Monday, 19 May 2014

Was eden ahbez the First Hippy?

We have discussed some of the origins of the hippy movement in the romantic poetry of Yeats, the political and artistic yearnings of William Morris, and the lifestyle “cranks” which George Orwell referred to so disparagingly. The existence of a nature- centered libertarianism has no doubt been with us as long as there have been artistic human beings. As a counterpoise to increasing industrialization and alienation of modern culture, however, there were notable individuals who eschewed a life in chains, and sought personal and creative freedom in nature long before there were beatniks and longhairs protesting about the war in Vietnam. Eden Ahbez was one such forerunner.

To put ahbez in context, Gordon Kennedy (author of Children of the Sun)and Kody Ryan in their article Hippie Roots and the Perennial Subculture, says:

Hippiedom is really just a perennial sub-culture…as old as the first humans that ever walked upright.…That’s why hippies will never go away…because they’ve always been here anyway. 

George Alexander Aberle, known as eden ahbez (15 April 1908 – 4 March 1995), was an American songwriter and recording artist of the 1940s to 1960s, whose lifestyle in California was influential on the hippy movement. He was known to friends simply as ahbe.

Living a bucolic life from at least the 1940s, he traveled in sandals and wore shoulder-length hair and beard, and white robes. He camped out below the first L in the Hollywood Sign above Los Angeles and studied Oriental mysticism. He slept outdoors with his family and ate vegetables, fruits, and nuts. He claimed to live on three dollars per week.

In 1941, he arrived in Los Angeles and began playing piano in the Eutropheon, a small health food store and raw food restaurant on Laurel Canyon Boulevard. The cafe was owned by John and Vera Richter, German immigrants who followed a Naturmensch and Lebensreform philosophy influenced by the Wandervogel movement in Germany. He was a vegetarian. He recalled once telling a policeman: I look crazy but I'm not. And the funny thing is that other people don't look crazy but they are.

Naturmensch followers, known as "Nature Boys" and who included Robert "Gypsy Boots" Bootzin, wore long hair and beards and ate only raw fruits and vegetables. During this period, ahbe adopted the name "eden ahbez," choosing to spell his name with lower-case letters, claiming that only the words God and Infinity were worthy of capitalization. He is also said to have desired the A and Z (alpha and omega), the beginning and the end, in his surname. During this period, he married Anna Jacobsen and had a son.

Wandervogel is the name adopted by a popular movement of German youth groups from 1896 onward. The name can be translated as rambling, hiking, or wandering bird (differing in meaning from "Zugvogel" or migratory bird) and the ethos is to shake off the restrictions of society and get back to nature and freedom. Some authors have seen the ethos and activities of the Wandervogel as an influence on later social movements, in particular the hippy movement which developed in the USA during the 1960s.

In a rotten irony, eden died on 4 March 1995, of injuries sustained in a car accident, at the age of 86.

by North Utsire

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