Firing Line with William F. Buckley, 1968
Guests: Jack Kerouac, Lewis Yablonsky, and Ed Sanders
transcribed by Jason Grimmer
A 1968 episode of William F. Buckley’s Firing Line, featuring a drunken Jack Kerouac, the Fug’s Ed Sanders and a clueless academic, Lewis Yablonsky, discussing the “Hippie” movement.
BUCKLEY: The topic tonight is the hippies. An understanding of whom we must, I guess, acquire or die painfully. We certainly should make some considerable progress in the next hour because we have with us a professional student of the hippies as also someone who has said to have started the whole beat generation business, and finally a hippie-type who can correct us, ever so gently please if we are wrong.
Mr. Lewis Yablonsky is a sociologist who studied at Rutgers and took his doctorate at New York University, and teaches at San Fernando State College in California, where he is chairman of his department. His first book, which focused on teenage gang life and drug addiction prepared him for his magnum opus which is called “The Hippie Trip: A Firsthand Account of the Beliefs and Behavior of Hippies in America”.
Mr. Jack Kerouac over here became famous when his book “On the Road” was published. It seemed to be preaching a life of disengagement, making a virtue out of restlessness. The irony is that when the book was belatedly published in 1958, seven years after it was written, Mr. Kerouac had fought his way out of the Beat Generation and is now, if not exactly orthodox, at least a regular practicing novelist whose thirteenth book, “The Vanity of Duluoz” is widely regarded as his best.
Mr. Ed Sanders is a musician, a poet, and a polemicist. He is one of The Fugs, a wildly patronized combo. He has published four books of poetry and has vigorously preached pacifism for a number of years.
I should like to begin by asking, Mr. Sanders, whether we have serious terminological problems, for instance: are you a hippy, Mr. Sanders, and if not, wherein not?
SANDERS: Well, I’m not exactly a hippy, I mean I have certain…ah…I have several sentiments for that quote “hippy movement”, unquote. I would say that I’m different from the hippies in that I would have a more radical political solution the problems of this part of the century and I have my roots more strongly in…ah…say the more classical tradition and in poetry and literature rather than in, ah, dope and street sex.
BUCKLEY: This, this you think…
KEROUAC: And you wrote, you published that magazine called what?
SANDERS: Called “Gutter Expletive” a magazine of the arts.
BUCKLEY: Well now do I understand from this that we, that we are supposed to make the inference that the hippies don’t have a highly developed political schedule, a highly political ideology?
SANDERS: The problem with the terms like ‘hippy’ is they have a definition foisted on them by the media and that the word ‘hippy’ has been limited by the necessities of the type of journalists that promote it. You can’t rely on the name hippy to include a human being and everything about a particular human being, you know, so it’s a bad term I think, because there’s no meaning, I think of hippopotamus, I mean you know and it’s like it has no other connection, spiritual and emotional, like say beat, the beat generation title had, you know it had other implications, but the word ‘hippy’ you immediately think of…uh…you don’t have any good connections.
YABLONSKY: I kinda disagree with that. I spent last year traveling around the country, various communes and various…Haight-Ashbury, Lower East Side, various city scenes and there was an identifiable…ah…define a hippy as generally a young person in several catagories, there’s kind of a priestly-type, I would include Allen Ginsberg, Tim Leary, and individuals like that, in that category (KEROUAC mumbles), ah people like, searching for some loving solutions to society’s ills, trying to tune in to the cosmos, whatever that means, we can explore that…generally using psychedelic drugs (KEROUAC gives thumbs-down) and then there’s a whole cadre of individuals who I’ve termed ‘novices’ who are attempting to achieve a certain transcendental state and then a lot of teeny-bopper kids who are sort of…ah…hanging on. Then there’s some ancient folks like Kerouac here who…
KEROUAC: (interrupting) Whaddya mean ancient?
YABLONSKY: Why couldn’t you keep quiet while I was talking? I’ll keep quiet when you talk.
BUCKLEY: Yeah, that’s fair enough isn’t it?
BUCKLEY: I think that’s fair enough, your request.
KEROUAC: You said ‘cadree”. It’s ‘cad-ray’.
YABLONSKY: Well, I’m sorry…
KEROUAC: Spanish word.
YABLONSKY: …I apologize…
YABLONSKY: …my semantics aren’t [unintelligible]
KEROUAC: And I showed my thumbs-down to Ginsberg, over there in the back.
YABLONSKY: Oh, he’s a nice fella.
KEROUAC: Yeah, we’ll throw him to the lions.
BUCKLEY: Well, what about it, Mr. Kerouac, you’re exorcised about something, or by something. What is it that…
KEROUAC: Restless is true, you had the right word, ‘restless’. Huh?
BUCKLEY: But what is it in your judgement distinguished the, the hippy movement from, for instance simply a routine radical…
KEROUAC: Get your question over with.
BUCKLEY: ..political movement?
KEROUAC: No, I interrupted your sent..sen (gulp) sentence.
BUCKLEY: Yeah, I say what distinguishes the hippy movement from simply an orthodox radical…say…
BUCKLEY: Adamite movement?
KEROUAC: Adamite? You mean Adam, Adam and Eve or atom?
BUCKLEY: A-dam. As in Adam and Eve.
KEROUAC: What’s an Adam and Eve? What’s an Adamite? Where they all wear their hair long, layers, in caves?
BUCKLEY: Yeah, and sort of back-to-nature and…
KEROUAC: Well, that’s all right.
BUCKLEY: …exclusive concern for…
KEROUAC: Might have to, in due time because of the Atom…ite…bomb. [Kerouac laughs].
BUCKLEY: Hey that was good wasn’t it?
KEROUAC: [unintelligible] boy.
BUCKLEY: Give that man a drink. Now Jack, Mr. Kerouac, what I want to ask is this: to what extent do you believe that the Beat Generation is related to the, to the hippies? What do they have in common, was this an evolution from the one to the other?
KEROUAC: It’s just the older one. See I’m forty-six years old, these kids are eighteen but it’s the same movement, which is apparently some kind of Dionysian movement…in late civilisation.
BUCKLEY: Um, hm.
KEROUAC: And which I did not intend any more than, I suppose, Dionysius did, or whatever his name was. But although I’m not Dionysius [unintelligible], I should have been.
[Audience and Buckley chuckle]
BUCKLEY: Yeah, that’s a point.
KEROUAC: No. It’s just a movement that just..ah…supposed to be licentious…but it isn’t , really.
BUCKLEY: Well now licentious in what was…
KEROUAC: The hippies are good kids, they’re better than the Beats, the Beats, well Ginsberg and I…well, Ginsberg, boy…we’re all in our forties and we started this and the kids took it up and everything…but a lot of hoods, ‘hoodlums’, and ah…communists jumped on our backs.
BUCKLEY: Um, hm.
KEROUAC: Well, on my back. Not his. [indicates someone in the audience].
BUCKLEY: Um, hm.
KEROUAC: Ferlinghetti jumped on my back…and turned the idea I had that the Beat Generation was a generation of beatitude and pleasure and life and tenderness, but they called it, in the papers, Beat Mutiny, Beat Insurrection. Words I never used. Being a Catholic. I believe in order, tenderness, and piety.
BUCKLEY: Well then your point was that a meeting that…rather that a movement which you conceived as relatively pure has become ideologized and misanthropic and generally…
KEROUAC: A movement that was considered what?
KEROUAC: No, a movement that was considered what?
KEROUAC: Yes, it was pure in my heart.
BUCKLEY: Um,hm. What about that Mr. Yablonsky, do you see that as having happened somewhere between the Beats and the Hippies?
YABLONSKY: I there’s a..in early sixty-seven going back to, well I suppose sixty-four or five, there were a lot of people trying to kind of a- return to a sort of an Indian-style of life or relate to the land differently to, ah, love each other, communicate, be more loving to each other, and I think it’s recently it’s taken a turn in a violent direction, a lot of responsibility, I think, is due to drugs like Methadrine, Amphetamines, and perhaps the over-use of –because it’s been around for quite awhile now- of drugs like LSD…
KEROUAC: How ‘bout the herring?
BUCKLEY: What is herring? Is that kind of drug?
KEROUAC: It’s a cherry herring.
YABLONSKY: No, no, no, no. Kerouac’s still…
YABLONSKY: …is out of style, he’s still on alcohol which is, you know…
KEROUAC: I’m on alcohol [unintelligible]…
YABLONSKY: …there are other drugs now that…
BUCKLEY: How about Mr. Sanders? Is that out of style?
SANDERS: Well, uh, you mentioned misanthropic and objectionable, I think…
SANDERS: …many of the …ah… so-called misanthropic elements of this generation is, are due to the war and that you have a surly generation of draft-eligible but literate and articulate people who are confronted with the hideous probability of having to go…
KEROUAC: Yes [unintelligible]…
SANDERS: …to an Asian land-war…
BUCKLEY: [to Kerouac] Shh, shh, shh, shh…
SANDERS: …and that, uh, so that have to go to war and they’re faced with this looming and gloomy future…
KEROUAC: [blows raspberry]
SANDERS: …and that rather than die in Vietnam, they’d rather prepare themselves to articulate a lifestyle, in the streets and in the open, that really reflects something they really wanna do, rather than this other thing you have to do later on they don’t really believe in, that they will do because, uh, push comes to shove, most kids go to war.
BUCKLEY: ‘Course the trouble with that is, it doesn’t account for the restlessness in, say, Paris, where they don’t have that particular problem, does it?
SANDERS: Well that’s the…
KEROUAC: Who’s [unintelligible]
SANDERS: …’up against the wall’ syndrome, I mean…
[fade to commercial]
BUCKLEY: Mr. Sanders, I’m interested in trying to pin this point down because a lot of us have heard that the restlessness of so much of American youth, which has contributed to the growth of the Hippy movement, has to do with the trauma of Vietnam but then all of a sudden awhile ago in France what seemed like the entire student population exploded even though that particular provocation was singularly –in fact conspicuously- absent, France having been officially very pro-North Vietnam, very anti-American. How do you account for that and has it caused you to perhaps look in for more generic sources of this sort of…
SANDERS: I think it’s the nefarious occurrence in French civilisation of Madame DeGaulle.
BUCKLEY: Madame DeGaulle?
SANDERS: Because she has exercised a noxious influence on French television, sitting up and personally censoring it, and I think…
SANDERS: …no, I think it’s absolutely true. I think that when you have a type of a obnoxious matriarchy that’s evident in France plus a[sic] encrusted , boring, boorish university structure, and ah..you know..ah..this…ah…the old man himself, and who wouldn’t? I mean it’s a whole thing to, God…there’s a huge structure to revolt against.
BUCKLEY: So as Madame DeGaulle is roughly equal to Vietnam…
SANDERS: She’s Madame [unintelligible].
BUCKLEY: …she’s [unintelligible]. Aha, ah Professor Yablonsky, what would you say if a student of yours told you that?
YABLONSKY: Well, I think in the United States, the Hippies, with all the tantamount difficulties of defining them, come from the middle upper classes, upper socio-economic situation, and these are generally people who have tasted the best of what American society seems to have to offer, they have access to all the goodies, and they’re turned off by it, they feel that it’s kind of a plastic society , there’s no room for political change – I’m talking about the pure Hippy, the pure Hippy isn’t particularly involved in politics, he sort of retreats from that, he’s withdrawn from it, and he’s involved in –I mentioned the term ‘cosmic consciousness’ before – there is an experience one seems to get under LSD that a lot of people talk about as putting them in touch with all things, with all people, and there’s an effort –a kind of an extremist effort- at love that seems to dominate the Hippy scene and a retreat from politics.
BUCKLEY: Well, is there a causal relation between, they’re adopting this attitudes – and the Vietnam War- or do you reject the Vietnam War as the proximate cause of this movement.
YABLONSKY: I think the Vietnam War is part of it…
BUCKLEY: But if there had been no Vietnam War we might’ve had the identical things that you’re pointing to.
YABLONSKY: Well, I think that part of it, there’s a lot of, there’s no single cause for a particular movement, I think part of it may have been the assassination of JFK, I think people on the left felt that through the establishment, through political devices, that society could move in other directions and then…
BUCKLEY: And what direction was it moving in 1963 that was pleasing to them?
YABLONSKY: Ah, there was a movement toward greater welfare programs, towards resolving in some ways the civil rights issue, there seemed to be some hope, and then this seemed to be snapped off and a lot of kids who went to Mississippi and….
BUCKLEY: But, if I may say so, precisely the movements that didn’t get passed in 1961, 62, and 63, of the kind you just enumerated, were passed in 64, 65, 66, so there would seem to be almost negative correlation between the civil rights legislation and welfare passages and the growth of the movement.
YABLONSKY: Well, I think if you cross-compare the limited JFK administration and the rather lengthy LBJ administration, I think the LBJ situation has kind of been going through the motions of doing something and there was a certain – I feel and a lot of people have told me this – spirit afoot in the country and there seemed to be a bit of a revival with Bobby Kennedy and here again – and to some extent the McCarthy involvement – and I think a lot of people are turned off from the political establishment because they don’t see any hope for changing it, they use terms like ‘plastic’ and more severe words about it, they’ve disengaged. They’re uncommitted to it.
BUCKLEY: How about that Mr. Kerouac? Does that make sense of you in terms of…
KEROUAC: I’ve lost the entire train of thought.
BUCKLEY: Well the train of thought has to do with whether in the last few years people have ceased to look at the political process as profitable, in terms of bringing on the kind of world they want to live in, and maybe that has something to do with the assassination of Kennedy, that kind of thing.
KEROUAC: No, that was an accident. I refer back to Count Leo Tolstoy, who wrote War and Peace, y’know? Leof Tolstoy. He said that at one time, the hourglass – that sand is coming down from on top of the hourglass down to the other- and that will be the end of war. I think that war will be over. Fairly soon. Although I don’t know for sure. That’s what Tolstoy said.
BUCKLEY: Well, yeah…
KEROUAC: And he was the guy who taught Gandhi and Thoreau…
BUCKLEY: Yeah, ah..
KEROUAC: Henry David Thoreau.
BUCKLEY: Yeah. Taught ‘em a lot of foolish things but [unintelligible]…
KEROUAC: No, but I didn’t get the full context of your question.
BUCKLEY: Well, the full context of the question is: Are a significant number of Americans precisely at an age when we enunciated the great society…
KEROUAC: No great society!
BUCKLEY: ..ie, the society that was actually going to introduce politics as well…
KEROUAC: As far as I’m concerned…
BUCKLEY: …in everything, are they disillusioned and does this have to do with the growth of the Hippy movement?
KEROUAC: In the first place, I think that the Vietnamese War is nothing but a plot between the North Vietnamese and the South Vietnamese – who are cousins- to get Jeeps in the country. [Audience laughter].
BUCKLEY: They’re not very plotters, are they?
KEROUAC: Well, they got a lotta Jeeps! [Audience laughter] I think they’re pulling the wool over our eyes and we’re little American lambs.
BUCKLEY: They turned out to be more expensive than Sears Roebuck Jeeps, didn’t they?
KEROUAC: That’s what I really think there. As for the Russion takeover of Czechoslovakia, that showed the world what they’re like. What the Communists are really like. They’re really Fascists.
BUCKLEY: Well yeah, I don’t guess anybody doubted that, except maybe Mr. Sanders, right?
SANDERS: I’ve…I think it was a terrible thing…you know, I, uh, if I were in Czechoslovakia or a Czechoslovakian student I’d be putting out a[sic] underground newspaper and doing my best to…
KEROUAC: Called what?
SANDERS: Called Gutter Expletive [Kerouac stomps and laughs, obscuring sound]…
BUCKLEY: Well since…
KEROUAC: Didn’t spill nothin’, Bill!”
BUCKLEY: …since you aren’t in Czechoslovakia, ah Mr. Sanders, what do you consider it appropriate to do in the United States?
SANDERS: During the presidential campaign?
BUCKLEY: Yeah, by way of protest against the Czechoslovakian…
SANDERS: Oh, well I recommend sit-ins in front of the Russian missions…
KEROUAC: What for?
SANDERS: To vigorously and more forcefully, yet non-violently, to witness against it. I would advocate writing articles and advocate, you know, maybe going to Czechoslovakia, I mean, we may, the Fugs are going to Europe in a couple weeks and we may just…
KEROUAC: You gonna bring your carbines?
SANDERS: We’re going to the Essen Song Festival in Germany and we just try to freak across to Czechoslovakia to try to visit Kafka’s birth place, I guess. Was he born in Prague? So we may go have a homage to Kafka with the, uh, with our band.
BUCKLEY: Well do you draw any generalities on the basis of the behaviour of the Soviet Union which instruct you in assessing other political situations?
SANDERS: Yeah, like Mayor Daley in Chicago.
BUCKLEY: What are those?
SANDERS: Well, those are that, when you attempt to essentially, peacefully, gather together to press a point about war or about a freedom or about a freedom of journalism, that when you’re confronted with people like the Soviet leaders and like the leaders in Chicago, namely Mayor Daley and Mr. Stahl and Mr. Barger of the Chicago Municipal Office, that you’re confronted essentially the same position, you’re not allowed, you’re clubbed, you’re maced, you’re gassed, you’re freaked, zapped, pushed over if you’re an old lady, you’re thrown through a plate glass window. If you’re a cripple, you’re thrown against a street light. If you’re a peaceful, long-haired, loving protestor, you’re smashed and knocked down, if you’re a camera man, you’re bricked, your camera’s destroyed, and your blood is splattered all over you, I mean it’s a nefarious scene and there’s all kinds of correlations and the only [unintelligible] you would draw would be to prepare yourself –and in the sense of, if you’re a non-violent like I am, and if you believe in pacifism- you attempt to create a body of love and light so that that thing can’t happen, that there’ll be so many loving people there that you will have a festival of life and all its attributes and you can do that by praying together, loving together, by – Allen was singing “Ohm” in the streets, which is the Hindu benevolent word, and by getting together and creating love I think it’s a great force and at least in allowing you to demonstrate in the United States against Daley, who’s like Al Capone, you know?
BUCKLEY: Yeah, sure
KEROUAC: Beware of false prophets who come unto you dressed in sheep’s clothing and underneath they are ravening wolves.
SANDERS: But who’s that?