Peter Coyote: Voice of the Vietnam Generation


“Halfway through episode five of Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s ten-part The Vietnam War documentary, the smooth, sonorous-voiced narrator Peter Coyote describes how 50,000 antiwar activists marched from the Lincoln Memorial to the Pentagon 50 years ago on October 21st, 1967. Les Gelb, who was working inside the Pentagon then tells viewers that his secretaries were scared of being attacked, even raped by the protesting peaceniks. ‘It was a sense of revolution,’ Gelb pronounced. After Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman and their band of Yippies tried to meditate the Pentagon into full ‘levitation,’ and others clashed with police, the protest ended with an unprecedented 682 arrests. The war at home had officially kicked off in full force. The peace movement, frustrated with years of being ignored, shifted in attitude and tone from protest to resistance. October 1967 was also a moment when our trusty narrator Peter Coyote (nee Cohon from Englewood, New Jersey by way of Haight-Ashbury and the Black Bear commune) was at the top of his counterculture game, as a bad-ass motorcycle-driving hippie who was one of the leaders of San Francisco’s legendary guerilla theater group, the Diggers. … Coyote (he adopted the last name with the guidance of a Paiute-Shoshone shaman named Rolling Thunder) and the Diggers shunned private property and capitalist culture and ultimately became the de facto hosts to thousands of youth who streamed into Haight-Ashbury for 1967’s Summer of Love. The Diggers distributed free food, set up a free medical clinic, opened a Free Store, and found free crash pads for hundreds of young hippies (as they were first labeled that year by the mainstream media). The Diggers became the counterculture’s mad cap den mothers and fathers. Coyote was the wildest, toughest, sexiest hippie of them all. As the hours of Burns’ sober, even-handed series ticked by, I couldn’t help but wonder what it was like for Coyote, of all people, to narrate this, his seventh Ken Burns PBS documentary series. In the mid-to late Sixties, Coyote was living in a separate, parallel universe from the stars of this documentary—vets like John Musgrave, and Tim O’Brien (author of The Things They Carried)—who volunteered to fight in Vietnam only to return home and join the movement to oppose it. When these vets were fighting in muddy, deadly battles near the DMZ, Coyote was plotting a cultural revolution in San Francisco. … Now at age 76, Coyote has of course mellowed. He is a Zen Buddhist priest and a prolific, successful actor. …”
LitHub (October 20, 2017)
Peter Coyote talks about his spiritual path from the Sixties to ‘E.T.’ and Zen Buddhism
W – Peter Coyote
‘The Summer of Crap’: Peter Coyote on Vietnam and Life in the ’60s

About 1960s: Days of Rage

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This entry was posted in Haight-Ashbury, Hippie, Jerry Rubin, Religion, Street theater, Vietnam War and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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