Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don't criticize What you can't understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is Rapidly agin'.
Please get out of the new one
If you can't lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin'.
The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is Rapidly fadin'.
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin'
We wanted to be wild untamed unrestricted and un r e st r a i n a b l e ! We wanted to be free like wild animals, like the wild children of the forest… We wanted to roam the planet like hunters and gatherers, eat what we found, sleep when and where we got tired, and fuck in the middle of the road. We wanted to be Mowgli, Tarzan, Robinson Crusoe, Kaspar Hauser and Huckleberry Finn. We wanted to be cave dwellers, Neanderthals, messengers of a prehistoric time, before things had started to fall apart. It was Europe 1965 and the inner cities still displayed plenty of ruins to provide a perfect background for us incurable romantic runaway-kids on a mission to save the planet!
The world we lived in: Stereo was becoming popular though the first Beatles singles were all still recorded in Mono. There was no colour TV. Everybody had short hair the ‘astronaut’ haircut was fashionable (that’s why the Beatles tame ‘mop heads’ appeared so scandalously long). There was also no ‘pill’. It had been invented but was only available for the special, shiny people. Sex always had the frightening aspect of an unplanned pregnancy. Condoms could be bought at a slot machine in the smelly mens’ room at the train station. That’s how undignified the odyssey to the mystery of all mysteries started.
We wore lots of black -- black leather, jeans, custom-made Spanish boots, self-made leather sandals, and strange jewelry made from found objects, and the craftsmanship of exotic cultures. We let our hair grow long, and as result turned into living targets for an ever-present angry mob. They weren’t in the mood to tolerate mutants who obviously didn’t comply with the local standards. On the other hand, meeting somebody else with long hair meant not only instant friendship, but also automatically the sharing of all resources.
Having long hair, or any other mark distinguishing one as a misfit, would in addition have the advantage of preventing people from trying to talk sports or sitcoms with us. In fact, people would talk only to us when in deep misery, when they had just been fired, when their girlfriend had left them, when they just got out of jail, or when they were completely drunk. Or, all of the above!
What we perceived of society -- maybe wasn’t representative of the whole -- but was definitely not appealing as a choice. We were a small group, probably less than a hundred of young outcasts, who made a living as pavement painters, street musicians, and others, who had found some mysterious way to live off the street without having to succumb to a permanent job. We didn’t all know one another personally, but usually had heard some tall tales and truly amazing stories about each character.
J. and I were childhood-friends who grew up in postwar-West Germany. We were only eighteen, and our young minds needed to either explode or expand when our fundamentally Christian beliefs were dramatically challenged, changed, and reinforced by intensive experiences with the psychedelic drug DXM; at the time an over the counter cough-medicine.
The drug-experience allowed us to embrace diverse religions and philosophies, but we also were forced to take our own Christian belief more seriously, and decided to live a truly spiritual life without possessions, careers, and all the other comfortable promises of a regular life.
I bought a sleeping bag, gave away my earthly possessions, and went ‘on the road’. I entered a world I was not prepared for and one that wasn’t prepared for me either. I hitchhiked through Italy, the South of France, and Spain. I learned how to survive in spite of my longhaired beatnik-look.
In the early Sixties London was a Mecca for spiritual travellers and that’s where our urgent desire for enlightenment drove us. The parks, the streets, the art-galleries, the clubs, and the bookstores we frequented were the fertile breeding-ground of everything the Sixties brought about a year or two later. Music, drugs, religions, and new technology brought young people together in a rather risky lifestyle that at times ended in addiction, jail, or death.
My friend J. and I spent the climactic summer of ‘64 in London, and we almost started a religious cult with the help of generous amounts of DXM (brought in from Germany), which we administered to anybody interested. We understood ourselves as Gnostic, communistic apostles of a new gypsy religion! The attachment to property and possessions was looked upon with contempt. No, the ‘good life’ in the material world was no temptation for us, -- we wanted our own personal interview with God! We accepted only the highest authority!
To become worthy of such divine access, and being young, we instantly became excessive, undertook all kinds of daring deeds, like experimenting with any available drug and vast amounts of those. We took mountains of DXM, shot up heroine and cocaine – in those days clean and legal in Britain! We tried anything psychoactive that was available from nutmeg to opium. All this I pursued, of course, to get ready for the ‘end of the world’ or to meet the love of my life whichever came first.
But the tumultuous summer in London had to end, and my friend J. and I returned to the grim reality of Germany and Switzerland in autumn and winter. By now J. had us both firmly convinced he was Jesus, super-powers included! Self-sacrifice, as one of the imperatives of Christianity doesn’t make it a very safe religion for young, unstable truth-seekers. Eventually I sadly concluded: ‘Unlike the legendary Jesus of the Bible, my best friend Jesus didn’t really love people, he loved Jesus.’
I would babysit J. through his frightening DXM overdoses, but after some months of this, I ran out of steam. Slowly our ways parted, even though we kept in contact for a couple of years. I discovered that organized religion spent more time disproving matters of common sense than making an effort to give you your personal audience with God. You have to remember that in 1965 the Catholic Church was still years away from accepting a non-geocentric worldview. Galileo was still on their shit list.
And so was I. In fact I was on almost everybody’s shit list. Except when I was painting on the pavement then I was a saint! Especially around Christmas! I have to admit that a ‘Madonna with Child’ by Raphael, on a dark winter afternoon, on the sidewalk, glowing in the ambient light of the store-window behind, could be quite a sight -- a crowd-pleaser -- and a money maker. Sometimes we were swimming in money and would spend the evenings counting, wrapping, and labeling bags full of coins on the Formica-covered tables in drab hotel rooms.
Usually we had to phone the hotel from a booth around the corner and reserve rooms so when we appeared in our mutated otherness they couldn’t back out and claim: ‘There is no room in the inn’ or ‘All the rooms are occupied’! Fairly often, though, we would find ourselves on the street in the night, with a good chance of getting frostbite or worse. Sometimes I would buy a return ticket and take a train to nowhere just to get some decent sleep in the well-heated department of an empty night-train. They would refuse hospitality but not transport.
I had lived on the street now for a long year and already felt like a veteran. I was a sleeping bag-carrying member of my tribe! My friend J. and I had a couple of followers travelling with us. Our little group of apostles consisted of Don and Dennis, two Canadians, whom we met in Switzerland, and ‘Doc’, a young man and aspiring existentialist, who joined our tribe in Mannheim. Then there was occasionally Rudi Rasputin, a wild bear-like man, of enormous charisma. Even though Rudi couldn’t paint we took him along because he was adept at riling up the masses to protect us from the cops.
I had planned to migrate every winter to the warm South. Instead -- I found myself stuck in the dirtiest industrial area of Germany, trying to make money to escape the freezing temperatures of a cold January. The heavily polluted area between Duisburg and Dortmund consisted of several cities and suburbs that had grown together into one gigantic stretch of houses and monstrous mechanical structures. The air was dirty and everybody drank beer from morning to evening. I’m sure I must have been an alcoholic in those days because everybody was. I was not in great shape, but young and resilient.
It was a grey and dirty winter. When you painted on the pavement the cold stone would slowly scrape off the top layer of your skin, and when finally the epidermis on your fingertips became so paper-thin that a grain of sand could rip it and make you bleed, then it was time to stop painting. Also, the government indexed DXM, (Romilar) making it illegal. We had a hard time finding pharmacies that would sell us their last stock. I still had regular attacks of tachycardia (accelerated heartbeat) accompanied by -- or causing -- panic-attacks. One would think it highly absurd that a teenager with panic attacks would turn himself into an extremely visible, longhaired target for the state and brain police, while running from the army, while trying to be in love, while attempting to liberate everybody from the shackles of a dim witted and cruel society on the edge of the apocalypse.
Yes, it was highly absurd, but not necessarily wrong!
To sum it up, we were naive but determined drug-taking runaways, and believed we could achieve world-peace, the cessation of national borders, the abolishment of money and property, feed and educate the poor, and spread the spirit of free love, within the time-span of about five years!
And all this -- driven by the power of love. Sound familiar?