Monday, May 15, 2017

The Summer of Love

1967 was the year in which the counterculture became visible in Western culture. It was the year of the hippie and of flower power. These subterraneans had gathered momentum from at least 1964, the year of publication for Timothy Leary, Ralph Metzner and Richard Alpert’s book The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based of the Tibetan Book of The Dead. It was the year when Herbert Marcuse’s One Dimensional Man was published, the premise being that "One dimensional man has lost, or is losing individuality, freedom; the ability to control one's own destiny." The idea underpinned the student protests of the later 60s on university campuses (and, in L.A., the riots on the Sunset Strip), where students felt they were simply being processed for the needs of the industrial complex, as did Vietnam.

The Summer of Love effectively began with the "Human Be-In" in Golden Gate Park in early 1967. Timothy Leary advocated that those present "Turn on, tune in and drop out." By the spring of 1967 a Council for the Summer of Love was established and the Haight became the focal point for the counter-culture. Later in the year the Monterey pop festival was staged and the hit "San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Some Flower in Your Hair)" would become a lasting reminder of the year of the hippie.

In L.A., the hippie riots of 1966 became an anthem of the movement through Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth." Although the Summer of Love is most closely associated with the psychedelic scene, L.A.'s music enclave, Laurel Canyon, expressed it's antidisestablishmentarianism through the evolution of the folk scene through artists like Joni Mitchell and The Byrds; and on the right coast, Dylan's John Wesley Barleycorn. Interestingly, L.A.'s counter-counterculture of folkies is largely (and understandingly) overlooked in 1967. Indeed, in Crawdaddy magazine, Jon Landau wrote, "For an album of this kind to be released amidst Sgt. Pepper, Their Satanic Magjesties Request and After Bathing at Baxter's, somebody must have had a lot of confidence in what he was doing. Dylan seems to feel no need to respond to the predominate trends in pop music at the all. And he is the only major pop artist about whom this can be said." (Despite his lack of insight, Landau was indeed confident enough to add to the lexicon a new use for the word "predominate.") L.A.'s hippiedom may indeed have been the most natural and least pretentious.

Across the Atlantic, London hosted the 14 Hour Technicolor Dream staged at the Alexandra Palace on 29 April (to raise money for the underground publication International Times). The UFO (Underground Freak Out) was the countercultural psychedelic hub. Whereas the Beatles had launched Mersey beat from the Liverpool venue the Cavern, at UFO The Pink Floyd Sound similarly became the "house band" incorporating a psychedelic light show. 1967 saw the release of Pink Floyd’s first LP, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. In literature, '67 was the year that Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy found a market among a hippie readership finding a countercultural text. Frodo Lives!

In 1965 and 1966 the Beatles' albums Rubber Soul and Revolver launched a new phase in the Beatles' career, and a plunge into psychedelia. John Lennon's and George Harrison's first encounter with LSD was in July 1965 when they were unknowingly "roofied" by a "wicked dentist." It was placed on sugar cubes and put in their after-dinner coffee. The Revolver LP subsequently contained the crazed track "Tomorrow Never Knows," which was John Lennon’s musical take on The Tibetan Book of the Dead.  Also in '67, the Beatles had their first encounter with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi at the London Hilton and then when they attended a summer school in transcendental meditation in Bangor, North Wales. Eastern religions were a significant part of the hippie culture and many, largely middle-class hippies, traveled to India, via Greece and Turkey to "find themselves." George Harrison learned the sitar taking lessons from Ravi Shankar during this period and the sound of the instrument is instantly recognizable in the soundtrack for the Summer of Love.

The Summer of Love was in essence a Children's Crusade, a search by young people for enlightenment and a new consciousness, a psychic revolution, unlike any generation before or since has experienced. I wasn't there. I was in my room, a little kid, watching The Monkees and listening to "Nowhere Man." I saved up all my allowance and bought Sgt. Pepper and I'd sit in my room with the cutout mustache on; my brother old enough to be there, sporting his own Fu Manchu, ho hum.