Deb’s Saturday Psychedelia – On Becoming a Hippie (Chapter One)
Written by Deb Cavanaugh on February 15, 2020
A few years ago, I decided to try to chronicle my hippie past. Of course, that past keeps growing as I age, so now I’m sifting through a lot of decades. Since I started, I’ve shared stories or thoughts randomly. Because I will now be sharing these posts here, I think it may be a good time to just start over again at the beginning. Some of these posts will contain adult content.
When I stop and think about it, I think I was destined to become a hippie. I was born a rebel and dreamer in a very practical, conservative family. Growing up in the fifties and sixties, feeling oppressed and trapped in the bedroom community that was my hometown, I started expanding my horizons. There was literally nothing happening locally that I was interested in anymore. I lived an hour from The Big Apple, the train station was only a few blocks from the house, so I started exploring my options. I had been studying classical and jazz voice for a couple of years and classical piano for many more years and had been performing since I was 14. I even joined a church choir that was singing Duke Ellington’s newest sacred music and was directed by him. I had also started working with wedding bands and singing old blues and more modern music with friends. In 1971, I finally went to my very first concert, other than going with my dad to local classical or jazz concerts. I hopped on the train to see Sly and the Family Stone at Madison Square Garden. What a rush that was! That was just the beginning. From there, I went on to every concert I could manage, and it was changing my music.
While I expanded my horizons, I also began to expand my mind. Like so many others around me at the time, I was dissatisfied with the status-quo and was looking for something new. I grew up in a political environment. My dad was a newspaperman whose friends were lawyers, politicians, business executives and everyone a mover and shaker. It was an exciting and frightening time to live through. The Viet Nam war was televised often with gruesome scenes, while at home assassinations seemed to be an epidemic. There were race riots, anti-war riots and bombings. We were in the midst of a revolution, and nothing made sense. Then I, again like so many others, tried psychedelics. Suddenly, I saw things so much more clearly and knew I had to go out into the world.
I met Paul Cavanaugh when I was 20. He had lived on the road since he was 14, had definitely been expanding both his horizons and his mind and was currently staying with friends in an apartment in my hometown. He went to the laundromat on New Year’s Day of 1974 with just enough money to run the washer and dryer, but he had no detergent. My friend, who also happened to be there, gave him some soap, and he offered to smoke a joint with her. As they sat there in the laundromat smoking, they started talking about music and realized that they both played. That night, I went with my friend to his apartment and jammed and partied until late in the night. We all agreed to do it again. The next day, I got a phone call from Paul wanting to know if he could come over and jam. One of his roommates (Joe) was drop-dead gorgeous with long straight dark hair, a great body and an aura of confidence. Paul was a grungy hippie who had been living on the road since he was a kid and slouched in a protective way. However, Paul also had the most amazing voice. He could have been on the radio. I couldn’t remember the names of all of the people I’d met that night and, hearing his voice over the phone, I was sure this was Joe. I eagerly agreed to see him again. Imagine my surprise when I answered the door later. Thankfully, I recovered quickly, and we played beautiful music together until sun-up. He never really left after that.
At the time I met Paul, I had started exploring the drug scene in the wrong direction, and he gave me an ultimatum. I chose him and totally embraced the psychedelic scene. After a few months of being together, he asked if I would like to travel to Pittsburgh, PA to meet his family and a few old friends. I was working as a bookkeeper at a bank at the time and had enough money for plane tickets, so I bought both tickets. We left two days later for a long weekend telling only our roommate that we were leaving. The day that we arrived, we went to his sister’s place. She informed us that the communal household had just moved to a new location because they had been surveilled by the FBI. We were instructed to “keep a low profile,” if we wanted to stay there. That night we went to a party. At the party was a Middle Easterner whose father was in the US on business. This young man kept disparaging American culture, especially the drug scene. Paul and I had just procured some “Angel Dust” and Paul offered to smoke it with him saying that it was “Connecticut homegrown.” Many, many hours later, getting tired of refusing to sell any to him, we headed back to the communal house, intending to finally crash. Just as we settled onto the mattress on the floor, we heard the phone ring then the sound of loud running footsteps approaching our room. Paul answered the pounding on the door only to be faced with the head of the household, red in the face, screaming about the FBI wanting to talk to him. I got up, looked out the window and saw two police cars parked outside. They asked him some random questions about having given “some information on a stolen Corvette in Denver, Colorado” at a time when he had actually been there visiting his uncle. He knew nothing about it, so they thanked him, said that they would be in touch and hung up. Needless to say, we had to pack up and get out of that house immediately.
As we were walking around decided what to do next, Paul relayed to me that when he was 12, at the height of air hijackings, while waiting to board a plane in Pittsburgh, he made a joke about being in Havana, Cuba in a few hours. Within minutes, security had whisked him away for questioning. Upon reading his original poetry and other writings about the war, Nixon and more, they called his dad. After some negotiations, they decided to ban him from airlines forever. He figured that somehow his name was flagged, and they were watching him. I thought it more likely that they were watching the Middle Eastern kid from the party. Either way, it spooked us both. When the Freedom of Information Act was enacted, neither of us wanted to send away for any records the authorities might have on us. We thought it might open up interest again, though sometimes, I have to admit that I’m curious.
Local singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Deb Cavanaugh has lived an unusual life full of adventures and tough lessons, turning those unique experiences into entertaining songs and stories.