Thursday, November 3, 2016

The Summer of Idealism

In the spring of 1965, San Francisco's youth scene languished in the Brit Invasion, Southern California surf music and a Greenwich Village vibe that included Bob Dylan and John Sebastian, when suddenly, the city by the bay became the most ebullient music locale in the nation, for one brief moment outshining New York and London, even L.A. By spring, the Charlatans and their hippy entourage took over the Red Dog Saloon in Virginia City (Nevada), playing a new kind of music for a new kind of audience, indeed playing while under the influence of LSD (they would return to SF that summer). The Warlocks (The Grateful Dead) were hired by Ken Kesey to play at his "Acid Tests," at which the band performed lengthy instrumental country/blues jams. Acts like Jefferson Airplane and Country Joe and the Fish embodied the pacifist ideals promoted by Dylan, but with a far less political stance. Theirs was a philosophy of life, peace and love (and drugs) that was in many ways the direct consequence of what Dylan had preached, but was closer to Buddhist philosophy. Hippies in Frisco gathered not to march, but to celebrate; not to protest but to rejoice. The spirituality was preeminent over the political experience.

It was a dream we had that was doomed to fail. By the time we got to Woodstock, the Manson Family had put an end to Eden 389 miles away in L.A.; indeed Charles Manson was the serpent in the garden, the murders exposing the darkest side of libertarianism. Four months later, the failed Altamont Free Concert would bring an end to the sixties and to the ideal. We entered the 70s less innocent and far more cautious, the San Francisco dream within a dream fading like a dream you can't remember. 

By the end of 1966, the tumult would begin. And so it is this writer's opinion that although 1967 was the ultimate year for "Flower Power," when the psychedelic era blossomed and flourished, it was the summer of 1966 that we should refer to as The Summer of Love, at worst The Summer of Idealism.