Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Human Be-in

In 1967, the San Francisco Be-ins evolved into a very different Southern California affair. The hippie community in L.A. had finally coalesced and on January 14, 1967, the first of the Griffith Park Be-ins or Love-ins just seemed to happen: 500 youths gathered around the Griffith Park Merry-Go-Round, the iconic carousel that inspired Walt Disney in the early 50s to create Disneyland. It was a simple affair; the music was someone's guitar or someone else's transistor radio, and unlike the tens of thousands who, on the same date, attended San Francisco’s Human Be-in, the L.A. affair was pastoral and carried with it a sense that maybe, finally, the clash of cultures, the frenzied reactions by the city and the LAPD, had finally waned; maybe indeed the hippies weren't an enemy, but the sons and daughters of L.A.'s middle class.

A year earlier in San Francisco, in protest of the California legislature’s decision to make the psychoactive drug LSD illegal, college students and Bohemians gathered throughout "The Haight," an 18 square block dilapidated Victorian ghetto that free-spirited youths in the Bay area called home. Inspired by African-American sit-ins organized to raise awareness of racial inequality, the hippies gathered in Haight-Ashbury and in nearby Golden Gate Park, sat peacefully and each, the story goes, took a single hit of acid as Janis Joplin and The Grateful Dead performed. The hippie counterculture, striking out against the values of the previous generation by encouraging communal living and drug use to attain “higher consciousness,” suddenly realized it could successfully gather in large numbers.

Derided as "kooks" by the media, the counterculture movement failed to gather much in the way of mainstream attention. However, when college students began streaming into Haight-Ashbury during the Summer of Love, the sexual revolution, recreational drug use, cross-cultural acceptance and liberal politics flashed brightly on the international scene. The song "San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)" by Scott McKenzie, inspired by the events, rocketed to the top of the charts, as did "San Franciscan Nights" by The Animals. Soon, spreading like wildfire, the San Francisco experience led to similar expressions in New York, Los Angeles, Montreal and other major metropolitan areas throughout North America and Europe, even becoming the anthem for rebels during the 1968 uprising in Czechoslovakia.

The second L.A. Love-in was an altogether different affair. Well-exposed through the media, the LAPD was on high alert; the hippies were not about to take over the way they’d done in San Francisco. Though police presence was high and scuffles did arise, Love-in No. 2 was a blinding success with the Doors performing in the afternoon, one of three shows they did that day (the others at Gazzarri's and the Hullabaloo). Other bands that day included The Soft Machine and UFO. The L.A. Free Press (the FREEP), the city's underground newspaper said, "They gave each other flowers, they shared food, they sprawled happily on the grass, they climbed trees and hills, they heard the UFO, The Doors, the Sound Machine, et al. They danced the Dionysus to a mad jazz tribe of African drums, bass, flute and saxes. They brought their children, they didn't put anybody down, hardly. They didn't need to be policed by the cops who weren't there anyway, they observed the Love Balloon floating in the sky and the parade of the Flower Power banners, they accepted the gift of 1,000 free, Free Presses in something like 18 1/2 minutes. They went behind a tree and turned on if they weren't too paranoid, they opened up and became friends with each other. They didn't go away until the park was closed. They had a time of easeful happiness and didn't cause any trouble of any kind for any authority at all. Mostly what they did was look around in overjoyed amazement at how many people like them came together in one place to have a beauty blast."