Rock History

Cue up the Pan Flutes! The 40th Anniversary of the “Summer of Love” is Here

summer-of-love-small.jpgWell I see that ’60s “Summer of Love” icon Wavy Gravy will be heading up the Wavy Gravy Summer of Love Revival on June 2, 2007 at the San Geronimo Valley Cultural Center. This will not be the only event celebrating that pivotal summer but the irony is that for the people who were actually there, in a lot of ways the “Summer of Love” did not in fact occur in the summer of1967. No, the San Francisco scene that was so nurturing for some many creative people for the most part was ending in 1967 when the mass media discovered the burgeoning counter-culture bohemian community centered around the Haight-Ashbury district of that city by the bay. For a lot of people, 1966 was indeed the pivotal year on which a revolution seemed to be occurring that would change everything.

The problem I have always had with the whole “Summer of Love” myth is that the media and by extension the history books have put the emphasis on the wrong parts of that whole ’60s experiment. While thousands of stoned out youths proclaimed peace and love to all and sundry there were very real attempts to create a true alternative culture but those who actually tried to work at it are sadly forgotten. We hear all about the music and the free love and drugs (which are in a lot of respects the true legacy of the whole hippie experience with unwanted pregnancies and sad drug addicted youths the primary result) but we don’t often hear about people like the Thelin brothers.

Ron and Jay Thelin were true believers in “the dream.” As original members of the Diggers and owners of the Psychedellic Shoppe, they both believed in building a true alternative community, but the difference between them and so many others that staggered around the streets of the “Hashbury” is that they actually worked at creating something as opposed to leaching off of others. So to did people like Big Tom Donahue when he took radio stations KMPX and later KSAN and turned them into purveyors of avant-garde rock and roll audio or Greg Shaw with his groundbreaking Mojo-Navigator Rock & Roll News or Chet Helms who, despite an obvious lack of business acumen built of the Family Dog into something memorable. All of these people (and you can toss in Bill Graham and Jann Wenner for good measure) knew that in order to create something you had to work at it. And sometimes that involved making hard decision but if you wanted your community to thrive you had to make them to make things work.

What always drives me crazy when people look back at this era is they tend to either focus on the completely negative (drugs anyone?) or they go to the other extreme and declare that San Fran in 1967 was some sort of utopia which it assuredly was not! Aside from the music, which was great mainly because of the sense of adventure that permeated the scene, the cadre of people who truly believed in what they were trying to create was slowly coming to the realization that maybe it was a lot harder to drop out completely and that there may have been some aspects of straight society that might come in handy regardless of the values you held. Things like commitment, loyalty and integrity. There were a multitude of people operating in the background and on the periphery of the “Summer of Love” that made the whole thing tick. Unfortunately, unless you really dig down deep into your ’60s history book, you tend not to hear so much about them. Although it was a late ’90s slogan for Apple Computer, a lot of these people tended to “think different” and there is a lesson in there for all of us if we stop getting side-tracked by the love burger and “hippie hop” aspect of the era. Building something that is an alternative to today is no easy task. But giving up in striving to do so is something we should never do. And that should be the ultimate lesson we take from the Summer of Love.

That being said, I have been having a blast going through some incredible documentaries, films and TV shows from the era courtesy of The Video Beat so expect my very own look at The Summer of Love this June. This should be fun!