The 50th an­niver­sary of the Sum­mer of Love

Vocable (All English) - - Culture - ALAN SOLOMON

In the sum­mer of 1967, tens of thou­sands of young peo­ple from all over the world de­scended on Haight-Ash­bury, in San Fran­cisco. Flow­ery dresses, psy­che­delic ac­ces­sories, con­certs, but also drugs and free love… this was the epi­cen­tre of the hippy move­ment. Fifty years later, we take a hard look back at this phe­nom­e­non and its reper­cus­sions world­wide.!

What was the Sum­mer of Love? It was many things, but the short­hand ver­sion: In 1967, thou­sands of young peo­ple from through­out the U.S. — many of them hip­pies or those who would be hip­pies, lured by vi­sions of un­re­strained ac­cess to a va­ri­ety of plea­sures, some of them hal­lu­ci­na­tory and oth­ers more or­ganic — de­scended on San Fran­cisco’s Haight-Ash­bury neigh­bor­hood and en­vi­rons for the sum­mer to share it all

with like-minded folks. Some had flow­ers in their hair. Up­per es­ti­mates of how many ac­tu­ally showed up ap­proach 200,000, but no one seems to re­ally know.

2. “Huge, ab­so­lutely mean­ing­less num­bers,” says a Haight-based his­to­rian-guide who calls him- self Stan Flouride and in­sists po­lice aerial pho­tographs, the pri­mary source of the count, were mean­ing­less. “They fly over on Satur­day and take a pic­ture, then fly over on Sun­day and count ev­ery­body twice,” he says. “You know that half those peo­ple hadn’t moved in 24 hours…” For sure, it was a lot, re­mark­able at a time when the dom­i­nant in­ter­state com­mu­ni­ca­tion de­vice was still a ro­tary dial tele­phone.


3. By the end of Au­gust, most had stag­gered back to school. But the im­pact of the event has been de­bated for… well, for 50 years. Naysay­ers will have their nay, but Den­nis McNally, San Fran­cisco-based au­thor, his­to­rian and long­time pub­li­cist for the sem­i­nal band of the era, the Grate­ful Dead, says this: “All the is­sues that hap­pened in San Fran­cisco — it hap­pened in many places, but San Fran­cisco was ground zero — ev­ery one of those, in highly evolved form, is cen­tral to the cul­ture wars that are go­ing on right now.” The is­sues: gen­der iden­tity and sexuality, nat­u­ral foods, the en­vi­ron­ment, drugs, ma­te­ri­al­ism. 4. By most ac­counts, the Sum­mer of Love was a mem­o­rable, and for many even a joy­ous, few weeks. We still see in­sti­tu­tions here that were born then of ne­ces­sity and com­pas­sion: A free health clinic, first of its kind for the U.S., was cre­ated to deal with over­doses, con­ven­tional sick­ness and other things. “Most of these kids,” said Flouride, “were kids with no sense of ur­ban sur­vival.” The Haight Ash­bury Free Clinic is still serv­ing the com­mu­nity.

5. A for­mer mime troupe called The Dig­gers es­tab­lished free-food cen­ters that sum­mer, and oth­ers carry on the tra­di­tion. An­other Dig­gers in­ven­tion, a street-

clean­ing pro­gram in the Haight that traded light main­te­nance work for shel­ter and food for the home­less, lasted decades, and was re­vived and ex­panded in 2014. Other pro­grams en­dure.

6. On the down­side, there were kids who were swept up by the scene who maybe weren’t ready for it. Rick Ka­plan, who in 1967 was a 14-year-old San Fran­cis­can and at 64 is still (lit­er­ally) in re­cov­ery was one of them. “I loved it. Loved it,” he said dur­ing a rest break at the hal­lowed Fill­more, where he was groov­ing to spir­ited live rock from Hot Tuna. “I be­came a to­tal Dead­head. I’ve prob­a­bly seen the Grate­ful Dead 500 times.” But. “I’m a re­cov­er­ing drug ad­dict,” he said. “I was an ev­ery­day crack ad­dict for 12 years. I should be dead.”


7. The story of the Sum­mer of Love, like so many things that sum­mer, de­fies or­der­li­ness. A rea­son­able chronol­ogy would be­gin with the Beats — po­ets and au­thors and philoso­phers and lovers of jazz and espresso (Gins­berg, Ker­ouac, Cas­sady, Rexroth and more) — who in the 1950s first set­tled in the North Beach neigh­bor­hood, then found in Haight-Ash­bury cheaper rents, fewer tourists and that tra­di­tional San Fran­cisco tol­er­ance.

8. They were joined in the neigh­bor­hood, even­tu­ally, by artists, mu­si­cians and en­trepreneurs, some of them le­git. By the mid-1960s, HaightAsh­bury’s some­times-wob­bly but af­ford­able hous­ing was oc­cu­pied by as many peo­ple as they could ac­com­mo­date. The neigh­bor­hood had a vibe.

9. The Grate­ful Dead, not yet rich or fa­mous, took over a house on 710 Ash­bury St. For a time, Ja­nis Jo­plin lived with her girl­friend up the street, at 635. Oth­ers in the neigh­bor­hood, at var­i­ous in­ter­vals: Patty Hearst, Charles Man­son, a rel­a­tively con­ven­tional Danny Glover, Coun­try Joe McDon­ald, Jimi Hen­drix, Sid Vi­cious. Grace Slick. Hells An­gels. And onto these streets, in one mem­o­rable sum­mer, came 60,000 or 100,000 or 200,000 young peo­ple seek­ing re­in­force­ment or new friends or new sen­sa­tions.

10. And what a sum­mer it was. And what a sum­mer this one could be. It won’t be 1967, but… “The city is re­ally go­ing to cel­e­brate the an­niver­sary,” McNally says. “An el­e­ment of that is nos­tal­gia. There’s still plenty of 70-yearolds alive who ac­tu­ally re­mem­ber it.” Some of them may even have some flow­ers in their hair. If they have any hair left.

(PETER LARSEN/Shut­ter­sto/SIPA)

Haight street, 1967.

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