In 1967 the so-called ‘Summer of Love’ resulted in the climax of the hippie movement at Haight Ashbury/San Francisco as well as in the off-springs of San Francisco’s hippie-commune. When the climax of this revolution of teenage love utopia happened it was to be spread all over the world, preferably in those areas that seemed open to drug use and so called free love. The great popes of psychonautics, Timothy Leary, but also William S. Burroughs, had already discovered Morocco and Tanger especially as their true utopia. Paul Bowles wrote his most intense stories there, telling of the great love lost in the desert. In this context Marrakech happened to be a city of choice for hippies from all over the world. Besides Tanger, Marrakech was to be the city being discovered for a second time by European invaders after the time of French colonialism.
Marrakesh is the second largest city in Morocco after Casablanca, and was known to early travellers as ‘Morocco City.’ Its political importance in the region changed over the centuries, but concerning religion Marrakesh is known for its ‘seven saints’. When sufism was at the height of its popularity Moulay Ismail decided to move the tombs of several renowned figures to Marrakesh to attract many pilgrims. The ‘seven saints’ is now a firmly established institution, attracting visitors from everywhere. Sufism is a kind of islamic mysticism and became one of the utopian ideas that attracted the hippie comunity in the 20th century.
When Morrocco was occupied by the French colonial forces a certain image of oriental aestethics and clichés were importet into the circles of European decadence, resulting in a certain oriental image of colonial longing. The idea of the orient was signified by mysteries, strange eroticism, sensual freedom, secret drugs and eccentric beauty. Since Morrocco, much like Egypt for the British, had a lot to offer to feed this colonial longing, the certain clichés of oriental life and culture never ceased – even after colonialism ended officially.
In the early sixties of the 20th century the hippie community prove to be a huge cultural phenomenon, influencing youth culture worldwide and building communities even in parts of the oriental world. The hippies as part of the American counterculture had an important political influence besides the American Civil Rights Movement and the American New Left in the late sixties – mainly connected with the protest against the Vietnam war – but lost influence and declined till 1975. Originally they inherited a tradition of cultural dissent from the earlier Bohemians and the beatniks in the USA who also cared for alternative lifestyle, creative drug use and alternative religion. Their idea of the advantages of psychedelic drugs and sexual liberation lead the hippie movement to an intense interest in oriental cuture, where they discovered freedoms long lost and an alternative way of life and thinking. Hippie culture spread worldwide through a fusion of rock music, folk, blues, and psychedelic rock; it also found expression in literature, the dramatic arts, fashion, and the visual arts, including film, and album covers. Timothy Leary described the hippies as a new religious movement, opening itself to ifluences of paganism and mystic cults from all over the world.
As it used to be in the colonial world, Marrakech became an image and idea of postcolonial longing in the hippie counterculture as well. As other places in the oriental world like Goa, Bombay or Pattaya beach, the Morroccan city was handled as synonymous for the idea of a lost sensual freedom, of mental expanding and religious enlightment.
Due to the fact that travel was a prominent feature of hippie culture, both domestic and international, Marrakech also became the place to visit in the late 1960ies amd early 1970ies. Hippie culture was communal, and travel became an extension of friendship and communication. Originally the iconic VW bus was a popular vehicle, because groups of friends could travel together very cheaply. In the case of foreign countries many hippies favored hitchhiking as a primary mode of transport because it was economical, and a way to meet new friends. Pre-planning was rejected as hippies were happy to put a few clothes in a bag, stick out their thumbs and hitchhike anywhere. Hippies rarely worried if they had money, hotel reservations or any of the other standards of travel. Hippie households welcomed overnight guests on a spontaneous basis. Unfortunately not all cultures understood what this movement was about and hippies were not always welcome where they appeared.
One of the global problems was the hippie attitude towards drugs. As did the Beat people before them, hippies used cannabis, which was considered relaxing. They enlarged their repertoire of creative drugs to include hallucinogens such as LSD or mescaline. Harvard University professors Timothy Leary, Ralph Metzner and Richard Alpert became their drug popes and forethinkers, who advocated the use of these psychoactive drugs for psychotherapuetic, self-exploration and religious or spiritual purposes. Despite the fact that the drug use was severley punished especially in the oriental world, more and more hippies travelled through those countries – including Morrocco – in search of a real life utopia.
Due to the mixture of spiritual and psychedelic life style Marrakech also became a symbol for a drug connection. ‘Taking the Marrakech Express’ was not only about travelling towards utopia but also using the actual drug connection to Marrakech. The Marrakesh Express was in fact a popular route for traveling hippies during the mid-to-late 1960s who sought out this Moroccan city for its mythical Arabic appearance and for its renowned hashish. In 1969 the folk-pop-group Crosby, Stills, and Nash released their famous song ‘Marrakesh Express’ on the selftitled album. The lyrics written my Graham Nash were initially intended to be played by The Hollies, but they refused to record this ambivalent song. The lyrics clearly reflect the two-sided interpretation of the title:
Looking at the world
Trough the sunset in your eyes
Trying to make the train
To clear Moroccan skies
Bugs and pigs and chickens call
Animal carpet wall to wall
American man is five foot tall and you
Sweeping cobwebs from the edges of my mind
Had to get away to see what we could find
Hope the days that lie ahead
Bring us back to where they’ve led
Listen up to what’s been said to you
Would you know we’re riding
on the Marrakesh Express
All on board that train
I’ve been saving all my money just to take you there
I smell the garden in your hair
Take a train to Casablanca going south
Blowing smoke rings from the corners of my mouth
Cold coffins hang in the square
Charming corporals in the square
Don’t you know we’re riding on the Marrakesh Express (X2)
They’re taking me to Marrakesh
All on board that train (X3)
Many years later this title prove so iconic it was used as a title for the Italian movie ‘Marakech Express’ (1989), were some people go to Marrakech to help a fiend imprisoned there. Also the French release title of the programmatic melodrama ‘Hideous Kinky’ (1998) was ‘Marrakech express’.
In later popmusic the Morroccan city sometimes appeared within the same context of postcolonial longing. Loreena McKennitt’s gothic popsong ‘Marrakesh Night Market’ from her album ‘The Mask and Mirror’ is also inspired by her extensive travelling and reflects her experiences in Spain and Morrocco. ‘Marrakesh Night Market’ is a poetic description of a reality directly recepted as mystic and spiritual:
‘The stories are woven
and fortunes are told
The truth is measured by the weight of your gold
The magic lies scattered
on rugs on the ground
Faith is conjured in the night market’s sound
Would you like my mask?
would you like my mirror?
cries the man in the shadowing hood
You can look at yourself
you can look at each other
or you can look at the face of your god’
A clear perspective of her spiritual search gives Loreena McKennitt in her introduction to ‘The Mask and Mirror’ (1994):
‘I looked back and forth through the window of 15th century Spain, through the hues of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, and was drawn into a fascinating world: history, religion, cross-cultural fertilization… For some medieval minds the mirror ‘was the door through which the soul frees itself by passing’… for others the pursuit of personal refinement was likened to ‘polishing the mirror of the soul.’ From the more familiar turf of the west coast of Ireland, through the troubadours of France, crossing over the Pyrenees and then to the west through Galicia, down through Andalusia and past Gibraltar to Morocco … The Crusades, the pilgrimage to Santiago, Cathars, the Knights Templar, the Sufis from Egypt, One Thousand and One Nights in Arabia, the Celtic imagery of trees, the Gnostic Gospels … who was God? and what is religion, what spirituality? What was revealed and what was concealed… and what was the mask and what the mirror?’
‘Marrakech’ is also a song by German DJ, musician and producer of dance music ATB, born André Tanneberger. ATB’s chilling track ‘Marrakech’ appears on the album ‘No Silence’ (2004) and may serve as an example of the late techno and goa movement as an extension of the original hippie movement, sharing their ideas and utopias, but combining them with postmodern philosophy and technology.
One of the most significant pieces of art deriving from hippie spirit is Esther Freud’s novel ‘Hideous Kinky’ (1991) that reflects her childhood experiences as the daughter of a hippie mother seeking for spiritual enlightment in the Sufi religion on her travel to Morrocco. Esther Freud is a British novelist born in 1963 in London. She is the daughter of painter Lucian Freud and his former partner Bernadine Freud and is the great-granddaughter of Sigmund Freud.
As a child Esther Freud and her sister Bella travelled with their hippie mother around the world, and lived only sporadically in London as a child before returning at the age of sixteen to become an actress. The novel ‘Hideous Kinky’ is strictly told from the view of a five year old girl and therefor lacks deep rooting psychological reflections. The description of the events in Marakech and Morrocco in general concentrate on the impression that the little girl shares with her two year older sister. When her mother meets the street performer Bilal the girl hopes to have found a new father replacing her real father who lives in London with a new woman. Her mother tries hard to establish some semblance of normal life, but once in Marrakech immerses herself in Sufism and a spiritual quest for personal fulfillment. Her daughters try to rebel against the latent uncertainty of their everyday life by re-establishing the English lifestyle or trying to find a new father. It works out as a smart twist that not the narrator herself but her mother is the one being involved in the postcolonial longings of hippie utopias and obesessions and therefor can easily document the disturbing effects of this behaviour on the upbringing of the two young daughters who even try to stop their mother in further involving in Sufi mysticism.
While Bea, the older daughter, is more and more sceptical and down to earth (until she falls ill in the end and is brought back to England), the narrator becomes easily enchanted by the magical atmosphere she experiences in the strange surroundings of Marrakech. Her mother, her sister and Bilal – who is the assistant of a wizard on the huge Marrakesh market anyway – sometimes appear like otherworldly creatures connceted with oriental fairy tales. The narration therefor shifts between a magical realism and the usual all day problems of a split up family trying to survive in a foreign culture.
When ‘Hideous Kinky’ was adapted into a British motion picture with Kate Winslet as the mother, the subjective world view became much more dramatic and darker than it appears in the book. The magic realism here evolves into the realms of a mysterious threat, beginning with a nightmare on the Marrakech market where the little girl gets lost …
For the contemporary people living the hippie utopia again – mainly the goa and trance-techno-movement – Morrocco may deliver the same tempting oriental clichés than before, dating back to the time of colonialism. But as the film ‘Hideous Kinky’ shows these images of postcolonial longing can easily be transformed into nightmarish mysteries and symbols of transcultural fears today.
Freud, Esther: Hideous Kinky, New Jersey 1992
Booth, Martin: Cannabis: A History, New York 2004
Fieldhouse, David K.: Fischer Weltgeschichte Band 29: Die Kolonialreiche seit dem 18. Jahrhundert, Frankfurt am Main 1985/1991
Muller, Adam: Theorizing Nostalgia: Postcolonial Longing and European ‘Heritage’ Cinema.’ Rocky Mountain MLA,. University of Colorado at Boulder, September-October 2004 (unpublished)
Silver, Joel: Summer of Love, New York 1994
Shapiro, Harry: Drugs & Rock’n’Roll. Rauschgift und Popmusik, Wien 1989
Stevens, Jay: Storming Heaven: LSD and the American Dream, New York 1998