Flower power’s hot­house

San Fran­cisco’s unique vibe helped make 1967 the Sum­mer of Love.

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - PHILIP MARTIN

“Save up all your bread and fly Trans Love Air­ways to San Fran­cisco, USA …”

— Eric Bur­don, “San Fran­cis­can

Nights,” re­leased Au­gust 1967 My un­cle was a sailor; his last port of duty was Trea­sure Is­land Naval Sta­tion in San Fran­cisco Bay. He liked north­ern Cal­i­for­nia, so in­stead of head­ing home to North Carolina af­ter mus­ter­ing out he stayed in San Fran­cisco to hang around Lawrence Fer­linghetti’s City Lights Book­store and lis­ten to jazz in North Beach clubs. It was 1962. The Bea­tles were still in Hamburg. Bob Dy­lan had moved from Min­nesota to Man­hat­tan to look for Woody Guthrie two years be­fore.

It was five years be­fore the “Sum­mer of Love,” a trans­for­ma­tive year for Amer­i­can cul­ture.

We can’t al­ways say why a com­mu­nity or neigh­bor­hood be­comes a petri dish for so­cial change, but San Fran­cisco in the early ’60s seemed to be es­pe­cially fer­tile ter­ri­tory. One of the rea­sons might have been the Amer­i­can mil­i­tary’s ag­gres­sive root­ing out known and sus­pected ho­mo­sex­u­als from its ranks dur­ing World War

II — un­til 1942 there was no spe­cific reg­u­la­tion bar­ring gays from ser­vice. In 1942, mil­i­tary psy­chi­a­trists be­gan to clas­sify ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity as a “psy­cho­pathic per­son­al­ity dis­or­der” that ren­dered its “suf­fer­ers” un­fit to fight.

Over the next three years, more than 9,000 mem­bers of the armed forces were dis­charged for ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity, a great many of them in San Fran­cisco. A lot of them, like my un­cle, de­cided to stay.

Part of the rea­son was a per­va­sive tol­er­ance of lib­er­tin­ism that ex­tended back to San Fran­cisco’s ear­li­est days. Es­tab­lished dur­ing the 1849 Gold Rush, the red-light district known as the Bar­bary Coast catered to trav­el­ers, sailors, tran­sients and oth­ers, with dance halls, gam­bling houses and broth­els where one could pay for a ca­sual en­counter with a pros­ti­tute of ei­ther sex. Gay bars like the Black Cat and Fin­noc­chio’s had been openly oper­at­ing for decades by the time my un­cle set­tled in the city.

Haight-Ash­bury, once an up­per mid­dle-class sub­urb of Vic­to­rian-era houses (one of the few neigh­bor­hoods to emerge un­scathed af­ter the 1906 earth­quake and fire), was in de­cline by the late ’50s, rents were cheap. Many sin­gle fam­ily res­i­dences were chopped up into board­ing houses and apart­ments in­hab­ited by stu­dents at nearby San Fran­cisco State Univer­sity. By 1963 a strain of Bo­hemi­an­ism unique to the neigh­bor­hood had sprung up, a kind of fetishism of the “old-timey.” Some young men took to wear­ing stiff-col­lared shirts with pins, rid­ing coats and long dusters. They grew their hair long and af­fected the look of Old West or Vic­to­rian dandies.

In 1964, a stu­dent protest — what would be­come known as the “Free Speech Move­ment” — sprang up at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia at Berke­ley. Stu­dents in­sisted the ad­min­is­tra­tion lift a ban of on-cam­pus po­lit­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ties and ac­knowl­edge the stu­dents’ right to free speech. A se­ries of demon­stra­tions that saw stu­dents ar­rested and jailed even­tu­ally led to a new chan­cel­lor ac­ced­ing to stu­dent de­mands. In 1965, Jerry Ru­bin and oth­ers es­tab­lished the Viet­nam Day Com­mit­tee — a cor­ner­stone of the nascent anti-war move­ment — in Berke­ley. The same year, the owner of Berke­ley’s Step­pen­wolf bar started an al­ter­na­tive news­pa­per called the Berke­ley Barb.

It was about this time that my un­cle opened his first an­tique fur­ni­ture store in the Haight. (It was more of a junk store; he picked up a lot of his in­ven­tory at flea mar­kets and from curb­sides.) He sold cheap to the stu­dents and oth­ers who’d flocked to the neigh­bor­hood; he be­friended a poet and song­writer named Rod McKuen, who lived on Stanyan Street. He got to know a lot of the mu­si­cians who flocked to the area. He sold fur­ni­ture to the ten­ants of 710 Ash­bury St., Rock Scully and Danny Rifkin, who man­aged a band called first the War­locks and later the Grate­ful Dead.

For a time, the band lived in that house while the Hell’s Angels main­tained a res­i­dence across the street. There’s a story about Ken Ke­sey, au­thor of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, who, be­gin­ning in the win­ter of 1965, started host­ing Acid Tests where per­haps 200 peo­ple would show up to drop LSD and lis­ten to the Dead play. He once lost his brakes at the top of Ash­bury Street and had to choose be­tween crash­ing into the Dead’s house or the Angels’. (He chose the Angels’, which maybe should give us pause about the writer’s wis­dom.)

A group called the Dig­gers, made up pri­mar­ily of left-wing ac­tors (Peter Coy­ote was a mem­ber) es­tab­lished pay-what-you-want “free stores” and a free clinic in the Haight; they dis­trib­uted free food in Golden Gate Park and staged street pa­rades with rad­i­cal themes like The Death of Money. (The Dig­gers are often said to have coined the catch­phrases “Do your own thing” and “To­day is the first day of the rest of your life,” which ap­peared in their pam­phlets.)

Also in 1966, Ja­nis Jo­plin re­turned to San Fran­cisco af­ter her boyfriend broke off their en­gage­ment. (Jo­plin first came to San Fran­cisco in 1963 and lived in North Beach and the Haight. Her friends be­came alarmed by her metham­phetamine use, which had left her ema­ci­ated and list­less. They bought her a bus ticket back home to Port Arthur, Texas.) She joined a band called Big Brother and the Hold­ing Com­pany.

“She came in and she was dressed like a lit­tle Texan,” Big Brother gui­tarist Sam An­drew told blog­ger John Barthel in 2006. “She didn’t look like a hip­pie, she looked like my mother, who is also from Texas. She sang real well but it wasn’t like, ‘Oh we’re bowled over.’ It was prob­a­bly more like, our sound was re­ally loud. It was prob­a­bly bowl­ing her over. I am sure we didn’t turn down enough for her. … In other words, we weren’t flat­tened by her and she wasn’t flat­tened by us. … I mean she was good but she had to learn how to do that. It took her about a year to re­ally learn how to sing with an elec­tric band.”

In Jan­uary 1967, an event called the Hu­man Be-In was held in Golden Gate Park that fea­tured mu­sic from lo­cal bands in­clud­ing the Jef­fer­son Air­plane, The Grate­ful Dead, Big Brother and the Hold­ing Com­pany and Quick­sil­ver Mes­sen­ger Ser­vice. As for­mer Har­vard pro­fes­sor Ti­mothy Leary urged the as­sem­bled to “turn on, tune in, drop out,” old Beats Allen Gins­berg, Gary Sny­der and Lawrence Fer­linghetti looked on ap­prov­ingly. The Hell’s Angels provided se­cu­rity and helped re­unite lost chil­dren with their par­ents. Underground chemist Owsley Stan­ley pro­duced spe­cial edi­tion “White Light­ning” tabs of LSD for the event, and the Dig­gers provided 75 20-pound tur­keys for free dis­tri­bu­tion.

On April 15, 1967, about 50,000 peo­ple marched in San Fran­cisco as part of the Spring Mo­bi­liza­tion to End the War in Viet­nam (on the other coast, as many as 200,000 marched in Man­hat­tan). About that time, John Phillips of the Ma­mas and the Pa­pas, record pro­ducer Lou Adler and pub­li­cist Derek Tay­lor de­cided to put on a rock con­cert at the Mon­terey County Fair­grounds two hours south of the city. In or­der to pro­mote the show — which they called the Mon­terey In­ter­na­tional Pop Mu­sic Fes­ti­val — Phillips sat down and, in about 20 min­utes, wrote a song for his friend Scott McKen­zie to sing.

“If you’re go­ing to San Fran­cisco,” the lyric went, “be sure to wear some flow­ers in your hair.”


This was all tin­der for what hap­pened 50 years ago in the sum­mer of 1967 when more than 100,000 young peo­ple con­verged on the Haight, a 25-square-block area in San Fran­cisco. The kids started com­ing dur­ing spring break, and by April, in an­tic­i­pa­tion of a mas­sive in­flux of peo­ple over the sum­mer, an ad hoc Coun­cil for the Sum­mer of Love had formed to “to serve as a cen­tral clear­ing house for the­atri­cal, mu­si­cal and artis­tic events, dances, con­certs and hap­pen­ings in the Haight-Ash­bury district.”

The Haight was the epi­cen­ter of what we call the Sum­mer of Love, but it did not con­tain it. There were satel­lite events in New York and Lon­don. The echoes of that Dionysian spec­ta­cle still echo through our cul­ture.

Be­fore the Sum­mer of Love, there were men com­mut­ing to work in gray flan­nel suits and houses with white picket fences. Af­ter­ward, psychedelia seeped into ad­ver­tis­ing, and some bar­ber shops went out of busi­ness. There was a sex­ual rev­o­lu­tion and a move­ment for women’s lib­er­a­tion.

It’s ironic that McKen­zie’s hit song “San Fran­cisco (Be Sure to Wear Some Flow­ers in Your Hair)” be­came syn­ony­mous with the Sum­mer of Love be­cause it was writ­ten and pro­duced in Los An­ge­les and bears lit­tle re­sem­blance to the psy­che­delic mu­sic that was com­ing out of San Fran­cisco at the time. It’s a pop song which sold mil­lions of copies world­wide, but it’s not par­tic­u­larly well-crafted. You could ar­gue that the lyrics are ba­nal, that as a singer, the pro­fes­sion­ally smooth McKen­zie is no Grace Slick.

The Jef­fer­son Air­plane was the first San Fran­cisco band signed to a ma­jor record la­bel (in 1966); the first to have hit sin­gles and al­bums. The core was Marty Balin, a for­mer folkie; gui­tarist Jorma Kauko­nen, and gui­tarist/singer Paul Kant­ner. They re­cruited Signe Toly, whose tough fe­male vo­cals com­ple­mented Balin’s keen­ing tenor, kind of like a neg­a­tive im­age Sonny and Cher. Bob Har­vey played bass, and Jerry Polo­quin was the drum­mer. They played at a con­verted pizza par­lor called the Ma­trix, and their orig­i­nal vein was folk-rock lightly tinged with blues, nor­mal Amer­i­can mu­sic for those post-Bri­tish In­va­sion times.

By the time they re­leased their first al­bum, Jef­fer­son Air­plane Takes Off in 1966 on RCA, they’d fired their first drum­mer and re­placed the ser­vice­able Har­vey on bass with the melodic, thun­der-fin­gered Jack Casady (a child­hood chum of Kauko­nen’s). When the al­bum failed to make them rich and fa­mous, Signe made noises about quit­ting.

They let her and re­cruited Grace Slick from a band called Great So­ci­ety, which al­legedly was so wretched their in­ep­ti­tude in­spired a record­ing en­gi­neer named Sylvester Ste­wart to start his own group. (Ste­wart, af­ter lis­ten­ing to Great So­ci­ety botch 40 takes be­fore get­ting through a song, fig­ured that if th­ese id­iots were play­ing gigs, then he might as well give it a shot. His band be­came Sly and the Fam­ily Stone.)

The pho­to­genic Slick brought the band its first hit, “Some­body to Love,” writ­ten by her brother-in-law, Great So­ci­ety drum­mer Darby Slick, and her own “White Rab­bit.” The songs were Top 10 hits and an­chored the band’s break­through al­bum, 1967’s Sur­re­al­is­tic Pil­low. She im­me­di­ately be­came the band’s fo­cal point, not only for the way she looked, but be­cause she was a real singer, with a pow­er­ful if lim­ited alto that lent the Air­plane a dis­tinc­tive sound. Balin glided above the rum­ble of the band, and Kant­ner — when he fi­nally stepped up to the mic — pos­sessed a pleas­ant, but monochro­matic raw croak. But Slick cut straight through the band’s roil­ing weather with a voice like a ti­ta­nium hatchet. She didn’t have the chops that Jo­plin had, but she could sell the sil­li­est lyrics with ab­so­lute con­vic­tion.

Which, in ret­ro­spect, seems to be what it was all about, doesn’t it?

No­body takes hip­pies se­ri­ously any­more; the word has be­come the sort of all-pur­pose oblit­er­a­tor that car­toon third-grader Eric Cart­man spits at his friends and uses to dis­miss any politi­cian with vaguely pro­gres­sive ideas.

No­body talks about lev­i­tat­ing the Pen­tagon or sug­gests that “love is all you need.”

Peo­ple who weren’t there might ro­man­ti­cize the 1960s or take them as a sig­nal symp­tom of a self-ador­ing de­mo­graphic, a gen­er­a­tion of en­ti­tled cul­tural bul­lies who mean to have their mu­sic blar­ing in the nurs­ing home, who will never let the world for­get the in­ter­est­ing times through which they lived. But the world re­sents its his­tory. Ev­ery old sol­dier who in­sists on talk­ing even­tu­ally be­comes a bore to those who’d rather text their friends than to try to imag­ine an­cient worlds of uni­corns and unironic Bea­tle boots.

We can still lis­ten to Sly Stone, Jef­fer­son Air­plane, Cree­dence Clear­wa­ter Re­vival, the Grate­ful Dead, the Sons of Cham­plin or even McKen­zie, but we can’t hear them fresh. No, there’s noth­ing funny about peace, love and un­der­stand­ing. But it was never all about peace and love and hip­pie-dip­pie shaman­ism. There were jeal­ousies and power strug­gles. The past is al­ways ro­man­tic, but you had to have been there. If you weren’t, there are things you can­not know, things The His­tory Chan­nel can­not tell you.

The Haight de­clined dur­ing the ’70s but has re-gen­tri­fied. Th­ese days a 1,300-square-foot condo will run you about $1.3 mil­lion, but that’s not ex­pen­sive for San Fran­cisco. A Vic­to­rian row house house like the Dead’s old place at 710 Ash­bury might cost $3.25 mil­lion. Real es­tate web­site Zil­low es­ti­mates the Air­plane’s house at 2400 Ful­ton — which is near the Haight but not quite in it — would sell for about $5.5 mil­lion.

So much for the death of money.

I spent part of the sum­mer of 1967 in San Fran­cisco in the care of my un­cle, who took me to ball­games and to the Haight, where I saw the hip­pies danc­ing. I don’t re­mem­ber much about it; I bet­ter re­mem­ber watch­ing Wil­lie Mays at Can­dle­stick Park.

When I came back to San Fran­cisco the next July, things had changed. Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy had been as­sas­si­nated; there had been race ri­ots in Wash­ing­ton, Chicago and Bal­ti­more. The Utopian hip­pie dream had be­gun to cur­dle.

Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette/KIRK MONT­GOMERY

Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette/KIRK MONT­GOMERY

Mu­sic helped fuel and de­fine the sum­mer of love, with artists such as Jim Mor­ri­son of the Doors (top, left, clock­wise), The Grate­ful Dead, John Len­non of The Bea­tles and Grace Slick of Jef­fer­son Air­plane.

Demo­crat-Gazette file photo

Beat poet Allen Gins­berg stands in Jack Ker­ouac Al­ley next to the City Lights Book­store in San Fran­cisco in 1994.

Demo­crat-Gazette file photo

Ja­nis Jo­plin was de­picted on a United States Postal Ser­vice stamp in 2014.

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