Summer of love redux: ‘67 experience still resonates in San Francisco

[29 August 2007]

By Mary Anne Ostrom

San Jose Mercury News (MCT)

SAN JOSE, Calif. - It’s been 40 years since 100,000 “Flower Children” descended on San Francisco and put Haight-Ashbury on the map.

Talk to those who were there, and they get big smiles on their faces.

“I lived it,” said Terry Newfield of San Diego on a $20-a-head walking tour of The Haight. Standing across Ashbury Street from the fabled crash-pad of the Grateful Dead at No. 710 with her digital camera, she added, “It feels good to go back.”

A quintessential San Francisco event, the Summer of Love fused innocence and wisdom at a time of sexual and drug experimentation. With slogans like “Make Love Not War,” and “Flower Power,” its leaders pushed wide-eyed idealism along with mind-altering psychedelics.

In San Francisco, a city that still embraces political and social experimentation, the summer of 1967 still holds a precious place in meaning and memories.

Forty years later, people recall the good buzz and have mostly forgotten the dark side. But many also ponder - What happened to the idealism?

“Once there was in a time in Camelot when people had a different value system. They didn’t go around saying Greed is Good,” said Dr. David Smith, the father of the free health care clinic movement who opened the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic in June 1967. But it also was a summer built “on marketing and myth,” he added. “If you lived there, you knew it was a very complex time, a very dark time with lots of conflict and turmoil.”

Smith left the clinic and “the street world,” as he put it, a year ago for a more chic office near Fisherman’s Wharf and wealthier clientele, but he still lives in the neighborhood and supports free clinics through his family foundation.

Others say fascination with the anniversary, which has spawned art shows, concerts and forums worldwide, can be tied to the similar social and political feelings that persist today, namely an unpopular war and alienation from political authority.

Former San Francisco District Attorney Terence Hallinan, aka “the hippie lawyer” who defended hundreds facing dope charges that summer, today represents medicinal marijuana clinics seeking storefronts in San Francisco.

“Some things you go `We’ve come a long way’ and others make you ask, `How far have we come?’”

Today, Haight-Ashbury is full of trendy boutiques and working professionals and the Victorians are painted in soothing color schemes. Walking and driving tours display the key sites of hippiedom for curious tourists and those on a pilgrimage to youthful memories.

Few remnants of the counterculture remain.

Yet reliving the spirit of that summer, and particularly playing the music that marked the era, has been a full-time occupation for many of the musicians who launched into the big time in 1967.

“The focus of the Summer of Love was condensed and it became magnified and diffused as it went out in the world,” said Country Joe McDonald, the Berkeley singer whose “I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ To Die Rag” became that summer’s anti-war anthem.

This summer he’s performing it almost nightly, fresh off a 21-city “Hippie Fest” tour. “We’re a morale booster. We remind people of who they are and where they came from,” he said.

Lee Houskeeper, a booking agent for seminal 1960s rock bands The Doors and Jefferson Airplane, among others, laughed as he declared, “San Franciscans have a preservationist streak and it runs deep.” Today, as a San Francisco publicist, he says “We’re fiercely proud of events about which the rest of the world calls us cuckoo.”

In fact, 1967 was a year of radical changes elsewhere, but perhaps nowhere as much San Francisco. It started with the Human Be-In, a gathering that drew 10,000 people to Golden Gate Park in January, and ended with a mock funeral for the “Hippie, devoted son of the mass media.” In between, the Grateful Dead released its first studio album, Rolling Stone Magazine its first issue, the Monterey International Pop Festival featured Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. The Gray Line Bus Co. added Haight-Ashbury to its city tour and Time Magazine issued a cover: “The Hippies: Philosophy of a Subculture.”

Today that time evokes a lot of soul searching, as those who participated, observed or studied the event reconcile the happy commune-living hippie experience with rampant sex and drugs, and later violence.

Rape, murder, heroin and speed addiction emerged within months of the spring 1967 release of Scott McKenzie’s song “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair).”

But the time also spawned a new way of thinking about personal rights and freedoms as youth from around the country converged in a place that promised free thinking and living, and a good time.

“It shifted the concept of women, it shifted the concept of sexuality, it shifted a generation of youth,” out of the economic mainstream, said Dacher Keltner, a professor of psychology at University of California, Berkeley, who studies happiness and co-edits Greater Good magazine.

“We are the great experiment in individualism and also in materialism and prioritizing economic self-interest. The Summer of Love represented a deep alternative, which is devote yourself to community.”

By embracing the Summer of Love, people are grasping for an alternative again. Surmised Keltner, “that’s what people are longing for.”

For some who experienced that summer, drugs, in fact, got in the way of what they perceived was a greater mission, ending the war in Vietnam and battling for equality.

“Those of us trying to make social and political impact in the civil rights movement and antiwar movement had our problems with sex, drugs and rock and roll,“said David Harris. His tenure as Stanford University student body president ended in the summer of 1967 and led him to create a national anti-Vietnam draft resistance movement. An author, Harris is now writing about Bill Walsh’s glory days as coach of the San Francisco 49ers.

“We had to convince people it wasn’t enough just to get stoned and listen to good music,” said Harris, “that wasn’t going to change the world, even if I did enjoy my share of it.”

But much of the Summer of Love was about the music and the launch of the San Francisco sound that made its way around the world - even to upstate New York, where well-known Silicon Valley venture capitalist/musician Roger McNamee was growing up.

McNamee’s band, Moonalice, includes Pete Sears, formerly of Jefferson Airplane, and Jack Casady, also of Airplane and Hot Tuna. Moonalice will play Union Square at lunchtime this Tuesday.

McNamee was only 11 in 1967, but listened to the music embraced by his older siblings.

“I don’t think this is about nostalgia,” said the founder of Menlo Park private equity firm, Elevation Partners. “This is a coming together of the lovers of the music. That, and an increasing recognition that the time we live in bears an uncanny resemblance to the political, social and economic times of the very late 1960s.”

Added McNamee, who helped the Grateful Dead in its later years, “The Summer of Love was more of a media event than a social event. Many have suggested that anniversaries are economic events rather than true social phenomenons.”

The 2007 celebration culminates next Sunday, when hundreds of musicians will put on an eight-hour concert at Golden Gate Park’s Speedway Meadows. Bring a flower and get in free, seriously.

Standing on Ashbury Street this week, a Haight tour guide who only goes by the name Izu, tells her captive audience that included Newfield and her husband, of San Diego, and a family from Vancouver, Canada that “The summer of love never ended.”

She then crossed the street and launched into stories of the neighborhood’s sordid activities and ensuing mayhem, ending with a description of Jerry Garcia’s fatal heart attack in 1995 at a Marin County drug rehab center after a life of hard-living.

“I’m hoping we remember more than just the sex, drug and rock and roll party,“said former Grateful Dead manager Rock Scully.

After listening to the tour-guide rap, he reached into his car to show the group photos of happier times in front of 710 Ashbury. “That party caused a lot of pain, some very stressing social disorder. That wasn’t our goal.”

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