Where did hippies come from?

Tuesday, December 11th, 2018

Where did hippies come from?

Were they a totally novel development, as they were portrayed at the time?

In 1948, jazz crooner Nat King Cole was on Top of the Pops for eight straight weeks with the single “Nature Boy.” The song became a standard and was recorded by Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and Peggy Lee. (Much later, director Baz Luhrmann had a haggard Ewan McGregor type out the chorus at the end of his 2001 film Moulin Rouge.)

The record set off a brief journalistic frenzy in 1948 over its hitherto unknown lyricist eden ahbez, who had long hair and a beard, dressed in a robe and sandals, ate only fruits and nuts, had given himself a Book of Genesis first name and cosmic A-to-Z last name, and lived in a tent under the first “L” in the “Hollywood” sign.

In other words, years before the word was coined in the 1960s, this guy was a hippie. He and the dozen or so other robe-wearing proto-hippies who hung around a German couple’s health-food store in Laurel Canyon called themselves “Nature Boys.” Hence the song’s odd title.

Trying to figure out the story behind this weird anomaly led me to a 2003 article entitled “Hippie Roots & The Perennial Subculture” by Gordon Kennedy and Kody Ryan. They make the case for the origins of the hippie phenomenon in late-19th-century Germany: nudism, hiking (Wandervogel), health food, and the whole back to nature “life reform” business. It’s all more or less German.

This helps explain an odd phenomenon I noticed while hiking with my father in the Hollywood Hills above Laurel Canyon in the 1960s-1980s: About one out of four people we’d pass on the trails would reply to “Good day” with “Guten tag” or a Nordic equivalent. (Then during the early 1990s recession, hiking became fashionable in LA and the Teutonic flavor was quickly swamped.)

I’m a bit surprised that Sailer’s surprised by this. German Romanticism led to both hippies and Nazis. Many New Age ideas go back to Rudolph Steiner and the Theosophists — including pursuit of the almighty Vril.


  1. Adar says:

    Nature Boy was always a term for the professional wrestler who was noted for nudity and exposing his body. Frequenting nudist colonies, etc.

    Buddy Rogers, Ric Flair, etc.

  2. Faze says:

    Hippies (of which I was one) descend in a straight line from Puccini’s “La Boheme” crowd, through the purplish fin de siecle artists and their patrons, Greenwich Village of the 20s and 30s, back-to-nature types, to the Beats — with the added spice of birth control, LSD, a loosey goosey style of rock and role with sexy girl singers, Beatle-sanctioned long hair, California living, and the permissiveness unleashed by the loss of establishment credibility in the Vietnam War.

    One way hippies differed from previous incarnations of bohemia was in status accorded to drugs and those with access to them. The drug dealer — small or large — was a major figure.

  3. Questa Nota says:

    Need to mention Beatniks and their influence. Also look at poets in the 1950s and early 1960s for theirs, too.

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