The fallacious view that the counterculture of the sixties failed to manifest its idealism in social programs of lasting import stemmed in large part from Captain America’s climactic proclamation in the film “Easy Rider” that “We blew it.” Prior to this admission of failure, Frank Zappa, in his song “Hey Punk” from the album “We’re Only In It For the Money,” complained, “Flower Power sucks,” although Zappa’s resistance to the hippies may have had more to do with his panic at the demise of doo-wop music than any philosophical opposition to the love generation. Now, in “Saint Misbehavin: The Wavy Gravy Movie,” a documentary on the Hog Farm patriarch, it becomes apparent that flower power never died, and that much of what is of value in contemporary American culture was instigated by the oft denigrated hippie rabble.
Those who know him at all know Wavy Gravy, born Hugh Romney, as the Woodstock Festival emcee who assured the crowd that, although there was some bad acid a going around, it was not a poison and they should not freak out. “Saint Misbehavin” chronicles his progression from poet to fool to clown to holy man, beginning with jazzy-riffed monologues that got him a spot as opening act for Thelonious Monk. Later, he helped establish The Gaslight as New York’s home to budding songwriters such as Bob Dylan, who wrote his classic “A Hard Rains a’ Gonna Fall” on Wavy’s typewriter. After Woodstock, he went on to establish an alternative education retreat for children and run a charity organization to provide free eye surgeries to residents of Nepal and other far-off places.
His life is so full of the love of life and concern for humanity that his light could never be extinguished by a media declaration that the movement of which he was a motivator had failed. The accomplishments of people like Wavy Gravy are a corrective to the popular belief that the sixties’ counterculture fizzled in the seventies. Thousands of people still live who, in remaining true to their ideals, have blessed this country with such things as food banks, co-operative grocery stores, public gardening allotments, free clinics, environmental protection efforts, minority rights, alternative schools, concerts as a means of raising money for the relief of poverty and disaster wherever it may strike, and a hundred other things that help us along the road to civilized society.
‘Saint Misbehavin’” remedies the time-lapse historian’s short-cut of blocking everything off into self-contained eras, a practice that diminishes the whole-life span of a human being’s development and evolution. Seeing Wavy Gravy in the present, we are reminded of all the flower children now entering their senior years, working at food banks, in health care, and chronicling histories; writers, musicians, and artists who continue explorations that began in early youth and continue to new vistas, new wisdoms. Is a film that inspires us with the belief that it is never too late to be who we were and become who we wanted to be.