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The Sopranos Meet The Hippies

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I usually watch The Sopranos at 9 p.m. on HBO, but this time I watched the East Coast feed at 6 p.m., so that I could also catch a two-hour documentary about hippies on The History Channel at 8 p.m.

Paul Brownfield, one of the best TV critics around, wrote in his review of The Sopranos in the Los Angeles Times:

"Tony Soprano offed his nephew Christopher [in the wake of a car wreck, by squeezing his nose so that he would choke on his own blood], and in the nephew's dying eyes our beloved protagonist became, finally, despicable and lost, beyond empathy....He dialed the numbers 9 and 1 on his cellphone before deciding that his own life would be easier, all in all, without the kid, whose drug addiction was bound to get them all ensnared by the feds....Sunday night's episode concluded with Tony in the Nevada desert, loaded on peyote after an all-nighter with one of Christopher's goomahs, screaming, 'I did it!' His face was a riot of tears, torment and unbidden glee."

"That's funny," I e-mailed Brownfield. "I thought Tony performed a mercy killing, putting Christopher out of his misery, as well as getting him out of the way. At least he did it BEFORE taking peyote."

"Yeah," he replied. "By the way I fucked up: Tony screams 'I get it!' at the end, not 'I did it!' I think 'I get it!' is probably more in the spirit of peyote buttons."

"I agree," I responded, "although I also thought it was 'I did it!' and in fact I compared it to the time when Abbie Hoffman was in a Las Vegas hotel room while he was on the lam, shouting 'I'm Abbie Hoffman!'--when 'What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas' was a practice if not yet an advertising slogan."

As for The Hippies, I asked a couple of fellow participants for their reactions.

Ken Babbs, sidekick of Ken Kesey in their roving band of Merry Pranksters:

"The reviews are in. The show sucked. I'm glad we don't get that channel so I don't ever have to watch the show. Zane [Kesey's son] said he was ashamed to have had anything to do with it. Further disinformation--that picture of a bus, calling it the Ken Kesey prankster bus. I suppose it doesn't do any good to point out that it is not Further but someone else's bus, for as time goes on whatever anyone portrays as reality works just fine, for anyone who was there is probably dead by now, if not in body then probably in mind. Or as that girl shouted for a couple of hours at the Watts acid test, 'Who cares?' Yes, who. Who indeed."

And Carolyn Garcia a.k.a Mountain Girl, former wife of the Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia:

"Peter Coyote should be publicly stoned for participating [as narrator] in this bash-fest. Could more negative terms be found? I must have turned it off five times. Having it sponsored by AARP is additional irony, hard to digest. If I had known the bias of the piece I would have abstained. Well, what can one do? I hate being blamed for Manson and riots and people bleeding. What a nasty raft of crap."

The History Channel presented a blatant slur on counter-cultural history. I had been interviewed for a few hours and was dismayed to see that the one quote they used -- beginning "It was fun" -- immediately followed a scene of police indiscriminately beating young demonstrators at an antiwar rally.

The Sopranos and The Hippies--ordinarily on opposite ends of the subculture spectrum--now had something in common. They were both engulfed in a context of sadistic violence. You'd think you were watching the evening news. But allow me to be the first to wish you a merry sweeps month and happy ratings.