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The Summer of Love 1967 – 50 Years Later

The Summer of Love 1967 – 50 Years Later

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.

It Was 50 Years Ago Today: The Summer of Love — Dig that Crazy Beat, Man

By Dave Price

Like all movements, the San Francisco Summer of Love didn’t spring from a vacuum. You can find its roots as far back as in the writings and lifestyles of the 19th Century British Romantic poets William Blake, William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and that licentious duo of Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley or in the American literary transcendental movement of a few years later led by Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau.

But the most important precursors were the Beatniks, also called Beats, of the 1950s and early 1960s. “Beat” (short for beaten down) came from underworld slang – the world of societal misfits and street hustlers which the Beat writers and poets used for inspiration. To some, “beat” connoted the drum and horn-driven world of jazz and beebop, with its mostly black performers, usually performing under the influence of marijuana or heroin, swinging and swaying to the beats of the new, free-form music they were creating. Still others claimed a spiritual meaning for the name, contending it derived from the Bibliocal “beatitudes.”

The stereotypical finger-popping beat character involved a combination of some type of literary appreciation, black turtleneck sweater, bongos, beret, and dark glasses. As far as language, beats were with-it, as opposed to all “the squares” who were put-down as conformists simply following society’s dictates. If you were a Beat you were, “a real hip, cool cat or swinging kitten, ready Daddy-o to dig it and make the scene” – in short, a “hipster.”

In 1951, Jack Kerouac, accompanied by the ever-adventuresome Neal Cassady, embarked on a country-crossing trip from New York City. Fictionalized and real details of that now-famous journey defined and immortalized the Beat lifestyle when Kerouac used them as a basis for his literary classic On the Road.

In the beginning, Beat culture was concentrated in the Greenwich Village section of New York City, but after On the Road was published in 1959, many of the central figures in the beat movement – such as writer and soon-to-be City Lights bookstore owner Lawrence Ferlinghetti , his friend and American poetry giant Allen Ginsburg, and even Cassady himself – migrated to the San Francisco area. There they hung out, wrote poetry, listened to jazz, folk, and American bluegrass music, and were entertained by a new breed of bitingly satirical, socially-conscious comics such as Lenny Bruce and Mort Sahl at The Hungry Eye and other clubs.

Suddenly, San Francisco was the place to be if you were young and dissatisfied with the contemporary American lifestyle being pushed by the ad-men of Madison Avenue. Many of the new arrivals congregated in an area known as Haight-Ashbury, which included huge, but old, run-down, and, most importantly, cheap Victorian homes.

Three much publicized events introduced the developing scene in San Francisco to the rest of America.

The first happened in September of 1965, which is historically heralded as the party which kicked off the hippie takeover from the Beats. In an in-door gathering at a huge hall near Fisherman’s Wharf, hundreds of the newly-named hippies partied long into the night.

San Francisco chronicler Ralph Gleason, who would go on to establish Rolling Stone magazine in 1967 with the much-younger Jann Wenner, described the gathering this way:

“Long lines of dancers snaked through the crowd for hours holding hands. Free-form improvisation and self-expression were everywhere. The clothes were a blast. Like a giant costume party.”

The second – and more famous – event occurred over three days in late January of 1966.

Beat writer Ken Kesey, who in 1962 had published his seminal work One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and his accompanying band of free spirits known collectively as the Merry Pranksters, hosted the first Tripps Festival. The event had live music, five giant movie screens projecting continually changing pictures and patterns, and punch spiked with the mind-changing, mood-altering drug known as LSD or acid.

This was the first of a whole series of what came to be called “Acid Tests” and was documented in Tom Wolfe’s book on the burgeoning new young counterculture entitled The Electric Acid Kool-Aid Test.

The last of the events was “The First Human Be-in” (a play on the idea of human beings being in the now and in the know). The Be-in took place in Golden Gate Park Stadium in January of 1967. Staged by Ginsberg and other community leaders, a crowd of more than 20,000 people smoked marijuana and downed LSD tablets, danced in the grass to music provided by rising San Francisco bands such as the Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, and Quicksilver Messenger Service, or just paused to take in the amazing scene of sound and swirling colors.

Gleason described it this way:

“The costumes were a designer’s dream, a wild polyglot mixture of Mod, Paladin, Ringling Brothers, Cochise, and Hell’s Angels’ Formal. The poets read. Allen Ginsberg (who may yet be elected president) chanted and (poet) Gary Snyder joined in. Bells rang and balloons floated in the air.”

News of San Francisco’s Height-Ashbury growing community of young people partaking in reportedly freely-offered sex, often free drugs, and cheap live rock shows spread quickly to college campuses and other big cities.

For the hippies, with their wild clothes and ever-lengthening hair, sharing and communal living were the new norm. It was reported that by the late spring of 1967 almost 25 percent of Haight-Ashbury hippies were living in houses with 10 or more people.

Baby Boomers and others ready to reject the consumer-driven, materialistic culture of their parents began flocking to the city by the bay. The psychedelic ranks of the newly arrived swelled daily. By June of 1967, 50,000 hippies were living in or near San Francisco.

All was set for a Summer of Love.

Next Post: When sex comes to mean free love and loving the one you’re with.

A Booming Encore Encore
Here are 5 classic books to help you better understand the Beat generation and the beginnings of the hippy movement.
1. On the Road by Jack Kerouac
2. Howl and Other Poems by Allen Ginsberg
3. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
4. Naked Lunch by William Burroughs
5. The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe

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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.