|Illustration by Jordin Isip|
On the afternoon of December 31, 1967, I was with a group of local organizers gathered at Abbie and Anita Hoffman’s Lower East Side apartment, enjoying some powerful Colombian pot as we planned demonstrations for the Democratic National Convention, to be held in Chicago the following summer. We needed a name, though, so that reporters could have a who for their journalistic who-what-when-where-and-why lead paragraphs.
A couple of months earlier, the San Francisco Diggers had held a parade to declare “The Death of Hippie.” They wanted to be called “free Americans” instead. It never caught on. Nobody was about to yell, “Get a haircut, you filthy free American!” While the Diggers wanted to avoid press attention, we sought to use the media as an organizing tool. Now, what could describe a radicalized hippie most accurately? I felt a THC-inspired brainstorm coming on.
I went through the alphabet, letter by letter, searching for a word that would rhyme with hippie, almost giving up before I finally stopped at Yippie. Of course. We could be the Yippies! It had just the right attitude. “Yippie” was a traditional shout of spontaneous joy. What a perfect media myth. Working backwards, I realized that Yippie would derive naturally from the acronym YIP, and then I tried to come up with a title having those initials.
Youth — this was essentially a movement of young people involved in a generational struggle. International — it was happening all over the globe, from Mexico to France, from Germany to Japan. And Party — in both senses of the word. We would be a party and we would have a party. We would be the Youth International Party, and we would be known as the Yippies.
Yippie was simply a label for a phenomenon that already existed, an organic coalition of psychedelic dropouts and student activists. In the process of cross-fertilization, we had shared an awareness of a linear connection between putting kids in prison for smoking pot in this country and burning them to death with napalm on the other side of the planet. It was the logical extension of dehumanization.
I moved to San Francisco in 1971, bringing a chunk of hashish along for the ride. When I interviewed Ken Kesey, he used it to brew a saucepan of hash tea, which we sipped as we sat facing one another at my dining-room table, each armed with an electric typewriter. At one point, writer Ron Rosenbaum rang the doorbell. He wanted to borrow a sugar cube of acid. I explained that I was in the middle of an interview and invited him in, but after watching Kesey and me silently typing and passing pages back and forth across the table, he decided to leave.
The next year, three weeks after the Watergate break-in, researcher Mae Brussell completed a long article for the magazine I published, The Realist, documenting the conspiracy and delineating the players all the way up to FBI Director L. Patrick Gray, Attorney General John Mitchell and President Richard Nixon. This was before the Washington Post ran Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s first installment on the conspiracy behind the incident, while the mainstream media were still referring to it as a “caper” and a “third-rate burglary.” My printer insisted on $5,000 cash before that issue could go to press. I didn’t have the money, yet I was filled with an inexplicable sense of confidence.
When I got home, the phone rang. It was Yoko Ono. She and John Lennon were in town, and they stayed with me that weekend. The Nixon administration was trying to deport Lennon, ostensibly for an old marijuana bust, but really because they were afraid he would perform for protesters at the Republican convention. We smoked a blend of marijuana and opium and talked about the Charles Manson case, which I was investigating. Lennon was bemused by the way Manson had associated himself with Beatles music, particularly the song “Helter Skelter.”
“Look,” he said, “would you kindly inform him that it was Paul who wrote that song?”
Yoko said, “No, please don’t tell him. We don’t want to have any communication with Manson.”
“It’s all right,” Lennon said. “He doesn’t have to know the message came from us.”
He was absentmindedly holding onto the joint.
I asked, “Do the British use that expression ‘to bogart a joint,’ or is that only an American term, derived from the image of a cigarette dangling from Humphrey Bogart’s lip?”
“In England,” Lennon replied, with his inimitable sly expression, “if you remind somebody else to pass a joint, you lose your turn.”
They read the galleys of Mae Brussell’s article. Her account of the government’s motivation and methodology provided a context for its harassment of John and Yoko. I mentioned my printer’s ultimatum, and no persuasion was necessary. They immediately took me to the Bank of Tokyo and withdrew $5,000 cash. The timing of their gift was so exquisite that my personal boundaries of coincidence were stretched to infinity.
Paul Krassner is the author of Sex, Drugs and the Twinkie Murders: 40 Years of Countercultural Journalism.