If you can remember the ’60s, you may have been there—but as a very young person, as this thoughtful history reveals.
Joni Mitchell once said that we’ve got to get back to the garden, and tens of thousands heeded; in the years surrounding Woodstock, communes sprouted like mushrooms across America. Born to back-to-the-landers but now a denizen of Brooklyn, Daloz writes with firsthand knowledge of the good and bad of these wishfully self-reliant places. The good is obvious: young people built rural lives away from the urban grind, reinvigorating the countryside and laying the foundation for our current devotion to organic and healthy foods. The manifold bad included culture clashes with rural people: “Hippie newcomers,” writes the author, “sometimes fell afoul of locals by not understanding—or ignoring—essential customs.” Communes were also subject to old-fashioned sexism imported from home, with the women doing the brunt of the work unappreciated, and to invasion by bikers, dealers, addicts, runaways, and drifters, adding to the tension and instability. Among Daloz’s case studies are The Farm, still thriving in Tennessee, and Drop City, the Colorado commune celebrated in T.C. Boyle’s novel of the same name, built on the “philosophy that it was possible, amid the extravagant excess of American society, to live richly and well on others’ refuse.” A literary scholar and teacher, Daloz also examines the long history of communitarianism in America, reflected in the works of Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and other writers. She carries her investigations into the present, noting that even though the heyday of the 1960s and ’70s commune movement has long passed, the ethos endured, with “radical social experiments in group living…replaced by individual families’ radical experiments in self-sufficiency—including my family’s.”
Well written and full of firsthand insight—a good companion to weightier studies such as Timothy Miller’s The 60s Communes (1999) and Arthur Kopecky’s Leaving New Buffalo Commune (2006).