Getting It Wrong…
In 2017, there was a media blitz on “The 50th Anniversary of the Summer of Love.” There were TV shows, magazine and online articles, and museum exhibits on what supposedly took place in San Francisco in the summer of 1967.
I read all these stories and articles, watched the films, went to the exhibits, and was puzzled. This wasn’t the way I saw it, and I was there. There were a bunch of things wrong with all this coverage:
What the ’60s Wasn’t
- The “summer of love” was a disaster. An estimated 100,000 kids trekked to San Francisco, most of them looking for drugs, sex, and rock and roll. A lot of them inspired by the lame song about wearing flowers in your hair if you came to San Francisco. The city wasn’t prepared for the inundation; the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood was overwhelmed. There wasn’t enough food, housing, or sanitation for the influx. Things deteriorated rapidly.
- Secondly, the Haight Ashbury district wasn’t the ’60s.
“The Haight-Ashbury was a neighborhood. The ’60s was a movement.”
Kesey nails it here, as he did so often. The media has focused on the Haight-Ashbury, since it’s been so well documented, and it’s easy to interview people who were there.
But the ’60s was about much more than the Haight, it was about a lot more than rock and roll and smoking pot and living in old Victorians in San Francisco.
It was nationwide, arguably worldwide, and it encompassed a staggering variety of subjects and events and changes.
- Most of the books, films, articles, and exhibits about the ’60s are by people who weren’t there — second-hand accounts.
My first thoughts were that these versions didn’t reflect what really happened.
But then I realized that the ’60s meant something different to every person. My ’60s was different from what’s portrayed in the books, exhibits, and TV shows, probably because:
- I was born in San Francisco (in 1935).
- I went to high school in the Haight-Ashbury district (1949–1952).
- I quit my job as an insurance broker in 1965, due to the pull of the counterculture. I watched a movement that started growing exponentially by, say, 1963, its manifestation in the Haight-Ashbury district, but more importantly its worldwide effect then — and now.
- I started hanging out with the 20-year-olds (the “baby boomers”) — 10 years younger than me. I felt a lot closer to them, to their hopes and aspirations and lifestyle, than I did to people of my own generation. I had an intergenerational perspective.
- I lived in Big Sur for 3 years, built a house there, kept coming to the Haight-Ashbury and dances on weekends. As well, a lot of people from San Francisco came to visit and stay with us in Big Sur.
- I then taught dome building at a hippie high school in the Santa Cruz Mountains for 2 years.
- Finally, I went on into the ‘70s, bringing into reality many of the goals of the ’60s in my own life.