Remembering Groovy, the Murdered Hippie
Love: A Groovy Idea While He Lasted
By Richard Goldstein
We are all victims of symbols. Events breed their own ritual. Maybe that is why the murders of James Leroy Hutchinson and Linda Fitzpatrick read like Act Three of an off-off-Broadway closet drama. The truest theatre of the '60s lies spiked across the city desk, slugged "slay."
What happened at 169 Avenue B happens all the time. A man and his woman are hauled or lured down to the boiler room where amid rags and ratsmell she is banged senseless, and both are stomped dead.
Such crimes become incidents. We never hear about them unless the woman was pregnant, mutilated, or both. But Groovy and his girl were slaughtered right on page one of the Daily News.
Journalists made pilgrimages to Tompkins Square and its adjoining shrines. Even Mayor Lindsay took note. When he called the murders "a tragedy" he was speaking not about the crime but its particulars. The tragedy in what went down on Avenue B is who went down, and who did the felling.
Some crimes seem to apotheosize an age. This time, only the corpses make it improper to write off victims and villains as an allegory staged by some playwright-deity. We would have waited in line to see it in the theatre, specifying alternate dates and all the rest, while on a stage set as a boiler room masked hippies and black militants dance a stylized ballet, feigning death and delight respectively. In quiet Phil Ochs voices, we would inquire of the stagehands: "Have you got a picture of the pain?
Photos were plentiful. "His own weird world turned against him," crooned the Daily News. In centerfold obituaries they immortalized Groovy as a speed-saint, guru-clown, lover-dealer. Crucified by gangster-Romans, he became a true martyr. As a reformer of meth swindlers, his arrest for possession of a deadly weapon seemed irrelevant. How well he personified the love ethic, and how much more perfect he was as a symbol than he must have been as a man.
He and his girl were buried last week in their respective cultures. Linda's velvet-draped casket was carried down an Episcopal aisle while the minister chanted from the Book of Common Prayer. She rode to her burial in a gray Cadillac. Groovy's funeral was conducted in a Baptist minister's parlor. As a eulogy, Galahad played the harmonica that was part of his friend's costume.
Neither coffin was notably arrayed with flowers, which was appropriate. Both were victims of such symbolism. They were beautiful people, and beautiful victims. They followed their supposed assailants into the basement, exuding love and groove. And they died near a pile of their clothing, not merely rubbed out, but smashed faceless...
The mindblower is not that love is dead in the East Village, but that it has taken this long to kick the bucket. Flower power began and ended as a cruel joke. The last laugh belongs to the mediamen, who chose to report a charade as a movement. In doing so, they created one. By the thousands, the real victims of flower hype poured into the slums of both coasts. LifeLook filled its pages with technicolor testimonials, to the young drop-outs living the love ethic their leaders were wary of. The hippies tried to warn their suburban following through the underground press, but the copy poured thin, like Digger stew. Through it all was a bizarre cameraderie between the fourth estate and the fifth dimension. Aspiring scenemakers quickly mastered the art of journalistic posturing: one facade, they discovered, was better than a thousand words. Every daily paper picked its own hippie spokesman. The Post latched onto Abbie Hoffman, and in their tradition of prophetic misprints, called him a "Bigger" and his followers "Happies." The Times found Galahad, and made him the East Village Lawrence of Arabia. Reluctant, willing, or both, these men too became symbols, and hired killers. They found they could mainline their pronouncements into the American bloodstream through the press. The price they paid for being culture definers was their sacred anonymity. Those who accepted their new definition became their ultimate victims...
The new hippie is on the scene already, even as the media-ministers whisper "dust to dust, ashes to ashes" over his saint of an ancestor. Galahad helped usher him in when he told the Daily News: "Just give me ten minutes alone with whoever did this to my friend Groovy." The word has gotten around that some Diggers in New York and San Francisco carry guns -- and intend to use them. The flower child, now a veteran of violence, is toughening up. Did we expect anything else? For a long time now we have been glibly informed that the most logical way to cope with the culture of poverty is psychosis. Dare we demand sanity from the slum-hippie?
"I respect those who respect me," he says, with a passing glance at the east side of Tompkins Square Park. You ask about the mood on the streets and he smiles. From beneath his corduroy robes he produces a wooden shaft painted in dayglo swirls. It snaps open to reveal an erect steel blade.
"Love," he mutters, "was a Groovy idea -- while he lasted."
[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]