THE SUMMER OF LOVE TURNS 50
The 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love
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.”
WHAT REALLY HAPPENED
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.
Haight street, 1967.