This year marked the 40th anniversary of the Summer of Love, an event which actually began in January of 1967 with a "gathering of the tribes" known as the Human Be-In at Golden Gate Park; then continued to build with the June release of the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" and the incredible Monterey Pop festival. That summer, thousands of young people literally invaded the Haight-Ashbury district in San Francisco on a quest for unforgettable music, a communal lifestyle of total freedom and, of course, psychedelic drugs. Heady times -- no pun intended.
But, as Jim Newsom wrote:
"The Summer of Love deteriorated rather quickly out in the Haight. As too many people arrived, the upbeat spirit of optimism and community gave way to despair and disenchantment, the drugs got harder and heavier, free love gave way to STDs. By mid-summer the glow was fading. On October 6, a group of hippies staged a mock funeral on the streets of San Francisco called 'The Death of Hippie.'"
The beautiful summer of the flower child may have turned into a terribly harsh winter, but the cultural impact of those times is undeniable, prompting many celebratory events this year. In New York, there was a 40th anniversary psychedelic art exhibit at the Whitney Museum and "Hair" was re-staged by the Public Theater; on the west coast, an anniversary tribute Monterey Pop concert was headlined by a reunited Big Brother and the Holding Company along with Jefferson Starship.
The hippies were the antithesis of today's consumers, united in a sub-culture of free food, free stores, free love (and the resulting free clinics), second-hand clothing, shared housing, and a bias against large corporations.
Fortunately, it appears that "Hippie" has been reincarnated in this era in a slightly different version, perhaps just as the Eastern religions that took root in the West back then might have predicted. This time around, there seems to be a broader appeal and a more durable foundation than the Haight could offer. Take a look at just a few examples of what's going on -- or still going on:
The Freegans, The Simple Living Network, Buy Nothing Day, The Rainbow Family, The Farm, No Impact Man, The Global EcoVillage Network, The World Business Council for Sustainable Development, The Fair Trade Federation, Living Water International -- there are literally thousands of individuals, groups and organizations representing the spirit of the counter-culture movement of the Sixties, a movement that was not just about sex, drugs and rock and roll as detractors like to opine, but was also highly politically motivated and aware.
It's encouraging that there is increasing awareness now about protecting the environment from dangerous exploitation, ensuring decent working conditions for those who make the products we use, and celebrating the inherent goodness of the simple life. We know that we can't sustain, or justify, our society's over-consumption when so much of the world's population is suffering without even such basic necessities as safe water to drink.
I like to think that many of the current worthwhile efforts for social change are a direct result of the Sixties -- and proof that Hippie really is back.
Good morning, Starshine.