If the audience was restless, it was probably due to frustration that the star refused to show up.
Abbie Hoffman was scheduled to attend the Bring Abbie Home concert in Madison Square Garden Wednesday night. And everyone knew Abbie had to be there somewhere. Anywhere but on stage. That would have been rash. And Abbie is no longer rash.
With David Janssen in returns and Patty Hearst in captivity, Abbie Hoffman is now America's best-known fugitive.
He's been in hiding for five years. He jumped bail in New York after he was charged with selling cocaine to undercover policemen. He could face a 15-year sentence under New York's severe drug laws.
His friends thought it was time to alter this state of affairs. Thus resulted "Haven Camp Wait: A Life in th Day of Abbie Hoffman." It was a long, messy rally-concert-demonstration that tried to summon up that old '60s spirit. Among the performers were Jon Voight, Ossie Davis, Rip Torn, William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg. There were also five of the good old Chicago Seven, their lawyer William Kunstler, Abbie Hoffman's brother and mother, Abbie Hoffman's voice (on tape) and Abbie Hoffman's likeness (photos, slides, films).
But no Abbie. The publicity had intimated that he would attend, if in disguise. (He is said to have had plastic surgery done.) A note in the program said: "At this event it is considered bad manners to ask that familiar looking person sitting next to you if he is indeed Abbie Hoffman. Just assume he is, and share what you have."
All this teasing, combined with the fact that the performers kept addressing Hoffman as though present and exhorting him to "come home," made for a certain expectation that he might somehow turn up for at least a couple of cartwheels across the stage, just ahead of the riot squad. It would have helped. The show badly needed his comic exuberance. It dragged. A framing comedy device featuring a heavenly version of the Chicago Seven conspiracy trial was desperately unfunny, despite the fact that it was written by Terry Southern, author of "Candy" and other humorous works.
Staring at the people around you to see if they were Abbie Hoffman or not was amusing for a time but for $10 a ticket it ultimately failed to produce adequate diversion since most of them weren't.
Constant heckling from the audience added to the unpleasantness, although it was certainly in keeping with the Yippie spirit of the '60s. There was even a minor scuffle between an audience member and someone who wouldn't sit down.
But then entertainment wasn't really the point. Kunstler, who played himself in the trial sketch, said back-stage that the purpose of the show was to try to create a public climate in which Abbie Hoffman could return. The audience was being asked to sign petitions to the district attorney asking that the charges against Hoffman be dropped, "in recognition of his long record of service to America's ideals, and in recognition of the time in exile that he has already spent."
Failing that, Kunstler said, he's hoping to strike a deal with the D.A. on Hoffman's behalf. "He'd like no jail time; they'd like some. Maybe a compromise could be worked out," said Kunstler. "He's dead tired of running. We want to bring a good man back. It isn't right that he be running and Nixon is sitting in San Clemente reaping profits from his book."
On stage, Kunstler ended the proceedings with a pitch for more money. The show had run overtime, he said, and "we're breaking even, if we're lucky." The house was far from sold out. Though Kunstler said 3,700 people attended, large blocks of seats remained empty in the 4,000-capacity Felt Forum.
Kunstler assured the spectators that "the man you came for heard and saw everything." He maintained later that Abbie had been there, "wandering around," and that numerous policemen were also out there looking for him.
On tape, the man was his usual high-spirited self. "Never has there been an event quite like this," said the voice of Abbie Hoffman. "So many people out to aid and abet a fugitive." He joked about the underground life consisting of the same kind of pedestrian problems as normal life. He said that he's still active politically, "as active as I was 10 years ago." He's in hte middle of the anti-nuclear power movement, he said. "I'm still carrying the same ideals. I don't buy the media hype that there's no activism going on."
He said he wanted to resume his old activist life publicly. "If I can get these charges dropped I can come back and do this job right," he said.
Describing the Abbie show as an exercise in '60s nostalgia would undoubtedly be denounced by those participating as still more media hype, but it did have those overtones.
The show opened with a band of Yippie veterans holding up a Chicago banner, reminding that the 10th anniversary of that hallowed battle is almost upon us. Then there were slides and films of Abbie cavorting in those heady days, as Kinky Friedman, the last of the Jewish singing cowboys, mournfully sang a tune called "Dear Abbie" in the background. The battle of Chicago was then recreated on stage with cops beating up demonstrators to the strains of the then-popular chant, "The Whole World is Watching."
With five of the Chicago Seven reassembled, you could hardly avoid a slew of heavy reminiscing about the career highlights of the revolutionary elf. David Delinger recalled the time Abbie burned money at the Wall Street stock exchange and the crazy day he tried to levitate the Pentagon. Jerry Rubin, who received mixed boos and applause, recounted the time that Abbie wore his American flag shirt on the Merv Griffin show and the censors blacked out half the screen to hide it.
And then there was Abbie showing up at the trial wearing a judge's robe, and when the apoplectic Judge Julius Hoffman ordered it removed, Abbie was wearing a Chicago police uniform underneath. "No person had as big an effect on my life," said Rubin. "He's the funniest person I ever met."
Most of the speakers also put in pleas for current radical struggle, although the exhortations seemed to lack focus. The nuclear power issue was invoked. John Froines said that he is working on the control of toxic materials in the workplace and that's the kind of issue that now has to be fought. Bobby Seale vaguely denounced the power structure. (The other Chicago Seven member present was Rennie Davis). Ossie Davis, the actor and director, said something about helping brothers and sisters in prison. "This ain't no damn anti-war reunion," he said. "This is a bivouac in a continuing struggle."
There were concessions to the spirit of the '70s. There was a line of dancing girls at one point, as unlikely as that may seem, and a band called Stiletto, whose punk aura coexisted uneasily with this audience. And there was Jon Voight, movie star of the '70s (although in his most recent effort, "Coming Home," he did portray a '60s character, a disabled Vietnam veteran). Mobbed by reporters backstage, Voight said that he came because, "I really care for the man and I don't want to see him messed up."
On stage, he rambled and the hecklers gave him a hard time. "Wake up," someone shouted at one point. "Right," said Voight apologetically. "I'm a natural downer." He then yelled a little in an effort to wake up. But when he said that the press doesn't know much about Abbie, a voice came back, "You don't know anything about Abbie."
"That's Abbie," said Voight. He finished by reading a love letter from Abbie Hoffman sent to his wife from hiding.
Allen Ginsberg, the bald and hairy ex-beatnik Zen poet guru, knew better than to talk. He just made music. In a conservatice shirt and tie and glasses, Ginsberg is starting to look like a hip accountant. He sang "The Abbie Hoffman Dope Fiend Blues."
The audience was divided into two parts. One consisted of hundreds of journalists, trying to reach agreement on who the second part consisted of. Consensus was achieved that they were either a dungareed, pot-puffing crowd of aging ex-Yippies who were now insurance salesmen, or possibly just Abbie Hoffman fans sprinkled with plainsclothesmen.
The Hoffman family was there too. Abbie's brother Jack Hoffman introduced their mother, who took a bow from the audience, and then sister Phyllis from New Mexico. He said that Abbie had managed to pay a visit to their grandmother, "the Bubby," who is 96 and lives in Worcester, Mass. (Abbie is now 40, by the way.) Jack Hoffman said the following dialogue took place:
Abbie: "Hey, Buh, you gonna make 100?"
Bubby: "I'm gonna stick around until you're a free boy."