What the ’60s Wasn’t

1960, me (at left) and my Stinson beach lifeguard friends in Mill Valley about to take off on a surfing trip to the Point Reyes Peninsula in my 1937 Chevy (with square-cut gears) truck. This was a few years before everything started to change.

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.”
    –Ken Kesey

    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.

My ’60s

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.

About Lloyd Kahn

Lloyd Kahn started building his own home in the early '60s and went on to publish books showing homeowners how they could build their own homes with their own hands. He got his start in publishing by working as the shelter editor of the Whole Earth Catalog with Stewart Brand in the late '60s. He has since authored six highly-graphic books on homemade building, all of which are interrelated. The books, "The Shelter Library Of Building Books," include Shelter, Shelter II (1978), Home Work (2004), Builders of the Pacific Coast (2008), Tiny Homes (2012), and Tiny Homes on the Move (2014). Lloyd operates from Northern California studio built of recycled lumber, set in the midst of a vegetable garden, and hooked into the world via five Mac computers. You can check out videos (one with over 450,000 views) on Lloyd by doing a search on YouTube:

9 Responses to What the ’60s Wasn’t

  1. I was in the Haight in 1967 too. Hanging out at Dead House, remember Mountain Girl trying to make an apple pie
    and every time she cut an apple we ate it before she could accumulate enough to make a pie.
    And I was in Eugene when Bucky Fuller spoke.
    And I was in Pleasant Hill when Stewart Brand visited in his VW bus with a bumper sticker that said “10,000 Indians can’t be wrong”
    and Kesey/Pranksters built a dome, cutting the fir framing so carefully at all those weird angles.
    And nobody wanted to live in it because it leaked.

  2. that picture of you guys looks like a Steinbeck story 🙂
    would love to hear more of your version…
    what about those dances?

  3. I was born in the 60’s, so this is very interesting to me. It’s nice to read a first-person perspective that was there, living their life – as opposed to someone who dropped in out there just to drop out.

    Love the photos!

  4. The Summer of Love was a news media creation. They helped create the ‘hippie’ and any other exploitable, marketable one-dimensional ‘explanation’ of what was happening in the country. It was trying to do-opt a movement
    For me, the Berkeley Free Speech Movement was big rock thrown into the outwardly placid former 50’s pond because it was based on the concept of All American, enshrined in the Constitution, free speech, versus control. The 60’s were upheaval, unrest and utter amazement/panic to both casual observers and centers of power, who saw that people of all social strata were not content to be defined by the social norms. Liberation is much bandied about but I think it’s true. And that caused a vicious backlash. People wanted a different society. The Powell Memorandum stated that what had happened to America was an assault on American business. More importantly, it talked about building a response to the demands, including the phony foundations and ‘think’ tanks to funnel ideas for legistion, to take over media and fund candidates. Powell was the lawyer for national Chamber of Commerce until Nixon appointed him to the Supreme Court. This was followed by ‘The Crisis of Democracy that characterized the times as an “excess of democracy” and people need to let the experts run things and go to church more…..I know, not exactly what one could say happened to them personally back then, but how did this grand fire ignite and why was it stopped?

  5. Thank you. An excellent counter-narrative of sorts to the bland and pat ’60s fairy tale pushed by corporate interests is Emmett Grogan’s Ringolevio. Fellow Digger Peter Coyote’s Sleeping Where I Fall is also good. Both emphasize that the Summer of Love was largely the creation of Haight business interests unconcerned about the ramifications of their unprincipled blandishments to American kids to trek to Mecca in ’67. My favorite passage in Grogan’s memoir recounts a teen hippie girl interrupting Leary during one of his fuddled lectures with the complaint, “You don’t turn me on!” When he tried to start again she repeated, “You don’t turn me on!” until he gave up. I’d always wondered, “Didn’t anyone ever tell that vapid gasbag to stow it?” I recall also a comprehensive account of the S.F. Tape Music Center, the title of which I’ve forgotten, that makes clear that the early ’60s were a time of great ferment and collaborative creativity, before the ‘hippies’ as such got going. By the way, Lloyd, I walk past your childhood home on Ulloa every two weeks when I hike out to see my friend at a group home on Sloat. Best wishes.

  6. I was born in 65 I wish we still had some of that spirit of standing up for what is right and I guess it’s still here with BLM and a few other things but on the whole, I feel like everyone’s just tired and thinks as long as they don’t raise my tax’s or take my job I’m good.
    My older sister took me to sit-ins and rallies when I was far too young to understand what was going on. I did come to understand the equity and justice they were trying to achieve but I feel like the torch never got past on to those kids of the ’70s and ’80s I feel like all those protesting in the late ’60s went home hung up their signs and said guess “I’ll start a family and get a job, no one was listening to us anyway”.
    I wish that spirit of standing up for what was right hadn’t stopped after the 60s cause here we are with a racest president dividing the country. We may as well be peasants in the Colosseum as long as we’re getting free bread and wine who cares what happens to our country.
    The sixes as I understand them were about struggle and standing up for what’s right and just but maybe my view was colored by my older sister’s views. I like to think the ’60s was about more than just getting high but maybe I’ve put those people on a pedestal and in my mind asked too much of them only to feel somehow let down when they showed themselves to be ordinary people.
    Never really questioned my viewpoint before now it’s probably good I did. I’d welcome a thought from someone who marched and went to the rallies back then.

  7. Getting gassed at the Pentagon and smoking a joint with Ed Sanders on it’s steps was my epiphany that it was all stranger than I thought and there were nasty people with more power than I.
    My American dream ended at the Chicago Police Riot.
    The sixties were as close to another civil war as we got. More people got hurt than we’ll ever know.
    I’m living in the rocky mountains in a tipi in Canada.at 75 yrs.
    Me and other natives teaching kids how to live on the land.
    God Bless!

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