YOU SON OF A HIPPIE
Jason McDonald, now in his 40s, was 13, his hippie father
offered him a joint. In interview, he examines the influence
of the hippie culture on his life and on what came to be known
as Generation X.
O: So let’s begin at the beginning. When did you realize
that you were the son of hippie parents?
MCDONALD: I would say at around 11 or 12.
O: And what did the term hippie mean to you at that age?
MCDONALD: Since both my parents were artists -- my father is a
musician and my mother an artist -- and from my earliest memories
I was in a creative milieu, my first association with the word
hippie was that I was special, privileged, apart from let’s
say regular people.
O: Did your friends share that view?
MCDONALD: At the time, most of my friends came from the same creative
milieu so I suppose we more or less at the same time realized
that our parents were hippies, and we thought that was very cool.
O: Was there a connection between drugs and the hippie movement?
MCDONALD: For sure, when I was about 13 my father, who toques
to this day, offered me a joint. In those days I wanted to be
Brian Jones (Rolling Stone drummer who overdosed at 27).
O: So your father introduced you to drug culture?
MCDONALD: I was already smoking dope. I’m not sure if he
had figured that out or not, but he probably thought it best that
I start smoking at home, so as not to make a big deal out of it.
Like the French begin serving their kids wine during the meal
at a very early age. I guess his reasoning was that if it’s
not a big deal, you’re not likely to abuse it.
O: So at the age of 13 you were smoking pot at home?
MCDONALD: Oh no. Not in front of my mother. Even though she smoked
a bit she was dead set against her 13-year-old kid smoking dope
at home – or anywhere as a matter of fact. Of course at
that rebellious age, I continued smoking and also drinking. And
much later, when I moved from Toronto to Montreal at around 18,
I began experimenting and using much harder drugs (cocaine and
O: Do you think smoking marijuana leads to harder drugs?
MCDONALD: I don’t want to generalize but I would say in
my case, yes. But I actually quit smoking dope at around that
time because it made me paranoid; I wasn’t getting out in
the world the way I would have liked and it was through that experience
that I discovered that drinking and doing harder drugs are more
condusive to being sociable – so that worked well for me
until my early 30s, when I suddenly got fed up with my life and
decided to travel and explore different cultures and languages.
I lived in Slovakia, Korea for several years and substituted alcohol,
in rather large quantities, for drugs.
O: Do you hold the hippie movement, which was the guiding light
for your parents, responsible for your drug use?
MCDONALD: Not at all. I’ve always taken responsibility for
my decisions, and as a consequence, as I grew older, I began to
see the hippie movement in a different light. If at first, I subscribed
to the romantic or Rousseauian view of what hippiedom meant, the
counter culture position that the natural world is beautiful,
and that capitalism is evil and corrupt, I later rejected most
of it because it simply didn’t correspond to reality. The
hippie movement was influenced by Marxism that argued for a classless
society, that hierarchies are unnatural, that it’s not natural
for someone to be better or richer than someone else. Nature is
of course beautiful but it’s also savage – every single
day millions and maybe even billions of animals are eating other
animals alive. This is reality. And this is one of the things
travel taught me: it forced me to examine my culture and beliefs
from another perspective.
O: So did you end up concluding that the influence of your hippie
parents stifled your development?
MCDONALD: Not really. It was my parents that introduced me to
music and the visual arts. It was just that I could no longer
subscribe to their blinkered view of the world: not giving a damn
about anything, blaming everything on the system. I came to see
the hippy movement as being very nihilistic, and agree with those
critics who accuse the movement of pandering to relativism. That’s
probably why for many years I didn’t give a damn about my
huge debts, which is typical of the hippie mentality. It wasn’t
until I settled down in Europe that I finally began to think about
my life in terms of the future. Prior to that, I never looked
ahead to anything. I thought I’d be dead before I’d
have to get serious about my life. I lived from one day to the
next, from one high to the next.
O: That sounds to me like a direct legacy of the hippie movement?
MCDONALD: I don’t see it that way. I could easily blame
my parents and the hippie movement, and there have been many books
written on how the hippie movement is responsible for the mess
the world is in now, but I refuse that alibi. I assume responsibility
for all my decisions because in each and every case I could have
decided otherwise. Unlike my parents, and this is where we hugely
differ, I refuse to allow a system or philosophy to determine
my life. And that’s what hippiedom was for most of the hippies,
and in that sense it was just like any other system in that it
expected its devotees to accept and live by its doctrine. I just
couldn’t live my life like that. I want to be responsible
for my own values. I believe in individual freedom and freedom
O: And you’re saying that the hippie movement – that
advocated free love, free everything – implicitly forced
its devotees to confirm to its doctrine like any other system?
MCDONALD: To a certain extent but it also encouraged people like
my parents to question the system, to question values the system
was imposing on us – and that was OK. Every system has its
positives and negatives; my parents only saw and lived by the
positives, which is why we disagree on so many things.
O: Any regrets being raised by hippie parents? Do you think they
adequately prepared you to deal with the real world?
MCDONALD: No regrets, and there comes a time when the individual
has to take responsibility for dealing with the real world.
O: You mention that your father is a life long smoker, and that
you were under his influence and not so much your mother’s?
In retrospect, given your battle with drugs, a decades long self-destructive
life style and settling down very late in life, would you have
rather been under the influence of your mother and not your father?
MCDONALD: That’s a very tough question because my mother
has a very cynical view of the world – one which I don’t
share. I’ve never really gotten along with my mother, so
even though she would have instilled more discipline than my father,
on balance I really can’t say, only that because things
have worked out in life, I wouldn’t change anything from
the past because it has all led to the present moment: I’m
happily married, I have a good job, I’m off drugs and alcohol,
my views on life, my positions on the issues of the day are my
own and are constantly evolving – and all of that is arguably
the legacy of my hippie parents. And for all of the drugs and
alcohol, it has never interfered with my productive life. When
something has to get done, it gets done. We shouldn’t forget
that the hippies were the first global travelers – in those
days you could travel in Europe for 5 dollars a day. So when I
was in my late 20s, I left Montreal to see the world and ended
up travelling abroad for four years. I lived in Czechoslovakia
(both Czech Rep and Slovakia) and South Korea and travelled extensively
all over Eurasia and North America. Thanks to travel, I’m
fluent in 3 languages, and somewhat comfortable in Slovak and
German. The difference between myself and my parents is that I’m
able to look at the hippie movement critically – that is
separate the good and bad from the ugly. A sure way to crank up
the volume in a discussion is to suggest to my parents that hippiedom’s
two greatest contributions to the world are anarchism and relativism.
The notion of victimization, which has gone viral in our present
age, comes right out of the hippie movement.
correction re. my relationship with my mother. It's not quite
right to say I've never gotten along with my mother. When I was
in my late teens I was kind of brainwashed by my mom that my father
was a bad person. It was this time when I was very angry at him
but it ended -- and I managed to transition in adulthood to a
good relationship with him, but that transition has not gone so
well with my mother.
O: Did you ever lose friends or observe the lives of friends destroyed
by the hippie movement?
MCDONALD: I have but my views on that have changed over the years.
For the most part these are people who are victims of their own
constitutions rather than any system. In other words, if the hippie
philosophy hadn’t been the catalyst, something else would
have done them in.
O: Are you for the legalization marijuana?
MCDONALD: Yes, but we should be concerned that the developing
brain is adversely affected by THC, the active ingredient in marijuana
– and that perhaps, I don’t know enough about it,
the age of consent should be 21 instead of 18. What I object to
most is the business aspect of it. I am totally against the government
controlling the marijuana business, favouring only the largest
growers while shutting out the small guy, the small entrepreneur.
O: If and when you become a father, are you going to offer your
kid a joint when he or she turns 13? If yes, why, if not why not?
MCDONALD: Absolutely not. My children, if they do want to experiment
with drugs, that's fine, but it's not with me, and they can do
it when they are adults with their own money. Most of my drug
use occurred that way, and I got through it – including
the hard drugs I experimented with (though never any needles).
I always kept that a secret from my parents, and the fact that
I have lived a good distance away from them for most of my life
now, has helped that.
O: If one day, your kid asks you about his grandparents who were
hippies, what are you going to tell them?
MCDONALD: It would depend how old they are and it would depend
how well they know their grandparents, if at all. But I would
likely explain to them the historical context -- it might take
time over weeks, or months, of several conversations, to explain
how much the world has changed, and the context that movement
came out of, and how us Gen Xers grew up in their shadow. The
baby boomers have been a loud, powerful, and not always helpful
generation, and they have encouraged a lot of narcissism. On the
other hand, they have also promoted the idea of freedom, (or at
least the original progenitors did) which is a core value of mine.
So I would try to explain all of that to the child.
O: As the son of hippie parents and well acquainted hippie culture,
on balance do you think world culture, the world’s values
benefited from the hippie movement?
MACDONLD: I think one of the problems with the hippies is they
were very self absorbed and assumed they had much more importance
than they really had. They had an impact, perhaps larger than
some other generations, but if we look over time different generations
have different impacts. My generation has been responsible for
a lot of stuff too, (grunge music, the first Internet boom in
the 90s etc) but then again those born after us, in the 80s and
90s, have brought us Facebook, Uber, Southern Hip-Hop, among a
million other things. There is really only a small variance of
the impact of any generation -- that is, the hippies might have
had a slightly higher impact, but not much more, than any other
thing, which I don't know how to add - I have built my life my
way: I have learned several languages, travelled, gotten married
successfully (which was no easy feat for me, I was a disaster
at relationships -- partly because of that hippie view instilled
in me at a young age, that I had to work out), and some of that
has been in opposition to my upbringing, but some of it has been
because of a love for freedom, and travel, and openness to different
forms of music and cultures. In some senses it's really complicated,
as much as I dislike the whole hippie aesthetic, I am also a product
of it, and I have an artistic temperament that I bring to my work
as an educator as well. For example, at Rosemont Idol, I produce
that show with the view that it is an artistic project that I,
me, I have created, and I have full creative control over. Because
of my artistic nature, my ocassional insistence on certain things
is not easy for some of the people involved in the administration,
especially those who are somewhat out of touch with the youth
of today. Those in the Cégep who understand how effective
the show is and how much the kids love it - because it is all
about THEIR music - they try to accomdate me as best they can.
O: I thank you, Jason, for your candidness.