The Summer of Love was fifty-five years ago, the Summer of 1967, with its epicenter in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. It was a summer of sex, drugs, and rock & roll. Both San Francisco and Liverpool celebrated 30-year anniversaries in 1997. While not limited to San Francisco — New York and London were involved — no other city but San Francisco attracted almost 100,000 young people who converged on the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood near San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. This mood was captured at the time by the hit single by Scott McKenzie, “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair),” with its lyric:
“For those who come to San Francisco
Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair
If you come to San Francisco
Summertime will be a love-in there”
It was a special time, just one Summer. Ironically, the song was written by John Phillips of The Mamas & The Papas to promote the June 1967 Monterey International Pop Festival.
In the following year, both Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. would be assassinated. Woodstock was still two years away. But at the time, there had never been anything quite like it. I recall my father driving me through Haight-Ashbury around that time, saying,
“Look at that!”
with carnival-like amusement, baffled by the hippiesque clothes and long hair.
By the end of 1967, many of the hippies and San Franciscan musicians from the Summer of Love had moved on. In its wake were street people, drug addiction, and panhandling. But let’s look at that one brief shining moment in history.
Predecessors to the Summer of Love
America had seen a couple of post-WWII counter-culture movements that later became mainstreamed: Jazz, and the Bohemians, the Beat Generation, or what were called beatniks. The first focused on music, the second on literature. The Summer of Love saw this and more personified in “hippies.”
Hippies and the Summer of Love
The hippie movement was different in that it encompassed not just music and literature but also art, fashion, liberal politics, sexual liberation, weed, psychedelics, Eastern philosophy & spirituality, naturalism, ecology, organics, communes, long hair, and youth.
It was also characterized by what they opposed: the Vietnam War, Nuclear weapons, the Establishment, Middle-class values, and orthodoxy. This was usually articulated by concepts of peace, love, freedom, and flower power.
Music of the Summer of Love
First, folk music began to change with the singing prophets describing alternately dissent and utopia. The rhythm and blues that led to rock and roll now became acid rock or psychedelic rock.
The San Francisco groups who expressed this were Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Grateful Dead, and Quicksilver Messenger Service, among others. These bands participated in the January 1967 Human “Be-In” in the nearby Golden Gate Park Polo Fields.
Some bands, like Jefferson Airplane and Big Brother and the Holding Company — who lived in Haight-Ashbury — had iconic female lead singers: Grace Slick and Janis Joplin, respectively. They had powerful voices and created anthem-like music.
With her electric performance and bluesy style, Joplin rocked Haight-Ashbury, where she lived. Grace Slick’s “White Rabbit” added a psychedelic tone to the Alice in Wonderland “Through The Looking Glass” story. Singer-songwriter, musician, artist, and former model, she too lived in The Haight.
LSD at the Summer of Love
Dr. Timothy Leary, a Harvard professor at the time, promoted the popularization of the psychedelic drug LSD with the phrase
“turn on, tune in, drop out.”
LSD had been legal until 1967. He uttered his now-famous line at the Human “Be-In,” along with 40,000 of his closest friends.
Incidentally, he got his Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of California, Berkeley.
Berkeley and the Summer of Love
If San Francisco was the cultural center of the Summer of Love, Berkeley was the political and intellectual center. Across the Bay from San Francisco, the University of California campus at Berkeley featured the famed Telegraph Avenue that led directly into the university.
It had been host to free speech demonstrations, civil rights protests, Vietnam war marches, sit-ins, riots, and confrontations with the Alameda Sheriff’s deputies and the National Guard. And drugs.
Hedonism and the Summer of Love
The beginning of the “sexual revolution” did not start in 1967, but it had been fomenting through the ’60s. Former Esquire magazine journalist Hugh Hefner had been promoting the “Playboy philosophy” since 1953 with the publication of his first magazine. The ’60s saw the opening of several Playboy Clubs in major cities in the U.S. and internationally.
Spirituality and the Summer of Love
While Eastern mysticism was a significant feature of the late ’60s, the rise of the Jesus Revolution and Jesus People (or Jesus Freaks) were also evident. It spread from the West Coast of the U.S., especially Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area.
You can read more about it in my article on the Jesus Movement here.
Involvement in the Summer of Love
As Steve Jobs (and others) have famously quipped
“most of the ‘60s happened in the ‘70s”
the Summer of Love’s impact was not limited to 1967 but reverberated into the ’70s. While most of the political ambitions of that Summer did not see fruition in government, many of the cultural issues are still with us. And its impact cannot be overstated.
Steve Martin, who I used to see when he was doing standup at Berkeley, said of this time:
“It absolutely had an impact on me. I was a hippie and I believed it all, that love was going to change the world, and ‘Why can’t there be peace in the world?’ But I sensed times were going to change — or wanted to change. That was when I changed, cut my hair and left the hippie world. That was when I left an old movement and got into a new movement. At that time, your hair length and clothes said who you were. That’s no longer true.”
George Harrison of The Beatles visited San Francisco in August of the Summer of Love. The locals welcomed him as a visiting hero, but he was not impressed by what he encountered. He said at the time:
“The Summer of Love was just a bunch of spotty [pimply] kids on drugs.”
Some call it a cultural and social phenomenon. Others call it the orgiastic excess of privileged and spoiled Baby Boomers. In the following three articles, I’ll discuss what the Summer of Love meant to sex, drugs, and rock & roll.
Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian
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