50 years ago this week, the Summer of Love was just wrapping up. For those who are too young to remember, 1967 was the year hippies took over an area around an intersection in San Francisco and made it the center of the universe for a few months. As many as 100,000 young people came to the confluence of Haight and Ashbury streets to set an example of how a belief in community and free spirits could come together in a festival that spanned the summer months.
San Francisco wasn’t the only spot for celebrating the Summer of Love. There were 50,000 who hung around Greenwich Village and Tompkins Square Park in New York, plus many other sites around the globe. But, it was San Fran that got the nod as THE place to be that summer.
The days have been glorified and romanticized when in fact they were dirty and crowded. Due to getting tired of the congestion and constant gawkers, locals created a distinct closing date. As summer waned and kids started going back to school, the numbers rapidly decreased. Those staying in the area decided to end it and advertised a Funeral for the Hippies. On October 6, a service was held in which people were told to no longer come to the Bay Area and to “bring the revolution to where you live.”
The summer celebration fizzled as fall arrived, and the scope of the funeral was limited to Haight-Ashbury. The counterculture that fled continued to thrive. The rock musical Hair opened in New York on October 17, 1967 and traveled around the country. Two years later, close to half a million like thinking young Americans gathered en masse at Woodstock for another display of peace, love, and inclusion.
What spawned the Summer of Love was the desire of young people to come together somewhere other than where they were. They wanted to defy their personal authority and celebrate a new world order. Everyone was welcome as long as it wasn’t your parents. And so they gathered.
What came out of the Summer of Love was a belief that the world could be a gentler, kinder place. After the mock funeral, the participants heeded the directive. Hippies didn’t die; they took the counterculture to where they lived. The anit-war movement grew and flourished. The Vietnam War was literally protested out of existence. The environmental movement got a start and spread beyond the Haight-Ashbury intersection. The hippies believed that we were entering the new Age of Aquarius, an age when humans took over care and custody of Earth. Brown rice, couscous, fresh, baked bread, and veggies replaced white flour, processed, boxed cakes, and frozen dinners. A demand to clean the air and water is also a lasting effect of a bunch of kids hanging out for a summer in second-hand clothes. Clothes with holes worn in them that are sold new today for 100 times what the hippies paid–if they paid at all. A lot was free. If you don’t think the clothing style of hippies has lasted, just look at the tons of babies dressed in tie-dye onesies and all the ‘tween girls sporting peace symbols on their tee-shirts. Even an aging columnist is typing his column looking through a slightly modified version of granny-glasses.
What still captivates most of us who came of age during that era is the music. Woodstock was organized around the music. Hair was written to showcase the music. And, music was the glue that kept the Summer of Love together.
This is an opinion column, so I’ll firmly avow that absolutely the best, top-shelf rock and roll was written for, about, and during the years around the Summer of Love and Woodstock. The performers are legendary; Bob Dylan, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Gracie Slick and Jefferson Airplane, Eric Clapton and Cream, Janis Joplin and Big Brother and the Holding Company, Jim Morrison and the Doors, The Mamas and Papas, Jimi Hendrix, and I could go on to mention some like the Turtles plus a ton of others who completely dominated the airways.
The albums and songs were recorded and over the years remixed, rereleased, digitized, stored in the cloud, and now are returning to vinyl to be enjoyed again and again.
The Beatles released Sgt. Pepper in 1967, plus a double-single in “Strawberry Fields” and “Penny Lane”. There was “White Rabbit” and “Somebody to Love” on Surrealistic Pillow. Both Jim Morrison and Mick Jagger got in trouble with Ed Sullivan for using the original, suggestive lyrics from “Light My Fire” and “Let’s Spend the Night Together” on the television show. I could suggest a game of “match the song with the artist” putting out “Down on Me”, “Sunshine of Your Love”, Creeque Alley”, and “Purple Haze” as posers that baby boomers would ace in their sleep.
The Sixties was more than a decade. It was an era that included violence, war, deceit, and assassinations to mourn. But, I’m taking this opportunity to celebrate. Every generation has moments to cherish, and the Summer of Love was mine.