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50 Years Later: The Legacy of the Summer of Love

50 Years Later: The Legacy of the Summer of Love

In the summer of 1967, America found itself in a very similar place to where it finds itself today, 50 years later.

The country was bitterly divided, torn asunder by a generation gap; glaring racial, cultural, political, economic, educational, and lifestyle differences; a seemingly endless and possibly unwinnable war in a distant foreign land; and an increasingly unpopular president in the White House.

However, first in San Francisco, and soon spreading around the country and much of the western world, a movement blossomed where a group of rebellious dreamers were convinced they had discovered a way to reject materialism and find peace, love, and happiness.

They were called hippies and they unleashed what is called today the Summer of Love. In a 7-part series, Booming Encore is examining that special summer of 1967 and its lasting effects today. This is the final post.

By Dave Price

While the hippie culture and lifestyle in San Francisco came spiraling down as 1967 wound to its close, it didn’t die.

It actually remained on a smaller scale in San Francisco and spread not only to other large American cities, but to the very heartland and hinterlands of the entire country.

In fact, even though the Woodstock Music and Arts Festival in 1969 is often claimed to be the high-water mark of the Hippie Nation, the hippie culture didn’t really see its numbers and influence peak until the 1970s.

As University Baltimore professor of history and author of a recent article in The Washington Post entitled “Five myths about hippies” Joshua Clark Davis points out, the hippies’ subculture of the 1960s actually transformed into the youth pop culture of America of the early-to-mid 1970s.

Rock-and-roll became accepted as a serious art form though the music of the Beatles and other bands and the reporting of all things rock in such national publications as Rolling Stone magazine, which was introduced at the end of 1967.

Counterculture publications such as High Times, founded in 1974, covered drugs and the drug culture for its thousands of avid readers nationwide.

And all you need do is take a quick look at any high school year book from 1970 to 1976 to see that long, shaggy hair became the standard hair style for teenage boys whether they lived in coastal Maine, the panhandle of Texas, or the deserts of Arizona and Nevada. For young women, while mini-skirts of the late 60s were replaced by hot pants, peasant blouses, and tight, torn jeans in the 70s, the styles remained varied and colorful.

In fact, Professor Davis says that the frequency of the term hippie in books actually peaked in 1971 and stayed above its 1967 levels until 1977, when it faded in the face of the growing greed-is-good nature of the ‘Me Decade” and the dance-craze disco lifestyle immortalized in the classic John Travolta film Saturday Night Fever,” released at the end of 1977.

So, with the perspective of 50 years of study, what exactly is the legacy of the Summer of Love and the 10-year hippie period that followed it?

For Davis, it’s less a case that hippies died out, but more that many of 1967’s counterculture practices that were once seen as fringe are now widely accepted (and in some cases still hotly debated) aspects of American life.

Here is a brief look at some of those:

  • Hippie fashion sense paved the way for the dress style of our current era, when many Americans wear casual clothing for all occasions and fewer workplaces require employees to dress up.
  • The hippies established a fondness for androgynous styles and especially blues jeans that is still in place today.
  • The omnipresent practices of yoga and meditation were championed by hippies long before they became the mainstream phenomenon they are today.
  • The same goes for vegetarian, organic, and whole-grain diets.
  • Live tours by 1967 favorites such as The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney of The Beatles, The Who, Roger Waters of Pink Floyd, and the Dead and Company (descendants of Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead) continue to be among the top live grossing money makers
  • Today’s multi-group music festivals such as Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza or their even much-more-costly-to-attend counterparts Desert Trip or the just-held East West conclaves would be almost inconceivable without Montery Pop and Woodstock.
  • Today’s more permissive attitude about both legal and once-illegal drugs. Twenty-nine of the 50 American states and the District of Columbia currently allow marijuana for medical use. You can legally smoke marijuana in 8 states and hundreds of local municipalities have decriminalized their pot laws.
  • Finally, the attitudes about sex today closely resemble a slightly mutated version of those espoused in the Summer of Love. It’s easy to see the hippie influence in today’s sexual liberations movements, online and speed dating practices, and the hook-up and Tinder cultures, as well as the no-longer-shocking nature of the prevalent sex and nudity in contemporary movies and TV.

So just maybe, there is some truth to the saying “the hippie lifestyle never died out; more of us just became hippies.”

Will that still be true 50 years from now?

Of course, no one knows. We’ll just have to continue, as the Grateful Dead and Deadhead followers still sing, on this “long, strange trip” to find out.

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Dave Price operates a freelance writing/speaking/consulting/tour guiding practice in Washington, D.C., where he focuses on 3 topics – the Baby Boomer generation, classic rock, and issues on aging, especially those affecting men. A former journalist and educator, Price is researching 2 books, one on the status of classic rock music and its songs, performers, and fans today and the other a DC guidebook designed especially for Baby Boomers.