They Had a Dream They'd Go Traveling Together...

Been thinking a lot about hippies lately, and not because of Ang Lee’s new contribution to the Woodstock nostalgia industry.  I'm sure it was great to be all muddy and stoned and such, but like most people in the "close-but-no-cigar" boomer generation, I have little interest in the lore of flower power.  By the time I was a teenager, that philosophy had pretty much devolved into contemplating interminable prog-rock jams while staring holes through a Roger Dean poster. Instead, I've always preferred the other hippies--the dirty, sick, twisted, perverted hippies who never properly adjusted to their fling with repressive desublimation.  You know, the ones who spent summers of love sprawling around the Spahn Ranch or on ABC Friday night television.
First of all, as some may know, former Manson A-Teamer Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme got sprung from prison last week. “Squeaky” did 34 years for pointing an empty chamber at President Gerald Ford in 1975.  Popular lore has it that she was trying to get Manson out of jail, but in fact she was actually hoping to raise awareness about Manson’s main cause after his imprisonment: ATWA (Air, Trees, Water, Animals).  Yes, recycling hybrid driver, Charlie went “green” way back, and Squeaky thought political assassination might be the best way to advance his agenda.  
Then, over the weekend, I finally had a chance to see Dan Graham’s 1984 film, Rock My Religion.  Here’s how MoMA described this piece at a recent screening:

With the "reeling and rocking" of religious revivals as his point of departure, Graham analyzes the emergence of rock music as religion among teenage consumers in the isolated milieu of 1950s suburbia. The music and philosophy of Patti Smith, who made explicit the trope that rock is religion, are his focus. This complex collage of text, film footage, and performance is a compelling theoretical essay on the ideological codes and historical contexts that gave rise to the cultural phenomenon of rock and roll.
All and all, it’s a fascinating film, maybe more so for what it says about the early 1980s (and the hypnotizing power of Patti Smith over all her cohorts) than for what it says about the ‘50s and ‘60s.  Although it occasionally takes on the tone of Craig Baldwin’s super conspiracy riff, Tribulation 99, the film does make a compelling argument for the post-war transmigration of religious ecstasy into the profane body of the writhing suburban teenager—who, as various social historians have argued, was ready for the more immediate pleasures that come with secularization, disposable income, and birth control. 
When Graham gets to the late ‘60s, the argument takes a more (anti-)Oedipal turn.  Whether Graham had actually read Deleuze and Guattari going into the project, I don’t know, but his thesis certainly resonates with that particular theoretical moment.  The hippies, he argues, created erotic economies that challenged Oedipal structures that had dominated familial/sexual life since the nation’s founding.  "Free love” was thus meant to be truly free, as in liberated from the financial and reproductive economies of American Puritanism.  Of course, one could say Freud had the last laugh here, as most of these free spirits eventually went running back to good old Oedipus, either by getting married or--in the case of Squeaky's "family"--by embracing the truly psychotic Name of all Fathers: Manson, the Son of Man. 
Which takes us, finally, to a third moment in my recent encounters with the hippie resurrection.  After the Graham screening, I finished reading my fourth Partridge Family novel (The Ghost of Graveyard Hill--1971).  The book is one of seventeen novelizations based on the ABC television series that ran from 1970 to 1974.  For those somehow unfamiliar with this benchmark of bubblegum counter-culture, the Partridge Family followed the adventures of a widow and her five kids as they tried to balance everyday home life with their rising career as America's hottest new pop sensation.  Mostly it became a vehicle for David Cassidy, who along with Donny Osmond, Bobby Sherman, and a certain Michael Jackson, became top teen idols of the early '70s.  

The Partridge Family is fascinating for a number of reasons, many of which have already been discussed in Aniko Bodroghkozy’s Groove Tube, the definitive history of hippicus televisionicus.  Reading this novelization in the wake of Graham’s film, however, made me rethink just how truly strange this show actually was. 
Were The Partridge Family hippies?  Maybe in the same way “Jesus Freaks” of the ‘70s were hippies (for those who have never met a true Jesus Freak, these were generally young men with long hair and fringed buckskin jackets who trafficked in a groovy edition of the New Testament that was "cool" with rock, pot, and Christ).  Like other hippies, the Partridges drove around in a type of pseudo-psychedelic bus and played “rock” music of some ilk.  Eerily, this is also how Manson got his start, commandeering an old school bus to cruise up and down the California coast serenading teenage runaways.  And of course, both were families with musical ambitions--one suburban, fatherless, and climbing the charts,  the other itinerant, patriarchal, and apparently ready to murder double-crossing record producers.  
If Graham sees Oedipal “Dad” as disappearing with the hippies so that they might become more freely “perverse,” and Manson came to be Father as a return-of-the-repressed (often telling his conquests to think of their Dads while having sex with him), the Partridge clan are some wounded third term in this Oedipal wasteland.  Bio-Dad is gone and Rueben Kincaid doesn’t count (especially in the novels—he is completely absent in the Ghost of Graveyard Hill), leaving behind the asexual matriarchy of Shirley and the kids.  
The only episode I remember with any clarity is the one in which the family makes a “wrong turn” in Detroit and Danny Bonaduce ends up joining the Black Panthers, which is fairly atypical.  More often the show revolved around various members wanting to quit the band, or a skunk getting loose in the bus, or an ill-fated hamster breeding scheme, or Laurie dating a guy named “Snake,” and so on. 

The novels, however, are relentlessly gothic in their approach (again, based on the 4 of 17 I’ve read—but titles like The Haunted Hall, Marked for Terror, and The Phantom of the Rock Concert suggest this was the favored treatment throughout the series).  The Ghost of Graveyard Hill seems fairly typical.  The Partridges try to cross the desert at night and end up stranded in a Nevada ghost town. Gradually they begin to suspect they are not alone.  They feel like they are being watched (and they are…by counterfeiters!), a mysterious portrait of Shirley appears in an abandoned hotel room (“who drew this?” they wonder), and when Kitty or Cathy or Tracy or whoever the little girl in the family is gets lost in the desert, she is brought back to camp by a mysterious Boo Radley character (just like Scout!)  There’s always the hope it will turn into The Hills Have Eyes and someone will at least cannibalize the drummer (they did have two, the first kid got fired after season one), but sadly, everything basically turns out okay in the end. 
The gothic slant in TV novelizations of this era is worthy of investigation. The Partridge Family was not alone in this respect—many novelizations of the period take a similar approach.  Even That Girl had a brief fling with her own Heathcliff (during a Don-less summer in Maine).  Part of it may simply have been an attempt to piggyback on the success of the gothic’s return as a mass-market romance genre in the ‘60s, suggesting that these books were also targeted primarily at teenage girls (in training, perhaps, for darker objects of desire than Keith Partridge). 
That the gothic is a genre of high Oedipal drama is almost a given.  In his book on Gothicism, Richard Davenport-Hines even goes so far as to argue Freud was the last of the great gothic novelists, that psychoanalysis does not give us a paradigm to understand Gothicism so much as the history of Gothicism allows us to understand the birth of psychoanalysis.  I don’t know about all that—but what I can say is The Partridge Family novels are all about weird family secrets—gothic, Freudian and/or both. 
For example: 

David Cassidy (who played Keith Partridge) was the real-life step-son of Shirley Jones (the widowed Mrs. Partridge), allowing a somewhat creepy “you’re my Mom but not my Mom” vibe to inflect the whole franchise.  The fact that Keith and Shirley are the de facto parents of the Partridge clan only reinforces this Oedipal streak, as does the intertextual contamination of knowing Florence Henderson was cougaring Barry "Greg Brady" Williams over at the Paramount lot. 
The Partridges are constantly getting lost in that damn bus.  As they don’t occupy a “horrible house,” a la Hawthorne, they have to go on the road in each installment and find a new one. And like their Radcliffian canine cousin, Scooby Doo, they most often discover that some form of thievery,masquerade, or dispossession is behind all the mysterious shenanigans.  In one rather amazing "family romance" installment, Danny discovers he has a doppleganger who is actually a rich prince in hiding!  Do they switch places?  Do complications resulting from familial confusion and denial ensue?  Yes and yes.  

With no Bio-father in the bus-house, the family works together as a communal "hippie-like" democracy.  The Ghost of Graveyard Hill goes into great detail about this, Shirley boasting (in her interior monologue) that she is proud of how the entire family comes to a consensus about important decisions, and she only rarely has to intervene as the parental authority.  With no father to lay down the law, the entire family thus exists as a kind of incestuous blob.  Keith, Laurie, and Mom all have suitors from time to time, but these relationships are all doomed because of the imperative to collapse back into the family.  
If we are to believe Graham (and others), the boomers slayed Eisenhower so they could go on a ten-year orgy of sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll. The Partridges, on the other hand, are forever on the road searching for a new father that will allow them to resume their “normal” psycho-sexual development.  Until someone comes along and tells Keith he can’t keep sleeping with Shirley, they are all doomed to sing anemic bubblegum anthems about the vague feelings they have about something they cannot yet fully understand. 
Sound crazy?  Consider the lyrics of their biggest hit, “I Think I Love You.”
I was sleeping and right in the middle of a good dream
Like all at once I wake up from something that keeps knocking at my brain
Before I go insane I hold my pillow to my head
And spring up in my bed screaming out the words I dread
I think I love you
This morning I woke up with this feeling
I didn't know how to deal with and so I just decided to myself
I'd hide it to myself and never talk about it
And did not go and shout it when you walked into the room
I think I love you
Now this is one twisted “love” song.  It begins as a dream, drives the dreamer “insane,” and makes him wake up screaming “the words I dread”—I think I love you!  Love/Dread: It’s a feeling he doesn’t know how to “deal with,” so he keeps it secret and never talks about it…until “she” walks into the room.  Now who typically walks into a young boy’s room right after he wakes up?  Racquel Welch?  I think not.
So the sixties, it seems, were somehow about absent and/or pathological fathers; an anti-Oedipal recalibration that allowed most hippies to rock, others to conflate sex and murder, and TV to trap a hippie-lite family in a circuit of infantile repetition. If only it were possible to conduct a commutation test between real history and television history, then we might get to the bottom of these suggestive links.  For example, instead of getting stranded in the Nevada desert, what if the Partridges had stumbled upon the Barker Ranch, Manson’s hide-out in Death Valley?  Would this Father of Fathers have been able to seduce them into his own family (or would only Laurie fall victim to Manson's charms)?  And what if "Squeaky," all those years ago, had ditched Manson to front a bubblegum act, rechanneling the perverse potentiality of hippiedom back into a sitcom of endless displacements?  An impossible exchange? Certainly. And yet some form of conversation between these two families appears to have taken place, if only unconsciously.  
For more on this general topic, see "XXX: Love and Kisses from Charlie" in Moya Luckett and Hilary Radner's excellent anthology, Swinging Single: Representing Sexuality in the 1960s.

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