BUMMER OF LOVE
Over the weekend I came across an insightful Summer of Love retrospective article in the Guardian Monthly, published in the UK in June but arriving at my local bookshop a few days ago. Having read a piece in the SF Chronicle a few months back, with its micro-interviews with top "movers and shakers" of the era that offered, at best, a scant contextual account of the movement, I was relieved to find that someone had written something decent to mark the 40th Anniversary of the Summer of Love.
The Guardian didn't paint a rosy picture of some kind of a cultural renaissance spurred by mad visionaries hellbent on starting a revolution, one acid tab at a time, but instead gave a thought-provoking account of its social relevance--and lack thereof--without sounding prescriptive and preachy. The amazing interviews featured here consisted of talks with Country Joe McDonald ("And it's 1-2-3, what are we fighting for?"); Stanley Mouse, whose Greatful Dead illustrations of skulls and roses will forever be associated with hippie culture; Steppenwolf frontman John Kay; and--most notably--Barry Melton, the "Fish" from Country Joe and the Fish. Melton was NEVER interviewed by the flurry of local press given to the 40th anniversary of the Summer of Love. Too bad, because I thought his quotes went above and beyond what anyone else had to say in terms of grasping some sort of perspective of the counterculture. Oh, plus, he's like, one of the very few people with some social relevance in the modern day city of San Francisco, as Melton is now a Chief Public Defender for Yolo County, as well as President of the California Association of Public Defenders.
As such, Melton says:
I like all these goths and kids with tattoos, bandanas and dreadlocks. Ninety per cent of the kids who dress like that are not in gangs, it's just a 'Fuck you' thing--like us having long hair was a 'Fuck you' thing, and what I do now is a 'Fuck you' thing.
Sam Andrew, guitarist for Janis Joplin's Big Brother and the Holding Company, gave the best quotes, summing up the darker side of the entire movement in one fell swoop:
There was the Monterey Pop festival in June, and all the kids came up to fill the Haight. With them, the vultures moved in. What we had done was commercialized. People moved in who wanted to make a buck out of it all, especially the drugs. Hard drugs arrived - speed, meth, cocaine, heroin. The drugs became tiring and boring. And free love? Women were raped - it became a perversion of what it had been before.
The SF Chron said:
The Summer of Love resonates in strip mall yoga classes, pop music, visual art, fashion, attitudes toward drugs, the personal computer revolution, and the current mad dash toward the greening of America.
Wow. Strip mall yoga classes. Thank god for the hippies and their brazen ideologies! Once again, the San Francisco local press really shines through, offering top-notch cultural analysis.
It seems that just last week, even Mayor McDreamy jumped on the nostalgia bandwagon, proclaiming that September 2 will be "Summer of Love 40th Anniversary Day." A free concert will be held in Golden Gate Park to celebrate the day, featuring too many beats and hippie peeps to mention. Go here. Maybe you can catch yourself a good old fashioned rapin'.
Masha Gessen is the author of *The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia*, which will be published in October. In the July issue of Har...
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