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In Search of the Sixties… in Amsterdam

Paradiso a Survivor of long ago era of exuberance, Amsterdam, 2017

Paradiso, Amsterdam, 1973

In search of hippie ghosts and youthful memories, I recently visited the Amsterdam music institution and concert venue—Paradiso. The front wall of this two hundred year-old building is plastered with dozens of concert posters. In the Sixties Paradiso was established as a multi-disciplinary center for the emerging the counterculture.  Fifty years on, not only surviving, but succeeding, Paradiso hosts two live music shows every evening.  Inside and out, it hasn’t changed much since my first visit in 1969.  The main room still reminds me of the Fillmore in San Francisco, open seating, balconies, and baroque architecture. Comfortable like old bell-bottom jeans, I felt at home. But this time, I stood out with my pony-tail hair, a stranger in a familiar land.

But ‘hippie’ was NOT forgotten this summer up and down California. In San Francisco swirling fluorescent colored posters and dozens of events celebrated the fifty-year anniversary of the ‘Summer of Love.’  High-brow museums like the De Young Museum in San Francisco and the UC Berkeley Art Museum packed in visitors who wanted to look back on that magical, almost mythical time, when Scott MacKenzie sang ‘Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair.’ Written by John Phillips of the Mamas and Papas as a promotion for the Monterrey Pop Festival, a halcyon moment in the exploding youth culture, it branded San Francisco as the hippie city.  After Monterrey ‘hippie’ became firmly planted in the mass consciousness as a California thing. Apparently, it still is to this day.

Dam Square, Amsterdam, 2017

Riding a bicycle around Amsterdam this year, the countercultures’ European headquarters in the Sixties, I saw no posters of concerts promoting the old days, no museum exhibits, and even more surprising—no long haired guys. Institutions established in that era such as Paradiso and its’ associated visual arts venue, Milky Weg still flourish, but no recognition of the days of free concerts in Vondel Park and toking weed on Dam Square. My home in those days was H-22, located on one of the outer canals, where for $2 one could get a bed and breakfast.  Generosity prevailed in those days, for example, when I was robbed and lost my money and passport, they allowed me to earn my room and board until my traveler’s checks were replaced. Love was in the air, even the American Express office believed my story and immediately reimbursed the stolen checks, as did the American Consulate which issued a new passport.

So natural at the time, but now was it just a passing fad? A dream? Sometimes a nightmare? A watershed moment in history? Did Amsterdam’s hippie period fade into history like the Dutch East India Company, WW II and Mata Hari (a Dutch native)?  It felt that way in Amsterdam this year.  Perhaps it WAS a California thing, part of our American history but not important enough for Europeans. But in those days, European hippies were as prevalent and active as Americans. The political side of the generation dominated in Europe: In France, a general strike shutdown the country, the Provos in Amsterdam staged huge demonstrations, and Germany’s Red Army Faction captured and killed establishment leaders.

Former Concert Stage now child-care center, Vondel Park, 2017

I went to Europe this year to check-out what has changed since my first foray almost fifty years ago.  My personal quest was to revisit a thread of my life—European backpacking.  I and thousands of like-minded spirits,  members of the most wide-spread counter culture movement in world history, wandered all over Europe looking for adventure and fellow members of our tribe.  Variously known as hippie, new left, anti-establishment, freak, counterculture—our generation wanted to make a break from the slow progress of humankind.  In those days we were the future.  Now, I wondered if we were a footnote in the mist of  European history, with no  lasting legacy other than the  polarized political and social scene, global warming, and classic rock and the best place to look would be the epicenter of hippie in Europe.

During summer of 1969, while Americans were focused on the moon landing and Teddy Kennedy’s Chappaquiddick imbroglio, I and my close buddy Big Ed booked a charter flight from LAX to London with $500 in traveler’s checks, a youth hostel card, and a backpack filled with jeans (a valuable commodity in Europe in the sixties). Three months on the rails and hitchhiking led us to Amsterdam and an authentic hippie pad where we smoked hash, listened to Jefferson Airplane and found sartorial treasures (like the Dutch mailman’s wool cape I still own) in flea markets. With the summer adventure seared into my core memory, I returned home a committed member of the counterculture, whereas before I was just another suburban kid protesting the Vietnam War.

In those days all roads led to Amsterdam from LA, Berkeley, Boulder, Cambridge, Sydney, Cape Town, London, Berlin, Rome, youthful explorers were on the move. Still seeking adventure, what I found in Amsterdam this year saddened me. What I found were the skeletons of the past. On Dam Square, rather than young longhairs lounging around, tourists with designer shopping bags rested for a few minutes, while a team dressed in American football uniforms performed chants. Where the American Express office used to be is a McDonald’s. Even the erstwhile sex district, where prostitutes display themselves, has become a tourist attraction with couples of all ages gawking at the greatly diminished number of ‘working girls.’ Whereas in the seventies, one had to go to Kosmos and a few other select places, coffee shops where you can buy and consume cannabis are now sprinkled throughout the tourist zone.

Concert Stage, Vondel Park, 1973

Disoriented by images of the past and present, I bicycled to Vondel Park (the main park, near the center), where in the old days regular outdoor concerts drew hundreds of young people.  Now the concert band shell is occupied by a children’s arts program. Next stop was Paradiso, my window to the past.  The main room still reminds me of the Fillmore in San Francisco, open seating, balconies, and baroque architecture.

H-22 & RW Klarin, 2017

Somewhat mollified that my memories weren’t just fantasy, I  biked to an outlying canal, Herengracht, to see my home-base hostel in the old days—H-22.  A dormitory, the place provided a cheap place to stay with a cafeteria.  Generosity prevailed in those days, for example, when I was robbed and lost my money and passport, they allowed me to earn my room and board until my traveler’s checks were replaced. Love and community prevailed. Even the American Express office believed me and immediately reimbursed the stolen checks, as did the American Consulate which issued a new passport.  As I stared at the old hostel, which is now a school for disabled children, a young couple passed by. They took my photo and asked why this place? I told them the story concluding with the cliff-hanger of losing my stuff, and said, “And it all worked out.” The guy responded, “Yes, you’ve had a life.”

Amsterdam has mainstreamed part of our countercultural such as the music and hash, but overall like my own hometown of Venice, it has become a tourist magnet where ‘squares’ from Ohio or Prague or Simi Valley or Munich, feel comfortable to walk around and spend money.   Except for Paradiso and Milky Weg, Amsterdam could’ve been my neighborhood of Venice, CA with more canals. Cities once only available to the affluent few or the poor, adventurous youth like me, have become theme parks organized to extract tourist dollars.  With the spread of global consumerism and tourism, something precious has been lost in the places we ‘discovered’ back in the sixties/ seventies.

Soon after returning to LA, I discovered an old friend from the anti-establishment wars that has been reincarnated—The Los Angeles Free Press and my spirits lifted:   I’m not alone in honoring  and promoting the values and vision of the Sixties.  The seeds planted back then have not died.  In this highly stressful and polarized era,  the lessons, vision, and values of the Sixties have the potential to inform and inspire.  Resistance is not enough. Perhaps it is time  to re-member, to put back together the pieces of solidarity, peace, freedom, and love and again dream of a better world.

Them Changes

If we don’t change, we don’t grow. If we don’t grow, we are not really living. Growth demands a temporary surrender of security. —Gail Sheehy

We cannot live for ourselves alone. Our lives are connected by a thousand invisible threads, and along these sympathetic fibers, our actions run as causes and return to us as results. —Herman Melville

The spirit of the original hippie days knocked on my door at a café on San Pablo Ave in Berkeley. While I sipped a dark roast coffee, I looked around a classic  21st century café, with organic, fair-traded coffee, a comfortable patio, retro-chic knick- knacks, and free wi-fi. An empty bottle of Lancer’s circa 1966 sits on a window sill. Surrounded by old stuff, the café evokes a calmer, simpler time. But for many Boomers, the 60s and 70s, didn’t feel simple and calm.

Back then the scent of cultural revolution was in the air. Our generation was going to be different, anti-Establishment values informed us back then. We wanted a change and we wanted it now. A prescient anthem was Dylan’s ‘Times They Are A Changin’ (1962). A tumultuous decade of protests resulted in some modest changes in the political sphere: the lowering of the voting age, end of the draft, more civil rights for women and ethnic and sexual minorities and the impeachment of Nixon. Buddy Miles reflected the stress of those times in his 1970 song, ‘Them Changes.’ In other areas stewardship of the environment, ending futile and pointless wars, and economic fairness, we failed miserably. In these measures we have left our children a country in worse shape than we found it.

One of the most enduring gifts from the Boomer generation is the music and its corollary, the freedom to self express. Our music presented a vision of an idealized time of peace, love, freedom, and harmony in a highly contentious time. We pointed the middle finger at our elders who were ‘square,’ ‘bigoted,’ and ‘uptight.’ All things Establishment were at the risk of our ire and idealism. It was in the lyrics of the songs, but also expressed in other forms— movies, clothes, hair and more. We considered ourselves different, the Now Generation who would set about making the world with peace and. love.  The high point came at Woodstock in the summer of 1969 and later in the year the shadow appeared at Altamont.  The naiveté of the times was shown in hiring the Hell’s Angels for security one of whom  was  accused of  stabbing and killing a young man while Mick Jagger sang, ‘Sympathy for the Devil.’ But many of us were dreamers and lived for freedom and love. Guided by John Lennon’s words in ‘Revolution,’ we sought to free minds instead of perpetrating violent revolution.   The Sixties cry for freedom resonates within most people, especially Americans. Looking back we can see that the ‘liberals’ weren’t liberal enough for many impatient youth. Resistance to the Democratic party’s political dominance prompted the rise of the underground press, the most prominent of which was the Los Angeles Free Press.

Following that spirit of youth and freedom, we aspired to build a new society, but we failed. Our nation took a drastic turn to the right. Since Reagan’s arms build-up that resulted in the implosion of the Soviet Union, we have been on a constant war footing. Coupled with excessive deregulation, anti-union policies, and tax breaks for the 1%, we now live with extreme natural disasters, climate change, increasing gap between the rich and the rest of us, self-righteous religious zealots, and never ending preemptive wars of aggression. It is no wonder that the youth of today look to our music for inspiration. We had great ideas and slogans and made a lasting, if limited impact on the political system as well as lifestyles.  Some argue that the rise of Trumpism began as a reaction to the idealistic New Left of the Sixties.

In the 70’s our generation’s revolution subsided, but had lasting impact on lifestyles (think meditation, yoga, health foods) like others before it. The majority took the road most traveled, the one most traveled.  The by-product of that conformity produced the fruit of climate change and tribalism infecting our body politic today. Nevertheless, we Boomers have continued through the power of our numbers in the marketplace and the voting booth to express our views loudly. However, despite positive trends, such as expansion of gender and sexual equity, organic food, yoga, and electric cars, society has lost ground on key quality of life indicators, obesity, traffic, economic security, bigotry, and personal privacy.

At a talk in Hawaii in 2011, renowned researcher on the science of human consciousness, Peter Russell, was asked if he had hope for the human race given its extreme challenges. His answer, “I don’t know. I hope so, but I don’t see the evidence for it.” As I sat in that room of 100 Boomers and a handful of 21st-century yogis/hippies, I realized that a positive plus of aging is to be knowledgeable and appreciative, of one’s past ideals.

Can we reconnect with our youthful vision of equal rights, economic justice, environmental sustainability, and the end of futile wars? But firstly, we need an honest inventory of our successes and failures. That recollection may be infused with regret or longing, but within the group memory is the power of community. Our generation once had hope, vision, and purpose. We can make a difference again. We now have the age and resources that come with it: time, economic freedom, knowledge, and mobility. Let’s leave a positive legacy. To paraphrase Peter Fonda in Easy Rider, ‘Let’s not blow it again.’

Inner Journey:

What do you miss from your youth? From your middle age (30–60)? What were your ideals in youth?

Action Steps: 

Pick one social issue that inspires your interest. How can you make a difference with your actions? Now do something concrete to address it.

Deena Metzger’s Tree is Still Free


A throng of young protesters wearing masks and wielding clubs attack ‘conservatives’ at a rally at UC Berkeley, the home of the original free speech movement. Back in the Governor Ronnie Reagan days, the attackers would have been the ‘Blue Meanies’ as we students nicknamed them in the Sixties.  But now these opponents of speech pose as progressives and claim to be ‘anti-fa;’ (for anti-fascist) protesters who claim lineage to the fully exposed demonstrators of over fifty-years ago. Mario Savio must be spinning his grave.

What has happened to the left? What would the anti-fa do if an Allen Ginsberg look alike pulled one of his anti-establishment rants at a rally protesting conservatives? Would they accuse him of sexual harassment for micro-aggression for his unconventional stunts like disrobing at a poetry reading? Would the words in his seminal poem, Howl, like ‘cock’ and ‘pussy’ offend? What about the frequent speeches like those by ‘Jesus freaks’ on the plaza in the 70s?

Who are these people? Are they FBI undercover agents seeking to disrupt legitimate complaints about conservative positions? That did happen back in the day, and given the level of surveillance and the authoritarian nature of the Establishment today, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were.  But on its face, it is not inclusive.  Authoritarian and intolerant, its’ posturing is antithetical to the values and ideals of the New Left of fifty years ago.

In 1970, I knew a Black Panther and attended a  Panther meeting with him. At that meeting at a coffee house in San Francisco, a lively discussion explored the likelihood of FBI agent provocateurs in the group. By that time, J. Edgar had almost no inhibition in his war against the radical movement.  He planted undercover agents in radical groups around the country in addition to inciting violence at anti-war demonstrations.   And it worked. Discredited by faux radicals and overwhelmed by Establishment newspapers maligning the New Left, the movement disintegrated into squabbling factions like Weather Underground and the SLA.  Fortunately, underground newspapers like the Los Angeles Free  Press and the Berkeley Barb exposed this undermining of progressive politics.

A period of exhilaration occurred when President Richard Nixon was driven from office.   His misdeeds combined with J. Edgar Hoover’s disregard for the constitution validated the radicals suspicion of persecution.  After the Freedom of Information Act was passed, evidence of the government’s harassment of the left was exposed.  In the 1976 presidential primaries, Jerry Brown’s populist campaign and forward thinking ideas reaped the scorn of liberals because he didn’t conform to Establishment dogma. Instead, a mild-mannered but non-innovative peanut farmer, Jimmy Carter, was elected. His moderate policies were easily exploited by the former movie actor and governor who blamed the country’s ills on Berkeley radicals. Seduced by the smiley face of Reagan and his cowboyism, a weary public caved to repression stronger than ever. Most of the radicals cut our hair, got graduate degrees, and/ or built fortunes. In other words, we were coopted.

RW and Deena Metzger at her reading at the Topanga Public Library, October 217

A few weeks ago, I finally had the opportunity to meet a local Los Angeles hero of free speech—Deena Metzger. Ms. Metzger was a cause celebre’ at Los Angeles Valley College in 1969.  I was a sophomore and anti-Establishment.  At this suburban community college, her cause became our local version of the free speech movement .  Deena Metzger went on to be a prolific novelist, writing teacher, and shamanic healer. But in 1970, she made the front page of the Los Angeles Free Press after she was dismissed from her teaching job for “immoral conduct.”  To illustrate censorship, she wrote and used in class a sexually graphic poem, Jehovah’s Child.  The Los Angeles Community College Board of Trustees voted to terminate her.  According to Ms. Metzger, the only vote against her dismissal was from newly elected trustee and later four-time governor Jerry Brown. True to the ‘cheap’ reputation he later earned as a higher office holder in California, Brown’s reason was that it would be fiscally irresponsible, Metzger said.*

Free Speech Plaza, LA Valley College, 2016

The scandal was a big sensation at the college. Demonstrations were held in the quad, later renamed Free Speech Plaza, supporting Metzger. Detailed stories were published in the LA Free Press, along with fragmented reports in the campus newspaper. The importance of free speech was brought home for me in the Metzger incident, but I had not met her until just last month. It was during my weekly writing session at the Café Mimosa in Topanga Canyon, that I noticed a flyer announcing a reading by Deena Metzger. A  cycle had come full circle and right on time. The time was ripe for a  glance back, the familiar issue—free speech, is back. Finally, I got to meet Deena Metzger, especially satisfying now as a reporter for the LA Free Press.

Like visiting a relative after many years absence, I felt like I was returning to a familiar person, and wanted to present myself as successful in life. Kind of like an accounting: What have I done? Did I stay true to the values? I’d never met her, but for me she represented that era’s hope and possibility for one’s self and society. I wasn’t disappointed. Remembrance of that old story added reality to my youthful memories.

A soft-spoken woman, with an earth mother quality accented by her many scarves and rings, Deena Metzger conveyed a grounded power. Still radical, her focus is now on the natural world and the pressing need to take care of our world. Comprised mostly of women from her long-running writing group, the audience seemed to absorb more than the words but also her essence. She spoke from experience within herself and the world.

Like a time-warp in that library room, I remembered how exhilarating those times of pushing the socially condoned boundaries felt as a 20 year old college student. After the talk, I bought one of her books and told her my story. She inscribed, “Many blessings for our shared history.” Meeting Deena contributed to my resolution of that long ago era of freedom when it was our zeitgeist. My soul felt freer knowing one of LA’s vanguard in free speech is unbent.

The soul of the Sixties still lives, grows, and teaches with Deena Metzger. Freedom is just that and the real heroes of freedom like Deena put their careers on the line and showed their faces. Metzger stands as an icon of the rich Los Angeles and Topanga iconoclastic history.  And real progressives are those who show their faces.

*In 1969, I was fired from a tenured teaching post at a local community college for reading to my students a poem I had written on censorship and pornography.  The case soon became an occasion for the advocates of censorship to organize themselves against the students’ right to  know and the teacher’s right to teach.  After three years, I was restored to  my position by the California State Supreme Court.

From Deena Metzger’s Writing  for Your Life.   1992

Inner Journey:

Imagine your  life at 20.  What did you believe in?  What did you strive for?  Who were your  academic heroes?

Action Steps:

Did you sustain those values through the decades?  Perhaps you can revisit one of those inspirational individuals and renew and act on that principle.

Would you support bringing back the Old News (the LA Free Press!) to help the New News get a better perspective of what's really happening?

(...and get a whole bunch of personal freebies :) in the process??)