Space Hippies on Star Trek

A couple of days ago I went to see Into Darkness, the second movie in the J.J. Abrams Star Trek “reboot” series.  I had read a couple of reviews of the movie (one lukewarm and the other positive) and I decided to see it before encountering any spoilers. Don’t worry, I won’t reveal any of the surprises here. All I’ll say is that the franchise is now in good hands, and if you’re at all into Trek it’s a must-see. There are references to the original series aplenty.

Into Darkness does not contain any references to one of my favorite episodes from the original Star Trek series, “The Way to Eden,” first broadcast Feb. 21, 1969. This is not a criticism–“The Way to Eden” is easily one of the goofiest Trek episodes. In this episode, which you can view for free at startrek.com, a group of space hippies is taken aboard the Enterprise, leading to all sorts of mayhem. As viewed through the lens of Star Trek, hippies were children of privilege who were manipulated by calculating predators. The space hippies aboard the Enterprise are led by the charismatic but insane Dr. Sevrin, who appears to be a cross between Timothy Leary and Charles Manson. Kirk would throw the lot of them in the brig except that one of their group is the son of a Federation ambassador. Their unruliness annoys Scotty but Spock “reaches” them–he even jams with them on his Vulcan lute. The hippies distract the Enterprise crew with their crazy music and take over the ship in order to get to the planet Eden (despite Kirk’s doubts that Eden even exists). The hippie hijackers manage to find Eden and navigate the Enterprise there, only to discover that the planet is uninhabitable. As Dr. McCoy explains, “all this plant life is full of acid, even the grass, Jim.”–one of the more overt drug references to come out of a 1960s television show.

“The Way to Eden” is notable for its unintentionally hilarious attempt to approximate music, fashion and language of the counterculture. Still, this episode had its moments.  This episode introduced the term “Herbert,” which has made its way into the Urban Dictionary. After the space hippies repeatedly call Kirk “Herbert,” Spock explains that the term is, “somewhat uncomplimentary. Herbert was a minor official notorious for his rigid and limited patterns of thought.” But it’s the music that makes this episode so memorable. “The Way to Eden” has a lot of music in it–perhaps too much, as most of the music in this episode is a sort of generic TV approximation of West Coast psychedelia. An example of which is when Spock brings in his Vulcan lute to jam along with a space hippie who plays some sort of circular harp.

Having said that, one song from this episode is genuinely good. The song is not identified in the credits but this YouTube version gives it the title “Long Time Back.”

In his short story adaptation of this episode, James Blish included a footnote that read, “I much regret that I cannot reproduce the music which went with this script; it was of very high quality. The script I have does not name the composer.” According to Memory Alpha, the lyrics of the song were written by screenwriter Arthur Heinemann, and the music was written by the performers, Deborah Downey and Charles Napier. Interestingly, around this same time, Deborah Downey and Charles Napier appeared in a western called The Hanging of Jake Ellis (1969).  In 2009 the A.V. Club asked Charles Napier about this role on Star Trek.

CN: I stood in line. I didn’t even have an agent. This was back in the hippie days. I stood in line with a bandana on. I could only play three chords on a guitar, which I bought down at Sears and Roebuck. When it came my turn after sweltering in the hot sun for three hours, I went in. For some reason, there were like eight people in the room. I jumped up on the coffee table, and the only song I knew was “The House Of The Rising Sun,” and before I could even get through with that they go, “Stop, stop! We want you, we want you!” And that has never, ever again happened in my life, and that was my first guest-starring role.

AVC: You played kind of a space hippie. Was that—

CN: Well, yeah. It’s what makes it so wacky. It’s because the writer was 65 years old. What did he know about hippies, right? And Shatner and all of them were upset about it, and of course I didn’t know any difference. I still get letters about that today. In fact, I just got one yesterday. Thirty years later, they wanted me to come back and do aDeep Space 9 and I just—not to be an a-hole about it—I just said, “Look, I don’t want to wear that silly shirt again. If you can write a role where I’m a general of an army base…” They wanted me to complete this 30-year span of Gene Roddenberry stuff, which I did. It’s okay. That was my ending of Star Trek.  I still get a lot of mail from it.

The song that Deborah Downey and Charles Napier perform on “The Way to Eden” was covered under the title “Golf Trek” by Gaye Bykers On Acid on their 12″ EP Nosedive Karma (1987). The Gaye Bykers On Acid track includes samples of dialog from “The Way to Eden,” including the infamous drug reference uttered by Dr. McCoy as well as some space hippie slang delivered by Adam, memorably played by Charles Napier. The track is available on Bandcamp.

The track is also available on the compilation CD Everything’s Groovy (2001), although apparently this CD was released against the band’s will. White Zombie sample some of the dialog from “The Way to Eden” on their track “Starface“.

In Groove Tube: Sixties Television and the Youth Rebellion, Aniko Bodroghkozy suggests that Star Trek, like other television shows of the 1960s, was trying to find a way to portray the counterculture in a sympathetic way in an effort to crack the burgeoning youth market. Spock’s identification with the rebellious youth legitimizes their critique of our over-reliance on technology, even if they are duped by an “Evil Luddite“. I doubt that this won over skeptics of any age, though, as fans of the show generally dismiss this episode as “terribly bad and overly silly“. By all reports the cast disliked this episode as well.

“The Way to Eden” was originally written by D.C. Fontana with a somewhat different focus. Her version carried the title “Joanna“, Dr. McCoy’s estranged space hippie daughter who becomes romantically involved with Kirk. Instead, through extensive rewrites, this character became Irina Galliulin, a former love of Chekov’s. Had D.C. Fontana’s original story been maintained, this episode would have provided more backstory on Dr. McCoy, including his failed marriage, which was alluded to in J.J. Abrams’s first reboot movie, Star Trek (2009). The final version was so heavily rewritten by Arthur Heinemann she asked that the credits be changed to a pseudonym Michael Richards.

One thought on “Space Hippies on Star Trek

  1. Listen to the opening of Acid Rock genre classic “East West” by the Butterfield Blues Band (yes, it’s on YouTube) and then revisit Spock’s “Vulcan harp jam” on The Way to Eden. Right, that cool sound did arise by happy accident. To paraphrase Ringo Starr, if you’re going to copy, copy from the best.

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