In 1966 a teenage vagrant flees the draft and roams the highways, drifting without a safety net through subterranean America for 22,000 reckless miles. While seeking highest perfect wisdom he finds brief success as a vagabond poet, before abandoning the limitations of language.
Randy Rhody’s memoir The Hippie Hitchhiker from Nebraska sweeps away clichés of flower children, desperate addicts, and militant radicals, to bring you a roadside view of the ’60s not seen by historians, journalists, or celebrities. (By the way, he wasn’t from Nebraska, and didn’t call himself “hippie.”)
Beginning with a map of his travels, the following is a chronological photo supplement to the book. Learn more about The Hippie Hitchhiker from Nebraska at http://www.randyrhody.com.
“Older” because these people were all older than me by 4 to 6 years. Carl Davidson came from Pennsylvania to Lincoln as a graduate student and lecturer. He co-established the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) on campus in 1965-1966 when I knew him. In August 1966 he was elected SDS national vice-president. Larry Clausen was vice-president of the Lincoln chapter of SDS that Carl Davidson started. In Lincoln I used to see him riding around on his Indian motorcycle, with Steve Wilson. At about the time I knew him, this photo by Jon Giorlich appeared in the March-April Scrip magazine. Steve Wilson already had a degree in fine art from the university and had served a year in the army, before the Vietnam ramp-up. He rode a 1950 Harley and lived at his mom’s house, making paintings and drawings like the one shown, courtesy of J. Seyler. In a couple of years he became the ZAP Comix artist, S. Clay Wilson. Steve Abbott edited the campus literary journal, Scrip, issued five times in 1965-1966 at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. I considered him a good friend and he kindly published some of my poems in each issue.
“Younger” because Pat Brougham, George Eade, John Powers, Joe Knight, Ron Barzydlo and others were my peers, mostly freshmen at the U. of Nebraska in Lincoln. The problem is, we didn’t have cameras. I don’t have my own picture from that year, 1965-66. I have an image of the book of 50 poems I printed, titled A Year’s Worth of Wonder: 1965-1966. Steve Abbott drew the cover, and Grady Waugh wrote an introduction. Grady Waugh (from a later photograph) was a guitarist and my roommate at the time we hosted the big party for Allen Ginsberg at our apartment on W Street. Darlene Barnes was always on scene.
(February 1966) Allen Ginsberg visited Lincoln, Nebraska to read poetry at the University, where I was an 18-year-old freshman and aspiring poet. He is shown onstage with his companion Peter Orlovsky in the February 21, 1966 University of Nebraska at Lincoln newspaper, the Daily Nebraskan. The Department of English literary magazine, Scrip, featured Ginsberg’s photo on the cover (upper right) of the March-April issue. When the department chairman balked at including a copy of the poet’s latest composition, “Auto Poesy to Nebraska,” Steve Abbott, the Scrip editor, ran it as a supplement. Karl Shapiro, 1945 Pulitzer winner and faculty member, wrote a review of Scrip in the Daily Nebraskan (lower right). He very kindly praised my poem about Ginsberg’s appearance. Karl also slipped in a mention of my self-published book of poems, A Year’s Worth of Wonder 1965-1966 (lower left).
(July 1966) – On my third or fourth pass through Cleveland in 1966, d. a. levy brought me along to an open-mic poetry reading he’d organized at The Gate on July 1. The Plain Dealer wrote a full-page story on the event, including my photo and a poem of mine from my booklet Paracutes that d. a. levy had published. The two other poems I read were also published, one in Carl Woidek’s Sum, and the other in levy’s compilation, Poets at the Gate. That one came to the attention of poet Walter Lowenfels, who published it in a 1969 Doubleday anthology, The Writing on the Wall.
(August 1966) – In Denver, Tim and I decided the quickest way to leave Colorado was to catch a freight train. Neither of us had ever been on a freight train. In Denver, there weren’t any boxcars, so we perched on the front end of a hopper car (at left) for a freezing overnight ride to Lincoln, Nebraska. A day or two later we caught another overnight freight, again with no boxcars. Again we froze overnight, sitting between the rear wheels underneath a truck-trailer piggyback (at right) and got to Chicago in the morning.
(August-September 1966) – Big Brother and the Holding Company played at Mother Blues, a small club on Wells Street, Chicago. They didn’t have a record out yet, we’d never heard any of their songs, and they had a new singer no one ever heard of. Some of the band members needed a place to stay. Accommodations were made for one of the musicians at a crash pad I was staying at on North Avenue, about two blocks from Mother Blues. I’m not sure he actually stayed there, but in return several of us were allowed in to see the San Francisco band, because of course we couldn’t afford tickets. The club was full of tourists as usual, except for our table of hippie street people. The singer gave us a little wave and at intermission came over to say hello. Sounded like her name was Janice.
(November-December 1966) – We attended the daily meals the Diggers served in Golden Gate Park panhandle. They made their stew once at the place we were staying. We helped clean out the garage on Page Street for the first Free Store, where at Thanksgiving they served turkey and all the usual dishes.
In 1967, after 8 months on a road more extreme than Kerouac traveled, I lived in the Lower East Side and worked on St Marks Place at Underground Uplift Unlimited. The store and mail order business sold buttons such as Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out, Keep the Faith Baby, and We Shall Overcome. It quickly evolved into a head shop. I would be beholden to anyone who contacts who has or knows of other photos of the Underground Uplift Unlimited, 28 St Marks Place.
The poet Tuli Kupferberg dropped in occasionally. Valerie Solanas brought her SCUM magazine in to sell. Abbie Hoffman lived upstairs from the store.