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Summer of Love: A Valiant Attempt at a Utopia of Peace and Love Ends in Disillusionment and Despair

Summer of Love: A Valiant Attempt at a Utopia of Peace and Love Ends in Disillusionment and Despair

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 part 6.

By Dave Price

By fall of 1967, the hope and optimism of the giddy early days of the Summer of Love in San Francisco were shifting to a colder season of disillusionment and despair.

For one thing, there were simply too many young people – un-confirmable estimates ranged from 75,000 to 100,000 – who had flocked to the city by the bay, hoping to find a utopia filled with like-minded brothers and sisters wanting to maintain a community of peace, love, and understanding.

It now seemed there were as many homeless and strung out on the Haight streets as had once lived in the huge Victorian home communes, which themselves were falling into disrepair from heavy use and neglect.

Then, too, a large number of the latest new arrivals weren’t like the original West Coast natives and initial experimental new altruistic hippie settlers. Many were runways, some as young as 12. Others brought severe mental problems with them. Still others were predators, ready to take advantage of the hippies, whom they considered naïve and easy prey. Rape and robbery became all too common.

And then there were the new drugs.

Mind-opening marijuana and LSD were making way for harder, more destructive drugs like meth and heroin. Acid kings like Grateful Dead-friend Augustus “Owsley” Stanley III, who had once made some of the purest, best LSD ever created and simply given it away to help turn people on to a new way of living, were being rapidly replaced by uncaring drug dealers interested only in the profits they could make from selling their inferior, and sometimes lethal, product on the streets.

The community-established free local health clinic and volunteer activist groups like the Diggers, who had worked tirelessly to help residents, were now overwhelmed and unable to deal adequately with the growing number of problems, especially widespread poverty, high rates of STDs, and drug overdoses.

Some early arrivals decided to head back to college. Others left to become active in political causes such as the growing nationwide anti-Vietnam War protest and the new feminist movement. Still others, realizing that an urban environment wasn’t really suited to a true hippie lifestyle, abandon cities altogether for rural areas of Oregon or New Mexico.

It became highly ironic that a community established on the concept of free exchange and anti-materialism was rapidly being filled with merchants setting up stores to make profits selling overpriced counterculture items ranging from pins to hash pipes to tie-dyed apparel.

Finally, there were tourists who filled tour buses daily to gain a glimpse of this new, for-many-threatening hippie culture.

Driven through the Haight, older residents gawked out bus windows at members of this new long-haired generation, much as they might at freaks in a carnival or strange, exotic animals in a circus.

Realizing the Summer of Love’s time had come and gone, many in the Haight wanted to commemorate the conclusion of what even then was being recognized as a once-in-a-lifetime historic event with a mock funeral. The widely-attended fake service was held on October 6th. One of the organizers Mary Kasper explained the intended message this way: “We wanted to signal that this was the end of it, to stay where you are, bring the revolution to where you live, and don’t come here because it’s over and done with.”

Over the ensuing decades, nostalgia for the colorful period has made Haight-Ashbury a popular tourist attraction. Obviously, this summer, which marks the 50th anniversary of Summer of Love, is turning out to be the largest celebration of the Haight since its 1965 – 1967 heydays.

Tourists visiting San Francisco from now until October, can, among other things, check out such exhibits as:

  • “Love or Confusion: Jimi Hendrix in 1967” at the Museum of the African Diasopora.
  • “Elaine Mayes: It Happened in Monterey” a photography exhibit at the San Francisco Museum.
  • “On the Road to the Summer of Love” a photographic exhibit at the California Historical Society, which is guest-curated by Grateful Dead historian Dennis McNally and starts in the 1950s with the Beat Generation, moves through the free speech movement, and concludes with the story of LSD, rock and roll, and the Haight in the 60s.

Visitors can also walk in the footsteps of some of the seminal figures of the Summer of Love. There are self-guided walking tours for The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and the North Beach hangouts of the Beat era. There are also several other guided tour options.

If you’re going to San Francisco, you can still wear flowers in your hair.

But you better be sure to examine your bank account first and bring along your credit cards. What young people had hoped to turn into a free utopia in the 60s is currently one of America’s most expensive cities. Restored Victorian homes in the old Haight District are now selling in the millions of dollars. You can, however (if you want to) now legally smoke ‘em if you got ‘em to more realistically relive the true Summer of Love experience. California law specifies that everyone over 21 can legally possess and transport a small amount of marijuana for personal recreational use.

So instead of raising a glass to Jimi and Janis and Jerry and all the other figures of 1967 no longer with us, you can keep on truckin’ and blow a big puff of purple-hazed, summertime pot smoke to all their spirits in the sky, or wherever it is such spirits reside today.

Next Week: Our 7-part series concludes with a look at the lasting legacy of the Summer of Love

A Booming Encore Encore

Here are some recommended books for further reading on 1967 and the Summer of Love.

  1. 1967: A Complete Rock Music History of the Sumer of Love by Harvey Kubernik
  2. Summer of Love: Art, Fashion, and Rock and Roll by Jill D’Alessandro
  3. In Search of the Lost Chord: 1967 and the Hippie Idea by Danny Goldberg
  4. The Haight: Love, Rock, and Revolution by Joel Selvin.
  5. The Republic of Rock: Music and Citizenship in the Sixties Counterculture by Michael J. Kramer

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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.