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'Certain places, for unknowable reasons, become socio-cultural petri dishes'
September 15, 2012 3:30 AM   Subscribe

Suddenly That Summer: It was billed as “the Summer of Love,” a blast of glamour, ecstasy, and Utopianism that drew some 75,000 young people to the San Francisco streets in 1967. Who were the true movers behind the Haight-Ashbury happening that turned America on to a whole new age?

Season of the Witch: David Talbot recounts the gripping story of the summer of love, civil strife and tragedies that beset San Francisco between 1967 and 1982.

Kurt Anderson answers the question: "Why had the revolution dreamed up in the late 1960s mostly been won on the social and cultural fronts — women’s rights, gay rights, black president, ecology, sex, drugs, rock ’n’ roll — but lost in the economic realm, with old-school free-market ideas gaining traction all the time?"

Hunter S. Thompson, 'The Wave Speech':
And that, I think, was the handle—that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn't need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting—on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave.…
posted by the man of twists and turns (48 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite

 
Well, anyway, it was better than 2012's Summer of Hate.
posted by twoleftfeet at 3:34 AM on September 15, 2012 [7 favorites]


Between Watergate, the assassination of Lennon, Reaganomics, and AIDS, the dreams of the flower-children withered, died and were scattered like ashes on the wind.
posted by Renoroc at 3:54 AM on September 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


When a flower-child dies, the seeds of hope and beauty leave the root and fly through the air, gliding with the wind, away from the dirt and disease, held aloft, still soaring, until they come back to earth, to find new roots and new hope, to grow and glisten, to love.
posted by twoleftfeet at 4:02 AM on September 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


"Flower Power" marked the point at which Madison Avenue caught up with the mighty new thing and brought it back under the control of corporate interests. Pretending it was otherwise was vital to the success of the operation. Without success, the Power of the People would have gone unchecked, at grave expense to Big Money. Watergate was a distraction and used to create an illusion that The People were still supreme.
posted by Goofyy at 4:11 AM on September 15, 2012 [8 favorites]


Related?
posted by gideonswann at 4:15 AM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


One of the best books of the genre on the origins of the "summer of love" is Ringolevio by Emmet Grogan founder of the Diggers.

The media kept applauding and broadcasting the news about what they called the dawning of a new era for the country and for the world. They pointed out that everything had been peaceful with no fights among the gigantic crowd of three hundred thousand. Well, no large, serious slugfests, at least. Just a few dozen minor stompings. The love shuck was given momentum by all the coverage, and the press even began calling the Love Ghetto of Haight-Ashbury things like "Psychedelphia" and "Hashbury." The HIP merchants were astounded by their own triumph in promoting such a large market for their wares. They became the Western world's taste makers overnight and built a power base upon their notoriety and their direct line into the mass media. The city's officialdom began to take the HIP leadership class a little more seriously. They held public conferences with them about token problems, like the rerouting of the municipal buses to avoid clogging up the Haight Street traffic, which was already overburdened with squares, shopping for a farout pulchase to bring back to suburbia.

Emmett was angry. He didn't give a fuck about how much bread the HIP merchants were making, or particularly care that only a chosen few in the community were actually benefiting from these profits. He was simply angered by the outrageous publicity that the Haight Independent Proprietors had created to develop new markets for the merchandising of their crap--angry about how their newsmongery was drawing a disproportionate number of young kids to the district that was already overcrowded--thousands of young, foolish kids who fell for the Love Hoax and expected to live comfortably poor and take their place in the district's kingdom of love. Angry with most of the heads in the community who were earning a dollar doing something, like the rock musicians, and kidding themselves by feeling that all the notoriety was good and would bring more money into the underground and expand the HIP shops, providing more jobs for those who wanted them. The truth was that the disastrous arrival of thousands too many only meant more money for the operators of fly-by-night underground-culture outfits, the dope dealers, and the worst of the lot, the shopkeepers who hired desperate runaways to do piecework for them at sweatshop wages. It was a catastrophe and there was nothing to be done except leave, or try to deal with it as best one could. Whenever someone sought to reveal the truth of the situation, they were put down, ignored or dismissed as being unhip by the longhaired, false-bottomed hipsters who had money in the bank.

posted by Xurando at 4:29 AM on September 15, 2012 [13 favorites]


Yeah, read up to here and couldn't read any further:

"Scully recalls, “Michael Ferguson [an S.F. State art student] was wearing and living Victoriana in 1963”—a year before the Beatles came to America, and before costuming-as-rebellion existed in England."

Utter rubbish
posted by PeterMcDermott at 4:40 AM on September 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


"I was born in the summer of love" and always thought that would make a great first line for my biography someday. My mother was a musician hippie and my father was an Army Ranger fresh back from Vietnam.
posted by UseyurBrain at 5:07 AM on September 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


Between Watergate, the assassination of Lennon, Reaganomics, and AIDS

One of these things is not like the others.
posted by acb at 5:24 AM on September 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


Which one do you think is not demoralizing?
posted by Longtime Listener at 5:58 AM on September 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting—on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum

A wise observation. Most of what is credited as an intellectual movement of ideas in the late 60s was really a demographic phenomenon. There were a lot of young people, and indeed, they would simply prevail. They still do simply prevail.

Now I'll read the links.
posted by Miko at 6:58 AM on September 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


A book came out, something about the greening o America, and suggested rightfully, that many middle class parents had lots of money and their children could afford time out from college etc to explore, be playful etc because there was always parental money to fall back on.

Sometime later, but not too much later, an article came out in a major magazine suggesting the greying of America. The implication: economy getting rougher and thus not so much extra money for time outs etc and therefore students would begin scrambling for jobs and economic security...the era of playfulness would end as money became more and more an issue.
posted by Postroad at 6:58 AM on September 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


Now, I have read.

It seems like the Diggers were about doing some economic critique. But I agree that the movement as a whole did not well address economic justice. (I'm not even sure how much credit the hippies get for Civil Rights, which got going as a movement earlier than they did and didn't depend on their energy - they of course were sympathetic, and Black Power wouldn't have come about without hippie political constructs, but I think it was probably the generation just prior to the Boomers, those pre-war and during-war babies who were actually grown-ups by 1965, who really led on Civil Rights).

From the second article: No other American city has undergone such an earth-shaking cultural shift in such a short span. I really wish pop history writers would avoid making statements like this. I'd like to show you some cities changed forever by white flight, disinvestment and race riots that changed over the course of only weeks, if you want to talk about earth-shaking shifts in short spans.

From the Kurt Anderson piece: For hippies and bohemians as for businesspeople and investors, extreme individualism has been triumphant. Selfishness won.

I love me some Kurt Anderson, but he should go a little further. The reason the hippies didn't develop a coherent economic vision or even interest themselves much in chronic poverty is really because they were, fundamentally, composed of fairly secure middle-class (and up) people who would retain membership in their class. Their years living in flops and on streets (if they even did that) ended up being a temporary, if extended, anomaly in a lifetime that had already afforded them access to good educations; middle-class values, customs, and behaviors, which they would use to reintegrate into the mainstream later; a lack of personal and family debt; often the prospect of inheritance and plenty of credit; and a foundation of well-maintained health built on a lifetime of well-met needs.

The problems of poor people really weren't their problems. There wasn't a strong identification with or interest in the poor among the overwhelmingly white and middle-class bohemians of the 60s, especially if the poor weren't their cultural 'types,' and so they left it to others to worry about what happened to those in need. The economic system as it was worked pretty well for the dropouts of the 60s, and it wasn't something they felt needed reform. They enjoyed what poverty tours they took, but most recovered from the years with no earnings and went on to reclaim their middle- and upper-class positions in life by gathering in the last gains offered by the postwar prosperity cycle before tax structures changed and the long path to today's inequality began winding downward.

In fairness, some ideas about alternative economies, barter and trade, collective ownership, socially responsible business practice, and self-sufficiency were birthed, developed and disseminated during this era and because of this generation. But Kurt is right to present the question: why wasn't their impact - given their numbers and control of the stage - more profound? Though there's a lot of truth in his version of answer - that the movement was always one centering on the individual and personal freedom, and thus very focused on the destiny of the self alone, for all its talk of community - I think the other important aspect of that answer is easily found in the demographics of this generation. It's pretty clear: economic justice didn't really interest them. No skin in the game.
posted by Miko at 7:25 AM on September 15, 2012 [24 favorites]


The political and social movements of the late 60's are as nearly as innate to me as capacity for language: my parents are still pretty solidly New Left, and I was raised with the associated values.

I describe myself as "a product of the New Left," and "product" is very deliberate: 60's counterculture got turned into a brand, and it happened very quickly. Every positive social movement is doomed because there are armies of highly-trained, cynical people who want to suppress or co-opt every trend in the name of commerce. Sell me stuff under the pretense that it's less cruel, more fair and good for the planet: I'll probably buy it, even though I know it's a tactic. I live in the industrialized world and I'm not a drifter, I have to buy stuff.

17th Century radicals failed. Communism failed. The Beats failed. The New Left failed. The hippies failed. Punk failed. The god damn labor movement is about to fail. It's very disheartening to read these earnest accounts of people who thought they were bringing in a new order, and know that their legacy is peace sign clothing and Fruitopia. Hate, violence and injustice are still more popular than hugs. The article's fostering warm recollections, but I wish it was channeling frustration at the eventualities.

New attempts to break up the established, disgusting order are always going to appear, so perhaps we should be hopeful that one of them will establish real, positive change. But reading this made me think of Hegel: "the only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history."
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:36 AM on September 15, 2012 [11 favorites]


In April, 1968 Martin Luther King was in Memphis supporting striking African-American sanitation workers who were being paid significantly lower wages than white workers doing the same job. And then he was shot.

In June, 1968 Robert Kennedy had just won the California presidential primary, after a campaign centered on social and economic justice for all Americans as a necessity for America to fulfill it's aspirations as a nation. And then he was shot.

In August 1968 the Republicans nominated Richard Nixon, and the Democrats nominated Hubert Humphrey while protestors were subjected to a police riot.

And the draft was sending conscripts into combat in Vietnam.

A dream of a better world wasn't beaten down by a dispiriting future disillusioning the dreamers.

People were objecting to, and rejecting, the brutality, injustice, and stupidity of the times they were in.
posted by dglynn at 7:46 AM on September 15, 2012 [10 favorites]


The reason the hippies didn't develop a coherent economic vision or even interest themselves much in chronic poverty is really because they were, fundamentally, composed of fairly secure middle-class (and up) people who would retain membership in their class.

In fairness to the boomers, they were also the product of an era where quality of life measures were rapidly improving for most people, where there was massive federal investment in everything from public universities to the TVA. From, say, the New Deal through somewhere in the 1970s, living in America meant high taxes, huge public subsidies, and centralized control of things like grocery prices. That was the era of national industrial planning, things like that.

In other words, I'm somewhat willing to excuse young boomers for shrugging and thinking that since things have been improving their entire lives, why bother worrying about it since things are guaranteed to keep improving, right?

I'm a lot less willing to excuse those boomers over the following decades as they supported the gutting of everything that had made the America of their youth vibrant, which basically came down to demanding low property and income tax rates.
posted by Forktine at 8:06 AM on September 15, 2012 [23 favorites]


I see your point on that.
posted by Miko at 8:09 AM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


In other words, I'm somewhat willing to excuse young boomers for shrugging and thinking that since things have been improving their entire lives, why bother worrying about it since things are guaranteed to keep improving, right?

This is just another way of saying they didn't have a clue about the world around them, and went on to shape a nation based on the notion that the surplus and prosperity they had experienced was a baseline created by magic.

I don't think this is an indictment of just the drawbridge portion of that generation. The other significant portion thought you could fund any government program to come down the pike, as long as it wasn't defense spending, well overplayed its hand.
posted by 2N2222 at 8:59 AM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


My ex-spouse graduated High School in June 1967 and headed straight for San Francisco, hitchhiking. After arriving in Haight Ashbury he was not able to find any economic means of supporting himself at all. He told me that he went three days completely without any food whatsoever, then was fed by the Diggers. He managed to escape San Francisco and went northward to the Pacific Northwest, where he found some work as a film-extra on 'Paint Your Wagon.'
.
Can you put yourself in the shoes of an 18-year-old guy so bad off that he can obtain no food for three days, within a Great City? I'm sure that was the Summer of Love for more than just one person there. Don't fall for the line that all the young people who flocked to Haight Ashbury came from comfortable-family circumstances. It simply isn't true. The music brought together and inspired people from all walks of life.
posted by Galadhwen at 9:29 AM on September 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm aware that's true - that scene attracted a lot of runaways and people who needed to escape their homes - but also aware that that isn't the majority who made up that scene.
posted by Miko at 9:56 AM on September 15, 2012


I question the historical accuracy of the writers who pick out as their archetype Jerry Rubin who was protesting when his friends were getting drafted and then turned all his energy to making money after the draft ended. I do not know a single person who fits this mold. I know a large number of people who never dropped out, never went to a protest, never grew their hair long, would not admit to ever smoking dope who had all their energy focused on making money the whole time. It wasn't turncoat hippies that undid anything. It seems to me there was never that much done to undo. The big advances in social governance like Johnson's Great Society initiatives were done when money was plentiful by the old guys in charge and they were gradually undone when money tightened up by new old guys in charge.

Bill Clinton never inhaled!
posted by bukvich at 10:46 AM on September 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


The big advances in social governance like Johnson's Great Society initiatives were done when money was plentiful by the old guys in charge and they were gradually undone when money tightened up by new old guys in charge.

It wasn't like there was a big depression and hence less money came in so the government had to tighten its belt, or something like that. There was instead a concerted, multi-decade program of deliberately lowering tax rates (local, state, and federal) with the obvious and desired consequence of lowering the available resources for things like high quality schools, public infrastructure, and anti-poverty programs, as well as driving deficit spending on a massive scale.

That's not the fault of a few thousand stoned hippies sitting on the curbs in the Bay Area in 1968 -- but it is a political program that broadly speaking their generation embraced and supported. And as Miko addressed above and the Anderson piece in the FPP discusses, the low tax push wasn't balanced by a counter agenda supporting high quality public investments and responsibility.
posted by Forktine at 11:00 AM on September 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


Renoroc: "Between Watergate, the assassination of Lennon, Reaganomics, and AIDS, the dreams of the flower-children withered, died and were scattered like ashes on the wind."

I disagree. The 1960s flower child revolution was like Italy form Catch 22.

Capt. Nately: Don't you have any principles?
Old man in whorehouse: Of course not!
Capt. Nately: No morality?
Old man in whorehouse: I'm a very moral man, and Italy is a very moral country. That's why we will certainly come out on top again if we succeed in being defeated.
Capt. Nately: You talk like a madman.
Old man in whorehouse: But I live like a sane one. I was a fascist when Mussolini was on top. Now that he has been deposed, I am anti-fascist. When the Germans were here, I was fanatically pro-German. Now I'm fanatically pro-American. You'll find no more loyal partisan in all of Italy than myself.
Capt. Nately: You're a shameful opportunist! What you don't understand is that it's better to die on your feet than to live on your knees.
Old man in whorehouse: You have it backwards. It's better to live on your feet than to die on your knees. I know.
Capt. Nately: How do you know?
Old man in whorehouse: Because I am 107-years-old. How old are you?
Capt. Nately: I'll be 20 in January.
Old man in whorehouse: If you live.


posted by Splunge at 1:07 PM on September 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


I graduated from high school in 1970. Everything that we were taught in those days was that we were going to do better than our parents, those raised in the Depression, fought World War II and created a new way of life. Each generation would do better--heck, our parents survived and did better as adults. So would we and then so would our kids. You can say that was a ridiculous idea but it was burned into our souls.

I'm frankly tired of hearing how Boomers are selfish. People of all generations made decisions in the last 30 years that have impoverished this country and gutted the middle class. Those of us who weren't hippies--those who were really a rather small percentage of this generation but with an outsized reputation--were out trying to earn that better life. It hasn't happened because somewhere along the line an awful lot of people of a couple of generations decided it was time to be totally selfish. And we are in the midst of a huge, global shift in the economy that is creating fewer jobs in the name of efficiency and profit.

We have turned into a mean and narrow society. The only good thing I see happening now is that people are starting to realize that the middle class is getting wrecked and that seems to be making people a little more sympathetic to others.
posted by etaoin at 1:24 PM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm aware that's true - that scene attracted a lot of runaways and people who needed to escape their homes - but also aware that that isn't the majority who made up that scene.

My read of the history (and it's been fairly extensive over the years) is that like so many "scenes", the Haight-Ashbury thing peaked before the world really heard of it. Before LIFE and TIME magazines ran their cover stories, before the news went national, before 1967 and the Summer of Love. That's when it really was the seekers (boldly going where no humans had gone before) as opposed to the escapees.

Or as the wiki has it ...

The Haight-Ashbury could not accommodate this rapid influx of people, and the neighborhood scene quickly deteriorated. Overcrowding, homelessness, hunger, drug problems, and crime afflicted the neighborhood. Many people left in the fall to resume their college studies.[19]

On October 6, 1967, those remaining in the Haight staged a mock funeral, "The Death of the Hippie" ceremony, to signal the end of the played-out scene.[13] Mary Kasper explained the message of the mock funeral as follows:
“ We wanted to signal that this was the end of it, don't come out. Stay where you are! Bring the revolution to where you live. Don't come here because it's over and done with.[20]


And that Emmet Grogan book - Ringolevio. I can't recommend it more highly if you're serious about your 1960s history. Warts and all.
posted by philip-random at 1:50 PM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I met Chet Helms a couple of times late last century. In fact, it was when he called me a hippie that I started to use the term to refer to myself -- I had never done so before. I had a couple of conversations with him about his planned 30th Anniversary Summer Of Love event, and planted the seeds during those conversations for them to stream the event online. Iin 1997, this was basically unheard of, but they did it.)

He was gentle, funny, and inspiring. I'm glad to have met him even briefly, and feel honored to continue to call myself a hippie even today, something he saw in me and my approach to life which I had never dared to name myself.

Interesting article. Thanks for posting!
posted by hippybear at 2:09 PM on September 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


17th Century radicals failed. Communism failed. The Beats failed. The New Left failed. The hippies failed. Punk failed. The god damn labor movement is about to fail. It's very disheartening to read these earnest accounts of people who thought they were bringing in a new order, and know that their legacy is peace sign clothing and Fruitopia. Hate, violence and injustice are still more popular than hugs. The article's fostering warm recollections, but I wish it was channeling frustration at the eventualities.

It is in the nature of social movements to be unsatisfactory.

These things failed only in as far as they did not become the dominant paradigm everywhere, forever. That doesn't mean they didn't have an impact. I guess you can say the Hippies "failed" because a lot Hippies were just looking to get laid and smoke weed rather than stage a coherent fight for social change -- really, it was just the late-60s version of Millenialist Thinking, believing that just by acting outside the bounds of society, the New Jerusalem would magically appear and flourish.

The more ideologically driven hippies and fellow travelers gave us co-ops, organic food, community supported agriculture, recycling programs, and supported the fights against racism and sexism (at least to some degree). These causes were taken up by lots of punks, another group which was abandoned by many adherents as they aged but which produced some members who continue to fight the good fight. Which is kind of funny, thinking of the typical attitude by punks toward hippies, but that's history for you.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:21 PM on September 15, 2012 [6 favorites]


Or, to paraphrase dan le sac VS scroobius pip, "17th Century radicals were just a band. Communism was just a band. The Beats were just a band. The New Left was just a band. The hippies were just a band. Punk were just a band. The god damn labor movement was just a band. The Next Big Social/Political Movement is just a band."
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:41 PM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, read up to here and couldn't read any further:

i'm struggling myself after this - "Dancing to pop music until this time mostly meant doing prescribed steps, in male-female pairs, to three-minute Top 40 hits, which, whether they were very bad (“Wooly Bully”), very good (“[I Can’t Get No] Satisfaction”), or sublime (“My Girl”), still had a danceable arc."

wooly bully very bad? really?
posted by pyramid termite at 3:49 PM on September 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


Wasn't the Haight, by '69 or '70, basically full of heroin addicts? I remember the bit about George Harrison stopping by in 1967, "expecting it to be this brilliant place and it was just full of horrible, spotty, dropout kids on drugs."
posted by kgasmart at 3:51 PM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


This was when American blue-collar and middle-class kids became drug users. This was the beginning of the Rust Belt rusting. - Nicholas Van Hoffman

no, pal, it was when they started closing the factories

does anyone remember the rolling stone anniversary issue on the haight? - much better written and suspiciously similar to this one
posted by pyramid termite at 4:05 PM on September 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


These things failed only in as far as they did not become the dominant paradigm everywhere, forever. That doesn't mean they didn't have an impact. I guess you can say the Hippies "failed" because a lot Hippies were just looking to get laid and smoke weed rather than stage a coherent fight for social change -- really, it was just the late-60s version of Millenialist Thinking, believing that just by acting outside the bounds of society, the New Jerusalem would magically appear and flourish.

The more ideologically driven hippies and fellow travelers gave us co-ops, organic food, community supported agriculture, recycling programs, and supported the fights against racism and sexism (at least to some degree). These causes were taken up by lots of punks, another group which was abandoned by many adherents as they aged but which produced some members who continue to fight the good fight. Which is kind of funny, thinking of the typical attitude by punks toward hippies, but that's history for you.


Yeah, there were (are) basically two types of truly devoted hippies -- the ones who completely dropped out and tried to form a society outside of Babylon (as they call the capitalist structure most of us live in), and those who knew how to assimilate and forge change from inside.

Those who left completely are still there, in communes, in bus caravans, in any number of ways which are pretty much invisible to the general population because, well, they're not participating in the grand game the rest of us are playing.

Those who assimilated and worked for change from the inside, they formed companies which attempt to exist with a minimal footprint and which churn their profits back into good works. Or they worked in politics on all levels to drive social policies toward greater fairness and more freedom (and not the "they hate us for our freedoms" kind of freedom, either). Or they worked on shaping things like the internet and computer culture, which was pretty much created by techno-hippies and things like the CC and GNU licenses are direct results of hippie idealism. Or, or, or... there are endless examples of the good and lasting which has been wrought by this sort of hippie.

Ultimately, the "failure", if there is one to report, is that a lot of people who were flocking to the scene were simply flocking to a scene. They weren't willing to let go of Babylon, and they weren't willing to descend into it and do the hard work to change it. They were, as the quoted comment says, just looking to get high and get laid. But the seeds planted by the hippies continue to grow and bear fruit, and our society in general is better for it. Both in the changes created by those working from within, and in the options for exit which continue to exist for those who can no longer abide by the rules of Babylon.
posted by hippybear at 4:21 PM on September 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


wooly bully very bad? really?

Oh God, yes.

Ultimately, the "failure", if there is one to report,

I think the so-called hippie revolution failed, simply because they (whoever they were, the Yippies mostly, I suspect) chose to call it a revolution. I blame LSD and it's tendency to hyperbolize one's passions. That is, it must have all looked very do-able if you were viewing things with "a certain kind of eyes" -- you really could turn the social order around, get back to the garden etc ... if you could just get enough people to see things the same way.

But then, of course, the drugs wear off and what you're looking at is the whole rest of your life, one long, hard struggle, lots of bitter, not much sweet. I've heard it said that revolutions can only ever succeed if too many people are going hungry, if too many people suddenly have nothing to lose. Nobody was going hungry in 1960s America, and once the Vietnam commitment was on the wane (last foot soldier pulled almost exactly 40 years ago, 1972), there became less and less for a counterculture to rally around.

It's no particular surprise that the Eagles had their first hit in 1972. Take It Easy. Title kind of says it all.
posted by philip-random at 4:58 PM on September 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


you really could turn the social order around, get back to the garden etc ... if you could just get enough people to see things the same way.

That actually is capital-T Truth.

The thing is another Truth is that the status quo will do anything it can to keep change from happening. And "anything it can" operates on myriad levels, from blatantly obvious to insidiously subtle.

Anyway, what likely caused the ultimate demise of the hippies as a dream with force behind it was probably the double-fisted blow of the Manson murders (which happened a week before Woodstock), and the Altamont Speedway concert troubles (only 4 months later). After those two events, all the California Dreamin' which might have kept whatever movement there was together kind of evaporated. Which is completely understandable.
posted by hippybear at 5:14 PM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Janis Joplin said, “Scratch a Hippie and you’ll find a Porsche.” Nowadays her Porsche might be construed as money, but it wasn’t that way when she said it in the sixties. Back then it was a sports car.

The first place I saw anyone smoking pot was at a meeting of the 40 West sports car club in 1965. That same year I went to the US Grand Prix in Watkins Glen, NY. Things were different then. My friend and I got there in the middle of the night, in the rain, and took refuge in what we discovered, early the next morning, was the Ferrari pit area. The track was in a beautiful wooded area and people had tree houses stocked with beer coolers in the forest overlooking the track. It was a big outdoor festival and, in a way, it was a prelude to Woodstock.

In 1969 an old friend from the sports car club invited me to join his commune. The Western Rite of the Eastern Rite of the Holy Roman Catholic Church had an artsy bishop and the church was paying our rent on a four story Victorian mansion. The front door had a big stained glass window, and my room had a beautiful carved marble fireplace in with a cornucopia theme... Rubenesque naked ladies, bunches of grapes and horns of plenty.

The church was convinced that we were artists. We were mostly Hippies. But we did have some token artists and they made up for the rest of us by being very good. One got a nice writeup in Time Magazine, another won a statewide competition, and a third is a writer that is well known now as “the Hippie who became a Republican”.

Some army guys took over the fourth floor, but they turned out OK. They used the place to decompress and when they had KP duty they stole food for us. We had ten pound cans of tuna and so many cases of steaks that we passed out steak to our neighbors. Back then the people were thin, but the country was fat. The rich hadn’t yet decided to take all the money for themselves, and the livin was easy.
posted by Huplescat at 5:40 PM on September 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


I have a really hard time understanding why it was the Manson murders and Altamont instead of the carnage in Vietnam, not to mention urban cores and the American South, and the frequent assassinations mentioned above.

The frame, so small.
posted by Miko at 6:02 PM on September 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


San Francisco: The idea haunts me that SF somehow created itself as the birthplace of the 60s after it spent decades ripping up all of its cemeteries and (with few exceptions) moving them out of town. And just more or less ... tossing away the headstones that people wouldn't pay to move.

I leave for an exercise how to work the words "grateful" and "dead" into that scenario. And just tack on how much all of us are at once protected and chained by our customs and historical tales.
posted by Twang at 6:15 PM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have a really hard time understanding why it was the Manson murders and Altamont instead of the carnage in Vietnam

It has to do with the frame, as you say. Manson's Family was a sort of perverted hippie commune concept, albeit with very large differences (which weren't widely known to the world at large before the horrible events), and so the way the public received the news of what happened there did a lot to color of public perceptions of those who might uproot themselves in search of an idealized lifestyle (in California or elsewhere) outside the mainstream.

Altamont was organized and thrown by the same team which put on Woodstock. After the undeniable success of the first event (which had some difficulties due to bad infrastructure, poor weather, and way too many people showing up, but which involved incredibly little violence and a large amount of peace and music), the failure at Altamont to maintain peace and civility (not to mention that it, too, took place in California) was another direct blow to the "public face" of hippiedom.

Carnage in Vietnam, the problems with urban cores and the South, and the assassinations took place outside the frame of the hippie world. These two specific events, happening so close together, took place directly within the perceived center of the hippie movement, that being California.

There were undoubtedly a lot of factors which led to the dissolution of the hippies and their influence, but these two events in late 1969 are very central and must be considered in any assessment of the tenor of the times and what has happened to that specific movement in the years following.
posted by hippybear at 6:19 PM on September 15, 2012


Sure. I guess I don't find it excusable, is what I'm saying. If you only get your outrage on when your own people are impacted, you never had a very strong philosophy of cultural change in the first place. The self-referential, inward-focused nature of the movement is exactly why it didn't care much about economic justice.
posted by Miko at 6:22 PM on September 15, 2012


If you only get your outrage on when your own people are impacted, you never had a very strong philosophy of cultural change in the first place.

I think you're mistaking general public perception for personal outrage. I'm not talking about internal factors which may have led to collapse. I'm talking about specific events which changed the way this particular movement was viewed by those outside, and by those who might be interested in the concept but who hadn't yet made any move to join in.

Anyway, I think "economic justice" is a bit of a relative term here, if not a red herring or even an outright misunderstanding. We're talking about a mindset which actively pursued communal living, pay-what-you-can concepts for things like food or concerts or many other things, and free sharing with those whom one came into contact. There was much about the hippies which was directly involved with what we today would consider economic justice, and not just inwardly focussed, but into the greater world. From participation in the Peace Corps to founding charities to working to establish laws and institutions which seek to balance the equation, there was (and still is) much going on which springs directly from the hippies into the world at large.
posted by hippybear at 6:37 PM on September 15, 2012


The Peace Corps is much older than the hippies. I did give some credit where credit's due, and they were interested in alternative economies. But they weren't interested in poverty.
posted by Miko at 7:02 PM on September 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Altamont was organized and thrown by the same team which put on Woodstock. After the undeniable success of the first event (which had some difficulties due to bad infrastructure, poor weather, and way too many people showing up, but which involved incredibly little violence and a large amount of peace and music), the failure at Altamont to maintain peace and civility (not to mention that it, too, took place in California) was another direct blow to the "public face" of hippiedom.

Well, and the "failure to maintain peace" was largely due to the fact that the Hell's Angels were the security and more or less stomped on anyone they didn't like. Check out "Gimme Shelter" if you haven't seen it; the pool cues and the death/murder of Meredith Hunter, who pulled a gun, it seems from the film, in large part as a response to being stomped by Angels.

Plus, the location of the concert was changed two f*cking days before the show. That just blows my mind.

So Altamont was destined to be a disaster. It's seen as a bookend to an era, but given the slapdash nature of the whole thing, I don't see how it could have possibly been successful.
posted by kgasmart at 7:40 PM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


From my perspective, back in the day, Altamont was doomed before it started as a futile attempt to patent lighting in a bottle. I was at Woodstock, saw Altamont hell coming and never wanted to go there. As for the Manson thing, there was never any shortage of rough trade assholes like him using macho guile to exploit the naive. Anyone who had a good eye for narcs was equally sensitive to exploitative criminal types. After all, cops are just criminals turned inside out.
posted by Huplescat at 8:04 PM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am also skeptical of the idea that Altamont and Manson were the end of the summer of love Hippie ideal. That was 1969. I would make the end of the Hippie ideal March of 1968 when the Grateful Dead moved out of the Haight to Marin because the Haight was unlivable. They were always touring so it took them some time to figure it out; the residents knew it when the third ten thousand migrants arrived in the very beginning of the summer of love. The magic was only there for one fleeting moment.

Altamont and Manson sucked but it was already over by then. Perhaps that was when the staff at the New York Times figured it out.
posted by bukvich at 8:39 PM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I would make the end of the Hippie ideal March of 1968 when the Grateful Dead moved out of the Haight to Marin because the Haight was unlivable.

Things didn't move as fast in those. Yeah, the Haight was well past its sell-by as early as late 1967, but elsewhere, the hippie thing was really just taking off. Hell, in my particular suburb, I'd pin the summer of love (and all manner of elevated craziness) to 1970 or 71. Yeah, the Beatles had broken up by then but there was still all kinds of up-up-up positivity going down ...

By 1972 though, you had Alice Cooper's School's Out ruling the charts, Led Zeppelin on a tear, The Stones touring Exile on Main Street, Ziggy Stardust rearing his pretty head. A whole new Universe ... and one I ain't going to complain about.
posted by philip-random at 10:51 PM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


My fanmily had an unusual view of the 'Summer Of Love' we lived in the Bay Area. My step-dad was a social worker. He dealt mainly with elderly people, developmentally delayed adults, and people with mental health issues.
We as a family actually attended the 'Human Be-In' in Golden Gate Park. I met Emmet Grogan. I was really too young for the party.
We moved as a family to New Mexico. By then the Santa Fe area was under a Major Hippie Invasion.
Many showed up at the Welfare office there and were really abusive of the system itself and the case-workers.
Itwas pretty a noting on another level, the cults which entangled many young people. These cults were mostly Hindu based or Buddhist based, although there were small numbers of 'Jesus Freaks' and 'Sufis'. The 'Sufis' all drank and used marijuana. They also screwed around a lot.
The few who actually attempted to practice Islam were almost worse because they did not bother learning from real Muslim sources.
These situations werebad.the assortedcommunes were threat for women. It did not matter what belief system was espoused, it mostly was bad for women.
Women kept these places running while most of the men sat on their dead asses getting stoned or getting women pregnant.
Then they mostly sold out.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 5:09 PM on September 16, 2012


I don't remember a bit of it, but I'm told that I spent that whole summer soiling myself and babbling incoherently.
posted by thelonius at 5:22 PM on September 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't want to 100% down the 60's.
I still love the music and art from that time. I miss a lot. Too bad so many sold out, before it was even iver.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 2:56 AM on September 17, 2012


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