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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Steal this Blog!: Abbie Hoffman Revisited

Abbie Hoffman would have been 75 on November 30. I grew up two streets away from the Hoffmans on Worcester’s predominantly Jewish west side.  Although Abbie was 15 years my senior, his footprint in the neighborhood was sticky. My father, a dentist, did business with  Abbie’s father,  who owned a medical supply store.  “Abbie has once again given Johnny a heart attack,” my father announced one night in 1968  at the dinner table.

Two years earlier, my closest friend—a world class rock musician—had boasted at age 16 that it was Abbie who had first turned him on (to marijuana). [Getting neophytes stoned was like scoring with a virgin; Abbie had many notches on his hemp belt.]
My first exposure to Abbie was as an 11-year-old, in my Saturday morning 6th grade class at Temple Emmanuel.  High-minded educators at the temple had asked Abbie to energize us with tales of his civil rights work in the South.  For a finale, Abbie urged us to grow up and marry both outside the fold of Zion and the Caucasian race. This was way too much culture shock for 11-year-olds in 1961, not to mention the  Jewish liberals who had invited him.

Abbie to his minions: "Cradle the Rock!"

Nine years later on April 14 in Boston I learned first-hand about the power of chiasmus. You know, it’s that figure of speech where in a sentence you flip-flop one of two parallel clauses/phrases  with the other: e.g.,  Ask not what your country can do for you; Ask what you can do for your country! or You can take Abbie out of the revolution, but you can’t take the revolution out of Abbie. On that date in 1970 Abbie helped prime a largely peaceful gathering of antiwar sympathizers on the Boston Common for mayhem later in the day in Harvard Square. His call to action: The time to rock the cradle is over; It’s time to cradle the Rock!  Follow-up  damages included  200 injured  and nearly every street-level window in the square shattered.

Abbie’s way with words (and shtick)  helped fuel his high-profile books, Revolution for the Hell of It (1968) and  Woodstock Nation (1969). Their successor, Steal This Book (1971), was a nightmare for booksellers, especially in Worcester.  After it had been picked clean by "consumers" who had taken its title to heart, booksellers refused to stock it. It also vanished from the shelves of Worcester’s libraries.  At the Worcester State College Library, where my late friend Dan Dick was head reference librarian, the book was stolen and reordered; stolen and reordered. . . Finally, noted Dan, the library reordered the book and secured it on reserve. Can you guess how long it stayed secure?  smirked Dan, a veteran Abbie watcher.


Rich R said...

Lest we forget the underground Barry Freed years and his mid-life book: "Soon To Be a Major Motion Picture". Abbie died a few miles from where I had grown up and gone to school in Bucks County, PA after he had come above ground and was surviving on the generosity of others.

BL said...

Lou- when Abbie returned to Worcester from Berkeley, the first thing my parents told me, I was 14 or 15, was "stay away from Abbie Hoffman!" . He was living near you across the street from my Aunt Fan, and his folks lived at the end of Columbine when we were there. Abbie was ringleading the Movement and he turned on several of us high school kids. Many good memories, at his apt on the lower east side where he let Poola and Claudia and myself crash for new years' eve, the marches, etc. Years later saw him when he went on tour with Jerry Rubin, in Troy NY, and he looked at me and said- I know you! but he couldn't come up with a name. A few years later I put in a call to him in Pa. thinking he might be interested in a roll in protecting the Jewish people from the onslaught of the Arab co-option of the David and Goliath narrative, but alas I got the answering machine. A few months later he was gone, a fact that I was sure had to be another of his masterful diversions, but alas, he was gone.

Anonymous said...

Read with interest the blog article on Abby Hoffman. I may be a little older than you but not necessarily wiser. We share a mutual acquaintance in the late Dan Dick.I too am from Worcester and have my own Hoffman family story which I believe involved Dan as well. More recently, I have been involved in green issues and sustainability which was also near and dear to Dan's heart.