THE SUMMER OF LOVE at 50: (Part I-WEAR FLOWERS IN YOUR HAIR)
There was nothing quite like it. The Summer of Love wasn't just the summer of 1967. You could argue that the phenomenon began in January of that year in Golden Gate Park at San Francisco's "Human Be-In". To become a part of the revolution, hundreds of thousands of high-schoolers, college students, and young adults hitch-hiked or walked or piled into VW Micro buses (see below) and trekked to the Mecca of psychedelic bliss--San Francisco. In fact, that's where the word "psychedelic" first entered our lexicon. The rally attracted a motley group that melded into a "counter culture". It included black activists, incipient feminists, leaders of the Beat Generation like Ferlinghetti and Ginsberg, proponents of chemical enhancements like LSD, Hell's Angels, rising rock legends, pacifists, a few local loonies, and thousands of college students who were enthralled by the transformational energy.
They (nearly 100,000 of them) migrated to an area of the City by the Bay known as The Haight, with the corner of Haight St. and Ashbury St. the nexus of this peaceful revolution. But this brief period of time had earlier origins and a profound effect for many years. Some would argue that the impact of that summer still resonates today. If you were under 30, you wanted to be there.
The term created to describe these migrants was "hippies". Hippies were modern day Bohemians. A few banded together and formed communes, much like the Transcendentalists of a century earlier. The notion of respecting and "communing" with nature was an imperative. The goal was to "raise one's consciousness", through psychedelic drugs or Transcendental Meditation or a number of other avenues. Rejection of traditional norms was a mandate, whether those norms were the signifiers of Wall Street, the Police (aka The Fuzz), or (especially) the Government, which was sending thousands of young people on transport planes off to Vietnam to die. Instead of subscribing to the values of conspicuous consumerism perpetrated by Madison Avenue advertisers (you need a bigger car, a better home, this or that product or "look"), hippies let their hair grow long (they let their "freak flag fly), wore jeans and tie-dyed shirts, and shared with each other.
Yes, they shared dope among other things, but the Summer of Love was about much more than drug use. Music was transformed that year. Media was revolutionized. Hippies cherished art and craft, and promoted all attempts to, as Walt Whitman (a Hippie if there ever was one) would have put it, "celebrate oneself". You might do it through meditation. You might do it by joining a group and going to live off the grid. You might "Turn On. Tune In. Drop Out." as the legendary Timothy Leary did by promoting the use of LSD, the better "to find" oneself.
Above: Covers of the highly controversial and often inflammatory paper of '60s counterculture, the East Village Other. Cheetah Magazine first published in 1967 to explore the new world of music. This cover was the creation of artist Peter Max, who is still creating psychedelic pop art today. In March of 1968 Eye Magazine was published to address the burgeoning youth market. And of course there was Rolling Stone, first published in San Francisco in 1967.
On July 1, 1967 The Beatles released Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and music was never the same again (more on that in the next three entries). But other songs came to typify that particular historical moment. Here are a few:
Above: Scott McKenzie's "San Francisco: Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair", penned by John Phillips of The Mamas and the Papas. Many consider this paean to Flower Power to be the unofficial anthem of the movement. Groups such as The Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and the Holding Company, and The Grateful Dead all blossomed during 1967, as did a guitar prodigy named Jimi Hendrix.
Above: "White Rabbit" by Jefferson Airplane was, to me, the most anthemic song of the period, with its propulsive snare-drum rhythm, and its references to drugs and Lewis Carroll's Alice through the Looking Glass. Not to mention its directive to "Feed Your Head". Here is Grace Slick singing the vocals. Check out the background visuals of multi-colored amoeba-like shapes. Most of the bands I saw on Friday night school dances couldn't wait to get their own psychedelic light show projectors!
Above: The Youngbloods' "Get Together" probably best captures the vibe of the Summer of Love though. It's all about peace and love.
In addition to the release of Sgt. Pepper, the big moment in music was the Monterey Pop Festival--really the first rock concert of the Woodstock-type in that era. Just a short drive down the coast from San Francisco, Monterey hosted between 50,000 and 100,000 visitors to this landmark concert in June of 1967. Ravi Shankar, The Who, and Jimi Hendrix all made their American debuts. Otis Redding and Janis Joplin performed, as did The Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead, Eric Burdon and the Animals, The Mamas and the Papas, Laura Nyro, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Booker T and the MGs, Buffalo Springfield, and of course Scott McKenzie, famous for his song about San Francisco. There were many
Soon the vibrations from San Francisco produced a ripple effect across the nation and the world for young people and older people who were young at heart. That summer changed the music I listened to, the books I read, the artwork I attempted. My father made sure it didn't change my clothes or hair, but that year reworked me from inside out.
Below is Part 1 of a documentary on the Summer of Love shown on PBS earlier this year as part of its American Experience series. It's an interesting examination of that moment in time and worth checking out if you are interested. More about the music in the next entry. If it doesn't load, there is a link below you can try. Or join PBS!