The hippy discovery of Buddhism (along with a cacophony of Eastern teachers and new ideas) is an important part of western Buddhist history. Wes Nisker’s memoir evokes the era and reflects on his generation’s trajectory with satire, irony and sincerity
The Big Bang, The Buddha, and the Baby Boom
The Spiritual Adventures of My Generation
Wes ‘Scoop’ Nisker
Harper SanFrancisco 2004, $12.95/ £9.95 p/b
Reading Wes Nisker’s account of the spiritual trek pursued by his generation, I felt a tinge of envy for his sense that an individual’s chaotic trajectory through life might be shared by enough people to constitute a movement, even a slice of cultural history. His was ‘the ’60s generation’ (how did these guys manage to colonise an entire decade?): the middle-class baby-boomers who were old enough in 1967 to need to dodge the draft, and young enough not to look stupid wearing a kaftan and love-beads.
Like many others, Nisker left his conventional home-town for San Francisco. When he found himself a reporter on a counter-culture radio station, Nisker – again like many others – became a mythologiser of the obsessively self-mythologising hippie culture. His reports ranged from problems with the local drugs to interviews with visiting Indian gurus. As things turned political, his sign-off was, ‘If you don’t like the news, go out and make some of your own.’ But there were limits. As one disc jockey said, ‘Hey, man, you’ve got to realise that people are tripping out there in front of their radio’.
It is easy to mock their innocence, and Nisker himself steers an awkward line between the serious and the comic. He rattles though accounts of his contemporaries’ engagement with rock music, political activism, New Age spirituality, eastern mysticism, New Science, the green movement, Buddhism, and middle age – veering between satire, irony and sincerity.
Nisker describes himself as ‘a cynic in recovery’ and, like authors Michael Moore or Bill Bryson, he makes you wonder if he is a serious writer leavening his copy with humour or a comedian looking for material? Nisker really believes his generation has been on to something and he sometimes tries to say what that is, but he also can’t resist a gag. His witticisms inhabit an uncertain territory between wisdom and flippancy: ‘the ultimate speed-bump is heightened consciousness’.
Nisker clearly feels that he and his Northern Californian friends have sincerely grappled with the issues of the age and provided our culture with a creative, off-beat, alternative edge. It’s a great story that is still waiting to be told properly. In the meantime Nisker offers a readable, entertaining but lightweight sketch.