Summer Turns to Fall: Revisiting the 'Summer of Love' 50 Years Later

Summer of Love simultaneously demonstrates why that moment in the cultural timeline is worth commemorating, what its legacy is, and what was lost as summer turned to fall.

Summer of Love: Art, Fashion, and Rock and Roll

Publisher: University of California Press
Price: $50.00
Author: by Jill D'Alessandro (Editor)
Length: 344 pages
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2017-04

For a catalogue (and the exhibition to which it is related, at the de Young Museum in San Francisco, from 8 April to 20 August 2017) about one of the most iconic periods in modern American history, Summer of Love manages to accomplish an impressive task. From the first essay in the book -- "Not Past At All" by Dennis McNally -- it's clear that the overarching forces at work in San Francisco's iconic 1967 Summer of Love are still at work today. As McNally explains, "The residents experimented with sexual liberation, with freedom; they challenged the nuclear family, materialism, violence, the war in Vietnam, and the bulk of the ideas they'd been raised on."

Of course, every generation challenges the one that preceded it; that's nothing new. But it's easy to see how historians far in the future might conclude that we are still largely living in the same historical moment. To this day, we are still having many of the same debates as the Summer of Love participants.

Yet, despite all of this, it's impossible to read the essays and the photographs contained herein and not recognize that something profound has been lost between generations. In Section 3, we see a collection of photographs, posters, and fashion from "A Gathering of the Tribes for a Human Be-In", an event with a conventionally '60s-era name that took place several months before the Summer. From posters to photographs of attendees to the fashion they wore, there’s a barely contained yearning for freedom and expressiveness.

If the Be-In were held today, it would be sponsored by Wells Fargo and Absolut Vodka, its attendees would be dressed head to toe in H&M or Under Armour, and advertisements display would be the result of targeted advertising via Instagram or Facebook. The same for the famous Trips Festival. Of course, the more important point is that there would be no "Be-In" today.

The Summer of Love -- like the '60s counterculture overall -- was "turbulent yet hopeful" as Jill D'Alessandro writes in Section 8. Throughout the catalogue and the essays, these two elements exist perpetually in tension but never fully exhausting the other. If the rock posters contained herein were "the expressive mechanism for a whole generation" as we're told in "Selling San Francisco's Sound", what have come to replace them? Are today's memes -- endlessly shared and cobbled together quickly by today's youth culture, recycled and used to distinguish between those who “get it” and those who don’t -- the contemporary analogue? Whereas San Francisco's posters "allowed creative freedom [to mingle] with the rarified idealism", today's memes are devoid of creativity and are mingled with habitual, snarky cynicism.

There's no doubt, the posters are the superstars of the catalogue: many radiate with carefully-crafted imagery incorporating color theory to crudely imitate the visual radiance of mind-altering substances (e.g. pl. 29, "Can You Pass the Acid Test?"; pl. 132, "Swirley"). From the perspective of 2017, they look even more hopeful than ever. The product of a cultural moment in which "both poster and fashion designs were ... informed by Eastern cultures and religions", could either exist today without being shouted down for cultural appropriation?

Jill D'Alessandro's essay on Summer of Love fashion, "Stitching a New Paradigm", is equally enlightening. Organized by theme and/or material, it's by far the essay with the most impressive images. Figure 38, "Helene Robertson in a 1920s dress", steals the show with its simple black-and-white glamour. In it, Robertson sits cross-legged, bejeweled, bedazzled and entirely emblematic of the themes of D'Alessandro's essay: "While their original sources may not be well known, deep in our collective psyche these fashions conjure memories of a time of freedom and hope, one of the many lasting gifts of San Francisco's Lost Generation."

Robertson's story (described in detail in D'Alessandro's essay) and the catalogue itself demonstrates beyond a doubt the powerful contributions San Francisco and its spectacular Summer made to American (and specifically hippie) fashion. Pls. 335 - 337 are laid out for study in two full page photographs; pl. 337 "Birgitta Bjerke, wedding dress" is even splayed widely to reveal the full extent of the handiwork that went into the crocheted wool gown. Some items are explosions of color and creativity that might still be seen today cobbled together from a local thrift store by today's particularly industrious hipsters (e.g., pl. 343, a design by Helene Robertson herself). Others, including two dresses by Robertson (pls. 340 - 341), have genuinely transcended their time and place.

Summer of Love: Art, Fashion, and Rock and Roll does a remarkable job conveying both the ideas and the content of an exhibition many of us will never see. Its precision focus on one moment in one city in American history is the book's greatest strength. It manages to simultaneously demonstrate why that moment is worth commemorating, what its legacy remains today, and what was lost as summer turned to fall. Perhaps it isn't fair to compare today's youth to those living amid the Summer of Love. As Dennis McNalley writes in his opening essay, "By 1968 Haight Street would be inhabited by children shooting methedrine and heroin. The magic died hard."





The 60 Best Albums of 2007

From tech house to Radiohead and Americana to indie and everything in between, the 60 best albums of 2007 included many of the 2000s' best albums.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Solitude Stands in the Window: Thoreau's 'Walden'

Henry David Thoreau's Walden as a 19th century model for 21st century COVID-19 quarantine.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Will COVID-19 Kill Movie Theaters?

Streaming services and large TV screens have really hurt movie theaters and now the coronavirus pandemic has shuttered multiplexes and arthouses. The author of The Perils of Moviegoing in America, however, is optimistic.

Gary D. Rhodes, Ph.D

Fleabag's Hot Priest and Love as Longing

In season two of Fleabag, The Priest's inaccessibility turns him into a sort of god, powerful enough for Fleabag to suddenly find herself spending hours in church with no religious motivation.


Annabelle's Curse's 'Vast Oceans' Meditates on a Groundswell of Human Emotions (premiere)

Inspired by love and life, and of persistent present-day issues, indie folk band Annabelle's Curse expand their sound while keeping the emotive core of their work with Vast Oceans.


Americana's Sarah Peacock Finds Beauty Beneath Surface With "Mojave" (premiere + interview)

Born from personal pain, "Mojave" is evidence of Sarah Peacock's perseverance and resilience. "When we go through some of the dry seasons in our life, when we do the most growing, is often when we're in pain. It's a reminder of how alive you really are", she says.


Power Struggle in Beauty Pageants: On 'Mrs. America' and 'Miss Americana'

Television min-series Mrs. America and Taylor Swift documentary Miss Americana make vivid how beauty pageants are more multi-dimensional than many assume, offering a platform to some (attractive) women to pursue higher education, politics, and more.

Hilary Levey Friedman

Pere Ubu 'Comes Alive' on Their New, Live Album

David Thomas guides another version of Pere Ubu through a selection of material from their early years, dusting off the "hits" and throwing new light on some forgotten gems.


Woods Explore Darkness on 'Strange to Explain'

Folk rock's Woods create a superb new album, Strange to Explain, that mines the subconscious in search of answers to life's unsettling realities.


The 1975's 'Notes on a Conditional Form' Is Laudably Thought-Provoking and Thrilling

The 1975 follow A Brief Inquiry... with an even more intriguing, sprawling, and chameleonic song suite. Notes on a Conditional Form shows a level of unquenchable ambition, creativity, and outspoken curiosity that's rarely felt in popular music today.


Dustbowl Revival's "Queen Quarantine (A Home Recording)" Is a Cheeky Reproach of COVID-19 (premiere)

Inspired by John Prine, Dustbowl Revival's latest single, "Queen Quarantine (A Home Recording)", approaches the COVID-19 pandemic with wit and good humor.


The 2020 US Presidential Election Is Going to Be Wild but We've Seen Wild Before

Americans are approaching a historical US presidential election in unprecedented times. Or are they? Chris Barsanti's The Ballot Box: 10 Presidential Elections That Changed American History gives us a brief historical perspective.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.