Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Two Minutes of Haight - The [End of] the Summer of Love

The literary among you will recognize the play on words of this post's title; it's from George Orwell's 1984. There is no real connection between the Summer of Love and Orwell's distopia, except for the fleeting nature of the events. It was indeed a summer that despite social discontent, the stellar music, the influx of young people coming to L.A. and San Francisco, flew by in a flash. There was just too much to it; even from merely the musical aspect; we had Anthem of the Sun, Surrealistic Pillow, Sgt. Pepper, "Good Vibrations" and Otis Redding's "Try a Little Tenderness." But it was gone just like that (fingers snap). Here's the recap:


[Late '66 and throughout '67] The Acid Tests were a series of parties organized by author Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, a collective of artists and musicians who lived communally in La Honda, California. The Acid Tests were characterized by communal distribution of LSD, the Grateful Dead offering up the soundtrack. Tom Wolfe narrates the drug-fueled lifestyle of Kesey and the Pranksters as they traveled across the country in 1968's The Electric Kool-Aid Acid TestApproximately 75,000 young people converged in Haight-Ashbury in the summer of 1967. Drawn to the area by a shared rejection of dominant American morals and cultural values, hippies sought to manifest a new mode of authentic living by dropping out of society (so the justification goes; for many though it was just a dream of freedom). Several social and cultural factors made the Summer of Love possible. Fueled by a mistrust of government, a disdain for materialism and censorship, and empowered to challenge societal prejudices, young people flocked to the Haight and embraced Timothy Leary's call to "Turn on; Tune in; Drop out."

[January '67] The Human Be-In, or the "Gathering of the Tribes," took place in January 1967 in the Polo Fields of Golden Gate Park, attended by an estimated 30,000. Initiating the Summer of Love, the Be-In brought together political radicals from Berkeley, Beats from North Beach, hippies from the Haight, Hells Angels, and curious teenagers to connect through the use of drugs, peaceful anti-war protest, and personal empowerment. The public was invited to bring "costumes, blankets, bells, flags, symbols, drums, beads, feathers and flowers."

San Francisco Beat poets Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Gary Snyder spoke, as did Timothy. San Francisco bands the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and Quicksilver Messenger Service performed, and the Diggers, a community activist group, served thousands of free turkey sandwiches. Media coverage of the Be-In attracted young people from around the country and brought widespread attention to the hippie movement.

[Mouse and Kelly, et al] Poster artists used the psychedelic imagery to create and project an aesthetic of the culture. Unlike photographs printed in the mainstream media, these images were created from within the community and leave a legacy of how the hippies on the Haight saw themselves. A repost of articles on Mouse and Kelly sounds apropos.

[Dr. Strange and the Comix] Doctor Strange, "Master of the Mystic Arts," was created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko (creators of Spider-Man) in 1963. A mystical character, Dr. Strange could occupy a "dream dimension" of bizarre alternate worlds. This combination of Eastern mysticism with psychedelic reality reflects the values of the hippie movement of the 1960s. From this, "A Tribute to Dr. Strange" is recognized as the first psychedelic dance concert in San Francisco. Organized by the Family Dog collective, the event took place on October 16, 1965 at the Longshoreman's Hall (the same day as an anti-Vietnam protest in Oakland organized by the Vietnam Day Committee), and featured the Charlatans, the Marbles and the Great Society, featuring Grace Slick. While 1965 is a long way to the Summer of Love, in Mouse and Kelly and Lee and Ditko, hippied marketing was born and SF became a hotbed of design and art. R. Crumb moved to San Francisco in 1967 and became known for his representations of drug-induced states, particularly bad LSD trips. He founded Zap Comix with publisher Donald Donahue, which became a popular underground comic of 1960s youth culture. Crumb's Keep on Truckin' comic became a symbol of the optimism of the hippie movement.

On July 7, 1967, Time magazine featured a cover story entitled, "The Hippies: The Philosophy of a Subculture.” The article described the guidelines of the hippie code:
“Do your own thing, wherever you have to do it and whenever you want. Drop out. Leave society as you have known it. Leave it utterly. Blow the mind of every straight person you can reach. Turn them on, if not to drugs, then to beauty, love, honesty, fun." It was a busy, busy summer. 

After many young people left at summer's end to resume their college studies, those remaining in the Haight wanted to commemorate the conclusion of the event. A mock funeral entitled "The Death of the Hippie" was staged on October 6, 1967 at sunrise, and organizer Mary Kasper explained the intended message: “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.” It is estimated that around 100,000 people traveled to San Francisco in the summer of 1967. A coffin was carried from the Haight to Buena Vista Park, the oldest park in San Francisco. The park sits on a hill whose low end is bordered by Haight Street. The Diggers, who organized the event were a radical community action group to protest the commercialization of the hippie movement, or the notion that it was a "movement" at all. The Diggers maintained "hippie" was a phenomenon created by the media, and the residents (you know, hippies) wanted the media out of Haight-Ashbury.
Mainstream media coverage of the "hippie phenomenon" portrayed a menacing, yet enticing lifestyle of excess that attracted more high school and college students from around the country to experience the free love movement. While it was a short-lived phenomenon, the Summer of Love produced lasting cultural legacies, including that of the Grateful Dead which has endured for half a century. Still, the Diggers philosophy was legit, and with the end of the Summer of Love came lasting change and yet the knowledge that change moves on in its petty pace from day to day...