Yippies in Central Park: Looking for Action
Sunday in the Park: Yip-Out or Has-Been?
by Sally Kempton
Last year they all looked pretty and, somehow, authentic. This year, after a bad summer and a long hard winter, they appeared tired and strained. They were pale. They had flaccid shoulder muscles. Last year, at the Easter Be-In, one had noticed flower-like girls and handsome androgynous dancing boys. This year, at the Yip-Out, one saw fat teenyboppers in baby-doll shifts and mini-skirts covering ripply thighs. One noticedboys with acne scars under their day-glo face paint, and nobody seemed to be having a very good time.
"Sharon, you shit," called the little blonde chicklets one to another, "you forgot to call me last night!"
"Alan, are you tripping?" asked the boys. "Last time I saw you, you were tripping." And families in their Easter clothes stopped over after lunch at the Tavern-on-the-Green and stood around the fringes of the crowd waiting to be epatered. Three-year-old children asked their parents if those were real hippies and the parents nodded solemnly, watching.
A bandstand had been set up in one corner of the Sheep Meadow and several thousand kids had gathered around it to hear a succession of rock groups. Most of the groups were of the psychedelic-soul variety, undistinguished and virtually indistinguishable, but free rock is a powerful draw, and the kids pushed forward to hear them, climbing over the ropes which separated the performers from the crowd and blocking the speakers until the fat, bearded Yippie who was making the announcements began, with threats and insults, to clear them out.
"Don't you people understand English?" he would say. "Are you people so zonked you can't move? We're not going to start this concert until everybody moves back of the ropes. Come on, if you're nice little boys and girls we'll play for your again." Other Yippies, wearing purple satin t-shirts with "Yippie" printed in pink over their fronts, moved through the crowd carrying dayglo-patterned pails, collecting money for the Chicago festival. "Come on," the announcer would say, "Yippie is providing this music, the least you can do is contribute a little bread so we can do it again in Chicago. Come on, we want to see those bills. You have enough bread to buy grass and records, you oughta have enough bread for this." Between announcements the groups played, then carried their instruments through the crowd to their trucks, stumbling over the oncoming groups and grumbling at the dirt and the inconvenience.
"Come on, Kids," the announcer would call, "are you Yippies or not?" He would wait for the answering shout and when no shout came, would change his tack. "Even if you're not Yippie you can afford a few bills." On the outskirts of the crowd around the bandstand two boys and a girl squirmed under a Persian bedspread; their neighbors wondered if they were smoking grass or making love. "I hope they're fucking," said one young boy to his friend. "Boy, I really hope they're fucking!"
Out in the middle of the Meadow, beyond the reach of the amplifier, people played guitars and bells and steel drums, or sat in circles passing joints and talking. Under a teepee improvised out of three sticks and a couple of Yippie posters, a young man sat cross-legged, playing the recorder while his girlfriend jingled sleigh-bells. On the hill at the far end of the Meadow, underneath the crucifix sculpture, three 14-year-old boys played guitars, chanting in cracked voices, "Please Mr. Johnson, I don't want to go." And in other parts of the Meadow people simply hung out, talking and necking and eating, as they would in any park on a beautiful day.
But the event seemed typified by the angry imperatives of the Yippie announcer. There was an obligatory quality about the scene, a sense that it had all been done before, and done better, a sense of malaise. People wandered around, not to groove to each other but to look for action, and there was anxiety in most of the talk. "Are you having a good time?" the girls asked the boys. "Do you want to split now?"
People kept asking each other what was happening. And the answer, most of the time, was "nothing."
[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.]