How the Bohemians Were Named (and stereotyped)

The purpose of this page is to act as an antidote for all the misinformation published in the popular press about each of the bohemian movements. There has been a nasty trend to stereotype the members of each of these movements, which of course, was not too popular with the people being stereotyped. I'll give examples of this for each of the bohemian movements of the 20th century (excluding Generation X, because they have yet to establish a published "voice.")

The Lost Generation:

This is the movement I know least about, since it was over with long before I was born. I also don't have much material on the Lost Generation stashed in my Archives. The only book on the subject I know of is Exile's Return by Malcolm Cowley. I remember that one of the things to come out of the Lost Generation was called Dada and these were a group of artists which behaved much like Kesey's Pranksters. Like the Merry Pranksters, the Dadaists were into pranks, put-ons and street theater. Another thing I know is that the Lost Generation was named by Gertrude Stein. Fitzgerald and Hemmingway wrote about their "lost age" in Stein's Bar. That brought about the "jazz age" of the beats, which was the next bohemian movement to come along.

The Hipsters

Before there were Beats, there were Hipsters. I'm not sure who named them, but their name came from hip, from the opium dens where people lay on their hip to smoke it. I'm not sure when they first appeared, but these were non-white bohemians, almost all Black. Since Blacks were excluded from most conventional work, one of the few jobs they were able to be successful at was music, especially jazz. They traveled around the country from gig to gig, turning on people to their lifestyle, language and drugs, especially marijuana. It was probably because of the Hipsters that marijuana was made illegal One of the places they flourished was in Harlem.

The Beats picked up their lifestyle from the Hipsters because they liked their music and hung out in the places where they played. Since most of the Beats were white, the Hipsters called them "hippies" to distinguish them from Hipsters.

The Beat Generation:

The Beats were still around when I was born and I have much more material on them. Almost every book about the Beats claims that Jack Kerouac named them, although one raises the possibility that Jack got the name from Herbert Hunkle (Memory Babe, p. 601). The name, of course, was just plain old Beat, Beats being the plural. Sometimes the Beats called themselves hipsters, but hipsters were really the Black jazz musicians. I'm not sure what year the name, Beat, was coined, but that was the name used until the spring of 1958, but that's getting a little ahead of the story.

In September, 1957, Kerouac's On the Road was published and was so hot that everyone wanted to get in a newspaper story about it. A month later, the Russians launched Sputnik 1, Sputnik meaning "traveling companion" in Russian, and a month after that, Sputnik II was launched.

I have no idea why newspaper columnists have to label every thing, but Herb Caen didn't think Beat was a colorful enough name, so he probably called his buddies down at Madison Avenue and asked them how one goes about marketing a member of the Beat Generation. Somehow they put On the Road together with traveling companion and Beat, and came up with...why beatnik of course. All this came to a head (which may be a bad pun), on April 2, 1958, when Herb Caen wrote:

"Look magazine, preparing a picture spread on S.F.'s Beat Generation (oh, no, not AGAIN!), hosted a party in a North Beach house for 50 Beatniks, and by the time word got around the sour grapevine, over 250 bearded cats and kits were on hand, slopping up Mike Cowles' free booze. They're only Beat, y'know, when it comes to work . . ."

Well, the Beat Generation didn't like their new name, and Jack in particular, didn't like being called any beatnik. But they not only gave the Beats an unwanted name, they also gave them an unwanted stereotype, which I think we all pads, sandals on the feet, little pointed beards, beret caps, sweatshirts with the sleeves cut off, bongos, being allergic to work... (see above)

It wasn't long after that when the first Beat Generation exploitation movies, made for TV beatniks and the rest of it all came out, and every teenager suddenly wanted to be a beatnik. So now the Beat Generation has something else it didn't need, groupies...and it didn't let up until the day Kennedy got shot...and the Beatles took center stage...

Worst insult Kerouac got from a groupie:
"Why you can't possibly be Jack Kerouac because he's a beatnik and all beatniks have beards."

The Love Generation (Hippies):

Just as the Beat Generation's roots came from the Hipsters and the Lost Generation. the roots of the Hippies (and even their name) came from the Beats. Oddly enough, the term The Love Generation also came not from within the group, but from a cop, police chief Thomas Cahill, to be exact, on January 24, 1967. It was such a perfect name, and I don't think any of the Hippies objected to it, but it was probably the precursor to the Summer of Love, which many Hippies did object to.

The term Hippie, however, has earlier roots. I've traced it back to Harlem, about 1939. Back then, the Beats were only teenagers, but the hipsters  used the word to refer to younger white wannabe Hipsters. Here's a quote from The Autobiography of Malcolm X (published in 1965) where "hippies" are mentioned:

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!" Sammy couldn't stand him; he was underfoot wherever you went. 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. And he not only wouldn't be seen with any woman but a black one, but in fact he lived with two of them in the same little apartment. I never was sure how they worked that one out, but I had my idea.

The Beats used the same word to distinguish between themselves and the younger bohemians. They must of heard the hipsters calling them hippies and then stuck it on the younger bohemians. I've heard stories that it may have come from The Steve Allen Show, which some of the Beats (besides Kerouac) may have appeared on, but haven't been able to confirm this. The first time it appeared in the press was on September 6, 1965 in a San Francisco Examiner story titled, "A New Haven for Beatniks," which was a story about the Blue Unicorn coffeehouse, written by Michael Fallon.

About the only things in common with the Hipsters and Hippies were the language and drugs, except for LSD, which most Blacks didn't dig. Hippies also had their own music, their own hangouts and a "back to nature" lifestyle that most Blacks didn't groove to either. At the time, the biggest goal of most Blacks was to become successful so they could move out of the repression and have a better life, but the Hippies were sick of materialism and wanted to try experimental ways of living, like communes, which Blacks couldn't relate to. So ironically, most Hippies were lilly white.

I'm not sure when the Hippies first started objecting to being called Hippies. I know that Kesey's Pranksters had an unspoken rule not to label things. "Why limit it," they thought. "If you label it this, then it can't be that." Well, my answer to that is, "If you don't label it anything, you can't stash it in the library card catalog. Kesey seemed to prefer "heads," while Frank Zappa preferred "freaks." Of course, what they were objecting to were stereotypes, but I don't think anyone stereotyped the Hippies until the so-called Summer of Love, when the Hippies really started getting press coverage, and the Hippie exploitation movies started to be made.

It was the Digger faction of the Hippies who objected to the idea of a Summer of Love. Allen Cohen and others held a press conference about the problem of the influx of Hippie wannabes into the Haight-Ashbury and wanted help from the city to deal with the situation. Having the press conference seemed to be a big mistake because they got more trouble from the city than help, plus it got the Diggers on their case. They claimed that the Hippie merchants were hyping up this "Summer of Love" business in order to make more profit, and it was attracting too many would-be Hippies to the Haight-Ashbury. They thought keeping the neighborhood out of the limelight was important because they foresaw that any publicity would being trouble, like the cops. They also objected to the merchants calling their burgers, Love Burgers because they didn't think that love should be associated with materialism. The best place to read about this feud between the Diggers and the HIP merchants is in the Digger Broadsides and the Communications Company Broadsides, but I don't think the HIP merchant's side of the feud was recorded and archived.

Actually, there was no way to get love out of that summer, in spite of what the Diggers thought. Besides the Love Burgers (and I don't know if they registered that trademark or not), there was a book called The Love Book that the police raised holy Cain over. There hadn't been a fuss in this town like this over a book since Ginsberg's HOWL came out, and that happened over 10 years before. Nobody paid much attention to that book until the Psychedelic Shop got busted over it, which of course, caused it to sell like hotcakes, because everyone wanted to get a copy and see what all the fuss was about. The author of the book got busted for writing it, Allen Cohen got busted for selling it and God knows how many other people got busted for reading it.

They had the trial and it lasted over five weeks. Just about every artist, poet, writer, philosopher, sociologist and spiritual leader in town had to drop what they were doing and testify before this trial. In the end, love won and the police lost. Everywhere you went in the city of San Francisco that summer, you saw the word love, and you could even hear about it on the radio. Scott McKenzie's song, San Francisco (be sure to wear flowers in your hair) had become a hit in the charts before summer had even started. This did much to attract even more people. So anytime someone tries to tell you that the Summer of Love never really happened, it's just as much a fallacy as when someone tries to tell you that everything was hunky dory that summer. The truth of the matter is that the Summer of Love did happen but everything was definitely not hunky dorie. One thing that happened that summer that wasn't very groovy is drug dealers started murdering each other left and right.

It took the Hippies (other than the Diggers) a while to learn how to deal with the press. They didn't grok the concept of assigning one person to be the public relations person who deals with the press and then telling everyone that when the press shows up, to send them to the public relations person. The Diggers and the Grateful Dead seemed to be the first tribes of Hippies to learn this concept. When their pad was busted in October, 1967, they held a press conference a couple of days later. All the other Hippies, however, didn't seem to get it together with the press until Woodstock, 1969. The Altamont bummer that happened the following winter seemed to be the last bad press the Hippies really got.

Another problem in the Haight-Ashbury seemed to be a lack of a counsel that included everyone. The HIP merchants had their "Counsel for a Summer of Love" and the Diggers had their opposing broadsides, but the Haight-Ashbury community didn't seem to have anything to bring the whole community together as a whole, other than a Grateful Dead concert or some other event in the park. I think it was Woodstock that changed all that.

Ironically, from a historical point of view, the word Hippie may be a blessing for the group rather than a curse, since it makes it easier to research. If you type hippie into one of the search engines, about the only false hits you get is from a programming language someone thoughtlessly named HIPPI. Hippies are the only group of bohemians this seems to work for. If you enter beats for articles on the Beat Generation, all you're likely to get are false hits. Beat is too common a search term. For the same reason, lost doesn't hack it for articles on the Lost Generation. But the beauty of hippie is it is unique enough to work.

What rose from the Ashes of the Haight-Ashbury

When the fat lady sang and the Summer of Love went belly up on my 15th birthday (and I'll have to admit, it was the most depressing birthday present I ever got), the news media gleefully reported that the whole Hippie thing was dead, like over, like vanished, like forgotten (at least they wished it would be forgotten). Even the Hippies (or at least the Digger faction of the Hippies) had a "Death of Hip" parade, where they marched down the street with a coffin, and they threw all the icons that they objected to into the coffin.Peace symbol necklaceHippie eyeglassesThese were all the groovy items that the HIP merchants sold, like peace symbol buttons, love beads, psychedelic eyeglasses (even Jerry Garcia had a pair of those, which he wore at Woodstock), posters and the like. When the Haight-Ashbury was invaded by all the teen-agers that summer, all these items became little more than freaking clichés. It was right then that Ron Thelin decided to close down the psychedelic shop and give everything away. Then, there was a mass exodus of Hippies (they now called themselves Free Men) from the Haight-Ashbury (If this were a movie, you'd see Hippies packing up their back packs and hitting the road while the song, Up to the Country by Canned Heat plays). Except for a bad riot where police beat up some Hippies in February, causing even more Hippies to leave (this was about the time the Grateful Dead decided to split from the Haight-Ashbury and establish a new home base north of San Francisco), not much else was heard from the Hippies until the next summer. Not much happened in San Francisco that summer of 1968, but every other city in the nation seemed to experience a Summer of Love, even a square uptight place like Dallas, Texas. Almost every San Francisco band (except the Grateful Dead) played in Dallas that summer. The only bummer that summer was the Democratic Convention in Chicago. If everyone had stayed home from that convention like good little Hobbits, Nixon might have lost.

The next summer, we had the Gay riots, the moon landing and then Woodstock. When it happened, Woodstock got some pretty bad press. "They've run out of food and they've run out of water, and people are going to hell in a hand basket as far as their safety and comfort is concerned." Then there was the bit about the bad acid. It was enough to scare any parent half to death. Of course, the truth of the matter was their kids never had a better time in their lives, but that fact remained obscure (to everyone who wasn't there) until the movie came out the next spring. Sometime after Woodstock (when, where and who, I have no idea) some Hippie came up with a great idea.

"Hey, let's have a Woodstock without the rock stars."
"Well how would we pull that off? Nobody would come if there wasn't any music."
"No, we would have music, but it would be acoustic music, like drumming and stuff, stuff we could do ourselves. Plus we'd have all the workshops and all the other stuff we had at Woodstock that Hippies like to do."

Well, it was a shoe-in for the Rainbow Gathering of the Tribes, and there's been one every summer ever since. Pretty soon, most Hippies didn't mind being called Hippies anymore.

Copyright © 1995-1999, Colin Pringle (
The mail link automatically fills in the subject field so I will know which page you're commenting on.
Filename: named.htm
5-22-95 HTML Ck Spell Ck last revision: 11-27-99