My Youth Envy
April 30, 2008
In 1970 I was 24 years old, a healthy, draftable, ex-student, arrested, released, anti war protestor, artist, actor, writer, party animal, wild boy. In short I was an idealistic romantic anarchist. I learned how to live in NYC for free from the Yippie Manifesto "Fuck The System" by George Metesky aka The Mad Bomber, or was written by Abbie Hoffman. Abbie the 1960s counter culture trickster, political activist whose words and actions inspired us to, well, fuck the system.
Abbie is my hero. For me he was the most important, wildest, craziest, most theatrical and original person in the Vietnam anti-war movement. How did a nice Jewish boy from Worcester Mass get so mishuga, so crazy? I was a nice Jewish boy from the incredibly conservative Five Towns. I envied and wanted to be like Abbie Hoffman. I wanted to be a radical Jewish trickster using humor to end the war and fight authoritarianism, to bring peace in our time. At least before I was drafted.
Yippies didn't spend money, sneered at capitalism, lived in self governed communes, gave out free food, got you a lawyer if you got busted, wore used clothes, and generally fucked the system any way they could. They were like the poor East Village immigrants with whom they mostly lived. I can't even imagine today why I ever wanted to do that. My parents did everything they could to escape from that Eastern European ghetto. Certainly the East Village isn't for poor folks anymore. Things change, squats become luxury condos. Laundromats become high priced restaurants and bars.
Nowadays I look back and see how dangerous those days were. I envy my youth, my rebellious courage and my complete lack of awareness of consequences. Was I ever dumb back then. I was freed from a mass protest arrest, but who knew what would happen if I was arrested again. I was getting a file, my father warned. A file like the one from school that follows you everywhere. So what I thought. So maybe they won't draft me because of my protestor's arrest record.
It was a cool November 1970. I was waiting for the opening of the People's Flag Show at Judson Memorial Church on Washington Square. I had made a small, weird sculpture for the show. I wasn't an artist, I was an anti war protestor using any and every media to broadcast my dissent against the Vietnam War. I'd done agit-prop street theater, anti-war tabling, marched, sang, sat down, ran from tear gas and burned my draft card in any and all demonstrations I could get to.
Opening night of the People's Flag Show promised to be the most important anti-war art event in history. Hundreds of artists had brought work into the church. The theme of the show was "who owns the American flag, it's use and abuse?" Several months earlier a commercial gallerist had been arrested for flag desecration when he exhibited a flag art work by sculptor Marc Morrell.
The night before opening we People's Flaggers gathered at an artist's loft rent party. Five bucks to get in with all the cheap beer and rot gut wine you could drink. Bring your own whisky, pot and LSD. Beautiful hippie chicks with flowers in their hair. Dancing to live rock and roll bands who played until everyone went home. All the famous artists were making flag pieces. Everyone was against censorship and the war. Lots of talk about past and future arrests. We would make world news. Remember this is 1970.
The organizers were hinting that Abbie Hoffman would be at the opening. If the pigs didn't stop him from entering a church. I was determined to be one of the first people in the doors. I was excited like a rock groupie. This was going to be big, this could change the course of the war.
I remember the opening even though I'm sure I was stoned. Abbie wore a
bold red white and blue stars and stripes shirt. I watched from next to my piece as he walked around, looking at all the artwork. Eventually he came to mine, which was on the stage behind some of the really big artworks. I'd taken an old chrome water faucet, stuffed a stiff, slick American flag so it looked like water coming out of it, mounted on a glossy white newel post. It was inspired by a former girl friend's glib comment: "I hope the pigs try to arrest everyone. What are they gonna do, make us drink poison?" She was a 60s kind of girlfriend.
Abbie looked at it, then me and laughed. "Really paranoid, man. You're right. They're in our water, our air, on TV, everywhere. I like it."
My hero, the radical Yippie I envied, he got it. He understood my piece. Wow! We were instant Yippie brothers. I was going to give the piece to him right then and there. My gift of shared paranoia.
Unfortunately he moved on too quickly. He picked up a flag covered dildo, laughing again. I didn't hear his comment. Abbie's dildo raising moment was captured by photographer Jan Van Raay. I suddenly thought, to Abbie I'm paranoid. The dildo artist is sexy. How I envied whoever made that dildo. I will be sex crazed next time. My work will get in pictures.
Well, there was no next time. I never made another piece of anti-war art. I've curated several anti-war and political art exhibitions. I'm still fighting militarism, corpocracy, corruption, hypocrisy, and political idiocy in other ways. It's been having the same results as the People's Flag Show. Lot of people with hopes and dreams, a lot of energy, and still a lot of war. Frustrating, yes, but worth every second. We can't let the warmongers think we've given up. Never.
But oh how I envy my youthful energy. I loved going onto the streets where working people came and went, from Wall Street to Midtown. I'd perform a rant, give out booklets and handbills, meet a woman, score some weed, go drinking, eat free, spend the night in complete pleasure, sleep the sleep of totally expended energy, wake up and start the day with a smile and a dream to end the war. Never thinking about my personal safety or health. Those were carefree radical days. Now I worry about stress killing me. And my computer crashing before I save this file.
I still envy Abbie Hoffman's theatrical political achievements. I envy< his courage in the face of police riots and judges. I wish he were alive today. Maybe we'd throw pies in authoritarian war profiteers' faces. Maybe he'd be the judge at a street theater impeachment trial. I'd be right there beside him, handing him pie plates or dossiers. He was an enviable nice Jewish boy, with amazing chutzpa. We need more like him today.
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