from seventies protests against nuclear power stations.

Crass and the Countercultural Generation Gap

I find Dave Elliot's 1977 Undercurrents 'Spitting in the Wind' article on punk significant since it reveals a generation gap between different phases and forms of what is /was the counterculture. Was this simply a process of exhuastion? Activists get burnt out. After a few years of protesting it becomes dififcult to keep the energy levels up and very difficult to combine having young kids and being an active protestor, social revolutionary... but, and this is something I felt / noticed with the nineties road protests, the next wave have to re-learn what the previous wave learnt.

I have started exploring this theme, but not got very far - will have to pick up the thread again later and also need to structure the argument better.

In the meantime I have found something Mick Farren wrote for IT in 1972 and stuck it on the end as a kind of illustration of the cyclical nature of the counterculture. If counterculture is the right word.


Between 4 and 6 every Wednesday for three years from 1979 to 1981 I used to hang out in Small Wonder record shop in Hoe Street Walthamstow. I had to go to evening classes in engineering at Waltham Forest College. Small Wonder was a warm place to waste some time before college. Since I was such a regular customer (I didn't have a record player, but bought records anyway) I got to know the owner Pete Stennet quite well. We would chat away and he would play whatever new records had come in.

Although the mainstay of the shop was punk, Pete was not a punk. Nor, although he had long hair, was he a hippie. He could get quite irate on the subject.

"We never called ourselves 'ippies. We were freaks."

Hippies, as far as I could work out, never really existed. It was a lazy journalistic label given to members of the late sixties/ early seventies radical generation. But they never called themselves hippies, they called themselves freaks. Which is confusing.

For example, if I say Mick Farren and the Social Deviants/ Pink Faires were freaks, that probably doesn't mean very much. The Yippies were freaks. In the USA they caused chaos on Wall Street by throwing 100 dollar bills into the trading floor of the stock market, tried to get a pig elected president in 1968 and attempted to exorcise the demons they reckoned infested the Pentagon.

Mick Farren and the 'White Panthers' (of which he may have been the only one) had fun at the Isle of White rock festival in 1970. Mick and the Pink Fairies/ Hawkind set up a free festival on the edge of the straight festival and also managed to pull down a section of perimeter fence allowing a few thousand people to get in for free. From this came the idea of 'free festivals', like those held in Windsor Great Park - and which, after the last Windsor Free Festival got busted in 1974, led to Stonehenge Free Festival which lasted until 1984.
Stonehenge was also where the countercultural strand that was punk looped back into the countercultural strand of the freaks. Mark Perry and ATV played Stonehenge in 1978, as part of their joint tour with Here and Now. There was also the Crass/ Penny Rimbaud/ Wally Hope strand. And there was a Mob one too - I am sure Mark told me once that he used to go to Stonehenge before he was in The Mob. The last issue of Kill Your Pet Puppy (No. 6 from 1983) involved a journey from a punk squat in London to the festival at Stonehenge.

The culmination of this was (depending on point of view), the absorption of a whole cohort of punks by the 'hippy' (i.e. freak) traveller scene OR the take over of the traveller scene by punks. Or should that be ex-punks? The whole situation semi-repeated itself a few years later when elements of acid house rave culture overlapped and fused with traveller festivals. Again there was a lot of tension between 'old' and 'new' countercultures.

Mick Farren article - from IT February 1972 found at


Did you believe in the idea of an alternate culture whose evolution could undermine and finally break the stranglehold of capitalist death culture on our planet?

Did you also believe that the situation of a minority holding authority and deciding the behaviour of the rest of us was a destructive one?

Did you think that a society that was sufficiently plural to contain a number of different beliefs existing in harmony was a preferable situation to a regime that permitted little or no variation on a single lifestyle?

Did you ever express the idea that a person should be free to do what she or he desires providing it harms no one?

Did you feel that social change and a change for individual consciousness was so linked as to be indivisible?As you read this are you feeling embarrassed about the fact that a lot of these concepts are naïve hangovers from flower-power?

This embarrassment could be the result of a trend in underground media that has lately made it fashionable to dismiss the good ol’ hippie idealism as childish and impractical, and suggest a concentration on solid, sensible adult political solutions.The retreat from a hippie, illogical revolution to solid Marxist Leninist good sense is possibly another symptom that social change toward a free human environment on this planet is losing ground.– a symptom similar to finding too many people too wrecked on downers to even think.– similar to us all getting drawn into various consumer capitalist shucks.– Similar to the increasing poverty in freak communities everywhere.

The freaks attacked capitalism where it hurt. (You who are laughing at this statement should now explain to yourselves why our rulers bust hippie rags like Nasty Tales and Oz and not, say, the Socialist Worker). The capitalist system is unable to cope with the active freak on any level. It can be the level of the lone Viet-Cong who rode into Saigon on a motorcycle, machine-gunned a lot of US officers and split, or it can be the level of a bunch of freaks who, stoned on acid, start painting the High Street dayglo.

The system which works on a killer logic is mortally afraid of the freaky, joyous act. They are afraid of homosexuality because it is an act of love, of joy that has no hypocritical bullshit about families, children and apple pie. It’s joy, and that’s it, and so it had to go.The first response of our rulers was to repress the freaks with physical and psychological brutality.It was failure.It merely brought us together and gave us strength and energy.Then they tried to contain us by destroying our energy.And they are getting more successful every day.All God’s children having clap should not demoralise us, but it does, it is as though we had been promised it was going to be easy.

Capitalism, over the last five years, has made great efforts to replace most manifestations of freak culture with sad, rip-off imitations that seek to destroy communal energy and isolate the individual. They also demoralised us by deceiving us into judging the products of our own culture by capitalist standards.If a rock festival attracts a million people who watch a whole bunch of superstars but feel isolated and lonely, it is generally acclaimed as a success. A festival where ten thousand freaks show up, watch other freaks make music, get high and joyful, is put down as a failure.A band like Emerson, Lake and Palmer seek to impress the audience with the fact that they (the audience) lack the ability to do what the musicians are doing: their end product is that the audience feel inferior and isolated. (Think about the groupie reaction and read that again).A band like David Peel and the Lower East Side seek to impress the audience that any one of them are able to do what the band is doing. The audience can take part and create a total joyous event.The problem is that we are encouraged to view ELP as a success and David Peel as a failure.

We are being forced to think of our culture in commercial terms.We are being re-conditioned to think like capitalists.Even concepts like success and failure are being used to undermine our confidence that we are able to organise our own culture and society.Say you wanted to provide the freaks in your neighbourhood with some of their material needs; so you want out and conned some old capitalist to put money into a "hippie store" in the hope of his making a load of bread. Say the store went broke in six months because you had been giving the stock to people who had need of it.Would that be success or failure?The only person who could call it a failure would be a capitalist.

There is a fashionable saying: - Freaks can’t get anything together. It was invented by the system to bring you down.When you are down, the system has another set of answers: -Here, man, have some downers. Here, man, get into sensible, serious politics. Here, man, buy a Grand Funk album.Have you ever had some far out idea that your friends have laughed at and called you crazy? Have you felt frustrated because of it? Your friends are reacting to this kind of pressure.To be called crazy should be a compliment.Blow up a bank as a revolutionary protest or blow up a bank to see the flash? Or does it matter?

The system seems very afraid of colour, of flash, of high joyful energy. It is afraid of people coming together. If you hide in your pad or freak ghetto, if life becomes drab and quiet, it means the pigs are winning.A new summer is coming and it can either be a hard time or a series of weir, colourful, joyful events that jar the confidence of straight society.They may react in hysteria and fear. It will require strength.It will, however, generate it’s own energy and strength once it begins.

If it does not begin, we move closer to being parasites on the system, begging for crumbs, dependant on them for our food, homes, clothes, music and our very lives.We come closer to accepting the drab, lonely, frightened existence of our parents. We will join the system that is killing our planet.The stoned fantasy is in vain, unless it becomes the absurd reality.

Remember Fudd’s First Law of Opposition: - That which is pushed eventually must fall over.


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