To me, Crass’s records sound like someone ranting with the vitriol of a drunk vegan over a bunch of scrap metal who is falling down some stairs. At best, they’re “unlistenable”—at worst, they’re unlistenable and tastelessly, nauseatingly smug. Thus, I get it in my head that Crass somehow represents everything I hate about punk: self-righteousness, elitism, and smugness. However, Crass also actualized a whole lot of what I love about punk: collectivism, DIY, activism, radical politics, visual art, culture-jamming, integrity, and sticking to what you believe in.
Sticking to what you believe in is what comes through in this book. Rimbaud, one of the founders of Crass, still believes that people can govern themselves without interference from the state. He still believes in peace, and has a deep loathing for any authority other than one’s own autonomy. You can see this in the introduction to Last of the Hippies, which is text he wrote in 1982 as liner notes for Penis Envy. However, a lot the ideas he wrote back then he now questions, which provides another layer and makes the text so much more interesting.
The text itself is a bit scattershot. It introduces itself as the tragic story of how the state killed his buddy Wally Hope, but gets sidetracked with some essays about Charles Manson and how oi is symbolic of the people internalizing the repression of the State. They make good points but are disappointingly short and could have had far more foundation and elocution. Without so much as title, Rimbaud starts making his thesis on these topics at a line break and then kind of stops there. It’s jarring and disappointing, because that would be worth reading.
Eventually, he gets back to the story about his friend. Taking place before his punk days, when Rimbaud was still a hippie, Hope showed up at Rimbaud’s collective house with a vision of free, peaceful festivals that would fill up lawns not far from where the queen herself slept.
The first time the festival happened the police charged in, bludgeoning everyone in sight. Knowing Hope was one of the ringleaders and organizers, they institutionalized him with trumped up labels of schizophrenia and shot him up with high doses of medications—punishment for his resistance to the state. When Rimbaud and his friends were able to get Hope released, he struggled to button his coat or even walk—he eventually took his life.
Back then Rimbaud still believed in what he calls “politics,” and that acting in accordance with your radical principles could influence the state. He now says “politics are dead.” He discarded his belief in rock as a “revolution of the heart and soul” and “the collective voice of the people” in the eighties. It’s hard to think that someone as intellectual as Rimbaud would have ever been so naïve. He believed that “peace might have a chance” until just before the Falklands War and the Miner’s Strike.
Another thing Rimbaud questions is the unflinching pacifism of his earlier text and in Crass’s ideology. Having believed in peaceful resistance and being dedicated to trying it for so long, in Hippieshe seriously questions whether or not that is realistic. However what his younger self considered peaceful protest—direct action, vandalism, sabotage of nuclear weapons and the war machine—would now be considered radical.
This reprinting is really about the author losing two of his havens: first the hippie movement and rock’n’roll, and then punk and politics. The book ends with an anarchist screed against the state. It’s something we’ve read before in plenty of zines and anarchist literature. While it might have been on the cutting edge in 1982 it’s pretty familiar now. Overall, Last of the Hippiesis worthwhile mainly as a timepiece, especially since Rimbaud dates it with his introduction. –Craven Rock (PM Press, PO Box 23912, Oakland, CA 94623)