Tune In. Turn On. Drop Out.
Those six words, spoken by Timothy Leary In Golden Gate park at the 300,000 person Human Be-In in San Francisco’s Golden Gate park in 1967 are widely heralded as the beginning of The Summer of Love.
That they were spoken in January of 1967 doesn’t much affect that estimation – since historians now mostly trace the “Summer” of Love’s beginnings to October 1966, when California officially banned the use of LSD. That set off the series of “be ins” that sprung up across the San Francisco Bay area in early 1997 and culminated in about 100,000 young people converging on the Haight Ashbury neighborhood for the summer of 1967 (and beyond) determined to take Timothy Leary as literally as possible.
It has been fifty years since the Summer Of Love – the hippies who spent the summer remembering to wear flowers in their hair are now in their late 60’s and 70’s. For most of them, it’s been awhile since banning acid was the worst possible thing they could imagine happening to them and their collective enthusiasm for free love and public nudity seems to have dimmed significantly. They do still like smoking pot – 81 percent of baby boomers support its legalization and are said to be 57 percent more likely than other generations to smoke reefer habitually.
But though the precise moment the Summer of Love started might be up for grabs – and may have actually started during the winter – as of the beginning of summer 2017, eyes all over the world are turning backward 50 years to the summer the hippies came to the Haight to tune in, turn on and drop out.
So, what did it all mean, is it possible to go back – and what is there to look forward to next?
Changing The World – Or Just Summer Vacation
While the Summer of Love has a five-decade track record of being a favored stand-in for the counterculture of the 1960’s – what it all means and how important it really all was is still a bit of a debate going into the summer of 2017.
One Guardian reporter referred to it as “a drug addled gap year for history’s jammiest generation.”
Sunshine Powers, a local merchant, artist and glitter enthusiast takes a very different view of the wonder of the hippies on the Haight brought during the summer of 1967.
“We’re bringing back the color, the creativity, the consciousness. What happened here 50 years ago transformed who we are as a society.”
And as it turns out – that ambivalence about the bigger picture take-away from the Summer of Love has been going on for 50 years now. As George Harrison famously noted of a 1967 trip to the Haight Ashbury neighborhood at the height of the Summer of Love:
“I’d thought it would be something like King’s Road [London], only more. Somehow, I expected them all to own their own little shops. I expected them to all be nice and clean and friendly and happy.”
Nice, clean, friendly and happy is not quite what he found. No, by Harrison’s description what he found in the Haight were “hideous, spotty little teenagers.”
But whatever it ultimately meant – San Francisco will be celebrating the Summer of Love this year with street fairs, music festivals, dance parties, sing-a-longs, Jerry Day (dedicated to the music of Jerry Garcia) and Janis Night (same this as Jerry Day, but for Janis Joplin, and at night). And if all of that sounds fun – but maybe a little too square because you have to wear clothing to all of those events – good news! Nudists will also be hosting a parade to celebrate the Summer of Love the way the hippies would have wanted – in the buff.
The clever conceptual artists and entrepreneurs at Magic Bus tours have even found a way to properly monetize and modernize the Summer of Love experience for those hoping for a chance at the way back machine for the 50th anniversary.
Using a modified psychedelically painted school bus to conduct the tour – the bus also comes equipped with screens that roll down to cover the windows and digital mini-projectors that recreate the music and sights of 1967.
Tours also come with tie-dye and paisley bedecked tour guides who will heckle corporate types as the bus cruises through San Francisco’s Financial District by catcalling strangers on their way to work.
“Run away! Get out of the financial district – it will kill you,” is apparently one favored message from tour guides – delivered as passengers on the bus watch images of the dehumanized worker drones from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis on their screens and listen Allen Ginsberg chanting. “Moloch! Solitude! Filth! Ugliness! Ashcans and unobtainable dollars!” on their speakers.
It might sound a little heavy-handed – but if you’d just paid $280 for your family of four to take an authentic tour of the summer of 1967, you want it to be memorable.
But Can You Ever Really Go Back?
Jerry Days, sing-a-longs and expensive tie-dye bus tours aside – it seems that the Summer of Love is more of a museum piece in San Francisco these days than a reality of life in the Haight Ashbury district.
The city still attracts its share of young people with flowers in their hair – and youth homelessness has become an increasing issue in the city these days. And the Haight Ashbury neighborhood still supports those transient youth – and their older counterparts – with the Free Medical Clinic, which has been providing free healthcare and addiction support to the sick of Haight-Ashbury since June 1967.
“Even if you don’t belong anywhere, you belong here,” Sunshine Power proudly noted of her neighborhood in the Haight.
But though anyone may belong there – not everyone can shop or live in the Haight these days. Power’s shop – Lovin’ On The Haight – is one of many cute, boutiquey shops catering to nostalgia shoppers on the street. A customer who wants to own their very own genuine Haight Ashbury tie-dyed t-shirt can buy one from her shop – if they’re willing to part with $40 for it.
But, if they are residents of the neighborhood these days, odds are good they can afford it – average rent in Haight Ashbury is around $3,200 per month. There is only one house for sale in the neighborhood right now – listed for $5 million. If one is willing to live a street over in Ashbury Heights – they can snap up a bargain priced 1,700 square foot condo for $1.8 million.
And while many hundreds of thousands will come to visit this summer to get a taste of the 1960’s – and snap up some $40 tie-dye shirts – one can probably be sure that those visitors will likely stay in hotels as opposed on the streets of the Haight, as they did 50 years ago. Something tells us that the owners of those million dollar homes and condos would rather remember the time they shared a street with 100,000 spotty teenagers than actually relive it.
But, in some sense, the more things change, the more they remain the same.
The Summer of Love – as described by its most enthusiastic memoirists – was dedicated to the idea that the world could be radically different and better because it was radically different. It was – in a sense – the first mass celebration of disruption, albeit the kind of disruption one gets when 100,000 people on acid move into the downtown area of a single American city.
And while the residents of San Francisco are on the whole more sober, less naked and better capitalized than their counterparts 50 years ago were – it is hard to argue that they still aren’t thinking about how to make the world a radically different place – and place that is better because it radically different.
In some ways – Uber springs to mind – one could even argue they’ve already been proven right.