Mon, Jun 19, 2017 - Page 8 News List

Summer of Love turns 50

This season marks the 50th anniversary of that legendary summer, when throngs of American youth descended on San Francisco to join a cultural revolution

By Jocelyn Gecker  /  AP, SAN FRANCISCO

One song in particular served as a national invitation to hippies across the land. San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair),” written by John Phillips of the Mamas & the Papas and sung by Scott McKenzie, came out in May 1967. It bolted up the charts and was used to help promote the Monterey festival that June.

“Every fantasy about the summer of ‘67 that was ever created — peace, joy, love, nonviolence, wear flowers in your hair and fantastic music — was real at Monterey. It was bliss,” said Dennis McNally, the Grateful Dead’s longtime publicist and official biographer who has curated an exhibit at the California Historical Society that runs through Sept. 10.

The exhibit, “On the Road to the Summer of Love,” explains how that epic summer came about and why San Francisco was its inevitable home. McNally uncovered 100 photographs, some never seen publicly, that trace San Francisco’s contrarian roots to the Beat poets of the 1950s, followed by civil rights demonstrations and the Free Speech Movement at the University of California, Berkeley in the early 1960s.

The national media paid little attention to San Francisco’s psychedelic community until January 1967, when poets and bands joined forces for the “Human Be-In,” a Golden Gate Park gathering that unexpectedly drew about 50,000 people, McNally said. It was there that psychologist and LSD-advocate Timothy Leary stood on stage and delivered his famous mantra: “Turn on. Tune In. Drop out.”

“After the media got hold, it just exploded,” McNally said. “Suddenly, a flood descends on Haight Street. Every bored high school kid — and that’s all of them — is saying, ‘How do I get to San Francisco?”’

An exhaustive exhibit at San Francisco’s de Young museum, “The Summer of Love Experience,” offers a feel-good trip back in time. There’s a psychedelic light show, a 1960s soundtrack and galleries with iconic concert posters, classic photographs and hippie chic fashions worn by Joplin, Jerry Garcia and others. It runs through Aug. 20.

But that summer’s invasion carried a dark cloud. Tens of thousands of youths looking for free love and drugs flooded into San Francisco, living in the streets, begging for food. Parents journeyed to the city in search of their young runaways. An epidemic of toxic psychedelics and harder drugs hit the streets.

“Every loose nut and bolt in America rattled out here to San Francisco, and it got pretty messy,” Weir said.

The longtimers saw it as the end of an era, but one that shaped history.

“We created a mindset that became intrinsic to the fabric of America today,” said Country Joe McDonald, now 75. “Every single thing we did was adapted, folded into America — gender attitudes, ecological attitudes, the invention of rock and roll.”

Half a century later, McDonald, who lives in Berkeley, feels the rumblings of history repeating itself.

UC Berkeley is again at the center of a free speech debate, albeit of a different nature. Discontent with the US government and President Donald Trump has stirred the largest protests he’s seen since the Vietnam War. In the women’s marches across America, he felt echoes of the Summer of Love.

“I think there’s a similarity,” McDonald said, drawing a parallel to the massive anti-Trump turnout marked by nonviolence, playful pink protest hats, creative signs and a determination to change the country’s political course. “Both were about saying goodbye to the past and hello to the future.”

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