Of Beatniks & Hippies

The term “hippie,” in the contemporary sense of the word, first appeared in print on this day in 1965. In his article “A New Haven for Beatniks,” journalist Michael Fallon used the term to describe a fresh generation of beatniks who were moving into San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district, practicing and advocating a counterculture lifestyle: marijuana, sexual freedom, and communal property. But the term was certainly in use long before, in various applications. This passage from The Autobiography of Malcolm X, also published in 1965, describes a beatnik-hippie type familiar to Harlem as early as the 1940s:

A few of the white men around Harlem, younger ones whom we called “hippies,” acted more Negro than Negroes. This particular one talked more “hip” talk than we did. He would have fought anyone who suggested he felt any race difference. Musicians around the Braddock could hardly move without falling over him. Every time I saw him, it was “Daddy! Come on, let’s get our heads tight!… He even wore a wild toot suit, used a heavy grease in his hair to make it look like a conk, and he wore the knob-toed shoes, the long, swinging chain—everything.

Jack Kerouac’s On the Road was also published on this day in 1957. Earlier on, Kerouac accepted or tolerated the link many made between the beatnik and hippie subcultures; nearer the end, as his politics turned right and his personal life fell apart, he was openly hostile to the connection. But his book and his backpack lifestyle helped to create the archetype:

It was drizzling and mysterious at the beginning of our journey. I could see that it was all going to be one big saga of the mist. “Whooee!” yelled Dean. “Here we go!” And he hunched over the wheel and gunned her; he was back in his element, everybody could see that. We were all delighted, we all realized we were leaving confusion and nonsense behind and performing our one and noble function of the time, move.

Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.