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Beads and the Counterculture

Perhaps the most frequent references to beads in the popular media link them to the "hippie era" of the 60s and 70s, and the so-called "Counterculture." Many long-time bead collecting Americans admit that their interests arose in this period. Beads were worn by both men and women as artistic expression, political statement or desire to relate to something colorful, mysterious and exotic. How do the popular media view them?

The wonderful curmudgeon, Rumpole of the Bailey, is an English barrister (lawyer). In one episode he argues with a judge about the severity of his client's crime, defending a young person caught with a small amount of marijuana. Rumpole states flatly, Pot's not so bad. The judge rejoins, Good Lord, Rumpole! We're not going to see you turn up in court with beads?

In the movie Eating Raoul, Raoul kills the hippie and when Paul returns, he explains, I had to strangle him with his beads. Talk about kinky.

Always fashion-conscious Cathy (by Cathy Guisewite*) tries to dress in 60s clothes in three panels. Everything is rejected with an AACK!!, including AACK!! Love beads? The shopkeeper says in the last panel, Retail 1993. This is the dawning of the Age of Aackquarius.

Then there is a middle-age couple dressing up for Woodstock 94: the 25th Reunion, drawn by Mike Keefe for USA Today. The wife is perfuming herself and the husband, looking in a mirror says, I don't know... Do you think the love beads clash with my Guccis?

Dave Barry, the only columnist who consistently makes me laugh out loud, wrote on why the '60s generation is still cool. He recalled listening to Indian music: (The BEATLES liked it!). So we listened for hours to guys playing sitars; we sat there in our beads, concentrating earnestly, waiting for some kind of recognizable melody to show up, like people waiting for a bus on the wrong street.

As for the meanest use of this theme, Newt Gingrich, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, was quoted by Anthony Lewis in the New York Times (14 Nov. 1994) calling President and Mrs. Clinton counterculture McGovernicks. Lewis agreed sarcastically, Yep, they wear beads and have opted out of ambition in our competitive world.

* [Personal note] I spent a summer in the house in which Cathy grew up, in Midland MI on an Alden B. Dow Creativity Fellowship.


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