Everybody's clown but nobody's fool. Get ready here comes Wavy Gravy!
What comes to mind when you first think about the era of history we call the sixties? Hippies, right? So I decided I want to interview an old hippie. As I thought about it, a name came to mind, a name very symbolic to the counterculture of the 60'-70's. His name is Wavy Gravy, yes like the Ben and Jerry's ice cream flavor. But there's more than an ice cream flavor behind Wavy Gravy. He is truly one of the longest lasting symbols of counterculture. So prepare, as I take you through the counterculture of 1960's through the eyes of Wavy Gravy.
He was born into the name Hugh Romney. Hugh spent his high school years in West Hartford, Connecticut. Early on, he decided that he wanted to go to school to become an actor, but he first needed some in cash to make it happen. So in 1954, he joined the army. He doesn't recommend the military as a career choice, but the Korean war had just ended, and he figured he could slip in and out real quick before the next war rolled around. He said, "It was a dumb decision on my part, but it helped me pay for my college education."
After he finished his contract with the military he got an honorable discharge and moved on to Boston University Theater Department. He quickly got involved with the poetry-reading scene and began to read poetry with Jazz music. Soon after, he moved to New York, where he went to school at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theater, and graduated in 1961. In New York, Wavy spent all his time at Greenwich Village reading poetry and going to school. People in this scene were called "beatniks." When he did his readings he mixed a lot of jokes about his everyday life with poetry. Many people found his readings hilarious and asked him to concentrate more on just the "funny stuff about [his] life rather than poetry." "I went from being a published teen-aged beatnik poet to hip comic tongue dancer right before my very eyes," he said.
In 1962, he packed up his stuff and moved onto California. There, he recorded "Hugh Romney, Third Stream Humor" and joined an improvisational theater company in San Francisco, where he expanded his ability to entertain and have a blast doing it. Wavy soon after dropped out of touch with life and left his family and moved to the Hopi Indian reservation in Arizona to await the coming of global cataclysm. When he arrived, the Hopi told him that we was way too early, but he could hang out for a while to straighten out his life. While spending time with the Hopi he learned about the interconnectedness of everything. This opened his eyes up to living in peace with his surroundings. With these new revelations, he moved to Los Angeles to tell people of his findings.
Back in L.A he met Bonnie Jean Beecher, a successful television actress, who he later married in 1962. They moved to the infamous Hog farm, where Wavy and Bonnie moved to rent-free on a mountaintop in exchange for taking care of 40 huge hogs. Several hippies lived in a communal style with them on the farm.
This communal style of living was very popular at the time. Many hippies felt that if we as humans live communally, our impact on the environment would be much less. So there was a huge movement from the cities to communes throughout the sixties. There was also a huge movement from people in middle America to the coasts. hippiesighn.jpg- A poster for the Haight-Ashbury street fair People from the country would flock to places like the Haight-Ashbury district in San Francisco to be around people who had their same ideals. At that time people grew their hair long, wore huge bellbottoms, and clothing with every color imaginable. Drugs were also a huge part of the sixties counterculture. Some people used drugs to escape fear, some focused on psychedelic drugs to expand their awareness and consciousness, some used them because it was simply part of their culture at that time. Parks became very popular hang out spots for hippies. There were free stores, especially in San Francisco, so that if you couldn't afford things like food, clothing, and toothpaste, there were places where you could get these things. There were even free medical clinics started throughout the country, some of which still exist. It was a time of change.
When the Vietnam War began, many people got more mad as they gained knowledge about what was going on. The threat of nuclear war also scared the whole world half to death. The more educated people got, the more they realized how corrupt America is and how they has citizens of this country need to stand up and take action. People took action by changing their lifestyles, organizing protests and demonstrations, and doing simple community service. The awareness of the environment being endangered increased, and people took more action to protect it.
This is how Abbie Hoffman summed up the sixties, "We are here to make a better world. No amount of rationalization or blaming can preempt the moment of choice each of us brings to our situation here on this planet. The lesson of the 60s is that people who cared enough to do right could change history. We didn't end racism but we ended legal segregation. We ended the idea that you could send half-a-million soldiers around the world to fight a war that people do not support. We ended the idea that women are second-class citizens. We made the environment an issue that couldn't be avoided. We were young, self-righteous, reckless, hypocritical, brave, silly, headstrong, and scared half to death. And we were right."
As for Wavy Gravy, he continued his communal lifestyle with his hogs on his mountaintop. The only problem was hippies from all over heard of the hog farm and very quickly the hippies started to outnumber the hogs. The hog farm crew performed light shows and energy games at the Shrine Exposition Hall in Los Angeles with Cream, Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, and the Grateful Dead. All top musicians of the time.
Protests against the Vietnam War were going on all over the country, so Wavy Gravy decided to take his Hog Farm to the road. They bought some buses and geared up for their exodus to protest the War and entertain people while doing so. They were a moving light show, a rock band, a painting, a poem, an anti-war rally, and an anthem for freedom and change. On their trip across the country, huge crowds gathered to see them perform and join in solidarity against the War. They soon gained very high publicity and were almost like celebrity's everywhere they went. On their travels, they got invited to Woodstock. This is where Wavy Gravy gained his fame by being the voice of Woodstock. The traveling Hog Farm was selected to run the security. When they were asked what their plans were for security, Wavy replied from the stage of Woodstock "What we have in mind is breakfast in bed for 400,000." They had tents of free food and water to give out. They also had a medical tent for anybody who had medical problems, though it was most often used for people who overdosed on drugs.
But how did Wavy Gravy get his name? At the Texas Pop Festival after Woodstock Hugh was standing on stage with world-renowned blues artist B.B King. It just came to B.B King and Hugh quickly accepted it. From that point on his name was Wavy Gravy.
Wavy later took his bus rally overseas, where he saw many sick people who needed medical attention. He started SEVA, an international health organization to assist people overseas in unhealthy environments. He later started Camp Winnarainbow, which is a performing arts summer camp that shows kids and adults how to use the other hemisphere of their brain with performing arts. That's what Wavy Gravy continues to do today. He's carried on his work to this very day. So next time you see Ben and Jerry's ice cream flavor Wavy Gravy remember it's a lot more than just a flavor.
As for the spirit of the sixties, that same change is still in our society today. There are still things that we must do to keep creating positive change in the world. Whether it's making an adjustment to your lifestyle and the way you consume things, or whether it's getting educated and throwing a protest. There are things that you can do, but education is first. Our parents had the movements of the 60s and 70s, and now it's our turn. Always educate and liberate.
Please email me at:
Links to Other Dispatches
Irene - FBI spies, Pigasus for President and Yippie hippies
Neda - Commune with a refrigerator full of cheese!
Stephen - The summer Woodstock REALLY rocked!
Stephen - Taking a stroll down not so easy street
MAD - Drugs: Take a stand against life in the $60 billion fast lane