Tune In, Turn On, Take a Shower

Nature #3, 1999.Photo: Courtesy of Daniel Cooney Fine Art, New York

This summer marks the 40th anniversary of the Summer of Love, when hippies descended on Haight-Ashbury to spread peace, love, and pubic lice. The countercultural movement, which significantly influenced the art, style, and sexual aesthetics of the time, is still reverberating four decades later on the other side of the country. But you won’t find any of the traditional signifiers of 1967 here: the patchouli, the batik prints, the groovy terminology. Nor will you find the drumming circles and Phish concerts associated with modern hippies in other parts of the country. What you will find instead are the hippie movement’s East Coast love children—albeit kids who’ve pretty much disowned their roots.

On the one hand, you’ve got the New Yorkers who could pass for traditional hippies if you just put them in tie-dye but who wouldn’t know a good cause if it crawled into their dreadlocks. This particular breed, found mostly below 14th Street, adopts a carefree attitude toward showering and grooming—or at least just want to look like that way (that’s what Bed Head products are for, after all). They’ll smoke pot and talk about the merits of seventies full-bush porn, but they’re much more interested in their own internal plights than those of the world. Poster boys include Seth Rogen and Jack Black, both of whom exude an unexpected leading-man sexiness without conforming to the rigid beauty constraints of The Man. They’re the hippie movement’s slacker spawn.

“I have a thing for scruffy, scraggly guys who look like they haven’t showered in days,” says Jen, a 26-year-old executive assistant. She tends to go after—and get her heart broken by—boys in bands who play dive bars in holey T-shirts. “There’s something sexy and raw about the smell of sweat on a guy who’s turned his back on the traditional suit-and-tie route. Yeah, they can be fairly self-centered, but that makes me want to try to make them care even more.”

On the other hand, there are New York neo-hippies. Like their sixties forebears, they’re very earnest about social activism—the environment, world peace, sexual freedom—but they’ve wholeheartedly rejected the skanky counterculture aesthetic. Their sex symbols are Leonardo DiCaprio smoldering on an iceberg, Sean Penn railing against the Iraq war, and a green-clad yet stylish Oprah pushing lightbulbs for Earth Day.

“I can’t stand water wasters, so the post-sex cleaning can be a real turn-on or turnoff,” says Deborah, a Chelsea 28-year-old in public relations. “If the guy keeps the water running while he brushes his teeth, or takes a really, really long shower, I become less and less excited.” Octavio, a gay 25-year-old film assistant living in the West Village, says, “I could never date someone who doesn’t care about rain-forest depletion or endangered species.” Greg, a 30-year-old writer, sets the bar a little lower: “I wouldn’t date anyone who denied that global warming was happening.” With this crowd, if you drive a Hummer, don’t expect one from your date.

Today’s New York hippie is scrubbed and sanitized, even a little uptight. Steve Santagati, a 43-year-old who’s the antithesis of the smelly, scruffy nature boy, says he’s more environmentally conscious than “90 percent of the so-called tree-hugging liberals with their long showers, food-wasting habits, and SUVs.” But as his comment here demonstrates, he lacks the live-and-let-live attitude of naturalists from years gone by. “As long as the hippie chick shaves everything, we’re good.”

New York’s neo-hippies insist on saving the world attractively, even if it means occasionally sacrificing some of those world-saving ideals. “I love fair-trade chocolate, I eat heirloom pork, and I use compact fluorescent lightbulbs,” says Rene, a 50-year-old political activist who’s fighting for an alternative-energy policy. “The ‘natural’ aesthetic, however, strikes me as just an arty word for ‘suburban beige.’”

Evelyn, a 34-year-old researcher based in Williamsburg, briefly dated a guy who would drive his SUV from bar to bar every night: “The combo of toxic emissions and potential drunk driving was a pretty giant turnoff.” But that doesn’t mean she’s looking for a sensitive, unwashed guy. “If I saw one of those freaking crystal deodorant rocks in a guy’s bathroom, I would be out of there. Because while I want all my men to be environmentally conscious, I would never fuck a hippie.”

Sign up for surveys occasionally featured in this column at EMandLO.com.

Tune In, Turn On, Take a Shower