"Wooden Jesus, I'll cut you in, on 20% of my Future Sin."
Yippies' Answer to Smoke-Filled Rooms
May 1, 2003
by John Leland
NEW YORK On a crisp spring morning in the East Village, Dana Beal could
envision a future for the Yippies, and it involved coffee and real estate.
Beal, 56, has long white hair and a thick white mustache that give him the
look of a character from a Civil War movie. A younger woman who gave her
name as War Cry listened as he spoke. Real estate has been his continuing
irritation; coffee, he hoped, might be his relief.
Since 1973 he has lived in a three-story brick building at 9 Bleecker Street
that has functioned as an informal headquarters for some veterans of the
Yippie movement, which now continues as a campaign to ease drug policies.
But like many remnants of the neighborhood's scruffier past, Beal found
himself on the short end of the real estate boom. Last May he lost his
motion to prevent his landlord from selling the building. What he would
like, he said, is to set up a foundation to buy it - priced at about
- and turn it into a Yippie museum, supported by a coffee bar and a bookstore. "The
Yippies are supposed to come back to New York in 2004," Beal said. "And
this building might not be there for them."
Though it is not the original Yippie outpost in New York - that was on
Union Square, where in the Vietnam War-era Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin
combined outrageous humor, theater and political protest - Beal's building
has a history. Yipster Times was published on the third floor. Aron Kay,
known as Pieman for his preferred manner of greeting political figures,
used to live in the basement.
From his prodigiously messy digs, Beal organizes a network of annual
pot parades, successors to the Yippie smoke-ins. On this morning the
was a hive of activity, as various people of college age weaved in and
out among boxes of papers. There was a sparsely furnished lounge area
ground floor and Beal's apartment and work space on the second. A man
stirred groggily from a sleeping area known as the leopard skin loft
lounge area. The third floor, where another longtime Yippie named Alice
lives, was off limits. If the dcor had a unifying motif, it was the marijuana
But on this weekday morning there was other business afoot. Encouraged
by the turnouts at antiwar demonstrations earlier this year and provoked
the prospect of a Republican National Convention in New York next summer,
a handful of Yippies and fellow travelers have lurched back toward the
public rostrum, not as pranksters this time but as creatures of the college
circuit. Nine have formed a Yippie! Speakers Bureau, including Beal;
Paul Krassner, the satirist and stand-up comedian, and Grace Slick, the
in Jefferson Airplane. They are now soliciting dates for the autumn,
at fees ranging from several thousand dollars for those not so well known
or more for Slick.
This is the antiwar equivalent of a veterans' group," said Krassner,
70, speaking from his home in Desert Hot Springs, California. "And
we don't get good health care either."
Krassner, who coined the term Yippie, for Youth International Party,
in 1967 and who founded the alternative magazine The Realist, added: "It's strange
to be 70 and still identify with a youth movement. But I'd rather identify
with evolution than stagnation."
At Beal's home, Michael Forman, who
is organizing the bureau's Steal This Speaking Tour, described how the playing
field for the Yippies' brand of mischief had changed. "If we dropped
dollar bills at the stock exchange now," he said, "it would
be perceived as a terrorist act."
Forman, 61, said he met Hoffman, one of the founding Yippies, on a freedom
ride in the South in 1961, and remained in contact until Hoffman's death
in 1989. He and Beal display a cantankerous comic rapport. "I'm sorry
the place is such a mess," Beal said, as if suddenly noticing that it
was the maid's day off. "Oh, that's the funniest line in the interview," Forman
Forman stressed that the speakers would now have to present themselves
as wise elders, even if their wisdom mainly concerned matters of youth
We can't tell people to kill their parents," he said, beginning a recitation
of the Yippies' greatest hits. "That was a mistake. We can't threaten
to put acid in the reservoir. That was a mistake. We have to stay within
the laws. America's got a different consciousness now."
If this seems uncharacteristically conciliatory, coming from a group
that once claimed to have levitated the Pentagon and ran a pig for president,
consider another recent Yippie sighting. The giant reinsurance company
Swiss Re has run ads built around a quotation from Rubin, who died in
vilified by the corporate establishment, Yippie musings have now been
turned into copy for the reinsurance business. When he saw this bit of
Gustin Reichbach, 56, a former Yippie who is now a New York State Supreme
Court justice in Brooklyn - and a member of the Yippie! Speakers Bureau
- saw the turnabout not as a violation of Yippie principles but as a
Imagine my astonishment," Reichbach wrote in an e-mail message, citing
the ad as confirmation that the counterculture of the 1960s had shifted the
boundaries of what is now considered mainstream. "Changing the boundaries
The Yippie! Speakers Bureau is itself a reprise of an idea Hoffman had
for a Movement Speakers Bureau. For Slick, speaking from her home in
Southern California, the tour is an idea that was best delayed. Now,
she said, the
speakers might know what they're talking about. In her younger days,
Slick once tried to take Hoffman as her date to a White House tea party,
they planned to put LSD in Richard Nixon's tea. Though she had been invited
- she attended the same small women's college as Patricia Nixon - she
and Hoffman were intercepted at the door.
Speaking of her own generation in its younger years, Slick said: "Young
people should be seen and not heard, because they're good-looking but not
too bright. We're pretty bright now, but we're ugly." She said she had
no fixed expectations of the college circuit. "I don't think we're trying
to bring anything back," she said. "But you don't often get
a chance to find out what 18-year-olds think. I think it'll be fascinating."
It remains to be seen whether college campuses will embrace the graying
veterans - and by the same token, whether museumgoers will wish to linger
in the epicenter of the smoke-in movement. Jack Hoffman, Abbie's younger
brother, has his doubts. "You've got to get some young celebrities," said
Hoffman, 63, who is a member of the speakers' bureau. "To get the
oldie-but-goodies out there is O.K., but we've got to appeal to the young
Patrick Kroupa, 34, a former computer hacker who is also in the speakers'
bureau, said students were closer to Yippie ideas than people thought. "The
counterculture didn't drop dead," said Kroupa, who said he participated
in various computer activities organized by the Yippies in the early 1980s. "It
just went online."
This history, like much involving the Yippies, can be grounds for argument.
Hoffman and Rubin argued vehemently with each other and with other Yippies,
including Beal, who at one point helped lead a splinter group called
the Zippies. Even now, Jack Hoffman says he has run afoul of Yippie faithful
for talking about his brother's bouts with manic depression.
The building at 9 Bleecker St., too, has a contested claim to historical
significance. Some original Yippies argue that the group's important
years, bracketed by the national conventions in 1968 and 1972, took place
Beal moved into the building. Beal sees this argument as an attempt to
preserve a limited version of counterculture history that denies the
later events. "There's all this fighting about who controls the legacy
of the name 'Yippie,'" Beal said. "It's like people in the
black community fighting over the legacy of Martin Luther King."
Beal said he had raised $110,000 toward buying the building, but had
not yet formed the limited liability corporation that would actually
and lease it for use as a Yippie museum. "We could bring out the Yipster
Times again," he said. "We still have the equipment. All we need
is an ad rep." Forman waited a beat. "Stop looking at me," he
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