S.F.'s Summer of Love Going Gray at 30
With the Summer of Love turning 30 this year--as in don’t trust anyone over--maybe it’s appropriate that one of the few big celebrations is a rock ‘n’ roll auction, a wholesale resale of longhaired memory.
Maybe no one should be surprised that local vigilantes in neon-green shirts patrol the Haight-Ashbury district these days and nights, mucking up drug deals and politely requesting that visitors do not use these storied sidewalks as bathrooms.
Maybe it was inevitable, in this formerly tie-dyed fulcrum of freedom, free love and free drugs, that the residents would someday get sick of it all and even push for a ban on alcohol in Golden Gate Park, party central of a more innocent time.
And maybe a Fishless Country Joe McDonald got it right in the lines of his just-penned paean to an earlier era all grown up: “I guess it’s time for a brand-new tune, ‘Goodbye to the Good Old Days.’ I guess it’s time to be movin’ on. They weren’t so good, anyway.”
The Summer of Love--a time when all eyes focused on San Francisco, as American youths congregated here to celebrate sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll and politics--hits the Big 3-0.
And yes, there will be a rock concert. But there will also be a scale model of the Vietnam War Memorial and a choral reading of the names of the 2,863 young Americans who died in Southeast Asia in the summer of 1967.
Yes, there will be a rock concert. But the 710 Ashbury St. house, where members of the Grateful Dead were busted for marijuana possession during that famous era, is also scheduled to go on the auction block--minimum bid a very mature $990,000.
Yes, there will be a rock concert. But it won’t be until the middle of October; it’s way too cold here to celebrate much of anything any time before then. Says concert organizer Chet Helms: “To quote Mark Twain, ‘The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.’ ”
And what Joe Konopka--president of the patrolling Residents Against Druggies--plans to celebrate, anyway, is not the 30th anniversary of an international youth movement that began right here in this very city. Instead, he will toast local government’s agreement to steam-clean the sidewalks sometime next week at the fabled corner of Haight and Ashbury streets.
“Right now we’re taking on a lot of different things that are bigger problems than drug dealing: public defecation,” says Konopka, whose group came together four years ago to combat drug violence in the neighborhood. “The parks are a pigpen. The neighborhood has gotten filthy.”
To understand the Summer of Love from the vantage point of three long decades, one must recognize that it actually lasted anywhere from nine months to a year. Day 1? Circle one: Oct. 6, 1966, the day LSD became illegal. Jan. 14, 1967, the first mass Human Be-In at Golden Gate Park. Or maybe June 1967, when the Monterey Pop Festival made instant stars of Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Otis Redding.
Or maybe it was all just a psychedelic figment of our aging imaginations. “The Summer of Love never really happened,” writes Joel Selvin, author of a recent rock ‘n’ roll history titled--you got it--"Summer of Love.”
“Invented by the fevered imaginations of writers for weekly news magazines, the phrase entered the public vocabulary with the impact of a sledgehammer,” Selvin relates, “glibly encompassing a social movement sweeping the youth of the world, hitting the target with the pinpoint accuracy of a shotgun blast.”
What actually happened in the Haight during the tumultuous months in question is a lot less open for interpretation than when it began.
Hundreds of minors flooded San Francisco each week, part of a tide of thousands of hippies who came, danced, smoked, sang, celebrated and left--often driven out by fog and cold.
Big Brother and the Holding Company was the house band at the Avalon Ballroom. Rudolf Nureyev jeted into town, only to be arrested during a police raid at “a wild hippie party” in the Haight. The drugs of choice: LSD, marijuana and the birth control pill.
There was free food, compliments of groups like the Diggers. Huckleberry’s House, the nation’s very first shelter for runaway teenagers, opened its doors, kicking off a movement that continues to this day. The brand-new Haight Ashbury Free Medical Clinic treated thousands of patients for hundreds of ailments.
“To some extent 1967 really was the beginning of a youth movement,” says Bruce Fisher, executive director of what is now Huckleberry Youth Programs. Young people “were excited, liberated. The Haight was in part about that, a statement about youth empowerment. They were coming here as opposed to running away from something. They also had drug problems and family problems.”
The drugs and dysfunction have remained. But young people are wandering into Haight-Ashbury today in far smaller numbers and are as different from their earlier counterparts as the 1990s are from the 1960s.
“The kids aren’t running to the Haight for excitement and glamour as much as running away--from homes with mental illness and alcoholism,” Fisher says. “Instead of being a national runaway shelter, we’re now the primary resource in the city for kids in crisis.”
Daytime on Haight Street is in-your-face teenagers begging spare change in paper cups, sunburned girls with disposable cameras posing for snapshots with the mural of the Dead’s dead Jerry Garcia. The air is perfumed with cigarette smoke, incense and the ripe rot of percolating trash bins.
At 710 Ashbury, one of the neighborhood’s better-known hunks of real estate, 20 minutes brings dozens of gawkers: Three boys with cheap cameras snap the purple-and-gold Victorian.
French tourists wander by with accents and guidebooks. A tour bus chugs along, filled with chubby, aging tourists protected from the Haight by tinted glass. If you look hard enough you can almost see the gesticulating guide mouth the magic words: “Jerry Garcia lived there.”
Nighttime is a very different proposition. Walk near the panhandle of Golden Gate Park and hear the clattering of shopping carts filled with cheap belongings, the buzz of a razor as one transient shaves another’s head, and the occasional jeer as Konopka and his band of neighborhood activists patrol the dark streets.
“Would you want to live around all of this, all the time?” asks Teri Mammini, the newest member of the patrol. “This neighborhood’s got a 30-year hangover.”
Eric Christensen would not disagree. And his Summer of Love Memorabilia Auction, planned for early October, acknowledges the tricky balance between the era’s energy and its excess.
More than 300 items--including the 710 Ashbury house, a love letter from Joni Mitchell to David Crosby, handwritten lyrics by Jerry Garcia--will be auctioned off, with a percentage of the proceeds going to four charities with varying links to 1967.
“This was an incredible time in San Francisco that brought about significant changes in art, music, culture, the way we live,” Christensen says. “But while I wanted to celebrate the positive things, I recognize that many negative things came out, like the net effect of some of the drug use.”
The auction will precede by about a week a two-day festival and concert planned by the Council for the Summer of Love. At one end of the event, the likes of Steve Miller, Country Joe McDonald, Dr. Loco’s Rockin’ Jalapeno Band and Jefferson Starship sans Grace Slick will perform.
At the other end will be a traveling version of the Vietnam War Memorial, listing the names of the 58,000 Americans who died in Southeast Asia during the conflict.
In the middle, “there will be lots of emoting,” says Country Joe, who arranged for the memorial. “It will take on a magical, metaphysical, spiritual element.”
Chet Helms, the mastermind of the whole event, ran the famed Avalon Ballroom and managed Big Brother and the Holding Company when all the world’s eyes were on San Francisco.
He argues variously that the two-day concert will be a “consciousness-raising event about the issues facing our children,” a chance “to gather our remnants, see our survivors,” and a much-needed opportunity to “celebrate the accomplishments of our generation.”
And if none of that turns you on, this might: It’s free.